Back when we were just beginning to explore the world, we planned a trip to Canada. But a few months before we were to leave, we were transferred to Bangkok for three years. So our travels involved exotic Asian destinations rather than the cool clear waters and mountains of Canada that we had planned with such mounting enthusiasm.
So 16 years later, we grasped the opportunity to go to Canada. Once again our business lives interfered and dictated the itinerary – largely to the east coast. So our first stop was Montreal, via Auckland, San Francisco and Vancouver – a marathon of 30 plus hours.
New Zealanders love Canada. We can relate to being the smaller, gentler, classier (we like to think) country so often over-shadowed by the big, brassy, pushy neighbour with whom we have such a difficult sibling relationship.
So what did we find in Canada?
- The friendliest people. And they’re not just after a tip.
- The politest drivers we have ever encountered. We were often bewildered when, wandering down a street, we would stop and confer about directions. A car driving along would inexplicably stop in the middle of the road. We would look one way – it was clear, there was nothing blocking the way, no children running across the street chasing a ball, no boys playing street hockey, no police cars or fire engines, no dogs, cats or stray moose or bear (when I travel I live in hope of seeing the local wildlife). We would look the other way – no one and nothing was chasing the car, so why was it stopping? We hadn’t even stepped to the verge, and there was no pedestrian crossing, so they couldn’t possibly have been stopping for us. Could they?
- Healthy options amid the fast food. Like anywhere in North America, the entrances of towns were lined with fast food joints – McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC. But always there was Tim Hortons as well, a place where they would make fresh tasty sandwiches full of real vegetables while we waited. We loved Tim Hortons. (Although it was only at the end of the visit that we discovered that Tim Hortons is apparently famous for its coffee … hmmm … ).
- Winelists curiously empty of Californian wine, given its proximity. There was always French, Australian and often even New Zealand wine, but only one or two American wines. We tried some Canadian wine once – let us say it was an interesting experiment – but could not understand why so few Californian wines made the winelists.
That Canada truly is bilingual in a lot of the east – at the Fredericton airport everyone, including the security luggage screening guys, greeted us with “Hello Bonjour!” I loved that.
- That for all we (kiwis) think we know Canada – it’s big, we like it and have an affinity for it, it’s part of the Commonwealth – we know little about its history, economy and political system. The museum in Charlottetown in PEI enlightened us, and the immigration museum in Halifax had me in tears.
- That Canada’s indigenous population is largely invisible. We wanted to learn more – especially after meeting Susan – but even in the museums there was little information.
- That we want to go back.