I'm proudly Canadian, and I accept the fact that a lot of people know very little about my country. A lot of people also seem to think cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver "define" Canada. Just to set it straight, while these are beautiful cities, they don't represent the whole of Canada.
Being such a quiet country, we often keep our secrets to ourselves... and often from ourselves. This is a list of 7 things you -- and maybe other Canadians -- don't know about Canada.
1. We Have an Island Strictly For Horses
Located southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia is a small island where the average citizen are not allowed. This island is called Sable Island, and is a fragile ecological environment home to the unique Sable Island Horse. Over 400 horses live on this island, with only 5 humans there to watch over them.
Sable Island was first discovered in the 1520s, but for all the wrong reasons: the water around it was shallow and very dangerous, and due to the wild and violent weather, the island was prone to shipwrecks. In fact, there have been over 350 shipwrecks on the island itself. For a while it was even inhabited by "wreckers", or shipwreck salvagers, who would make a profit off the unfortunate souls who crashed into the rocks around the island.
In 1801 a rescue station was set up to save people who were shipwrecked, and in 1867 and 1872 two lighthouses were added. These, along with advancements in sea navigation, lead to a drastic drop in shipwrecks in the area. 157 years later the rescue station was closed and the island would be used as a meteorological station to study climate, weather patterns and oceanography. It was also used to study nature and the local flora and fauna. Without many humans around, the local wildlife grew and the horse population boomed.
In 2011 it was declared a National Park, but with one exception: people are not allowed on it without written permission from Parks Canada.
2. The Norse Found Canada Long Before Columbus
Move over Columbus! Canadians have the unique title of being the place where Europeans first landed on North America.
The man's name is Leif Erikson, and he was a Norwegian Viking attempting to spread Christianity to Greenland around the year 1000 CE. On his way to Greenland, he lost course and landed somewhere in Canada -- possibly Baffin Island. When landing, he found two more shipwrecked Europeans, whose names have been lost to history. Stories even told of a Norse merchant, Bjarni Herjólfsson, who had spotted North America 14 years earlier.
Erikson explored several other sections of the coastline and stopped in what is modern day Labrador. Here he set up camp and stayed most of the summer.
His kind, however, was not particularly welcome by the aboriginals and after several violent conflicts, Leif Erikson and his crew departed back to Europe, leaving North America forgotten for almost 500 years.
3. We Welcome Aliens -- Specifically Green Ones
The province of Alberta has a lot of fun and quirky things about it, but one of the quirkiest can be found in the town of St. Paul: it is home to the world's first UFO Landing Pad.
That's right; Canadians are so friendly they even made a place for aliens to park their spaceships before enslaving us!
The reason for the landing pad is a bit paranormal in itself. All three Prairie Provinces -- Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba -- have a very serious problem with cattle mutilation. While animal mutilation from wildlife like foxes and coyotes are common, the mutilations in question are especially odd. They involve things such as scooping out the eyes, draining the bodies of blood and surgically removing the animals's tongue and genitals. Nobody knows who is doing this, or what is doing this, but many believe it is extra-terrestrials. Along with setting up the UFO landing pad, Albertans also have a UFO hot-line in place to report strange lights in the sky: 1-888-SEE-UFOS.
Alberta also has a town named Vulcan. Although originally named after the Roman God of Fire, it has happily taken on the role of having the same name as Spock's home in the Star Trek television series and movie. And yes, there is a replica of the Starship Enterprise outside the airport.
4. Santa Claus Sends Us Letters
Have you ever sent a letter to Santa? What would you do if he wrote one back?
That's a common thing that happens in Canada, as Santa lives here. Every winter television and radio broadcasts remind children to send their Christmas lists to Santa, with the promise that he will write back. Every year thousands of kids write to him, and every year thousands of kids get a letter back. It's a tradition in Canada, but Santa is very busy come the end of the year, so be sure to write him early.
Go ahead and try it! His address is:
HoH oHo, Canada
And best of all, postage is free!
5. The Dutch Royal Family Exists Because of Canada
The year is 1940 and Adolf Hitler's army is invading the Netherlands. The war is still young, but the royal family can see things are not going well for their country. On May 12th, Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana are evacuated from the Netherlands, and arrive in Britain. As the Netherlands fell under the black and red waves of Nazism, Princess Juliana was then sent to safety across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada. She was sent here not only for protection, but so that her child would be the next in line for the Dutch royal family, and if she was to be captured or killed, the family line would be lost.
On January 19th 1943, Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. For the royal heritage to carry on, however, Margriet had to be born on Dutch soil. Governor General of Canada Alexander Cambridge found a solution to this problem, and granted Royal Assent to Princess Juliana's rooms, making them extraterritorial so that Margriet would be purely Dutch and not have duel-citizenship, saving their heritage.
Princess Juliana would go on to reign over the Netherlands from September 4th, 1948 to April 30th, 1980.
6. It's Illegal to Lock Your Car's Doors in Churchill
A lot of people have heard this rumor going around, but it's completely true!
Residents of Churchill, Manitoba are greatly outnumbered by polar bears, and they are often seen as a threat to public safety. Thanks to certain "save the polar bear" groups, people can't just kill them off like farmers would with foxes or coyotes. Instead, the residents have to live alongside them.
If a polar bear is attacking you, your chances of survival are very small. These animals are over 10 feet tall when standing up and weigh over 2,200 pounds. They are like a small car, but equipped with twenty, thick, black claws and two rows of flesh-tearing teeth. There's no way to escape from a polar bear, except finding shelter. If you're attacked in Churchill, you can run to a car, open the door and jump inside. Even if you don't have time to close the door behind you, or the polar bear manages to break the windows, you can jump out the other side and potentially break away from the creature. Although there is the possibility of the polar bear still catching you, an unlocked car might be the difference between life and death.
7. We Have an Underground Atomic Laboratory
The USA is often credited for having vast, underground research laboratories that study and unlock the secrets of the universe, but they are not alone. Just north of the border from them is SNOLAB, the world's second deepest underground laboratory.
Occupying the space of an old nickel mime, SNOLAB was originally created to study neutrinos, which are sub-atomic particles that are released by the sun and other solar bodies. Study of these particles is still ongoing, but many believe they have the capabilities of traveling faster than light in a vacuum. While SNOWLAB's study of neutrinos came to a halt in 2006, there are plans to resume in 2015 in studying "neutrinoless double beta decay", which is a term I found on Wikipedia and I have no idea what it means.
SNOLAB is also used by the public to study seismic activity and dark matter. In fact, nine of the fourteen activities that have gone on, or are planned to go on, in the building are dedicated to the study of dark matter, an element in our universe that seems to bind everything together like some kind of cosmic glue.
And There's More!
Canada has a lot of other secrets to be told, like participating in political assassinations, to being responsible for building the Empire State Building, to having nuclear weapons, to having a naval battle against the Nazis on the St. Lawrence River, to being the first responders for the Titanic disaster, to creating the Canadarm and for the capture of Werner von Janowski, a German double agent during World War II. Canada is a young country, and one that is very quiet, but one that has a very interesting history. If you are every planning a trip to the United States, be sure to look a bit more North; there's a whole other country waiting for you.
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to read my other post about Canada, "Welcome To Canada".
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
For many of us in Saskatchewan, summer means it's time for an Alberta road trip. Although the endless stretches of prairie have their appeal, there is nothing quite like seeing the mountains rising over the horizon.
One challenge that comes with taking a summer road trip is the heat. Much like on this side of the border, it isn't uncommon for summer temperatures to get to the extreme. I know a few people who have had car problems in the heat, and my family is one of them. Nothing ruins a trip more than an unexpected visit to the mechanic.
Thankfully, Alberta has a myriad of places to go swimming, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or fishing. This not only gives your vehicle time to cool off, but also gives you a chance to escape the heat as well.
If you've ever passed through Medicine Hat, or you're spending a few days in the area, you've probably wondered what to do there. To most people outside the city, Medicine Hat might seem like a sleepy little prairie town in the Canadian Badlands; but for those who live in Hell's Basement, they'll tell you that this city is one of the most exciting places you can explore in all of Alberta.
I've gone to Medicine Hat three times in the past two years, and while I'm no expert on this thriving city, I know where the hidden gems are. If someone I know is passing through the area, I tell them they need to visit Medicine Hat. To help explain why, I put an article together for anyone else interested in visiting the Hat.
If you're spending 24 hours in Medicine Hat, you'll need somewhere to sleep. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a little under an hour away and a great place to camp. Camping in Cypress gives you the choice to explore the park, the city, and everywhere in between.