Six years ago I had just stepped off a plane from Blighty (the UK) and taken my first steps into the True North to begin my new life in Canada. The freezing wind and driving snow that I had been warned about were nowhere to be seen, which was surprising given I was in Calgary. It felt like summer, but being new to the country I was clueless how to make the most of my new home. For any of you out there facing such a dilemma, these are my insider tips on how to survive your first Canadian summer in style.
Hang with the locals
In Canada there are two types of locals, and one is considerably more dangerous than the other. The Canadian wilderness is full of things that could potentially hurt you, which you have probably heard about – cougars, wolves, bears, etc. However, generally if you make noise and roam as a group you will be OK! Also, lock your snacks up – the Canadian wild is hungry and won’t hesitate to make off with your breakfast or secret stash or s’mores supplies.
Unbeknownst to many, the more dangerous local is the Canadian who invites you on a quiet and easy trip into the backcountry. While this seems harmless enough, you need to remember that these guys came into the world already wearing gore-tex and hiking boots. A moderate trip for them is the equivalent to climbing a Himalayan mountain for those without a Canadian birth certificate. Ask to see a map, google where you are going and make sure you have enough supplies for that 25km scramble including a 1000m elevation gain in waist deep snow that they conveniently forgot to mention!
Pick your poison
During the Canadian summer no one sits still, unless you’re fishing of course. Summer is all about movement, be that taking a running jump off a lake dock like you are in a Molson Canadian commercial, throwing yourself down a mountain on two wheels or hiking a mountain peak in your flip flops because your Canadian buddies said it was an easy walk!
The list of things to do around here can get a little overwhelming (think golfing, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, road biking, running, paddleboarding, rock climbing, camping, fishing, white water rafting, zip-lining, softball, etc.) The list is endless, so try them all but at some point you’ll need to pick a couple of more common pursuits and then explore getting the right gear to make experiencing them easier and and cheaper.
Spontaneous trips are great in Europe, if only because there’s almost always a village within every 5km that likely has a grocery store, B&B and local pub. However, Canada from a land-mass perspective is about to blow your European mind. The sheer size of Canada combined with a pretty sparse population means you can go a long time without seeing another car, let alone a store, particularly down logging roads.
Plan ahead if you are adventuring into the wilderness, especially as hotels, guest houses and camp sites get booked up quickly as Canucks try to cram in as much as possible in their summer vacation! Long weekends are particularly crazy for vacation deprived Canadians, so if you are planning to go away then, bring patience, cash and a reservation email for where you are staying!
No self-respecting Canadian rocks up to a weekend of action and adventure without all the gear. Canadians use their garages for their toys, not their cars! Gear can set you back a few paychecks, so always best to rent it, borrow it or see if anyone is giving it away for free on Craigslist to start! I picked up my entire golf set for $25, which is always provides a handy excuse for why I can never find the fairways!
In summer you really only have two authentic Canadian choices – a cabin or a tent. After a few disastrous camping trips involving a 3am sprinkler system, some over enthusiastic beer consumers and end of the word rain (any west coast campsite on the wrong summer weekend), I would recommend finding a new friend who has access to a cabin (preferably on a lake). They should be easy to locate as they will be probably the popular guy in the bar who never has to buy a drink. Failing that, go camping but choose your tent carefully. My first tent was missing half its fly sheet, and looked like the Starship Enterprise!
Do all the things. Seriously.
Joking aside, Canada is an amazing land of adventure which needs to be explored using a variety of different activities and toys. My one piece of advice as you walk past the Welcome to Canada sign – always say “yes” to any opportunities to Live Out There and you will be rewarded!