From Bonavista to Vancouver Island, it’s Canada’s small towns that give this country character. As I travel from coast to coast, it’s the small towns that hold my interest. Fall fairs smelling of french fries and cattle manure, local events put on by a bevy of committed volunteers, places where you know police officers by name and curl with them on weekends. Places where everyone knows where everything is (or was at one time).
In this age of Google Maps and GPS, asking for directions has gone by the wayside. However, technology doesn’t always work and cell service isn’t global so asking a local is the way to go. Problems arise as landmarks often have their own colloquial names, known only to residents, and often serve as places to turn at, or to look out for, leaving a visitor perplexed.
“It’s next to where the Canadian Tire used to be” is a personal favourite of mine as is “next to the Orange Lodge” and you go off searching for an orange coloured building. For anyone new to Canada, the name Canadian Tire must really be baffling. What is the Canadian Tire? Is it like the big nickel in Sudbury? Why do so many Canadians need new tires? Why does the old location serve as a landmark? I just tell new visitors to Canada to meet me at Tim’s, that can’t possibly cause any confusion.
Once I saw a poster announcing an event with the date, time and the name of a building as the location (without an address or map insert). Assumptions are made that residents would only ever attend events in their town. I travel and write about these places and events so for me, it’s important.
While visiting friends in a town near Toronto, I mentioned that there had been rioting on Queen Street during the G20 summit. “What?” “Rioting on Queen Street?” “We never heard anything”. They thought I was talking about Queen Street in their town and I was guilty of thinking “city-centrically”.
Outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland I asked where the nearest grocery store was. “CBS” was the answer. When I inquired about the meaning of CBS, I was told like I was missing brain cells “Conception Bay South”. I was supposed to know, you know.
If you ask for directions in the city of Guelph, Ontario, you’re likely to be directed up or down “The Hanlon”. It’s actually Highway 6, well, Highway 6 North specifically but everyone knows it as The Hanlon. I specified Highway 6 North as it runs north from Highway 401 but on the other hand, Highway 6 South runs south off the 401, but, the next exit east. Making perfect sense.
On Vancouver Island there are two directions, “up island” and “down island”. Life only gets complicated when you’re told “This ferry’s full, you’ll have to catch the next one….tomorrow”.
Once I volunteered to help pack up and move a set from a play held at a small town theatre. We needed to drop everything off at a storage location described as “underneath where Hanson’s used to be”. I followed the others cars rather than risk getting further instructions.
Friends of mine were setting up their new restaurant just as the Shoppers Drug Mart across the street was closing and moving to its new location. I was elated. I could now join in and tell people the restaurant was……. “Across the street from where the Shoppers used to be”. Although I’m not a resident, at least I’m now considered somewhat of a local geographer.
James Gilbert is a travel writer, photographer and life time student. He can be found on Instagram at: canadianhikingadventures as well as his blog canadianhikingadventures.net