19 epiphanies you’ll have on your next Canadian road trip
“It’s all about the journey, not the destination” is one of travel’s most well worn clichés because—as anyone who’s ever done a cross-Canadian road trip knows—it’s oh so true. But what about the other truths that you’ll only stumble upon as you’re driving around the country? From the importance of pee breaks to Canadians’ inexhaustible friendliness, these are the 13 things you’re guaranteed to learn on your next road trip across Canada.
Canada is big... really, really big
Okay, this statement is as obvious as “poutine is delicious” or “pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza” (yeah, you heard me). But there’s nothing like conquering a coast-to-coast drive to ram home the point. A 7,000-km drive separates HI Tofino and HI St John’s —roughly the same distance as Toronto to Panama (the country). Quebec alone is more than twice as big as France. And Canada’s coastline stretches well over 200,000 km, the longest on earth, and double the length of second-placed Indonesia. That’s some serious territory to tackle on four wheels, and none of it requires a passport.
You only ever need to pee right after you pass the exit for the last gas station for 200km
The downside of such a big country? Big stretches without a wiz palace. This epiphany tends to kick in after about 90 minutes of tightly crossed legs, anxious dashboard tapping and laser-beam focus on little blue dot on Google Maps as it crawls way too slowly towards your next pitstop. If someone has gone to the effort to put up a sign that warns you about how far away the next gas station is, pay attention.
Things never go as planned
Even the most fastidious planner cannot avoid road works, traffic jams and unscheduled snack stops to avoid the wrath of hangry back-seat passengers. A road trip represents a chance to escape the grind of your everyday routine, so as author Barbara Hoffman once wrote, “Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” Although it’s probably wise to worry about literal potholes. They’ll pop your tires, and that’ll definitely wreck your plans.
Moose are a serious road hazard
Moose—or is it mooses? Meese? Moosi?—might be responsible for some of those disruptions. Those ‘only in Canada’ road signs warning of moose on the road are no joke—weighing in at 400 kilos and sizing up at three metres tall, a collision with these antlered animals can do some serious damage. As many as a million moose live in Canada—one for every human in Nova Scotia—so take care in the car.
You somehow know all the lyrics to ‘Life Is A Highway’
Even though you swear you haven’t heard this song since the cover version in that kids movie Cars and you’d struggle to name a single other Tom Cochrane song, you can somehow recall every word of this Canadian road-trip classic. “From Mozambique to those Memphis nights, the Khyber Pass to Vancouver's lights..” Fun fact: a 322-kilometre section of Provincial Road 391 between Lynn Lake and Thompson was officially renamed ‘Life is a Highway’ after this Manitoban magnum opus.
You question whether Ontario’s forest is actually infinite
Beyond the concrete jungle of Toronto, forest covers a whopping two thirds of Ontario, from the hardwood growth of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence region to the wild Hudson Bay Lowlands in the far north of the province. Spend enough time on the road and you’ll start to wonder if the entire place is just a strip of asphalt surrounded by a limitless supply of trees.
And question whether the number of lakes is bottomless, too
Short answer: it’s not. In fact, the number is precisely 31,752. But if you visited one lake every day, it would take 86 years, 11 months and 28 days to tick off every single one of Canada’s lakes. That’s one almighty road trip.
Podcasts are the greatest invention in modern history
Even a car full of the most sparkling conversationalists starts to get tedious after a few days in the car (especially if you’re embarking on that nine-decade-long mission to visit each and every one of Canada’s lakes). Best to load up some of these podcasts to pass the time.
Atlantic Canada looks like it’s floated over from Europe
An east coast road trip reveals coastal cliffs that resemble Ireland, fjords lifted straight out of northern Norway, and colourful waterfront properties copied off Scandinavia. And with a massive question mark lingering over international travel for the time being, this pseudo trip across the Atlantic might be the closest thing we get to Europe for a little while, and worth even the mandatory quarantine requirements.
So does Quebec
File this one alongside “Canada is big”, “poutine is tasty” and “pineapple on pizza is an abomination“ in the ‘obvious statement’ category. But the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal or Quebec City feel like a little piece of Paris. Get behind the wheel of a Citroën, Peugeot or Renault for an extra sprinkling of European flavour.
There are some impressively wide open spaces up here
Yeah I’m still talking about how big Canada is. It’ll cause at least three separate epiphanies. Taking the ‘long’ route across Canada (by actually staying within Canada and not deking down into the United States, which nobody is doing these days) takes you a little bit north and away from the 49th parallel. If you live within 100 km of the US border, like two-thirds of all Canadians, taking the Trans-Canada up over the Great Lakes really shows you just how big this place is and how much room we have to spread out. Don’t be surprised if you finish a cross-Canada road trip with dreams to build your own little cabin paradise on a hundred private, remote acres somewhere.
Brakes and the backside of mountain passes aren’t friends
If you’re not used to taking altitude into consideration when you’re driving, then you’ve probably never really put your car’s brakes to the test. After you get that photo op atop Roger’s Pass, you gotta come down the other side. That ol’ saying “it’s all downhill from here” never really took into consideration the toll that takes on a car’s brakes, so learn how to descend before you venture into the mountains.
There are plenty of places for a seat
In 2017, Parks Canada placed 150 bright red chairs across in some of Canada’s most iconic locations to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary—photogenic pitstops for any cross-country road trip, and a good place to rest your backside if it’s not already asleep from hours sat in the car. Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks are among the most Insta-famous.
Canada has a thing for enormous roadside attractions (and now you do, too)
Giant hockey stick? Check. Giant goose? Yep. Giant moose? Obviously. Giant nickel? Yes. Ukranian easter egg, lobster, swan, dinosaur and, of course, fishing lure. Check, check and check. You can’t go too far without spotting some giant replica of something random and wonderful just off the highway in this country. You name it, there’s a giant version of it somewhere, and after you spot your first three, I guarantee you’ll be keeping a running tally on a Tim Horton’s napkin for the rest of your trip.
You suddenly know a lot of French
Passing through Quebec and New Brunswick is like a crash course in French. Only problem is the only thing you’ll be able to discuss when you’re done has to do with road construction and the approximately 300 different words for road. We’ll forgive you if you think the French name for Montreal is Zone de Travaux. That’s not the name of a place, but Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! is?
You really miss Stuart Mclean
Sure there are the classic Canadian road trip tunes that should accompany any road trip, but there’s nothing quite like the auditory treat of a Dave and Morley story that pairs so perfectly with long drives and nostalgic landscapes. Fortunately, CBC Radio often plays reruns in the summer, and the tales of the Vinyl Cafe live on in podcast form. Pop one on and you’ll find the asphalt and trees just whiz by without a thought and suddenly, somehow, you’re in Saskatchewan and really wishing for one more original episode.
There are actually hills in Saskatchewan
Speaking of the prairiest of all the provinces, driving through the Canadian province with the most respect for geometry will leave you wondering where it got its boring, flat reputation. There are indeed hills in Saskatchewan and you’d be foolish to blast through them on the highway.
Canadians really are *that* friendly
From Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia, the Rockies to the Gaspé Peninsula, Canadians have one thing in common: politeness. This epiphany will set in around the 487th time someone apologises to you when you’re in their way. Or when you ask for directions at the gas station and you get invited to a kitchen party. Sure, we’ve got our fair share of grumps here but the sincerely nice ones will impress you time and again.
You appreciate how wonderful Canada is
Sorry to end on a point that’s as sickly sweet as maple syrup, but it’s hard to pull into your final destination without making this sappy realisation. The turquoise water of Lake Louise. The quaint charm of Quebec. The soaring peaks of Whistler. The wind-swept beaches of Vancouver Island. The thunderous roar of Niagara Falls. If ever there were to be a great country to be stuck in, this one we call home has gotta be the one. And with international travel still on the back burner but Canada slowly emerging from lockdown, an epic domestic road trip is on the horizon.