Travel in music: Chapter 32 - 2006, Canada
2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!
2006 – Chapter 32 | Canada would be Leanne and I’s last project. Professionally, the analysis we conducted of its mining industry was one of our most successful reports. Persnally, the last six-plus years of permanent nomadism, changing countries and focus every three or so months, had taken their toll. I longed for normalcy more than I cared to admit. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this destination as much, if not more, than any previous one. Was it because I was determined to end this last chapter on a high note? Was it because the mining sector was particularly interesting to discover? Was it because the summer was abuzz with positive energy? Was it simply because Canada is awesome? I suppose all those things played a part.
We started our project in Toronto, moving into a leafy area just on the edge of the city, at the end of the ‘red rocket’ tramline that ran through Queens Street. Most major mining houses had their headquarters downtown, conveniently close to the stock exchange. We therefore commuted daily, like regular Torontonians. That helped us to embrace the energy of the city. Toronto felt as high-paced and dynamic as New York or Chicago but it had a less aggressive edge. It was trendy but did not need to show-off. It was cool but unpretentious. It was diverse and cosmopolitan but lacked racial tension. In short, it had all the attributes Canadians display, particularly when compared to their boisterous southern neighbors. We fit right in and devoured all that Toronto had to offer with boundless appetite.
It helped that we had precious assistance from three locals. Erin was not just a friend, she was also the ex-colleague, whose sudden departure from our Thailand project had sparked Leanne and I’s relationship. Lia and Sara were both Leanne’s roommates during the time they lived in Istanbul. All three of them were back in Toronto and guided us expertly through all its nooks and crannies. We hung out at the Drake Hotel for cocktails and live DJ sets. We spent afternoons strolling the Distillery District and the trendy Queen West neighborhood. Festivals were in full swing so we attended movie premieres at TIFF and danced on the edge of Lake Ontario to Salif Keita, Amadou & Mariam, and many others. G.Love & The Special Sauce animated another memorable evening and the Blue Jays gave us a taste for Toronto’s devotion to sports. The best atmosphere we sampled by far turned out to be the World Cup. As a football fan, I was disappointed to be on a continent where baseball, basketball, ice hockey and the American kind of football are far more popular. How wrong I was! For Toronto is a cosmopolitan city where every nationality displayed its stripes with fervor when their team played. Depending on the lineup for the evening, we would watch matches in the Korean, Trinidadian, Polish or Ukrainian neighborhood, with the culmination being the final in Little Italy. The cheers that erupted when Grosso scored the winning penalty were as deafening as if we had in been in Rome.
Approximately 85% of Canadians live within 150 kilometers from the US border, a sliver of territory that represents 4% of its total area. It is easy to forget that Canada is the second largest country on earth and that a large portion of its territory lies unpopulated, beyond the Arctic Circle. Thankfully, we had Toronto’s miners to remind us. In plush Toronto corporate offices, we interviewed several companies who operated mines in impossibly harsh environments, far up north. Digging into the permafrost, beneath ice caps several meters thick was the least of their problems. Their mines were so remote that supplying them was only possible during winter months, via “ice roads”. An Inuit company built and maintained these highways, literally built on frozen lakes. It ensured 16-ton trucks could safely use them by measuring the ice thickness (in special submersible vehicles), placing signalization and building ramps where water met land to prevent shock waves from splitting the ice. Because of time pressure, we regretfully had to refuse an invitation to visit the Jericho diamond kimberlites several degrees north of the Arctic Circle. We consoled ourselves with a drive up to Sudbury to visit a nickel mine. It was only 400 kilometers north of Toronto and definitely less exotic than Kiticmeot, Nunavut, but it still gave us a gorgeous glimpse of Ontario’s scenic pine forests and swamps.
Before moving to Vancouver for the second half of our project, we spent a tourist weekend in Niagara Falls and took a long road trip eastward for further interviews. Between business meetings, we had just enough playtime to see the tulip festival in Ottawa, attend the F1 grand prix in Montréal and visit Québec’s old citadel and fortifications on the St. Lawrence River. I had secretly hoped to cross the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains by train to reach Vancouver – a 4 days journey on the TransCanada – but, again, time pressures forbade that so we flew to the West Coast instead.
Vancouver was everything we expected, and more. Few cities across the world could rival its natural setting. Geography has only blessed Rio, Cape Town, and perhaps Sydney this generously. Surrounded by Pacific Ocean water and forest-covered mountains, the city breathes greenery, tranquility and beauty everywhere you look. Winters are mild; summers are pleasantly cool. The architecture is crisp and modern and blends seamlessly into its surroundings. Vancouverites are chilled, friendly and diverse. In fact, the only thing you could dislike about Vancouver is how little there is to dislike. It is almost infuriatingly perfect. We explored it a lot in the first few weeks, eating at Fisherman’s wharf, visiting the aquarium, roaming the streets of Coal Harbor, Gastown and Granville Island. After that, Leanne left early and I was on deadline to finish the report so I no longer socialized that much. As I closed on six years of non-stop traveling, a whirlwind of adventures in 21 different countries, I felt pensive, melancholic and grateful all at once. I would just take long walks along the water in Stanley Park, sit on the grass with a book, admire sunsets at Acadia Beach, follow a pair or Orcas playfully bob up and down in the bay, and let Vancouver’s calming beauty appease me.