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SCIJ Canada Story Ideas
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We gathered a few anecdotes and story ideas from the point of view of our Canadian SCIJ Members. Please enjoy them.

The Calgary Stampede
Esther Normand

Montréal, Québec

A long time ago, I packed my suitcase with new suits and old cowboy boots to settle in the vast Saskatchewan prairies and start my journalism career at the CBC. There, I met Gisèle, a French-speaking woman from the neighbouring province of Alberta. She invited another friend and me to spend a few days at her home in Calgary during the Stampede, the big gathering honouring Western cowboys.

The culture shock was powerful… and comical for a young Quebecker like me. All around town, men, women, young and old were proudly wearing cowboy hats, reminding me of the famous TV series, "Dallas". The Calgary Stampede boasts the biggest outdoor show in the world and the largest annual event in Canada. Every year, in July, "Stampede Madness" takes hold of the city for 10 days.

The international rodeo competitions, agricultural fairs and native exhibitions all made a big impression on me, of course. But what I most vividly remember is touring the city’s bars. In one of those bars, I was talking with a group of cowboys when one of them pulled off my boot, poured beer in it and passed it around. Everybody drank from my boot before giving it back to me. I was astonished by this bizarre tradition.

Despite my damp and somewhat uncomfortable boot, strong guys then twirled me around the dance floor to the rhythm of country music. As I knew nothing of those dances, I kept stepping on my partners’ toes. My two friends were laughing at the sight of the Quebecker lost in cowboy land.

I left the Western Canadian plains a long time ago to come back to Montreal. I also left my old cowboy boots behind. The memory of that magical evening still entertains me. I’ll never forget the party spirit and hospitality of those Calgarians. They welcomed me with open arms without caring about my origins.

Almost 20 years later, the new Mayor of Calgary recently declared: "In Calgary, nobody wants to know who your father was or your last name, only what you have to offer." Young, cultured, charismatic, the first Muslim mayor in the history of Canada, Naheed Nenshi proves that Calgary can’t be reduced to the traditional cowboy stereotype.

My Love Story With Banff
Benoit Duguay

Moncton, New Brunswick

For anyone who comes from Europe, Asia or any continent other than North America, it is easy to think of Canada as a country where people can easily visit each other from coast to coast in a relatively short time. But beware: this is misleading, as distances that separate Canada’s east and west or Atlantic and Pacific coasts are great. Whether by land or by air, Banff is as far from my home in Moncton as are London, Paris and many other European cities dear to my French-Acadian roots.

My love affair with Banff first began in 1971. It had nothing to do with the ski slopes and enchanting scenery that were already famous at the time and that still hold me in awe.

In 1971, I was a young and idealistic reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I’d only been there two years, but I already found that I was becoming too settled in the "comfort of a credit card". I hadn’t yet hitchhiked my way across the country, the same way that I had ‘discovered’ several European countries four years prior. That seemed to me like a shameful incongruity.

A federal-provincial conference that could change the face of my country was being held in Victoria, a city located on an island on the Pacific coast. In light of this event, I negotiated with my supervisor and convinced him of my desire to discover the soul of my country. I had determined that the best way to do this was to hitchhike from coast to coast. What I didn’t reveal was my hidden agenda, which had always been to explore Banff and the majestic surroundings that I had heard so much about. My supervisor agreed to allocate me two additional weeks of holidays in exchange for some radio reports on the conference at no additional cost to my employer.

After crossing five provinces (New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) with a thrust towards the emerging oil sands, I arrived in Alberta. Next stop, Banff. What a beautiful site! "Curse the federal-provincial conference," I told myself. "Why did they not hold it here?" Having been on the road for nearly two weeks, I was tempted to ignore my commitment to my supervisor. This cosy little town captivated me. The mountains made me dream.

On the outskirts of Banff, I discovered an extraordinary hotel that looked as if it came out of a fairy tale. Was it not there that Puss in Boots brought his master, the Marquis of Carabas? I told myself that someday, perhaps, my credit card would allow me a few nights within its walls. It is a dream I cherished for a long time. However, my passionate love affair with the mountain town was put on hold, as it was time to move on towards Victoria, British Columbia and the minister’s conference where my work awaited me.

Since the beginning of my love affair with Banff, I have been able to return several times. Every time I had to leave, I always held onto the same wish: to come back soon. The ski hills that surround it, its streets, its shops and its grand hotel, all take us out of the ordinary. I look forward to next February when I will be able to share this magical place with my SCIJ colleagues, many of whom I’ve known since 1973. This is also the dream I shared with Gilles de la Roque, to one day be in Banff with the SCIJ. That day is coming soon and I’m looking forward to it.

The Canadian Rockies: A Summertime Perspective
Elisabeth Crener

Moncton, New Brunswick

There! I have landed in Western Canada! A sporting adventure, the great outdoors, landscape that takes your breath away... this is what I was promised. Ten years later, my mind is still filled with images of those famous Rockies: Banff nestled between mountain walls… the famous Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise… my walk on the Columbia Glacier… the resounding noise of ice cracking… the immensity of Jasper and its wildlife. Yes, all of this is still vivid in my memory, but for a sports’ enthusiast, Western Canada is simply paradise!

When we think of the Rockies, we think of snow, powder, ski hills, snowboards, cheeks reddened by a chilly wind, blue sky and a nice fire in the hearth. The fact is that I've never been in Western Canada in winter.

My memories of that part of Alberta are of summer, in the middle of July! I had decided to try out new experiences: mountain biking, rappelling and rafting. I was not disappointed!

Let's talk about biking. It's hard to climb those famous trails around Lake Louise! The calves suffer but a reward awaits riders who make the effort. From the top, the view is incredible with mountains zigzagging as far as the eye can see. When you go back down, hold on tight to your handlebars. You'll have to avoid moguls, control your turns, slow down, change gears and, most of all, arrive without incident.

Rafting: a big canoe, paddles and falls, water splashing and a funny little feeling in the pit of your stomach. A three-hour expedition on the Fraser River seemed sufficient for my first experience. The river looked calm, but appearances can be deceiving! All of sudden, the water bubbles, the canoe flies up and comes back down… with force. The water on your cheeks and hands is icy and in fact, you are all wet but have no time to think about it! You go back up in the air and you laugh and laugh and laugh. Fear, joy, pleasure, you are filled with all these feelings at once. Finally, the river calms down and you regret it immediately. If you want another shiver of pleasure, throw yourself in the water!

As someone who suffers from vertigo, I had to try rappelling. At the bottom, the mountain seems really high but the car is doing the climbing. When I get to the top, I meet the expert. First of all, I get a lesson on safety and precise explanations on the manoeuvres and the things I should not do. Then, I discover the equipment. I pass my legs through the harness, tighten the belts around my thighs, adjust them and I feel more and more nervous. The advice of the professional: DO NOT LOOK DOWN!!! I get close to the edge and I turn my back to the emptiness, pass the hook around the rope and throw myself over the edge. My knees bent, my feet against the rock, I climb down, shyly at first, before getting the feeling. My bounces become more self-assured. I control my descent. I look around me. I am in the air, almost flying! I touch ground with regret, ready to do it all over again. Today, I look forward to discovering Alberta in wintertime with its famous ski hills!

Alberta’s Oil Sands Industry
Claude Desbiens

Montréal, Québec

Alberta is the Canadian province with the most natural energy resources. Its subterranean depths contain: 5.5 billion barrels of conventional crude oil, 1.7 billion barrels contained in oil sands, and 97 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Alberta’s 1.7 billion barrels of oil sands oil is the equivalent of five times Saudi Arabia’s reserves. The large oil sands deposits extend over 140,000 square kilometres along the Athabasca River, an area larger than the U.S. state of Florida. One of the deposits belongs to Syncrude and measures 35 square kilometres. A billion and a half tons have been extracted since operations began.

With its petrodollars, Alberta is the richest province in Canada. In the next decade, French, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese and American investors will contribute $100 million to developing the petroleum industry here.

The biggest energy project in North America, with $10.5 billion invested, is being developed in the Fort McMurray region.

Canada has this valuable treasure but in order to extract it, it must pay a huge environmental price. Extracting oil from tar sands consumes much more energy than do traditional oil wells. Oil from tar sands also produces a large quantity of greenhouse gases.

Oil companies must find new ways of reducing the environmental effects of their activities. One of the techniques in development consists of trying to trap carbon dioxide, and exploit it before it is released into the atmosphere.

These new technologies would reduce the negative impact on the environment and the social costs related to the extraction of fossil fuels.

Other related articles:
Alberta’s Oil Sands: Treasure Chest or Pandora’s Box
Black Gold Rush: Radio-Canada archives
Oil Sands: files: oil sand; oil

Banff, its Silver Screens and More
Martine Lanctôt

Montréal, Québec

Every year, dozens of filmmakers, both amateur and professional, show their work at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, a unique event that revolves around mountain activities.
The Banff Mountain Film Festival is in its 35th year and showcases films about skiing, mountain climbing, biking and extreme sports as well as environmental and cultural themes.

A jury judges short films and documentaries entered in competition. The 25 finalists they select then tour various countries. In 2010, the festival was held from October 30th to November 7th.

Another festival featuring mountain books attracts photographers, journalists and editors. To find out more about these two events or to view videos, visit:

Alberta’s Native American Legends
Myriam Fimbry

Montréal, Québec

Alberta is fertile ground for Native American tribes and legends. The Inuit live in the north, the Dene in the centre. The Cree and Lakota Indians are in the south of the province. These First Nations have different cultures and different ways of life. For example, the Chipewyan, one of the main tribes of the Dene Nation, live east of Great Slave Lake. Many of their legends explain the creation of the universe (e.g. the origin of light and darkness is told through the story of a bear and a squirrel) or discuss their moral code (e.g. the story of a wild boy raised by a grandmother). In all Native American legends, one must respect the environment in order to survive. A lesson still relevant today…

Sustainable Tourism in Banff
Claude Desbiens

Montréal, Québec

Banff National Park is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. This vast wild area— more of 6,000 square kilometres — is carefully protected to ensure sustainable tourism. Rigorous development laws maintain the delicate balance between protecting the park’s natural environment and providing visitors a wealth of environmentally friendly recreational activities.

Nature lovers are awestruck when they gaze out on the majestic snow-covered peaks, the magnificent glaciers and the vast valleys filled with towering trees and flowing rivers. They come to see the incredibly diverse assortment of flora and fauna, including many protected animal species: moose, bears, birds and fish that are totally free to roam in their natural habitat. Lucky visitors who go for a ride in the streets of Banff and Lake Louise can also glimpse elks and stags that remain totally indifferent to the stares of gawking sightseers.

Since tourism is the principal source of revenue for the hotels, tour-operators and residents of Banff and Lake Louise, everyone here is conscious of how essential it is that they protect the natural setting in this, the cradle of Canada’s national parks. More and more, local businesses are turning to green energy, sound waste management practices and recycling as much as possible.

The park’s history is rich with countless climbers, photographers and famous artists who came from Europe and the United States and fell in love with the wild flowers that blossomed and the fauna that roamed freely in their natural habitat.

In the near future, if you want to take a truly memorable trip, I suggest you cross the park by train. Stop and stay in hotels rich in history. Climb pristine mountains. Or explore the forested valleys on horseback. After a day of watching all that wildlife, you can either lie down in a campground or bed down in a rustic country home. What a life!

The Big Three
Claude Desbiens

Montréal, Québec

Alberta is famous for its dry powder snow, its towering peaks and its luminous skies. The province's landscape offers exceptional sites for skiing and snowboarding. With thousands of hectares of powder snow and new snow falling almost daily, the ski areas of Banff in the Canadian Rockies are renowned worldwide. The Big Three are called: Lake Louise, Norquay and Sunshine Village.

Lake Louise is the biggest ski resort in the Rockies and one of the biggest in Canada. It measures 18 square kilometres and covers four mountainsides. Considered the most picturesque ski area in North America, Lake Louise is a paradise for downhill skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Ski Magazine consistently ranks it tops in natural beauty, warm friendly atmosphere, variety of ski terrain and value for your skiing dollar.

Norquay is considered the most family-friendly centre of the three. It is located just 10 minutes from the town of Banff. The first four ski trails you see as you approach the mountain are legendary because they rank among the most difficult you’ll ski anywhere. This ski area also offers easy trails for beginners, flexible hourly rates and night skiing — features that make it popular among visitors and locals alike.

Sunshine Village is located just outside Banff. It offers some of the best snow conditions in Canada and generally has the longest ski season, sometimes staying open until May. Its mountainside lodgings make Sunshine the most popular ski resort in the Rockies. If extreme skiing is your thing, your abilities will be put to the test on Delirium Dive. It is arguably the most extreme off-piste ski experience in Canada.

Jack London – and the Canadian North
Myriam Fimbry

Montréal, Québec

Jack London: sailor, adventurer, prospector, social conscience and writer.
Three of Jack London’s most famous books, "The Call of the Wild", "Love of Life" and "White Fang" are stirring hymns to the Great Canadian North. They draw their inspiration from London’s personal adventures in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush.

In 1897, Jack London embarked on his epic northern adventure. An able seaman afflicted with scurvy, he was forced to return to the mainland where he set about writing. His first book, "The Son of the Wolf", brought him to modest fame in 1900. The real success came with "The Call of the Wild", in1902. He died at the height of his celebrity at the age of 40.

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