Tuesday, January 09, 2007

First Impressions

It's been a while since I posted anything, mainly due to being away at a place with only a dial-up connection for about a week in late December, plus the general chaos and disruption of moving to Onterrible (yes, I'm going to keep refering to this province in that way). This is reflected in the general collapse of hits to this site, according to my site-traffic counter, but hopefully people will return when I start posting psuedo-interesting things again. I.E., right around now.

Moving within Canada is hardly grounds for culture shock - the language, currency, and most general attitudes are pretty homogenous across the country, with the obvious exception of the French-speaking bits, like Quebec, parts of Northern Ontario, and big chunks of New Brunswick. However, I did accumulate some impressions upon my travels to Guelph, which I thought would be a good way to get back into the blogging; also, this will be a really long post, thereby limiting the number of people who actually read through it to the end.

I wrote most of the below in MS WordPad (a slightly more sophisticated version of a text editor) on January 7th, two days ago.

First Impressions: Southern Ontario

Southern Ontario is probably the most densely-populated large region in Canada, although the large number of people are spread over a not-insignificant patch of land. Much of the settlement on the landscape is in the form of moderately-dense towns and cities separated by a few tens of kilometers of mostly farmland, spread out in two dimensions. This is very different from what I'm used to, growing up in Calgary and spending the last ten years in Victoria and Vancouver. Settlement in Alberta is in two dimensions, but there are really only a handful of large or large-ish cities and towns (Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat... that's about all I know about), and there is not an infinite number of directions to travel in - basically, you can move North or South on major highways like highway or East or West on major highways like highway 1 - both those roads have very high speed limits (110 in most places), steady traffic, and high priorities for dealing with things like heavy snowfall. There's a pretty limited number of places to go - if you're in Calgary, and you're going somewhere else in Alberta, the list of destinations is going to be massively dominated by just two or three - Banff, Edmonton, or just "south" (eg. the U.S. border). In SouthWestern BC, the landscape is essentially one-dimensional - if you're in Vancouver, and travelling, you're moving either East (to Hope and beyond, like the interior of the province, or to Alberta), or to "the island" (i.e., Vancouver Island), or to someplace relatively close, like Whistler (which is still about a two-hour drive away). There's nothing signficant close to Vancouver except Victoria, which requires a ferry ride (and requisite line-up and/or enforced boredom). From Victoria, one can go to Vancouver (and points beyond, never mentioned), or "up-island" to places strung out in a line, such as Nanaimo or Courtney.

In Southern Ontario, people refer to travel in directions not often by compass direction but more by destination or near-destination. "He lived out by Cambridge", "You go through Windsor", or "It's just outside Burlington" are common types of location directions given. I don't yet know where Cambridge is, I have some idea of the general direction (and distance to) of Windsor, and I've been to the edge of Burlington, but I still don't yet grok local directions. The impression I get is of many quite small, but nevertheless highly important towns scattered across a vast, flat plain - which is pretty much what the physical landscape looks like, where it's not interrupted by "the escarpment" (insignificant - literally, I don't normally notice it - after living near the Coastal Mountain Ranges) or a large lake (not quite insignificant, but I do find the word "quaint" in my head after spending so much time on and near the Pacific Ocean). In any case, it's almost a form of (very mild) culture shock to encounter heavy human habitation in every direction, and small roads with high speed limits (80) in broad grid patterns across the entire landscape.

Culturally, Southern Ontario is not particularly different from Vancouver, as far as I can tell - people are still generally crazy about hockey, talk about the weather, and drink too much coffee, though here the coffee is much (much, much) more likely to be from Tim Horton's than Starbucks. Irritatingly, some here seem to regard Southern Ontario as the only part of Canada worth considering. For example, in driving around today (Jan 7), the radio announcer was discussing some recent layoffs and closures among ski-hills, because of recent, prolonged mild weather. "No skiing in Canada!", she said. Um, hello? Whistler/Blackcomb was advertising about a month ago they had more than four meters of base snow, record-breaking high levels of the white stuff. The borders of Canada extend beyond Barrie, stupid Onterriblian. Also, Blue Mountain's 1/4 mile ski runs are not worthy of the name - and neither is the site worthy of the name "mountain". A 1000 feet "peak" is insufficient justification for the label - in my opinion, it's not a mountain unless there's bare rock above the tree-line on top. Burnaby mountain doesn't count, despite being technically tall enough, and having bare rock above a tree-line - it's not really rock, it's poured concrete, and the tree-line is an artifact of historical clear-cutting. But that's a rant for another day.

Second Impressions: Hamilton

Hamilton is just frickin' weird. Sorry Carlo, but you live in a very strange place. Steph is probably gloating right now, so I will say that, yes, west Hamilton and Dundas seem much nicer and more normal, but the majority of Hamilton is oddness indeed. First, I never saw a real grocery store in Hamilton - apparently, there are some large grocery stores up on the escarpment or at the edge of town, but there are none at all near Carlo's place. There's just a collection of crappy little "marts", run by people who speak no English at all and stocked with a paltry selection of food and near-food. Do residents of Hamilton subsist primarily on shitty domestic macrobrews and aging white bread? Second, there are way too many one-way streets for a non-major city's downtown. I haven't yet driven in Hamilton; I'm not looking forward to it. And finally, what's with all the motorized wheelchairs (and similar)? Hamilton hardly seems like prime retirement property, although if the residents really are living on nothing but shyte low-end carbohydrates (disclaimer: Atkin's sucks), perhaps it's not so surprising if so many become grotesquely obese.

First Impressions: Guelph

I've been driving around Guelph all weekend, looking for a place to live and trying to get a feel for the city. Most of the city is laid out on a nice grid, but it's rotated about 45 degrees relative to N-E-S-W, so one can't usually really talk about travelling "North" or "West", or of being in the "South" part of town. This is irritating when looking at a map, but doesn't really seem to matter much in day-to-day operations, as many streets have designations like "West" or "South" anyways. The layout makes sense from the point of view of the river, anyways, so I'm not too concerned. Guelph, like Hamilton, lacks major grocery stores in many places that I would otherwise expect to find them in. There are a couple near the SouthWest part of the city, near Stone Road Mall, which is itself close to the University. Guelph isn't very large, anyway, and buses seem to service most parts fairly well, and there are good (and apparently respected) bike-lanes on most roads. However, there are few gas stations, and they are not located in expected places. For example, there are no gas stations at all travelling out of town SouthWest (and South) on Gordon street / highway 46. I drove around town for about 20 minutes today (Jan 7), trying to find a station - I eventually filled up at a Petro-Canada just outside of downtown.

[Edit Jan 9: Last night, I failed to purchase a phone card at a Shell station on the southern bit of Gordon street; it's set back from the road, as part of a strip-mall, so isn't very visible from the street.]

Downtown is interesting - there's a large cathedral, numerous buildings made of stone that apparently date back to around the founding of the city, and the streets twist and braid in places, possibly following older pre-industrial trails of some kind. The downtown area is quite small, not really surprising for a city of 118 000 (that's what's printed on the road signs as you enter town), and I ended up driving straight through downtown on several occasions, taking less than five minutes to traverse the area. There is a game store in town, which I have not yet visited since the two last things I need to do right now are a) spend money and b) acquire more stuff. There are also a few pubs and bars that people at SFU who spent time in Guelph have told me I need to visit.

All of my impressions are somewhat influenced by local weather - it's been just like Vancouver since I got here, instead of the usual-for-this-time-of-year light snowfall and modest ground snow cover. I have been told that the city is very attractive during the summer; we'll see how I feel about the place in July.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! I don't know much about Your Fair Country, so thanks for the tour.

TheBrummell said...

Wow, comment spam. The 'bot maybe hit on the phrase "social scene" above, assuming that appears in this post (I didn't bother to re-read).

The pictures on "Hype1"'s site look like candidates for a treatment by the guys at "Hot Chicks with Douchebags". urgh.