On Wednesday, March 24, I met former workmate and pal-since-1963 Steve Schlachter for a cup of coffee near the airport, then flew up to Vancouver for my fifth annual lecture at the University of British Columbia. Having seen a lot of the city and province during the Winter Olympics a month earlier, I was delighted to visit. For the first time in my spring lectures, we landed in clear weather, a lovely day. And for the first time I was able to ride a train from the airport to downtown, the Canada Line that opened in 2009 in time for the games.It’s a great ride, driverless, and 26 minutes to town. The escalator from Waterfront station surfaced in the wonderful 1914 Canadian Pacific Railway station, once the terminus of that great transcontinental line. The waiting room was restored 25 years ago (it’s also a station for the suburban commuter line called the West Coast Express), and it’s a lovely sight.
Ambled a block north to the Fairmont Waterfront, my usual digs in Vancouver, checked in, worked my e-mail, and walked a couple of blocks to see old friends at the head office of the oneworld airline alliance. It was great to catch up with Kathy Mullen, a friend back to the days of American’s investment in Canadian Airlines, plus Brit Michael Blunt (visiting from London), and others. I met for a bit with Nicolas Ferri, the #2 man, who has hired me for some consulting. A nice visit.
Early in every visit to Canada, I have an “Aha!” moment, when I look around, smile, and say to myself, “everyone is covered – they all have health insurance.” That day, it happened on the 044 express bus out to UBC. It’s always a nice reminder that Canada is a fairer and more equal place. I love my country, but it is not the just society that many think it is. My Aha happened the day after President Obama signed the health-reform bill, a step in the right direction, but still not the universal coverage that every other industrial country provides its citizens.
We arrived at UBC 35 minutes later, the campus buzzing with mid-afternoon activity, everyone enjoying the sun and relative warmth. I ambled around the campus for an hour or so, and at 5:15 met my host, Professor Tae Oum, a friendly fellow. Delivered my lecture on airline alliances to an engaged (and largely Asian) class.
Afterward, Tae’s teaching assistant, Mia Zhou, and two students, Gabrielle from Lyon, France, and Abi from Mauritius, and I drove to Granville Avenue in search of Vij’s, a highly regarded Indian restaurant that I had read about. Unhappily, the wait was 90 minutes, so we headed up the street to a Korean barbecue restaurant for a hybrid Japanese-Korean meal – sushi and sashimi for appetizer, and Korean main course, cooked on braziers at the table. Lots of fun, and great chatter. High point was Tae telling his story of how he arrived in Canada from Korea, and stayed. He also entertained the Transport Geek with a lot of information about his consulting work with Japan Central Railway, operators of the Shinkansen high-speed trains between Tokyo and Osaka (just two tidbits: at peak times, trains operate every three minutes in both directions, and 200 million per year ride the line). Tae drove me back to my hotel. It was past 10:30 and I was beat.
Was up before seven on Thursday morning. The Fairmont doorman’s prediction, a day earlier, of “100% chance of grim [weather]” looked close to true, but it was not yet raining, so I signed out a cool bicycle and helmet and took off on bikeways, north around Stanley Park, along English Bay, and the north bank of False Creek, to the Olympic Village (now quiet), and back to the hotel, 13 miles, a great and invigorating ride. Vancouver is a lovely city, and the cyclist sees and benefits from a lot of smart planning. The province’s logo declares it “The Best Place on Earth,” which is close to true.
High point of the ride were the hundreds of massive evergreens in the park – it is the land of big trees. The rain began just as I wheeled back into the hotel driveway. Grabbed a quick breakfast at Tim Horton’s, the Canadian coffee and donut institution (and perhaps my favorite fast-food place), and hopped back on the Canada Line, riding not to the airport, but to the center of Richmond, the heavily Asian suburb just south of the runways.I ambled a couple of blocks in steady rain to the Richmond Public Market, busy with Chinese shoppers buying produce (one stand had a dozen varieties of the greens similar to bok choy), meat, spices, herbs, and more. It was an interesting place.
Headed back to the airport, checked in, and sat down for lunch at another Tim Horton’s, where I met Harvey and Margie Rice, a grain and livestock farmer and fourth-grade (or Grade 4, as they say in Canada) teacher respectively, from Lacombe, Alberta, halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. They were headed to Hawai’i for the first time, and were pretty excited. We yakked for 40 minutes. I’ve met many Canadians, and can tell you that the Rices were as fine a couple of ambassadors from our northern neighbor as I’ve met in my nearly 43 years of travel, embodying the finest and most decent traits of that big country. We covered a lot of topics, nodding our heads in agreement. And in 3 hours and 30 minutes, I was back in Texas.
I maybe should have stayed north of the border, because on the following Monday morning I flew to Toronto. Landed at three, caught the #192 bus, the Airport Rocket, then the subway into town (my “everyone has health insurance” moment happened on the train). By 4:15 I was yakking with my longtime geographer-friend Tony Lea in his office at Environics Analytics, a marketing analytics and research firm heavily focused on geodemographics – the science of using information about who lives where, in this case to solve various marketing challenges. We had a good chat and headed to dinner with a couple of his colleagues, Jan and Catherine.
We yakked the next morning, had a fun lunch with two younger geographers, and I peeled off, spending the afternoon wandering around downtown Toronto – it was a sunny spring day, which put smiles on lots of people.Downtown residential development continues, the recession notwithstanding, with many new towers going up. Poked around City Hall a bit, admiring the statue of Winston Churchill and some interesting interpretive text on adjacent panels. During his second visit to Canada in 1929, he wrote his wife:
I am greatly attracted to this country. Immense developments are going forward. Never in my whole life have I been welcomed with so much genuine interest . . . as throughout this vast country. I am profoundly touched and I intend to devote my strength to interpreting Canada to my people and vice-versa.
His words made my smile, because they mirrored my thoughts about this vast and wonderful land early in my travels there, and more than 60 visits later, I still feel that way.
I ambled north on University Avenue to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, housed in a ponderous Romanesque Revival building, and in no time I was sitting in the house gallery.No contentious issues were on the table, only some discussion about joining the national government in affirming April 9 as a day to remember Vimy Ridge, a battle in World War I that was pivotal in forging Canadian national identity. The Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, and the leaders of the two opposition parties, also delivered speeches marking the death of John Babcock, the last Canadian to serve in “the war to end all wars.” We paused for a moment of silence, and I moved on to the University of Toronto to see a couple of colleagues in the business school, then back out to the airport and home, passing four of the Great Lakes in short order.
We were back in Texas, home, just before sunset.