PERSPECTIVE: A crash course on our northern neighbor

In preparation for a short vacation visit to Canada, I’ve been saving Canadian coins I come across. Especially cool are their $1 and $2 coins (“loonies” for the loon on the one, and “toonies” for the bicolor two). They phased out their “1-cent piece”; I wish we would, also. I don’t really need the Canadian coins — since our U.S. dollar is strong; lately you can get about 1.3 loonies for one Washington.

Such meaningful preparation started me thinking again about our good neighbor to the North. I grew up in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and frequently enjoyed short visits, sometimes merely walking across the bridge. So when S and I discussed honeymoons I said, "Anywhere but Niagara Falls." Well, at least we stayed on the Canadian side. As their tourism commission (now "Destination Canada") used to say, it's "friendly, familiar, foreign, and near."

Most of what I know about Canada concerns the two most-visited provinces, Ontario and Quebec. They seem almost like two different countries, the Anglo-Saxon English and the Romanesque French. Actually, they’re probably no more diverse than some of our states would appear to visitors (e.g., Wyoming vs. Louisiana). But since childhood I’ve enjoyed the wrangle of cultures and languages. They’ll probably never merge; at least I hope they don’t.

OPINION: It’s good to be an American

Hey, I just found out that Canada has more donut shops per capita than any other country, undoubtedly due to Canadian hockey star Tim Horton’s risky investment. Actually, Tim reportedly liked hamburgers and started out with them, but they didn’t do well. Fortuitously, his investment partner liked donuts.

Canada is so close, yet it’s embarrassing that Canadians know more about us than we do about them. So I’m giving myself a crash course. Lets see: Ten provinces; three territories; world’s second largest country; named for Iroquois word for village; largest land border; 36 million Canucks; capital is Ottawa; proud of civil liberties, hockey, multiculturalism … lots of natural resources; officially bilingual due to colorful French and English history.

PERSPECTIVE: What I learned about the world from my neighbors.

It's a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Still has a Governor General representing the queen (albeit independent of UK's parliament since 1982); in practice the prime minister or premier ministre (currently Justin Trudeau) is chief executive; the two major parties are liberal and conservative. Canada Day is coming up July 1st, originally commemorating the British North America Act of 1867 which united the colonies Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada to create the Dominion of Canada.

I think I’m getting it.

Away from the populated border, a massive unspoiled Canadian wilderness stretches across a broad range of topography and climate. If our U.S. southwest deserts continue expanding, and our southeast lowlands keep getting inundated, and our Sunshine State grows intolerably humid and hot, then the gradually warming vast Canadian wilderness and its now-navigatable Northwest Passage will start looking good.

With now-required passports in order, and a basic knowledge of and appreciation for what we’re about to encounter, we’re ready for our visit. O, Canada!

David Shumway is one of our regular community contributors.

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