We passed a test last weekend. Not the driving test, that’s still to come – the whole subject of driving here is being left until that particular trial has passed – but a test of what you might call residence; an indication of how we are settling in to life here..
Last weekend was a holiday weekend; I imagine that most, if not all, countries have at least one long weekend in May, and Canada’s excuse is Queen Victoria’s birthday. No, I don’t know why, but it seems to be a typically Canadian thing to do. People asked me if Britain celebrates it, and I had to confess that although we have two May holidays, they celebrate the beginning of May, and then, much later, the beginning of spring. Now I read it, that doesn’t really make much sense to me either. I have tried to explain the phenomenon of local holidays, but I’m getting tired of watching people’s eyes glaze over.
So, we had a long weekend, and we thought it was about time we got out and started to explore this country. We have almost completed all the major furniture purchases (although I’d better get on and buy a barbecue before the summer is over!), and the soccer season took a break for the holiday, so we were free to do what we wanted.
If I’m honest, we really needed a break, too. I think I sometimes give the impression in these letters that this has all been relatively plain sailing, and that we are just swimming serenely on, but of course, there are stresses and strains, and even though our new routine is only a few weeks old, we really needed a change from it.
So we decided to go to Jasper. Since we arrived, we have been tantalised by glimpses of the Rockies in the distance (or what we assumed were the Rockies; it’s remarkably difficult to get one’s bearings in a new geography), and Jasper is the place – we were told by many people – to get the authentic mountain experience. It’s not that far, our friends would tell us – just a short hop, really – and full of interesting and exciting things to do.
Here we come to one of the key differences between our two countries. A short hop in Canadian terms is equivalent to driving from our old house in the south of England to Carlisle – a journey which would take half a day, and use some of the busiest roads in Europe, passing several major cities on the way. Here, we set off early on Saturday morning, and once we were out of the environs of Prince George, did not pass another major (or even minor) road, never mind city, town or settlement, for over 2 hours.
Eventually, the town of McBride loomed into view through the rain. Yes, it was a long weekend; it rained, what did you expect? McBride is where things got really Canadian. For a start, all the sidewalks – and many other things - were painted blue, and to explain why would take longer than I have space for. Enough to say that it’s about hockey, and I’m only beginning to understand how deeply hockey lives in the Canadian psyche. We stopped at the railway station for a snack – the station has been converted into a kind of museum-cum-gift shop-cum-restaurant, although it still functions as a station as well – and wondered when we were going to see any mountains.
As we pressed on, we passed Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, although what we saw was cloud and rain. Eventually, we made it over the Yellowhead Pass and down into Jasper.
This was our first experience of another province, and because all the license plates on the vehicles are different, and the town itself is kind of alpine-looking, and therefore quite different to Prince George, we felt for a while that we were in another country – it really was like being abroad. We parked, and explored, and the rain began to ease, and then we came to our big test.
Naturally, when people hear our accents, we become objects of curiosity (although in a nice way), and there are a regular set of questions we expect; first of which is always “So, where are you folks from?” Until now, this has led to lengthy discussions about the UK (no, not the Ukraine!) or Britain, or the difference between England and Scotland, and more often than not, the follow-up question “So, are you the guy who’s writing in the paper?”
However, we were in a shop in Jasper, we felt like we were on holiday, and when the question was asked this time, Zoë said “Prince George”.
And I realised it was true – we’ve been here since the beginning of April, when there was snow on the ground, and now the summer is almost here; the boys are about to finish their strange, disjointed, school year, and we do come from Prince George now We’re a long way from being natives, we’re even a long way from being entirely comfortable with simple things like the language differences (and remind me to write about that sometime), but it feels like we’ve passed stage 1 of our adventure; we’re here, and it doesn’t feel odd to say that we live here now.
The rest of the weekend was wonderful; Jasper is a great place, and the sun came out. We walked on a glacier (and fell into it); we got higher up a mountain than any of us has ever been before, and on the way home, we saw black bears grazing at the side of the road, which is kind of what we’d been hoping for.
We even saw Mount Robson without the cloud surrounding it: they have big mountains here.
Or should I say, we have big mountains here?