VIDEO: Ontario, Eh?

Posted In: Canada, Video

Oh, Canada? Oh my… Where to begin?

The transition from Quebec to Ontario is subtle, but the difference is dramatic. There’s no border check (not yet anyway) but when you see that first “Welcome to Ontario” sign you’re already back on more familiar turf.

Whereas Quebec feels like another country, Ontario feels like another state – a State in which people fly a different flag, frequent some different shopping and dining establishments, and tend to say “eh” as often as we Southerners say “y’all.”

With that last statement, I risk stepping on a few proverbial toes. I’ll save you the bother of doling out criticism by writing it for you: “SEAN, you insensitive American BUFFOON! How DARE you compare Ontario to an AMERICAN STATE! How narrow minded of you. It’s a CANADIAN PROVINCE, and a proud one at that!”

Now, now… Let’s settle down, folks. By saying that Ontario “feels like a state,” in no way do I mean to impugn Anglo Canada’s own proud history of independent cultural and political development. Rather, I mean that the roadsigns are all in English, people are mostly speaking English, and it intangibly feels more like being in the United States. That stimulating yet confusing sense of Euro-exoticism doesn’t exist in Ontario to the same degree it does in Quebec. In Toronto, we had lunch at Johnny Rockets. In Quebec, we stared at a wall of French and took a wild guess.

Don’t blame the messenger; blame the Brits. We all inherited our core Anglo culture from what was established long ago by the first British settlers. We’ve got a lot in common.

At one point during our journey in Ontario, I wisecracked to a Canadian friend. “Here’s an idea,” I said. “What if Quebec cuts a deal to join the EU? Then the rest of Canada could join the United States.” To my surprise, my friend nodded and seemed receptive to the idea.

Many American travelers will probably feel right at home in Ontario. Instead of struggling to understand French-speaking parking meters, your attention will instead focus upon minute cultural details. Yes, although we share much in common, delightful differences abound.

We visited Ontario during Canada Day, that nation’s de facto equivalent of the 4th of July. But the celebration was a bit muted. In Quebec, Canada Day isn’t even considered “a big deal,” or so we were told. In Ontario we saw plenty of maple leaf flags and even a nice fireworks show. But I didn’t perceive the same sense of rebellious patriotism as in the United States on our own Independence Day. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because we Americans had a nasty divorce with the English, while the Canadians’ relationship merely “drifted apart” over time.

We Americans threw off the Crown via armed revolution. The Canadians did so via peaceful evolution.

Canada became independent in 1931, but the Queen remained the constitutional head of state. In America, the notion of royalty playing any role in government was rejected at the very beginning. The wise man from Virginia declined his title, else we would’ve crowned King George Washington.

In the United States we’ve got a couple hundred centuries of independent history under our belt. Some good, some bad, but it all adds up to pack an emotional wallop.

Consider our flag. When we sing The Star Spangled Banner and ponder “bombs bursting in air,” one can’t help but think about long ago battles, and our flag weathering the raging storm. We’ve got Betsy Ross and Stars and Stripes Forever and all the associated folklore. At this point, the truth is mixed together with a mountain of powerful mythology.

By contrast, the Canadian maple leaf flag is a relatively recent creation. It debuted in 1965 and God Save the Queen (presumably not the Sex Pistols version) was sang at its unveiling. Governing ties between Canada and Great Britain were severed in 1982.

The upshot perhaps is that Anglo Canadians have a greater wellspring of positive energy for the royal crown of England than do Americans. After all, most adults were raised singing God Save the Queen along with their own national anthem. Most Americans, by contrast, are mainly interested in which royal is sleeping with which celebrity. We love the English, but we also love the fact we no longer require their services.

So, what about the RV camping? The only real “sacrifices” we endured in Canada related to our technology. This wasn’t Canada’s fault; it was our own. Since we rely upon American cellular networks for our mobile wifi network, we went long stretches without Internet connectivity. It’s tough to blog when you, um, can’t get online.

Also, our cellphones were out of order since we didn’t have a subscription to whatever international plan was necessary. Trust me: you don’t want to make that cellular phone call from Canada without having such a plan, because you’ll get charged out the wazoo. Phone company executives wet their pants any time someone makes an unplanned international call.

As you’ll see in the video, we did our fair share of “overnight parking” in Canada. I’m happy to report that RV travelers in Canada enjoy many of the same options we have in the United States. Wal-Marts are everywhere, and occasionally you might find a Flying J. The latter was particularly welcome because it offers a dump station, fresh water, and wireless Internet access for $5 a night.

Our visits to Canada have been among the highlights of our Long Long Honeymoon for several reasons. For me, these trips have been highly educational. I don’t think I ever really understood much about Canada and its internal political situation until I actually visited it.

And by the way, the hospitality we received when “driveway camping” in Ontario was truly outstanding. Special thanks to Christina and Richard (and Reggie and Rudy!) for treating us like our own Canadian parents. We deeply appreciate it.

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