Let Them Drink Coke

water fountain david lam park yaletown vancouver

Last weekend the Calgary Folk Music Festival made a bold step in a growing tide against bottled water: they banned sale of it on site.

The momentum behind the ban the bottled water movement is an environmental one. But there is another side to this coin, the health one. In a time when we are using our cars as dining rooms and consuming more fast food than ever before, restaurants are being encouraged to offer healthier options. Salads, yogurt, fruit and water are now alongside burgers, fries and cola.

So here’s the rub: while the sale of bottled water was banned at the CFMF, the sale of bottled colas wasnt. If a fair goer was visiting a concession booth ordering a falafel or wrap or salad, the only options for refreshment were of the water mixed with sugar variety.

It should be noted that TD sponsored water jockeys to wander the fairgrounds with backpacks filled with water that was trucked in so they could top up festival goers who brought bottles from home. Oh, and if you didn’t bring a bottle, you could buy one on site (to bring home and stuff in your cupboard with the dozen or so other water bottles you may already have.)

While I agree we should be encouraged to drink water that is free instead of buying the bottles, I’m not so certain that banning the sale of water in public places is the answer.

In 2009, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities asked its membership to ban the sale of bottled water at civic facilities. That would mean a ban at park concessions, rec centres and civic offices.

The argument that is consistently raised is that we are using plastics to bottle something that is readily available and is free. Well, if you look at the photo of the water fountain above, you’ll note that the free water is not always readily available. Try taking a run around Vancouver’s gorgeous waterfront in the spring or fall and you’ll quickly find the faucets are turned off.

Can you imagine being a tourist out for a long day’s walking and not be able to grab a bottle of water to take with you on your walk?

To see the other side of the debate, and try to have a greater understanding of the issue the CFMF and FCM were trying to fight, I recently watched the documentary Tapped.

The film makes 3 main arguments, none of them convinced me that the sale of bottled water should be banned.

1. They accused the companies, specifically Nestle, for accessing community groundwater and syphoning it off without proper compensation to the communities. Groundwater isn’t properly regulated, so the loopholes are there for the companies to swim through. If the abuses are so gross, then the civic governments need to have better resource management regulations.

2. They accused the manufacture of the plastics used for the bottles as a major health risk for people living near the plants, specifically in Corpus Christi, Texas. If the plants were only making bottles for water, then perhaps the argument would hold water. Considering these same bottles are used for everything from iced tea to colas to juice, the argument carries less weight. Banning the sale of bottled water won’t close these plants down, there’s plenty of demand for plastic containers.

3. They pointed at the mass of waste created by the tossing of bottles and plastics. That is a fault of State governments and poor education of the population. Only 11 states have legislated recycling deposits and a further only 6 of those apply it to bottled water. In the states that have 5c deposits, recycling rates are 70%. In Michigan, where deposits are 10c, recycling rates are 97%. There’s a simple solution to the problem, place a levy to pay for the self-funding recycling programs and get the plastic back in the system.

That problem isn’t as rampant in Canada. We have comprehensive recycling programs in many of our cities. I always joke that it’s easy to spot a Canadian in the US – we’re the one walking the entire day with an empty bottle in our hand looking for a blue bin to recycle it.

Bottled water is a healthy, convenient, portable option. If you ban the sale of bottled water, the portable, convenient refreshment will be cola. The recycling programs still won’t be in effect, and so the trash will still exist. The plastics will be needed for these bottles, so the manufacturing plants will still exist.

Banning bottled water doesn’t solve the problem. Education does.

People say bottled water tastes better for the same reason Coors Light tastes good: it’s cold. It’s crisp. It’s fresh. Water fountains or tap water aren’t as crisp or cold as the bottle that you pull from the fridge. If you fill a Nalgene with tap water and toss it in the fridge overnight, you’ll notice the difference in taste immediately. Same thing with the Brita fridge filters: the water tastes better because it’s colder.

My behaviour has changed with shopping bags. I now have a handful of reusable ones in my trunk and pantry that I take grocery shopping. I’ve removed that plastic from my consumer cycle and perhaps one day the reusable bottle will be a habit as well.

I applaud the CFMF for not just taking a step, but providing an alternative. That said, if they were truly concerned about the environment, then bulk serving of all refreshments would have been done on site. I mean, if I can use my Nalgene for water, I can use it for beer, coke or ice tea too, right? Bulk fountain stations would have entirely removed single-serving bottled plastics from the system.

The CFMF continued the eco-crusade beyond the bottle by requiring compostble cutlery and reusable plates from the vendors.

But you can see the slippery slope we start sliding down: soon enough we’ll all be hiring sherpas to carry our reusable eating gear just for a trip to the park.

Education needs to be the first step, banning sale is the last step – not the other way round. For now the bottled water movement is saying “Let them drink Coke” and that solves nothing.

Direct Energy Nest

Kids In Calgary: Summer at Calaway Park

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Calaway Park
Hwy 1 and Range Road 33, Calgary [google map]
Admission: 7+: $34, 3-6: $27, Under 3: free, Family of 4: $79

If you have kids between the ages of 4 and 9, there isnt a more perfect place for you to spend a summer day than at Calaway Park on the west edge of Calgary.

With my wife away on girls’ weekend, I decided to venture into amusement park land as a single dad with 2 kids. Zacharie was 4, just tall enough to get on a majority of the rides. He could have gone on more, if I could have ridden with him, but I needed to stay on the sidelines with our 18 month old.

He was tall enough to drive cars, bounce monster trucks, whip on a roller coaster, toss in a ball room, go on the train and cruise the bumper cars. It was brilliant.

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Calaway Park is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, but the park doesnt feel it. There’s green space, the rides are spread amongst ponds and waterways. There are big trees for shade and there are grassy picnic areas. The picnicking idea was popular as we saw many parents pulling wagons with big coolers stuffed with lunch.

After we paid admission, I left my wallet in my pocket (unlike the Calgary Stampede midway where you need to spit out ride tickets every few steps). Zacharie could have his fill of rides and we snacked on the food I brought while we waited in line. I did toss over a toonie for a midway game (a guaranteed winner that scored him a Kung Fu Panda) and $5 for some greasy popcorn to bring home, but that was it. We had an incredible 4+ hours of fun (that could have lasted longer if I had a partner to help watch the little one).

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The best part? The staff. Sure, the rides were run by the usual gang of teens getting summer spending money, but they were all smiling. They were all helpful. They were all happy to be there and made sure the kids had a great time. As a parent playing solo, it was great to have the help.

A day at Calaway Park is perfect for families with young kids and it becomes even more brilliant if you plan ahead and get a Season’s Pass in the spring. You can scoop a season’s ticket for $34 a between March and May. In other words, head once and you’re even – go twice and you’re ahead. I put it on the calendar to grab next spring.

For other things to do with your family in Calgary, check out the entire Kids In Calgary series.

Train Rides At Iron Horse Park

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Ironhorse Park
820 Railway Gate, Airdrie
[google map]
Open Sundays 11-4, May – October
$3 a ride (8 rides for $20)

Miniature trains are one of the greatest gifts old train nuts can give kids. Riding around on the small scale model trains is equal parts nostalgia and reality. You feel like you’re on a train ride (well, you are) with the sounds of the whistle and the clickety clacking tracks. The wind is breezing on your face like you’re leaning out the caboose and the scenery peacefully whistles by except you’re straddling a miniature version of the real thing.

There are two miniature train set up near Calgary, Iron Horse Park in Airdrie and another on in Nanton.

The one in Nanton is not quite as advertised. The sign outside may proclaim “Canada’s Largest Garden Railway” but it’s really just a spin around an old lady’s backyard. The Ultimate Trains store is great, with all sorts of models and cars and Thomas the Tank Engine gear – just skip the train rides.

The miniature train ride in Airdrie, at Iron Horse Park, is much grander. 1.6km of track weave around a field in what is to replicate a trip from Calgary to Vancouver. You make 2 1/2 loops of a mountain (crossing the Rockies) go around ponds and tressle bridges through tunnels and more.

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If your kids love miniature train rides they’ll love Iron Horse Park and the work put in by the volunteers of the Alberta Model Engineering Society (AMES).

12 Summer Things To Do In The Montana Flathead

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The Montana Flathead is an area from Whitefish to Big Fork. It’s a wide, flat valley on the western edge of the state that offers a variety of activities. A favorite escape for Calgarians, here are more than a dozen ideas to relax and unplug on your Montana vacation.

1. Drive the Going to the Sun Road
One of the most spectacularly scenic and daredevil drives you’ll ever take. The road soars through Glacier National Park to Logan Pass. It’s usually open June – September.

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2. Wander Apgar
A cute little town on the western end of the Going to the Sun Road, Apgar is a collection of souvenir shops, cafes and ice cream stands. Bring a picnic lunch to relax on the shores of Macdonald Lake, your boat to get out on the water, or your tent to camp at one of the nearby sites.

3. Visit Target and Costco in Kalispell
We’re still 2 years away from having Target in Canada, so spending half a day wandering the bargain aisles of Tar-zhay is a good morning spent. Pop across the highway to Costco to pick up supplies for your stay, specifically booze. They sell wine and beer at Costco in the US and the deals are astounding.

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4. Swim at City Beach
Whitefish Lake is cold. Very cold. If you need to cool off on a hot day, it’s a fine place to dip your toes in. There’s a boat launch here too and you’ll see dozens of JetSkis turning donuts. The beach itself is short, just a few hundred metres long, but it’s one of the only stretches of sand you’ll find along Whitefish Lake.

5. Zipline, Mountain Bike, Alpine Slide, Treetop Tour at Big Mountain
Like many mountain resorts, once the snow melts Big Mountain makes the transition to summer playground. You can take the chair to the top and ride a mountain bike or hike back down. You can wander the treetops or skim them on a zip line. We chose the alpine slide, a luge-like blast down the side of one of runs.

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6. Walk Historic Whitefish
Many of the buildings on the main drag of downtown Whitefish are original. Each has a plaque on the side telling you the history of the building and a story about the original retailer. You can string them together for a nice stroll to learn some history while you shop at the new merchants.

7. Go fishing
The state responsible for A River Runs Through It has many signs along the main highways pointing to fishing spots. Whether it be fly fishing or just casting a hook and bobber from shore with your kid, magical and peaceful moments on the water are to be had all over the Flathead.

20110703 montana - 228. Pick Huckleberries
If you’re in the valley in August, you’ll want to find a huckleberry patch. The tiny little purple berries are a calling card of the area and found in everything from lotions to syrup. The bears love them too, so be careful where you stop to pick them in Glacier National Park. If you’re in the Flathead in the off season, there are many shops to pick up variations on the tasty treats.

9. Whitewater rafting, golfing, helicopter rides
Extreme activities line the valley with many chances to get wet in the Flathead or Hungry Horse river. Helicopter tour companies line the area just outside Glacier National Park for those to frightened to drive the Going To The Sun Road but would like a higher view and golf greens are tucked around the area too including Montana‘s only 36 hole track.

10. Watch the races at Montana Raceway Park
It’s a little bit of Southern Americana in the Northwest. You can hear the roar of engines as you make the commute between Kalispell and Whitefish and the tailgates are calling.

11. Ride your bike to the top of big mountain
It’s not quite L’Alpe D’Huez, Col du Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux, but the ride up Big Mountain is still a fave for area cyclists. There’s a separate paved cycling path along the east side of Whitefish Lake so you can stretch out your ride a bit.

12. Ride a motorcycle without a helmet
There’s no law requiring helmets in Montana and many riders prefer to go without.

The Greatest Show Of Community Spirit On Earth

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It’s not something you can understand until you experience it. And you need to experience it properly.

My first Calgary Stampede was in 2003. I wandered the midway and checked out a bit of the rodeo, but as someone from out of town, I didnt really understand what it was about. Sure, I saw a lot of long lines outside beer gardens, and that’s what I thought was going on. It was Calgary’s version of the PNE with booze and a rodeo. Check that – LOTS of booze and a rodeo.

But it’s different. It’s more than that, and this weekend I had things really exposed to me.

The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is really about community spirit. It’s about taking pride in traditions, and getting behind a cause to wave the flag high.

Simply put, The Calgary Stampede is Calgary’s Christmas. Think of all the good things that happen in December and then put them in July. There are parties and decorations. There are festive outfits and feasts. There are acts of charity and an indominable smile creeps across everyone’s face.

It’s something the rest of the country could weave into their community. Vancouver, for example, could use a few pancake breakfasts. The spirit of volunteerism, the acts of charity and small communities coming together 1500 at a time binds people together, enforces civic pride and makes it more difficult to torch the things you love.

It may look like just pancakes, beer gardens and a rodeo, but it really is neighbours coming together to celebrate their city.

Whitefish, Montana: Famous for Huckleberries

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I’ve eaten guinea pig in Peru, made my own Tom Yum soup in Thailand, and had Pozole off the street in Mexico City.

The more exotic, the more local on the menu, the greater the chance I will order it. In Whitefish, Montana ordering local means eating huckleberries. In just 4 days on the Flathead I downed huckleberry lemonade, huckleberry cobbler, wild huckleberry wheat ale, baked huckleberry french toast and huckleberry preserve.

They put the huckleberries in everything. From jelly to pancakes, tea to lotions, syrup to muffins.

The taste of the berry is comparable to blueberries, but just a smidge more sweet. It’s that sweetness that elevates their taste and the passion for them and makes them a calling card for Glacier National Park and the Whitefish area. Huckleberries ripen in August (around the same time as blueberries) and if you decide to hike into the mountains to pick some, you’ll have to fend off the grizzlies as the berry is a favorite of the bears.

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The Huckleberry Patch is one of the original shops in the valley, it’s been open since 1949 and features wall upon wall of purple hewed jars showing off the berry.

If you do local when you travel, you’ll have huckleberries when you visit Whitefish, Montana.

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