If I had to write a book on the things I love or hate about Canada, the former would be a multi-volume set while the latter could be written on a very, very small Post-It Note.
All of my previous trips to Canada – and I do mean all – have been wonderful. I first fell in love with Vancouver and surrounding areas when I lived in Seattle. The city is vibrant, the people are friendly, and the drive from Vancouver up to Shannon Falls is breathtaking. I then fell in love with the other side of BC when Mike and I did a Nelson-Revelstoke-Banff/Canmore loop last year. This month, I had the honor to visit Ontario, where I went to meet my writing group – Bernice, Bronwen, and Patrice – in person for the first time! Squeeeee!!!
First, I was first greeted at the Toronto airport by Bronwen and her husband, Rob. Fabulously, hilariously so!
Bronwen and Rob then graciously helped me grocery shop and introduced me to that Canadian staple… Swiss Chalet (bet you thought I was going to say “poutine”). The next morning, Bernice picked up Bronwen and me and we were whisked up to Honey Harbour, where we met up with Patrice, hopped in Bernice’s boat, and took a short boat trip to Bernice’s cottage on Mermaid Island.
From there, things just kept getting better…
When the bliss of the retreat came to an end on Monday, we said tearful goodbyes, for this time together had truly strengthened a bond we’d shared for several years as online friends and writers. These ladies were no longer just my writing group, they weren’t even just my friends. They had become more like sisters-in-spirit. Does that sound cheesy? Let’s put it down to the Magic of Canada, or we can just call it good.
After hugs all around, Bronwen and Bernice headed back to the Toronto area while Patrice drove back to Ottawa with me in the passenger seat. Four days in Ottawa, here I come!
Along the way, we stopped at the World’s Smallest Bookshop, where I picked up a copy of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, a book we’d discussed on the dock a few days earlier. In the next days, Patrice indulged my desire to see as many places as were reasonable in the time we had. I especially wanted to see the parts of the city that she’d written about in the story she is working on with the writing group, a tale of how she’d met and fallen madly in love with her wonderful husband, Pierre, and the struggles she faced with the immigration process. An excellent writer, Patrice’s story is both eye-opening and heartwarming. As a tour guide, Patrice also excels. She showed me the Rideau Canal, the Royal Oak pub, the green belt, Parliament Hill, the Ottawa Little Theatre, two mind-blowingly great vegetarian restaurants (The Green Door and Pure Kitchen), and Byward Market. We went to a play one night – reminding me how much I love the theater – and another night she and Pierre took me on a boat ride up the Rideau. Fantastic!
Patrice and I also went to the International Day of Peace group meditation on Parliament Hill, an experience I can only describe as magical. Led by mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, this event drew thousands of people onto Parliament Hill for an hour of meditation that truly altered my perspective and showed me that peace in a culture of diversity is not only possible, but it is still desired by many. As an American surrounded by lots of other easily offended and pissed-off Americans, I had begun to fear this movement was losing ground. This event gave me hope that it’s not. Protesters, who had been chanting slogans for their cause moments before the event began, became quiet out of respect for what was happening. People of all colors and nationalities not only co-existed but came together in the spirit of peace and love that was truly breathtaking and hopeful. Just, wow. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
So, what makes a country amazing? What makes it magical? Views are nice. Tourist attractions are great. However, what makes a country truly amazing is its people and, more specifically, the attitude of the people. Not everyone in Canada is a wonderful person; I know that. There have just got to be some jerks north of the Big Border. I’m fortunate, though – I haven’t met them yet! In fact, this beaver was the most cantankerous face I saw the whole time I was there.
The magic of Canada is in its people. They are polite, non-assuming, and not demanding that other people conform to their beliefs. They seem to understand that diversity makes us stronger, that alternate viewpoints or lifestyles are not a threat to their own but infuse our world with interest, choice, and options. They are open. They are not afraid of each other. They are not offended by opinions that may be different from their own. As an American, I love my country but, damn people, we have to get over being offended by everything and we have got to live and let live. We need to take a lesson from our neighbors.
They have the right idea.
Thank you again to my gracious hostesses, Bronwen, Bernice, and Patrice! You have made this trip truly exceptional and I can’t wait to cross the border again soon!