North-of-49: Canadian

IMG_4014Our blog home page proclaims our “north-of-49” perspective.  Actually, we bring a north-of-49 point of view x 2! What do we mean?

It’s our attemptto be clever – kind of a feeble attempt perhaps – in declaring two of the influences of how we see the world. It’s a little forewarning for where we are coming from for anyone reading our blog.

The first “north-of-49” refers to our nationality. We’re Canadian.

We reside north of the 49th parallel, which marks most of the border between Canada and the United States of America. Apparently, it’s the longest undefended border in the world. We’ll reserve our assessment on whether this is a good or bad thing until the current American presidential election antics have resolved. We have another “longest” border feature. Our country’s other boundaries are formed by the longest coastline in the world. This affinity to water is not limited to those residing near coast – about 1/10th of our country isn’t land at all. It is actually fresh water. When flying over our home area, northern Ontario, it’s possible to think that the land-to-water ratio is actually reversed as the blue of the lakes and rivers below seems to outweigh the green of the forests. Maybe that influence has contributed to our sailing dreams.

Canadians are a diverse people. We’re grounded in our country’s First Nations origins, who were joined by (“overtaken by” would be more accurate) the English and the French.  We have subsequently been seasoned by a spectrum of multicultural diversity. It’s a wonderful I’m-part-of-the-human-race experience to ride a Toronto subway, surrounded by all shades of skin and scores of languages. We’re usually proud of how we celebrate diversity. Newcomers don’t need to give up their identity to become Canadian – they enrich our fabric. We still have a way to go, though. The tragic effects of colonization continue. It’s only recently, that there seems to be serious dialogue beginning about how we can collectively right our country’s horrendous history of the treatment of our first peoples.

Northern Ontario spring view from our front porch.

Tim and I are typical Canadians in some ways. We’re preoccupied with the weather – not a bad quality for wanna-be sailors – and take pride in “surviving” the harsh conditions of our cold winters. Case in point: as we were drafting our first blog post, it was April 10th and we had about a metre of snow on the ground with the temperature at 14 degrees Celcius… minus 14 that is!  Won’t be long before that front-porch hammock is put to good use.

We’re not so typically Canadian in other ways. You won’t have much luck striking up a hockey conversation with us – neither of us are fans and we’re completely out of touch with our national sport. And dare we confess that (gasp), we never frequent Tim Hortons?

Canada’s large geography houses a small population. There’s about 35 million of us, which works out to an average of four people per square kilometer. Compared with our US neighbours at 35 people/, and a couple of our intended destinations – for example, the Bahamas is 38 and Cuba 107 – Canadians have a lot of room. We hope our fellow cruisers understand when we chose to anchor away from the crowds.  We’re not intending to be antisocial; we just feel more at home with some space.

Generally speaking, Canadians are known to be pretty courteous, which probably just means that we keep our misbehaviour out of the public eye. I noticed in a recent alumni journal that researchers at my alma mater, McMaster University, recently looked at the geo-linguistic differences in tweets between neighbouring countries. Canadians were more likely to use words such as “beautiful”, “amazing”, “great”, whereas Americans most tweeted words had negative undertones and were too rude for this Canadian blogger to repeat.

On a broader scale, these traits have lead to us being internationally respected peacekeepers. Even most protests here are peaceful,  something I take comfort in since a couple of my kids are working at improving the world one demonstration at a time.

We’re quick with apologies. I ask for the forgiveness from our subscribers for inundating them with email notices. I slipped on the “publish” versus the “save draft” button on posts resulting in three posts going out in two days – I was surprised that didn’t cause a mass subscription cancellation. This apologizing tendency is ingrained. Many times when I’ve struggled with trying out a new language while travelling, I don’t even realize that I pepper the sentences with “sorry” (“perdoneme, ¿dónde está el baño?”) and in doing so, give away my nationality to the bemused local.


I think preferring to stay in the background, to not be obvious in a crowd, is also a Canadian trait. Those racy stripes on Ariose will likely come off next time she’s due for a top coat. Too aggressively conspicuous for us. Our patriotism as Canadians is also usually understated, but does emerge when we’re away from home and see what life can be like for those without the things we take for granted, like our universal healthcare system and social safety net. Sometimes, our national pride gets a booster by non-Canadians. I’m reminded of a time, years ago, when hitchhiking in New Zealand. A motorist traveling in the opposite direction pulled a quick u-turn, coming back to scold us for having such a small Canadian flag on our backpacks. “It is such a great country,” he said, “you must get a bigger flag!” He didn’t give us a ride, though. It’s fitting that we are sailing a made-in-Canada boat (Whitby Boat Works), with our modest maple leaf flying at our stern. That national modesty may change now that we have a prime minister with values as cool as his hair.

Canada is remarkably safe by world standards – maybe that makes us a little more trusting? Or maybe more fearful when out of our cocoon? When asked about what personal protection I was using by an emergency department physician while traveling in the U.S. some time ago, my first thought was it was a rather intrusive question about condom use.  Much to my surprise, she was inquiring about guns. From our Canadian perspective, guns are for the folks who still hunt or for display in our war museums.

Of course, there are all the iconic Canadian images: beavers, inukshuks, canoes, poutine, beer, mounted police, moose ….  Oh, yes, maple syrup – another Canadian icon. In the spring, Tim and I tap a couple trees on his property and drink the delicious nutritious sap that flows from our maple trees instead of water… I kid you not!

IMG_6024So, our perspective is definitely informed by our nationality. If any overly enthusiastic customs officials doubt the authenticity of our passports, we’ll just invite them to peak under the cabin sole to reveal what’s stored in our bilge. What do you think of that, eh?

What about the 2nd component of our north-of-49 status? Our age!

We’ll reflect on that a bit more in our next post. Until then…

3 thoughts on “North-of-49: Canadian”

  1. 1. I have a couple of pictures of your boat with no racing stripes, but post-Bucklands. You can have a sample of what she looked like. If you tell me how to e-mail them to you, I can send them.
    2. I have been on your boat in Erieau (my home port) when the Bucklands were based there.
    3. Temagami was my summer home for about thirty years of canoe camp experience. So I know the Lake Temiskiming area around the Montreal/Matebitchewan and Kippawa River mouths. perhaps you anchored there on a calm night when learning.
    4. Your first article in Good Old Boat was well done.
    5. I saw Bill and Chris Buckland two days ago.

    Dave Toogood, Erieau, Ontario
    s/v Cadenza I, Alberg 29

    1. How nice to meet you, Dave via our blog. We’d love a picture of our Alberg in closer to her original condition. Thanks for your offer to send it along.
      Whenever the time comes to repaint her hull (we have been hard on her, especially in the canals and on a few current-aided dockings) we will be removing those stripes. We’ve had some compliments, but they just don’t suit her character we find, or ours for that matter!
      Interesting to learn of the mutual connections we have, with our home waters (we’ve also paddled Temagami, and yes, have indeed anchored in those areas on Temiskaming), and with the Bucklands, who we appreciate for their good care of our Alberg when they owned her. We feel close in spirit to them.
      Thanks for the compliment re: GOB article. It was fun writing it, and quite a surprise that it got accepted for publication.
      Thanks for taking the time to reach out to us, Dave, and we’d love to hear more about your Alberg and sailing adventures.

    2. To my old and long since not seen friend, Dave Toogood. Shoes, it is I, Scotty, unbelievably still alive. Against all odds. We changed out a front bumper on your mom’s Pontiac, in the driveway. I got to spend three summers with a guy from Boys Camp on his Niagara 35, as a combination cabin boy and diesel mechanic.

      Can you get in touch with me, please?

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