Having just spent three weeks touring Canada - well, a small part of British Columbia and an even tinier part of Alberta, actually - I am more convinced than ever of the value of preserving cultural diversity. While grateful that the lingua franca, English, was convenient for me, I note that it came at the cost of the annihilation of most of the aboriginal peoples and their 230 languages, to be replaced by the ecological disaster that is global capitalism. Having said that, there are things to enjoy that are uniquely Canadian and the Government does allocate some resources to the preservation and restoration of the environment and to the remnants of the cultures of the First Nations.
As a young man I was once on the verge of emigrating to Canada, tempted by a promotional film which featured all its natural beauty in “glorious” Technicolor and a commentary which emphasised opportunities to prosper on the back of abundant resources - timber, fish, minerals etc. In the end I didn’t follow in the wake of pioneering Brits such as those who left clues to their origins in place names like Didsbury, Tweedsmuir and the Birkenhead River, or those who, more sensitively, stuck with the exotic-sounding native names like Squamish, or those who imaginatively named Muleshoe and the Kicking Horse River. Instead I turned up years later, as a tourist, to see what became of the country I might have helped to shape.
After a few days in the impressive city of Vancouver (which, apparently, is regarded as Hicksville by residents of Toronto) we picked up a campervan and headed towards the coast, the mountains and the valleys - a tall order in a continent which has more of these features than you might possibly imagine. We soon found that in the land of monster trailers and RVs our modest, European-style campervan was something of a curiosity: one Park Ranger was incredulous and asked what it was like to drive a vehicle that didn’t have a 5.5 litre engine. My answer was diplomatically calibrated so as not to give offence by making us sound like invading eco-warriors. Small it may have been, but the van was loaded with so much electrical gadgetry that it would have been impossible to ‘camp’ in it without a 30 amp hook-up: even the bed could not be made up without pressing a button. No problem: the region is awash with fully-serviced RV campgrounds and it’s easy to see why. The great outdoors beckons big-time in this part of the world: it’s vast and beautiful. The tourist industry is geared to it, each centre vying to out-outdoor the next. Whistler, famed for staging the 2010 winter Olympics without snow, is a sophisticated resort, but drive further north and you come to Pemberton - strapline, “the real outdoors” - and, further still, you reach Lilooet which is "guaranteed rugged!”
But nature on such a scale is not without danger: on the coast near Tofino we noted the road-signs for the tsunami escape route; in the mountains there were warnings of bears, cougars and moose; in the forests there were graphics indicating levels of fire-risk; and on the roads there were regulations concerning snow-chains, winter tires and mandatory seasonal route closures. We experienced only fine weather, fortunately. And, although we saw a bear ambling along a railway track, a whale to starboard of our ferry, a coyote slinking through the bushes, a marmot and a great many tiny black squirrels, none of them appeared threatening. Nor did we encounter any dangerous Canadians: those we interacted with were invariably polite and always urged us to “have a great day” - even the lady ‘flaggers’ at the numerous road-works gave instructions smilingly - particularly the one who was smoking a joint.
Canada is too big to explore in three weeks but just think: if King George III had played his hand more adroitly, it might have been even bigger.