Coachlines - December 2023

20.12.23 PM Sarah Sillars OBE

A road well travelled: Canada calls for PM Sarah

Sometimes in life the events or places you have longed to go to, often over many years, can be a disappointment when they happen. It can be a damp squib when the expectation is greater than the reality.

So, it was with slight trepidation that having wanted to visit Canada for more than 40 years, that John and I started to plan our trip. It was a project I had set aside for when my year as Master finished in 2022. After such a rewarding and full-on year, I knew it would leave space in my life for a major adventure.

My father was a technical graphic designer, working in outer London for Ultra in the 1950s. He was restless and wanted to see some of the world. He was well read, had an enquiring mind, and didn’t sign up to things being too unusual, too difficult, or not possible.

So, when Larry, his great friend and work colleague resigned and left to go to Toronto, dad had a longing to follow him. With a “can do” attitude, a belief that life is one big adventure and that if he didn’t like it, he could return, he ventured out to Canada. He borrowed the fare, went via boat on a six-week passage and arrived to be met by a friendly face on the quayside and lodgings in the same guest house as Larry. The landlady’s name was Mrs Robinson!

My father was called back to the UK by his family a few years later. Shortly after he met my mother, wed, and never returned. As a child I adored his stories, the high standard of living, the handmade bespoke clothes, the scenery, the food, the vast open space, the adventure and the “magic” he described. One day I knew I would visit.
Toronto was to be my chosen destination, to try and feel the buzz and excitement he experienced and described, but why go all that way and not explore more of Canada? In early 2023 John and I booked a 16-day trip, promising ourselves to spend a few days in just four key places rather than be too frantic and too hasty to enjoy each location fully.

In October we headed off, wanting to go in “the fall” catching the spectacular scenery at its autumn best. All the usual places were on our list. We went to Vancouver, got the sea plane to Vancouver Island, went on the Rocky Mountaineer to Banff, then flew from Calgary and had the final three days in Toronto before returning home satiated.

The irony, the place I enjoyed the least was Toronto. To me it was just another large cosmopolitan city. We could have been anywhere. We enjoyed the CN Tower, eating in the revolving restaurant at dusk and visiting the highest wine cellar in the world. We did enjoy the city guided tour and boat trip, but the real, wow moments of the trip were elsewhere.

We visited places that were breathtakingly beautiful. The highlight of the trip for John was the two-day train journey on the Rocky Mountaineer. First class travel, with an outside viewing platform, accompanied by delicious food and exceptional service. The star of the show was the spectacular landscape, seeing the wildlife and savoring the rugged natural world at its best.

For me, the highlight was going to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine in Banff National Park. Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, at an elevation just shy of 2,000m, I was reminded of what my father had described.

Was the trip a disappointment? Absolutely not, if we had visited 40 years ago, maybe we would have emigrated, but we will never know. Canada was exceptional for its hospitality, its customer service, its polite, good natured, kind people. The bon viveur attitude of the young people was to be admired.

If something is on your life list, make time to do it!