To Canada Again, This Time West

Winter skyline, Edmonton, Alberta

On Sunday, February 27, I flew north to Calgary, Alberta. I was enroute to Edmonton, 175 miles north, to my second visit to the University of Alberta, but first stop was reconnection with a great old friend, Jeff Angel, who I had not seen in five years. Jeff and I go back to Canadian Airlines, when he and I both had PR jobs and American had an ownership interest (Air Canada acquired the company in 2000-01). Jeff met me at the airport. He opened his trunk and I snapped pictures of a quintessential Canadian still life: hockey skates, jumper cables, and jugs of windshield-washer fluid. Classic!

We drove a couple of miles south to a restaurant and yakked for two hours, catching up and laughing, me loudly enough to draw a few stares. Many patrons were watching the Scotties Tournament of Hearts women’s curling competition, which Team Saskatchewan won, thereby becoming Team Canada for 2011 (it’s an acquired taste, at least to this Yank).

Jeff Angel's almost stereotypically Canadian trunk, eh!

Jeff dropped me at the airport, I killed a few hours, and flew to Edmonton, arriving about nine. Hopped in a crowded shuttle and was at my hotel (adjacent to the U of A campus) before ten, into Serious Winter – fresh snow and 0º F. Woke up the next morning to a sound from my childhood, back to W. 50th Street in Edina, Minnesota: metal on pavement, as snow plows cleared campus parking lots. Zipped down to the fitness center for a bike ride to nowhere (though it was warm and dry, and not -8º), then down to breakfast at a greenie coffee shop (I was the only person in a necktie and the only male without facial hair).

At ten, I met my host, Kyle Murray, and we had a short chat before class. Kyle has created a very cool niche, the only school of retailing in a Canadian business school, and we talked about that and some other topics. At eleven, I delivered a talk to undergrads, and at noon to an occasional forum for MBAs and faculty, lots of fun, but requiring some fast talking (it’s really better to have 75 or more minutes). Kyle and I grabbed a quick lunch, and he peeled off.

I returned to the hotel, did some work, and headed out for a little look see, riding the light-rail train into downtown, then the #100 express bus out to the West Edmonton Mall. (Edmonton had received a lot of snow, and the streets were slippery and rutted, but the driver really knew how to handle it, and I complimented him when I got off; being a modest Canadian, he was surprised!). When opened in 1981, the mall was the largest in North America, and is still #1. It was the model for the Mall of America that opened some years later in suburban Minneapolis (Robin and Jack loved going there when we visited family). As you may know, I’m not really a mall person, so a quick walk past the skating rink, ersatz pirate cove, and water park were quite enough.

West Edmonton Mall

Hopped on the #106 bus, which took me to within a block of my hotel. The original plan was to walk 1.5 miles to a regarded Indian restaurant, but with the temp at -10º F and dropping, I opted instead for comfort food at the Highlevel Diner, three blocks from the hotel.

Was up way early on Wednesday morning, onto the airport shuttle van, quick breakfast at the airport Tim Horton’s (where else? I love Tim’s!), and onto a WestJet 737 to Vancouver. The flight was uncharacteristically empty. The cabin crew were true to that new airline’s friendly and engaging persona, especially the woman who did the announcements; a sample: after we took off, she warned us to be careful opening the overhead bins, because, she said, “Shift happens”!

Enroute from Edmonton to Vancouver

Before we took off, I had a nice T-t-S chat with a woman in my row, from High Level, a town of 3,000 in northern Alberta. She and her husband (also the mayor) owned an electronics store there, and she was headed to a Sony new-products show in Vancouver. We yakked about the weather, northern agriculture (at 60º N, you can’t plant until late May or early June, but the long summer days make up for it) of wheat and canola (the oilseed plant with the lovely yellow flowers), regional economic development, remoteness, family. I may have worn her out, because after takeoff she changed seats, and I opened my laptop to work.

Arrived in British Columbia a bit late, hopped on the new Canada Line train just before ten, and was downtown less than 30 minutes later. The escalator from the subway station surfaced in the splendidly restored waiting room of the former Canadian Pacific Railway station, a lovely public space. The scene made the Transport Geek smile.

Decorative sails, Canada Place

My hosts at the University of British Columbia kindly picked up the tab for the very posh room 616 at the nearby Fairmont Waterfront; after a string of fairly mundane rooms the luxury was appreciated – even more so the fact that it was a corner room with huge windows affording views of the harbor on one side and the city on the other. I worked my e-mail a bit, and at 11:10 got on the bus out to the school for my sixth consecutive visit. UBC is in a lovely setting on a peninsula, flanked by huge evergreens (I often think of the province as the Land of Big Trees).

New and old on the UBC Campus

I met my host, Nicole Adler, a visitor from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and we yakked a bit, then went for lunch with two Italian Ph.D. students from the University of Bergamo, near Milan, and David Gillen, one of my two regular UBC hosts. It was sort of “20 questions” for me, but they were eager to get my views on a range of airline issues. UBC is the only school I visit where the hosts are specifically transport people, and that makes it interesting. At two I delivered to a small group of undergrads and the two Italians. It would have been nice to do a bit more teaching, but it was good to combine the Alberta and B.C. trips into one.

I headed back downtown to see an old friend, Kathy Mullen, from the Oneworld Management Company, the group that coordinates and advances the activities of the oneworld airline alliance. Like Jeff Angel, I’ve known Kathy for more than 15 years, back to the old days of Canadian Airlines. At the Elephant & Castle pub, we had a drink and a good chat about the state of the alliance, various current and recently departed colleagues, and more. Staying connected, again.

Ambled back to the hotel, worked a bit, called Linda and Jack, and before eight headed out in light rain to Cardero’s, a favorite seafood place right on the water. They continue to build highrises along the water, and have changed the layout of the seawall promenade, but after a few detours I was tucking into a half-dozen local Effingham oysters and a pint of local pale ale. Nice! As I headed back to the hotel, I marveled at all the new development, thought about all that I had seen over the previous month in five of Canada’s six largest cities, and asked myself: do Canadians, people often decried as “socialists” by U.S. conservatives, have any trouble with economic development? Growth? Urban revitalization? No, they don’t. There are many paths. There is no single right answer.

Just when you think downtown Vancouver can't support more highrises, more sprout; the Marine Building, the older structure at left, was once the tallest building in the British Empire.

Was up early again the next morning, down to the hotel gym for 10 miles on an exercise bike, a bit of work, then out the door for brunch at Solly’s, a deli near city hall. My tablemate was John McCulloch, another friend from the Oneworld Management Company. When oneworld began in the late 1990s, they chose Vancouver as a central point. Canadian Airlines had its base there, Qantas and Cathay Pacific were across the Pacific, and the other carriers were east and south. But the airlines decided to relocate the management company to New York, and John was not moving with them. We yakked about the airline business, about plans, family. I’ve known him a dozen years, a good fellow, for sure. Flew home in the afternoon, but not before admiring this:

Young aboriginal artist Neil Goertzen received a 2009 scholarship from the Vancouver airport's art foundation for this work, Blue Mountain Hawk. Slow down when you're zipping through an airport -- you might get a pleasant surprise like this!

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1 Comment

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One response to “To Canada Again, This Time West

  1. No mention of Dylan’s birthday bonanza?!

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