Time was, I felt sorry for all those Canuck travelers who attempted to flee the frozen tundra to thaw their toes for a week or two in our balmy southern climes. Back then, they paid dearly for the idyll–back when our muscular dollar made travel to the US painfully expensive and travel to Canada delightfully affordable. (As in “Yahoo! Let’s go shopping in Canada!)
Canada always seemed like the country cousin in those days–less polished and pretentious. Perhaps even a little rough around the edges. Unemployment was usually higher–and sometimes a lot higher, but the Canadians seemed to adapt rather than to kvetch, which sometimes seems to be our national pastime.
I used to visit Canada a lot back in the day; I even owned a little piece of Canadian bush.
Then, of course, world events got messy, and crossing the border became more complicated than just saying your name and where you were born. The guys at our border got all full of attitude, I heard, because now their job mattered. It was a matter of national security, by God, to keep all those terrorists where they belong.
For one reason or another (and mostly because I had no reason to) I haven’t traveled in Canada for a long time.
So, the first thing I noticed after crossing the International Bridge over the Soo locks was that the line at the border back into the US was very long. (Note to self: When returning, choose a remote border crossing and pack snacks and games for the wait.) The line on the Canadian side, which was my immediate interest, was very short, and we got through painlessly.
The next thing I discovered was that my battered US dollar was worth LESS than the Canadian dollar. Only a penny less on that day, but still…I remember when I could get $1.25 Canadian for one macho US dollar.
Canada: 2; US: zip.
The third thing I noticed were the gas prices. Now, I had to perform some challenging mental gymnastics to figure this out, because the US is the only country in the world besides Myanmar and Liberia, still using the creaky British system of inches and gallons. Even the Brits have moved on, God love ‘em. I remember when Canada was in the throes of this conversion, and convert they did, leaving their Big Brother to the south with the dust of colonial antiquities.
So those gas prices in the $1.33 range are in LITERS and must be multiplied by 4 to get an approximate gallon. So, yeah, that’s $5.30/gallon. Expensive, I think, even by European standards. And when you have a V-8 engine towing even the tiniest of trailers, you become very keen on saving droplets of fuel wherever possible.
Canada: 2; US: 1
So now the consumption shoe is on the other foot. I understand the enthusiasm with which Canadians now travel to the US. And I understand why I’ve seen bloody few US license plates here. Everything is expensive. I haven’t found a campground that’s less than $30/night (provincial and federal taxes add 13 percent to that number. A campground manager told me, “We always quote prices before taxes so you’ll know how much our country is taking.” I assured him that I knew very well how much his country was taking.)
Canada: 2; US: 2 (We have high taxes, too, but they dip more heavily into the property and income honey jar. AND, unlike Canada, we don’t get federal health care until we’re 65. )
And finally, Canadians seem to have climbed several rungs on the prosperity scale. I used to think I was stepping back about 10 years when I visited Canada. Life seemed slower, simpler, maybe more rustic. Now, I see lots of zippy new cars (And convertibles! What’s with all the convertibles?), nicely maintained houses (Often with bright metal roofs. In the US, we go for tastefully muted rust and ochre metal roofs–when we can afford them. Canadians use their roofs as decorative accents–a “pop of color,” as designers say) and few of the ragtag singlewides that are the housing option of necessity in many small US towns.
Overall, I’m thinking that if you can afford to live in Canada, you’re doing pretty darned well, economically speaking.
A final delight: Canada smells good! Like clover when we pass hayfields; like honey when we’re in the woods. (I think this is the smell of poplar trees. I’ve noticed it in the US Northwest, too.) Wild roses are in bloom, so that intoxication is on the breeze.
* * *
It took me a while to get back into my former laid-back travel mode. After leaving the Soo, we went through Ontario like a house afire. Not sure why. Still the same beautiful blue-and-green Canada, though.
After a final 200-mile day (a looooong travel day for me), we reached a campground outside Quebec City, which I’d mentally identified as the beginning of the trip.
Haven’t gone far since.