What should I avoid in Canada?

If you’re not from a physically large country, or haven’t taken long road trips, you probably can’t really comprehend how huge Canada is. I took a drive north from Montreal to Rouyn-Noranda some years ago. It took 7 hours. And if you look at a map you realise with shock that it’s only a small distance in this large country. Seven hours and you’re barely half way to the southernmost tip of James Bay. Some of the drive is really interesting and beautiful: the Laurentians, with pretty little mountains and villages, and the last hour or so before Rouyn, which is wide open with lakes and remarkable views. But the five or more hours between those highlights is the most brutally boring stretch of highway… Mile after mile of unchanging, reforested woods. Because the trees are reforested, there’s a relentless sameness - they’re all the same height, they’re all in rigidly rhythmic rows without variation. They’re tall enough to block out a lot of the sky, but not tall enough to be majestic, like the great forests on the west coast. When I went there was virtually no sign of animal life. Who knows why? The answer can’t be good. And I don’t recall seeing any towns or habitations along the way, so that wall of scraggly, grey evergreen is all you get for five hours. That was a tough stretch of highway, but it’s not alone. There are other grimly boring stretches all over the country. It has to be acknowledged that while there is an incredible amount of variety and beautiful scenery throughout Canada, there are also vast tracts of dullness without variation and without anything noteworthy to see. For instance, Sudbury itself is interesting, with lakes and rocky outcroppings, but the barren wastelands on either side of the city are relentless miles of what look like bulldozed terrain of rock and scrub. And, of course, some of the terrain is exactly that - heaps of slag from the mines dumped either side of the highway. The priorities of business have rendered some pretty uninviting vistas in places that were once spectacular and awe-inspiring, if also overwhelming at times. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta can be gruelling to drive across, too. Some of the roads do not even bend for more than a hundred miles. The landscape is flat and featureless, apart from the fields of wheat (or less interesting crops) that stretch to the horizon. Scattered hamlets often consist of little more than a grain elevator, a service station, a couple of out-buildings and one or two oil pumps. You can drive through most of three provinces and see nothing more than this. So I’d avoid spending too long on such road trips. Choose your itinerary carefully - because you can actually cross this country and be able to enjoy numerous amazing sights. I’ve done it myself, and I don’t regret any of it. Admittedly, maybe it helped that I crossed Saskatchewan in a bus at night and slept through it all. But I also missed the Cypress Hills, which are fabulous. I didn’t miss any of my return trip from Rouyn-Noranda. The seven hours driving south was entirely in a heavy rain.

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