In a slight detour from the East Africa Business journey, I’m updating this week with what I got up to over the festive period.

Continuing the tradition of ostensibly treating all forms of travel as being the search for a decent profile picture, this is an evaluation of how the Western part of Canada fares.

It’s broken it down into various aspects of the culture I interacted with for those also interested in finding a beaut pic there.

First Nations

This is, I believable, the acceptable term for people that a younger (and less PC) version of me would have called Native Americans.

Essentially these are the communities that lived off the land in Canada for thousands of years before some Europeans with guns and runny noses came over in the 1800s and put a stop to it.

Sidestepping any comment on the actions taken a couple of centuries ago, there seems today to be a real attempt to preserve and sustain the culture of the indigenous population in Canada.

Perhaps not the best proxy, but touching down at Vancouver airport, you are met with huge totem pole statues presiding over the queue of people grumbling through immigration.

We (Mum, Dad, sister) visited the Museum of Anthropology which did an excellent job of displaying the richness of the First Nation culture.

Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

Walking around the everyday life in the country we noticed there was regularly a nod and general sense of respect about people who lived, and continue to live, this way of life.

Profile pic opportunity: the feats of engineering and design in the handiwork were impressive. My interaction was primarily via a museum display, however “at source” there’s almost certainly a very decent profile pic out there. For now though… 5/10

 

Cannabis. Cafés.

These were two of the most noticeable shops when walking down most high streets.

Marijuana wasn’t openly sold on street corners (no one would sell it to me) but instead in these gleaning Apple-esque stores with, of course, a glow of green.

Medicinal marijuana store, Vancouver

The cannabis laws in this part of Canada are akin to their neighbours below the border in as much as it is possible to buy for medicinal purposes. This article is somewhat disdainful of the situation, but the direction of motion is towards the outright legalisation of marijuana, one of the Canadian President’s manifesto promises.

Interestingly, the supply side of cannabis is particularly well-suited to Western Canada. It’s apparently quite resource intensive to grow the green, and being able to harness large hydroelectric power sites and abundant sunshine serves as quite a competitive advantage.

The other prominent drug form around the place was caffeine.

In most down town areas you would always be in sight of a shop selling coffee. The bright neon signs help with visibility but they really were all over the place.

Anyway, one chain that I’d not come across was this place called Tim Horton’s.

Tim Hortons, everywhere

The fact he was going by the full name made it stand out when driving in from Vancouver airport, but soon after he was popping up all over the place.

Turns out, it’s a bit of an institution.

Doing some research, it was all a bit interesting. Essentially Tim Horton was an ice hockey player who also ventured into the realms of fast food and, with Canadians having the highest doughnut consumption per capita, did well specialising in this and coffee. Tim died in a car crash in the 1970s, and his business partner, Ron, bought out the shares from Tim’s widow.

The business then boomed. In Canada there are twice as many Tim Horton’s than there are McDonalds, and in 2014 it merged with Burger King for $11 billion.

There seem to be lots of other stats around how much Canadians love “Timmy’s”, and we regularly saw people queuing out of the door to get a cup of coffee. Admittedly I never tried the house special, but it wasn’t totally for me.

Profile pic opportunity: despite the flashy posters and smiley TV adverts, the lukewarm chicken wrap we got at Tim’s resulted in a distinctly unhappy face. 2/10.

 

Trains

During the latter part of 2016 I’ve done a fair bit of reading about economic history and the seeds of the Industrial Revolution (for those interested, I’d recommend The Birth of Plenty).

Anyway, one of the key factors is said to have been the development of the railways, which first came about in England around the 1830s.

The primary driver of this was for industrial development. Those with the vision and capital believed that transporting cargo across a regional network of wood and steel would derive a tidy profit which would more than cover the significant upfront costs.

Such were the productivity gains to be had from shipping around coal and other primary resources that this was the first application of trains.

In Western Canada however, trains were built for tourists.

The adventurous folk of the Victorian era had had enough of Brighton and even the wild glens of Scotland.

Marketed through the fashionable posters of the day, beautiful sights and scenery of Western Canada whet the appetites of heavy-pursed Victorians.

 

Railway poster, Alberta

These jangly pockets signalled a return on investment for entrepreneurs who could carve through the Rockies and establish an economical manner to transport them.

What’s more, with the advent of the camera, a trip on the Canadian railway offered perhaps the clearest first indication of the purpose-driven search for a decent profile pic.

Early decent profile pic seeker (the one with you on skis with a dog)

The promise of sights that lured people in the late 1880s were of snow-capped peaks, deep blue lakes, and vast expanses of forests and rivers.

All this is to say that what drew the folk of the top hat and petticoat era to Western Canada also succeeded in getting us up the mountain.

The medium of travel evolved to hire car but on our route from Calgary to Vancouver we stopped off at various junctures to walk through the hills and appreciate the surroundings.

Top of the pops was Lake Louise, a destination which earned its place as the cover shot (book equivalent of profile pic) on this tour guide of Western Canada.

British Columbia guidebook

The water was frozen over which meant we got a different picture, but it also permitting those with the kit to skate on the ice, and others to gawp at the valley.

Profile pic opportunity, Lake Louise (frozen)

After walking through the snow we stopped for tea and stew in the old wooden station and imagined a bygone era, log fire crackling in the background.

Walking through snowy trees, Alberta

 

Historic train station, Lake Louise village

From what I gather, the road network and invention of the private car/ tour bus meant that tourists shifted from the rails. As the infrastructure was built already, freight companies (which were using railway in other parts of the country still) came in and to this day lug big containers across the country on the railway.

Profile pic opportunity: great combination of history, culture and nature. Their purpose was to transport the first decent profile pic seekers and the rationale remains today. 9/10.

Roads

Leaving the nostalgia of trains, our vehicle across the country was the modern day car. After Christmas with family in Fort McMurray (which earlier this year suffered from wildfires) we flew to Calgary and then began driving across the country back towards Vancouver.

The road “network” in this part of the world is probably more accurately described as “a couple of arteries”. From where we were there was essentially one road that flanks across, with settlements popping up every 100kms or so.

Main roads, Canada

This made SatNav instructions pleasantly brief.

Between our roadside hotels that were a few hours drive away it would typically say:

Turn Left 0.5km

Turn Right 0.8km

Drive on Highway 1 271km

Turn Left 0.6km

Arrive

Which reminds me, Canada is metric.

Also there’s an odd thing whereby speeding is rarely caught because a combination of no number plates on front and mud at the rear means identification is rarely possible by speed cameras. With the slippery roads at this time of year though, it didn’t seem a major issue.

What I will say though is that there were some cracking views from the vantage point of the car.

More or less tracing the route of the railways through the mountainous valleys (which often followed the naturally formed rivers) there was an abundance of nature out of the window.

These are some snaps from the passenger seat:

Driving, The Rockies

Driving some more, The Rockies

The car was returned to the airport and from here we went onto the final leg of the trip, some skiing over New Year.

Profile pic opportunity: the roads were good and afforded some excellent vistas. With less snow in the air I’m sure it could look even better. 6/10 (seasonally adjusted).

Skiing

The end of our trip was in Whistler, a village a couple of hours drive out of Vancouver and where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held.

Famed for its slopes, we spent our 5 days there walking around town and going up to the mountains. The weather was very brrrr (minus 18 celsius at the top) and so when I look back, I never actually attempted a profile pic from atop the peaks.

Nevertheless, do take my word that the views were lovely.

The surrounding forests had all sorts of lakes (mostly frozen) and trails that carve through the trees. In the summer time the village is apparently equally busy with those who take to mountain biking.

Group profile pic, Lost Lake (Whistler)

The village itself caters well for those with a thirst, an appetite, and a want to buy gifts. Despite the whole place being walkable there are four Starbucks to sustain the population and restaurants that please the high diners. The foodies out there could certainly get a good pic.

Profile pic opportunity: if you’d like a shot of you in front of snow capped peaks, Whistler scores highly. I don’t have too many other ski destinations to compare it to, and so those searching for a unique pic might find places nearer to home to get a similar snap. Nevertheless, objectively pretty. 7/10.

Conclusion

Canada has many offerings for those seeking out a decent profile pic. It’s massive though (second largest only behind Russia) and I get the impression that the backdrop to your shot will vary dramatically based on the season.

This post covers one section of the country, in one season and still does pretty well.

The people in Canada were also very friendly. Lots of people willing to point us in the right direction, and just generally be genuine in their positive comments. Those taking a people-centric perspective of the search for a decent profile pic might consider the proximity to happy people as a way of inducing a smile.

Anyway, after saying goodbye to the cheery Vancouver airport staff we boarded our flight back to Heathrow and nine hours later were back in a relatively balmy winter London.