‘Places you’ll only visit due to random misfortune’: an alt guide to Canada’s cities

Canada Day 2017 is also the countrys 150th birthday. To mark this special occasion, we present this handy guide to its biggest urban centres, as found in The CANADALAND Guide to Canada

Welcome to Canada! While many people think of it as a vast expanse of snowy wilderness, 75% of Canadians actually live within 90 minutes of the US border which they desperately cling to for warmth and television shows.

Most Canadians dwell in a series of cities that you may find yourself in due to layovers or random misfortune. It is difficult to tell one from another … this may help.


Toronto: why so ugly? Illustration: Andrew Barr/Canadaland
Toronto is a large North American city. Youll know youre here and not in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, or a dozen other places, because of the very tall tower downtown.

Why so ugly?

Toronto was labelled a temporary city for the first years of British rule. As it grew in the 19th century, this protestant backwater turned to meatpacking as its primary industry. You actually needed a special license to buy liquor for personal use until 1969, and some neighbourhoods maintained prohibition until 1994.

In the 60s and 70s, fear suddenly made Toronto the centre of Canadas universe, as companies terrified by the possibility of a sovereign Qubec moved their head offices from Montral to the next best option. They were soon followed by equally terrified Anglos (English-speaking Montralers).

Seemingly overnight, Toronto boomed. Construction exploded at the exact ugliest moment in the history of architecture, with no regard for urban planning or aesthetics of any kind.

How to fill the void?

Ever had a kebab the size of your arm? Toronto has! How about poutine with pork three ways? You betcha! Fourteen-day green juice cleanse? Theyre right next door! The city has a particular penchant for novelty baked goods, pretentious fusion, and the needlessly wheat-less. Since the citys food is the only thing that has ever brought residents any semblance of joy, they stuff chow mein burritos in their mouths like theyre not all on the slow, inevitable road to oblivion.

Amalgamations revenge

Toronto is a composite of boroughs and cultures stitched together. After decades of unhindered suburban sprawl, its many communities were suddenly amalgamated into an incoherent and ungovernable behemoth in 1998. Want to extend the subway system by a few stops? No problem. That will be done in 20 years or so.

A progressive paradise?

You have clearly forgotten Mayor Rob Ford.


Vancouver: A hermit kingdom, separated from reality by the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Illustration: Andrew Barr

Vancouver is a hermit kingdom, separated from reality by the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. In its isolation, Vancouver has gone insane and lost all frame of reference, and locals are consistently in one kind of fantasy stupor or another. Come for a visit soon, as a massive earthquake is expected to jolt Vancouverites back to reality any day now.

Who youll meet

Junkies: Vancouvers downtown eastside is home to a sobering number of heroin addicts, and a visit to any Hastings alleyway will mortify even the most hardened street-dweller. This is terrible, remarked a scandalised Snoop Dogg in a 2016 Instagram video as his SUV drove over piles of syringes. You need to clean this shit up.

Teen millionaires: Rich Chinese (also Indians, Iranians, and Saudis) families often send their offspring to Vancouver, where they reside in swanky homes (for tax-sheltering purposes) and drive expensive cars.

Teen millionaires 2.0: Huffing the northward-drifting fumes of Silicon Valley, local gurus and thinkfluentials all want to score big with the next Hootsuite or Plenty of Fish. Know what Retsly, Zeetl, Tingle, or Yiip do? Thats OK, neither do their employees.

Sporty enlightened hippies: All other Vancouverites are fitness-crazed, eastern philosophy-loving, fleece-wearing, real estate-speculating hippies.

Where to go

Kitsilano: A charming middle-class neighbourhood, popular with young parents, filled with parks, beaches, and beautiful heritage homes all of which will be wiped off the face of the earth by a cataclysmic 8.0+ megaquake.

Yaletown: Formerly the citys rail yard, Yaletown has transformed into a neighbourhood filled of trendy bars, parks, spas and boutiques, and is set to transform again when an earthquake rips the earth open like a zipper, as one scientist put it.

Gastown: Home to some of the citys most popular historic sites, restaurants, profit-free tech startups, and least earthquake-resistant buildings. It will not be spared in the destruction.

Enemies of Vancouver

Vancouver has more homeless people than anywhere else in Canada; it also has more empty homes than anywhere else in Canada.


Ottawa: Winters are oppressive as a future overlord. Illustration: Andrew Barr/Canadaland

Ottawa is the seat of political power in Canada, and it is ripe for the picking. Whether youre a French insurrectionist or simply a busload of teenagers protesting abortion, here is how to sack and occupy Canadas capital and thus, the entire nation.

Climate challenges

Ottawas winters are as oppressive as you are, future overlord. It has some of the countrys coldest, snowiest winters, with an average snowfall of 236cm. It also ranks in the top 10 for hottest, most humid summers in Canada. It is the worst of both worlds. Do yourself a favour and conquer Ottawa in the spring or fall, then holiday in Florida like everybody else.

Canada Day

Like any despot, you will need to adapt to local customs to maintain stability. Keep your iron grip by hiring the Barenaked Ladies or Avril Lavigne to play a free public concert on the hill.

Rewrite history

Glorify yourself in Ottawas 14 national museums. Roughly 7.3 million people visit the capital region each year and millions more will come to worship at your altar. Force the Royal Canadian Mint to only press coins with your visage. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum should show the latest in ballistic missile technology on loan from your friends in North Korea. The National Gallery of Canada should showcase only boring art that makes people feel comfortable (so no changes needed there).


Montreal: The most charming and sexy city in North America. Illustration: Andrew Barr/Canadaland

More than Canada, less than Europe. A city of cobblestones and potholes, wine in convenience stores, and unsettling levels of street clowning. If you like good food, civil unrest, high art, common-law marriage, beautiful architecture and endemic corruption: bienvenue!

Where to go

The Old Port: The citys historic port dates back to the early 1600s, when French fur traders used it as a trading post. Today you can catch an Imax flick there and weep at the citys neglect of the districts crumbling, ancient buildings.

The Main: The beating heart of Montral, Boulevard Saint-Laurent the citys main strip was the historical dividing line separating the citys working-class French in the east from the working-class Anglos in the west.

Park Ex: Follow the citys tearful trail of migration northwards to the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc Extension, aka Park Ex. Ride the 80 bus for four hours until you arrive in the centre of Qubcois cool. Live like a local artist, weed dealer or grad student by dining on cheap Pakistani food and drinking overproof beer in Jarry Park.

What to do

Tam-Tams:Montralers gather every week in Mount Royal Park to fill the air with the beats and baps of amateur drumming. They also fill the air with the scent of stepped-on hash, beeswax candles and body odour.

Nothing: The very fact that you are consulting a travel guide tells me youre a loathsome Anglo who likes to ruin everything by planning for it. Put down this guidebook and live your life for once.

Get chided for speaking broken French:The look of contempt youll get from a Francophone say, when you ask for laddition at a restaurant when you want your bill, as one might in France is one of the citys most beautiful sights.

Enjoy high culture:From cinema to comedy to music, to whatever FrancoFolies is on about, arts festivals are inescapable during the few months of the year when Montral is not frozen. If you enjoy lining up for things or squeezing your body through densely packed mobs to watch jam bands noodle on free public stages, this is the place for you.

Leave: Montral is the most charming and sexy city in North America. It is sophisticated, civilised and cheap. After a weekend visit or a university degree, many will try to stay. Remember: you may love Montral, but it will never love you back. Au revoir!

This is an edited extract from the book The Canadaland Guide to Canada by Jesse Brown, published by Touchstone

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jun/30/canada-day-2017-150th-birthday-alternative-cities-guide-toronto-vancouver

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