Is This The Canada I Expected? Hardly.


[spon-tey-nee-uh s]
1.coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation; natural and unconstrained; unplanned.


This is the word that summarizes yesterday.

We are an exploring family, by nature. I wouldn’t call us “adventurers,” since that gives the impression that we enjoy adventure.  And we don’t. You see, adventure means “a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.” We don’t want to take a risky, hazardous trip with uncertain outcome.  We want to explore! We want to see new lands, taste new foods, experience new cultures and, most importantly, learn new ideas.  That is what we crave in life. 

So yesterday morning, while Ben and I were laying like sunbathing seals on our giant bed, wondering what we were going to do that day…Ben said, “let’s go to Canada.”

And I replied: “YES.”  The thing is, my family is from Canada.  Kind of. Briefly. My family has been oddly-nomadic, so they have lived inNova Scotia, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, LosAngeles…and now Washington.  I have always been curious what Canada was like, trying to get back to my rather flimsy roots, so I was all over this idea.

This all took place at 10:50am.  We were in the showers and out the door with everybody to make the ferry at 11:30, and we just made it (only because the ferry was running a few minutes behind). Into Seattle, out of Seattle, and on to Canada!

It really was that quick.

We have been wanting to cross the border ever since we moved here…because it is right there.  The Canadian border is about 3 hours away from us, which is the equivalent to our previous house’s distance to Lake Tahoe; and we loved visiting Tahoe when we could, so visiting Canada would be a snap!

Okay, are you ready for a visual experience of Canada? Because I took pictures.  Lots, and lots of pictures.

We were decked out in Passports and a spirit of exploration, and we took a deep breath….and crossed the border.


I think this is the Peace Arch. The big white thing on the corner of the picture that I couldn’t get a decent picture of, even though it is a million feet tall and standing in the middle of an open field.


The end of the United States of America, as we know it.


Whaat??  METRIC.  Okay, fine.

Now, I want to explain something first.  I expected Canada to look like this:

It didn’t. Not even remotely.  Because it looked like this:


I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed.  And then it just kept getting weirder.


Every house was for sale for blocks and blocks.  Like…every house.  I have never seen the kind of exodus out of a large neighborhood like this.  What on earth happened here?!!


Lots of plains. Flat, flat plains.  Very lovely plains, but still…not exactly what the brochure says.


It was a little difficult getting a good picture of this, while driving, through 2 guard rails…but these are logs in the river. Call me old fashioned, but I loved seeing logs in the river for some reason.  I grew up in LA…where both “rivers” and “logs” were merely something I read about in history books, so this was a momentous occasion for me.  I saw a few of these in other rivers we had passed, and this was just finally the picture I was able to get.

Okay…this is where everything started going downhill for me.

This is what I could see while entering Vancouver.  The amount of giant apartment buildings stretched far beyond what my little camera could get.  What was weird for me was that it looked exactly like Hong Kong.  Exactly like Hong Kong.  This didn’t look like Canada, it looked like a tropical Asian island.  It was so bizarre….let me show you what I mean:
This is entering into Vancouver from the bridge:


This is what it looks like to enter Hong Kong from the bridge:

That is what I remember when I entered Hong Kong. It was tall apartment buildings everywhere, and especially on little stand-alone islands in the water.  So, entering Vancouver that looked like Hong Kong was extremely trippy.

Now, after that we kept driving through and were looking for the Gastown district, and so we went out and around the backside of Vancouver…and this is when things were starting to go to a bad place for me…and I don’t have any pictures from this part because it was depressing.  We went through the faux-Hong Kong, and it confirmed without a doubt that all the travel brochures photographers are definitely not from around these places, and into Hastings Corridor… where there were miles and miles of dilapidated buildings, empty houses, barred windows and doors and blocks and blocks and blocks of homeless communities.  To say that there is a homeless population in Vancouver is completely minimizing how widespread the community extended across the city.  I was shocked at how rampant, and especially how completely settled in, this was.

Looking on trip advisor sites reaffirmed my initial reaction to the darker side of Vancouver:

Vancouver is a beautiful and interesting city, but the Vancouver advertised by the tourism industry, is not the whole picture. It is a sad story, but like a lot of beautiful places, Vancouver has a dark side. The city has the highest population of drug addicts, and homeless people in Canada. During our visit to downtown, we encountered several homeless people, drug addicts, and beggars. Teenage girls younger than me, were standing at sky train stations, asking for money.”


Yes, Downtown Eastside (DTES) is an eyesore, an embarrassment, and a ghetto. But that’s what it is, a ghetto, meaning that the junkies, dealers, and prostitutes are all congregated into several blocks on East Hastings, east of say Abbott street. If you don’t wanna witness this, then just don’t go there.”


“While Vancouver is undeniably pretty from a distance, up close it has become an appalling stew of junkies, beggars and scavengers that is unrivalled in the developed world. It is easily the most annoying and depressing city I know to walk around in. You will be hounded for money from one end of the city centre to the other, you will see countless drug deals taking place under the incompetent eyes of the local police, and you will see the full effects of failed drug policies. This city has the highest crime rate in North America, so don’t ever, ever leave anything in your car or it will most certainly be broken into or stolen. I suggest you delay any planned visits until the city gets its act together, or you will be truly astonished by what you see.

The Huffington Post might have a permanent residence there, with the amount of articles they have written on this subject.  I had to laugh at how ridiculous the mayor’s statements were:

VANCOUVER (link)– The goal by Vancouver’s mayor to eliminate street homelessness by 2015 hasn’t been reached, but Gregor Robertson says progress has been made.While the final numbers for the annual, 24-hour homeless count won’t be in for a few weeks, there are indications that the problem has spiked.Robertson says he counted 10 people who spent the night on the street as he walked several city blocks while taking part in the homeless census.”

10 people!?!!!  10!!!!  I counted hundreds.  Hundreds of people sleeping on the street and selling garbage in order to fend for themselves.  It was unbelievable to see.  I have never seen homelessness on this scale before.  Not in LosAngeles. Not in SanFrancisco. Not in NewYork. Not in Beijing. Not in Seattle.  This was just….heartbreaking, and sickening, and sad.  This was not the clean-shaven Canada that makes it to the front pages of newspapers in the States, that’s for sure.


At this point all of my aspirations to maybe find “my people” were gone.  Absolutely gone.  This wasn’t the Canada I expected.


We finally found Gastown, which still has gas lamps in the streetlights. Ben had spent some time in an office here a few years ago, so it was familiar territory and he swore it was “much nicer” than Hastings Corridor.  And it was. Brick streets, tourist shops, Pubs, restaurants…the train from the airport took you straight to Gastown, and you don’t see the rest of Vancouver on that line.  Which is probably the best if you want to get tourists into Vancouver.  There really were a ton of people in this area, and everyone was very clean-shaven, pleasant and friendly. Although, at this point all I can think is, “it’s all a lie.”  But we had to keep going…we came all the way up here to explore new ideas. New cultures. New experiences.  So, in a way, we were certainly getting our money’s worth.




Keep Calm and Play Dead. Kind of sums up Vancouver for me, at this point.

So, we walked around Gastown for a while. We went into a designer dress shop that was selling a coat for $900, and had hand-embroidery from some design shop in Ukraine.  Of course, my head instantly thought about the turmoil in the Ukraine right now…but I was just in a dark place at this point.


Ben tried to take us to Gotham for dinner, but they were booked up…so I mentioned the rotating UFO restaurant that I had seen on the way in, and we went there. I can’t believe we got a table, but we did….and the city started to redeem itself.


From up here, we could see the whole city, not just Hastings Corridor.

We were in a rotating restaurant, and from up here we saw the neighborhood of homes, the schools, the areas of industry.  We saw how beautiful the ports were, and watched the boats sail in.  I saw the other side which had homes nestled into the amazing mountains.  I saw how much bigger Vancouver was than this little part I had visited, and it was actually very beautiful.  In the time it took to have a full view of the city, I was able to see what would draw people to this place.  Our server was Ivan, and although he was born in ElSalvador, his family moved when the civil war began and they went through the Canadian embassy in Mexico to move to Vancouver and raise their children.  He said he has traveled to Scotland, England, Costa Rica, Guatemala…but to him, nothing compares to the beauty of Vancouver.

And this is when I could really appreciate the beauty of Canada.













After dinner, we grabbed some doughnuts at Tim Hortons, and headed home.




A little stop off at Duty Free to gaze upon $5000 bottles of Camu.


A very interesting sculpture as we passed through immigration…


And we’re home.



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