True North

“From sea to sea, a tapestry, of colour, shape and sound . . . ”

You might remember that phrase from the song This Is My Home (Bob Buckley, Graham Gibson) which was premiered at the World Exposition in Vancouver in 1986 (Expo 86). Buckley’s “Expo Song” has been played every July 1 in communities across Canada, ever since. Expo ‘86 was when the west coast of Canada was showcased to the world, and we haven’t looked back. We’ve grown, opened up and become a vibrant destination and a model to the world for lifestyle.

ZOOM’s creator, Edmund Arceo, took a train trip across Canada this Spring to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary and to have a closer look at this tapestry that makes up our country. He’d like to share some of his impressions with us.

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The 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation is a perfect excuse to take this kind of trip. But you had more personal reasons for wanting to make the journey. Can you share some of them with us?

When I was applying as an Independent Immigrant to Canada, I was asked where I wanted to reside and my immediate thought was Vancouver, because I thought it would be similar in weather to San Francisco, where I had been before. At that time, my knowledge of Vancouver was limited to what I’d learned from a tourism promotional video. Since then, I’ve wondered how it would have turned out for me if I had chosen a different part of Canada. I’ve visited many cities in Canada, but that doesn’t really give you the scope; it’s the vast spaces between the cities that makes Canada unique. I know that Canada is a big and beautiful country and I wanted to experience it first-hand. When I think of travelling, my immediate thought is usually to visit another country. But there is so much to discover right here at home.

Many people dream of taking a train ride across Canada. How was it really? Was it luxurious? Did you get restless? Could anyone possibly get bored?

We were advised by the tour company (Fresh Tracks Canada) to take the Rocky Mountaineer for the first two days–the trip through the Canadian Rockies. The reason for this is that ViaRail travels at night so you miss a lot of the scenery. This made the trip a bit more expensive but it was worth it. The Rocky Mountaineer is a well-oiled machine, with very professional and able staff. There was always food and drinks being served (and we ate everything offered!), lots of information was provided along the way, and we were alerted whenever a photo opportunity came along (a waterfall, a raging river, wildlife, etc.).

Travelling with Rocky Mountaineer meant that we stayed in hotels at night. But even that was hassle free: our luggage was delivered straight to the hotel room and room key cards were handed to us before we left the train. And in the morning the reverse. We never carried our bags. When we switched to Via Rail for the long ride from Jasper to Toronto, we had a sleeper cabin with private toilet, and each car had its own shower stall. Meals are in the dining car, with full service. While you can stay in your cabin, you can go to at least two dome cars that offer almost unobstructed views, a bar car where drinks and snacks are served. It was a perfect balance of privacy and conviviality.

Travelling by train taught me a bit about myself. I did get a little restless, and struggled with the feeling that I should be doing something “productive.” This is a hard attitude to shake, and I was often tempted to pull out my laptop and get to work, even though the scenery was incredible and the journey was the whole point. We’re so very goal-focused in this culture. Being more journey-focused would benefit everyone. Another revelation was that looking backwards sometimes gets you better photos. There’s a metaphor in that too.

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What was the most unusual or unexpected incident of the entire trip?

Only one surprise was a disappointment. I had visited Lake Louise many years ago and marvelled at its turquoise water. I was excited to learn that our room at Chateau Lake Louise had been upgraded to a lake view suite. When I slowly opened the drapes for a dramatic reveal what I saw was an all-white frozen lake. Still beautiful but not the view I was hoping for. Spring thaw comes late in the Rockies!

A delightful surprise was to learn that Via Rail has a program wherein musicians can travel free in exchange for performing 3 sets each day. They perform in the bar car which turns into a mini/intimate performance area. The duo (sax and guitar) who performed during our trip encouraged the audience to sing along–and even taught us the refrain to their original song. This was a lot of fun.

Another surprise was that my ideas about Quebec City totally changed! I wasn’t at all excited about visiting Quebec City. For some reason I had the notion that the people weren’t very friendly, especially to non-French speaking visitors. I also didn’t know what to expect as I had not done any research. I hadn’t even looked at any photos! It’s now my favourite city to visit. We stayed in the upper town of old Quebec City–it was like walking into a movie set! It reminded me of Beauty & The Beast (having seen the live-action version just before our trip)–with the Chateau Frontenac looking like a medieval castle towering about the quaint little town. People were very friendly everywhere we went and there were many tourists–old, young, and of varied ethnicities.

Canada is vast and its geography is diverse. You knew that starting out. But were you still surprised?

Yes! We’d already been travelling 7 days (Vancouver, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper) and we were still seeing mountains! It never seemed to end. Landscapes vary greatly, colours change, from snow to green, to desert-like places. Then plains as far as the eye can see, interrupted by rivers, lakes, then gently rolling hills, big skies . . . it was a visual overload for me. I am still looking at the hundreds of photos I took and re-living the experience. It was truly awe-inspiring.

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Of course the Sunshine Coast is best, but was there another place along your trip that had you thinking hmmm maybe I could live here?

I always imagine how it would be if I lived in a place I am just visiting. I have a natural ability (and willingness!) to adapt. But I do think that how you feel inside is (or ought to be) more important than your surroundings. The challenge is to make the best of the situation, be the best version of yourself, no matter where you live.

My ideal trip would be to stay in each place for a longer time to get an idea of how it might feel to be a resident there. Ideally one to two weeks per city. I’d do this trip again, perhaps starting in Newfoundland and making my way back home to BC. There is so much to absorb.

Did the trip bring up any thoughts about what it means to be identified with this huge place? To be a Canadian, whether aboriginal, settler, a generation or two in, or new?

I had mixed emotions. I felt lucky to have become part of such a big and beautiful country, and privileged to have been given an opportunity to pursue my dreams here. And overwhelmingly proud to be Canadian.

Seeing the vastness of the land, the enormity of the Rockies, and realizing the time it took to create them also made me feel humbled, small and insignificant. What I mean is, it brought up thoughts about what it means to be a human on this planet. We’re just a blip in earth’s history. We don’t even register in the universe. Yet . . . I guess we still matter . . . To others in our lifetimes, and maybe even in the bigger scheme. We can’t know how far reaching even our smallest actions and intentions will be.

Interview by Nancy Pincombe

 

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