Canadian vacation imports memories

The Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

This year my family and I decided to go North for our annual summer trip. We would travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba, a cosmopolitan city set in the middle of endless miles of prairie (“endless point six” once you convert to metric).

Why? Quite simply, we drew a circle around our home in Northern Minnesota to mark locations within a day’s drive. Neither my wife nor I had ever been to Winnipeg, and our boys had never been to Canada.

So we went through the arduous task of applying for passports. This was new since the last time Christina and I went to Canada. Last time we went you just had to waive your drivers license at a pleasantly disengaged Canadian guard.

So now we waive $400 worth of State Department paperwork at the guard and it takes about the same amount of time. At least the streets are free of Canadian murder gangs.

The first thing you notice about Canada is that everything is 92 percent the same. People drive Fords, Chevys and Toyotas on the right side of the road. You can get a burger and fries at most restaurants. You hear most of the same songs on the radio.

Then you start to notice that they play more Barenaked Ladies than you’ve heard since the 1990s. The fries come with gravy if you want it. And really if you’re going to do that you might as well add cheese and call it poutine.

The bowling lanes only have five pins The ball is smaller. You get three rolls per turn.

The green left turn arrows blink.

Many of the changes were welcome. For instance, we watched the local news. You know what’s on the news in Canada? Well, wildfires of course. They prattled on about various kinds of public policy, which I understand is like politics but more fixated on things that actually affect people.

And bears. Lots and lots of bears. Every day in Canada the bears do something different. Some days they sneak into an old lady’s kitchen to steal sugar. The next day some bear might bite a guy out for his run. I wonder what the bears are doing now? If I were in Canada I would watch the news and I would know.

Because health care is part of government services in Canada, advertising is limited to goods and services. No drug ads convinced me that something was wrong with me and that the only cure would cause dry mouth and loose stool. They spend a lot of air time telling me to recycle. And so I recycled. The bins were everywhere. It was pretty easy.

We noticed that far fewer people were pinned to their cell phones in public. Sure, some folks were, but only a small minority. Parents with kids and friends having coffee together didn’t look at their phones at all. Neither did the drivers. One time in Hibbing I saw five people in a row looking at their phones while turning left at a stoplight. We never saw anyone texting and driving in Canada. Though we did see a lady knitting while driving which was arguably more disturbing.

The classic Canadian stereotype is that the people are nice. And the people are nice. But they’re still people. We witnessed a minor accident in a parking lot. How quickly the drivers’ Canadian niceness faded away in the waning minutes of a major lunch hour inconvenience. Nevertheless, we did enjoy the cadence of the Canadian accent on words like “%$&!” and “@$%^.”

Winnipeg is an international city in the middle of the continent. Like Minnesota’s Iron Range, it experienced massive immigration 100 years ago. Unlike the Iron Range, the immigrants kept coming from every corner of the world every decade since. The result is a city where many different people pretty much get along. Differences exist, but people share the spirit of the city.

That, and deep concern about bears.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Ericka Iverson says

    this was a great post! 🙂 LOVE IT!!

    we recently got the enhanced drivers licenses, which for 15$ over the price of a regular license will apparently get you into canada and mexico. we havent gone yet, but i was sure hoping to go this summer! now id have to say fall, but by the time we would do that it would probably be yucky 😛

    thanks for this entertaining post! it sounds so nice… and refreshing. 🙂 i have been to canada a few times, winnepeg specifically twice – once as a child and once in college for a choir tour, believe it or not – no one needed any id excepting the canadians who were going to school in the US…
    so yeah. im hoping to go soon as an adult, with my family. <3

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