Today we are provided with breakfast so we stock up on food. Chris has been trying waffles, which you cook yourself when required. This is clearly a bit of an art – perhaps one he hasn’t quite yet mastered. There is joy in the Canadian camp as the Blue Jays won last night, against the odds we gather. We go to check out only to be told that we have already checked out – how peculiar. We can’t even thank anyone for paying our room bill as there wasn’t one.
We are back on the eastern bound 401 through GTA (Greater Toronto Area) on our way to Montréal. There are 16 lanes of traffic all together but we make relatively swift progress. We can use the HOL (high occupancy lane) which helps. Today is a ‘getting from here to there’ day but it gives Anne-Marie a chance to tell us plenty of general information about life in Canada. Any mistakes in what follows are probably mine. The Great Lakes are tidal and currents can be strong, leading to shipwrecks. This makes us appreciate the role of members of the Braund family who were pilots (that is not an auto-correct for pirates) on the lakes in the nineteenth century. Ice-breakers keep the St. Lawrence open as far as Montréal all year round; beyond Montréal it is closed from December to April. There are seven locks to negotiate, five maintained by Canada and two by the USA. ‘Salties’ bring cargoes to Montréal when the ‘Lakers’ take over for the journey further west. Lake Ontario, the smallest lake, is 182 x 56 miles. Trains can be 2-3 miles long so the ones we’ve seen (and thought were huge) were mere babies at not even a mile long. 90% of Canadian air traffic goes through Toronto’s Pearson airport.
There are approximately 1 million First Nations people in Canada. Those with at least one First Nations great grandparent can register as First Nations and receive tax concessions and additional hunting and fishing rights. The eastern tribes of North America such as the Iroquois and Mississagua, known as the woodland tribes, were semi-nomadic. The prairie tribes were nomadic, following the bison. This brings back memories of teaching ‘the uses of the buffalo’ to my year 9s – complete with actions – probably best not to envisage this. The west coast tribes lived in permanent villages, with forty to sixty people in a single cedar long-house. This lifestyle allowed more opportunity for crafts so there is more native art and craft from the west. Inuit means ‘first person’ and they are found primarily in Nunavet. The advent of the Europeans threatened the culture and health of all these peoples.
The earliest Europeans were fur traders from two rival companies. The British Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670, established a fort on the shores of the inhospitable Lake Hudson. This was bound up with the search for the northwest passage, with the aim of discovering an easier route to Asia. From 1779, the North West fur trading company, run by French, was established; they were more proactive in opening up western Canada.
After confederation of the eastern provinces in 1867, John A MacDonald promised the western areas a railway if they joined the dominion. He planned to link the original five confederated states with British Columbia. Problems with engineering and manpower hindered the building of the railway. A political decision was taken to build the Canadian Pacific Railway closer to the US border than advised by the engineers. This was because, in 1867, the US purchased Alaska and the Canadians were worried that they would encroach down west coast. This was especially significant as gold had been found there. British Columbia, who had joined the eastern provinces on the strength of the promised railway, got fed up with waiting and threatened to annex to the US, so railway was hurried up. We go through Kingston, the home of Sir John A MacDonald and former capital of Upper Canada.
Post-school education is expensive, leaving a skills shortage. The immigration of those who can fill vacancies are welcome. Unemployment is about 7% but there are wide regional variations. The average wage is $36000 but many people have more than one job.
We learn about traditional Canadian food. There are 70 species of maple but only the sugar maple produces the sap for maple syrup. The temperature needs to be -7 degrees C for sap production. Forty litres of sap tapped from the bark of tree will be reduced to one litre of syrup. This is put on waffles but also on ice cream and bacon. Clearer syrup is better quality. In Québec poutine chips with gravy and cheese curds are frequently served. ‘Beaver tails’ are an appropriately shaped pizza base/pancake cross and are served with topping. In Montréal smoked beef sandwiches are eaten with sauerkraut. Salmon is also very popular.
We take a detour down 1000 Island Parkway, which is much more attractive than the 401. Despite the name, there are actually 1864 islands. To be classified as an island the land has to be above water all year round and have at least one tree on it.
We have three comfort stops, during which I am frantically logging on to try and prepare a Swords and Spindles pitch that will give us a whole weeks’ work. In the middle of Tim Horton’s, up pop both Lucy and Edward on Skype, so I can have a quick chat in muted tones – lovely. We have worked out that we can save on tips by eating in fast food joints, although this does mean that our diet is rather heavily weighted in favour of French Fries (these are so not chips!). Inevitably, as we are in Canada, our meal is served with bread. We purloin this for Chris’ breakfast. Owing to a serious miscalculation on the marmalade front we have nearly a whole jar of very tasty three fruits marmalade to consume before our internal flight on Saturday. This also necessitates liberating a plastic knife and some butter. We have purchased some special offer 7up and I inadvertently drop the top of the bottle in an inaccessible place on the coach. After a certain amount of scrabbling about it is retrieved.
We arrive in Montréal, Canada’s second largest city, which is built on an archipelago. No building is allowed to be built higher than the ‘mountain’ for which Montréal (Royal Mountain) is named, so there are fewer skyscrapers than Toronto. Here we say goodbye to our first driver, Marian. We are staying in the Holiday Inn on the edge of Chinatown. It has a weird pagoda on the roof and all rooms adhere to the principles of Feng Shui. This appears to involve hiding the coffee percolator in the bathroom. Canadian hotel rooms don’t run to kettles. This is awkward as in order to get boiling water it has to be done through a coffee percolator and the instructions on the workings of these are not always clear. It also means that the tea drinker amongst us always gets tea that tastes of coffee, as the boiling water has ‘percolated’. This would be just about ok if he weren’t allergic to coffee. We obviously don’t quite get this one right and there is an interesting flood in the bathroom. What many of our rooms do have are cool table lamps that incorporate plug sockets. Here we have a lovely view of the Notre Dame Basilica but are too tired to appreciate it.