May 19, 2017 20:48 GMT by nytimes.com

Canada Today: Burning Schoolhouses, Vanishing Ice and Urban Birds

Canada Today: Burning Schoolhouses, Vanishing Ice and Urban Birds

Victoria Day, a holiday for federal public servants and everyone else in most provinces, started in 1845. Nowadays, it ends with a Burning Schoolhouse, a Canadian fireworks company’s creation.

Victoria Day, Monday’s holiday for federal public servants and everyone else in most provinces, is a curious thing. Australia has its own Victoria Day, which commemorates the formation of the state of the same name. By all accounts, Canada is the only place that marks the birthday of Queen Victoria.

She was the reigning monarch when Canada took its current form as a nation 150 years ago, of course. But the practice of observing her May 24 birthday started in the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) in 1845. It persisted through several variations until 1952, when Parliament, displaying deep political wisdom, made it a long weekend by establishing the date as the Monday before May 25.

There may be people who still put up photos of Victoria, toast her memory or otherwise celebrate her reign on Monday. If so, they’ve escaped my attention. But if you know someone who still chants “the 24th of May is the queen’s birthday, if we don’t have a holiday, we’ll all run away,” or you hold festivities to honor Victoria’s rule and not just her name, please let me know.

While Canada Day has more or less taken over in terms of fireworks, during my childhood Victoria Day was also Firecracker Day. Family fireworks shows traditionally ended with the Burning Schoolhouse. Apparently a creation of a Canadian fireworks company and largely unknown outside Canada, the blue and red cardboard buildings perhaps reflected the holiday’s proximity to the end of school. Or maybe just general juvenile animosity.

Victoria Day also serves a practical function. It has become the official day for opening up second homes. Canada’s vast wilderness means that many people, even those with modest incomes, have a piece of land, ideally near a lake, with some kind of building or a trailer parked on it. What you call that place largely depends where you live: cottage, cabin, camp, shack, the lake, chateau or summer home.

I live in a “cottage” part of the country and will be performing the opening rituals at my wife’s family’s cottage this weekend. If you’re doing the same, I hope you don’t find any burst pipes, broken windows, signs of overwintering wildlife — a red squirrel pulled out fiberglass insulation from our kitchen range to make a cozy home a couple of years ago — upturned docks or anything else that comes with owning a summer retreat. And if you are among the die-hards who keep the Victoria Day fireworks tradition, I hope your show concludes with the spectacular display of a Burning Schoolhouse.

Fast Melt

The New York Times regularly reports on the effects of climate change in Canada’s Arctic region. We have just sent a team of four journalists to Antarctica, where they joined scientists collecting data on the demise of that continent’s ice. I found the resulting multimedia presentation staggering in its impact. While Canada sometimes boasts about its fresh water reserves, 60 percent of the world’s freshwater is in Antarctica’s ice pack. The three-part series, through text and graphics, shows how much of the continent’s ice cover is below sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to collapse as sea temperatures rise.

Read: Antarctic Dispatches

Trans-Atlantic Parallels

For Canadians, it has a familiar ring: a youthful leader creating a cabinet with gender equity, a promise to renew government, a commitment to balance climate change with economic activity, an openness to immigration as well as diversity, a commitment to free trade and a spouse who is, among other things, a fashion trendsetter. Such are the parallels between Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected president of France. They may not continue. Another round of voting may leave Mr. Macron facing a reshuffle if a Legislature not controlled by his party takes hold. He has promised to change labor rules to make it easier to hire and fire employees, a move that will undoubtedly be contentious. And the election has revived debate over how France should address its colonial past. While that has some similarities with Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to reconcile with indigenous Canadians, it is a problem with overtones not found in Canada.

Read: Macron’s Cabinet Gives Glimpse of How He Plans to Govern France

Read: Brigitte Macron Inaugurates a New Look for France

Mindful

Benedict Carey of The Times has written a terrific profile of Brenda Milner, who discovered the seat of memory in the brain, laying the foundation for cognitive neuroscience. She is also Canada’s most senior scientist, still working full time at McGill University in Montreal at the age of 98.

Read: Brenda Milner, Eminent Brain Scientist, Is ‘Still Nosy’ at 98

Sardines

Transit users in many cities know all about overcrowded buses, train and subway cars. New York hasn’t solved that problem. But it is offering pregnant women “Baby On Board!” buttons as a hint to apparently unobservant fellow passengers to give up seats. Older and disabled people can also don “Please Offer Me a Seat” buttons. The idea came from London, though it hasn’t always worked smoothly there.

Read: If a Pregnant Straphanger’s Bump Isn’t Obvious, Maybe the Button Will Be

Lakeside

There is something to the adage that the one thing that unites Canada is a shared dislike of Toronto among Canadians who live outside of it. But there are many reasons the city’s population continues to grow and its defenders are as passionate as its detractors. For me, one of Toronto’s big attractions is its unusual proximity to nature for a large city. My colleague Catherine Porter headed out to Tommy Thompson Park, a spit made from landfill extending into Lake Ontario, which hosts a vast array of birds during the annual spring migration. The result was a Facebook Live video in which she met with three of Canada’s leading ornithologists and got very close to some of the visiting long distance fliers.

Trans-Canada

We post regularly updated Canada-related material from The Times here. Below are highlights from the past week:

Craig S. Smith wrote about how a rural municipality turned to an unexpected and unusual source for answers to its transit problems: Uber.

— Alberta’s oil sands have produced an unusually well-preserved dinosaur fossil.

— Graham Bowley and Sydney Ember produced an in-depth profile of Andrea Constand, the Toronto woman who will be the chief accuser at Bill Cosby’s criminal trial next month.

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