Spring adventures in Canada: Part 4

Kindred spirits


Prince Edward Island was our next destination, a place I have dreamt of visiting since I was a preteen and top of my list for my stay in Canada. I loved Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books and always wanted to find Anne Shirley on that island. We stayed in a lovely little hotel on a little inlet, but I dreamed of staying in one of the weatherboard homesteads. The soils are definitely rusty red and striking, and remind me of Phillip Island, a small island not far from Norfolk Island. There’s a lot of appropriately weathered docks with shacks, and in some places lines and lines of oyster farms. We had our first lobster of the trip here, fresh from the sea. Scallops and haddock too. The taste of such fresh seafood was incomparable to what most of us pick up from our local fishmonger.Green Gables as it is today

20130617-IMG_8018-120130617-IMG_8014-1First item on the agenda: visit Green Gables. The state made a park of the house that inspired Anne Shirley’s Green Gables. It was well preserved and I could feel the love of a thousand fans (and even perhaps the little girl that Montgomery was) around that house. She obviously drew a lot of inspiration from the people around her as the house belonged to her cousins and it is said her grandparents were a bit of a model for the Matthew and Marilla. They had preserved two of the areas around the house that Montgomery had described in the Anne of Green Gables series, but disappointingly only as much as they absolutely needed to. We could see the golf course (and hear the teeing off) from Lovers Lane and heard trucks in the Haunted Woods, which spoilt the atmosphere a little. We went to the site of her grandparents house, and it was enchanting walking up the quiet lane to the wooded house site. All that remains of the house are the foundations and a charming little well, where people throw shiny coins to wish.

   Haunted wood    Lovers lane

You might be interested to know that any business on the island is entitled to call upon the Anne of Green Gables name for free; it is only those businesses off-island that have to pay a licensing fee.

Charlottetown, the capital, was a redbrick town that has maintained its small town feel. The outskirts are filled with industrial areas and warehouse style supermarkets. We found out that one of the musicals, Anne and Gilbert, based on the Anne books, was playing on my birthday but disappointingly was sold out.

Our hosts recommended a trip to Brackley Beach, which was romantically windswept and mostly unoccupied. Definitely worth a visit if you’re wanting golden sands against dark blue oceans. It was a little cold to swim then though.

20130618-IMG_1213-1On the day of my birthday, Duncan, Phoebe and I took a ride on Confederation Trail, which used to be the tracks of the island’s unnecessary steam engine. It’s a good story that steam engine: the island thought they ought to have one, as they had them on the mainland, but it bankrupted the council, so they had to join the federation of Canadian states, as opposed to what they were originally planning. It was a long time since I had been on a good ride like that, but I think I did alright. In the background of the flower photos above and below, you can see the colour of the tilled land and roads.


While on the island, don’t forget to try Cows ice-cream. You can get the ice-cream elsewhere, but it’s one of the tastiest and largest exports from Prince Edward Island. Plus, they have nerdy and funny t-shirts in the stores, so there’s entertainment too.

I have to say that Green Gables was my highlight. I’ve always felt that Lucy Maud Montgomery was a kindred spirit because I loved her books so much. I was humbled and teary at being in a place I’d dreamed of all my life. I even re-read the books, and some others, and felt that despair of being left out when I finished them. I left a little posy on her grave and thanked her for the joy she has brought me over the years.


To read about our journey, start from the beginning, or you can go on to Cape Breton.

Young adult fantasy: An evening with the funniest ladies in the business

False Creek towards Granville Island

As I crossed the foggy False Creek, I wondered what the night held in store. I was heading across the quiet and creepy river to attend one of the events at Vancouver Writer’s Fest: Fantasy @ 6, with the entertaining Maureen Johnson and Maggie Stiefvater, who I didn’t know but looked forward to hearing from. Both are current writing young adult urban fantasy, more so Maggie than Maureen, and both are quite active online (particularly on Twitter). When I won the tickets at Neil Gaiman’s event, I had been already following Maureen on Twitter for a few months.

What followed was a most entertaining evening. The event was hosted by a lovely quirky librarian named Shannon, whose introductions were fun and complimentary. There was a really great dynamic between all three women on the stage tonight that had the audience laughing and relaxed.


Maureen was everything that I expected, after following her for the better part of a year. She was funny and did spend about 5 minutes talking about her recently adopted puppy. Maggie was impish, with a fun sense of humour, a propensity to laugh  and big, expressive eyes. Both were dressed pretty casually, but especially Maggie in her jumper, jeans and combat boots. I loved Maureen’s leggings, which looked like winter forest from where I was sitting.

It was interesting to learn about Maggie; she’s driven rally cars (including having taken a rally driving course), professional bagpipe player and mother. She’s a history graduate but has no professional writing qualifications, apart from having written several books of course!

The whole evening was like one great big conversation. Maureen and Maggie admitted that writers leave the pen and run, going into the woods to die in some sort of writer graveyard. After a few unintentional innuendos from the lovely Shannon, Maureen started saying “Things are different in Canada” to great effect.

20131023-20131023-IMG_1959Both had readings from their latest books. Maggie started with a reading from The Dream Thieves, next in the Raven Cycle series. She recruited two audience participants and Maureen and read from the 14th chapter, a scene with 3 psychics and a hitman. It was actually really good fun.  Maureen read an teen angsty, yet funny, passage from The Madness Underneath, second in the Shades of London series.

20131023-20131023-IMG_1963At one stage, there was a noise backstage and Maggie took off, calling for the elves and using Tolkien terms to try and open the curtains. Maureen nabbed two soft toys, a cat and a hippo, and sat with them until the end of the evening.

An audience question had the women reflecting on when they first knew they’d made it as writers. Maggie described her moment as having two bestsellers out, but it only really sunk when she was reenacting a scene from Doc Hollywood, speeding down the highway with the same song playing.

They also talked about writing, and about self-doubt. Both talked positively about writing communities, and that they had friends who were also writers. After a question from an attendee, Maureen reflected that at some time or another every writer has felt that “this thing I am writing is a war crime; and maybe causes cancer”. Maggie followed up saying that being a writer was turning that war crime into something.

It was pretty appropriate that the night really ended on Maureen’s follow-up comment: “Spin that s*** into gold.”

If you’re interested, you can follow both of these fantastic authors on Twitter. They tweet as @maureenjohnson and @mstiefvater.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 3

The St. Lawrence: A river of dreams


Our drive took us further along the north bank of the St. Lawrence, up to the Sanguenay and a little town called Tadoussac. The water of the Sanguenay River is black as pitch, until the shallows where it’s the colour of a tea that puts hair on your chest. Must be all those pine needle tannins. Crossing it was fascinating to me, as the depths would be unfathomable from the surface, and I imagine, from within it also. Tadoussac is a picturesque seaside town, with white-railed boardwalks, bobbing ships in the harbour, hanging baskets and ornate lamplights. On a clear day, like the one we had, it’s all clear blue sky down to thick, pine forests and skirted by an inky blue-black sea. Tadoussac stirred the writer in me, and it sparked the biggest writing project I’ve worked on my entire life. I really fell in love with it.

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We stayed in a little hotel in a nearby township, run by a lovely man called Jacques, whose English was as poor as our French. He proved to have a delightful sense of humour when the boys put a big decorative bear in his chair; he got us back with a big bearskin (with the help of Phoebe). Let me tell you – I admit to a moment of (almost) pants-wetting terror when confronted by a bear coming through the door.


20130613-20130613-IMG_7925This region of the world is renowned for whale watching. The St. Lawrence is warmer than open ocean and is fed by freshwater streams, which creates an enviroment that’s optimum for plankton. They get so many types of whales, but beluga whales are endemic. They do get blue, fin, minke and northern right whales to name a few (and on occasion orcas too). We took a walk down the Sanguenay, where we saw chipmunks and eastern red squirrels, and a marmot who walked right by us (apparently couldn’t get up the bank next to the path?), less than a metre away. The rest of the afternoon we spent drinking cider on the sunshiny beach at Tadoussac. I took off by myself and spent the later hours watching the white backs break the waves. I wish we had gotten kayaks and taken a closer look at the whales. It’s my one regret: if I went back in the spring/summer, I would hire a kayak and spend a day out on the water. I am still kicking myself, as I did not recognise whale breath until the third one, where I saw a big dorsal fin not far off. I am still not sure what that whale was, but the tall dark fin was unlike any of the usual species, unless maybe an orca fin.

Best I could get!         Still a better photo

 Don't notice me!       Handsome marmot posing

We headed north again the next day, stopping at an observation station supposed to be good for whale spotting. I am pretty sure we saw some minkes (the other most common whale) popping up near the hovering Zodiacs. I had no luck on the ferry over the St. Lawrence; no whales showed themselves to me. A great disappointment, as seeing a blue whale would be something off my bucket list.


This is what camping enjoyment looks likeMy partner Greg had his first camping experience at Parc National du Bic on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and I am sad to say he really didn’t enjoy it. We did find the mosquitos in Eastern Canada to be an especially fearsome breed. I still have bite marks over 3 weeks later. But we did see our first deer wandering around the camp grounds! The beach we were camped near was interesting; a cross between marshland and shale beach.


We then headed south into New Brunswick and stayed in the capital Frederickton. Very much a university town. We found it a very relaxing place to stay; there was just a really chilled out vibe to the place. There was a real lack of information about interesting places to visit in New Brunswick, which was a huge shame. We practically just drove through it.

A beautiful church in Fredericton

To read about our journey, start from the beginning, or you follow us to Prince Edward Island.

Life with a lead-in

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If only life were handy enough to give us a synopsis of a situation or of people we meet so we could judge it by it’s cover. Think how much less wasted time and money we would have.

I would think my current personal synopsis would read something along the lines of:

Sophie, an outgoing but slightly insecure girl, is learning about herself and the world.
She would dearly love to make a few more friends. She is mostly a good friend, but can be a bit lousy with emails and phone calls. 
(Don’t mistake this for ambivalence though, she’s just a scatterbrain somedays)

Maybe it could even help with our social schedules:

You’re invited to Hermoine’s 30th birthday party. 
All drinks and food provided.
Invitation comes with obligation to hear the hostess complain about being old, no matter who you are.
Also, bring old pants because her dogs will love you and drool on your leg with friendly affection.
Your cat, on the other hand, will despise you for a month.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. A reply of “I’m sorry I can’t make it, I’m double-booked” would come with the obvious sub-text of “I am going to wash my hair instead, because you get nutty when you’re drinking”.

It would make decisions about people you invest your time into and which events you went to so much easier.

If only real life was like a good novel’s synopsis.

Do you have an event or person that you wished came with a synopsis? Or perhaps do you have one in mind for yourself?

Spring Adventures in Canada: Part 2

The Frenchies

Our first day in Montreal, my partner Greg and I rushed off to meet our new landlord! We ended up in Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal, wandering down the street where the stores had market stalls on the street. We could have walked for kilometres but eventually turned back.

We really were in French territory here; everyone addresses you in French. It’s handy to have two little phrases, “I don’t understand” or “I speak English” in your French vocabulary, but almost everyone is bilingual. I am glad that some of the primary school French came back – I can identify some words and very few select phrases.


We went back to Mont-Royal with Duncan and Phoebe and spent some time wandering the streets all the way to the downtown/old town area, which had the well-known screech of the Formula One cars. It was the Grand Prix then, which meant the city was teeming in some areas but quiet and deserted in others. We got to see some old buildings, but unfortunately the oldest building from the 1600s, a seminary in old town, was being reconstructed and cared for so we couldn’t see it. Disappointed. We wandered into Marché Bonseccours, which we thought would be a bustling market but it was a series of high end stores.

Yesterday, we did find a  food market at Jean-Talon, where we are staying. It is a true farmers market, overflowing with pristine and delicious looking produce. We bought some strawberries and fresh food, and there were no regrets. We ended up back in the city, looking at Rue de Sainte Catherine, which is supposed to be a lovely place for shopping, but we didn’t find much to interest us.


We continued on to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, or the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. I can recommend this place as a whole day activity. It is huge, free (unless you want to go to the special exhibits) and has such a dynamic range. There’s work by masters like Rembrandt, Monet and several others in their collections. We only had a few hours and I was so absorbed in the paintings, I failed to hear the security guards telling me it was time to go. Oops!

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Outside, they had these really interesting sculptures. One was a ball of twisted glass; a sculpture for their upcoming exhibit of American artist Chihuly. The best one was the one the kids were mad about; a whole street covered in those rubber tags we use on roads, in 3 different colours. Kids and adults alike were running up and down laughing and interacting. Good work Montréal! Ending of the day, we took the Metro (which is comparatively similar to the London and French tubes Greg tells me; regardless, really easy to navigate and decorated beautifully!) to the Latin Quarter. We were all a bit underwhelmed but had a lovely time and nice sangria at a little Mexican place called Mananas.


The next day, we climbed the mountain. The city wraps around Mont-Royal, so it was time to pay tribute. I don’t know how long it took us, only that we were walking for hours. The walking tracks we used were reasonably steep, but there were some much gentler and longer ones. Of course, Duncan and Phoebe are in good shape so looked relaxed and elegant, while I huffed up the hill and Greg took a bit longer as his feet were giving him trouble. Luckily I don’t take long to recover, but I have been a lovely shade of pink all day. We got up to the summit, and just before I saw my first chipmunk! I was excited, but I didn’t manage to get a good shot. They are extremely agile. We had trouble figuring out where the observatory might be, the summit was not well sign-posted at all despite being riddled with paths, but we did make it to the Croix du Mont-Royal. It’s a huge cross made of metal struts that you can see from the city below. We went back to the Museum of Fine Arts after a well-deserved and hearty lunch, to get in as much as we could. Greg and I did not finish looking through and returned when we transited through Montreal when heading back west.

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Montréal is truly Canada’s city of churches. They are everywhere, and are generally beautiful Gothic style ones. Several have features of Notre Dame in Paris. I spent much time photographing this portion of the trip, much to the exasperation of the other travellers, I’m sure! One I found had cheeky gargoyles. Otherwise, Montréal a bit dirty and I feel like there might be quite an underbelly we haven’t seen. I can’t explain it more than as a feeling.


From Montréal we journeyed to Québec City. We stayed in a very inviting and homely place in Lévis, on the east bank of the St. Lawrence River and a quick ferry ride from the old town. We passed some of the huge icebreakers belonging to the Canadian government, obviously in dock for a few days during the warm springtime.The cobbled streets and lovely old buildings of the Lower Town charmed us, all lovely river views and European-style charm. In the sunshine, it was wonderful. The rain that drizzled on us all of the next day took the edge off our enthusiasm for the town.

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Greg and I wandered the old fortifications or ramparts around the Upper Town. There was a lovely walk up a boardwalk to the top, the Governor’s Walk, with expansive river views and flowers hanging between the railings. Otherwise, the dug-in fortifications of the Upper Town were mildly interesting to walk atop of; a unique barracks set-up punctuated with watch towers. We could have missed the barrack areas, as they were dull, but I found some really innovative graffiti. The Esplanade Gardens had some lovely flowering plants and the Fontaine de Tourny was a lovely diversion from the urban portion of the city.

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We left Quebec City and made a brief stop off at the Ile d’Orleon, where we picked up some tasty cider on the recommendation of a Québécois local. The morning sunshine and fresh ciders and jams on the rustic beauty of the island were a balm after the rainy days in Québec City.


This is part of a series, talking about our travels in the beautiful country of Canada. You can find the first instalment here or follow us along the St. Lawrence.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 1


Vancouver and Ontario

Lionsgate Bridge
My partner and I  stepped off the 16 hour flight from Sydney into Vancouver’s nippy Spring. Typical West Coast weather for the first week: alternating drizzling rain and sunshine. Even though our hotel for the first week was on the party strip (we’re not clubbing enthusiasts…) we really didn’t notice. Granville Street is bustling and a bit dingy during the day (it boasts a host of homeless people in the doorsteps of closed clubs and pubs), but at night it really comes alive. I cannot fault the people in Vancouver though. One day while standing on a corner trying to figure out where the nearest VISA ATM might be, 2 people stopped in the space of 5 minutes to try to help us.
Coal Harbour


Vancouver itself is quite pretty; there’s lots of green spaces and one tiny park down the road was our first exposure to this. Stanley Park in the north east, and its start of the seawall walk at Coal Harbour is picturesque. There’s the stillness of the inlet of wharf, reflecting the dark green of the pines and the crisp outlines of white-capped mountains. The seawall along the waterways very much reminds me of the Tan (Botanical Gardens) in Melbourne; on a sunny day, it is covered in people getting their dose of vitamin D and fresh air. There’s many cyclists, some who strap speakers to their bike to share their music with you. Looking north-west across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver is quite scenic, even with the port and the sulphur piles glowing neon. I spent an age trying to get a decent photograph of a spotty Harbour Seal, but apparently they are shy and I had to be content with a distant head. We saw our first squirrels, the Black Squirrels (apparently introduced in 1914 Wikipedia tells me) and what I think may be Eastern Grey squirrels (they were much shyer). We walked right around (approximately 11 kilometers) to English Bay Beach, which has a beautiful outlook too. This is where we started to see piles of rocks in interesting shapes. I think this might be related to the Inukshuk, which as I understand were once landmarks and cairns for food stores used by the Inuits.
Rock sculptures
Granville Island was also a treat.  There’s a cute little ferry across False Creek, which is almost a floating platform. There’s markets with lovely fresh food, artists, a theatre, music and a great vibe. It once was an industrial area, I think, but is certainly affluent with the markets and a great university (Emily Carr, an arts school).
We’ve caught up with our Norfolk friends, who really have been invaluable for all the help they’ve given us. As well as being our local tour guides, taking us to funky artisan Kitsilano. Had the best vegetarian/vegan food of our life there.
We met my brother and his girlfriend in Toronto early in June. After the loveliness of Vancouver, I found Toronto a very impersonal city, all bright lights and glitz to distract from the general lack of upkeep. It rained constantly, so that might not have helped. I regret not getting a look at Toronto Island, but otherwise, was a bit underwhelmed.
America Falls, Niagara Falls
Niagara was our next destination. Everywhere outside of the immediate township was incredible. Phoebe, Duncan and I particularly liked the tidy, Victorian/Queen-Anne style homes of Niagara on the lake, a township on the northern end of Niagara River towards Lake Ontario. It was lush and green, pretty even in the rain. We wound down Niagara Parkway, looking at the powerful steely blue-grey river, and the many walkers and cyclists. If you are going to the falls, I would recommend staying here, and taking a bright morning/afternoon to explore the Niagara Botanic Gardens, flush with the bright blooms of spring. It eases the grating of the township of Niagara, which is cheap and despoiled by flashing fluorescent lights and empty entertainments. If you can keep your distance from this and actually make it down to the Falls, the 200 meters of parkland along the riverbank is mostly serene. You are sharing (particularly at this time of year) with many other tourists, but we didn’t really get bothered, because the walk up to the falls is enchanting view after enchanting view. Some of the best photographs we took were from downriver.
Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls
The Horseshoe Falls are, as you would expect with this very imaginative naming, semi-circular, and the water roars over them at a great pace, filling the air with fine mist and white noise. The water is a lustrous blue-green under the foam, and it is very photogenic. A little awe is required when you consider the amount of water that pours through every second from Lake Erie. A little spout of mist pops up from the central point of the falls, and all day and night the birds (perhaps just seagulls, but there may be others) swoop through the clouds of mist. You do find little bugs about a bit so I assume this is what they feed on. They all roost on a little area on the American side of the Falls; it’s split right down the middle, and the Horseshoe Falls are the only ones that are part of Canada.
The American Falls are straight down, like a ruffled curtain. There is a small offset called the Bridal Veil Falls attached to them too. I like the likening to lace, even though they are not delicate in any way. I think the Canadian side is the best side to get a full view of all of the falls. If inclined, the Maid of the Mist is not a long journey crammed on a boat with many others, but you get reasonably close to the roaring waters and covered in the spray. Good fun. I think it was worth $20 each.
Maid of the Mist
Back around Lake Ontario and on towards Ottawa, we stopped at a little place called Smiths Falls, which my brother had heard was the prettiest town in Canada. We stayed in a lovely renovated church, but the real highlight of the area was Perth. It had lovely old stone buildings, including an old mill that we had breakfast in, with a burbling stream flowing through and some nicely tended gardens, completed with two little arched bridges over the water. We enjoyed our morning there very much. On our trip towards Ottawa, we saw our first marmot. Saw it just munching away on some grass. It’s the size of a little dog with puffy little cheeks that stands on its hind legs, and could be mistaken for a beaver by the over-excited and uninitiated!
Ottawa at sunset
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and came into being much the same way Canberra did, being nominated as a spot to stop several cities being upset by being snubbed and indeed snubbing them all. When Queen Victoria chose it, many of the politicians thought it was the end of their lives, being forced into the backwaters of the country. Albeit, I have only seen it since it was reinvigorated by a French architect, but I have to say that it is stunning. It is what Canberra has never been. Lofty Gothic and Victorian architecture gives the official buildings resonance, softened by the deceptively serene waters of the Ottawa River (called Kitchissippi by the First Peoples, the Algoquin).
Parliament House, Ottawa
We were staying in the north of the city, over the Alexandra Bridge, near the Museum of Civilisations. Gorgeous little unit. We explored the city on foot the afternoon we arrived, taking many photographs. I even have a photograph with a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, though disappointingly not in the full regalia. He was extremely friendly, giving us information about Parliament House. People were quite friendly, and we really knew we were in the French-speaking parts of the world as we were greeted bilingually wherever we went.
The city was buzzing and vibrant. We enjoyed the Byward market, which wasn’t nearly as good as those in Melbourne, but still interesting. They certainly have the art of pastry making there though – yum! We had a few drinks in a few different places. Unfortunately the bar Zaphod Beeblebrox was closed in the early week, so we could not go inside! Sunsets over the river were full of riotous colour and serenity. You can hire bikes numerous places in the city, a little like Melbourne, and it would be a great way to get around if you were game.
We went to the Museum of Civilisations. We got caught up in some smaller exhibitions of First Peoples (or Aboriginals as they call them here too), which were fascinating in their own right but not the main exhibit. The peoples cultures are so wide and varied that the hall dedicated to them is huge. You got to see the dresses, both older and contemporary, of the different Candian peoples. We didn’t have enough time to spend there, but I really enjoyed the recordings and written lore of individual peoples. What I was sad we didn’t get much time in was the top floor’s chronological depiction of the forces that shaped Canada. It went through the different groups that have laid claim on the country in some way or another, in full, life-sized wonder. We’re talking houses and workshops and pretend docks and saw mills. The ingenuity that went into creating it is a marvel. I do wish we had more time in this museum, and to see some others there too, which are highly recommended in travel guides. I could have spent a few more days here, but on to Montréal we went.
This is part of a series on travel in Canada. You can find the next instalment here.

Spine Poetry (not what you think)

What a wonderful way to create art on the go. Or even in other people’s houses, getting to know them by their libraries.

Creating poetry from the spines of books was the brain child of American artist, Nina Katchadourian, on a project called Sorted Books (which, if you are interested, she has released a book for). There is a great gallery from on The Huffington Post with some examples.

It’s spawned a couple of tumblr accounts, including this one or you could just search for the tags. Incidentally, it’s like tumblr was designed for this kind of sharing!

The best part is that it doesn’t take long and it requires only a bookshelf of books, which we all have at home. And a smartphone or another camera of any kind.

With my very limited library at the place we’re living in, here in Vancouver, I created one for kicks! Love to do one when I get home to Australia, with all my books there.

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It’s almost the weekend. If you’ve got any spine poetry, or you’d like to share any, I’d love to see it. Let’s get creative!



25 things you need to know when in Canada

Since beginning my travels in Canada, I have been learning little bits and pieces about the culture and history that I was surprised not to read about before I got here. So for your reading pleasure, here’s 25 things I learnt while in Canada:

1. Provinces are all important here and the equivalent of our states. Ottawa is the capital and similar in origin to Australia’s capital, Canberra. It’s in a middle of nowhere place someone picked out to stop arguments and is not the name the uneducated (including me before we arrived!) would pick. But Ottawa is what Canberra only has dreams of being: it’s big and friendly, has some really interesting museums, and has an elegant gothic feel. On that note, Vancouver is not the capital of British Columbia. That fine title goes to Victoria, a smaller city on Vancouver Island, who negotiated it as part of their agreement for joining the province.

2. On that note, it is still illegal to take alcohol across the border, so you will find wine from home before you will get one from across a province line. Beer seems not to have as much of a problem though.

3. Canada is huge. In driving terms, it certainly owns Australia. In all likelihood, you have to head to the wilderness to see some real wildlife. For Vancouver, that means 2 – 3 hours from the city. Though, we saw a racoon in inner city Vancouver!

4. Dollar coins are bigger and in a move that makes no sense at all, 5c is bigger than 10c and in the coin part of your wallet looks almost identical to a quarter. And yes, the notes are a veritable rainbow.

5. Walk/drive/queue on the right side dammit.

6. There’s food markets and there’s pharmacies, and between them they sell everything that you need. The be-all supermarket chain that you get in Australia is a different beastie to these supermarkets. But, we just don’t have coffee shops and cafes inside ours.

7. Disappointment central. Despite having met a delightfully charming member of the RCMP in Ottawa, they no longer wear their gorgeous red jackets unless it’s a special occasion. I am told the Calgary Stampede is the place to see them. (Also, you cannot get baby Mountie outfits-bummer!)

8. Rent of an apartment in the downtown area, complete with cable television, gas and internet is less than just our rent in Melbourne, which is not the most expensive city in Australia (in comparison with Vancouver being the most expensive city to live in here in Canada). Hooray hydro power!

9. Taxes are added on top of advertised prices. In BC, that’s 10% national tax plus 5% provincial tax (more for alcohol). So you think you have an idea of what it is going to cost, and then realise you forgot to add taxes. Damn.

10. Tipping is optional, but waitresses are paid minimum wage here too. 15% of the pre-tax total is standard. Surprise them: no one here expects Australians to know how to tip.

11. I’ve only seen one place advertising a Canadian breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes. Though I have encountered them tucked away on menus but…

12. There is maple in oh so many things. We had maple bacon on the weekend. And there’s lots of bacon.

13. An entree is not what we Aussies call an entree. Expect a meal folks.

14. Weird names: cilantro=coriander, squash=pumpkin or that other squash, peppers=capsicum.

15. The water is damn cold. As cold as Victoria. In the warmest part of the country. During the summer.

16. If you look lost, someone will stop to help you. If you look like a beggar, most people will ignore you, but some will buy some really decent food for you.

17. That being said, I can attest to Canadian drivers being as angry as Australian drivers. Yes buddy, that’s a horn. You’ve let them know that they did wrong. Sure, keep leaning on the horn. What’s that? Folks actually live in those apartments around you, and funnily, are sleeping at 2am?

18. Those huge snow storms? They happen only on the interior or perhaps just not in Vancouver.

19. Despite searches for Vancouver inner city bringing up Whistler as a great place to live, it is not just within city bounds. It’s almost 2 hours from the city. I will however accept Burnaby and Surrey.

20. Phone calls and data are heinously expensive by Aussie standards, which I really don’t get.

21. The Seabus is not a bus. The Skytrain, sadly, does not fly. While the sun shines, Canadians bike everywhere. Be sure to wear your helmet when you are out though-the law is the same as Australia.

22. The seawall is a wall along the very extensive ocean frontage. Very imaginative naming, but everyone knows what you mean.

23. Aerosol deodorant, particularly for women, does not exist. They seem not to understand that I need it. Although, I am feeling better about less waste and no propellants that I have been using.

24. In Quebec, cars only need one numberplate. How does that even work? Also, everywhere but Quebec, you can turn right at a red light providing it is clear. And indicators might just be your brake lights flashing (really confusing!).

25. An unofficial addition to my list, by request of my partner Greg, is coffee. American filtered coffee is the norm here so be prepared to go looking for espresso. Tim Hortons is a perpetrator of this crime against coffee. Blenz is the Canadian version of Starbucks. Shop local!


I wouldn’t consider myself a completely unexperienced traveller, but maybe I should have done some more reading.

Have you travelled in Canada? Is there anything you would add to this list?

Coal Harbour, Vancouver