Thursday, May 24, 2012

Whats That Thing on the Back of My Twenty?

I recently returned from a 14 month trip around Australia and S.E. Asia. Both regions have an abundance of rich cultural heritage, evident in their art. Trudging through the Vancouver Airport I noticed a piece of our own cultural heritage, a large greenish sculpture I recognized as a Haida piece. I knew I’d seen it before but I couldn’t quite place where. Later, when buying my first Double-Double since 2010 I saw it staring up at me from the back of a $20 bill.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid, commissioned in 1985 for the Canadian Embassy in Washington.  Cast in bronze, the original black version was recast in a jade patina for the Vancouver Airport.

That got me thinking. What other bits of Canadiana are on my money, and where are they from?

The Coins
The variety of indigenous species on our coins can be seen across the country, with the exception of the Polar Bear adorning our Toonies who only shows his white mug in the coldest of climates. Churchill, Manitoba or the Territories would be a great place to visit him.

Growing up in Atlantic Canada, I’d always identified with the face of our dimes. The  Bluenose II, hailing from Lunenburg NS is currently undergoing restorations but will be back in the water and offering cruises next year. 

The Bills
The Five Dollar Bill depicts the west Block of Parliament in Ottawa. On the reverse, children are tobogganing, skating and playing hockey. You can see that anywhere in Canada from around November to March. One player, interestingly, is sporting number 9. Though many greats, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and others wore that number, it is largely accepted as a tribute to Maurice Richard. An excerpt from Roch Carrier’s “The Sweater” on the bottom left of the note supports that theory. The Hockey Hall of Fame is in downtown Toronto.

The Ten note features an excerpt of “In Flanders Fields”. A salute to veterans and peace keeping it features a photo of war veteran Robert Metcalfe standing at the National War Memorial. The Memorial stands at Confederation Square, Ottawa.

The Twenty we’ve covered but if you ever get an old one you’ll see Moraine Lake on the reverse. You can visit Moraine Lake in Alberta, not far from Lake Louise.

Our Fifty Dollar note depicts the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill. A tribute to human rights on the reverse depicts the Famous Five, a statue of whom can be viewed in downtown Calgary near Olympic Plaza.  

The One Hundred Dollar Bill depicts the Eastern Block of Parliament on the front, while the reverse is a dedication to Canadian Exploration. One of Samuel Champlain’s maps and one of his canoes is depicted on the back. A statue of Champlain stands in Quebec City near Chateau Frontenac hotel.

So there you have it, now you know what's all over your money. Just in time too because they've just changed it. Now I have to do new research. Thats gonna cost me.

The Kirby Sewel Band

There’s nothing like seeing a big man with a big voice take charge on stage. Kirby Sewel is that man. We arrived at the Ironwood Stage and Grill early so we could get a good seat but were disappointed. The place was packed. Luckily we found the last bar table that let us see over the generally older crowd. 

As Kirby’s opening act kicked off, (one of those annoying acoustic guys who feel the need for a long, drawn out explanation before starting each song), Kirby swung by our table for a moment and said hi. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy and I was looking forward to hearing what he could do.

The band opened with a blues number that got the crowd moving in their seats. The sound is part The Commitments with shades of Van Morrison and the Blues Brothers. Maybe a little Blues Traveller with out all the harmonica. Their front man has one of those classic blues voices that carries right through you. Called "one of the finest Male Blues vocalists in Canada" by Real Blues Magazine, his voice is a versatile instrument that lends itself easily to country, jazz, gospel, and of course, the blues. His band is a tight foursome that transitioned easily from a bluesy country number, into a stripped down jazzy version of Pour Some Sugar over me. 

Kirby’s animated stage presence is kind of like John Belushi’s Joe Cocker from SNL. With flailing hands driving home the point someone has definitely done him wrong,  they played the songs from their two CDs. It wasn’t long before the crowd was up and dancing along. 

The Kirby Sewel Band’s original sound is a fun, upbeat journey that comes full circle through the modern roots spectrum. They have a big, light hearted sound that’s fresh and inspired. You can check out a few of their songs at  along with updates for future gigs. Definitely worth checking out.

Lounge Burger

I love burgers. In fact, I eat far too many. I’ll head for the nearest drive through at the first faint pangs of hunger, and order something with bacon and cheese on it. And it’s never a baked potato.

The other day after helping a friend drop her art off at a gallery, she offered to buy me lunch, suggesting Lounge Burger. I’d noticed it once or twice but never been in. I said “Great” and we pulled in.

Lounge Burger looks very cool. The stone and wood d├ęcor and low lighting provide a laid back atmosphere that’s stylish and fun. Each booth has a little LCD screen at the table. I was happy to see they were showing a replay of the previous night’s Pens/Flyers game as we sat. 

I noticed they had a lot of beer on tap. Local Big Rock varieties, Sleeman’s from out east, Keith’s from farther east and Sapporo from really far east. Above that I noticed the hockey game on a giant screen over the bar. I noticed that the drinks menu was pretty impressive as well. It was then I noticed that we’d been there for quite a while noticing things. 

Finally a waitress came by and dropped off menus and took our drink orders. The menu was fantastic with about a half a dozen different patties, from beef to elk, wagyu beef and lamb. When our waitress eventually found her way back to our table I ordered the signature burger with yam fries and my gracious burger benefactor ordered the bison burger. I was excited and very hungry!

Lounge Burger is not the place to go if you’re hungry. Immediately hungry I mean.  The portions are generous, it just takes forever to get them.  Even the distraction of the Flyers pounding the Penguins wasn’t enough for me to notice that it was taking a long, long time for us to get food. 

It was worth it. A burger cooked just right is an amazing thing, and this one was cooked perfectly. Not a second too long. The caramelized onions played off the mild cheddar perfectly, and peppered bacon was a pure delight. There was some sort of aioli that gave the sandwich a great flavor and moisture. The yam fries were delicious as well, however the red pepper aioli that came with them was watery and relatively flavourless.

All in all I thought left Lounge Burger full and happy. I think I’ll go back and try one of their many other burger options one day soon. I’ll just be sure to have a snack first!

Ray Charles Tribute Orchestra

You can catch live music at The Blues Can on 9th just about any night of the week. Tonight we I joined my friends half way through a plate of salt and pepper wings, just in time to catch Donald Ray Johnson's second set.

Dressed in a custom cut purple suit and ash grey fedora, he looked every bit the blues man as he broke into the Bobby Sharp/Ray Charles standard "Unchain My Heart". Mr. Johnson lived up to his image. Fronting the Ray Charles Orchestra a 3 piece brass section, piano, guitar, standup bass, and drum accompanying 3 backing vocalist, the old blues singer belted out a tribute of Ray Charles hits, including Baby Its Alright, and I've Got A Woman.  The 10 piece ensemble is a tight talented group lifting up Donald Ray's voice without over powering his often understated and soulful voice.

After 40 years this bluesman from Bryan Texas is still going strong. Commanding a career highlighted by a grammy win, awarded winner of Blues Vocalist of the Year by Real Blues Magazine, and 2 nominations for the Maple Blues award, Donald Ray is the true embodiment of old school southern blues.

Ray Charles Tribute Orchestra can be seen at the Calgary Internationals Blues Festival on August 2, and Blues Bash at Sylvan Lake August 18.