In the spring of 2008, a girl from school began to hang out with me and my friends. She was born in Calgary, Alberta, and when her father’s company transferred him back to Canada, his work visa and his family had to move with him. We grew together that final year of high school, and continued to do so despite the distance. Since then, I spent four weeks in the winter of 2009, four weeks in the winter of 2010, eight weeks in the summer of 2011, one week in the spring of 2012, and three weeks in the summer of 2012 in the province of Ontario, Canada with her.
I lived in Guelph, an agricultural college town, and Waterloo, a technology nexus, home to dying phone goliath Research in Motion ( now, finally, known as Blackberry ). I visited Toronto, one of the largest cities in the west, where I stood atop the the CN Tower, the tallest freestanding structure in the world, the day before it’s 34 year reign was usurped by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I visited Niagara Falls, and got soaked on a ferry below the falls. I visited cities in the east such as Perth, where I picnicked in front of the statue of a world champion show jumping horse, and Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, where I sat and watched the history of the country projected over the towering parliament building. I visited the far north, walking the streets of North Bay, home to Nipissing University, where snow falls ten months out of the year and the sun only shines for two and a half hours a day in November. I visited the west, where every night I watched the sun dip below the horizon of the vast Lake Huron.
This is a collection of some of my thoughts on life in Ontario. I only did basic fact checking, and will not cite any statistics.
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Bandwidth Caps Keep the Internet in the 80s
Internet in Canada is expensive, and crippled. In many areas it is impossible to find an internet service plan without an upper limit on data usage. After you have broken your limit, service providers gouge customers for every gigabyte overage at outrageous prices. The largest effect this has on life in Canada is setting digital media back by at least a decade. Blockbuster stores can still be seen regularly, and Netflix, which has a meager catalogue when compared with American offerings, is threatening to pull out of the country completely. Canadians just can’t afford to watch television online when it could eat up their monthly internet usage so quickly. In addition, Canadians spend more money on cell service than any other country in the world. Groups such as OpenMedia.ca are working to improve telecommunication legislation which favors a strong monopoly, but many of their resources are devoted to simply keeping things from getting worse.
Unscheduled Elections, Conservative Advantage, and the Queen
The Canadian government is vastly different than I expected. Elections are unscheduled, and can be invoked by a number of events. The prime minister is chosen, not by a vote, but by the party with the most seats in parliament. This causes problems for liberal voters because there are multiple liberal parties, but only one conservative party. Thus, the conservative party may receive fewer votes than all the liberal parties combined, but they will still have the most votes of any party.
The Queen also plays a curiously large part in the modern Canadian political system, although I suspect it is mostly just on paper as with British politics. The Queen’s representative in Canada is the only authority that may call parliament into session, and sign bills into law.
Canada's Cultural Mosaic Against our Melting Pot
The culture in Canada stems from an entirely different philosophy than culture in the United States. In the United States, our “melting pot” of culture integrates people from around the world, forming an “American culture” which contains bits and pieces from all of it’s parts. Alternatively, Canada’s “cultural mosaic” philosophy encourages immigrants from the around the world to keep their traditions, customs, and language. The benefits of this are that Canada has a wide variety of extremely rich cultural heritage, found throughout the country. The downside is that Canada does not have a strong unified culture. It is, for example, very hard to find any dish which can be identified as uniquely Canadian. Even the most Canadian dishes, such as pierogis, are more strongly associated with their country of origin.
Religious Public Schools and Universities Without Jogging Classes
The Catholic public schools are fully funded by the government in Ontario, and are as widespread as secular public schools. Other religious schools must be funded privately, as only the Catholic school system is established in the constitution of Ontario. This archaism is at times very controversial, but also very widely accepted.
Canadian colleges also have a very different philosophy than those in the United States. In the United States, higher education is seen as producing a “well rounded individual,” and students are required to learn history, language, writing, philosophy, physical health, and a number of other topics which do not directly apply to their major or minor. Canadian universities are entirely focused on your major and a speciality within that major. The idea of taking a class on jogging is laughable to Canadian college students. Classes like that are not seen as useful for a college degree. I find that my opinion on the role of a college education varies, and I think both systems work well towards their philosophical goals.
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I have grown to enjoy my time spent in Ontario, and I am starting to feel at home during my visits. One of my favorite ciders ( Rekorderlig Elderflower from Sweden ) can only be found in this hemisphere in Ontario, and poutine ( french fries topped with brown gravy and curd cheese ) has become a craving that cannot be satisfied in Texas. This spring will be my longest consecutive stay in Ontario, and I cannot wait.