When people think about North America, they often think of the United States of America.
When people think about vacationing in North America, they often think of Florida, Jamaica, Cuba or Mexico. Often times, Canada is forgotten, both by tourists and the international community. Which to me is very odd.
Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world, covering almost 10 million square kilometers. It is larger than Europe, if you don't count Russia. Although it's large in size, the population is actually very low. 41 United Kingdoms can fit in Canada, but Canada only has half the population of the United Kingdom. With 33 million Canadians, each person can have about 1/3 of a squared kilometer all to themselves.
Canada is a young country, not even 150 years old, with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador only joining in 1949. Although a young country, it has a incredibly long history that has impacted the world in many ways. One way in particular is even believed to have been mentioned in the first book in the Bible, Genesis.
The belief is that around 8,000 years ago, when the world was moving out of it's last Ice Age, there was a great ice dam blocking Hudson's Bay in northern Canada. This dam caused much of Canada to become a massive clean water lake. This can still be seen in the marine life fossils found in Saskatchewan's soil, a province that doesn't touch any oceans. Once this dam broke, over 160,000 cubic kilometers of water, more water than all the lakes in the world combined, gushed into the Arctic Ocean and directly into the Gulf Stream. Heading towards Europe, this water is responsible for separating the United Kingdom from mainland Europe, and some believe is responsible for wide spread flooding in the Mediterranean, possibly including that of the Great Flood in Genesis.
By this time, the Aboriginal peoples had long migrated across the Bering land bridge from Asia to North America, and as the flooding occurred, they were effectively sealed off from the rest of the world. Living by themselves for over 20,000 years, these people migrated South and East, covering North and South America from edge to edge. For 20,000 years these people were unknown to Europe, up until just over one thousand years ago.
The first Europeans to set foot on North American soil were not Spanish or British settlers, but a Norse explorer from Iceland named Lief Erikson. Erikson was a Christian who was attempting to spread Christianity into Greenland. He was blown off course, the story goes, and landed somewhere in Nova Scotia. He claimed this land "Vinland", but after violent conflicts with the Aboriginals in the area, his ship disembarked back to Europe, never to return.
500 years later, on his way to the Far East, Christopher Columbus bumped into the Bahamas. Within decades, more and more European settlers came to North America to call it home. The French and British were the main countries to colonize Canada and their heritage remains here still. Other cultures attempted to plant roots in Canada, such as the Acadians (they went on to become the "Cajuns" in Louisiana) but failed.
Wars in North America, as well as in Europe, shaped the culture of Canada, with the British and French fighting for land and power. Russia was involved too, and for a short time owned what is now known as Alaska. In time, the newly founded United States of America also attempted to invade Canada and take it as her own. The Canadians and British worked together to repel the American forced and invaded their country, setting the White House on fire. Since then, the USA and Canadians have become friends.
Immigration has also been the backbone of Canadian history. Almost every culture in the world has had roots in Canada, one way or another. From the Europeans to the Chinese, from the Africans and to the Middle East, Canada has offered safety to all.
One example comes from the Underground Railroad in the United States. The railway brought an influx of African Americans into Canada, which at that time was a prominently Caucasian country. Although not always welcome in this country, these slaves were treated as free men, although not always treated fairly or without prejudice. With them they brought their culture, their religion and their beliefs, which in blossomed and grew in Eastern Canada.
In 1867 Canada officially became a country, although much smaller than what it is today. A railroad was proposed to be built across the country to unify Canada with the settlement on the West coast. Because there were very few people in the West, Chinese immigrants were brought over to build the railroad, with promises of earning enough money to bring their families with them. These Chinese workers were treated horribly and some say there are two dead Chinese workers for every mile of the railway. Once the railway was completed, the new Canadian government put a head-tax on all the Chinese people, demanding they pay to stay in Canada. Three times the government increased this tax, until it was $500 as recent as 1903. By this time, the Chinese were forced underground and worked and lived in tunnels. These tunnels have now become a tourist attraction in some cities, such as in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Other groups such as the Russian Doukhobors, the Ukrainians, the Japanese, the Jews, the American "Draft Dodgers", and the Cubans have also came to Canada over the years. Some unwanted groups have came as well, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the famous gangster Al Capone. Some even said Albert Einstein came up to Canada to find recluse from his study to play hockey.
Although our country is incredibly large, and holds different values and cultures from around the world, it is believed Canada really defined itself on the world stage during World War I when it recaptured Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge was a French ridge under German control that the British, French and Americans were unable to take. People who witnessed the battle say that was the day the nation of Canada was born. It is one of our finest moments in history. In honor of the sacrifice the soldiers gave, a monument has been built on the ridge, and is known as one of the most beautiful monuments in the world.
Canada has seen many accomplishments through its history, from building the CanadArm, to the AM Radio, as well as inventing basketball, the telephone, pacemakers and insulin. Canada has also known for its internal struggles, mostly with its Aboriginal and Metis population. One most recent struggle was the Oka Crisis in Quebec over the Quebec government building a golf course on Aboriginal land. Other crisis have included the Red River Rebellion and the North West Rebellion, in which the Aboriginals fought to defend their land from the encroaching Europeans.
Another group that has had continuous struggle in Canada has been its French population, specifically Quebec. In 1995, things had gotten so bad that Quebec threatened to separate from Canada and held a referendum. It was defeated in a 51-49% majority, and the province has moved towards accepting its English counterparts, however there is still plenty of distaste on both sides of the border.
Canada is no stranger to terrorism either. The shootings on Parliament Hill on October 22, 2014 only add to the long list of terrorism in our country, from violent separatists group like the FLQ, to the Squamish Five, the Sons of Freedom (they're well known for parading nude), the Toronto Five and more. Attacks against other groups in Canada are also common, such as the bazooka attack in Ottawa on the Cuban embassy and the bombing of the Air India Flight 182 in 1985.
Being a country as large as Europe, public opinions often differ from one coast to another. The West believes the East are ignorant and selfish, while the East believes the West are inbred and uneducated. The South believes the North are barbaric and primitive and the North believes the South are greedy and uncaring. However, across the board Canadians all love their country. They love the land, the nature, the culture and their freedom. Living in Canada can sometimes be difficult with intense heat in the summer and frigid cold in the winter, with flood waters in the spring and a frost that comes too early for farming in the fall. Catastrophic storms are all too common, with part of Canada being in the famous "Tornado Alley" which covers the United States. The weather is known to paralyze cities, from Vancouver all the way to Halifax, may it be because of strong winds, ice and snow, rain or a mix of them all.
Being a young country, Canada is full of history, some dark and some inspiring. It is a modest country, never gloating of its fame or its fortune. It's a country of hardworking, polite men and women who strive not to offend cultures, but to embrace them. It's a country built on dreams, determination, snow and maple syrup. It will poke fun of itself, mock its heritage, and stand up for its freedoms. Although only sharing a border with one other country, it is known around the world for its people, its beliefs and its kindness.
Although I missed the 50th anniversary of our flag, I am still a proud Canadian and I am glad I live in such a beautiful country.
And, just to clarify, we don't always say "eh", eh.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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.
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
Last summer my family and I tried fishing up in Northern Saskatchewan. We had a great weekend, but we caught nothing. I wasn't too disappointed though, as I have never actually caught a fish. After 25 years of fishing and failing, I have officially given up on the sport.
That is until I was invited to visit Medicine Hat, Alberta and go sturgeon fishing on the South Saskatchewan River. I was hesitant, but I said yes. I really didn't want to spend eight hours out on the water just to come home empty-handed, but I figured to give it one more shot.
My guide for the day, Brent Thorimbert, picked me up at my hotel around 8:30 a.m. and drove us to a valley located just outside of Medicine Hat. We got out on the water about 9 a.m. and arrived at our fishing spot twenty minutes later. Brent explained that sturgeon fish are "bottom feeders" so they swim along the bottom of the riverbed and eat up bugs and small fish. Our fishing lines were weighted for this very reason. The bait should sit on the riverbed and would get sucked up by an unsuspecting sturgeon.