Canada is a land of magnificent beauty and wonder. Its geographical vastness and diversity makes it a unique, magical land.
I first visited Canada in the summer of 2004. I spent just under three months travelling from east to west and eventually heading north. My journey began and ended in Toronto, it is a city I have returned to on almost every subsequent visit to that fascinating country. Its qualities lie in its people, nature, isolated territories and mix of habitats and terrains.
Toronto itself is fascinating; full of mostly honest, strait-forwad people, fair and open. The clean organised city draws me back each time because it is not only surrounded by water and has on its doorstep a natural thenominon in Niagara Falls, but it also has one of the best hostels I have ever experienced.
Canadiana Backpackers, is a fantastic hostel; unique in its quality, atmosphere and personality. Run by a quiet, watchful Englishman who is fascinated by people, if from a far. Its complement of staff from all corners of the globe makes for an interesting and educational experience. The hostellers come from far and wide, some staying long and others only for a night or two. They all add to the hostel’s atmosphere. A relaxed ambiance where anything goes. There is always something happening even when nothing is going on. I stayed four days on my first visit and another four days at the end of my first trip in Canada. I have been back a further three times. I now consider it one of my many homes. Chris, the owner, and Bill, the old gentleman who rights the hostel’s blogs, always make me feel welcome and look after me accordingly. It is a good feeling to know you have friends and a bed. Likewise the permanent receptionists, Sandra, Kile and Michell run round for me bringing me food, making cups of tea and ensuring I am looked after like a king. Together they are a fantastic tgang and are what make this hostel special.
The building itself has several levels with an outdoor deck that is continuously being extended each time I return. It is a great place to sit, smoke, meet other travellers and enjoy the warm summers and cold winters. It is where games of darts and ping pong are played when the snow is not falling.
The hostel is ever expanding and so is the entertainment. Another guy named Chris, provides pub cralls, bbqs and anything else he can arrange! I have to also mention the various tours to Niagara Fals on offer from the hostel reception, it is easy to see why I keep returning each year.
I enjoy just hanging out in the lounge on the comfy sofers, chatting with Bill, listening to his dry, intelligent whit as he directly points out the true facts of life. We sware at each other affectionately and give shit to anyone who crosses our bows. They in turn find it fun, interesting and fascinating to have a blind traveller in their midst. My intake on life and perspective both on the hostel itself and my fellow backpackers alike is often controversial but always entertaining.
My first exploration of Toronto was comprised of a combination of solo excursions and guided trips. My main reason for visiting the city initially was to experience the falls and gain a sense of Canada’s largest populated city. I undertook a tour to Niagara and it was not a disappointment. I gain my experiences by sound, smell, and through the surrounding energy from an area’s space. The notion of flowing water has a fascinating impact on my senses. For a blind person, the energy it produces is beautiful. I can hear its rumble, feel the spray, gage the energy produced by natural forces.
The full day guided tour that back in 2004 cost $50, was well worth it. Wine and chocolate tasting was included. The right on the boat ‘Maid of the Mist’ was extra. This allowed one to get very close to the falls and occasionally, actually get wet. The falls are a tourist trap and one should take this into account when visiting, it is the only disappointing aspect of the entire attraction. On my most recent visit in March 2008, I ventured to the falls to discover them surrounded by snow and pleasantly avoid of tourists. I took my disposable camera and using the sound of the falling water as a target, took pictures for my website; www.tonythetraveller.com
I walked around the falls snapping away, contentedly listening to the tranquil rush of the cascading water.
Since 2004 I have revisited Canada several times, briefly going to yarmouth, Nova Scocia in July 2006, Toronto, April 2007 and the eastern provinces in March 2008. My first trip was an initial exploration of the country: venturing as far east as Halifax in Nova Scocia and then going west, visiting each province and their major and most interesting cities and towns. This included; Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, Cambellton, New Bronswick and Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay, Ontario. I spent several days in Winnipeg, Manatoba whilst only spending a day in Regina, capital of Siskatchian before moving onto the rockies and Alberta. My final province was British Columbia with a stop in Vancouver before heading north via several other towns to the Yukon Territory.
This journey of some two and a half months, enabled me to investigate Canada’s many different terrains, people and coltures and nature. It was while travelling across the province of Ontario by Greyhound bus that I discovered that Canada was a colossus of a country. It took over thirty-six hours to get to my destination, and I was still in Ontario!
IDid all manner of things on that trip from riding the St. Laurance river into freezing cold rapids in a jet boat in Montreal, to swimming naked in a small streem of Lake Superior on a hot July day! I rafted the Ottawa river and attempted to find a decently heigh bungee jump, but was unsuccessful. Halifax was interesting for its even more friendly people and relaxed seaman’s atmosphere. It is mainly a drinking and boating town. Quebec City was my least favourite city in the east of the country. This was due to a combination of the fact that few people decided to speak English with me and that the town possessed many cobbled streets with almost vertical hills. Not an easy city to traverse when blind.
As I ventured further west, the country continued to change, first many thousands of miles of flat land then eventuly, high rocky and steep mountains with snow in places. Winnipeg in the mid west is perhaps the most polite town I have ever visited. One conversation ended with “Thank you” “no thank you” repeat, repeat.!!!
I loved the Rocky Mountains, the town and the National park of Jaspa being the highlight. Open spaces, high dangerous rocky peaks, mountainous trails, nature and wild animals plus fresh, thin, clean air – it was blissful. My senses came alive up there. Likewise, Lake Louise held a magical quality, even if the hostel and town was expensive.
B.C. held more of the same and the Yukon was just perfect isolation. I met some natives who I found interesting if somewhat aloof. Unfortunately, I never got a real chance to have a prolonged chat with any so did not learn as much about their culture. What made this trip so special was the fact that anywhere you went in Canada, you were nearly always near or in nature, birds of all sounds and colours, moose, bare, beever, occasionally wolf an of course fish and dere a plenty. The space and the scale of everything only added to the inpressiveness of the country. From water of great lakes to open expanses of the mid west plains with weat and korn growing for thousands of miles. From large flat lands containing only tall trees to huge and impressive mountainous peaks, some with wildlife and vegetation, others barren and jaggid – wild and threatening! There were gigantic ice glissoning glaciers and vast flowing rivers. I found myself in hot weather, yet still standing in snow as I heard people snow board on top of a mountain, and it was mid July!
I had fun, discovered lots about Canada and about myself. I noted that the best object in Canada is the coffee cups, they are huge and like soup bowls with handles! Just what any Englishman wants at the end of a hard day’s journey. An unusual quizine was chips with hot cheese on. The breakfasts are good, and the further east one travels excellent fish and chips and pies are to be found. In Newfoundland, Seal meat is available including something called Flipper pie! I tried bison (Buffalo) meat and also Dere, both were tender and excellent. I cannot say what the beer is like since I no longer drink, but asking for a lemonaid in Canada is hard work. I ask for a pint of lemonaid with nothing in it, it arrives with a straw, ice, and a slice of lemon – its rediculus. One night in a bar after this had occurred for about the third or fourth time I asked the waitress for a pint of lemonaid, no ice, lemon, or straw and also a kiss!!! I got a kiss on my bald head and the drink followed soon after, but it still had a straw – you just can’t win.
The kindness of people I met travelling across Canada was magnificent, it has happened each time I have travelled there. I met fellow backpackers who helped me get food, visited places and museums with me, showed me across streets, helped me get money and even on occasions cooked for me. I was able to share and learn, the whole ethos of travelling.
I have only had one situation of real misfortune in Canada to date, it was on this first trip. I finally made it to White Horse in the Yukon, after a bus journey of about forty hours or so, just bumping up and down on the bus, feeling the changes in gradient, the twists, the mountains and valleys – that is my way of looking out the window. Anyway, I arrived in White Horse with no accommodation available. I had my one man tent and since I would not be staying long, Alaska being my next stop, I figured a night in a field would be fine. I found a field behind the bus station and pitched my small tent near to a rough path in order to relocate it later. I pad locked it and went off exploring. When I returned later that night, I searched with my cane for my tent, but being unable to find it I eventually flagged down a passing car and the driver kindly helped me look for the tent. In vain, he eventually took me to a salvation army shelter for the night and we returned the following day to re-commence the search. However, all belongings were gone; tent, sleeping bag and both backpacks. I made a police report but whether they had been taken by man or bear, they were long gone. I was mad then disappointed then felt stupid. However, it taught me a valuable lesson, possessions mean little compared to one’s health and safety. I could have been in the tent and have been hurt or killed. I got off lightly. Since that incident, I have always travelled with one very small and light backpack. It is the best way to travel.
My later trips were mostly concerned with seeing friends or being close enough to Canada to slip over the contiguous boarder. My most recent trip in March 2008 was to visit the last two provinces of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and complete the challenge of having travelled to all ten provinces. I did eventually manage it, but it took some doing I can tell you.
I have kidney failure and am almost ready to begin dialysis. During that trip, I was very tired and could feel my damaged kidneys protesting with the physical ethert of travel. I got tired easily and it meant I had to rest in between travelling to destinations. I had a few days in Toronto staying at Canadiana as usual then set off on my mition. The fact that the country was still largely covered in snow only hindered my progress and made my task more difficult.
I headed east and spent a night in the small town of Woodstock New Bronswick. There was nothing there apart from a college, some shops, lots of snow and a truck stop. Halifax was next as I needed a base in order to make the journey across the bridge that connected P.E.I. to the mainland. These bus journeys were crazy. The trip from Toronto to Woodstock, New Bronswick took around twenty-six hours as I had to go through the province of Quebec and had four changes. Once in Nova Scocia however, life began to become more relaxed. I had beautiful countryside with rolling hills dipping valleys and windy twisting roads and friendly, relaxed drivers for company. My two nights in Halifax were quiet enough and a couple of backpackers helped me obtain information for my onward journeys. I was constantly checking bus connections, and trying to find hostels that were open and in towns that were on a bus route. Many hostels in the smaller coastal places don’t open until May and only shuttle buses go there. I had a Greyhound pass which also was accepted on Arcadia Bus Lines, which traverse the Maritime provinces. I was mostly relying on luck and weather. There was plenty of snow, rain and wind and this might mean that the bridge to P.E.I. might be closed. Fortunately it was not and I managed to make it to the Island in relatively swift time. Once in Charlottetown, the Province’s capital, I had to locate the only hostel. The port town was tiny but the hostel was unobvious and I had trouble finding it. Eventually I did and had a lovely stay with the young lady who ran her homely hostel. Not the cheapest in the world but certainly friendly. After a couple of days playing in the snow and chatting with the locals in the bars I had to head back towards Halifax then swing around to the top of Nova Scocia to a town called North Sydney in order to catch the ferry to Newfoundland.
This was a crazy journey that entailed a twelve hour bus ride, an eight hour boat crossing and if in luck once on the other side, another twelve hour bus journey to take me to my destination – that of St. Johns, the capital of Newfoundland on the island’s upper east coast. Unfortunately I missed the bus connection after landing in Newfoundland and since there is only one bus a day, I had a long twenty-four hour wait in the ferry terminal for the next day’s bus. Such is life. I would have wandered around the town, checked out the shops and eaten and drunk in the bars, but I was almost completely out of money and the temperature that sunny morning was twenty below, celcius!!!
I did eventually make it to St. Johns after asixty-four hour journey. I stayed in a lovely homely hostel and had a brief tour of the outlying area, visiting both signal hill where the first radio signal was received from across the Atlantic and also Cape Sphear, the most easterly point of the North American continent. The wind there was both strong and cold and there was snow everywhere. I had fun and enjoyed the treturous challenge of prodding through snow with my stick and trying not to skid on black ice.
I also missed another bus on the return journey as my boat was late leaving Newfoundland. However, my destination this time was Toronto. I eventually arrived there after crossing the whole of Newfoundland, most of Nova Scocia, New Bronswick and finally southern Quebec. I arrived back at Canadiana, a little tired after a seventy-nine hour long journey in cluding the lengthy wait in another ferry terminal on the Nova Scocia side. However, I figured I was lucky, a boat some days earlier had been stuck in pack ice for three days!!!
Back at Canadiana, I relaxed with my friends, another mition completed, a target reached, all Canada’s provinces visited, backpacking under my own steam with no sight and half deaf. No wonder the gang at Canadiana think I’m amazing!
Canada, is a fantastic country as hopefully some of these stories demonstrate. I have seen it through the smells of the rivers and lakes, plants and animals. I have heard it through the wind in the trees, the fall of Niagara, and through the tongues of the locals and natives. I have felt its beautiful landscape and wildlife by walking the trails, hiking the mountains, falling down holes, into ditches and streams, by rafting its rivers, and being drenched in other waters. Its scale and size leave even a traveller as experienced as I breathless with its qualities. A country I will always enjoy revisiting.
Canadiana likewise is somewhere I will often return, it is like a second home, its staff, travellers, furnishings and warm atmosphere call me back each time I am in the country and on that side of the continent.
I hope everyone reading this enjoys both Canada and Canadiana as much as I have.
Tony The Tiger.