This month I had the great opportunity to go home and visit my home and native land during the summertime. This was a rare occurrence, it’s been nearly three years since I’ve been to Canada in the summer and I wanted to make sure that I got my fix of Canadian-ey things –ridiculously red & white, nuanced, or otherwise – that one can encounter during a trip to the Great White North. Most of these you can actively pursue, while others you just have to get lucky with the timing.
And yes, I realize that some of these contain an Ontario bias, but that’s where I’m from so frig off.
Canada Day Fireworks
If you happen to be in Ottawa on July 1st, you’ll get to see one of the biggest celebrations in the country: Canada Day in the nation’s capital. It is a high concentration of people of all shapes and colours, mediocre popstars, and a jaw-dropping barrage of red and white throughout the city.
Some people paint their faces, some dress up in elaborate costumes, while others meander around with beer in a coffee cup, taking photos with giant inflatable beavers.
The whole celebration can be a little overwhelming for even the most maple-soaked of Canadians, but the fireworks at the end of the night make it all worthwhile.
Have a Beer at the Montreal Forum
This one I just couldn’t resist. With some time to kill in Montreal I thought it’d be interesting to go and see what the old Montreal Forum looked like these days. Just for kicks really and, being an avid hockey fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The Forum has seen more hockey history within its walls than any other arena on the planet. It’s by far the most famous rink in Canada and perhaps even the planet. It was the home to 24 Stanley Cup winning clubs and countless Hall of Famers during its more than seventy year run. It’s been declared a National Historic Site of Canada. Some countries have ancient ruins, we have old hockey rinks.
I was happy to see that Le Forum is still alive and well, though no longer an ice rink. It’s been transformed into a half-mall, all cinema, mini-museum and sports bar. It’s a pleasant conversion of a building that could never be torn down, but couldn’t be left alone to collect dust either.
So I did what any sane-minded sporting fan does when within such sacred walls – I had a beer. It was probably the most Canadian beer I’d drank on my entire trip.
Poutine for Lunch
There are few pleasures in life greater than walking around all day, then sitting down to a nice poutine lunch. In Quebec there is no shortage of poutine shops, so we made sure to spend our two days in Montreal in as many as possible.
If you’re unfamiliar, poutine is one of few dishes that Canadians can claim as their own. It’s not healthy – a mix of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy – but it’s certainly delicious. She’s bad for the heart, but good for the soul.
One thing I did notice this time around is that Canada is starting to export poutine to other dishes. Poutine burgers and poutine pizzas can be found on menus around Quebec and Ontario. While this may look insane, I can verify that, having tasted the burger, it is fantastic.
Time will tell what other poutine-fusion meals our wise Canadian chefs will concoct.
This may be another relatively unknown one, but did you know that Canadians also have a strong fondness for eating chicken, particularly rotisserie chicken or wings?
Well we do, and it can be seen in both the abundance of rotisserie chicken shacks around town and the inclusion of delicious wings on nearly every menu imaginable. Chicken is slowly becoming interwoven into Canadiana.
I knew I had left Europe when, after seeing a movie (and not having to select my seat ahead of time) I was able to out for chicken wings and a pitcher.
I love Canada sometimes and, truthfully, it’s mostly the little things.
Canadians love donuts. I can’t really explain it, but we do. Maybe it’s because they pair so well with a coffee, or maybe we just make some really good donuts. Either way, Canada is the leading country when it comes to both donut shops and per capita donut consumption.
But the moment I realized that I still had some Canuck in me, was when I went through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – when the guy in front of me took the last Chocolate Dip.
Pick up a case of beer from the Beer Store
This one is Ontario-centric, but you can’t go to Canada’s most populated province without trying it out.
While most of Canada is limited to government run liquor stores – which means you can only buy alcohol from particular shops, at certain hours – we at least got something right with The Beer Store.
The Beer Store is an Ontario institution and as far as buying beer, there are few better ways to go about doing it. Most Beer Stores will have a large menu, which takes up an entire wall and breaks down the prices of any and all available options. Do you prefer a domestic or an imported brew? Which brand? Do you want 6, 12, or 24? Bottle or can?
Remember your order and get ready for the best part. You walk up to the counter, tell the beerguy or gal what you want, they’ll repeat it into a microphone by the register and a cold case of whatever you ordered comes sliding out via conveyor belt. You pay the cashier, grab your beer and off you go.
It may not be the cheapest way to buy your beer in Canada, but it’s certainly the most fun. If you don’t believe me, have a look below:
Spot a loon
While walking around Ramsey Lake in Sudbury my girlfriend and I were lucky enough to see the most Canadian of all birds – a loon.
This is, of course, the more appropriate way to spot a loon, as opposed to the very illegal practice of painting polka dots onto a sedated bird . . .
The loon is very literally a symbol of Canada. It can be seen and heard in lakes around the country and stoically graces our one dollar coin.
They are a mighty bird. They swim fast, hunt hard, look good, and don’t take shit from anyone. Just like Canadians.
Watch The Littlest Hobo with breakfast
Canadian TV is a fickle thing. It piggy-backs a lot of the US content, has way too many commercials, and has a tendency to cut out a lot of the sex, cursing, and violence.
But one thing we did do right was produce The Littlest Hobo. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re likely anyone who grew up outside of Canada in the 1980s. Now stay with me here – it’s about a mystery solving dog who travels through the country solving crimes, saving kids from wells, uncovering sleazy insurance scams, and doing all-around good for the people he encounters, with no real dog motive ever revealed. A little silly, but so inexplicably Canadian.
While the show lasted only six seasons, it’s been in syndication for nearly four decades on Canadian TV, often appearing during the early morning hours.
Visit Niagara Falls: Be amazed, then annoyed
They say Niagara Falls is a wondrous place. And while that’s true, it’s not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
To me, Niagara Falls in the summertime means sweating through your clothes while fighting through swarms of tourists (most of them American). By the time you’re walking back to your car, you’ve had your fill of Niagara Falls. When you grow up nearby (my hometown is 70km from the Falls) trips are frequent, particularly if you have out-of-town visitors. The luster is worn of at a very young age, replaced instead with irritation.
Our wonderful German guests were under the guise that the Falls would be in some remote park surrounded by nature. No sir. It’s on the edge of what’s essentially a miniature Las Vegas – hotels, casinos, and loud & colourful tourist traps.
It’s odd that this place results in such an odd reaction in me, since I’m not a very negative person, especially when it comes to Canadian things. There are exceptions of course (the Vancouver Canucks, Nickelback, Rogers), but something about Niagara Falls brings out my inner sour gentleman.
It’s absolutely worth it to see once, maybe twice in your lifetime. But after that you get the jist.
Ah yes. That Southern Ontario tradition of either using too much power during a heat wave or Mother Nature using a massive summer storm to knock out the electricity for a while.
This summer, my experience dealt with the latter. During my final night in the country, a storm rolled in that sent trees flying and severed hydro connections in different parts of Ontario and Quebec. I spent my last 20 hours in the country without any power, doing the things that people do during blackouts: talking to neighbours about having no power, entering a room and flipping on a light switch before realizing why it wont work (and feeling dumb), trying to quickly check something online before realizing why it wont work (and feeling dumber), and drinking the rest of the beer . . . because, you know, it might go bad.
It is a longstanding Ontario tradition and you haven’t truly experienced summer in the province until you’ve gone through a lengthy blackout.