MarySmith’sPlace – #Canada (part 2)

I got a bit sidetracked by the launch of Secret Dumfries but here’s the second post about my trip to Canada.

My two-week visit to Canada – specifically, Vancouver – went by like lightning as I tried to see as much as was possible in between visiting and reminiscing with my aunt. Here are some of the highlights.

I loved Vancouver’s Lookout Tower (which I first read about in Tess Karlinski’s How the Cookie Crumbles blog. I went with my cousins Grace and Helen. The lift takes forty seconds to whiz you 553.16 feet (168.60metres) to experience a 360 degree view over the city. Grace, who hadn’t heard of it until I mentioned I’d like to go, loved how it gave her a completely different perspective of her city. I rather liked that it took someone from Scotland to introduce her to this view of her city!

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View from the top of the Lookout Tower

Grace and I visited the Burnaby Village Museum. It’s a 1920s village (which Canadians view as really old) with restored houses, shops, businesses and school. There was a rather scary teacher in the school who told me off for wearing nail polish!

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At Burnaby Village Museum

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Gastown is described as Vancouver’s most dynamic neighbourhood. It owes its existence to Gassy Jack and the saloon he built when he arrived in 1867 with a barrel of whisky and a knack for telling tales. Loggers and mill-workers followed the whisky and Gastown was named to honour Jack. Vancouver grew out of this rough neighbourhood. Today, Gastown has been cleaned up and is one of the main tourist areas with shops and restaurants. It also boasts the steam clock, Gastown’s most famous landmark. It was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver’s distributed steam heating system, as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.


The Steam Clock Photo credit: Tourism Vancouver

Capilano Suspension Bridge is 230 feet high with a 450 feet span over the Capilano Canyon. I didn’t mind the height, or the distance across the bridge but having two-way traffic meant it did have quite a sway – and when someone stopped to take a selfie everyone got jammed up and the bridge did a bit of extra swaying, especially if impatient people tried to walk past the selfie-taker.  DSC00172 (Custom)

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The nearest I got to a bear!

Most of all, this visit to Canada was about family – getting to know some of those I’d never met, catching up with those I had, like Aunt May and my cousin Janis, who I’d kind of hero-worshipped when I was growing up so it was wonderful to meet her again.

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It’s going to be fun seeing these young members of my ‘new’ family grow up.

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One of the most fascinating outings was to the Museum of Anthropology – but it needs a post to itself – next time.

MarySmith’sPlace – Secret Dumfries

Secret Dumfries has now hit the book shelves – well, it’s certainly on Amazon because I checked earlier and they’d already sold all but one copy. 51zyoVlFK0L

Photographer Keith Kirk and I have really enjoyed working on this book. It’s a book Doonhamers will love. A Doonhamer is a person born and bred in Dumfries, south west Scotland. The expression came about when people from Dumfries worked in the factories in Strathclyde during the war. At the weekend they would say they were going ‘doon hame’ (down home) and the name stuck.

Doonhamers – wherever they might now live – love their town and its history and the people who made it. Much has been written about Dumfries, its history, trades and markets and about the famous people – Robert Burns, J M Barrie for example – connected to the town. We wanted to unearth some of the lesser known aspects of the town’s history and shine a spotlight on some of the almost-forgotten people who should be remembered.

One of my favourites is Miss Jessie McKie, the first and, so far, only woman to be given the Freedom of the Burgh. The daughter of a wealthy businessman, she used her inheritance to build public baths, a washhouse (a steamie), carry out the widening of the bridge on the main road into the town and was even proprietor of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, Scotland’s oldest working theatre.

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Miss McKie’s silver Burgess casket

Many Doonhamers have never heard of Miss McKie, nor of Blin Tam, the bell-ringer who, despite having lost his sight as a child when he contracted smallpox, was the chief bell-ringer at the town’s Midsteeple for about 65 years. Although Patrick Miller was not technically a Doonhamer – more of an in-comer – he made a lasting contribution to the estate and village of Dalswinton near Dumfries. He may (or may not) have been responsible for introducing the swede to Scotland, courtesy of a gift of seeds from King Gustav 111 of Sweden. And he wanted to develop the first paddle boat powered by steam, a wish he achieved on 14 October, 1788 on Dalswinton Loch with, reputedly, Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns on board.

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Replica of Patrick Miller’s steamboat

We were determined not to focus on Burns as he is most definitely not a secret. However, we did give him a mention because not everyone knows how often the poor man was dug up and re-interred.

Keith is a wildlife photographer so he is used to working at distances from his subjects using long lenses, so he used this technique with many of the photographs in the book. Some of these photos are of things people may well walk past on a daily basis without realising they’re there. People spend so much time these days on their phones as they walk the streets and seldom look up at the splendour and intrigue of the buildings around Dumfries. For this reason, we have included a chapter called Remember to look up!, which includes photos of three heads looking down on pedestrians and a rare fire mark indicating the building was insured against fire.

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The rare fire mark indicating the building was insured. It was no unknown for firemen to ignore the uninsured building on fire next door!

We’ve thrown in some witches and public hangings (Dumfries was the last place in Scotland to hang a woman in public, an event which probably helped lead to the eventual repeal of capital punishment) and a visit from William Hare of the infamous Burke and Hare partnership.

And we’ve included the Dumfries rhinoceros with baby on top of a pretend bus shelter because, you know, every town should have one.090 (Custom)

Although we’re sure Doonhamers, both at home and abroad, will love Secret Dumfries it has much of interest to anyone interested in history and people. It is available on Amberely Publishing website, on Amazon as well as in bookshops in south west Scotland.