13 weird and wonderful things about Canada

Part of the fun of travelling is discovering things that are a bit different or downright weird. And even if you’re trying not to, we all compare a new place to home or whatever else we’ve experienced in life. That’s only normal. We all have reference points and they help us make sense of the world and our experiences.

Now, you’d think that Australia and Canada are culturally fairly similar: both have strong Indigenous heritages, belong to the Commonwealth, are outdoorsy kind of places, and face similar environmental and economic challenges. And both countries are ridiculously large.

So, you wouldn’t think that spending six weeks in Canada would result in too many moments of hm, ok, that’s really odd. But over the six weeks, we collected an astonishing amount of rather random observations that had us scratch our head.

Here are a few of the weirdest ones. They are entirely subjective, not at all free of generalisations, and I have no doubt, would make Canadians shake their heads at me.

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Proof that Australia doesn’t have a monopoly on “Big Things”. Big whale and a beautiful inlet at Prince Rupert.

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1. UHT milk does not exist

We went to our first supermarket on Vancouver Island, which in itself is a story about how to grocery shop in a foreign country. We were just embarking on our big road trip, and in true Australian outback fashion, expected not to encounter another supermarket for three weeks. At least.

Since milk doesn’t exactly last that long, especially not when you only have a randomly functioning campervan fridge, we were, of course, going to buy some long-life milk. As we would in Australia.

Well, after running up and down every aisle at least twice, we gave up and asked someone where their long-life milk was. Being met with puzzled looks, we tried various permutations, like UHT milk, milk that doesn’t go off, milk in a carton, … Someone finally cottoned on, asked the manager who informed us that ‘no, they had run out two weeks ago and weren’t expecting any til the next season’. HUH?! What?!

What do you mean, OUT? What do you mean, next season? What, like next year?!?! The answer was ‘yes’. UHT milk was only coming back the following summer.

So we departed without any long-life milk and spent the next six weeks puzzling over why it’s not a thing. Surely in a country that big, you’d sometimes need long-life milk because you can’t just drive those 300 km to the next corner store and get fresh milk? Or do you milk caribou?

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Finally found some! The full extent of the long-life milk range (top shelf): One brand, 12 cartons, and a ridiculous new low price.

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2. Evaporated milk is disgusting

Evaporated milk is not something you drink. Apparently you only use it in cooking as our Canadian friends advised. Later, once we were back in Australia.

We learned about the deliciousness of evaporated milk the hard way by putting it in coffee. Disgusting would be an understatement. Then the husband tried it with cereal, hoping that by some miracle it would actually be passable. Not even taste good, just be ok. Well, it wasn’t.

But what were we to think given our failure in buying long-life milk?! Evaporated milk seemed like the next best choice. Well, it wasn’t.

We next tried milk powder, which wasn’t much better. And then found those tiny milk pods that you can get in hotels. They only came in 100+ packs. So now we had a lot of tiny milk. We bought them at Canadian Tire. More on that later…

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I am not sure that there is any cow product in these cans, despite the friendly looking moo-moo

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3. Not all camping toaster attachments are created equal

I’ve since learned to always travel with our camping toaster attachment because different countries create all sorts of wonderful contraptions that they then try and pass off as amazing inventions. First you have to find one though, that was challenging enough.

Having failed to bring our very simple toaster attachment, we thought ‘no worries, let’s just buy one’! Three days and I’m not sure how many shops later, we finally found this incredible invention at Canadian Tire. More on that later…

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One light, accidental touch and those flimsy bits would simply collapse into a heap. Plus, trying to toast gluten-free bread took a minimum of 10 minutes per slice. This toaster was not to be rushed.

It was not awesome, and we happily donated the whole contraption to Mr. Van-Owner at the end of our trip.

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4. Canadian Tire does not sell tyres

Contrary to popular belief, Canadian Tire does not sell tyres. Or maybe they do. I’m not sure but we found everything our hearts desired, from milk pods to camping toasters at this Tire store. Except for UHT milk, of course.

We would never have gone to Canadian Tire to look for, you know, random camping stuff, if some kind Canadian hadn’t insisted that ‘yes, this is exactly where we should go’. ‘Incredulous!’ must have been written all over our faces…

So, whatever your needs, just pop into Canadian Tire, they’ll have it for sure, including guns. Big guns. You know, for hunting people.

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It’s a genie-mart! Just wish and open (the doors), and you shall have it…

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5. Coffee generally tastes awful

It’s generally acknowledged the world over that Melbourne has some of the best coffee. That said, I’m not a real coffee snob, I’m more of a tea snob, but when the cheapest instant coffee tastes infinitely better than brewed or barista coffee, then something’s amiss.

Canada has some amazing stuff but coffee is not one of them. More often than not, it tasted like lukewarm dishwashing water and that’s being kind. Sorry, Canada, but you’ve got some catching up to do.

I will say though that the Bear’s Paw Bakery – how cool is that name?! – in Jasper had pretty good coffee and given how packed it was, others agreed. And apparently their chili sausage rolls were insanely delicious but that’s beside the point here.

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No, this is not turmeric latte. This was a matcha chai, and ridiculously delicious, unlike any coffee we had.

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6. Scones are not scones

I’ve got vague memories of scones not being scones from my last visit to the US so I should have remembered that. Anyway, turns out that in Canada, scones are also not scones.

They seem to resemble round, shortbread-y, large cake-y things rather than the fluffy, lightly sweetened, mini cakes served with jam and cream that we’re used to in Australia. So we were initially somewhat puzzled… until we worked out that scones are simply called tea bisquits. Yes, with a Q. C’est français, oui?

Plus, we did also see scones spelled tea biscuits. And to confuse matters even more, tea biscuits also refer to sweet, dry biscuits (like Nice). So it’s really quite a miracle that we ever managed to order the equivalent of Australian scones!

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These are not scones either but they’re gluten-free so I ate them. The goat cheese & fig one was delicious. Bacon? Hm, not so much.

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7. Gluten-free ginger nuts forever

I used to love Arnott’s ginger nut biscuits but I haven’t been able to eat them for quite some years now. The gluten-free versions in Australia are all overly sweet and tame (lame?) attempts at creating some sort of ginger flavour. Ultimately, they all fail.

But, oh Canada, you’ve filled the void! Admittedly, I only discovered them in the last couple of weeks but imagine my delight. I stuffed my face full of them, and no, for once, I didn’t look at the sugar or corn content. So don’t tell me how bad they are for me. I’m not interested.

But do let me know where I can get my annual shipment of Mi-Del Gluten-Free Ginger Snaps! Thanks.

ps: I didn’t find them at Canadian Tire; I’m not sure if Canadian Tire let me down or if I just didn’t look.

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Obviously, this isn’t a bag of ginger snaps but I must say that Betty Crocker / General Mills makes a mean gluten-free pancake mix! Whatever chemicals they put in that, they made them taste delicious! And fluffy, oh so fluffy…

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8. Vegemite to the rescue

It’s probably safe to say that apart from Australians, everyone agrees that Vegemite is entirely disgusting. Ok, maybe British and New Zealand people can provide a bit of cheer support here but nobody else, I’m quite positive.

And since it’s such a national, ahem…, condiment (?), Australians can’t possibly live without it. So the husband brought a tube of Vegemite with him. Because how could you survive in Canada for six weeks without Vegemite?!! Impossible!

Regardless, he needn’t have worried because even remote towns such as Stewart in BC wouldn’t want Australians to go without. At prices cheaper than in Australia!

Such is the reach of globalisation…

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This is the new cream of tartar product, especially imported from Australia

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9. Roadworks are ridiculous

I read about how roadworks are just a little bit different in Canada but shall I just let the photo speak for itself?

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Err, pilot car? What pilot car??

If you think roadworks in Australia are tedious and long, think again. Ever seen continuous, single-lane stretches of roadworks for 60+ km? Well, welcome to roadwork season in Canada.

Of course, it all makes sense with such a short summer and almost infinite daylight, governments got to make the most of repairing and renewing roads. But sitting in kilometer-long queues, making lunch, walking dogs, reading the paper, chatting with the traffic controller chick, just to wait for the pilot car… I didn’t quite believe it until I was in a queue.

I’ve read reports where people literally sat in the queue for hours. Fortunately for us, it was usually around a 15-20 min wait.

And then eventually the pilot car comes and the kilometer-long line of cars snakes behind it for 30, 40, 50 or more kilometres. Often on gravel road. Doing between 30-50 km/h. You imagine the rest.

On the plus side, you really get to enjoy the scenery and take lots of photos…

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10. Self-checkout fuel stations are the best

Since we’re talking driving and cars and stuff, let’s just mention that self-checkout fuel stations are the absolute best! Why do we not have them in Australia?!? You can do everything right there at the petrol pump and you can access them 24/7!

And yes, I realise that this probably means fewer petrol station attendants for the sake of convenience, but in this case, I’m in. This may have a little to do with their insistence on selling me chocolate bars and other stuff I don’t want.

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Just swipe your card, fuel up, and off you go!

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11. Why are there dogs in national parks?

Ok, this one is just insanely weird if you’re from Australia (or New Zealand, I suppose)…

Under no circumstances would you ever, ever consider bringing your pet on a camping or hiking trip into a national park. In most cases, you can’t even bring your dog or cat or goldfish into a state park.

But in Canada, dogs in national or provincial parks was the norm. And that’s with bears and wolves and other amazing wildlife around. Mindboggling.

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A common sign in national parks in Australia, I’m not exactly sure if a goldfish would be classed as a domestic animal but you should probably leave him at home. Things will fare better that way.

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12. Hygienic drop toilets in national parks

Compost or drop toilets aren’t most people’s favourite toilet type, I’m sure, but you kind of get used to them if you camp a lot. In Australia, I’m usually impressed if there’s toilet paper and the composting stench isn’t completely nauseating.

In Canada, they’ve gone a step further and provide hand sanitiser in even the remotest toilets! What a brilliant idea, I was totally impressed.

And while we’re on the subject of toilets, on the whole they seemed much better than any experience I’ve had in national parks in Australia. I found them very clean, stocked with plenty of toilet paper, and usually stench-free (which may have something to do with the cooler climate).

I’m a Canada toilet fan!

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How to tell whether you’re in a tourist spot or not: Count the toilet rolls. The most I saw was 12. Yes, 12 toilet roll holders. And all empty.

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13. There are at least a billion trees in Canada

Actually, that’s not even close. Canada has so much forest that it could fill entire countries (like half of Europe) with trees and would still not run out. For your inner nerd, check out the very cool Canada’s forest in numbers infographic.

I expected Canada to be very tree-ish but I’ve never seen this many trees in my life. And I’ve never seen logging operations and logging yards like I have in Canada. But I’ve been to packed Banff National Park and along the Icefields Parkway now, so I understand. You need trees to keep all those toilet-seeking, toilet paper-eating tourists happy.

But regardless, in autumn, the forests and trees look spectacular!

Read more: Incredible autumn in Canada
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Trees, trees and more trees near Brandywine Falls, Whistler

There were a whole heap of other weird and wonderful things we noticed (and later had to quiz our Canadian friends about) but these are the ones that still stick in my memory. Makes me curious to know what people go huh?! about in Australia!

(Actually, LC’s got a hilarious collection of 34 odd things in Australia and you can learn stuff like that it’s an offense to have more than 50 kg of potatoes on you in WA! Why would you even have that regulated?! Are they all Irish and worried about another famine?? Or they’re just insane potato lovers?? Like to lift potato weights?? …)

Anyway. Pin this for later if you want.

If you've ever wondered what it's like visiting Canada for the first time, here's my collection of 13 weird and wonderful "facts" from our six weeks roadtrip! 🌐 Queensland & Beyond

Hello Mr. Palmer’s dinosaurs!
Weird and crazy signs in Queensland…
Chasing bears across Canada…
Our highs and lows during six weeks in Canada
Kluane National Park (Yukon) from above
5 reasons to travel the Inside Passage by ferry

2 Comments

  1. This cracked me up. I’m in the U.S. but we are just starting to see more boxed milk. And no, I wouldn’t think to go in Canadian Tire for camping supplies!

    Reply
    • Hi Sherrie,
      “Boxed milk” – there’s another term I didn’t think of!! 😀 And yep, Canadian Tire should be your best friend if you’re campervanning / roadtripping around Canada! 😉

      Reply

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