The Canadian Experience

Autumn – my favourite time of the year, and how could it not be? With so many trees, Canada doesn’t take the whole ‘changing of the seasons’ thing  lightly. In fact, it is embraced with great feats of bold and majestic colour. Canadian Thanksgiving (celebrated in October as opposed to the US in November) falls tightly in the middle of this golden charade; and it is nearly upon us. So, in the spirit of warmth, appreciation and reflection, I’d like to commemorate some of my greatest Canadian moments – moments where I can say I have sincerely felt The True North, strong and free.

Canada Day celebrations
I’ve actively participated in celebrating Canada’s national holiday every year since our fateful relationship began in 2004 (oh the looks of confusion on the small town English faces…). However, the specific year that comes to mind is 2009. What makes this year particularly memorable is not only that I spent the day with a large group of energetic, patriotic friends, but that one, O, is a long time friend who was presently visiting from England. She sure picked the right time for a visit! The group assembled (sporting our most Canadian etiquette) outside the local Mandarin restaurant on the bright morning on July 1st. Mandarin? That doesn’t sound very Canadian to me. Unknown to O and I, every 4 years Mandarin celebrates Canada Day by permitting free entrance to its award winning all-you-can-eat buffet with proof of citizenship. We were of course without citizenship  but the snaking line around the parking lot coupled with the excitability of our companions told us that it would be worth our while.  The humidity sweltered for the 5 hours spent waiting in line, laughing and imprinting each other with maple leaves. It was in this moment that I noticed the peculiarity of our company and the line at large – a gathering representation of religions,  races, sexual preferences and cultures, awaiting to celebrate Canada day with Chinese food. Rarely is such diversity seen without speculation, but in Canada this is a wondrous norm. Once our stomachs were satisfied, a large amount of fireworks  were purchased and lit over the local lake (Lake Ontario to be exact, more world famous than local). Whilst belting ‘Oh Canada’ in dramatized voices and shooting roman candles into the sky, I felt a sense of pride. O learnt something new about Canada that day, and so did I.

Proudly standing at the viewpoint of my first hike, Booth’s rock

A moost pleasant encounter

Algonquin camping
I’d been camping a few times prior but there was something infinitely different about exploring Ontario’s giant (a monstrous tangle of forest  larger than Wales – sorry Wales). Falling asleep to the loons, waking late, eating hardy and walking the trails was an amazing experience. I’d never have imagined myself in that situation 6 years ago, which is strange really, considering my passion for the great outdoors. I suppose it’s the environmental and biological make-up, which is fairly distinctive to North America. The scenery was pure breathtaking  and the vastness emphasized the insignificance of a single humans trivial problems.

I also managed to photograph a moose and her calf on the side of the highway. Now I’ve seen a bear and a  moose – I’m just waiting on you, beaver!

Big hockey game win
Little explanation is needed here. Hockey (of the ice-y variety) is for Canada what soccer is for Europe; a religion. I’ve never given much time for sports but it wasn’t until the Winter Olympics of 2010 that I found myself at the edge of my seat, screeching my throat hoarse. Home team Canada vs. ongoing rivals USA for the gold?  Basement? Check. Beer? Check. Buddies? Check. Fully loaded game of tension until Crosby scores the winning goal in overtime? Check, check, check. This 3-2 win was not only of historical significance for Canada, but also of the sporting world.

Despite these distinct notches on my Canadian belt, there are still many important experiences I consider myself lacking. To be a fully fledged Canuck, I’d like to complete the following, as a minimum requirement:

Thanksgiving meal
My family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving – it’s just not in our blood. I’ve asked friends to describe it in three words and I usually get a response similar to ‘family’, ‘fall’ and ‘food’ – count me in! However, we’ve previously attempted plenty of that but it has always been with a sense of loss. Perhaps what we lacking is meaning, but I’m willing to give it another shot.

Skate on the Rideau Canal, Ottawa
This is something I hope to rectify, and soon! For those of you who are unaware, the Rideau Canal that flows through Ottawa freezes every year to become the world’s largest natural ice-rink!  Although I cannot skate, (don’t let the Canadians fool you, it’s harder than it looks!) I’m hoping that M can teach me. For this, I see no better place or time than in Ottawa on my cold, January birthday.

3 months and counting

Cottage with friends
I’ve learnt that a vast amount of people in Southern Ontario have holiday cottages up north, passed down through generations. The photographs plastering my facebook wall of silhouettes jumping from a private dock into the clear blue deep causes me jealously. Imagine having the union of home comforts and raw nature! I’m told that going up for a long weekend with friends and  a ‘2-4 of beer’ is a summer staple. Who’ve had thought, eh?

Is there anything I’m missing here, folks? What are your favourite Canadian moments, or (if a curious foreigner), what would you hope to do on a visit to Canada? I’ll leave you pondering that question, so until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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