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JUST south of the longest undefended border on Earth there are 56 million Americans coming to terms with an awful realisation - the other half of the electorate has just voted George W Bush back into office.

It was their democratic right and all that, but what worries me is that those 56 million peevish Democrats will now look northwards, and finally recognise that they have on their doorstep the perfect antidote to another four years of George Dubya.

Canada. Ten million square miles of exquisite landscape with a light covering of Canadians.

And if 56 million disgruntled Yanks decide to head north the Canadians, possibly the nicest people on Earth after the Salvation Army, will do what they always do and make them welcome.

Personally, I'd have been running out 9,000 kilometres of barbed wire...

I love Canada, I love Toronto. I also love Vancouver, 2,500 miles to the west. And Head-Smashed-In, Alberta. And Wawa, Ontario. And I'm pretty certain that if I ever get to Kangiqsualujjuaq in Arctic Quebec I will love that too

I can't get enough of Canada, which is OK because there is an awful lot of it to go around.

Let me give you some size snippets, a few nifty facts about the second biggest nation on Earth. (The first is Russia, but since much of Russia is either not very nice, inaccessible or radioactive it doesn't count).

Canada is 40 times bigger than Britain but has just half our population (so, by my reckoning, every Canuck has 80 times more space than we do ...) Just one of its lakes, Lake Huron, would comfortably accommodate THREE Hollands. That's one lake, three Netherlands ... think about it.

Yonge Street, the world's longest street, starts in downtown Toronto and runs for 1,000 miles through to Rainy River on the border with Minnesota, US.

You wouldn't want to be the postman with THAT on his route ... "2,342,356 Yonge Street. 2,342,357 Yonge Street. 2,342,359, Yonge Street. Damn, missed one .."

And the Trans-Canada Highway, the longest national highway in the world, stretches 4,725 miles across this absurdly huge country. By comparison, Moscow is a piffling 1,558 miles from London.

So it's a space thing. Canada is a place where you can breathe, where you can hike until your legs fray at the ankles, canoe, kayak, sail, ski, play golf, fish, ... or sit drinking a beer and watching the sun set spectacularly over a forest of trees shot through with an autumnal red so bright it makes your eyes ache. Forget Keats. An Ontario autumn is neither misty nor mellow. It hammers the senses, a scintillating display of glorious colours that arrive suddenly like an elderly aunt in a Versace frock, or a worthy if dowdy relative who unaccountably turns out in a fluorescent shell suit.

And the jewel in the crown of this natural spectacular is the Algonquin national park in Ontario, a three or four hour drive from Toronto along Highway 11. There are probably more trees in Algonquin than there are in the whole of England and at any time between mid-September and early-October the park is transformed from a tranquil, wooded waterway of 2,000 kilometres of canoe routes and hiking trails into a riot of red. First the maples, then the aspens, followed by the red oaks and tamaracks erupt in a frenzy of autumnal crimson.

A word about canoes ... Personally, I believe they came straight from Satan's bottom. I've been in canoes and would rather be circumcised with garden shears than paddle to the next camp site.

However, the Canadians love them since much of their country was uncovered by intrepid French missionaries or English trappers in canoes, the voyageurs who brought enlightenment and smallpox to the natives.

In fact they love them so much there are portage trails where you CARRY the canoe between rivers. As if hiking wasn't rigorous enough, you get to do it with a stonking great boat strapped to your back.

So, while the younger and slimmer members of my party paddled, hiked and sweated in the 70F sunshine through the dappled woodlands of Allgonquin, on beautiful Beausoleil Island, or at the edge the mighty Lake Huron I had other ideas. I rented a small boat WITH AN OUTBOARD MOTOR at the wonderful Killarney Mountain Lodge where I was staying and puttered among the coves and 30,000 islands of Georgian Bay.

Yes, 30 THOUSAND islands - although a park warden told me the figure was closer to 90,000 but since there probably aren't that many islands in the whole world I tended to discount it.

So that's the life for me. A little (motorised) boat hugging the edges of a lake so huge you can't even imagine where the other side is, weaving in and out of countless islands with a single cottage on them, fantasising about life as the moderately wealthy Torontonian who owns the island and spends long weekends in such perfect solitude.

And when the hikers straggle back to base nursing blisters, torn ligaments and sun-burned noses you can sit smugly on the veranda of the Killarney Sportsman's Inn, cowboy boots up on the railings, listening to the haunting call of the loon and swapping yarns with the half- dozen bear hunters who had just rolled up, thankfully empty-handed, after a weekend in the woods.

(And you thought fox hunting was primitive... these guys hunt brown bears with bows and arrows.)

The pub is a taxidermist's Valhalla, more stuffed animals than the Harrods poultry counter. The family of mule deer was especially touching, with the mother's head surrounded by the stuffed heads of her babies... It was as if her little family had wandered into the pub and inadvertently put their heads through a hole in the wall.

Time to move on - before the Sportsman's Inn hunters added the head of a slightly sunburned, middle-aged Englishman to their collection of stuffed mammalia.

Now that would be something truly grisly among the grizzlies.


Take a sunset yacht cruise from Killarney. ( The setting sun is impossibly romantic but make sure you check with the skipper before cracking open a beer.


Hop on a boat to Baei Finn, Ontario's famous inland fjord and take the relatively easy hike to Topaz Lake. The lake is beautiful and the water still warm enough to swim in in late September... so I'm told.


Visit Saint-Marie Among the Hurons, the historic and fascinating site of the first settlers in the region. They were Jesuit priests who, after 10 years of utter misery and the threat of being slaughtered by the Iroquois, burned the village down before fleeing. Last resting place of St John de Brebeuf, Canada's patron saint. The bits left by his Indian tormentors are buried here.


Take the ride from Honey Harbour to Beausoleil Island, part of the Georgian Bay Islands National Park (www. which offers a lovely stroll to its lake. Which has its own island. So that's an island in a lake on an island in a lake.


Don't miss the Outlet Mall in Cookstown, about 40 minutes north of Toronto on Highway 400. It looks like any one of the other million shopping malls in North America but all the stores sell quality designer stuff at ludicrous prices. Levi jeans for pounds 12, genuine western boots for pounds 75. Fantastic bargains if you shop cleverly.

Getting There

THOMAS Cook Signature offer a seven-day Ontario Touring Holiday for pounds 1,117 per person for departures between September 9 and 30, 2005. The price includes two nights at Deerhurst Resort, two nights at Killarney Mountain Lodge and two nights at Port Severn Lodge, including car hire for seven days and return scheduled flights from Heathrow to Toronto with Air Canada. For further information contact Thomas Cook Signature on 0870 443 4470 or see www.tcsig For information on Ontario, please visit and for a brochure please call 01622 832 288.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 27, 2004
Previous Article:Travel: LATE DEALS.
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