Timbit Nation: A Hitchhiker's View of Canada
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After spending years travelling through some of the poorest nations of the world, seeking out the people's story, award-winning journalist and bestselling author John Stackhouse turns his keen eye toward his own country.
Most people who travel across Canada begin their journey at either end of an impressively long strand of national highway. But Stackhouse, thumb out and knapsack in hand, chooses Saint John, New Brunswick, as a launching point, where his ancestors arrived in the late 18th century as refugees of the Loyalist rebellion. From there he heads east to Newfoundland, north into Labrador and straight west to Vancouver Island, curious to discover how Canada has changed in his lifetime -- since the advent of the superhighway, a global culture and continental economy have taken hold. Is Canada capable of remaining a distinct nation?
Following the route of the explorers, Stackhouse endures rain, bugs and gale-force winds, but also meets some incredible personalities, each with their own fascinating anecdotes and often surprising social and political commentary as well. Once and for all they dispel the myth that Canadians are a bland and complacent lot. Contemplating a Timbit in a Tim Hortons on the highway -- a truly Canadian experience -- leads Stackhouse to reflect on our remaining distinctions from our neighbour to the south. Americans may have perfected the doughnut as a fast-food staple, but it took Canadians to figure out how to truly exploit the hole.
A wry and perceptive look at our country in the present, Timbit Nation has all the prerequisites of
good travel literature: a cast of colourful characters, funny, informative writing, and a landscape of tremendous beauty.
Gerry, who did only some of the driving, insisted on it. When we got out of the car, I noticed Heather was wearing a Lear Jet T-shirt. She worked for Bombardier, the huge Montreal company that makes snowmobiles, Sea-Doos, trains and executive jets, and had spent time on its Lear Jet program, which was dominated by Americans. She was the ideal person to ask about the brain drain, that great force that Kyle and I had discussed on the other side of Ontario. A divorced mother with three grown children, Heather had seen Montreal transformed in one lifetime.
It was someone hitchhiking, though all we could see through the glare of a setting sun was the person’s shape on the roadside. We zipped by, without Kyle so much as letting up on the gas. I saw the shape of a toque, long hair and nothing else. I never was sure if it was a man or woman. Neither was Kyle. I jotted in my notebook: Do not hitchhike with a setting sun at your back. At Mattawa, the highway cut away from the Ottawa River, turning west and never really looking back. This was a gateway to northern Ontario’s lake country, the wondrous collection that runs as tiny as Tim, on the eastern edge of Algonquin Park, and as great as Superior, dwarfing continental Europe in size, beauty and romance.
No more provincial politics. ” Frank sped into the fading light as if he were on an autobahn. A transport planner, he couldn’t avoid testing every dip and turn in the road with the steering wheel and accelerator. Generally, he said, nodding his head, Canadian roads were quite good. Not like Germany, of course, but better than America’s. Whenever the road began a straight run, Frank rolled down his window, held out his Nikon in the wind and snapped a few pictures. German efficiency, I marvelled. But more than parabolic curves and drive-by scenery, Frank was eager to see the land of Cape Breton music.
Plus there’s a depopulation of the rural areas. Thirty years ago, there was also more private business, small business. Now it’s mostly corporate. I feel like the profits are going to Toronto or wherever headquarters is. ” Except for his last comment, he sounded like someone from Toronto, where everyone was stressed out and dreaming of somewhere calm, somewhere they could find the serenity of a place like, well, Yorkton. How shocked my neighbours would have been to hear that no matter how far you run in Canada, the stress of modern life will follow.
Quebec? ” The Honda driver was going fast enough to clear a line of cars ahead of us just before the oncoming traffic closed the passing lane, ending any hope of us following him. In front of us, it was difficult to count the number of cars slowing to a crawl behind what looked to be a small white bus. “Holy Toledo! ” Gerry cried. “It’s an ice-cream truck! ” We entered Thunder Bay at such a slow speed that Gerry returned to the Phantom, blaring an organ sequence through the rear speakers until we reached the corner of the Trans-Canada and Arthur Street.