Well, my holiday of two and a half weeks in Canada is coming to its end, and as I’m sitting at the airport and waiting for my flight to depart, I am reflecting on the impressions I have gathered during this time. I should mention that my last visits to Canada were in 2017 and 2018, when I also travelled around the country.
There are two things that were most notably for me this time: the ubiquitous scent of marihuana in every city I visited and the incredible friendliness and helpfulness of the Canadian people I met, as well as their mentality to see passion as an achievement and that as such, passion and achievements should be celebrated. While the first, the smell of weed did not impress me, the friendly and happy people of Canada really made a strong impression on me.
Other things that left a lasting impression on me were surely influenced by the recent pandemic and lockdowns. For a start, I have never seen so many homeless people on the streets of all the cities I visited, which were Toronto, St. Catherine’s, London, Orillia, Winnipeg, Victoria, Vancouver, and Calgary. Sure, the pandemic may have accelerated this development, as it may also have caused the many closed down shops and restaurants I saw. A restaurant where I had a lovely dinner in 2017 was sadly closed in St. Catherine’s, and sadly, it was quite difficult to find a nice and inviting restaurant there as so many other places had also closed down.
In London I was shocked by the amount of people of all ages who lived on the street and clearly had their areas where they gathered. At night it actually caused me to not feel totally secure on the streets as I was walking back to my hotel. The full force of the homelessness problem then hit me in Vancouver, where a friend gave me a tour of the city. Never in my life have I seen a whole ‘settlement’ of homeless people on the street, and to see that the city had put up ‘hand washing stations’ on the streets so that the people there could wash themselves filled me with deep sadness and shame. To see fellow human beings existing in those circumstances was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. And learning that it was accelerated by the city’s mayor as he, in an attempt to deal with the homelessness problem, had kicked all homeless people out of their shelters made me question his humanity. I don’t know enough about the topic, but it sure left a lasting impression on me.
Another topic that I have been touched by and observed throughout my holiday was the country’s intention to recognise the First Nation’s rights. Inside the Calgary Tower for example, there was a sign, recognising on which First Nation’s land the tower was built. To learn however, that the last residential schools in Canada were closed only in the late 1990’s, in 1996 and 1997, was a huge shock for me, to say the least. Being German and having lived in the UK for the last 20 years, I have to admit that I had never learned anything about these residential schools, I actually only watched a movie about them earlier this year. I believed that this was a thing of the past, but here in Canada it is actually living memory.
So overall, my perception is that in this huge country with so few inhabitants (in comparison to other countries), beauty and pain are very close together, living side by side. The beauty of nature is incredible, such a display of vastness and nature, I absolutely adore it. However, the pain is also ever present on the streets. I think it is very good that efforts are being made to recognise the rights of the First Nations, as a modern country and modern people, it should be natural find reconciliation and peace.
Overall, I have had the most incredible experiences seeing the Niagara Falls (by day and lit up by night), going up the towers at Niagara and in Calgary, enjoying a harbour tour in Victoria and getting a private tour of Vancouver, amongst all the other things I did and saw and of course all the incredibly amazing people I have met. I have made so many new friends and had so many genuine, open, curious, and interesting conversations that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world! The service in the restaurants I visited was exceptional, I loved the free train rides in downtown Calgary and the people I met all across the country were absolutely amazing, friendly and helpful and living with a mentality of celebration of achievement. However, the contradiction of the vastness and beauty of nature and its amazingly friendly people and the obvious overwhelming presence of homeless people as well as the ever-present smell of weed in every city I visited is the strongest and most lasting impression I will take home with me.