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Canada's unexpected gems and why I always set out with "my doll" and a mission.

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British Columbia | Saskatchewan | Alberta
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Rob Stiles

Canada's unexpected gems and why I always set out with "my doll" and a mission.
I am not Canadian! 

I say this not because of my place of birth, (which was in England incidentally) or because of any legal papers, passports or ceremonies but because I fail my own predetermined set of three standards - Firstly I do not think Canadian beer is great, in fact I don't think it is very good at all in general - So clearly not a Canadian there. Secondly if England were playing Canada at soccer, I would firstly demand you called it by its proper name, which is football and then I would have to support England. Then thirdly if Canada were playing England at hockey, I simply wouldn't care. So you see, I can’t in all good conscious, call myself Canadian. However I can, and do, tell anyone I meet that it is simply the best place in the world to live and to explore. It is in fact so good that I decided to take 3 months out of my life in 2014 and road trip the country, and in doing so I discovered something quite interesting.

The first thing we did is start planning. We followed that up with a bit more planning and added just a touch more planning. This is primarily because Canada is really bloody big, so big in fact that there is no way you can see it all in one trip, so much like being the coach on the school sports team you are going to have to do some serious cutting.

We were doing the trip as a family of 4, our daughter who would turn 13 on the trip would be in high school from the autumn and would be unable to miss significant time so we would be doing our trip in the spring and early summer before it was too late. We started making lists of the 'must do's', separated from them the 'we could do that easily in the future', peeled off the 'yeah we haven't won the lottery so that's a bit expensive for us', stripped out the 'not even open when we are in the area' and removed the 'cool but 1000km away from where we will be' and we were left with our itinerary.

Then we made two fateful but important decisions which had a huge effect on this trip and also on our future travelling experiences. 

Firstly we painted our aging, second hand, truck bed camper. Someone said yellow, then someone said like the yellow submarine and there was talk of bumper stickers from everywhere we visited; and just like that we had a whole other character that would be accompanying us on our trip. Wherever it goes it brings smiles and is a talking point. Throughout our travels we have people coming up to us wanting to chat about it, about the Beatles or about one of the places we had a sticker from.

The second fateful moment came when we decided we should bring something with us to take photos of in front of some of those iconic Canadian landmarks. Being from Prince George, BC home of Mr PG a little version of the town mascot seemed like the ideal fit. When this was coupled with a previous idea for a travel book I had had a few years back of visiting all the big roadside novelties across Canada we had created a whole mission as a backbone for our trip. Now we are not completely insane, yes we are mad, just not completely, so we soon realized that a trip just involving novelties would involve a lot of time in the northern prairies and missing some of Canada’s ‘must do’s’ so we decided we would only visit big things within reasonable distance of our predetermined route. Lil’ Mr PG as I christened him, or Dad’s doll as he was to my kids soon had his own social media presence and a selection of followers who presumably are equally nuts or at least are bots that don’t understand what they are following. This more than anything else is what led me to discover the true gems in a trip across the second biggest country in the world. 

Many of the famous sites across the country, actually failed to impress. Perhaps they were already fighting against a weight of expectation, I can’t say for certain, but the points where we stopped to hold a small wooden doll out and take a photo in front of a giant bean, the worlds largest potato, a huge mosquito or any of the countless other oddities were always hilarious, and when it comes to looking through the photos often still are. Lil’ Mr PG gave us something important that I hadn't even known we needed, a reason to stop where we wouldn't have stopped otherwise, a reason to chat with people we wouldn't have met and an excuse for 2 teenagers to be ‘forced’ out to act silly well away from the draw of video games.

That was what I learnt from my trip across Canada, to make sure I have a reason to actually interact with where I am travelling through, to connect with the unexpected and not just to consume the ordinary. It is why from now on ‘my doll’ comes with me when we travel, he is our key to those unexpected gems.


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