The word Halloween means hallowed evening or holy evening. It is believed to be of Scottish Christian origin, dating back to mid Eighteenth Century. Halloween falls on 31 October, the evening prior to the Christian All Saints Day, on 01 November.


With regard to the evil spirits, on Halloween day, barns and homes were blessed to protect people and cattle from the effect of witches, who were believed to accompany the evil spirits. In the 19th century, in parts of England, Christian families gathered on hills on the night of Halloween. One held a bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the rest knelt around him in a circle, praying for the souls of relatives and friends until the flames went out. The idea of Halloween as the Devil’s holiday has been propagated by the modern day Christian Evangelists. They lecture their followers that scary costumes, huge fires and talk of dead spirits are the marks of the Devil and the Satan.

Halloween came to North America with the influx of Scottish and Irish settlers by early Nineteenth Century. It was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the Twentieth Century it was being celebrated all over North America by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.


Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go out in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, Trick or treat? The word Trick refers to threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no Treat is given.

Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after supernatural figures such as vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Nowadays costumes come in the form superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Captain America, GI Joe, etc. On Halloween day one can see most people – students, teachers, office goers, staff at the malls and the restaurants – all wearing some costume. Some offices and business houses have a particular theme for that year and everyone is expected to dress based on the theme.  It is thought that the colours, orange and black, became Halloween colors because orange is associated with harvests (Halloween marks the end of harvest) and black is associated with death.

Most homes put up Halloween decorations as what one sees in the Dracula movies with cobwebs, skeletons and various scary models. Most houses during the week carries a Haunted House facade.

The most common decoration is the Jack-O-Lanterns which originated in Ireland where children carved out potatoes or turnips and lighted them from the inside with candles. Its origin can be traced back to an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” who invited the Devil to have a drink with him and then didn’t want to pay for his drink. He tricked the Devil and drove him off by carving a cross on to a turnip and illuminating it with a lighted candle. In North America, pumpkins were cheaper and more readily available than turnips, thus carving them and making them into Jack-O-Lanterns lit by a candle inside became a North American Halloween tradition. More than 50% of the pumpkin grown in Canada gets converted into Jack-O-Lanterns to end up in landfills.

Some associate Halloween with vampires. The percentage of North Americans who believe in the existence of vampires is at a dangerously high today. Legend has it that vampires feed on human blood, and once bitten, the victim also becomes a vampire and starts feasting on the blood of others. This supposedly accounts for an exponential increase of these widely feared creatures.  The vampires are said to have come into existence from the turn of the Seventeenth Century. If one vampire would have bit a human a month, and that person and the original vampire would have bit two the next month, and so on, by the turn of the eighteenth century, the entire world population would have been bitten by a vampire.


Whether Halloween is a devil’s holiday or not, the children really have a lot of fun and enjoy the evening going for Trick or Treat; the adults enjoy accompanying the children and also treating them at their homes.  People of all ages do have a lot of fun dressing up in the most grotesque way and they do not ever associate the Devil or Satan with what they do.

O Canada, We Stand on Guard for Thee

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee – goes the final line of the Canadian National Anthem. Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons along with Constable Samearn Son and the entire security machinery that saved the day for Canada highlighting the essence of the national anthem. They protected the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament when gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau opened fire in the parliament building.

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, after shooting Corporal Cirillo at the National War Memorial, Zehaf-Bibeau got into his car and made a U-turn in the direction of Parliament Hill, just a few hundred metres away. He abandoned the car outside the East Gate and commandeered one of those vehicles, which he drove right up to the front steps of parliament building with several RCMP vehicles in pursuit.

Zehaf-Bibeau engaged in a brief exchange of gunfire with House guards as he entered Centre Block. Inside the Centre Block, Const. Samearn Son, a 10-year veteran of the Commons security team, tried to stop him. Son immediately noticed the long rifle in Zehaf-Bibeau’s hand. and although he was unarmed, lunged at the shooter, grabbed the gun and pulled it toward the floor, screaming “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

That alerted the plainclothes officers inside the building, who carry weapons. During the ensuing struggle, Son was shot in the foot. He was taken to hospital later in the day, and released that night, but with a permanent souvenir — the bullet will stay in his foot, sources say, as it would do more damage to remove it.

Zehaf-Bibeau continued up the stairs, but by that time, the officers inside had been alerted by Son’s cries. The shooter went down the hall, at which point Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers shot him.

Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, routinely carries the ceremonial mace into the House as a symbol of authority. The kings of England and later the speakers of the House of Commons had sergeants-at-arms carrying large maces to protect them.

Vickers richly deserved the prolonged standing ovation he received in the House of Commons on 23 October, and the thanks of a long procession of MPs thereafter. Vickers issued a statement saying he was touched by the attention but gave full credit to the whole remarkable security team, which demonstrated professionalism and courage.

To Canadians he is being hailed as a hero. Despite the incident, Vickers was back at work first thing this morning as MPs returned to Parliament. Vickers, 58 years old, served the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for 29 years and on retirement he became the sergeant-at-arms in 2006. In his RCMP career, he rose up the ranks from a constable to chief superintendent.

The image above showing flags flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for the fallen soldier, was taken in front of the McDonald’s outlet across the street from our home on 23 October 2014. Both the Canadian national flag and the McDonald’s flags are at half-mast. This brings out the real national character of the Canadians and exemplifies their regard for their soldiers.

There was a special reinstatement ceremony of the Sentry Program at the National War Memorial on 24 October. Two soldiers took their posts as sentries on either side of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the first time since Cirillo was shot in the same location on 22 October.   The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and he greeted the soldiers alongside General Tom Lawson, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff. Among those he greeted were the five passersby who tried to save Cirillo’s life after he had been shot.

On 24 October 2014 afternoon, as Corporal Nathan Cirillo made his final journey home from Ottawa, thousands of Canadians lined the roads and highway overpasses from Ottawa to Hamilton, Ontario, to pay respect to the fallen young soldier.

As the hearse carrying Cirillo’s remains travelled along the Highway of Heroes, a stretch of Highway 401 named in honour of all the soldiers who laid down their lives.

Onlookers waved Canadian flags and clapped.

The crowds included veterans, police officers, firefighters, military families and those who wanted to pay their respects. Some sang ‘O Canada’ as the hearse passed by.

On all the overpasses, the fire fighters had raised the Canadian national flag atop the ladders of the fire trucks.

An Ottawa firefighter waves a Canadian Flag as crowds wait on an overpass at the Veterans Memorial Highway for a procession transporting the body of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo to pass by in Ottawa on Friday, October 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
For more than 500 kilometers, other vehicles respectfully kept their distance from the motorcade or pulled over until the hearse was out of sight.

A Canadian Soldier salutes the hearse carrying the body of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on the Veterans Memorial Highway in Ottawa on Friday, October 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
There were no police to enforce any traffic control, the self-disciplined Canadians demonstrated the apt way to pay respect to a fallen soldier.

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 24: Kathy Cirillo (center left), the mother of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, follows the casket carrying her son, two days after he was shot dead by a gunman while he guarded the National War Memorial, during a precession from Ottawa to Cirillo's hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, on October 24, 2014 in Ottawa, Canada. After killing Cirillo the gunman stormed the main parliament building, terrorizing the public and politicians, before he was shot dead. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
When the procession arrived at the Hamilton funeral home around 8 PM, the large crowd that had been waiting outside for hours softly sang the national anthem and applauded.

This demonstration of national pride and respect for a fallen soldier comes naturally to the Canadians. Canada does not have conscription and majority of the Canadians have not served with the military. The major contributor is the fact that Canadian military history forms a major part of the Canadian history curriculum from primary to high school level. The children learn about the heroics of Canadians in the first and the second World Wars and the role played by Canadians in various peace keeping missions across the world. It was the Lester Bowles Pearson, former Canadian Prime Minister who is credited as the father of the United Nations Peace keeping when he suggested that the United Nations station a peacekeeping force in the Suez Canal during the crisis in July 1957.

To become a Canadian citizen one must pass the Canadian Citizenship Test which covers a major portion on the Canadian military history. This ensures that the naturalised citizens are well aware of the sacrifices and achievements of the Canadian soldiers.

On the occasion of the Remembrance Day on November 11, the school children discuss about their relatives who served the military – both the past and the present. In all the schools and in many public places, ceremonies are conducted to honour the veterans and the serving soldiers. Above all, during the week running to the Remembrance Day, all Canadians wear a Red Poppy as a mark of respect to the soldiers.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo’s made his final journey home on 24 October, 18 days before the Memorial Day – 11 November.  During the Memorial Week, Canadians wear the ‘Red Poppy’ as a mark of respect to fallen soldiers.  Can you spot anyone in the images above not wearing a Red Poppy?

To read as to ‘Why we wear a red Poppy?’ please click here.

Whale Watching @ Bay of Fundi

After spending three days on the Prince Edward Island (PEI), the Eastern most province of Canada, we decided to travel to the Bay of Fundy for Whale watching.

The Bay of Fundy is a bay on the Atlantic coast between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Some sources believe the name ‘Fundy’ is a corruption of the French word ‘Fendu’, meaning ‘split’, while others believe it comes from the Portuguese ‘funda’, meaning ‘deep’. The Bay of Fundy is known for having the highest tidal range in the world and is said to be best place to watch the whales in the summer.

We had entered PEI through the Confederation Bridge and decided to take ferry for exiting the island. It could have been the resultant of my military mind which prompted the decision for a different exit route and also the eagerness for the experience of traveling by the ferry.

The ferry commences its voyage from Wood Islands, PEI and takes 75 minutes crossing the Northumberland Strait to Caribou, Nova Scotia. The bottom two decks of the ferry holds about 150 vehicles, which include 60 feet trucks, cars and motor cycles. The upper two decks are for passengers and there is Wi-Fi, movies, restaurants, lounges, children play area, etc on board.   We loaded our car into the ferry at about 2 PM and moved into the upper deck to enjoy the sea breeze. We reached Caribou by around 3:30 PM and drove off to Middleton.

We spent the night in a motel at Middleton and the next morning drove to Freeport in Nova Scotia and reached an yellow building – the Lavena’s Catch Cafe which also houses the booking office for the Whale Watching Tour operated by Captain Tim. He also doubles up as a lobster fisherman, when he is not operating the Whale Watching Tour. On reaching the cafe, Nidhi our daughter was quick to come up with the fact that this place had featured in the Food Network’s series Pitchin’ In, hosted by chef Lynn Crawford.

Lavena’s Catch Cafe established in 2000 is owned and operated by Tim Crockers’ sister Lavena and her husband Stanton. It is purely a family business and has been listed in Where To Eat In Canada since 2002. All dishes are prepared daily.  The menu boasts of delicious seafood entree’s and fabulous homemade desserts. The menu is somewhat dictated by what comes off the boat that day and the seafood is as fresh as you can get. We had breakfast and placed our order for lunch, mainly scallop chowder, baked haddock and salads.

At 10 AM we embarked on Captain Tim’s boat for the Whale Watching Tour. After the mandatory safety briefing, the boat steamed off into the Bay of Fundy – a 90 minute cruise. Captain Tim kept briefing us about the seas, the whales and all his previous experiences of encounters with the whales. He claimed that he had never missed sighting the whales in any of his tours and promised us that we will all meet the biggest mammals. Suddenly the boat broke into high speed and Captain Tim called everyone to look in the front and there they were – about eight Humpback whales swimming majestically. Captain Tim positioned the boat about 30 meters from the swimming whales and moved parallel to them so that we could see the whales. These “showmen” put on some spectacular shows, literally throwing their bodies out of the water (breaching). They come into the Fundy Bay to feed on the enormous amount of capelin (small smelt fish) that come in from the sea. The humpbacks are about 12-16 metres long with black dorsal colouring and large white pectoral fins. Their top looks like a hump and hence their names and another distinctive feature of the Humpback are their fluked tail. Flukes are the two lobes of the whale tail.

Whale watching tours follow the Marine Tour Operators Code of Ethics which include no chasing, harassing or herding the whales. This is to ensure that the whales are not disturbed from their natural routine or injured.

On returning to the Lavena’s Catch Cafe by mid-day, hot chowders were waiting for us. We enjoyed the fabulous seafood lunch and set out to the Digby Port to catch the ferry to St Johns in New Brunswick. We loaded the car into the ferry and set sail at 4 PM for a three hour journey across the Bay of Fundy.

The facilities in the ferry were similar to the earlier ferry and the duration being three hours, we decided to settle down in the lounge for a game of cards. After about two hours, the Captain announced that there were some killer whales sighted on the port side. We looked out and was about four killer whales emerging out of water, doing flips, turns and somersaults before landing back on the water. These killer whales are called Orcas and is a toothed whale, the largest of the Dolphin family. They are easily distinguished by their fin and their prominent black and white markings which can be seen from far. They are natural predators but as well, they are natural showmen.

We disembarked at the St John’s port at about 7 PM and drove off to the hotel and spent the night there. Early morning we drove to Quebec City and the next day to our home in Mississauga.

RCMP and the Muskrat Hat


The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) called the ‘Mounties’, adorn hats made from the muskrat fur as part of their winter uniform. The hat keeps them warm in the extreme cold winters of Canada, especially when operating outdoors and also during ceremonial occasions and parades. Each RCMP winter hat requires pelts from at least three muskrats and each year approximately 3,000 hats are issued to officers.

The animal-rights activists in Canada have been clamouring for discontinuance of the muskrat hats by the RCMP. They wanted only those officers who work in the extreme cold would be allowed to wear fur hats that had pelts supplied by humane trapping methods. For others, hat with a synthetic and/or natural alternative was recommended.

The RCMP accepted the proposal and tested a tuque made of synthetic material that works well in normal winter conditions, and decided to supply the new hats to cadets as early as the fall of 2014. The Mounties said their time-honoured muskrat hat would continue to be issued to officers working in extreme cold, stressing that the force and its garment suppliers comply with an international agreement on humane trapping standards.

To kill muskrats, leg-hold or Conibear or traps are often used. The ‘Stop Loss’ leg-hold trap was created specifically for muskrats. This trap has an extra metal spring which slams onto the muskrats body, pinning it away from its trapped limb. This prevents the muskrats from chewing off their own limb, which many will do in an effort to escape. Muskrats are caught in body-gripping traps can leave them exposed to the elements and predators, and prone to dehydration, starvation and self-inflicted injuries before they die. Often, trapped muskrats drown. Drowning muskrats are conscious and experience all of the pain and distress associated with drowning. These deaths are deemed inhumane and unacceptable by the animal-right activists.

If the animals undergo sufferings when trapped, what about the crabs and lobsters trapped using a similar method?   What about the fish in the nets or on the hook? Don’t they also undergo a similar suffering? The fur trade supporters often ask these questions.

The fur trade is vital to the economy of many remote rural communities in Canada. These communities who often have few other economic options. Majority of Canada’s fur cultivation actually takes place on factory farms where hundreds of thousands of mink and fox are kept in tiny cages and slaughtered for their skin. There are close to 70,000 trappers in Canada who harvest muskrats and other animals. Many are the aboriginal trappers who use the trapped animals for food and bait as well as the pelt.

Muskrats reproduce at a prodigious rate and would cause problems if not culled regularly as a sustainable approach. These animals are abundant and plentiful in the Canadian environment and need to be trapped to protect the ecosystems and also the fur trade.

Canada’s fur trade contributes more than $800 million annually to the Canadian economy. Canada’s most important fur markets are China, Russia and the Ukraine, Europe (Italy, Germany, UK, Greece, France, Spain), Turkey and Korea. The Canadian fur trade directly employs 70,000 Canadians. Full and part time employment in various fur trade sectors is additional to spin off employment in the supply and services sector, including feed and equipment suppliers, veterinary and research services, by product production, marketers, business services, transport, crafts and design sectors.

Fur trade has been one of Canada’s oldest and most historically significant industries. Nearly four hundred years from its start, the commercial fur trade continues to use a plentiful sustainable Canadian resource in a responsible manner and is an important contributor to Canada’s economy and ecology. The development of the fur trade had exploded in the seventeenth century once the fashion demands of Europe had acquired an insatiable desire for felt hats made from the short hairs of the Beaver. The fur trade had formed an important part of the early economies of both the English and French colonies.

The initial system was based upon some Aboriginal groups trying to control the trade by playing the middleman between the European settlers and other Aboriginal groups. This developed into a system where the colonists began to travel to the hinterland to trade directly with the native groups and eventually the French Coureurs des Bois began to lay their own trap lines and would travel thousands of miles each year by canoe.

The English decided upon a different approach when they claimed the Hudson Bay and all of the lands that had waters which flowed into the Bay. This system fell under a private company – The Hudson Bay Company (HBC) – which was granted it’s charter by King Charles II in 1670. The HBC constructed trading posts called forts, factories or houses at the mouths of rivers, along the western shore of the Hudson Bay and initially relied on the natives travelling down the rivers to trade their furs. As sources and the quality of the furs began to deteriorate, the Bay men used the natives to help them explore and establish new forts further and further away from the Hudson Bay.

The expansion of these two fur trading systems inevitably brought them into contact and conflict. There were only so many furs and the question became who was going to secure and dominate the trade. It is an interesting fact that the furs from Canada were usually considered to be more desirable due to the colder winters and hence the greater development of the fur to keep the animals warm.

The Canadian government on 30 September 2014 has ordered the Mounties to reverse the plan, even though the force has already ordered 10,000 tuques to replace the muskrat hats. The political angle to the decision is that Minister Leona Aqlukkaq, who heads the Environment ministry, also hails from the fur-trapping northern territory of Nunavut. She would always love to keep her electorate happy.

Hurricane Hazel

Hazel McCallion the Mayor of Mississauga, I saw her the first time when she gave the graduation address to the students when our daughter Nidhi graduated from high school in 2009. She came driving her Chevrolet Malibu car bearing the licence plate ‘MAYOR1’. The graduation address was inspiring, motivating and would make any listener think. She peppered her address with wit and humour and made everyone laugh too. Immediately after delivering the address, she dashed off to the next high school in the city to address that school’s graduates. This proved that her nickname of ‘Hurricane’ Hazel suited her to the tee.

Hazel McCallion, has won every mayoral election contested in Mississauga since 1978. She is the longest serving mayor in Canada and has kept the city debt-free since her first term of office. McCallion began her political career in 1968 on the Streetsville municipality which she served as Chairman of the Planning Board, Deputy Reeve, Reeve and then Mayor of Streetsville. In 1974, Streesville got incorporated into the City of Mississauga.

In her first mayoral election in 1978 she narrowly defeated the incumbent mayor. In 1979 she came into world news when a public health and safety crisis occurred during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in a heavily populated area of Mississauga. A large explosion and fire ensued as hazardous chemicals spilled. McCallion, along with the Police and other governmental authorities, oversaw an orderly and peaceful evacuation of the entire city of 200,000 residents. Despite having sprained her ankle, she continued to hold press conferences and update briefings. There were no deaths or serious injuries during the week-long emergency.

Her reputation has hinged on her financial acumen and political pragmatism, with her no-nonsense style endearing her to constituents and alienating some opponents. In 1991 she became the first mayor to submit their city’s budget to public scrutiny.

Mayor McCallion is well known for her love of hockey. She played for a professional women’s team while attending school in Montreal. One of her friends and a hockey commentator Don Cherry, who joked during her 87th birthday that while 98 per cent of the city voted for her, he was looking for the remaining 2 per cent that didn’t. She never campaigned for the elections, she never put up posters, she never delivered any elections speeches, but she always got over 90% of the votes.

Mayor McCallion was born in Port Daniel of Quebec on February 14, 1921 and educated in Quebec City and Montreal. She then began her career in Montreal with Canadian Kellogg, an engineering and contracting firm, and was transferred to Toronto in 1942 to help set up the local office. Mayor McCallion remained with the company for 19 years. In 1967 she decided to leave the corporate world and devote her career to politics.

Hazel was married to Sam McCallion on September 29, 1951. Sam passed away in 1997. Hazel’s in-laws on her marriage to Sam gifted a piece of land in the village of Streetsville. She still resides in Streetsville and believes that one got to have a life filled with purpose and meaning and living her life in a Christian-like manner helped to motivate her and keep her energized. She does everything around the house herself like cleaning, grocery shopping, gardening, etc. She likes to be self sufficient and thinks that housework and gardening are great forms of exercise and keep her humble.

Her principles are grounded in the belief that a city should be run like a business; thus, she encourages the business model of governance. Her family’s business background, her education, and her prior career in a corporation prepared her to approach government with this model.

Hazel’s Hope, a campaign to fund health care for children afflicted with AIDS and HIV in southern Africa is her charity initiative. Hazel became the poster girl for longevity and good health for Trillium Health Centre. On her 90th birthday, Dr. Barbara Clive, a geriatrician, marvelled at Hazel’s good health: “At 90 her gait is perfect, her speech is totally sharp and she has the drive to still run this city. She’s the poster child for seniors”.

In December 2014, Mayor McCallion will step-down and people of the city are feeling ‘bad’ about it. What an amazing woman, who has given her life to our great city. She is never going to be replaced, she is Mississauga. What an inspiration for all women and for those of a certain age, that they aren’t done yet and can still live happy very productive active lives. To the generations coming up behind, to work hard and make a name for oneself and make a difference.

After delivering her annual State of the City speech, her last as mayor, on September 23, 2014 Mayor McCallion had some advice for anyone who wanted to fill her coveted seat in Mississauga: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. You have got to be honest with people. You can’t make promises when you haven’t got a hope to fulfil them”.

Hazel McCallion was appointed as special adviser to the principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga.  She is engaged in her passion project is to develop a course to teach people how to participate in public office.

Hazel McCallion has been such an amazing Mayor to the wonderful city of Mississauga, and no one will ever be able to live up to her amazing work . The people of Mississauga are grateful to have had such a strong and caring women take care of our beautiful city. Now she has left some big shoes to fill and in all honesty, there will simply never be another Mayor that can make the people of Mississauga feel the way the people feel for Hazel. Every now and then a person comes around and truly leaves a legacy, you Hazel have done more for the city than most world leaders have done in their lifetime.

Thank you Hazel for all your hard work, commitment and dedication to make Mississauga the place it is today.