Those of us born as U.S. citizens blissfully enjoy many privileges with our navy blue passports that past generations have handed down to us. The more that I travel, however, I realize just how naive my worldview as an American has always been growing up in what is thought to be “the greatest country in the world.” I didn’t expect to experience a case of culture shock driving less than six hours north into another English-speaking country. Our road trip to Ontario, Canada was simply an alternative to the overly-popular destinations in late summer at Yellowstone National Park and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Neither of us knew much about Canada and thought it might be nice to visit with our active passports left unused since our trip to Singapore four years ago. In a ten-day road trip, we discovered a small taste of the rich diversity of Ontario’s cities and natural wonders.
Part of the adventure on a road trip is traveling the distance from one location to the next. With a sense of delighted glee, we hopped into our rental car prepped with our podcasts, books, and word search puzzles to immerse ourselves on the road together. The distance seems closer when the time behind the wheel is allocated to 90-minute shifts. It wasn’t long before we said goodbye to Michigan after a “last meal” at Freighters Eatery in Port Huron where we watched boats passing by our windows before crossing the border on the Blue Water Bridge. The intrigue of border crossing was, in reality, a mundane case of traffic until our five-minute interview with the officer had finally arrived after a slow forward crawl. Borders define nations and it is a serious matter to cross them, even when on a short vacation.
The highway transitioned into a smooth pavement substituting flashy billboard advertisements for fast food restaurants with informative safety messages and periodic exit signs. Rest areas were referred to as ONRoute Text Stops reminding drivers just how far it would be until the next available opportunity to pull over and legally use cell phones. I have to admit that it was somewhat of a relief to eliminate distractions on the highway and simply focus on the act of driving as the scenery rolled along wooded forests, open fields, and larger-than-life wind turbines gently cutting through the clouds in the distance.
My American ignorance was taken aback by the Queen’s crown displayed on highway markers and the maximum speed of 100 km/hr, realizing just how small my knowledge of Canada’s history and present-day culture truly was. There were also a few blunders using the metric system when computing gasoline for a Candian cent per liter instead of dollars per gallon. Our bank chimed in with a security call when I filled up C$15.00 twice consecutively to top off the tank.
From the Ontario border of Niagara Falls to Canada’s national capital of Ottawa, and the bustling streets of Toronto in-between; we belly-laughed from the wit of comedians, cheered like locals for the home baseball team, and savored every bite of our meals after miles of walking each day. We learned more about Canada’s history of independence, the respect given to the nation’s First Peoples, and why Canadians sing their anthem with such hearty pride.
There was so much to experience that we simply couldn’t get to all of it, regularly revising our plans to make the most of our time. Americans, like myself, may be unfamiliar with our northern neighbor’s character, but just under the radar of our overstimulated distractions is a sleeping giant that thrives in a rich diversity of culture, sustainability, and Canadian values.
“O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all of us command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee”
–The Canadian National Anthem, 1980