Etched in my memory and will stay there for some time is a rustic museum nestled in a canopy of maples and evergreens. The bright neon colors superimposed the dark greens. What a sight! But the real treasure is inside - its collection of Canadian art.
Curious to see how Fall unfolds in the McMichael Museum, we drove there one Saturday morning. We bought our tickets online to make sure of our places. We also reserved spots for lunch at the Museum's restaurant.
To my surprise, many cars have already parked. We were not as early as we planned for lunch. My friend had visited the Museum previously, but for me, it was the first time. When we drive to the cottage, we always see the sign to the Museum. Nothing would make family members stop for a second on such drives. They have already seen the Museum, and they can hardly wait to be at the cottage.
The place immediately captivated me. The architecture, the design, and the acres of land surrounding it were a feast to the eyes. I could hardly wait to go in.
History of the Museum
I have not read much about the Museum before the visit, as I wanted to be surprised. So, I could hardly contain my excitement. But before going to the collection, a bit of history on this Museum.
This Museum started with the vision or, perhaps, the obsession of Robert and Signe McMichael. They visualized a publicly owned gallery, which will be a Canadian sanctuary to be enjoyed by all. So, in 1952, the couple bought 10 acres of land in Kleinburg, Ontario, and started actively collecting works of Tom Thompson and the Group of 7.
Tom Thompson often departed for his foray at the Algonquin Park from Canoe Lake, where they found his dead body. Though not a part of the Group of 7, he was always associated with the Group. Below is a painting of one of the Group of 7, Franklin Carmichael. This particular painting is in the McMichael Museum.
The McMichael's enthusiasm inspired other donors and artists to add to their growing collection, which they displayed in the house they built on the property. Designed by Architect Leo Venchiarutti, this house became the repository of their original collections.
In 1965, the McMichaels found themselves with a collection that sparked public interest in Canada's artists and so offered their land, home, and collections to the Province of Ontario, which officially opened this Museum bearing their name on July 8, 1966. The artist, A.Y. Jackson, lived in the McMichael's home in the last years of his life, a start to the many artists on residence in the Museum.
It is indeed a remarkable story of how a couple's love for art grew their home and collection into a fantastic legacy.
The Museum Collection
A total of 6,500 artworks comprise the Museum's permanent collection. This include works of those who contributed to the development of art in Canada:
Many Lives Mark This Place
Exhibitions and Other Activities
When we visited this Fall, there was a fascinating exhibition of the works of John Hartman, Many Lives Mark This Place. Superimposed on iconic Canadian landscapes were portraits of famous writers who found a physical, emotional, and philosophical inspiration in each of these places. As seen from the artist's eyes and the writers, these places stood out in different ways. I wish to visit these places and experience these authors' deeper meaning and appreciate Canadian literature's richness.
Above is a painting of the Toronto Star award-winning investigative reporter, Tanya Talaga. Hartman showed in the middle distance below the river the Fort William First Nations Reserve, of which Tanya's grandmother is a band member.
I was also surprised to see many works of Norval Morriseau. I found out that in 1979, he was resident in the Museum. Morriseau is a first nation artist I admire. Raised by his grandfather, a well-respected shaman, and a Catholic in the Sandpoint Reserve of Northwestern Ontario, his works expressed this unique shamanic spirituality peppered by Catholicism.
Above are two of Morriseau's works displayed at the Museum.
Aside from the exhibitions, there are:
The Sculptures on the Museum Grounds
Take note as well of the various sculptures strategically displayed on the grounds of the Museum. As you walk towards the entrance, there are sculptures of three foxes. They are an important reminder that this place was once a wilderness.
But something you should not miss is the Inukshuk, pieces of rocks formed together into a human structure. The Inuits used this to herd the caribou or mark a site. David Ruben Piqtoukun made this particular Inukshuk celebrating the first Native Business Summit in June 1986.
The McMichael's Museum is in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada, just a short drive from Toronto.
For more information, visit the Museum's website.
Just mention the word Berber, and immediately your imagination takes you to the desert where a group of nomads trek with their camels. Facing head-on the desert wind, they navigate through knowing how to flow with the sand to conserve their energy. Inside of them, they keep the age-old knowledge and feel for the desert that hundreds of ancestors have shared with them.
Today, many of the Berbers no longer live nomadic lives and have settled down to become farmers doing agriculture and raising cattle, sheep and goats in the mountains and valleys of Morocco. They participate actively in the Moroccan economy, especially in the area of tourism where their natural hospitality makes them competent tourist guides.
In Morocco, there are about 10.4 million Berbers. They constitute about 40% of Morocco’s population. The Berbers are not only in Morocco but are also in neighbouring Saharan countries including Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The Tuareg Berbers live mainly in Mauretania, Niger, Mali, and Burkina-Fasso.
My fascination with the Berbers started when we visited the parts of Spain formerly ruled by the Almoravids and the Almohads. Inspired by what I saw of their achievements in the Spanish cities of Cordoba and Granada, I immediately accepted the invitation of family members to visit Morocco.
They are the indigenous people inhabiting the land that stretches from Egypt to the Sahel. They include these tribes: the Drawa, inhabiting the Draa Valley; the Dades, who live in the North-East; the Mesquite, Seddrat and Zeri, who live in the North-West; and the Ghomara, who call the Rif Region home.
Berbers have influenced history for millions of years and though a minority in a few countries now, their culture seems to peek through the dominance of whatever cultures they have inserted themselves. We saw the Berber talent and skills in the old souks of Morocco and Fez where the colourful woven carpets, the kills, hang on the walls with intricately embroidered fabrics and elegantly crafted jewellery.
The Berbers proudly call themselves “Imazighen” ( “Amazigh” for males; Tamazight for females) which means noble people. Unhappily, most of us equate the Berbers with barbarians because of the Greek word, barbarous (barbarian), used then to refer to foreigners who did not speak Greek. Eventually, the name became associated with those who were uncivilized and, today, this is its widespread use.
I was further impressed when I read that the following famous people are indeed Berbers:
Furthermore, the Berbers were responsible for establishing many of the trading routes between the West-African and the Sub-Saharan region. In their camel caravans, they transported goods in five trans-Saharan trade routes to cities like Timbuktu in Mali. From here, these goods reached the far corners of the world. One of these goods transported was rock salt, the then Saharan desert prime resource.
Traditionally, Berber men raised cattle, sheep, and goats. Some worked in flour mills, quarry millstones, made pottery, woodcarving and jewellery. The women tended to the home, cooked and wove rugs and also made pottery and crafts. Though still true of the Berbers living in the mountains and rural areas today, many Berbers have now found employment in the cities mostly in tourism. Due to their hospitable nature and broad knowledge of the country, the tourism industry values their involvement. The more adventurous of them became migrant workers as far as Spain or France.
The Berbers, initially been Christians or Jews, to survive and stay in their land, converted to Islam in the middle of the 7th century. That was the start of the Arabization of their language, tribal laws and literary traditions.
Despite the modernization of the Berbers, about 40% of them in Morocco only speak their native dialect. They talk not one language but several dialects which are different from each other. Of these dialects, most of them prefer to speak mainly: Tarifiyt in the north, Tashelhiyt in the south-west, and Tamazight in the centre. This Tamazight language has 38 consonants but only three vowels. The Berber dialects have elements of the Germanic languages because the Vandals ruled the northern part of Africa for about a hundred years.
When we went to Morocco this time, we chose to spend a day in the Moroccan village about several hours drive from the city. When we arrived in the hamlet, the guide unusually a woman welcomed us to their home, a typical Berber abode but more significant because of her father's status in the village. She brought us to a traditionally designed rooftop area where we had a very distinct view of the landscape.
We welcomed the hearty breakfast, having driven early from the city. The main feature, for me, is the traditional bread baked in a makeshift oven drizzled with honey. Served with this bread is the conventional thick brown paste made out of almonds, honey and, of course, the famous Moroccan argan oil. Olives grown right in the area complimented the breakfast, and a cup of fresh mint tea finished it.
After breakfast, our guide brought us around the village through winding paths in the hillside. The picture presented a traditional village hundreds of years ago centred around its traditional communal olive press and amid mud-caked homes plastered on the sides of steep hills. I felt transported to centuries ago when civilization was at its beginning.
It was interesting to meet the families living in the area. Our guide told us stories of how some family members moved and worked in the city and come and visit the families every so often. As they bring back home their earnings, improvements in their standards of living appear.
The single thing that intrigued us most was how our guide broke through the conventions of her culture to be in her current position. It was an exciting series of decisions which gladly her parents supported. She studied, lived in the city and learned the ropes of the tourism industry. She is not stopping at this as she outlined her plans for the future. Inspired, we reluctantly left the village, said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to the city.
A piece of us stayed there, but a more significant bit of them came back with us forever etched in our memory.
In the Fall, Monticello is transformed into a festival of colours and the majestic view of the Blueridge Mountains that Jefferson enjoyed during his lifetime is there for you to enjoy.
Jefferson, the third President of the United States, designed this plantation. Monticello is not only a historic national landmark but also a UNESCO Heritage site together with the University of Virginia that Jefferson also designed.
Just outside of Charlottesville in the Piedmont region of Virginia, this 5,000 acres of land was first worked on by African slaves cultivating tobacco, a popular and lucrative export then. So, as you go in the place from the parking lot, there is the cemetery for the slaves.
In the Fall, it is such a beautiful place especially with the maples changing colours but beneath this beauty, the dark history of slavery lingers.
When Jefferson lived there, there were about 150 slaves working in the plantation. Today, there is a marked off are where the slaves were buried as you can see in the picture below.
Monticello during the time of Jefferson totalled to around 5000 acres planted in tobacco which was the cash crop at that time. Thus, the slaves to work on the plantation. There are still some of the dwellings of the slaves on the property along Mulberry Row. Mulberry Row was an experiment on silk making. It is along here that the slaves lived.
Along Mulberry Row were the slave dwellings and one of these is shown below.
Monticello during the time of Jefferson was almost a self-contained plantation with most of its needs produced there and the services were attended to as well. So, there are trades workshops in the place to provide these services. Some of the slaves became skilled working in these.
Below is the garden which at the time of Jefferson not only provided for the plantation needs but also served as an experimental farm where he planted plants he brought from his travel.
Jefferson also designed the basement area of the house where a wine cellar, storage places and work areas were placed. Below are some of the pictures.
Archaelogy students continue to dig in the property and more will be discovered about Monticello. We await as it reveals more of its secrets.
More information on Monticello:
Address: 931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy, Charlottesville, VA 22902, United States
Most visitors and even city residents miss visiting the Toronto Islands. There are 15 islands in this chain dotting the western part of Lake Ontario not far from downtown. So, from downtown Toronto, you can take a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal which is at the foot of Bay St. and Queen's Quay. It will take you around 13 minutes to reach the island and the fee is $7.50 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.
Once there, you can walk or bike around the islands which are interconnected with pathways and boardwalks.
It was in Spring when I took this picture so the waves were stronger.
We were lucky to have been brought to the Island by a member of the sailing club located there so we had a delicious breakfast in the club house and even better took the boat of the sailing club. This picture was taken in the balcony of the club and the background is downtown Toronto with the iconic CN Tower.
It was quite a privilege to have been brought there by someone who has lived on the island. We got to know what it is like to live there all year long. I was surprised to see how many houses and quaint cottages there are and how difficult it is to get a place here. You have to pay to maintain your name on the wait list and it could take forever to get one. A friend just took out her name on the list knowing that she would never be able to get a place in her lifetime.
Below is a picture of one of the cottages on the island. It looks very idyllic especially in the Spring.
Toronto Islands is a 150-year old community with about with about 600 people living in 262 houses and cottages.
Toronto Islands offer interesting places to explore. In fact, if you want to do it leisurely, you can stay overnight or for a few days and enjoy the peace and quiet of the islands, a stark contrast from the busy downtown core of Toronto. There are pathways, boardwalks and bike paths connecting the islands. It is totally car free.
For those who have kids, the Amusement Park in the Centre Island would be your best destination. It offers all kinds of rides including swan boats going around a small lagoon, a petting zoo, a maze and a beach.
One of the places you can hang out in is Ward's Island. The most visited place may just be the Rectory Cafe as many people from downtown Toronto come to enjoy dining al fresco on very delicious and tasty food without paying exorbitant prices. We had lunch here when we visited and thoroughly enjoyed the food.
Below is the Willow Square, a community initiative based on the work of Maggie Howarth, a renowned pebble mosaic artist. The island residents did this to express their life, their history and their natural world. It is the heart of the community.
In summer, you can enjoy the beaches in the islands. You can have a picnic, swim, sun tan, or walk. Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach and Ward’s Island Beach.
Below is a recycling depot in the island. The island is tiny so every step to maintain it is taken assiduously by the residents. It would be a great help if you don't leave more garbage there.
And if you're one of those who love an adventure, go and visit one of Toronto's oldest building. Dating back to 1808, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Islands is rumoured to be haunted. So, on a full moon, head there and you might just hear the scream of the first lighthouse keeper, JP Rademueller, who was murdered by two soldiers at Fort York. It seems his screams can be heard from one part of the island to the other.
For more on the interesting history of the islands, visit this site.
From the uninspiring rail yards, New York City has developed a towering sculpture that has attracted shopping malls, restaurants with celebrity chefs and millions of visitors.
This towering sculpture called "The Vessel" offers a magnificent view of New York. It's meant to be climbed with a group of your friends. There's an elevator for those who have mobility issues.
Explore The Shed and enjoy some artistic inventions. Or, go sky high at The Edge where you can enjoy a view of New York from a hundred stories up.
It is best to go there late in the afternoon to enjoy the rosy sunsets with the Hudson River. Maybe, make a day of it, and enjoy the Public Square and Gardens, the smartest park in New York. You can also stay in one of the hotels or even live there in one of the residences.
Location of Hudson Yards
Below is the map showing the location of Hudson Yards.
Climbing the Vessel
Spanish Market at Hudson Yards
While there, go to the Mercado in the basement and enjoy a jug of sangria with your friends. Below, the Lady is mixing a sangria for our table. With your sangria, have some patatas bravos, jamon iberico and some of your favourite Spanish tapas.