La Grande Hermine

La Grande Hermine

She is a landmark passed without a second glance by many every day. I took to the air with my drone to capture this fine lady in all her fading glory. This is the story of La Grande Hermine. Enjoy.

Constructed in 1914 this one hundred and forty foot long ship began life as a humble ferry on the St. Lawrence river before doing duty as a cargo ship. In 1991 she was rebuilt to resemble the largest of the three ships used by the pioneering explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535, and became a floating restaurant.

La Grande Hermine, which translates as The Big Ermine, or more colloquially The Big Weasel, came to her final resting place in 1997. She and amenities including a boat launch, a small marina with docks and a bar / restaurant are accessible from the QEW North Service road at Jordan Harbour.

The ship’s owner at the time she arrived professed an intention to turn her into a floating casino restaurant with her home in Niagara Falls. He passed away while awaiting approvals and hurdling red tape. She has languished here ever since, as a beacon to passing tourists and a sightseeing spot for locals. This perhaps proves the old adage, better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

In 2003 the ship caught fire due to some adventurous teenagers trying to stay warm and losing control of the fire. That’s another salutary lesson, kids. Most of the wood burned away down to the steel hull but surprisingly the masts as well as the Crow’s Nests survive.

She sits feet from the shore. Adventurous souls (including your author) have swum or rowed out to explore more closely. I rowed, since I was heavily laden with camera gear. (Watch The Video). Life is simpler with a drone. I cannot in good conscience recommend swimming. The water is full of sharp metal to impale and infect, and the algae and mud could easily drag you to your doom. So don’t do it.

What cannot be seen from the road is the far side of the sunken ship. As the video shows, one brave teen painted a question. That act of vandalism took imagination, preparation, and not a small amount of bravery. Though I deplore it I had to smile, and I always wondered that the answer was.

There is life in the old girl yet. La Grande Hermine is home to nesting birds of several varieties including Geese, and Swallows. They and their nests should be left undisturbed, please. This shipwreck is their home, not ours. Below the waterline, fish thrive in the shadowy depths of the submerged hull, and who knows what treasures the mineral-rich rusty waters surrounding this shell of a ship conceal?

Life is amazing. It goes on, always finding a way. Let that be my closing thought.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, most affectionately… The Big Weasel.

The Changing Pace Of Life

When I was a boy… things moved more slowly. From school, to work, to leisure. It was a much slower pace of life. Until recently. Life has returned to that slower pace. Which gives time to reflect.

Things took days to happen, not minutes. Fast delivery meant sending the kids to get it.

We had no Internet. Think about that. Don’t laugh, you young whippersnappers. We invented it, you’re welcome. Cell phones didn’t exist, few homes even had landlines, so once you left the house you were free to get into (and out of) as much trouble as you could without adult supervision. Think about that.

These thoughts came to mind when I passed this beautiful old barn.

I pulled over, wanting to capture an image that held the memories of youth this barn evoked in me. That reminded me of old movies and TV shows full of rural life and family values. Of my friends and I playing tag in barns just like it, screaming in and around and across the roof. Of throwing ourselves from hay lofts into improvised haystacks made from torn apart hay bales.

Barn life. Nostalgic image of my youth.
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Back in the day, bales were not cylindrical as they are now, but brick shaped. Kids like me were the main reason they are now round, I like to think. Because hay bales were the lego of my generation. The bales we didn’t tear apart we made into forts and tunnels and palaces. We really could throw those things around. Constructions 10 bales high with runs and windows and parapets were common. There was nothing we could not build from these versatile building blocks, much to the annoyance of the farmers.

It was all a game. We scouted somewhere, found a field full of hay, played a while, got chased away. I only remember getting shot at once, but that was just to keep us on our toes. He fired with a smile we saw, and we waved back over our shoulders as we ran. We came back later to finish the fort. Fun times.

Endless Summers

Summers were indeed endless. Leaving the house at dawn and returning at dusk gave massive exploration potential. We would routinely walk many miles in random directions, crossing rivers and highways and woods and abandoned mines, sometimes grabbing a couple apples from a tree along the way because we forgot to pack lunch. There were no fast food franchises, even if we had money. Hungry? Go home. Broken a leg? Hop home. Fell in the river? Swim home. Lost in the dark? You’re late: Run home.

Social media was kids yelling over the back fences and exchanging information in person. Learning opportunities were limited to school, and your best friend’s best guess. There was no Google. If we wanted to know something we would research it ourselves. We went to the library. Read newspapers and magazines. We collected comics and made scrap books and played chess. Well, I did.

TV was in it’s infancy. Changing channels involved walking up to the set and spinning dials, sometimes while leaning out of the window waving the fabled ‘bunny ears’. Kids were the remotes.

We walked, ran, cycled or swam everywhere. Kids were sent alone to get groceries and had to make important decisions. If anything on Mom’s shopping list wasn’t available, an alternate had to be picked that the rest of the family liked. That’s stressful when you have an older brother. Failure was not an option. Nor was going home without, as you just get sent back and that meant covering twice the distance. It’s weird to think now that a whole generation grew up deciding which cigarettes their parents would smoke.

After doing the shopping, kids would load their bikes and ride home trying not to drop anything, under pain of a walloping. It is a skill worthy of a resume entry to be able to ride with a sack of potatoes balanced on your crossbar and a grocery bag swinging from each hand. Cars? Those were for special occasions. When it came to shopping, kids were far cheaper. And far faster.

Nostalgia Has Limits

That is not to say all was peachy in this rose-coloured world of my youth.

We had Polio and Smallpox. Measles. Whooping Cough. Rickets. Scurvy. Power cuts. Bad dentistry. No nuclear imaging. No DNA or genetic medicines. No Tesla. I prefer the world in which we live today. Much longer life expectancy. Much better medicine. Nicer cars.

Yes, I would love to be a kid again. But if I had the choice I would do it all again in the here and now of today’s world. For everything wrong with this planet, it’s a pretty nice place with much I still want to see. Life has a lot more going for it these days. Kids today even have the Internet.

Did I mention, we invented that?

Gibson Lake

Rarely A Straight Line

We live in interesting times. Lurching from one disaster to the next, rarely a day between them. From COVID-19 to floods, plagues of locusts, forest fires… every day brings new challenges.

Life is a struggle. Throughout history, life in all forms has striven to overcome challenges. Life, in one way or another, finds a way. Even after an extinction level event such as the dinosaurs experienced life doesn’t stop. Life never gives in. Never surrenders. And it rarely goes in a straight line.

As a boy growing up in the North of England, I could never have predicted the sequence of events that would lead me to a life in Canada. Never in my wildest childhood dreams did I think, “My future second wife will be born today, oh, let’s say around 3,500 miles in… (waves an arm vaguely) that direction.”

Everyone plans their life to some degree: School, career, family. Along the way, curve balls hit us. Illness. Unemployment. Pregnancy. Many things force us to redirect. I, for example, wanted to join the Air Force. Due to one of the above unplanned events this did not happen. I never got to work with or fly planes. I raised children, took cash in hand jobs, and worked my way up, via many circuitous routes with many more diversions along the way, to a different life. Because as life happened, my plans changed to meet it. I evolved. Plans? Ha. Overrated. Hold on and enjoy the ride.

COVID-19 is the latest of many game-changing disasters that will affect us all, now and into the future. We cannot predict where this will take us. The situation will evolve, and we will move to meet it.

I have no doubt there will be permanent changes to societies around the world. Right now, we are all having to redirect ourselves and find new ways forward. Nobody is unaffected. Daily living is unrecognizable. Supply chains are stretched to breaking, the global economy is tanking as countries fight to finance the mitigation of this virus, and healthcare services are overwhelmed as they try to deal with what is, to me, a no win scenario. To the Star Trek fans, that’s a Kobiyashi Maru.

But.

Life will win. We will win. As a species, we will go forward. As societies, we will evolve. As people, we will find a way. We always do. This is not yet the End Of The World. Life will go on. Life moves forward.

But.

Rarely in a straight line.

Jordan Harbour with Nikki

Things for which to be thankful

I am thankful for my Daily Dose of Happiness…

My wife. In the days before drones, you had to go and get photos the hard way. In this case that meant climbing into an inflatable boat and rowing around the headland into and out onto a choppy Lake Ontario, to get some images of the scuppered ship in Jordan Harbour that you can’t see from land.

Got to do what ya got to do to get the shot. All told, I rowed for over six hours that day. This behind the scenes shot I took during a break from rowing shows she is at least as adventurous as I am. She never balks, however outlandish my ideas may be. She knows I won’t put her at risk. Much. Apart from that one time I threw her out of a plane, but that’s another story

As always, I am thankful we do things together. Thanks for supporting me along the way, my love. Many would not. I could do it without you, but it would not be nearly half as much fun. You rock.

And you are my rock. Respect.

Thankful to enjoy the moment in Jordan Harbour with Nikki

Bridge 21, Welland Canal, Port Colborne.

Port Colborne: I love this town.

At a loose end on Sunday after dropping my beloved at work, I sent up the drone. And got this.

It took a few minutes of positioning to get the angle right. That was not helped by strong cross winds buffeting the little guy around the sky, so I kept him low, as the wind near ground level was far less.

Being sensibly cautious, I wanted him out of the sky before the sub zero temperature froze the rapidly discharging batteries and he fell. That, by the way, is a thing. It’s also why I kept him over land, just in case. I didn’t want to try and recover him from a semi-frozen canal. That would not be fun.

I set the shutter speed and other settings manually, and that paid off. Exposure was perfect, the image pin sharp, despite fighting the wind. This flying camera is a marvel.

This is a drone, not a big boy camera, so I won’t be printing this for the office wall. That said, I was happy when I got the raw image (my guy shoots DNG format) into the computer. With a little processing in Adobe Camera Raw, I was able to bring this image to life.

After doing some basic corrections to texture, white balance and so forth, it was time to tweak. Bringing up the shadows lifted the dark areas, revealing a lot of detail. I dropped the highlights a fraction to bring out those lovely clouds while keeping them light and fluffy, and lowered the overall saturation. After that I used the HSL controls to compensate, boosting the saturation just in the blues, reds, and yellows.

Moving the dehaze slider to the left brought everything together nicely, and here’s the final result. Hand crafted to my taste.

I love the clouds scudding across that birdless sky. The leading lines of the canal take my eye right along West Street out to the lighthouse, and when it comes back down the other side of the canal I’m drawn to those boats along the East wall. That ice road looks awesome.

Too much editing? Not enough? I’d be interested in any comments, let me know your thoughts. Ultimately, it’s all subjective. Next week I may try something different. Or not. With a little more love this could be even better. That’s the beauty and the flexibility of shooting raw. Can’t beat it. For now, this edit works for me. I like it.

I hope you like it too.

Looking South from above Bridge 21 at Port Colborne.
Bridge 21, Port Colborne

Not A Music Video

As a licensed drone pilot I am able to do things others can’t. Case in point, producing this unique video of a local band.

When the band started their sound check, I thought it would be fun to get a different perspective.

So I put my working head on, broke out the gear, and up went the bird.

Options are good

This was a personal project, not for a paying client, so I could work any way that I chose. For what I had in mind, I shot in 4K slow motion. I like to do this, as it gives buttery smooth output and adds flexibility when the footage is brought into the computer. Among other options, I can speed it up to normal speed, zoom or crop in, and edit clips into ‘multiple cameras’.

Speaking of options, I later recorded a separate audio track of the band playing, in case I decided to make a regular music video of this. Once I got everything into the computer and reviewed it, that didn’t work for me. I still felt slow motion was the way to go: That was the look I wanted.

With the music track option nixed, I went with my original concept and added a foley track of a Summer’s day in the garden. With birds singing. Wind in the trees. All is right with the world. Peaceful.

Anyone that knows the band will know that ‘peaceful’ contrasts heavily with their hard rock writing style. Anyone that doesn’t know them may be teased into checking them out. I liked that idea.

After adding the band logo and some text, I threw in a few simple animations, and finished with an end card ‘Call To Action’. The resulting video gives the band something unique to share online.

Back down to earth

This is a quirky idea, something I came up with on the spot and wanted to try. It is intentionally and literally ‘Not A Music Video’. Like the concept or not, it’s different. I gifted it to the band and if it helps them generate interest or even get bookings, great. They’re nice guys, play good music, and I was happy to spend my own time putting this together.

The idea has found an unlikely fan base. Feedback from the band and the fans suggest they like this concept. I may sometime rework with a different audio track but I think not. I really like this.

It’s nice to do something non-commercial, unscripted. Recharges the batteries. Video production involves a lot of planning. From concept meetings to shot lists to story boarding, actual filming, assembly, editing, post production audio and motion graphics, it’s a rewarding but lengthy process.

Here, I was free to do my own thing, and have fun. Unpolished. Raw. Assembled from rough footage. I just sent up the drone and used what it came back down with. One take. Done. Imperfect? Sure.

But, so what? I wanted to have fun and… I had fun. For an off the cuff seat of the pants concept project I think it came out very well. The result is, to me, a success. I’m happy. Therefore.

Happy dance.