Thursday, February 25, 2021

Celebrating Canada Day in Canmore -2005


Canada Day is a celebration of the foundation of Canada. On July 1, 1867, the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick joined together into one confederated dominion. Like July 4th in The United States, it is celebrated by large events in the large cities, and by smaller events in small towns. In 2005, I was finishing up a one-year stint teaching in Canmore, Alberta, so we stayed in town long enough to watch the Canada Day celebration there.

 Like any small town, the celebration in Canmore was a truly local affair. No big floats, or high power stars, but lots of people from the community, both in the parade and lining the street. Canmore was the site of the cross-country skiing events during the 1988 Olympics. It is still home to the National Cross-Country Ski Center. So before the parade, some of the local skiers put on a demonstration of their summer training practices. 

Cross-Country Skiers


Alberta has strong ties to the Scottish settlers who came here over 100 years ago. The local Pipe and Drum Corp carry on part of that tradition.

As in many towns in Canada, Canmore has a local Junior-Hockey team. They were also in the parade.



As in many places around North America, the Shriners participated, bringing their "tiny cars" brigade.



I am not a big follower of "national celebrations," in the U.S. or abroad, but being in a small town certainly has different feel than you get in a large city. 

Chuck Wagaon getting ready for the Calgary Stampede


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Volgograd 2006 - The Battle of Stalingrad

To Berlin

My trip to Russia in 2006 finished with a short stop in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. It was the site of the third major battle that turned the fortunes for the Allies during World War II.

Volgograd was founded as Tsaritsyn in 1589, on the banks of the Volga River. It became a major river port and industrial city. In 1925 it was renamed Stalingrad, in honor of Joseph Stalin and his role in leading the fight against the White Army in the area during the Russian Revolution. In 1961, is was renamed again, as Volgograd.

The Volga River

The Battle of Stalingrad lasted from August 2, 1942 until February 2, 1943. German, Italian, Romanian and Hungarian forces attacked the city, in an attempt to a front between the Volga and Don Rivers and prevent Russian troops in Eastern Russia from joining the war. The Luftwaffe place the city under constant bombardment, and the Axis force quickly invaded. Over the next 200 days fight was carried out literally street to street and house to house, as the German troops slowly moved through the city. By November 1942, 90% of Stalingrad fell under German control. Soviet troops had to sneak across the Volga to join the battle. At that same time, a counter offensive was launched, in the city and along the Don River. This put Axis forces into an unwinnable position, and they could not maintain the their advance in the area. By February 2, the Germans had suffered over 800,000 casualties. The Soviet forces lost 1.2 million soldiers and several hundred thousand civilians. The Battle of Stalingrad served as both a military and morale victory. It was the first major loss by the German Army.    

Children's Dance Fountain by Sergey Strunnikov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1959 construction began on The Monument to Heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad, on Mamayev Kurgen, a hit outside of town. It is one of the highest points and there was severe fighting for control of this hill. At the center of the monument is the 85 meter tall statue “The Motherland is Calling”. To get that magnificent statue, to climb 200 steps, representing the 200 days of the battle. The stairs are lined with statues and friezes depicting the suffering of the soldiers and citizens of Stalingrad. 

At the top of Mamayev Kurgen sits “The Motherland is Calling.” Underneath is a hall of remembrance. As you walk down a ramp into the hall, you pass plaques with the names of soldiers killed in the battle. In the hall is the grave of Vasily Chuikov, who led the Soviet Forces at Stalingrad. When you visit, don’t forget to buy a small bouquet of flowers from one of the babushkas to lay in the hall. 

Grave of Vasily Chuikov

Nearby is the Panorama Museum of Stalingrad. Here there are many documents and photos regarding the Battle of Stalingrad. At its heart is a 360-degree mural that depicts the battle. The museum sits on the banks of the Volga, and has wonderful views of the river. Next door is the ruins of a steel mill that was destroyed during the battle.

Museum of Panorama

I can’t say that Volgograd is a major tourist stop. However, in contrast to both Moscow and St, Petersburg, it was the place that I felt was most authentically “Russian”. It was not trying to be something, or to impress outsiders. It just was what it was, and that made it worth visiting.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

St. Petersburg Russia - 2006

The Fonatanka Canal

This week I am continuing to revisit my 2006 trip to the sites of three battles the turned the tide of World War II. After starting in Moscow, It was time to travel north, up to St. Petersburg.

Peter and Paul Fortress

St. Petersburg, formally known as Petrograd and Leningrad, was founded by Peter the Great in 1703. It served as the capital of Russia from 1713 until the Russian Revolution in 1918. The city sits at the mouth of the Neva River, and has served as one of Russia’s primary ports. Peter the Great hired Domenico Trezzini to design the city in 1716. Trezzini was inspired by Venice and Peter’s city was built around a set of islands and canals.

University Embankment

During the time of the Russian empire, St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the country. Several opera and ballet companies are still based there, and it is home to The Hermitage, one of the largest fine art museums in the world.

The Mariinsky Opera Company - A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace), CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to having the chance to spend a few days with The Amazin' Ms. D as she finished up a writer’s workshop, I want to come to St. Petersburg to pay tribute to those heroes who lost their lives during the Siege of Leningrad. On Sept. 8 1941, German, Finnish and Italian troops advanced on the city, cutting it off from the rest of the Soviet Union. For over 2 years Leningrad was under attack and on its own.

Deror_avi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The siege held until January 27, 1944. In that time, there were over four million Soviet military and over half a million Axis casualties. Also, there were over one million civilian deaths, many of them due to starvation. 

Tomb of the Unknown at Leningrad Memorial

If you travel south from the center of the city to Plotshchad Probedy (Victory Square) you will find the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad. This monument and museum opened in 1975, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the end of World War II. It consists of a large plaza surrounded by statues representing the soldiers and citizens of the city. There is an obelisk that marks the grave of the Unkown Soldier, along with gallery space for permanent and temporary exhibits.

Mosaic depicting the siege of Leningrad

Of course, there is a lot to see in St. Petersburg. One place to visit is The Church on Spilled Blood. This museum of religious mosaics was built as an orthodox church on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. It sits along the Griboyedov Canal, giving a wonderful walk and view as you approach it. The was a wonderful tourist market behind the museum.

Church on Spilled Blood

At the St. Petersburg Technical Institute you will find a throw-back to your high school chemistry class. The college was where Dmitry Mendeleev taught and it where he developed the first version of the Periodic Table of Elements. He, and it, have been memorialized in a small park across from the school, where there is statue of the chemist and huge wall mosaic of his table. You will find this tribute along Moskovskiy Prospect, across from the university.

Dmitry Mendeleev

St. Petersburg is a city of canals and bridges. The Bank Bridge, with its beautiful Griffins. 

Nearby is the Singer House. Built as the Russian home of the Singer Sewing Company, is also served as the U.S. embassy during World War I.

One interesting fact is that all of the bridges in the city remain closed all day long. There are so many, that to open them for boats would cause major traffic problems. Then, at midnight, they all open simultaneously, allowing boats to bring freight throughout the city. One popular activity, especially during the White Nights period, is to take a midnight cruise along the canals and rivers.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that my impression of Moscow was a city trying to become a modern European capital. Well, to my eye, St. Petersburg is a city that revels in its past as the home of the Tsarist Russian Empire. It offers a lot to see and enjoy.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Walk along the Moskva River to Gorky Park - 2006


One of Stalin's Seven Sisters

This week I am continuing to revisit my 2006 trip to Russia. After seeing the Kremlin and downtown Moscow, I spent a day walking along the Moskva River.

Replica of David

I started my morning at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art. This museum was founded in 1898 as the Alexander III Museum at the Moscow University. It was a place where art students could come and study. Its collection at that time was primarily copies of works and casts of statues from around the world, a common practice in an era when travel was difficult and there was no tv or internet. Over the next twenty years, this museum became to primary collection of fine art in Moscow. After the Russian Revolution, art from many private collections was were transferred to the museum, along with works transferred from the Hermitage in Leningrad. In 1932 the name was changed to the State Museum of Fine Art, and in 1937, Pushkin’s name was added, to commemorate the centennial of his death. The museum remains Moscow’s main collection of art from around the world.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Nearby is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. This new church was constructed on the spot of an old cathedral that was torn down in 1932 with plans to build the People’s Congress. In 1990, permit was given to construct the cathedral and it opened in 2000. It is the third tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world.

Ministry of Defense - Soviet era building

Continuing south along the river, I encountered a memorial that just seemed out of place. The Peter the Great Memorial was built in 1997 to mark the tricentennial of the founding of the Russian Navy. It towers almost 100 meters over the Moskva. I will just point out that it has been named to several “ugliest building” lists on travel website, and leave it at that.

Peter the Great Memorial

My main targets for the day were a little further downstream. Gorky Park was someplace that I was interested in ever since I read Martin Cruz Smith’s book of the same name, back in 1981. The park opened in 1928, built by the Soviet government as a place for the workers in Moscow to bring their families for a day of rest and relaxation. It had places for concerts, and amusement rides, many aimed at young children. When I visited in 2006, this was still the case. There were families everywhere, and rides for people of all ages, from a double decker carousel, to two roller coasters, to ride inside a space shuttle. The Buran was moved to the Russian Exhibition Center (VDNKh) in 2014 in preparation for total renovation of Gorky Park, which removed all of the rides except the carousel.

Entrance to Gorky Park via Wikicommons

The Buran - a space shuttle prototype

Across the street from Gorky Park’s main entrance is the Muzeon Park of the Arts. This outdoor sculpture garden includes works by Russian avant-garde artists and many contemporary artists. However, it is best known as the modern home for many Soviet era statues that were removed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993.

Einstien and Bohr

Soviet era monument to moving to the future together

The Muzeon Park is right next to the New Tretyakov Gallery. This wonderful museum is dedicated to Russian Art from the 20th century.

Entrance to the Tretyakov Gallery

These are just a few of the cultural spots that I encountered on my 2006 trip to Moscow. They are all still there. Next week, on to Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

Teenagers are the same all over the world

Lenin on a traffic island