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North, it's White, but is it Great?
by Mad Dog
Canadians are very much like Americans, except
of course theyll beat you to a pulp with their hockey sticks if you even think about
|| I just spent three days exploring a very small part of Canada by car.
Obviously its not fair to judge an entire country based on such a limited experience
but Im going to do it anyway. Hey, its my job.
Canada, for those of you who slept through four years of
geography, is the big country to the north of the United States that Bob and Doug McKenzie
made famous. It encompasses 3,849,674 square miles and is inhabited by 427people, putting
it on par with the Atlantic Ocean. The good thing about it is it keeps the Arctic glaciers
out of Minnesota. The bad thing is that its too much like the United States, and I
say that in only the most derogatory way.
Canadians are very much like Americans, except of course
theyll beat you to a pulp with their hockey sticks if you even think about saying
that. They speak English and yes, they do say "eh" at the end of most sentences,
though it actually sounds more like "aye?" with the emphasis on the question
mark. French is common there. While I didnt hear many people speaking it, I did
listen to French radio stations, watch French television, and eat a lot of French fries.
Road signs are in both English and French, which is like being in class and having the
answer on the front of the flash cards right next to the question.
Both Canada and the U.S. have a Sault Ste. Marie, or Soo as everyone calls it. The two
Soos would be one were they not separated by a river, a bridge, and unfriendly customs
|| Their English
does have its differences. Gas stations are called gas bars, pawn shops are hock shops,
and Indians are called First Nation, or aborigines, as in the 20th Annual Aboriginal
Hockey Tournament which was held in Sudbury right before I got there. Honestly. I like
First Nation much better than our politically correct Native Americans. Not to quibble, but
even though they were Americans before I was, any scientist will tell you theyre not
native, they migrated here too. It just happens that they made it here a few thousand
years before my grandparents. While First Nation is an improvement, I vote we opt for
"Previous Owners" and be done with it.
As in the U.S., their basic currency is the dollar, though the
paper money looks like a kid drew it with a spirograph. Also as in the U.S., I heard Rush
Limbaugh on the radio, proving that their dollar coin isnt the only loon in the
country. Luckily there are things there that arent in the U.S. any country
where I can buy Cadbury Crunchies is okay in my book.
My first Canadian experience was in Sault Ste. Marie. The
Canadian one. Both Canada and the U.S. have a Sault Ste. Marie, or Soo as everyone calls
it. The two Soos would be one were they not separated by a river, a bridge, and unfriendly
"Where are you coming from?"
"The United States."
"Why are you going to Canada?"
"Its not the United States."
"When did I forget how to smile?"
"Why are you asking me?"
"Have a nice trip. Next!"
Sudbury has the Worlds Largest Nickel on display by the Big Nickel Mine. Elliot Lake
has the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. Is it any wonder the department of tourism uses the
slogan "A mine is a terrible thing to waste"?
|| Soo, Michigan and
Soo, Canada are reminiscent of Minneapolis and St. Paul, except no one could come up with
a second name. Actually, this is nice because it lets you ease into being in a foreign
country without the shock of finding yourself in someplace called, say, Moose Jaw. (NOTE:
Moose Jaw is a real city only its in Saskatchewan, which is a province much farther
west and a lot more fun to say than Ontario.)
My first Canadian
heart attack wasnt from one of their omnipresent buffets, it was when I left Soo2
and headed towards Sudbury, which I knew was about 180 miles away. The first sign I saw
said "Sudbury 285" and I thought, "Oh my god, this is going to take
a lot longer than I thought." Then I realized it was kilometers. Its amazing
how quickly we adapt. Before I knew it I was thinking in kilometers, much as I adjusted to
the temperature being in Celsius and the food being inedible.
There arent many tourists in Canada this time of year. I
started to wonder who actually does come to visit when, on the way to Sudbury, I started
seeing signs for motels and restaurants that all said "Spanish." Somehow this
area didnt feel like it would be a hotbed of Hispanic tourism and it was odd that so
many places advertised that they spoke Spanish, but what do I know? It all made sense when
I got to the town ofyou guessed it!Spanish. Interestingly, the town of
Espanola is 30 km farther. Thats a long time to wait for a translation when
youve gotten used to road signs which immediately give you the answer.
Canadian tourism is based around mines, sports
and mines. Every tiny town that has someone in it whos even heard of a traffic light
has a mine tour, a mine museum, and of course, a mine gift shop. Sudbury has the
Worlds Largest Nickel on display by the Big Nickel Mine. Elliot Lake has the
Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. Is it any wonder the department of tourism uses the slogan
"A mine is a terrible thing to waste"?
didnt see back bacon on the menu anywhere so I couldnt try it. I didnt
get to stop at the Bite Me Bait and Tackle Shop by Nairn Centre. And I only got to hear
the word hoser once.
|| Contrary to what
you think, sports in Canada doesnt mean hockey, it really means curling. There were
curling arenas everywhere. In fact, there were more curling arenas in Sudbury than movie
theaters, four to be exact. Since its important to take in another culture when
youre visitingand all the mines, mine museums, and mine gift shops were closed
until MayI stopped off to watch some curling at the Ontario Winter Games.
Curling is Canadian cricket. Or shuffleboard on ice. Maybe a
mixture of bocce and sweeping the kitchen floor. Is it any wonder its so popular?
The game begins when someone, Ill call them the pitcher since Im too lazy to
find out what they call them, slides down the laneor whatever they like to call
itholding a large granite stone hockey puck with a handle. The best American analogy
would be a bowler whose thumb is stuck in the ball as he or she slides down the alley.
When they finally get their hand loose, the stone glides along the ice while two teammates
madly sweep in front of it, trying to get rid of any cigarette butts, back bacon rinds and
Labatts cans that are in the way. The goal is to get the stone to stop in the middle
of a bulls-eye at the other end. Its easy to figure out how to play; whats not
easy is to figure out why.
There were a few disappointments in Canada. I didnt see
back bacon on the menu anywhere so I couldnt try it. I didnt get to stop at
the Bite Me Bait and Tackle Shop by Nairn Centre because they forgot they werent a
mine museum and were closed for the winter. And I only got to hear the word hoser once,
and that was on a humor show on the radio. But its a big country and theres
plenty more to explore. Hopefully it will be in Saskatchewan next time because, after all,
its more fun to say than Ontario.
©2000 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them while watching curling, eh?