Only in Canada, you say? Pity (’cause you can’t get there from here)

Allan Fotheringham February 20 1978

Only in Canada, you say? Pity (’cause you can’t get there from here)

Allan Fotheringham February 20 1978

Only in Canada, you say? Pity (’cause you can’t get there from here)

Allan Fotheringham

There’s the story about the couple in London who, with blitz babies being evacuated due to German bombs, shipped their two children to stay with relatives in Vancouver. “They’re landing at some place called Halifax,” said their wire, “please meet them at the dock.”

The return wire from Vancouver contained the classic geography lesson: “Meet them yourself. You’re closer than we are.”

The poor Brits can be forgiven an understandable ignorance of this strange, freakish country that is 4,000 miles wide and basically 200 miles deep. They’re foreigners. The galling thing is that the mandarin minds in Ottawa do not seem to appreciate the vastness of this land. (Why should they? They seldom budge.) That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the ludicrous policies of the Canadian Transport Commission that have kept domestic air fares higher than international ones. It’s cheaper to fly from Toronto to London than to visit Aunt Ermitrude in Vancouver.

It’s one of the reasons why this disparate country is in danger of flying apart: the fractured regions in fact are encouraged— by Ottawa airline policy—to travel abroad rather than mix internally. Thus the northsouth links are strengthened while eastwest barriers go up. Toronto and Montreal flee to Florida and the West Indies, Prairie farmers head for Arizona, British Columbians go to Hawaii and California. There’s more than just weather: it’s more economical. This must be the only country in the world where the government stands aside while national air policy actively discourages domestic travel.

How hilarious is Ottawa? Public demand for domestic charters (since international charters have revolutionized air fares) was opposed before the CTC by Air Canada and CP Air but supported by Wardair, the big Edmonton-based charter firm. And the result? The CTC reluctantly gave in to the demand—and gave the nod to Air Canada and CP Air, while denying it to Wardair. Brilliant! Only when the Consumers’ Association of Canada got into the act did the nervous Liberal cabinet, its days numbered, order the CTC last month to let Wardair in too. (The CTC is independent, except when the vote-hungry Liberals decide it isn’t.) It’s a tentative concession, with the government giving way to public demand.

The two major airlines claim there won’t be that much demand for a 45-day booking, giving you a return fare for the price of a single trip plus $31, between any two points more than 700 miles apart. I’m not

so sure. I suspect you could fill several jumbojets full of superior Ontario and BC denizens who would like to jog their childhood memories of Saskatchewan and, in spring, the purest water in the world, the water that collects in shallow ponds in wheat fields. The ponds are the reflected blue of the unending Prairie sky and are always scalloped by little ripples from a breeze, origin unknown.

There is the hum—long forgotten—of telephone wires in the silence. One has forgotten there is such silence anywhere. In summer, the road in front of a car melts into liquid with the heat haze. One does not need a map since a route ahead can be devised in geometric patterns, the whisper

lines of far-off telephone poles providing a key to where the roads intersect. In the distance, the next town can be detected from the wavering forms of two grain elevators that dance and sway through the heat.

I suggest anyone from the West would find useful a look at St. Jean Port Jolt, one of those postcard river towns out toward the Gaspé, with thin slivers of farms and road marching perpendicularly from the river, right out of the history books. Visitors from the Prairies, accustomed to strict north-south bearings, feel disoriented and grow thoughtful as the fathomless St. Lawrence sweeps Canada to the sea.

I can mention the soothing beach, which dwarfs Waikiki in size, at Shediac, New Brunswick, one of the quiet wonders of that modest province. Or the view in the autumn from, say, about Ludlow, across the Miramichi River (not to be confused with the Restigouche, the Wapskehagen, the Upsalquitch, the Kouchibouguacis or the Tomogonops.)

The very best view in Alberta, if you must know, is from the town of High River, which spawned Joe Clark and is such a deceptive 30 miles from the soaring ice cream toppings of the Rockies that innocent tenderfeet, fooled by their eyes, have actually set out to stroll the “several miles” to the seductive range. It is one of the biological oddities of our time that Jim Coutts, Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary comes from 18 miles down, the road. (Nanton, Alta: home of “Canada’s Finest Drinking Water.” Coutts never touches the stuff.)

I can tell you about the tiny fishing village in Newfoundland where the children are like wild ponies and the trees grow no bigger than vegetables and the men come in from the sea with nothing and an anthropologist named Elliott Leyton writes and welcomes stray visitors. It would surprise most Canadians, who think of the Prairies as a sterile Sahara, that it abounds with water. That would be Manitoba and one of the eerie experiences of our time is floating along the Red River, above Winnipeg up to Selkirk, in a huge paddle steamer on a spring evening, a live Prairie schooner in full flight.

For Ontario I would pick Marmora, one of those never-changing towns east of Peterborough. Stolid, square brick houses with ample verandas, generous trees shielding the sun, a town out of Norman Rockwell epitomizing all that is Ontario, conservative, moral, stable, unimaginative.

I have never been to Prince Edward Island, but I understand they have potatoes. I’ve never met a potato I didn’t love.

The main tourist sight in Nova Scotia, to tell the truth, is Harry Bruce, a scribbler who lives in Halifax. He is so grateful to see anyone from Nanton, or Marmora, that he will buy you a drink. Tell him I sent you.

In BC the most heavenly view north of Las Vegas is the vista out of the window of the beer parlor in a small hotel in a town called Kaslo, out across Kootenay Lake. There is a sight in the Okanagan Valley, on the highway between Kelowna and Vernon, when a swerve on a high cliff gives the first glimpse ofKalamalka Lake which, for some reason arranged by God and the tourist board, emanates bands of purple and blue and green from the rocks underneath one of the most stunning lakes in the world.

All this, I would suggest, is worth as much as yet another subsidized tour on a subsidized bus to Anne Hathaway’s cottage. But Ottawa, being intelligent, undoubtedly knows better.