We all remember the snowmen we made when we were kids. They were the most magnificent snowmen in the world. Or at least of the city, village. Maybe of the yard. Come to think of it, they looked perhaps a bit like a few lumps of snow fitted together to have a more or less human form. Adorned with a few pieces of coal for the mouth and the buttons, and a carrot for a nose. They were the most beautiful.

Of course we grew out of that and now we only make the same kind of snowmen with our kids. Some people however, never grew out of making snowmen. Finally they got better in making them. But after a while they wanted something bigger, better and less looking like a snowman.

This is where the Snow Sculptors start. In climates cold enough to get snow in big quantities in winter there is material to work with. Here in Winnipeg, we have to get the material from outside the city, we cannot leave the snow accumulate that much.

Once nicely packed it will be delivered as blocks in different places in the city. Just blocks.

That’s where the snow sculptors come in.

Snow sculptors on Provencher Blvd Snow sculptors on Provencher Blvd

Visibly they use very different tools to get their sculptures than I had when making my snowman… And they work with plans that not only exist in their heads.

Snow sculptors on Provencher Blvd Snow sculptors on Provencher Blvd

A few hours later, the weather got better and I got more colour in the picture. As you can see, the packed snow block is dense enough to support the weight of a man. My snowman didn’t even last until the end of winter! I definitely did something wrong back then.

As all Canadians are supposed to know, the Hudson’s Bay Company was founded on the 2nd of May 1670. But how did that idea start? Not all empires start overnight.

In fact, the HBC started as a “wager” to prove that the northern route through the Arctic and the Hudson Bay was just as effective if not more than the traditional route through the St Lawrence. So, a ship was built and commissioned to sail that route. Its name was the “Nonsuch”.

It was named after the Baroness Nonsuch of Nonsuch Park, Surrey, England, who was the mother of King Charles the 2nd's two natural sons.  The Baroness also bore the illegitimate daughter of John Churchill, who was the First Duke of Marlborough, and became governor of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1685. Familiar names in Manitoba, from whichever angle you look at them…

The 53 foot long ship sailed in June 1668 and arrived 118 days later at the mouth of a river. The crew called it River Rupert, after Prince Rupert, one of the eighteen supporters of the voyage.

After a typical inhospitable Canadian winter, they started trading fur with the Cree in the region. The same year they were back in London to show that the voyage had been a great success. Fur was in big demand and a ship full of furs was worth a fortune. So, the group of voyagers approached the King and asked to create a trading company. The King granted the request and the Hudson’s Bay Company was born on May 2nd 1670.

In 1968, the Hudson’s Bay Company commissioned the creation of a replica of the original Nonsuch for their 300th anniversary. This one was built in England using traditional methods and materials as they would have existed in the 17th century. The result is now displayed at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.

The Nonsuch harboured in the Manitoba Museum The Nonsuch “harboured” in the Manitoba Museum

This new Nonsuch also had her share of voyage, in salt water as well as in fresh water. She has sailed in the Atlantic, in the Great Lakes and in the Pacific around Seattle and Vancouver.

The captain’s cabin on the Nonsuch The captain’s cabin on the Nonsuch

What is interesting to see is the size of the bunks in the captain’s cabin. If today we need beds at least 2m long, the bunks on the ship would need at least another 6 inches to meet our standards. But even if the beds are too short for our standards, the interior is beautifully done, all in hardwood and practically no mechanical-electrical instruments used. Sanding is done by hand, not with electrical sanders, and the varnish work is beautiful.

Wonderful winter! Frost and icicles everywhere, white snow and walks on the frozen rivers. Skating on the flooded roads and tracks. Wonderful. I love winter. In fact, I love all the seasons. I have also lived in places where there are only two seasons, dry and wet. That gets boring after a few months, though. No, I prefer real seasons.

Here in Winnipeg, all seasons are clearly there, one at a time. Sometimes a season may be a little short like last summer, but anyway it was nice to get a few days of warmth.

White, white, white…

View from the Forks Winnipeg, The Forks from the observation tower

This is what Winnipeg looked like when I arrived here for the very first time. I believe it was the day after my arrival, still jetlagged, that I went up there to contemplate the city. Completely snowed in, but clearly alive, the city. In Europe, if we get 5 snowflakes within a minute all traffic grinds to a halt. A few more snowflakes and even public transport shows signs of trouble. Here, everything continues as usual. Wow!

The next striking view in the city was St Boniface. Not familiar with its past, it looked like a ghost.

St Boniface St Boniface cathedral, Winnipeg

Seeing the graveyard in front of the church was kind of a shock to me. In Europe, graves are to be visited by those who really want to and not to be seen if you’re not in the mood. And then there’s that round hole in that wall… Easy to understand that that was a glass window, but then again: why did they leave that facade standing all by itself? The answer came later. The wall contains the remains of cardinals. They )the remains) had had a very heated time in the fire of 1968. But still this wall was a grave and should never be removed. So, the facade stays, the new cathedral is built behind it, on the premises of the old cathedral.

Here we are. Winter is at its fullest and probably coldest. Whatever pictures you can take, the color is mostly lacking. Pictures of snow and ice, pictures of a bland sky or perhaps, if we are lucky a nice blue sky. All in all nice pictures, but still… I need some color sometimes. That’s why we have our photo albums,be it the paper ones or the digital ones.

Sometimes nature can give us a surprise. For this picture, my wife nearly kicked me out of bed in the early morning. She yelled at me: “Look in the sky Henk! This is unbelievable!”. So, I got out of bed with a sleepy head and looked out from the balcony in Kiev. And what I saw was  indeed unbelievable, I had never seen it before. This is what is called a “sun pillar”:

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Sun pillar or Light pillar in Kiev

The pillar of light is created by reflection on flat lying ice crystals in the air. It can only happen before sunrise or after sunset and in extreme cold. And since I was called out of bed, I found myself in my underwear by –27C on my balcony… (no comments…)

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Dragonfly on the borders of the Dnepr, Kiev

Summer colors. In summer some sources of color are really unexpected. And rather difficult to catch. With a P&S, the focus is of the matrix type, meaning that the background will always have the preferred focus. So I put my hand behind the insect, let the camera focus on the dragonfly, then remove the hand and shoot. I did need a few shots to get this one, not all dragonflies let me put my hand so close to them. With a DSLR there would have been no problem at all.

I’m a sucker for food. Good food that is. Preferably homemade.

I have lived in different countries: Holland, France, Ukraine, Canada, Martinique… and food has always been some kind of passion. I haven’t always had a camera with me, so some regions will have no pictures.

Homemade food for me is the best. Restaurants always have access to some kind of “secrets” that nobody should know about. Prepared food always makes me think of TV-dinners and already makes me feel strange thinking of them. When you start reading the labels it gets worse. With all the chemicals you are supposed to swallow without knowing about them, it’s a miracle the stomach is still capable of extracting nourishment out of that mixture.

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No, for me, homemade food (and drinks) are the best.

Let’s start with the outdoor food. Simple, cooked/grilled on a wood fire, nothing can beat that. At least outdoors. A simple piece of chicken or fish, some marinade, wood and that’s it.

Outdoor pleasures Tasty fish

But of course, if you live in Ukraine you also have to provide drinks with this. Two options: buy it or make it.

The bought stuff, ok. Wine, beer, lemonade all no problem. But the men will want something stronger like vodka. You can buy this too of course, often just as expensive as a bottle of lemonade, but it’s more interesting to make it yourself.