Canada – where the light gets in, and the occasional bear

For my birthday my son gave me a book called The World Needs More Canada. He handed it to me while we were in Canada on holiday, so that I could test the truth of it.

On the face of it, the idea seems unlikely. The world already has a great deal of Canada: it is the second biggest country in the world (after Russia, since you ask). If you travel from London by air to Vancouver – on the west coast – by the time you reach Newfoundland, on the east, you are about halfway there.

I have been to Vancouver once, and to the Rockies twice. The city is beautiful, and the mountains spectacular. The Icefield Parkway, from Banff to Jasper, is the most sensational road I have ever travelled on. It’s too far away, of course, but that is not entirely Canada’s fault.

I have been to other parts of Canada, such as Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary, and I loved them all – a feeling that is partly to do with the people, who are extremely relaxed about everything except stopping at Stop signs. They show great understanding, except about the nature of roundabouts. And they smile a lot.

But most of my time in Canada has been spent in Ontario, which in my opinion is greatly undervalued. Toronto itself is an entertaining and pleasant city, especially by the lake, although it  struggles to accommodate all the vehicles that want to get in there (or out again). Its Highway 401 is a legendary road, 18 lanes wide at one point, carrying up to half a million vehicles a day. It was the first road I drove on in Canada, and the first time I had driven an automatic car. It was a memorable experience. I would commend it to those who find the new Northern Distributor Road in Norwich a challenging day out.

Further west, north and east, Ontario quietens down. It quietens down south as well, but that’s because if you go south you’re in Lake Ontario. We generally stay with friends in Caledon, which is close to the Niagara Escarpment, with its rolling country roads organised in amusing grids. Despite the woods, there is a great feeling of space and openness, and there’s always the chance of running into a coyote, or a bear. Just the one bear, which appears to be lost. It made the local paper.

Yes, there is wildlife. Where we stayed there were snapping turtles and chipmunks, geese and the occasional (non-poisonous) snake. But all the wildlife is Canadian, and therefore good-natured.

Did I mention the wineries? Canadian wine is surprisingly good, and so are the restaurants. Did I mention the malls? They’re big – so big, in fact that walking clubs use them before they open for business. Did I mention the farm shops? I could go on. Did I mention Penetanguishene?

In short, I concur with the book in question, which covered the proposition thoroughly, with numerous quotes from almost everyone except Leonard Cohen who, to be fair, is dead. I presume they left it too late to ask him.  Canada – that’s where the light gets in. That’s what he would have said. Probably.