For the last two weeks I have been on an adventure north of the wall. No unfortunately I am not John Snow going out to finding the wildlings. This was an adventure in the other land of the North, Canada. I have been to Canada several times before, but I have never spent this much time in the country, nor have I even been as far inland as I was in this adventure. I flew out of Chicago and landed in Prince George after a brief stop in Vancouver. This is where the adventure across northern British Columbia started as we stayed in the towns of Mackenzie, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort St John, and Fort Nelson. We rode the rails from town to town across mountain range after mountain range. As a person who spent most of their life in the very flat state of Illinois, its always a bit incredible to see so many mountain ranges. Every single day was filled with another spectacular view of snow, mountains, and miles kilometers of evergreen trees. Did I mention that everything was in the metric system? That is of course the railroads which maintains their entire systems in freedom units miles, feet, and inches. Its the little differences like units that you first notice about Canada. Some of the other things that I have noticed are different:

  • TSN or The Sports Network is their version of ESPN. It has a similar look and feel, but apparently only shows hockey and NBA highlights. It was very weird not to hear about NCAA hoops, baseball, tennis, golf, or even the NFL offseason. (If only ESPN would talk less about offseason sports)
  • The Raptors are Canada’s team. They are shown nationally on TSN while it is difficult to see other NBA teams.
  • Internet Providers. No Comcast up North, it seems that Shaw Open seems to be the dominant provider north of the border. At least thats what their advertising made it seem like.
  • Beer. The top three beers I saw were Molsen Canadian, Coors Light, and Budweiser. Mostly standard, but I also continue to see Shocktop on tap multiple places in Canada.
  • Airline Miles. There seems to be a country-wide obsession with using airline mile plans. Multiple stores will give airline miles just for shopping at their store while many other advertise they will give away miles with this or that. I am almost convinced that Canadians consistently fly domestically for free because they have so many miles from just living.
  • Snow Roads. In Chicagoland we are no strangers to the occasional snow turning the road into a complete snow road. We are not familiar with the road essentially being made of ice and snow as most of the roads in northern BC were. Until we started driving on the Alaskan Highway I was not sure that we ever drove on asphalt or concrete, it seemed like 100% ice and snow.

There are plenty of other differences that take a bit longer to notice like the difference in economy for the area. In Northern British Columbia for example you could start to tell that the low oil prices have had a significant impact on the region. The two major resources in the area are oil and timber. There were still plenty of trucks of trees going down the highway, but all of the oil machinery was sitting still. Tons of machines lining yards along the highway waiting to work, but just as frozen as the air because its not economically viable right now to get the oil out of the ground. During out stop in Fort Nelson we heard from the hotels and restaurant owner how over the past 5 months its turned from a relatively busy northern stopping point to becoming more and more like a ghost town. Its the rough reality, but if there isn’t work then people will leave to where the jobs are at. It is similar to Detroit on how the success or failure of one industry can have a huge ripple effect on everything surrounding it in the region.

If there is anything that my continued time in Canada has taught me is that Canada is unique Canadian and not simply the northern extension of the USA. They come from the same family except the french part and have many of the same things we have down in the USA, but for all the people who say “I’ll just go to Canada if X happens!” just get ready to expect a completely different way of living. As I fly back home I will be first glad that I can use my cell phone again without getting charged $1 a minute or more. I will also be happy to be back within all the little American idiosyncrasies that I have missed over the past two weeks. Thanks for the adventure Canada, I’m sure I will be back soon.