Ontario, Canada – May 1999

How to celebrate a dead monarch!

I am already excited. The May 24 long weekend is coming. That date has particular resonance for Ontarians.

"We are amused."

Officially, it commemorates the birthday of Queen Victoria on May 24, 1819. After her death, we celebrated her birthday to show loyalty to the British Empire. In the early 1890’s this day was known as Empire’s Day.

Now it is known as the May 24 weekend (whether the holiday is on that day or not). The only showing of loyalty to the British Empire may be in shared love of brew and our over-eagerness to bare our lily-white bodies on the beaches.

Any lofty origins this holiday once had are completely gone. There will be no tea socials, no Monarchist League speeches, no Veterans parades. Instead it has degenerated into a ritual of Spring more akin to our ancient Celtic ancestors than the stiff-upper-lip Brits of today.

It is one of the only two occasions where it is legal to let off fireworks (Canada Day is the other). This is a right I am not sure that we merit as a society.

Although there are rules for fireworks, they are not routinely followed. While watching the fireworks from an apartment balcony one Victoria Day, someone released a firework 10 stories right below us (strictly forbidden). Well suffice to say, it went straight up and I saw firsthand what it was like to be in ‘Nam!

For safer spectacles, every town in Ontario – no matter how hick or huge – has excellent fireworks and usually live music on the Monday evening.

The weather has taken an uncharacteristic turn for the warmer. This is ideal for the truly Canadian way to celebrate Victoria Day…

Camping

I appreciate true Nature-communing camping, but come May 24 I know the real reason to go camping: excessive alcohol consumption! However, trouble often results, and consequently liquor is not allowed in many campgrounds that weekend.

I had a defining "Canadian" moment for me a few years back while camping at

Mikisew Provincial Park (don’t go there – we call it Mikisucks) . To start, I have the brightest Coleman lantern ever made, known as the "Lamp of Ages". As usual, it was freezing, so two friends and I were in the tent and passing the time by discussing the exact meaning of the expression "eh". After vigourous debate, we decided it meant "take note".

At this point, we heard loud angry stomping from the bushes, getting closer and closer. Then the side of our tent went down. The creature was upon us! While trying to flee from the beast, we saw that it was just a drunkard who got lost in the bush and was walking to the light. If I were an American I would’ve grabbed my gun, but instead I commented, "Look out eh." My friend added "Watch the tent, eh". And the drunkard calmly replied "Okay,eh.".


Grundy Lake, typical Canadian Shield.

Campgrounds fill up every long weekend and frequently during July and August – so make reservations (1-888-ONT-PARK).

Fine Arts

If you aspire to loftier pursuits, then check out the Art Gallery of Ontario‘s exhibit of "Angels from the Vatican" (in Toronto). Even though it is the first time these paintings have been on display outside the Vatican, I am unable to get episodes of "Touched by an Angel" out of my mind, so I will be passing. Unless Della Reese will be giving out epiphanies at the end of the tour.

The Shaw and Stratford drama festivals are starting their runs now. You’re guaranteed a good performance, if not something completely innovative.

The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont. was considered the best Shakespeare presented in North America. Now it is musicals like West Side Story that pack them in. The town is overpriced and pretentious and, well, sucks.

The Shaw Festival specializes in the works of Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. Plus it has the added benefit of being in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Yes, it too is overpriced and pretentious. But at least it isn’t complete artifice. The town does have a sense of legitimate history.

Serious Fun

The best thing to do there is definitely the Whirlpool Jet ride down the Niagara Rapids.

I did this and loved it! It’s not done in a traditional raft, but it is does give one the opportunity to go through class 5 rapids (rated on a scale of 1 – 6, Class 5 being the second highest degree of difficulty, defined as “Approaching The Limits of Navigability").

Then they skirt the infamous deathtrap: the Whirlpool. Wild! The water should be fast, furious and freezing this time of year. And it sure beats the hell out of the wussies

on Niagara Falls’ Maid of the Mist. (Though I did hear it sank once and many people drowned, but my Mom might have just told me this to stop me from nagging to go on it.)

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to best celebrate the life of the Queen Vicky. I’ll be tossing back some Rebellion Lagers and thinking of her greatest gift to Canada: the long weekend!!!

I am off to lovely

Pembroke, Ontario for a few days. I will share my misadventures next month.

Questions?

If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.


Ontario is a huge province. I’ve been travelling in Ontario all my life and there are still places I’ve never seen.

Northern Ontario is uncharted territory for me and for most people in fact. There are still vast chunks of it that are accessible only by plane. Which is great for adventure campers or nature purists.

I’ve been to James Bay, but my goal is to make it to Hudson’s Bay, then I will have really done Northern Ontario.

Southern Ontario is the most populous area of Canada. Most of the cultural life of the province (even the country) is in this region.

Toronto the provincial capital, is the third largest city in North America considered the world’s most multicultural city.

Consequently, there are always some great happenings. Stay tuned for updatesÂ…

For the definitive webguide to Toronto visit: Toronto.com

Whether it is the Great Lakes or some of the smaller streams and rivers, one sixth of Ontario is covered by water (though most of it is perpetually cold).

Some bragging: Lake Superior is the largest freshwater body in the world, and Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is the largest freshwater island.

This adds up to some excellent outdoors experiences.

Our provincial parks are great for camping because

1) you’re not camping in someone’s backyard field and

2) they often have great access to trails, canoeing, etc.

Avoid parks deemed “Recreational” or any park close to the urban areas.

Otherwise, you will encounter Oasis blaring at 7am, the

bathroom clogged with girls curling their eyelashes (my girlfriend

experienced this) and lakes filled with more tourists than fish.

My favourites…

Provincial Parks:

Kilarney, Grundy Lake, Killbear, Pointe Farms, and Algonquin (of

course).

National Parks:

Point

Pelee and

Bruce

Peninsula are also great, though busy.

Ontarians obsess over the weather,

come share our obsession and find out the climate of places like Wawa

and Moosonee.


About Me

I suffer from a fatal case of wanderlust. After trying the real world for

a few years, I decided to return to school to study the Internet.

Due to being broke, my travels are now confined to cyberspace. I currently

live in Toronto, but I am from Guelph, Ont.. I have also lived in

Ottawa, Key West, Florida, and Stuttgart, Germany.

Bruce National Park

Hold on for details on the Bruce Trail

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