Writing: That Old Toronto Magic

old city hall!
photo by swisscan on flickr

I stepped off the airplane and followed the signs, in French and English, the way they do things in Canada. The hallway fed into a giant empty room, thick with winding amusement-park railings full of nobody, the booths at the far end staffed with Valkyries, or bored Customs agents, or trolls — who could say? A stamp and I was through. Canada. I was here.

“Your speedometer’s in kilometers first, then miles smaller,” I told Ryan as his car pulled us through normal-looking streets. I could see why everything filmed in Toronto; it looked like any other American city, what with its traffic lights, sidewalks, and correctly-shaped humans. “That means that somewhere, in some factory, there are American versions of cars being made, and Canadian versions of cars being made.”

“The placard is integral to the frame of the car,” he nodded. “The whole chassis has to be re-tooled to fit the appropriate placard.” He put on his turn signal. It sounded like an American turn signal — but was it?

To most Americans, Canada is a concept. It’s a punchline, a hockey-loving moose-preserve with free health care and an infestation of the French. Anyone who professed a desire to “move to Canada” around some election or other clearly saw it only as non-America, as a place defined by its not being someplace else.

“Did you ever hear of the Walkterton scandal?” Ryan asked. It is news that did not make it to America, so busy are we with our own problems.

“No,” I said, and suddenly I realized we were flying.

Ryan moved the steering wheel and the car banked, dipping sharply into the air and describing a large arc across wide-open sky. Before us were the buildings of the downtown core, and beyond that, the twinkle of Lake Ontario; the CN Tower jutted into the sky like a syringe full of nourishing, bagged milk.

It was astonishing. It was beautiful. It was the glimmer of scales falling from my wide American eyes.

“There is so much we don’t know about Canada,” I gasped, and Ryan laughed.

“Sometimes,” he smiled, reaching into the back seat and handing me a brilliant red maple leaf, shot through with veins and shocking and surprising and real — “sometimes, we like it that way.”


  • CF

    Well done, my friend. You win many internets.

    I recently had a Canadian friend, while discussing Canada with her, remark to me, “You know, there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.”

    I think I finally understand.

  • Robin

    Aw. <3 I moved to Toronto from the U.S. over a decade ago, and I remember it being a revelation as well. I’d grown up with Canada being a punchline and it was a shock to discover it was a normal place. :)

    Is “Ryan” the Ryan who does Dinosaur Comics?

  • MaW

    Try coming to the UK. We drive on the other side of the road. Truly a land of magic and wonder.

  • Adam H.

    EPIC. This story did T.O. justice. I would like to have read more. I often profess that I could write volumes about certain things, but they may or may not be good volumes. I would like to read more such volumes about the awesomeness of my country.

    But as a side note, yeah, I too would like to know if this was Ryan North :)

  • http://defenders-of-freedom.com asher

    kinda reminds me of a dream written by Johnathan Carroll, check him out if you don’t know who he is.

  • http://brainbody.wordpress.com Anabelle

    1. The French are no infesting anyone ;) We actually cannot have a decent career without speaking English.
    2. Go to Montréal if you don’t want to feel like in an Canadian version of New York. It’ll be more like Europe. But closer.

    Otherwise, nice little text ;) Nice to see ourselves in other people’s eyes.

  • Personne

    It’s OK. We’re used to anonymity. It’s fun to see US citizens fail every basic geo-political or cultural question about their immediate neighbour and largest commercial partner. It’s equally amusing to hear regular US rants about every bad thing coming across the longest land border on the planet; things like arctic cold spells, softwood lumber, 9/11 terrorists, power outages…

  • Luluzinha

    *gets to work on David Malki/Ryan North slashfic*

  • http://www.tommasz.net/ Tom

    I live in Rochester, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. I’ve seen things in the northern sky and said to myself “they sure look like flying cars.” I’ve always attributed it to swamp gas or perhaps weather balloons.

    But now I know the truth. Oh yes, I know.

  • http://www.americrayon.com/ Sara

    Luluzinha:

    I WILL READ IT

  • Eifel

    Yeah, that’s basically what Canada is.

  • Ming_the_Merciless

    Snc yr mln-hdd hssn plld fr trlln dllrs t f hs ss, m sr gld t hv cm bck t Cnd nd thnk t wll b wst f mny t rnw m mrcn pssprt…

  • Adam H

    Gasp! It was Ryan North! He had a sleepover/comicorgy with a bunch of people, as shown in the post on dinosaur comics.

    What a night that must have been.