I spent this past weekend in Montréal, one of my most favorite cities in the world. Montréal first captured my heart during a visit in 2002 and I never pass up an opportunity to visit. I love the fact that city incorporates the old with the new. I love feeling like I am in Europe when I am still in North America. And I especially love walking along Rue Sainte-Catherine while enjoying a maple-sugar crêpe.
With nearly four million inhabitants, Montréal ranks as the second-largest city in Canada, and the second-largest French speaking city in the world (second only to Paris). The city takes its name from Mont Royal, a triple-peaked hill situated in the center of the Island of Montréal. Mont Royal is a wooded park that provides welcome green space in a bustling urban environment.
I scoured the city for hours searching for the welcome sign. This was not an easy task given Montréal’s aging infrastructure, massive construction projects and inconvenient road closures. I almost came up empty until I found this billboard at P.E. Trudeau International Airport. (As you can tell in the photo, the sun was setting on my last day in Montréal when I took this photo.)
To be honest, the welcome was not what I had expected. Certainly I was not surprised that it is in French (I would have been surprised if it wasn’t), but I’m not quite sure why there is a heart and a kiss symbol on the sign. These elements are not particularly representative of Montréal. At first I thought that this was not an official welcome sign but perhaps an ad of some sort. But the logo is used on the Tourism Montréal Web site, so it is legitimate. But I am disappointed that a city with so many unique characteristics has such as banal welcome.
Vancouver and Whistler were on the world stage earlier this year when they hosted the XXI Winter Olympic Games. I had the opportunity to visit these spectacular cities in an Olympic race of my own last week. Vancouver was host to the World Route Development Forum, the biggest conference of the year in my day job. During the “Air Service Olympics” I met with 20 airlines over two days, not to mention attending numerous evening receptions and dinners. I’m happy to report that it was a very productive and successful conference.
Of course, the trip would not have been a complete success if I could not track down the welcome signs. Vancouver’s sign was conveniently situated on the main route into downtown from the airport, and I spotted it without a problem. This welcome is in both French and English (although some entrances to the city only include English) and highlights the Olympics. The shape is simple and the soft blue and green scheme mimics the colors in Vancouver’s breathtaking landscape. According to a City of Vancouver news release, the base of the sign is made from granite salvaged from old curbs around the city.
After the conference ended, I took a short day trip up to Resort Municipality of Whistler to decompress after weeks of preparation and a whirlwind of activity at the conference. The welcome sign for Whitlser is typical of a mountain town – simple, wooden and rustic. The tree symbol at the top of the sign is Whistler’s official logo.
I visited Whistler with my friend and colleague Vicki. We enjoyed walking through the village and stopped for a photo at the inuksuk statue. The inuksuk was the official symbol of the 2010 Olympic Games; it is a stone landmark used by natives of the Arctic to help with navigation. The passerbys who offered to take our photo were friendly, but clearly not talented with the camera as the inuksuk is missing its head!
The driving force behind my visit to Alaska this week was to photograph the Welcome to Alaska sign. Over the past four years I have crisscrossed the USA with the goal of photographing the welcome signs for all 50 states. And Alaska was, appropriately, my Last Frontier. (Stay tuned for more info about my book State Lines that will be published later this year.)
As I stood alone at the end of the Alaska Highway facing the sign, my emotions were mixed; I felt a certain sadness that this journey has come to an end, but at the same time I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. I set a goal, focused my energy and resources, and succeeded. (I also felt the biting of mosquitos on my skin, a minor annoyance that only temporarily distracted me from the moment.)
The sign is simple and sturdy, displaying details that define Alaska: the shape of the state (the largest in the country), wildlife and wildflowers.
As I turned my back on Alaska – and closed the book (literally) on my state welcome sign project – I faced not only a new country, but a new journey. Why not photograph the welcome signs for the Canadian provinces and territories? Nothing is stopping me, so I started.
Posted in Alaska, Canada, Yukon
Tagged alaska, alaska highway, canada, last frontier, welcome sign, welcome to alaska, welcome to alaska sign, welcome to yukon sign, yukon