This Land: Leitch Collieries, Crowsnest Pass, AB

May 28, 2022

The Leitch Collieries, Limited was a state-of-the-art coal mining company. It was built to last; however, due to several unfortunate events, it was only in operation for 8 short years.

It is located east of Frank Slide, and it was the only completely Canadian-owned coal mining operation in the Crowsnest Pass.

Power House

Coal mining requires lots of power, so the operation had its own power plant. It was 30 feet wide by 200 feet long and constructed of sandstone and mortar.

All repairs were done on site by the carpenters, blacksmiths, and machinists on staff. There was even a locomotive repair area next to the machine shop. This area could house 2 locomotives, which were serviced once per month. Some of the work would be done from down below (which is now the location of the public restrooms).

Manager’s House

Billy Hamilton was the manager and a part-owner. His wife, Ellen, designed the spacious home for their family of 6 children, staff, and occasional guests. The home had indoor plumbing, 3 fireplaces, hardwood flooring, and a dumbwaiter.

I love the photograph of 2 of the Hamilton girls and their enormous dog, Major. The little boy is from the Kerr family.

Another favorite photo is of the Kerr family. You can see that the family dog is at the center in their life, or at least the dog found the Geographical Center of Attention, as most dogs do. The mother is just beaming! Haha!

Coke Ovens

The collieries also produced coke, which is essential for smelting metal ores. Coke is simply “cooked” coal. This process purifies the coal, allowing it to burn at a much higher temperature. Construction of the coke ovens began in 1910, but by the time the company closed at the start of WWI, only the first 32 of the 101 ovens had ever been fired.

After the company’s remaining assets were liquidated in the 1920s, the structures were dismantled or vandalized. The coal seams were mined in the 1940s by Mohawk Collieries.

This Land: Sandon Ghost Town

May 26, 2022

Sandon Ghost Town is mostly family owned and operated by the Wright, Pellowski, and Turok families. This historical site receives no government funding. It exists due to the dedication and passion of these families, their friends, and volunteers. And it’s FREE. (Camping is $15 non-electric, $20 electric, including firewood.)

We came to see the trolley buses, but we were so captivated by the history. We arrived at dusk and easily found a campsite along the river. We walked around the ghost town briefly, but it was getting dark, so we decided to save it until morning.

In the morning, we went to the little mobile cantina operated by Vida Turok. She was serving up an enormous breakfast to Hal Wright, the station manager of Silversmith Power & Light Generating Station. Hal invited us to join him, and we ordered breakfast too.

Hal is so passionate about Sandon. Although he’s an engineer, he’s a brilliant historian. We were drawn in by his wealth of knowledge. He also told us about the trolley buses and how the collection will include a bus from every place they originally operated.

Brill Trolley Interpretive Display

Each trolley bus has a history. Once Hal knew our personal history, he told us which buses would be of interest to us because they were once in cities where we had lived. Bus #2368 once traveled the streets of Saskatoon. There was a photograph of it in service on September 26, 1969 at 20th St. and 2nd Ave.

Trolley buses were preferred over streetcars. Because they rode on tires rather than rails, they could get around stopped traffic. Most of the coaches in the collection were doomed to be wrecked, until they were rescued. Some had sat at auto wreckers for years. Others had been used as bunkies at cottages. All of them are fascinating pieces of Canadian manufacturing history and slices of urban life.

Silversmith Power & Light Generating Station

Hydro electricity has been generated in Sandon since 1897 at this original historic facility! Hal Wright is the station manager and he maintains and operates the equipment as it always has been done. No computers here! He records electrical levels, pressures, etc. using pen and paper in a log book. The machinery is fascinating. It was so well designed that friction is extremely low. The bearing housings were at ambient temperature. Hal will give you a free, personalized tour of this working artifact. His enthusiasm is contagious. Be prepared to be amazed!

Sandon also has a steam locomotive and freight train exhibit, a visitor’s center, a museum (operated by the Sandon Historical Society), and numerous hiking and biking trails.

Historic Twin Palms Neighborhood: Tract Houses

February 18, 2019

At the lodge, I was given a map and addresses. Paul was going to just drop me off and leave, but because this was a self-guided tour throughout the neighborhood, we just parked the truck and Paul and Poppy followed me from house-to-house and waited outside for me. The bonus for Paul was that he got to talk to locals who pointed out unique houses that weren’t on the tour, and Poppy got lots of love from passersby. Paul learned that the neighborhood received its name because each lot came with 2 palm trees. Poppy learned that not all the grass was real.


1070 E. Apache Rd (not on the tour)

There was a display inside the lodge with models of some of the houses in the tract. Each house was 1600 sq. ft. and designed as a perfect 40’x40’ square, and there was only 1 basic floor plan with 8 variations. This kept costs down because constructions materials were standardized at 10-foot widths. However, each house looks unique because of their roof lines, facades, and the open carports. Today, some of the houses have had modest additions.

1041 Twin Palms

As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by tall birch doors with no trim – exactly like our Saskatoon house! The owners are art collectors and poodle owners. They were so excited that I was so excited that their birch doors had survived all these years. They told me to go in the bathroom and shut the door to see the wonderful graining. Gorgeous! The natural birch doors match their lovely Heywood-Wakefield furniture. They love their house and it shows.

1042 Apache

The homeowner knew Krisel and understood his vision. This house had been inappropriately renovated in the past and then had fallen into disrepair. The homeowner respectfully restored it to its former glory. I was so impressed by the attention to detail. The kitchen is new, but the cabinets look original with their sliding doors. The flooring is all terrazzo seamless tiles. The green bathroom is new, but renovated to replicate the pink bathroom. What a fabulous restoration! And the best news is that it is for sale! For a cool $1.2 million it could all be yours!

991 La Jolla

The homeowner really embraced color in his decor.  He told me that he is an engineer and always preferred black, white, and grey in his previous houses, but once he moved to Palm Springs, his grandma’s love of orange took over. This is a really fun house with an equally fun homeowner.

985 La Jolla

This home had also been neglected for many years, so the homeowners had to do an extensive renovation.  It has one of the most fabulous breeze-block facades. The interior is very airy and bright. The final picture shows the rear of the house.  You can really see the square footprint of the house from this view.

Stay tuned for more Modernism Week adventures in Palm Springs!

Historic Twin Palms Neighborhood: Ocotillo Lodge

February 18, 2019

When I was choosing tours for Modernism Week, I had to choose carefully. The Canadian dollar is doing poorly, so I had to ensure I would get enough value. The only house tour I chose was the Historic Twin Palms Neighborhood tour. At $60 US, it was pricey, but well worth it. I got to see 7 homes (3 suites and 4 houses) and the Ocotillo Lodge clubhouse and pool. The homes and lodge were designed by architect William Krisel and built by developers George and Robert Alexander, starting in 1956. When you think of butterfly roofs, sun flaps, clerestory windows, and atriums, think of Krisel. This neighbourhood has it all! It was the first modern housing tract in Palm Springs.

First stop, Ocotillo Lodge. This was where I checked in and got my wristband and gift bag. Oooooh! In my gift bag were 3 breeze-block magnets! What fun! Breeze-blocks are a significant architectural element in the Twin Palms neighborhood, and throughout Palm Springs.


Ocotillo Lodge champagne cork pool

The Ocotillo Lodge was originally an apartment hotel for prospective homebuyers to the neighborhood, but now each suite is privately owned. The suites came in only 2 sizes (525 sq. ft and 600 sq. ft.). Each suite is very secluded even though each one has 2 walls of doors and windows opening to a patio.


Suites at the Ocotillo Lodge

Suite 376
This unit features the original kitchen range.

Suite 349
This unit is referred to as The Peggy Lee. The owners hired interior designer Laura Slipak to refresh it after its 1980s abominable renovation.

Suite 341
The original tongue and groove ceilings were kept during a recent renovation, but everything else was updated. This one felt most like home to me. The homeowner chose many of the elements and colors that I had in our house. There is even a toy Airstream on the patio.

Stay tuned for part 2, when we tour some houses in this historic neighborhood.

Spotted Lake

October 23, 2018

Just west of Osoyoos, in the eastern part of the Similkameen Valley, is Spotted Lake. The lake has high concentrations of a variety of minerals. As the water evaporates during the summer, the mineral deposits are revealed and look like large spots. In the spring, the spots seemed more pronounced to me. The colors of the spots depend on mineral composition and precipitation. It’s quite hard to capture the spots by camera. I’ve tried many times. If there is a breeze or sun glare, the lake is harder to photograph. I was finally able to photograph the spots. Fortunately, the lake is only about 30 minutes from Keremeos, so we pass by every other week on our way to Osoyoos.  Apparently, there are 3 such lakes between Keremeos and Osoyoos, so I’ll try to “spot” those too.



Okanagan Gleaners

October 19, 2018


After we left Nk’Mip in Osoyoos, we headed north to Oliver, BC to visit Len and Marj at the Okanagan Gleaners, where they volunteer during the winter months. They stay in their Airstream motorhome in the onsite campground and volunteer 4 hours per day.

This non-profit organization makes dried soup mixes that are sent overseas to people in need. Local farmers send them surplus produce that can’t be sold in grocery stores (e.g. apples and potatoes that are too big or considered “ugly”) instead of composting or trashing them. There is an abundance of produce in the Okanagan, so the Gleaners process the unwanted fruits and vegetables by dehydrating them to make the soup mixes.

The winter volunteers work for 4 hours in the morning, cleaning and cutting vegetables, which go into a massive dehydrator. The dehydrator takes up an entire room on its own! It is fully computerized and shuts off when the process is complete.

The dried product is stored in drums and is later mixed and packaged. The soup mixes do not contain seasonings so that the local flavors can be added at their destinations.

The Gleaners work with relief organizations like: World Vision Canada, Mennonite Central Committee and Mission Without Borders.

Len and Marj gave us a full tour because it was afternoon and work for the day had ended. In the evening, we had a barbecue with Len and Marj and stayed in the campground for the night.


Campground with shower house in background


Zagreb, Croatia

We had only planned to spend one night in Zagreb before our flight left.  We really had wanted to spend more time on the coast, but our plans changed with the weather and due to our limited time.

On Sunday morning, the clouds lifted and we enjoyed a last walk along Lake Bled.  


You can really see how far we had to walk up to that castle.  

Since it had dried up, the luge was up and running again.  Too bad we didn’t have enough time to try it.  We had a blast in Austria on the luge. 

We boarded a train from Lesce-Bled to Zagreb.  The journey was about 3.5 hours.  We met a woman travelling from Lesce-Bled to Ljubljana.  She was a local, and very friendly.  Then, she showed me pictures of her dogs.  We became instant friends!  She has a Malamute that is in agility and a black poodle that just likes to have fun.  She apologized for her “bad English.”  She probably speaks 7 languages and communicated just fine with us.  We are the ones who should apologize.

The train cabins hold 6 people.  As we progressed down the line, our cabin filled up to 5.  We chatted with a young British couple who was travelling for 2 months using a Euro-rail pass, and a Croat man.  The poor British girl had bed bug bites all up and down her arms and legs.  I wonder if she know what caused those bites.  They were staying in hostels.  Bed bugs bite in a line.  If you see a line of bites, uh-oh!  Inspect your bed BEFORE you put your stuff on in.  I hope she didn’t have any travellers in her bag because it was touching my bag.

Travelling by train is far more civilized than by plane.  You buy your ticket and hop on.  There are no line-ups and security hoops to jump through.  After you are seated and the train is moving, a conductor comes by to validate your ticket.  Done.  At the Croatian border, we had to get our passports stamped again.  Since we had just been here a few days ago, they examined our stamps more closely.  Since Croatia has such a long coastline, border patrol still needs to stamp passports.  Lots of people try to sneak in.  Of course, this whole procedure was done from the comfort of our seats.  Civilized.

We arrived in Zagreb at 5:10 pm.  Just in time for dinner!  When we arrived, our first thought was that it was “gritty.”  The buildings are covered with graffiti like Athens, but once you get past that, this city was made for relaxing!  They have mastered the art of cafes and people-watching.

Our first B & B was in the heart of the city, yet it was quiet because it faced a courtyard.  Our host gave us a map and tips for restaurants, bakeries, sights, etc.  We both really wanted cevapcici, so she recommended her favourite restaurant for that dish.  We ended up going there twice!  Where will we find that in Canada?

 This was right across from the train station.  I guess it was a sign!  

People-watching at its finest 

On our second day, we followed a suggested walking route from the Rick Steves guidebook.  It was so enjoyable!

This was the start of the route — Jelacic Square, where everyone gathers to meet.   
They claim this is the world’s shortest funicular.  It only took 53 seconds to reach the top.  The cost was 4 kn, but the men didn’t take our money.  They said “at the top,” but they didn’t take it at the top either, so it literally was a free ride.


At the top of the funicular, you enter the old town of Gradec.  This is the original watchtower.  In the top right window, you can see a small canon.  It goes off every day at noon.  It’s loud!    

St. Mark’s.  We didn’t go in, but the roof tiles are spectacular. 

Across the square from St. Mark’s we found an old disused building that was crumbling.  We couldn’t find any information on it.  The inside and outside had supports to prevent it from falling down.  I think it’s beyond repair.  The supports are probably to prevent it from busting through the neighbouring buildings.  Of course, I had to inspect a little more, so we went around the back for more pictures.  We think it was originally a bank.

Look at how plants are growing inside and outside the windows:


Very cool find!

Then, we crossed through the stone gate.  It’s the only original gate from medieval times.  Inside is a chapel of sorts.  

The gate connects the medieval city of Gradec to the medieval city of Kaptol. Here is the gate from the Kaptol side.  You can also see the original stone wall.  Not far from there, we found this little row of houses.

There was a long row of them, and they were pretty cute.  What most people don’t realize when they see them is that these were houses of ill-repute long long ago.  Yes, this was the red-light district!  Now it backs the most popular street in Zagreb, Tkalciceva!

Tkalciceva street has such an abundance of cafes and restaurants, as well as smart shops.  We were still on the hunt for traditional Croatia dishes, so we went to La Struk for strukli, a traditional ravioli dish. 


We sat in their back garden.  In Canada, the building would have been condemned, but it was charming.    

Mmmm!  Gratinized strukli: 

 All of the back balconies in the old red light district face the cathedral.  
Original medieval walls around the cathedral:


An earthquake in 1880 caused this clock to stop  

The spires have taken a beating, so they are being replace.  Here you can see old and new side-by-side.  

In front of the cathedral is a fountain.  This spaniel was frolicking in it, chasing pigeons!  What a blast she was having. 

I found some interesting Art Nouveau buildings here too. The sun wasn’t in my favour when I photographed this beauty.  The balcony floors were a translucent blue.  The walls were lovely tiles with different motifs on each storey.


This one wasn’t tiled, but the motifs are attractive.   

 Now this is a farmers market!  The prices were incredibly affordable!  
1 kg (2.2 lbs) = 4 kn ($0.79 CAD) for red peppers


2 kg (4.4 lbs) = 10 kn ($2 CAD) for peaches 

We bought 2 nectarines from this vendor, and I think we paid 1 kn (20 cents).  They were so sweet and fresh!

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6), we fly back to Toronto.  We have had an amazing adventure, but we are really looking forward to seeing the girls.  We left them in the best hands possible — my parents’ — which is a good thing because Daisy has had several seizures.   This has been a great responsibility for my parents, and it’s time to take the pressure away from them.  Thanks mom and dad for keeping the girls safe and loved.


Daisy and Poppy yesterday at my parents’ backyard campground 🙂

Little old sweetheart!


Postojna Caves, Slovenia

I didn’t want to leave Slovenia without seeing one of their cave systems.  There are many.  We were planning to rent a car and drive from Lake Bled to the caves and on to the coast.  Paul also thought that we could take public transport.  When we asked locals how to do that, they laughed.  They said, “Do you have all day?”  The caves are hard to get to.  We asked our friends if they’d join us, so we hired a driver with an 8-passenger van and headed out to one of the caves.  The traffic on the highway was fierce!  School started on Friday, so the people without kids or those who decided to spend one last family weekend together were heading to the coast.  Fortunately, our driver knew when enough was enough.  He scooted off the main highway and took the back roads to the caves.  We made it just in time for our 1:00 admission.

When we got there, people were divided by language groups for tours.  I really saw the value in English being universal.  I have often felt negatively about my job, teaching English.  Why should everyone learn English?  The language groups were mostly European languages, so the Arabic and Mandarin and other speakers joined with the English speakers because they could understand English.  It simplifies things at tourist destinations, I guess.  That’s a good thing.

 Boarding the little train to take us into the caves: 
The caves were immense!  We drove in on the train for 2 km, then walked in the caves for 1.5 km, and then took the train for another 2 km to the end.  Postojna Caves are one of the biggest cave systems in the world.  We were so small compared to the stalactites and stalagmites.  The formations were of different colours and grew in different ways.  Some even looked like sheets of fabric!  Photos just don’t do it justice.


These next ones are very reminiscent of our basement ceiling when we first moved in!      

These are like huge ribbons      

These are massive — much larger than trees.  

You can see the railing, which is waist-height to get a sense of scale.  

Were we glad we stayed an extra day in Slovenia?  You bet!

The slogan of Slovenia is:  I FEEL SLOVENIA

At first that looked weird, until I noticed “love” was bolded.  Oh yeah!  I feel the love!

Lake Bled, Slovenia

We arrived later in the day, and we knew the weather was supposed to turn bad the next day, so we walked around the lake as soon as we arrived.  Lake Bled is a glacial lake, but that didn’t stop people from swimming and participating in other water sports.  The Julian Alps surround the lake.

There are two main points of interest: the church on the island in the middle of the lake and the castle on the hill.  You can take a boat to the island, but you have to walk up the hill to get to the castle.  We did both, even though I insisted I wasn’t going to climb anymore hills!


This is how one restaurant keeps beer cold.     
The island is in the foreground, but if you look closely, you’ll see Bled Castle in the distance.


 On our 5 km walk around the lake, we came across a “Glampground”.  Basically, it was ghetto camping, but you could rent little A-frame cabins and even tents.  I enjoyed looking at the European campers.
Service station, with a special “bar” for dogs.



  Cool window shapes



We worked up an appetite, and found our way to a pizzeria behind the castle.  Yes, we did climb all the way up from the shore-line the next day.

The next morning, Paul realized that he had left his bag with his passport, wallet, and camera on the patio of the pizzeria.  He ran there, and believe it or not, it was right where he left it!  

The weather forecast was accurate, and it started to rain the next day, but we still went to the island and climbed to the castle.

 Climbing to the church on the island:  

Paul climbed the bell tower.  

Misty view from the castle:     

This was the last day of our tour.  The weather guided us on our next path.  We decided to spend an extra day in Lake Bled.  We had planned to head back to the Croatian coast, but the weather wasn’t with us.  Stay tuned!


Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia is a very small country, with a total population of around 2 million.  Ljubljana is the capital.  Of the Balkan countries, Slovenia was the most industrious and supported the others during communist times.  Although all the countries we have visited are in the EU, Slovenia is the only one using the Euro.  Food is fairly cheap here, but we talked to an immigrant from England and he said joining the EU raised all of their costs.  A family of 4 could easily live on one income, but now both parents need to work.  

We felt extremely safe here.  The capital is so incredibly clean.  They have achieved zero-waste designation.  A few years ago, they stopped allowing cars into the city centre, so it is strictly for pedestrians and bicyclists.  However, there are many people who live in the city centre, so how do they bring back their groceries or other items without their cars?  There is a free service called “kavalier”, which is like a big golf cart that shuttles people with their shopping to their homes.  How easy is that?  Probably easier than finding street parking for a car.

We had planned to stay an additional day in Ljubljana at the end our out tour, but our plans changed.  I highly recommend this city.  It is a fairytale-book city.


Lovers’ locks on a bridge:  


There are many sculptures around the city.  These two were pretty cute on the lovers’ locks bridge:


This is special Slovenian decoration.  They were hoping it would take hold, but I think only 2 buildings in the country were completed.      

Woodway seems to be a Slovenian chain selling locally produced wooden items. This country is very forested.  

Here is a Steampunk lamp for dad.  It was in the restaurant we had lunch:


You can get fresh unpasteurized milk from kiosks on the street.  It’s cheap and delicious!