Sometimes I develop a romantic notion in my head of a place – somewhere I have usually never even been to – which bears absolutely no relation to reality. It happened about Runcorn once; the words “Runcorn” and “Romantic” are not natural bedfellows. Well, now it is the turn of Canada.
I have spent a few weeks watching travel programmes from Canada; I have spent a few months watching music programmes from Canada; I have spent a few years listening to music from Canada. The influence of the Great White North has been increasing over time, and it is starting to appear as a fantastic prospect for spending some time. It’s been as if all great things start there. And Shatner.
For our preferred holiday destinations my little family looks for mountains, lakes and forests. We look for friendly people, great food and an abundance of interesting things to do. While we don’t look for Anglophone countries, we do look for places where we can make ourselves understood in the English language. Or French; we’re good at French, and that poses no fear. The availability of a good cup of coffee never harms either. You can see why we were always destined to fall for Canada.
The problem is that it is quite a bit further away than our usual holiday destinations. We’re European (at least for now), and our holidays tend to take place in continental Europe. Not only is Canada in an entirely different continent, there’s a bloody big ocean getting in the way. We normally only have to cross the odd small sea or an insignificant channel; the Atlantic is a far larger prospect than those.
I don’t tend to think that flying huge distances is appropriate; I prefer trains. Canada, now there’s s thing, has a fantastic train network, spanning the entire continent. It cuts corkscrews through mountains, it traverses mighty plains, it blazes trails through some of the most majestic scenery a European could ever hope to see away from their home continent. Canadian travel appeals greatly.
I don’t know why Canada had never been on my own personal travel radar before the last year or so, but it certainly is now. I had a set of images in my head which I now find so hard to place. Yes, I see endless streets of suburban housing, with enormous vehicles in the driveways, and that is more than likely fair, but when did I ever spend a holiday walking around the suburbs of a bunch of cities?
My mind had never considered the notion of Canadian cities before, and I suppose I only knew of the existence of one or two of them. I had heard of Montréal, but Vancouver and Toronto were firmly plotted as the same place. I had no recollection of Calgary, Québec or Ottawa. Now that I look at a few pictures of these cities I see the cleanest metropolises in the modern world. They look superb.
Another flaw in my mental image of Canadian geography is how Northern my mind had placed it. I mean, yes, I know that not only is it in the North, but it also stretches all the way North can go. It also reaches further South than I had ever figured: Ontario cuts a swathe in to the USA like a knife piercing deep in to the heartland of the American rust belt. This was entirely new information to me.
None of these misconceptions of mine were ever behind why I had not considered Canada as a travel destination of aspiration; they’re presented purely as an indication of how badly drawn the country had been in my head. I now realise that I desperately want to sit in the hot springs at Banff; just as much as I want to eat poutine in Québec and take the weight off in any old Tim Horton’s.
Some of my favourite music of recent years has come from either Sweden or Canada, and the people banging the drum for all of it, and much much more are the fine folks at BangerTV. Based in Toronto – which is still nowhere near Vancouver, English people – Banger have been producing high quality heavy metal video content since 2004, and still produce some of the very best videos on YouTube.
I was lucky enough to see their first film Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey not long after it came out. In it a young sociologist by the name of Sam Dunn sets out the family tree of metal, from hard rock to the heaviest of snotty crust and extreme metal. It was a combination of all of the music I love and a degree of nerdy classification I had never seen applied so skilfully. They continue to develop it still.
While a lot of the YouTube channels I was watching were very insular and local, focussing on their own markets, at the exclusion of all others, BangerTV were truly global in outlook, acting as a central rallying point, rather than assuming that they were the hegemony. This came to shape my view of Canadians: welcoming, enthusiastic, but not domineering. That is a very attractive set of qualities.
And this is where I put my cards on the table for my ulterior motives: aside from being an extremely large version of Switzerland – albeit with far fewer little farms littering the jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside – Canada is also heavily influenced by its far ruder, far more dangerous, and far far less progressive Southern Neighbour. I desperately want to eat my fill of American food; I desperately do not want to get shot. But for that to be the only reason would be deeply offensive – to me at least.
I want to want to visit Canada because I want to experience Canadian things, not just safer versions of American things. Recent months have shown me that this is indeed the case. Yes, I can get great diner food, but I can also visit the setting of Anne of Green Gables. Yes, I can eat large portions of food, but I can also walk in streets straight out of medieval France, replete with a French language backdrop. Yes, I can visit the locations of great TV series, but my favourites are Canadian anyway.
I had spent years not knowing how brilliant Canada is, and how distinct it is from all of the places it vaguely resembles. It is now officially on my holiday to do list, as long as I can sleep on the plane.