Travel Writer Madeline McInnis dispells some common misconceptions about Canada
Thinking of stereotypes in Canada, you could probably list a dozen off the top of your head: kind, polite, apologetic, peacekeeping, and respectful of wildlife. But how far does this myth of acceptance really stretch?
Canada has recently been in the news for adopting a gender-neutral national anthem. The ‘True North, strong and free’ has its own share of problems with marginalization, but overall, it’s a great place to work, live, and visit.
Regional differences are even more apparent in Canada than they are in Britain. If you’ve ever been to Canada before, you have to remember how massive the country is. Toronto is in a completely different climate from Vancouver, and they both have a culture that is entirely different from Halifax.
To put it in perspective, if you fly six hours west from Montreal, you end up in Vancouver. If you fly six hours east from Montreal, you end up in London — United Kingdom. It is a huge country, and you should not expect to see it all in one trip.
For that reason, it’s impossible to talk about it all in one article. There are several Canadian cities that are accessible from the United Kingdom, with Toronto and Montreal being the most obvious choices for their cultural significance.
There is an entirely different way of life on the West Coast, however. Vancouver is one of the thriving cities in Canada. It is situated in a temperate rain forest, and you are right in the Rocky Mountains and on the Pacific Ocean. All in all, to summarize, it is probably the most gorgeous city you will ever visit if you’re into nature.
The stereotype of Canadians really stands in Vancouver. You should find that the people are really nice, apologetic, and into the environment. You get the perfect mix between the big-city scene and being surrounded by the natural world.
However, remember that Vancouver has the most expensive real estate in all of North America — even more than New York and Los Angeles. With money being such a huge factor, you can expect to see a large divide in the population. In West Van, for example, you’ll get the designer stores and expensive houses. But on the east side, there’s a lot of drugs and people who are really down on their luck.
Nothing is ever as shiny as they make it out to be in the adverts. There are obvious problems with gangs and drugs in some parts. That said, I have never felt unsafe in the city, even on the east end at night. Like anything else, if you keep your wits about you, you should be fine.
However, Vancouver is very expensive. Converting Pounds to the Canadian Dollar should be easy on your wallet, but you can expect to pay a lot for accommodation and food while you’re there.
Air travel is very expensive to and from Canada, but there are new emerging discount airlines to keep your eyes on. Taking the train around is also virtually impossible unless you have an unlimited budget, so I would recommend bussing of ferrying between cities if you can.
From Vancouver, there is a bus that you can catch into Washington State for $5 American a stop — meaning you can get to Seattle for $15 and airfare is way cheaper out of the States.
Vancouver Island — not to be confused with the city of Vancouver — is just a ferry ride across the water, and there you can find a slower pace of life. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is supposed to be one of the best places in Canada for students. Nanaimo is also a popular attraction on the island.
Getting around is not always so easy, though. Traffic gets worse the closer you get to the bridges. Vancouver is divided in half by the harbour with downtown on the south and the mountains on the North Shore. Transportation gets really hectic as everyone is trying to cross the very limited amount of ways.
If you are just travelling as a pedestrian, I’d definitely recommend taking the Sea Bus — a ferry that crosses every fifteen minutes or so. It is right on the subway line on the south side and brings you into a bus terminal on the north side.
The subway system is fairly comprehensive in Vancouver, as well. It takes you directly from the airport into the city, and I’ve never found it to be unbearably busy. Don’t go expecting the Tube, as even Toronto only has three underground lines — for 3 million people! The system will get you around, you might just have to walk or bus a little until you get to your actual destination from there.
There are a lot of must-hit destinations in Vancouver. For the stationer in your life, the Vancouver Pen Shop is well-known in the area. There is a lot of shopping in downtown and especially on the west end.
Right at the base of the Lionsgate Bridge, you can find Stanley Park which holds dozens of attractions in itself. On the north shore, you have Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is not for the faint of heart. It’s a simple suspension bridge up above the canyon, but it is situated in a beautiful park.
While you’re there, pop up the mountain a little more to get a great view of the famous “Lions” — twin mountain peaks and one of the most recognizable landmarks in Vancouver — from the Cleveland Dam. It’s a great spot for a photo opportunity.
Many of your favourite films — the original Jumanji, Juno, Twilight and Fifty Shades, just as examples — were filmed in Vancouver, and if you’re looking for it, it’s not difficult to spot even more films and TV shows that featured major Vancouver landmarks.
Vancouver isn’t the only hotspot for film in Canada, however. Toronto often stands for New York, and it can be seen in films such as A Christmas Story, American Psycho, both Camp Rock films, and even Mean Girls were all filmed in Toronto. For all you Hannibal television fans, Hannibal’s house is actually right downtown, across from Roy Thompson Hall.
Just down the road in Cambridge, you can see filming locations from The Handmaid’s Tale, the 2017 It film, and a plethora of Canadian television programs. Hollywood filmmakers often use Canadian cities to stand-in for expensive cities in the United States. It’s much more cost-effective to shut down a freeway in Vancouver than it is in Los Angeles.
For those reasons, Canadian cities have a lot of emerging film talent and creativity, and you may even just stumble on a set. Last time I was in Vancouver, we had to be diverted because Deadpool was filming that iconic limited-bullets-on-the-bridge scene. Like how cool is that?
Canada, like every country, isn’t as shiny and bright as it purports itself to be — but it’s still an amazing place to be. Don’t go expecting a utopia, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. There is a lot of room for creativity, passion, and exploration. The ‘True North’ welcomes you.