Tag Archives: Canadian Culture

What Bears Do in the Woods: A Review of The Ursus Verses

The Ursus Versus by Nathan Waddell book cover. Image on cover is of a cartoon bear standing behind a tree stump, peeking out, and waving. Title: The Ursus Versus

Author: Nathan Waddell

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 29, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 66 pages

Source: I purchased it.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Do you like bears and black holes and squid monsters and dragons and cowboy dragon slayers and riding your bike all around town looking for something to do? Because that’s what I like and this is my chapbook which captures that spirit of fun and terror and the comfort of a good fun book.
This is the first in a series of chapbooks containing poetry and flash fiction and short stories with themes ranging from those mentioned above to deeper explorations of humanity. But honestly the themes mentioned already are all about that too.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for lighthearted science fiction.

Ordinarily, I’ll pick out a few short stories, poems, or essays from collections like these and share my thoughts about them. There were so many funny themes covered here that I thought it was best to allow other readers to discover them for yourselves without spoilers, especially since the later entries often referenced earlier ones.  All you need to know is that this is heavily based on science, science fiction, fantasy, and mythology. Start at the beginning, relax, and enjoy.

This is the sort of young adult science fiction that easily crosses over into adult audiences. The humour in it is tongue-in-cheek and does rely on a certain amount of understanding of the types of scientific concepts generally taught in high school, but it explains most of them well enough to appeal to preteens who haven’t taken Biology yet or older adults who might have last thought about the Paleozoic era half a century ago. In other words, don’t spend too much time thinking about whether you’re “Young Adult” enough for this collection. If you’re interested, there will almost certainly be something here that appeals to you.

Some of my favourite sections were the ones that relied on puns and jokes. Yes, there were the usual quips about what bears do in the woods, but that was the only the beginning of the many reasons to laugh while reading this collection. Honestly, what could be better than finding the humour in speculative fiction no matter which branch of it the narrator happens to be visiting at the moment? I sure can’t think of many things.

Be sure to read the author’s explanations of why he wrote select pieces of this collection. The explanations are all located at the very end, and it was really interesting to read their backstories.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Everything published here was first written about twenty years ago, and Mr. Waddell’s writing style has evolved quite a bit since then. If you want to follow along as he shares that journey, The Ursus Versus the perfect place to start.

6 Toronto Urban Legends for Halloween

Since most of the people who read this site don’t live in Toronto and Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year by far, this seemed like the perfect time to share some of our spooky local urban legends.

Blurry photo taken of a moving subway trainThe Lady in Red

Lower Bay subway station was built in 1966 and shut down six months later because the Toronto Transit Commission realized that any delays at that stop would shut down our entire subway system.

A new subway station was built on top of it, and the original one is only rarely available for public viewing.

Legend has it that a woman wearing a red dress wanders around Lower Bay station, but no one knows who she is

. There are no records of accidents that might explain why this spirit spooks TTC employees and the occasional film crew that wander around down there.

We do know that this patch of land was once a Potter’s Field whose coffins were partially cleared out when the city wanted space for public transit, so she might be the ghost of someone who either had no next of kin when she died or who was abandoned by them.

The Underwater UFO Base in Lake Ontario

Multiple people have reported seeing lights shimmering over, plunging into, or leaping out of Lake Ontario. These sightings have given rise to the legend that there is an underwater UFO base located in the bottom of this lake.

Perhaps the aliens come from an aquatic planet and wouldn’t do well out here on dry land?

Nessie Lives in Lake Ontario

You’ve heard of the Loch Ness monster, right?

The Seneca First Nations tribe were the first people to record sightings of our own sea monster. As early as the 1850s, white settlers claimed to see something much bigger than the average fish swimming around in Lake Ontario as well. They described it as a blue-grey serpent that was about 50 feet long.

A Haunting at Old Finch Road

There are many different versions of this tale. They all tend agree that a girl was murdered on Old Finch Road, possibly near a bridge.

Many versions say she died on her birthday and will appear to you if you sing Happy Birthday to her because the person who murdered her wrote “Happy Birthday, Susie” on a nearby rock after killing her. (Although the victim’s name changes quite a bit depending on which version of the story you hear).

Some people have also claimed to hear screams and moans when travelling along this road.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Island

gibraltar point lighthouse on Toronto Island in Toronto, Ontario
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Mr. John Paul Rademuller was the first lighthouse keeper on this little island back when it was still a peninsula. In order to make some extra money, he was a brewer and bootlegger as well.

Legend has it that two drunken sailors came to visit him one day to buy some of his beer. When Rademuller refused to sell it to them, they killed him, dismembered his body, and buried pieces of it around the island.

In some versions of this tale, it is said that parts of him were eventually found but that his head was never recovered at all. Other versions say his ghost still continues to wander the island because his killers were never punished for their crime and not because parts of his skeleton might still be waiting to be found.

Allegedly, there were some bones found near the lighthouse in 1893, but investigators didn’t yet have the scientific tools to tell if they belonged to Mr. Rademuller or not.

Mrs. Jemima Howard’s Last Days

The unique thing about Mrs. Howard is that we have many historical records that document her life. She was the wife of John G. Howard, and they both gave the land that would later become High Park to the city of Toronto after their deaths.

Mr. and Mrs. Howard lived happily in Colborne Lodge for many years. They never had children, but they doted on their nieces and nephews who temporarily came to live with them while  finishing their educations.

Sadly, Jemima Howard was diagnosed with breast cancer long before we had any treatments for it other than morphine and laudanum for her pain. She died at home in her own bed surrounded by loved ones. If she looked out her window, she could see the spot where she (and later her husband) would be buried.

Their headstone is the only one allowed in High Park, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful spot a short distance from their home.

Some visitors to Colborne Lodge have reported seeing a woman peering out of the second story bedroom where Jemima spent her last days. Others have reported cold spots and poltergeist activity.

Maybe Jemima never left home after all.

What is your favourite urban legend from your city, town, or community?

A Summer Without Tourists

Toronto, Canada skyline. The famous CN Tower is one of the buildings in this shot. The foreground is of part of Lake Ontario There are a few things about Canadian and, more specifically, Torontonian culture that I should explain here for anyone who isn’t already familiar with them before diving into the meat of this post.

I am speaking in broad generalities here and this is a large, diverse country, so please make friendly allowances for that if your Canadian cousin/acquaintance/coworker etc. has had other experiences. There are no secret Canadian meetings where we come to a consensus on this stuff, and it’s just about impossible to get 38 million folks to agree on everything anyways.

With that being said, people make less small talk here there than do in my birth country, the United States. It’s good manners to nod and say hello to neighbours and other folks you’ve seen around before, but you generally don’t talk to strangers unless you have an excellent reason to do so.

At least in large cities here, sidewalks are serious business. Locals walk briskly and single file unless the sidewalk is large enough for larger groups to walk side-by-side. Loitering should only be done in places where you won’t slow down the flow of traffic, especially at lunchtime and in the early evening when the sidewalks are filled with nonstop crowds.

Tourists are the exceptions to these rules. If a stranger asks you for directions or advice on visiting your neighbourhood, you always stop and help them to the best of your ability. Sometimes a large group of tourists will walk slowly down the middle of the sidewalk while trying to figure out where to eat dinner or which attraction to visit next . This, too, is okay. Guests should always be treated with respect and kindness. Just turn the corner and take another street if you’re truly in a rush. If not, slow down and savour the moment.

Now that you know a little bit about how things normally function in urban Canada, let’s continue.

Toronto was eerily quiet in March and April when the Covid-19 lockdowns began. It’s slowly grown more active again as our public health agencies have given our premier permission to reopen certain businesses and relax the quarantine and physical distancing rules.

Yet this still isn’t like any July I’ve known in all my years here. Just like everywhere else, there are no tourists here.

The sidewalks by the busiest roads are beginning to fill up again, but they’re much quieter than they should be. Some streets are still completely empty even at what should be the busiest portions of the weekend.

No one has asked me about good local restaurants and whether the trendy, expensive ones are worth the money. (Some are, but most aren’t in my opinion unless you’re a diehard foodie and Instagrammer. Let me direct you to an awesome hole-in-the-wall down the street instead if what you really want is a full, happy belly).

Nobody wants to know whether they should visit the Toronto Zoo or the Royal Ontario Museum. (They’re both fun, but save the zoo for a day with nice weather when you’re not planning to do much else at all. It’s 90% outdoors, requires hours of walking to see it all, and really isn’t close to any other major attractions at all).

People don’t approach each other much at all these days. We generally keep our distance whenever possible for disease prevention reasons. With the exception of the occasional person asking for spare change, I can’t remember the last time I spoke to a stranger.

In short, it’s quiet here.