There’s a saying along the lines of, “In Europe, 100km is a long way. In Canada, 100 years is a long time.” I’ve always loved it. It’s both evocative and accurate, neatly encapsulating the difference between the two areas of the world.
But it does tend to negatively impact the way I see my own country when I travel.
See, Canada is vast. It’s the second-largest country in the world, and it consists mostly of pockets of populated areas surrounded by natural hugeness. Oceans, mountains, prairies, skies, snow, tides – you name it, Canada’s got it, sized enormous.
It’s stunning, and it’s beautiful, and there’s nothing like getting out into it … for a day.
Okay, that’s not fair. Lots of people love to spend lots of time in nature. I’m just not one of them. A few hours a few times a year is plenty for me, and then I’m ready to head back to the city.
This informs how I travel. I tend to go from city to city, and in Europe, cities tend to be pretty close together, making it easy to see a lot of them in a relatively short time. Canada, with its distances between cities? Not so much.
Also, my primary interest when travelling is architecture, and cities are where the architecture is. I admit, because Canada’s quite young, I tend to be dismissive of its architecture. I mean, I can see buildings in Europe with paint that’s older than my country. In my mind, Canada hasn’t had time to develop the history and variation in styles that can be found in older places, so I kind of brush it all off.
The Manitoba Legislative Building showed me the error of my ways.
When I was planning my trip to Winnipeg, the Legislative Building didn’t even make it onto my list of Things to Maybe See if I Ran Out of Other Things to Do. Looking back, I can see where it was a victim of my narrow mindset towards Canadian architecture. It was only during the cab ride from the airport to the hotel, where we drove past the building, that I decided it would be worth a stop. And that was only because I saw the Golden Boy statue atop the dome and remembered how much my mother had loved it.
Even then, I only intended to stop long enough to take a photo or two of the Golden Boy before continuing on my way. But I had a couple of hours before my first planned stop of the day even opened, so I thought maybe I’d poke my head inside and see if there was anything to see.
Was there ever.
It being first thing in the morning in the off season, I was the only tourist in the place. I barely saw anybody. The few staff I did cross paths would smile politely and duck out of the way of my shot. It was so empty, in fact, that I started rearranging the furniture. Lifting a folding table out of the way of one shot, I winced only slightly at how loud the clack was in the echoing space when I put it back down.
But it was worth it. Nobody came running to see what the racket was about, and I took my favourite photo of the entire trip. (Oh, and I put the table back where I got it.)
Some years back, an Australian friend was considering coming to Canada for a visit. A friend told her not to, because “There’s nothing to do there.” I was quite irked for my entire country to be dismissed as boring.
But the more I thought about it, the more I could see where the friend could have gotten that idea. Because when you watch Canada’s tourism ads, they focus on the natural world. Cities are no more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blip, and then chances are it’s a shot of the CN Tower.
And I get why the ads do that. Canada’s outdoors are gorgeous, and they’re varied, and they’re like nowhere else in the world. But for someone like me, who’s not big on the great outdoors, endless shots of Canada’s natural scenery aren’t likely to convince them to come visit.
Which is sad, because it’s not all Canada’s got to offer.
Not by a long shot.