Nothing could wipe the smile off my face the day we flew into Canada. I love coming back to my own country no matter how long the break in between visits. This time is a bit special though. My immediate family and most of my extended family all live out west in British Columbia but I do have a few relatives and a dear friend in Ontario (central-east). It has been 7 years since I was last in Ontario, so it was about time. Also, Callum has never been anywhere but BC and a tiny bit of Alberta (Banff) and never at all during summer. We planned to spend two weeks in Kitchener/Waterloo (known as the “K-W area”) visiting family and friends before embarking on our own again.
We landed in Toronto early of all things and zipped through customs and got our bags all relatively quickly. By the time we entered the arrivals area of the airport, we were only 15 minutes past our original landing time. There was no sight of Uncle John, the one I had asked to pick us up. I wondered if he had forgotten, if he thought we were at a different airport (was there a different airport?) if he was being sensible and coming a bit after our landing time, knowing we’d have to go through customs, or, if I simply couldn’t recognize him nor him me. Because we just landed I didn’t have a Canadian SIM for my phone yet or anything, plus, my battery was nearly flat and the wifi at the airport was being temperamental. I stared at every middle-aged white-haired white male that I walked past. I’m sure they all thought I was nuts. Callum and I had a bigger priority though. We were STARVING. So, within minutes of arriving, I was already standing in line at Tim Horton’s. To be honest, this is a tradition of mine upon arriving in Canada. I immediately get a turkey-bacon club sandwich on whole-wheat toasted with honey mustard sauce. And an iced cappuccino. And a boston cream donut. It’s tradition!
I approached not one, not two, but three different dudes and upon making eye-contact, knew it wasn’t Uncle John. While I was buying our Tim’s, Callum approached a couple and asked the gentleman if he was John. His reply was “I’ve never been called that before, sorry.” Typically Canadian. It was when Cal was walking away that he noticed the guy had a hook for a hand. He rationalised that I most likely would have told him if my uncle had a hook, so it was definitely not him. Mid-bite into my sandwich, I spotted a hand-holding couple walking towards us, not seeing us, searching the crowds for my face. I galloped towards them and gave them each a big hug. I do like seeing my aunts and uncles. Happily, we made our way to the parking lot and spent the next couple of hours getting to know one another again as we drove to Kitchener.
While staying with my aunt and uncle we were given the royal treatment and got to be tourists with personal chauffeurs and tour guides. Callum hadn’t believed me that in Ontario there were several Amish people who still drive around in horse and carriage. I told him that there are also parking areas for them to put their horse at certain shopping centres. He had to see it to believe it and finally did, commenting that it was very strange. There are actually several different kinds of Amish or Mennonite people living all over Canada. We went for a drive in the countryside and even visited an Amish market, with suspenders, plain clothes, and bonnets available for purchase amongst the bread, cheese, notebooks, watering cans and rubber boots.
A visit to St. Jacob’s Market is a must if you’re in Kitchener. We went twice! The point is to get all of your fresh fruits, veggies, your flowers, and a nice randomized lunch from several of the eateries on offer, since you can’t choose just one! We had apple fritters as an appetizer, a samosa as another appetizer, I had a pulled-pork sandwich with coleslaw, and Callum had fish and chips. A nice raspberry lemonade was our drink. Some chinese spring rolls were a finisher. Oh, and we had macarons. And banana fritters. I forgot about those. The market also offers several touristy souvenirs, jams, knitwear, jewellery, and gasp! Vinyl records! Callum was suitably impressed because he likes to collect records but finds the prices ridiculous in Perth, thanks to the rise in popularity of anything vintage due to the hipster movement. He was too shy to buy anything the first day but we went back on Saturday to get what he craved and I picked up a pair of earrings and a rare hardcover copy of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. It’s rare because it was misprinted upside down. I don’t think it is worth anything though, sadly. We also got to see the livestock auction which was surprisingly very interesting.
On another day we went to the CN tower, which is the third tallest building in the world and is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. It is iconic to the Toronto skyline and from the top offers a great view of the city and beyond.
One does not go to Ontario without seeing Niagara Falls. It was Callum’s first time and my first time in probably 15 years, so we saw it, and saw it well. For those of you who are not from North America or have not seen the falls, they sit as a natural border between New York and Ontario. There are three waterfalls with two being on the American side (Bridal Falls and American Falls) and the more famous and much better (in this Canadian’s correct opinion) Horseshoe Falls. These are the most powerful falls in all of North America. First we viewed the American falls and saw the Horseshoe falls from a distance. Then we walked down to the Hornblower where we purchased tickets to go on the 20 minute boat ride that takes you close to the falls themselves. It was something I’ve never done before so I found it thrilling and worth the nearly $60 for two of us.
Next we went up to the Horseshoe falls for another viewpoint and saw the way the turquoise water looks like blown glass as it falls over the edge. Finally, we went up the Skylon tower for a brief moment to view the falls from above. All in all, a very successful encounter with this famous Canadian landmark. Though we’d seen Iguacu falls earlier this year, Callum was still impressed and happy to have made the journey.
We finished our excursion with lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a cute town with picturesque streets and homes which sits on the banks of Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes.
While visiting with family we got to celebrate several birthdays as four of the members of the Warkentin/Bauman clan share a birthday month, which coincides with Father’s day. It was so good to have everyone with us at one time and to feel like we belonged to them. While with my aunt and uncle we also watched a baseball game, a volleyball game and I got a haircut! We searched for a van to buy as well and did indeed find one that we will use during our Ontario-BC road trip.
Our second week we moved to my friend’s house and enjoyed our time resting, eating cookies, shopping for our road trip, and going with Rachel and Marc to Goderich (Canada’s prettiest town) and Stratford, where we saw a Shakespeare play—“Twelfth Night”—my favourite comedy of his. We were blessed with mostly good weather and always good company. Since we were staying with the best cookie maker EVER we also got to witness the work in progress AND got a lesson in icing cookies. It is a lot harder than it looks. Our funny efforts made Rachel proud (and laugh). Hers are much MUCH better. Here is her website. Do yourself a favour and get some of her cookies.
One thing I must write about is the fiasco that has been trying to get a vehicle and car insurance in Ontario. We did a lot of research (or so I thought) and already knew that doing it in Ontario was perhaps the most difficult province to do it in, but, I also thought that since I am Canadian, it would be super easy as I still held my BC driver’s licence. Well. Buying a vehicle is alright, even with a time-pressure. However, in order to register the car, you must get insurance. When I went to an insurance broker, the kind gentlemen helping me asked to see my licence. Of course. What I was not prepared for was “Ohhhh, this is a BC licence. Do you have an Ontario one?” to which I confidently replied “I don’t need one.” To which he blushed with a polite “Yes you do.”
“No, I don’t. I googled it!” I said, getting only slightly annoyed.
“Um, yes you do. I’ve been an insurance broker for 9 years.”
My friend, who was there as moral support said “Whoa.” As in, whoa, this is more complicated than any of us thought it would be.
So, I proceeded to find out as much as possible. I found out that even if I had an Ontario licence, I would still need to prove insurance history in order to get even near to a “human price” for coverage. If I didn’t, the company would treat me as a new driver with zero years of driving experience, making my annual insurance fee as high as $3400. A fee that I would have to pay up front. Yup, 34 hundred big ones. I could not believe my ears. That was literally almost the same price as the van we bought! If I got ICBC to prove that I had driven for at least 10 years, that rate would go down significantly.
I called ICBC and quickly had my insurance history emailed to me. Little did I know, this would prove to be the easiest and most enjoyable moment of my day, talking to the lady at ICBC. We then drove to Service Ontario. Thankfully we only waited in line for two minutes before I had the good sense to ask if I could fill out a form while in line. We were told we were at the wrong place entirely. While driving to the next place, I nervously hoped the line wouldn’t be too long. I imagined having to wait for like I don’t know….45 minutes. How horrible would that be!!!! Oh, Rachel Rachel Rachel. How naïve you were.
Because there were a million people there, and each person needed to be helped for about 15 minutes, I waited for two hours to speak to someone. An hour before, my friend (who is also named Rachel, btw, if you haven’t figured that one out) had to return home as she runs her own business and needed to get back for some urgent business-attending-to-stuff. Before she left, we scoured the Service Ontario website to see if I had all the things I would need to get a driver’s licence that day. It seemed that I did. When I got to the front, I was told I needed to have my passport with me. I couldn’t believe my ears again, as I had not brought it with me not realising 1) I would need it that day and 2) just because I’m Canadian I would need it at all. I walked away from the lady and went outside to vent to Callum on the phone who had stayed home that day. I told him to get my passport and get into an Uber and come bring it to me. Folks, I had completely lost my sense of humour. Rachel came instead, bearing Tim Horton’s gifts and a smile. The wait after that first two hours was an additional two hours. I spent four hours of my life sitting in a rather depressing waiting room just to hand over $90 and grimace for a picture I didn’t know I would need to take when I woke up that morning.
We raced to the insurance broker but had missed the deadline for the day, so had to leave all the collected documents with him and wait it out over the weekend before getting insurance. It was a bit insane. Anyway. It’s done now. I have a van, I have it registered, I have insurance, and we even found a couple of people willing to transform it into a camper van, ready for our usage upon our return to the K-W area in a few weeks’ time. Currently we’re in the Maritimes with a rental car (also a gong-show to actually get, but that’s another story for another time). I hope my story will inspire and forewarn and educate anyone wanting to visit the province of Ontario and/or buy a car.
Anyway, it was so good to be among “my people” and have Callum teased for his accent for a change, as I always cop it living in Australia with my beautiful but very obvious Canadian accent. It was a great way to ease into North American living once more as we will now be here until the end of November, travelling to the States as well.