I’m not sure what initially started my interest in Canada. I’d like to think there was a seed planted when I was a small child on one of our school visits to the Commonwealth Institute in London although I can’t remember anything specific standing out as it was pretty much stuffed beavers, moose and a bear. Maybe it was the picture of the mountains covered in snow surrounded by pine forest and a cascading river that adorned my grandparent’s living room wall – I would spend hours staring at this picture while bored, wishing my granddad would switch the channel over to my beloved cartoons rather than the news and cricket he was so often absorbed in. I would often daydream about playing in the water of the river and making camps in the forests in that picture.
I longed to see the mountains like those on my grandparent’s wall.
Whatever it was, it seemed to have affected my younger brother as well, as I realised one day while walking – possibly staggering, home from the local Surrey pub. We discovered that we both really wanted to visit Canada so there and then, made a pact that after we had finished our University studies we would cross the Atlantic and check Canada out. We both thought the country sounded great – loads of trees, mountains and rivers like in our grandparent’s picture, plus they spoke English, weren’t American and to top it all off – it was where Labatt’s came from – our favourite tipple at the time!
Things didn’t go exactly to plan though and we both found ourselves good jobs in the same local company and after a couple of years, I settled down into a relationship and he decided that he wanted to travel the world. He left on Boxing Day 2003 – his first stop being New York and I returned home from seeing him off at the airport in the incessant English winter drizzle, immediately missing my best friend.
A few months went by with regular emails before I got a message telling me that he was now in Calgary and was staying with a friend from London for a few months while he took advantage of the excellent snowboarding in the Rockies. I had no idea where Calgary was – I think my only recollection of the place was that it was where ‘Eddie the Eagle’ had failed miserably in the winter Olympics a couple of decades before.
We regularly emailed and arranged to meet up later in the spring as he said he would soon be travelling again so we eventually got together in Roatan off of Honduras for a spot of beach relaxation in between me studying for my diving qualifications. He wasn’t travelling alone though – the girl he had been staying with in Calgary was in tow as she had decided to up sticks and head down south with him for a few months – he introduced me and later that evening told me that he thought she was great and was becoming a bit more than a travelling companion. She was the first Canadian I had met and she seemed awesome – she was friendly, clever, happy and had a great sense of humour. Their relationship blossomed over the next year while my one at home broke down. The following spring they were engaged to be married, he decided to move to Calgary and I stayed in the UK and found myself living the life of a newly single man – mainly doing some travelling for myself, drinking and fishing.
They decided to get married, the wedding date was set and at the beginning of February 2006 I found myself flying into Calgary International Airport for my first visit to the land of the maple leaf. First impressions when looking from the plane window was disappointment – where were all the snow covered trees that I had seen in the pictures? All I could see from my seat was brown grass, covered with intermittent patches of ice and wasn’t very picturesque at all. Was this the right place?
After a few days of adjustment – getting used to the dry air and the jetlag, I started to fall in love with the place – the politeness of the people, the clean air, the straight roads (even if you did have to drive on the wrong side of them) and generally just how laid back everyone was compared to London.
The wedding in Banff went well despite having to stand on a frozen river in just a suit jacket as the temperatures plummeted to -30c – all for the sake of a couple of photos (which came out lovely I hasten to add). That evening after constant goading from my brother and new sister in law, I found myself sitting down and chatting to one of her nursing friends from Toronto – someone I had noticed throwing crazy moves on the dance floor and constantly smiling and laughing. We got on extremely well and after talking for what felt like minutes, but was in fact hours, we arranged to meet up again at the weekend at another part of the wedding get together.
A quick way to learn that a suit and shirt isn’t suitable clothing for standing in the middle of a river in -30 degrees.
Alas – I was stood up (it turned out she had a flu) and I returned back to England and her to Toronto without us meeting again. Undeterred by this ‘rebuttal’ I looked through some previous group emails relating to the wedding and worked out what email address was this young lady’s and after getting permission from my SIL, I wrote her an email telling her how great it was to chat and thanking her for the time, my thoughts being that the worst I could do was to gain a friend and unsure what the best it could do?
NB – I must mention that I found out from one of my aunts last year that the picture on my grandparents wall was in fact of Austria (as is the picture above). If I had known that all those years ago I wonder if it would have effected where I am today?