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Life and impressions in Canada

I think I feel the need to share my impressions of Canada. Like many people, I imagine, I've always had a really positive image of the country. An idea of Canadian hospitality and generosity.

But I have to admit that all those ideas I had about the country have already come up against the reality, which seems quite different to me.

Despite all the good things I've heard, I just can't get used to it. It just doesn't work. And after a few months, I don't even think I really want it to work any more.


I : Expectations More than many others, this country has a very strong representation in our collective unconscious. Nature, lakes, mountains, kindness and hospitality.

So let's start at the beginning: expectations create disappointments.

But everyone talks about it! Even though I've never been particularly attracted to this country, I've often heard about it. The vast open spaces, the animals, the way of life.

So when I planned to cycle across the Americas, Canada seemed like a good option for stopping off for a bit to work, bearing in mind that it's one of the only countries in the Americas where I could get a working permit.

I think the French in particular are making a big deal of it. We see this country and its people as distant cousins. But Canada is huge, and while our west-coast pals are among the most lovable humans on earth, that doesn't mean that on the other side of the country it's the same story. More than 4,000 kilometres separate the two coasts, which is enough to make a population vary.

Anyway, I made my way down through the Yukon and British Columbia to Vancouver Island, where I now live. I've been in Canada for four months now, and to be honest, I'm having trouble getting used to it.


II : The reality - Coldness Well, I was expecting a bit more joie de vivre. A few days to take the temperature, intellectualise the change of country, and hit the road across the Yukon. You can't judge a place at first glance.

But the more the days go by, the more I wonder: is everyone sulking or is it just me? I think that was the first thing that jumped out at me.

Everywhere I went, I didn't necessarily find people pleasant or unpleasant. Not welcoming, nor unkind.

And the further down I went, the more people I met, the more points of comparison I had. But always the same comment to myself, people don't seem happy. It was as if just about everyone was in a state of in-between-ness. An in-between that I'll find in myself later, but that I'll need time to intellectualise. Neither happy to be here, nor sad. Just there.

Not that everyone is expected to smile or offer me a cereal bar all the time, but at least in places that base their business on hospitality and service. Hotels, restaurants, cafés, campsites... it's often the same appalling situation. I feel like a pain in the arse because I'm there, and in the end I have no desire to ask a question or buy anything in small establishments. - Somewhere between danger and stupidity In the Yukon, every day I was brushed by at least one or two cars. On purpose. Because it must amuse some people. Which didn't seem to surprise the Canadians I talked to about it.

And that's what I have a problem with. Not being offered coffee is one thing, being deliberately put in danger is another. Wether it was in Yukon, Cassiar highway, Vancouver island, I found the roads sometimes dangerous. Really dangerous. I remember two times in particular when I really didn't come very close.

Canada is one of a small list of countries where I've felt the danger, sometimes flirting with stupidity.

People brush past me, drive into a nearby puddle on purpose to spray me, speed up and leave me in a cloud of dust. It's not exactly what I expected from Canada, to be honest. I can imagine that this might shock some people to the point of not believing any of it. But that's my experience and my feeling.

So unfortunately, Canada is on the list of places where I've sometimes felt like I've had too much. The kind of places where people have thrown stones at me, thrown water at me, grazed me, insulted me.

Basically, it's no better here than anywhere else, despite the glaze that is applied to the country's name abroad. - Manque d’hospitalité I understand that you might not feel like talking, smiling or being friendly. I don't see why not. But when you run an establishment whose main activity is to welcome people to whom you sell services, the least you can do is to be at least a little friendly. At least pretend to be for seven hours a day. If I can do it, can't everyone?

The examples are legion and sometimes completely absurd. The way I've been spoken to, saying things that are completely unnecessary or inappropriate.

On another note, as a bike traveller, I'm fairly used to being invited. Sleeping, eating, showering, drinking coffee, chatting.

All that stopped as soon as I crossed the Canadian border. Once in 2 months we were spontaneously invited to sleep. And it was a Quebecquois.

Again, not that I expect to sleep on clean sheets every night, but this is the opposite extreme. It's even more obvious when you arrive from Alaska.

It's as if everything I'd been told about the US and Canada was reversed (although proportionately, Alaska doesn't represent all the states in the US).

So very different from the north of the US. Very different from Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Barely anybody comes in spontaneously, to chat or see if I need anything. And beyond that, I've really had the impression that I'm bothering people when I've been able to ask for something, to the point where I hope I don't have to ask for anything.

In fact, it's very different from anything I've seen so far. Among the countries considered to be the countries of the North, the developed countries, the rich countries, this is the coldest and most individualistic I've seen so far.

And on a broader scale, it's out of all proportion to almost all the countries I've had the opportunity to visit.

On the road between Dawson City and Victoria, I think it was hard to find so much as a smile or a simple kind word.

There were overall some lovely people, but unfortunately too few to sway my overall impression to the other side.

Which raises another question for me: can we do without kindness? - Hard to make friends Because even if you can find nice people without too much difficulty, especially in the city, I found that it was very superficial. It's hard to organise things, to see people outside of work. It's hard to approach people at the climbing gym or in a public place. Everyone has their own little bubble, and somehow manages to make that clear.

I'm not the only one to feel this way. Friends in Canada with the same visa have made the same comments. And Canadians who aren't from Victoria also find the city cold and boring, and hard to socialise with.

I guess that doesn't help you feel at home here. - Nor black or white It goes without saying that not everyone is like that, and fortunately so.

We had some great discussions with some great people.

Once they stopped to give us cookies. Once they offered us a beer. Four times in two months, we stayed with people from Quebec, as well as our friends Karl and Shannon. And on Victoria I met lots of nice people. It didn't necessarily go much further than that.

Who would I keep in touch with? Probably no one, or something close to that. - Cost of life Canada is expensive. If you're visiting the country, that's a pretty hefty budget. Living there is probably even worse. It's not that easy to find a job, let alone something that pays well. It's not easy to find somewhere to live, let alone at a decent price.

Often, the price of renting a room or a bed for a month is close to your entire pay. This is especially true in the most popular areas, which is why I'm a bit disappointed.

Ideally, I'd have liked to work in the mountains, close to the ski slopes. But it's hard to find work and a bed. Note that if you find both, your salary may only be enough to pay your rent.

So in fact, the most beautiful and attractive places in Canada are the most inaccessible and the most expensive, the two often going hand in hand.

And generally speaking, just about everywhere is expensive. Everything is expensive. So on a small salary, you cut down on going out. Eating out or going for a drink sometimes requires some thought, especially if, like me, you want to save money.

Basically, Canada is good if you have money. Or if you're just passing through. Living there and having the ambition to do lots of things requires a decent income.

Suffice to say that my life is pretty simple, with nothing fancy. - Misery and poverty Once again, clichés about the country have collapsed in the face of reality.

In the communities of the north of the country, the multiple traumas and discriminations against the native peoples have made things darker than they seem.

And in the cities of the south-west, it's downright appalling.

The thing is, the south-west of British Columbia (Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna...) is the part of the country where the winter is the mildest, the least cold. So all the homeless migrate there to survive the winter (we're talking about a Canadian winter here).

What's more, Canada is facing the same opioid crisis as the United States. And that's where you have to hang in there.

Even though many people pass by without a glance for the people on the ground, it's hard not to see the grinding poverty and drug problems. You don't even have to leave the city centre to see the unspeakable.

Human beings in wretched states, smoking crack or injecting themselves. People with Naloxone around their necks or strapped to their bags for use in the event of an overdose. Shops stocking Naloxone to deal with overdoses. A woman sitting between her bags with a baseball bat in her hand.

Women and men bent in half under the effects of awful substances. An elderly couple in a terrible state making a small fire in the middle of the street to keep warm. Young people in their twenties picking up their needles as best they can in one of the main streets of the city centre.

Honestly? I've travelled and seen things. But not this. Not like this. Not with this intensity. Not with this brutality. Not with this banality.

Social classes cross paths, rub shoulders. Sometimes people have to look at each other. And I don't want to be there any more. I don't want to see that. I don't want people to suffer. I don't want it to become normal, banal, part of the scenery. Accepted, heard.

It's a part of all of us that dies on the pavement when anyone suffers or dies.

All the more reason not to judge. Instead, we should read and watch what is being said about the opioid crisis. Which makes the situation even more unbearable.

This is the Canada I know and see. The one I live in. And it's not glorious. - Neiter feeling good or bad In the end, that's pretty much the mood at the moment. I'm neither happy nor unhappy to be here. It's neither good nor bad. It's just a chapter. A little anchor needed to get back on track.

It's strange, this in-between time. I find it hard to pin down.

I don't want to run away, but if I had 10,000 euros, I'd leave first thing in the morning. - Not alone

If I was afraid of being negative, I also felt the need to talk about all this around me, and it seems that I'm far from being the only one to feel this way.

Travellers in general, people on the same working holiday visa, and Canadians from the other side of the country who are struggling a bit in the west.


IV : Living in constant comparison

The reality is that it's also easy to live in constant comparison. Between the number of countries I've visited before, and past encounters, the further I get, the more points of comparison I have.

What's more, the somewhat clichéd nature of the country doesn't really help either. You expect something. Something postcard-like, something from the world of Care Bears. But that's not really the reality. In fact, I've been told that the idea of Canada that is conveyed was true just a few decades ago, but that the country has changed rapidly and radically.

- The Québécois

It has to be said that Quebec's cousins don't help either! It seems that the West and East coasts don't really get on. Which I'm willing to believe, because the change in atmosphere is so palpable in the relationship between people on either side of the country.

All the prolonged and sincere contacts, the various and sundry invitations came mostly from Quebecers. - Alaska

What's more, I had just arrived from Alaska. And to be honest, it was a very nice surprise to see how friendly and welcoming the locals were. So I was expecting a sort of extension of this impression, of these experiences, in Canada. But it was a cold shower.

When the door was slammed in my face at a campsite when I offered to pay for a shower, I thought about the difference between the harshness of the terrain in Alaska and the gentleness of the people.

I felt like turning back.

- The rest of the world

Then finally, before Alaska I was somewhere in Asia and Australia for quite a while. And before that, I hung out in a bunch of countries on several continents. And like a human chain, the welcome, kindness and hospitality just kept coming. Until I felt really alone in Canada, trapped in the space around other people's individuality.


What's next :

When I stopped in Victoria, everything happened very quickly. I wanted things to happen very quickly. I wanted to work, I wanted to save money, I wanted to get going again.

But one question remained. Should I take the ferry into town and head for Washington State? Or continue east to catch up with the Rockies, driving the part I didn't drive because we took the ferry from Prince Rupert.

I'd feel too much like I'd done things by halves. First of all, I wouldn't have ridden everything, but on top of that I wouldn't have seen the most impressive part and I'd have left on a bad note.

So I'm going to take the long way round.

- The postcard

Because most of the photos come from one place, the Rockies, I can't decently leave without taking a walk there.

So I'm going to go back up through Squamish and Whistler, follow the stretch of road I missed last autumn to Jasper, follow the road to Banff and descend through the Rockies to Montana.

- Wildlife

What's more, I was a little disappointed with the wildlife. I didn't see enough bears, and want to see more. Not to mention the fact that I wasn't really able to photograph what I wanted to, so I'll have to rectify that.

Provisional conclusion

For the time being, I support the idea of crossing this country because it's the link between Alaska and the lower 48 states. Travelling only in this part of the world, in this part of Canada, wouldn't really make sense to me. It's expensive, sometimes time-consuming and ultimately not so wonderful.

But that's easy to say once you've done it. I had to come and see it for myself.

It's a great country for adventures left and right, mixing mountains, cycling and packraft. But from the point of view of crossing the country, I found it sometimes a bit long and often not very interesting.

You can disagree with me. We all have different experiences, meet different people and experience a country individually.

But that's my feeling.

I have high hopes for the route through the Rockies. However, on the scale of the country, it's a small portion, and it might not justify the north-south crossing.

I wouldn't dare mention the east-west crossing, which apparently is long, flat and laborious.

So the Rockies, surely. And in the end I really would have liked to drive the Dempster Highway. But that's the way it is. Another time perhaps.

Double think your riding plan in Canada. It's big, and not necessarily a daily postcard. It can be quite challenging at times. Plan well, and enjoy !


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