Signpainting in Winnipeg

 Posted by on April 2, 2014
Apr 022014
 

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During my trip to Winnipeg a couple weeks ago, I ventured into the Exchange District, not knowing very much except that it was an area that had been designated a National Historic Site in Canada. So I expected a lot of old buildings that Jason described as “you’ll feel like you’re in Chicago“.

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It did feel like at times that I was in Chicago. But I was surprised to find so many buildings featured amazing large-scale sign-painting. It’s an amazing collection that I have yet to see anywhere else, comparable to the Wynwood graffiti murals in Miami.

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I don’t know much about sign painting, but I was so enthralled that I did a bit of research when I got back and learned more from reading this article on the historic murals in Winnipeg.

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Before digital billboards, ads were painted directly to the bricks of the building’s exterior. Over time, many of the murals have been left to the elements, leaving behind faded “ghost signs”, often for products or companies that no longer exist.

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As buildings changed owners, some murals were painted over or modified, like the Pepsi-Cola mural on Notre Dame Avenue and Albert St.

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My trip reminded me of Sign Painters, co-directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, which tells the story of how the craft of sign painting has faded away, but is now experiencing a renaissance in the United States. Having brought Faythe’s documentary Handmade Nation to Ottawa, Sign Painters is now on my list of must-sees so that I can find out more about process and how the craft has changed over the last century.

SIGN PAINTERS + COLOSSAL from samuel j macon on Vimeo.

Banff Snapshots

 Posted by on March 3, 2014
Mar 032014
 

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Some snapshots heading to and from around Banff. Where streets are named after animals. Where street art looks like hieroglyphics. Where elk roam freely around campus. Where nature meet art. Where beavers tell you where to go.  Where the tips of white-capped mountains touch the open purple skies.

Sulphur Mountain, Banff National Park

 Posted by on February 28, 2014
Feb 282014
 

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I travelled to Banff last November for a work trip at The Banff Centre. My time to sightsee was short but when you’re surrounded by mountains, you feel like you need to do something magical. It was still too early in the season to dog-sled, so I decided on a solo trip up Sulphur Mountain.

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I’m a city girl all the way, so there was no hiking up. There’s a gondola option! I bought a ticket, and then boarded the four-person gondola at the base of the mountain.

The Sulphur Mountain tourist centre was suprisingly empty, but the cab driver had told me earlier it was low tourist season.

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It takes about 8 minutes to get to the top. I watched the trees disappear and the mountain tops come into focus. I juggled my DSLR and my iPhone, snapping equal parts mountain ranges, equal parts selfies. Yes, wiFi works, even at this high altitude!

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And then I reached the summit ridge. It was a beautiful, sunny, winter day and you could see for miles. I saw more mountains in a 5-second, 360 degree turn than I have in my lifetime.  For just one moment, those mountains and those unforgettable views belonged to me.

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There was no one around, just me and the howling wind.

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Mountain love letters (I might have left my own).

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I took the snow-covered path which leads to Sanson’s Peak and the Cosmic Ray Station, stopping to take in the view or to collect pine cones along the way. Looks like a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep had been there before me.

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On one side you can see Bow Valley, on another you can see the town of Banff, on another you can see the famous Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. It’s supposedly haunted.

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Spot the inukshuk (or inuksuit).

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Being surrounded by majestic mountains can inspire you to dream big, but also the opposite effect of making you feel small. You realize just how much we are at the mercy of nature. And I was alone. It was like arriving at the Eiffel Tower and the hoardes of tourists you expect are nowhere in sight.

If a person climbs a mountain and no one is at the top to hear about it, does it still count?

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Being so high up might in the Rockies was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The vistas will be etched into your brain forever.

Canadiana Holidays

 Posted by on January 6, 2014
Jan 062014
 

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I’m lucky enough to have the week between Christmas and New Year Day off. So I decided to take a full two weeks holiday and spend some time with my folks who live in the suburbs of Toronto. During the week I took the commuter GO Train into the city, and roamed the shops and streets to get inspired.

These are a few shots I took while walking around west Toronto on Queen Street West and Roncesvalles neighbourhoods.

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Some of the shops I visited during my walk weaved a holiday/winter theme with a Canadiana theme:

> The Drake General Store celebrates the Canadian and the local (like the awesome Toronto Public Library t-shirts or provincial toques they have for sale). Their window display featured geometric cardboard pine trees and a solar-waving Mountie.

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> Lovely wooden ornaments by Vancouver-based Henderson Dry Goods in the Scout window

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>The show installed at Graven FeatherWild is My Love, drew on themes of art, love and the North

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> North Standard celebrates all things Canadian, but with a rugged, outdoorsy edge. It’s what I picture a general store would be like when the country was first settled, but with products for contemporary men and women.

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Maybe it’s me, but I’ve been noticing lately in the last few months in my travels and online that many Canadian makers and stores are taking a lot of pride in expressing their Canadian identity, like lots of displays and merchandise celebrating nature, indigenous animals, iconic figures, and the Canadian city they live in.

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It could be the fact that as a country we’re growing up; Canada’s a relatively young country. We’ll be celebrating our sesquicentennial (150 year) anniversary in 2017 (which sparked a huge debate over what logo best represents Canada, with alternative logos proposed from designers across Canada). Or maybe it’s just a zeitgeist thing where a lot of makers are feeling inspired by nature and are looking to retreat from the digital world.

It’s definitely great to see so many shops in Toronto showcasing Canadian makers and designers, and now some even drawing on the country itself for inspiration.

The Table in Toronto

 Posted by on October 27, 2013
Oct 272013
 

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When we were in Toronto a couple weeks ago we made sure to include a stop at Lamesa, a restaurant on Queen Street West opened by second-generation Filipino-Canadians, which reinterprets traditional Filipino cuisine. It was only after tweeting back and forth with one of the amazing restaurants we visited in New York City did I find out there was a Canadian equivalent, let alone in my hometown.

Growing up in and around Toronto in which there is a huge Filipino population, Filipino cuisine was, surprisingly and in hindsight, always something underground, almost invisible compared to other ethnic cuisines. There were no grand restaurants where you could eat out; usually these were small strip mall eateries or you ordered from an aunt who ran a catering business from her home. Otherwise it was all about home cooking or going to a family or community celebration where there were multiple potluck-style dishes, and lots of leftovers to take home with you.

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What I loved about Lamesa is its intention to create contemporary Filipino food based on tradition, and create a space where people could share this new take in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. For example, the restaurant is located in the heart of downtown and easy to find. The menu is accessible and there’s a variety of entry points and costs, from merienda or pulutan (snacks and appetizers) to ulam (main dishes). Our server also took a lot of care in describing what was behind each dish.

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I had a super delicious halo-halo sisig (a small skillet of pork-heavy hash topped by a runny-yolked fried egg) and Jason had the short rib kaldereta. We finished off with ovaltine chessecake with a brown butter polvoron crumble.

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I also loved the art pieces in the dining room, such as the pastel mural inspired by cigarette papers by local artists Christine Mangosing and Ilona Fiddy (more detail here), and the wooden star shaped in the form of a traditional parol.

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It will be interesting to see what a nouveau Filipino restaurant like Lamesa does for raising the profile of Filipino cuisine in Toronto over the long term and its potential as a leading cuisine. As in NYC, it may be perhaps second- rather than first-generation Filipinos who are paving the way.

I’m also interested in finding out if there are similar restaurants or even food trucks or carts like this in the rest of Canada, mainly in urban centres like Vancouver or Winnipeg or Calgary. If you know of any, would be happy to hear about it!