Wednesday, August 8, 2012; Reflections on Canada, or more precisely, Ontario.

Ontario is big. It’s southern border is comprised of four of the Great Lakes; Superior, Huron, Erie, and it’s eponym. I entered Ontario on  July 20 at Windsor and returned to the USA on July 24, following a path mostly along the north shore of Lake Erie, north along the Niagara River, and back into the USA near Lewiston, NY.

I spent the first night at a Bed & Breakfast in Tillbury, the only accommodations in town, and the only B&B I used on the entire trip. A lovely retired couple made me feel at home and cooked me a wonderful breakfast. I noticed a photo of their son in his military uniform (he served a tour in Afghanistan). Eventually we got on to the subject of the War of 1812.

There are lots of Canadian flags flying all through Ontario and I think the 200th anniversary of the conflict has helped to stoke Canadian pride (it certainly did so 200 years ago). They are staging re-enactments of the larger battles of the two year conflict and some USA citizens are taking part. I got the impression that my hosts felt they kicked some USA butt. I have done a little light reading about the war and, interestingly, both Canadians and Americans were generally pleased with the outcome, and national pride soared for both. That’s probably because we felt we kicked some Great Britain butt, and Canada felt they kicked ours.

Ontario is fertile, one of the most productive areas I cycled through. No wonder it is such a desirable place. Back in 1812, Canadians in Ontario felt we had intentions to annex them. There were some American politicians that felt all we had to do was march in and claim it.

Ontario was probably more of a bargaining chip than a goal. The USA was angry at Britain for blockading France and eliminating American trade with them. Britain was also stopping American ships and impressing sailors. Additionally, the English attempted to establish a huge coalition of native tribes to slow American expansion to the west.

After a couple of years, Britain and France made peace and most of the reasons for the war disappeared. Everything was worked out in the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. It was basically a stalemate, although many soldiers, American, Canadian, and Native Americans lost their lives.

The USA is probably lucky that they didn’t get Ontario because how could they possibly fit 51 stars onto a flag?

Canadian money has lots of cool animals on it. There is a beaver on the nickel, a loon on the dollar coin, and a polar bear on the two dollar coin. (I wish we had a turkey on one of our coins.) But one thing occurs in Canada that does not occur as much in the states. Invariably, I always had about two pounds of coins to carry. I would try to use my change whenever I could but usually I would be about a dime short, and they would give me another pound of coins to carry.

This is the only photo I have of a Canadian coin. It is there for scale to show the size of the nail that stuck into the tread of my tire and came out the side wall!

Ontario is flat (at least it was along the north shore of Lake Erie).

The north shore is also windy and beautiful. The prevailing south-west breeze was a joy, pushing me along and keeping the temperature moderate. There are lots of wind turbines and more are planned. Some of the lake-front homes had signs protesting the installation of the behemoths (they are nearly 22 stories tall!). I visited a wind power interpretive center, which was really a propaganda disseminator for the wind turbine company. They gave me a free t-shirt which I wisely did not wear until I got out of Canada.

The Canadians that I met are happy, proud, easy-going, and almost without exception, polite drivers. They believe in free choice. I finally figured this out after three days of watching lotto ticket sales at the local convenience stores that I frequently stopped at for liquids. At first I thought it was a marketing technique. The scratch-offs are encased under plastic at the point-of-sale making them impossible to ignore.

When a ticket is purchased, the entire plastic case is lifted and presented to the gambler, who then gets to pick any ticket from anywhere in the display. Here in the states, you get the next ticket off the roll. It’s kind of cumbersome, but I like the way the Canadians do it. If you pick a loser, it’s your fault.

Canadians have a great sense of humor. In Blenheim I was entertained by the announcer and spitters at the Cherry Pit Spitting Contest as the contestants went through contortions to propel the “stone” far enough to qualify.

And I am sure I would enjoy the “gas” fest in Selkirk;

There are 33 million inhabitants in Canada. They have high taxes and universal health care.

There are 33 million inhabitants in California. They have high taxes and no universal health care. And three of their cities have declared bankruptcy this year, with probably more to follow. Ontario is probably lucky they kicked our butt.