I had always imagined Canada to be a rich and lavish country with endless dense forests filled with menacing grizzly bears. I thought the people would be a paragon of health and robustness like the Mounties so often associated with Canada. On arriving in Toronto a bustling city with all walks of life scurrying around with all their own independent uniquely important agenda’s, it was not quite the picturesque image that I had created in my imagination. The sun was flashing ostentatiously, however, lighting up and breathing life from its throne up in the sky with such brightness and enthusiasm that my spirits could not be dampened.
In some ways escaping the years without summer in England, where the gray depthless sky is depressingly constant was illuminating in itself. The plan was too hire a car and drive to the Great Lakes where a college friend of my mother co-owned an island in the middle of Lake Huron. The prospect of spending one month on an Island thrilled me and the sense of impending adventure which approaches when about to embark on a journey and meet new people was bursting inside me like a small kid on Christmas Eve. The car we hired was a Ford Galaxy and the colossal size of the machine made it feel like it was from outer space to us modest Europeans.
Two hours into the journey there was a smell of burning. My mother got a shock. “What’s that smell” No response “I’m stopping the car” Mild, unsuccessful, appeals came from the rest of us but shortly we pulled into a petrol station. It was discovered that the smell came from the tires. “You didn’t leave the handbrake on did you? ” Again no response but this time from my mother. Not long later back on the road with the handbrake firmly off, a sort of conciliation came from my father in a typical Dutch ‘not my problem attitude: “oh well it’s not our car.
We drove and drove in a way Americans or Australians would be proud of and en route went through deep deserted forests with sign posts saying: ‘Next gas station – 150 miles. ‘ The only highlight in the journey being when we crossed the American boarder for the sole purpose of being able to boast that we had been to Canada and the USA. Once on the island the bear encounter ,was one of the memorable aspects of the holiday. Following our usual routine after breakfast, the twins Ben and Pete, and I trekked up the small hill to the tennis courts.
Situated in a small clearing, the tennis courts were surrounded imposingly by the evergreen forest. Chatting away, completely oblivious to everything, we were suddenly stopped dead in our tracks by a freakish noise. It was a shrill, high pitched unidentifiable whine, like keening. We edged closer, peering round at the tennis courts. Trapped inside was a young bear cub, blundering blindly around the tennis courts. Emitting a relentless banshee-like howl, it was crashing into the wire fencing in desperation, trying to find an escape. My immediate instinct was to try to rescue the helplessly trapped bear cub.
Ben and Peter who were obviously more experienced, stopped me quickly, talking simultaneously, which they did when stressed. “Don’t be stupid! ” they chorused, “baby bear means mother bear… just run! ” Sprinting away, we heard in the distance, the answering roar of the enraged mother. A week later, we tentatively ventured back to the tennis courts. We found it in ruins, with the right side of the fencing viciously ripped apart, with a tunnel of trampled undergrowth leading back into the depths of the forest, marking the return passage of the bears back to safety.