Observations of Canada

Itís hard to pinpoint exactly when we knew we had arrived in Canada.  Perhaps it was when we were questioned at the border, or when we saw road signs in French and English listing distances in kilometers.  But I think the moment it really hit home was when we arrived at our hotel in Calgary and read its message board:  ďItís been a hot July, eh?  Come try our pool!Ē

Yes, thatís right, Angela and I recently returned from a 3400 mile odyssey from Denver to Glacier National Park in Montana and then on to Banff and Jasper National Parks (the Canadian Rockies) in Alberta, Canada.  We enjoyed the sights of Glacier (called GNP on their T-Shirts and bumper stickers), but saw only one glacier from a long, long way away.  Being from Alaska, we donít consider this a glacier experience, and think the park should be renamed ďGlacierís Used to be There National Park.Ē

So then we headed north towards The Great White North.  We stayed one night in Calgary before heading into Banff.  Banff city, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake are all beautifully situated, nestled in stark glacially-carved mountains.  And, additionally, there are actually glaciers there, retreating but still doing their part to rearrange the landscape.  We did some hiking, though nothing too long or steep; we were out just long enough to get huge mosquito bites which did their best to cover Angelaís upper legs.  They grow their mosquitoes pretty big in Alberta.  Having hiked up to the top of the Sulfur Mountain in Banff, we took the gondola back down.  We visited the grand Chateaus built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1800ís at Lake Louise and Banff, even had Sunday brunch with a spectacular view in Chateau Lake Louise.  On the drive from Banff to Jasper, we saw many glaciers, beautiful waterfalls and deep, narrow canyons.  Then we drove out to Edmonton and visited the worldís largest shopping mall and entertainment complex, featuring a water park, amusement park, Casino, theme hotel, an IMAX theatre, three multiplex cinemas, and three Orange Julius!  We finished the trip stopping at the greatest natural history museum Iíve ever seen, in tiny Drumheller, Alberta (itís called Royal Tyrell) and the World Heritage Site nearby where they found many of their dinosaur fossils.

All the time, Canada felt very much like the U. S., and yet different.  Some of the differences we noticed:  Itís cheaper to eat and stay in Canada than in the US; the prices look the same as the US, but since itís in Canadian dollars itís only about 60% of the US price.  On the other hand, gas is quite expensive, so the cost of the trip sort of evened out in the end.  Cattle guards are called Texas gates.  Sales people are incredibly friendly.  Itís difficult to by-pass city traffic when trying to pass through Edmonton or Calgary Ė the freeways become city streets, even the trans-Canada highway.  Companies and governments take more chances than in the litigious world of the US:  on a rafting trip we took, the guides encouraged people to cliff jump into the river at one spot and tourists are allowed to walk on the Columbia Glacier unsupervised (They had signs warning tourists about the crevasses though).  I canít imagine either of those things happening in the US.  We also saw snow in July on our way from Jasper to Edmonton on a day in which they nearly set a new record low; good thing we were going to the mall that day anyhow.

Montana seems to be very nearly Canadian to me.  Some similarities between Montana and Alberta:  lots of A&W franchises dominate the fast food scene; both places brag about the quality of their beef at every opportunity; many farmers have a few oil wells pumping on their property, doing a little side business; Casinos everywhere, including the West Edmonton Mall and nearly every convenience store in Montana.

Because the similarities between the US and Canada are more intense than the differences, I am proposing right here that Canada should merge with the US.  Then we would all be one big happy family with 60 states and three new territories; the Stars and Stripes could have 60 stars, or 50 stars and 10 maple leaves, I donít care.  Anyhow, call your Congressman and letís get the negotiations underway.  I mean, Iím sure Quebec wonít mind, right?

The big thing that surprised us was how far it is from Denver to Edmonton; it didnít look that far on the map, you know?  During this driving we read a little of the Iliad and memorized the Capitals of all 50 states and the Canadian Provinces and Territories.  But the hours behind the wheel were worth it, to see this beautiful slice of North American.