Bears, vampire flies, and gut-busting cuisine are perils Harry and Meghan will face in new home


What a magnificent act of low dudgeon from Canada‘s national newspaper of record, the Globe And Mail, or Grope And Flail as it is affectionately known.

This paper, which I once edited, has published a surly editorial demanding that the Canadian government say ‘non’ to Harry and Meghan’s plan to live there while remaining royal.

‘The Canadian monarchy is virtual; it neither rules nor resides. Our royals don’t live here. They reign from a distance. Close to our hearts, far from our hearths,’ thundered an editorial in the avowedly monarchist newspaper (whose current editor and publisher both happen to be British) this week.

The Sussexes do need to bear in mind a few truths despite Meghan's experience of life in Canada after her hit TV series Suits, which ran for seven seasons, was shot in Toronto

The Sussexes do need to bear in mind a few truths despite Meghan’s experience of life in Canada after her hit TV series Suits, which ran for seven seasons, was shot in Toronto

I am afraid this is the first tough lesson that the royal refuseniks will have to soak up in the frozen north. They are moving to a country where you must never pull rank. Any attempt to do so by using title, status or simply sheer arrogance will be a failure.

I once thought that being editor of this illustrious title might help me get a table at a popular restaurant in Toronto. Big mistake. I waited so long that in the end I might as well have flown back to London.

This is not the only aspect of life in Canada that can be hard to adjust to, and I write as someone who is nuts about the nation after living there.

It is stunningly beautiful. Everything works. Crime is relatively non-existent. And it only pretends to be boring in order to keep Americans out.

It is certainly the right place to go to repair one’s soul. The most loyal friends I ever made are all Canadian. I would go over Niagara Falls in a barrel for a Canadian passport.

But despite Meghan’s experience of life in Canada — her hit TV series Suits, which ran for seven seasons, was shot in Toronto — the Sussexes do need to bear in mind a few truths which perhaps the Duchess’s best friend, Jessica Mulroney, daughter-in-law of former prime minister Brian, may have been keeping back. 

Canada is a country where you must never pull rank and any attempt to do so by using title, status or simply sheer arrogance will be a failure. Pictured: The Athabasca River and Mount Kerkeslin, near the town of Jasper in the Canadian Rockies

Canada is a country where you must never pull rank and any attempt to do so by using title, status or simply sheer arrogance will be a failure. Pictured: The Athabasca River and Mount Kerkeslin, near the town of Jasper in the Canadian Rockies

Canadians are universally sanguine about bears but even the ones that weigh 100 stone can move faster than the most fleet of foot among us

Another factor is, of course, the weather. It can fall as low as minus 20C

Canadians are universally sanguine about bears but even the ones that weigh 100 stone can move faster than the most fleet of foot among us and another factor is, of course, the weather

For a start there’s the wildlife. Although Canadians are universally sanguine about bears, the animals are psychopaths. And even the ones that weigh 100 st can move faster than the most fleet of foot among us.

When I was living in Toronto, the 24-year-old athlete Mary Beth Miller was training for the national women’s team in the biathlon centre near Quebec City when she was killed by a black bear. Even she couldn’t run fast enough.

Another challenge is a species of insect called the blackfly which is really viciously bad. A blackfly is to a midge what a wild wolverine is to Larry the Downing Street cat. There are 165 species of blackfly in Canada and from May to July they turn the countryside into the lowest circle of hell. 

The blackfly has razor sharp jaws which puncture the skin. Blood streams out. If you are foolish enough to venture out for a walk without your protective head net, your family will run away screaming the moment they catch sight of you. That is because you will have no face left.

Another factor is, of course, the weather. The cold. It can fall as low as minus 20C. Cars get so frigid that some Canadians have remote controls to start the engine and defrost everything 15 minutes before they need to go. 

And don’t dare go skiing at Mont-Tremblant near Montreal without a liberal covering of frostbite cream.

Poutine is a tasty dish from Quebec is celebrated throughout the land. It consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with light-brown gravy

Poutine is a tasty dish from Quebec is celebrated throughout the land. It consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with light-brown gravy

This is also why much of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, is underground. It took me a while to realise that you can cover a lot of ground and get most of your shopping done while remaining invisible to surface-dwellers.

Winters can produce some novel experiences. I remember arriving at a remote motel with my children to find the water system up the spout.

The extremely helpful owner handed me a 3ft saw. When I looked confused he pointed at a massive white field beside the road. 

This turned out to be a lake. After about half an hour of sawing through the ice, a thin gurgle of pristine lake water seeped up. Another half an hour later we had a small square hole big enough to dip a drinking bottle into. (The next day it was solid ice again).

As with all cold countries, the diet treats calories like lottery winnings — in other words, the more the merrier.

Take poutine for example. This tasty dish from Quebec is celebrated throughout the land. It consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with light-brown gravy. Poutine disappears into thousands of Canadian bellies every day where it creates a characteristic bulge.

Wherever they go, hospitable Canadians will want Harry and Meghan to try their BeaverTails (fried dough-pastries with whipped cream, Oreos, banana slices and Nutella) and their butter tarts (butter, sugar, syrup and eggs in a pastry crust).

There are just a few key words and phrases that Brits do need to learn to avoid making fools of themselves. One is the J-stroke. I initially took this to refer to wiping a kitchen surface with a J-cloth. It turns out to be the most brilliantly skilful movement ever invented for propelling a boat.

It simply means that you can paddle on one side of a canoe only and always go in a straight line. The ‘J’ refers to a little twist of the paddle at the end.

Other terms to know include ‘large double double’, which refers to a large coffee with two portions of milk and two spoons of sugar.

And, most famously, ‘eh’, which signifies a question mark. Much of Canadian conversation consists of flat statements with an ‘eh’ at the end, as in ‘You’re coming to the ice hockey match, eh’. You have to treat it as a question.

And last but not least, Canada is extremely big. Harry and Meghan must try not to get lost.

This was made very clear to me while on a canoe trip with the children in northern Ontario. The first night we settled down under the stars with our guide, one of the children asked, with the directness of youth, ‘What happens if I get acute appendicitis?

‘Weeeelll,’ said the guide, Neil, ‘I guess I’d have my first experience of taking out an appendix.’ We all went quiet. ‘Or you’d die,’ he said.

The nearest place where you might get a phone signal in order to get a helicopter to pick you up was a three-day canoe-trip away.

Which brings us back to the small planes. Because Canada is so vast, a lot of time is spent getting around in small aeroplanes.

When his wife was Governor General, the writer John Ralston Saul used to say that one of the privileges he most valued as consort was that you always got twin-engined planes. ‘Very useful if one [engine] chokes,’ he explained.

I once flew in a small plane with a bush pilot across Canada’s Northern Territories. Margaret Atwood, Canada’s greatest living writer, was beside me.

‘What happens if both engines cut out now?’ I asked the pilot.

‘We glide, I guess,’ he said very smoothly.

‘But it’s all jagged cliffs, sharp mountain tops and razor-sharp ridges down below,’ I pointed out.

‘We have a saying,’ he replied. ‘Wherever you end up landing, that’s called a landing strip.’

Happy landings, Harry and Meghan. Whatever the drawbacks, I’m sure you won’t regret it. 



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