The news from Louisiana is often hurricanes, burst levees and the dangerous streets of New Orleans.
What we’ve discovered down South has been unreserved hospitality. A few years ago on our first trip through the Bayou State the weather turned cold. We became stranded in the town of Nathitoches, blind-sided by a gale of sleet. Thrilled locals informed us they hadn’t seen snow in NAK-a-tish (that’s how it’s pronounced) for nine years. As polite Canadians, we controlled our elation.
As luck would have it we had arrived the day of the annual river-barge parade. We mingled with happy revelers on the banks of the Red River. As we strolled, the sound of a Cajun band spilled from an antebellum mansion fronting Front Street. The owner, a well-dressed southern gentleman, was watching the parade through his wrought-iron fence. Small talk ensued. Soon the wandering Canadians were invited into a stately pre-Civil War home to join a bon fête.
The party lasted into the wee hours. Filet gumbo, stomping feet, a crackling fire and genuine Louisiana friendliness kept us warm. After much cajoling I joined the band, rang the Cajun ti-fer… and did credit to all Canadians – in the beverage consumption department.
On our return to Louisiana this time we bypassed Natchitoches, hugging the Gulf Coast, seeking the blue bayou of the South. Roadside billboards stuck in the swamp advertised free consultation to shrimpers still affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The ex-lawyer in me was intrigued. The guy seeking quiet solitude was – quietly disgusted.
The bayous of Louisiana start where the Mississippi River begins to end: in the silted course of its enormous delta. Braided channels open and close. New rivers form. Shallow meandering creeks emerge in swamps overgrown with cypress and mangrove forests. These muddy backwaters are the birthplace for a vast array of aquatic life. Their predators – birds and reptiles – lurk quietly in the sultry stagnant shadows.
When we arrived at the Morgan City campground it was dark. We were hungry, tired, irritable – and without a reservation. Most horrible camping experiences begin with a late arrival. While attempting to set up in the dark I backed into the last open site, glancing off an oak tree and a concrete picnic table, fanning the fires of a simmering matrimonial dispute.
I walked, fuming, past a campsite’s roaring fire toward the office to register. A happy group of tenters were huddled near the flames, laughing and smoking.
“You were pretty lucky to get that spot on a busy weekend,” said the affable occupant of site B12. “Where y’all from?
I told him we were from Alberta and said we were hungry and hoping to find a Cajun restaurant nearby. He recommended a place in town down by the Riverwalk and wished us a pleasant evening.
My mood was greatly improved when we drove back through the gate a couple of hours later, stuffed to overflowing with crawfish and dirty rice.
“How was the Creole?”
The small group settled around B12’s fire was well into their cups and still going strong. My relaxed demeanor confirmed we had not been led gastronomically astray.
“Why don’t you and your wife come on over for a drink?” asked the friendly fellow who was responsible for my contented smile. I slipped into our RV and grabbed a couple of Pilsners I had lugged from home. I handed a cold one to Dean Landry and his wife Vicky.
“These all the way from Canada?” Dean asked.
“Yup. There is no finer Canadian beer.” (I had my fingers crossed behind my back.)
“How come he talk so funny?” asked Zach, Vicky’s precocious twelve-year-old.
“Sshh, you mind your manners,” said Miss Vicky.
Zach carried on, unabashed. “You got a different kind ‘a money up ther‘ in Canada?”
I reached into my pocket and handed Zach a blue, five-dollar bill. I proudly told him it was worth almost $4 American and that it was now his.
“This’s made out of plastic,” he screamed, running through the campground, announcing to the world that some geezer from Canada had just given him a foreign blue fiver.
“Why you come down to these parts?” Mr. Landry asked. His surname and that unique Louisiana cadence confirmed his Cajun ancestry.
(Cajuns are the descendants of Acadians, French Canadians expelled from Nova Scotia in the eighteenth century. They brought a distinct culture and dialect to the swamps of the South. To the uninitiated, Cajun French is unintelligible. Their English is only marginally more comprehensible. For instance if a Cajun asks, “where you gonna powk de caw?” he is not rudely inquiring about your bedroom habits – he’s just asking where you intend to park the Buick.)
“We’re here to see the bayou,” I told Dean. “I want to get into the backwaters, see the swamp, the alligators. I noticed there are some operators in town offering boat tours. What do you think?”
Dean looked at the fire for a moment, drained the last of his Pil and said, “You an early riser?”
“Not particularly,” I replied truthfully.
“Dean, he an early bird,” chimed in Vicky. “He’s up with the roosters.”
“I live only a little more than fifty mile from here, up near Thibodau, in Lafourche Parish.” Unlike the other 49 States of the Union, which have Counties, Louisiana is divided into Parishes – further tribute to its French roots.
“Ain’t any big deal for me to scoot over first thing in the morning and hook up my boat. By the time y’all get up, my skiff’ll be waiting for you. I’ll show you the real bayou, not some tourist crap.”
We’d had a few brewskies by then – and I don’t put a lot of stock in late-night campfire bravado. So when I popped my head out of the camper the next morning my expectations for a bayou experience weren’t high.
“There you are,” shouted Dean, wiping down the lovely flat-bottomed craft that had appeared at his site. He’d driven 80 kilometers to his home, breakfasted with his daddy, hitched up the boat and returned – all while I was still sawing logs.
“And he’s been polishing that motor for near an hour now,” Vicky smiled.
My mother told me I’d never amount to anything if I didn’t get up early and get to it. But somehow serendipity follows my late-morning shadow, shaking me awake with fortunate encounters.
Vicky, Zach, my wife Florence and I jumped into the boat and Dean motored us into the bayou. The perspective from water was entirely different from the bits of swamp we could see while driving. Narrow muddy channels serpentined every which way and within minutes I was completely lost in a vast wet labyrinth.
We floated through vast groves of bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, their knees soaked in brackish water; past “fishing camps” – remote wooden cabins fronted by a small deck for fishing. (Many sported a Confederate flag. For the South, the Civil War is not yet over.)
The gators were out, sunning on logs or floating motionless, eyes protruding silently above the water. These malevolent-looking reptiles can grow to four meters and 400 kilograms – top of the food chain in these hidden warrens. In the bayou it’d be easy to dispose of things unwanted. I was glad Dean was a friendly chap.
Zach acted as lookout, chatting constantly, identifying all flora and fauna the bayou had to offer.
An abandoned orange hurricane pod, resembling a wayward UFO, floated uselessly in a backwater, testament to the unrelenting power of Mother Nature.
We moored for lunch at Gros’ Place, a remote camp accessible only by water. A huge kettle of fragrant jambalaya boiled above an open fire. A fresh-dressed deer carcass dangled from a hook in the kitchen.
After a meal of fried catfish and white beans – and an afternoon of great camaraderie, Dean steered us out of the bayou, effortlessly retracing our path through the indiscernible twisting, turning channels. The sun, shining through a thick canopy of cypress and mangrove, hinted vaguely at our direction of travel.
At the dock we shook hands with Dean and Vicky, said good-bye and climbed into our RV, headed for New Orleans. As we pulled away Zach strolled up. I rolled down the window:
“That new? That got a diesel engine in it? My grandpa told me down on the farm that you got to fill a special compartment with somethin’ called urea to keep a diesel engine running. Urea same as pee, but you got to pay twenty dollar for five gallons.”
If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a know-it-all kid. I thanked him for his advice and drove off.
“That kid is either a savant or a nut,” I said to Florence.
Less than a hundred kilometers down the road a yellow warning light flashed on the dash. I pulled over. The owner’s manual indicated there was a malfunction in something called the DEF. The problem required immediate attention. After twenty ignition starts the vehicle would be rendered inoperable. I stopped at an Auto Zone and explained my problem to the man behind the counter.
“You need to add DEF fluid. It’s over there behind the antifreeze. It’s really just urea,” he said in a thick Cajun drawl.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Just like pee, but costs twenty bucks.”
About the author:
Gerry Feehan QC practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.
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7 Exciting Excursions To Take in Canada
As we await the lifting of lockdowns, let’s dream a bit about travel.
7 Exciting Excursions To Take in Canada
Whether you live in Canada or plan to visit from another country, there are plenty of fascinating things to see and do. Canada is the second-largest country in the world in total area, so it would probably be impossible to see every part of it in a single lifetime. Therefore, here are some of the most worthwhile things to see and do across the breadth of this beautiful and welcoming country.
Vancouver is located on the West Coast of Canada. It is accessible by water via all inclusive cruises and by train, bus, and automobile as well. Vancouver offers multiple opportunities for fun excursions. You can tour the Canadian Rockies, take the Sea to Sky Gondola to Whistler for some skiing, or go whale watching from the southern end of Vancouver Island.
2. Jasper National Park
In Alberta, you can find one of the best outdoor attractions in Canada: Jasper National Park. Covering 4,200 square miles, or 11,000 square kilometers, it is home to mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and springs. Points of particular interest in Jasper National Park include the Columbia Icefield glaciers and Maligne Canyon, which becomes an otherworldly realm of frozen waterfalls and ice caves with cold temperatures.
Churchill is a small community located on the banks of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba. It is known as the polar bear capital of the world, and you can indeed see polar bears there during their annual migration. However, Churchill also offers opportunities to see other natural wonders. In the summer, you can see beluga whales as they travel to their calving grounds in the estuary of the Churchill River.
Because Churchill is so close to the North Pole, winter nights get very long. This combined with a lack of light pollution makes it a good place to observe the aurora borealis, which appears when solar activity is high. Bear in mind, however, that there is no way to guarantee that the northern lights will be visible during your visit.
4. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is located on the border between Canada and the United States. It is a short distance away from the city of Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario. Though one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Niagara is poorly understood by many. Most people do not know that it actually consists of three different waterfalls. You can see them all from the best possible vantage points by booking a tour.
Once a French colony, Quebec is the main francophone center of Canada. The French influence is still very strong in Quebecois language, culture, and architecture, so a trip to Quebec is a little like taking a mini-European vacation without going too far from home. You can see majestic waterfalls and quaint little villages in the idyllic Quebec countryside, or you can experience the cosmopolitan excitement of Montreal, its biggest city. Points of interest include the Old Port of Montreal via the Place Jacque Cartier and Mont-Royal Park, one of the largest greenspaces in the city.
Ottawa is the capital city of Canada but tends to get outshone by larger and more popular cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. This may be to your advantage if you’d like to avoid crowds of other tourists on your excursion. Because Ottawa is the seat of Canadian government, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint and see Parliament Hill during your visit. There are also boat tours and bus tours of the city available.
The Maritime Provinces are located on Canada’s east coast, along the Atlantic Ocean. There are four maritime provinces altogether: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador (which coincidentally lends its names to two different breeds of dog), Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Each has something unique to offer, from the red rock cliffs and literary heritage of Prince Edward Island to the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia to whale watching in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy to the world’s largest fossil park in Newfoundland and Labrador.
There are many opportunities to take guided tours of notable Canadian locations. You can also explore on your own.
Read more on Todayville.
#AlohaGate – Kenney Announces UCP Resignations in Response to Outraged Albertans
On January 4, 2020, Alberta Premiere Jason Kenney announced the resignation of a number of United Conservative Party members following the Christmas holiday abroad scandal being referred to online as “AlohaGate”. This scandal, which has occupied much of the recent news coverage and trending Twitter hashtags in Alberta, has led to massive public backlash and political destabilization for the ruling provincial party.
Political careers are often characterized by upheaval and public backlash, as politicians are required to cater to the diverse and disparate needs of the many while under constant scrutiny from the public eye. The year 2020 arguably posed an even greater challenge for political leaders, as they struggled to manage the devastating implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials have faced constant backlash for implementing restrictions, or lack thereof, in their attempts to strike a balance between maintaining public safety and supporting the survival of the local economy.
On December 13, many Albertans were disappointed by the Kenney administration’s updated COVID-19 restrictions, which extended lockdown measures through Christmas and into the New Year. While not necessarily a surprise, these restrictions, which banned inter-household social gatherings and further discouraged non-essential travel, meant cancelled plans and a solitary Christmas for many. Difficult sacrifices were made by thousands of Albertans who were unable to spend quality time with their families, many of whom shared stories of elderly or ill family members who celebrated the holiday and rang in the New Year alone.
Under these circumstances, countless Albertans were outraged to learn a number of staff and members of the United Conservative Party (UCP) neglected to cancel their non-essential travel plans, choosing to spend Christmas abroad with their families in international locations like Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas and more.
According to an article released by the Calgary Herald on January 3, “To date, nine senior government officials in Alberta have been confirmed to have travelled abroad in December.”The absolute outrage expressed by many upon learning of government officials who failed to abide by the same rules and make the same sacrifices as countless Albertans did this Christmas has made for a rocky start to the New Year for the UCP. The apologies made by members of the government who travelled abroad over the holidays have been met with scathing responses from Albertans, who have expressed feelings of anger and betrayal at the lack of accountability shown by the province’s political leaders.
In perhaps one of the most devastating responses to the controversial AlohaGate, an Alberta family expressed their anger and hurt towards the UCP government after having cancelled their own 2020 trip to Hawaii as a result of the pandemic. This was not a typical family vacation, however, and the cancellation of these plans went far beyond disappointment. The Make-A-Wish Foundation funded the Lousier family trip to Hawaii for their 9-year-old son Braeden, who suffers from Hadju-Cheney syndrome. Braeden, who has struggled with his health for his entire life, is not expected to live to see his teenage years as a result of his condition. “While the family was crushed over the cancellation of their dream vacation,” Global News reported, “Lousier said the recent controversy revealing Alberta government officials travelled over the holidays has turned devastation into anger.”
This is a sentiment echoed by many who have suffered loss of livelihood, decline of mental and physical health, and forced separation from family members as a result of government lockdown mandates. Simply put by the Edmonton Journal, “The moral authority that the Kenney government must wield in convincing Albertans to obey public health recommendations is now severely diminished by the apparent double standard.”
Jason Kenney’s initial response to the scandal, in which he condemned the actions of those who travelled abroad during the holidays but neglected to impose any disciplinary action against them, was met with major public backlash. Following his address, a torrent of responses from the public labeling Kenney a coward, among other things, and asking him to step down as Premiere flooded the Internet. Many used the hashtag #resignkenney in addition to others such as #alohagate and #alohallard.
On January 4, Premiere Jason Kenney released a statement declaring he was “listening to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions”. Therefore, as of January 4, 2020, he has accepted a number of resignations from the individuals who “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” by choosing to travel abroad this Christmas.
Tracy Allard, Tanya Fir, Jeremy Nixon, Pat Rehn, Jason Stephan, Tany Yao, Jamie Huckabay are among the officials who have since resigned or been demoted from their positions in Alberta’s UCP government.
For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.
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