I felt as if I was intruding. Like I was wandering a set only to realize as I came center stage that the play was in full swing. Wrapped up in the excitement of the night before, I had invested in a tank top that I now used to try to blend in, throwing them off my American scent. The white words a stark contrast from the vibrant red:
“True North Canada Love the Leaf”
It reminded me quite a bit of home. All it really needed was a splash of blue here and there to go with the red and white and we might as well be celebrating Independence Day a few days early. Kids ran in circles stabbing each other with flags, expending only a fraction of the sugar-induced energy surge they were experiencing. Teenagers wore headbands with maple leaves springing from their heads while an elderly couple walked their small dog sporting a red shirt with yet another white maple leaf.
This was the scene of the farmer’s market set up next to the docks in Kenora, Ontario that fine Canada Day. It was similar to the open market in Quito, Ecuador, except this one did not have individual stalls, rather aisles were created with folding tables that had been set up under a massive white tent. Local artisans proudly showcased their talent and encouraged each passerby to take advantage of a day of splurging.
The farmer’s market is a great opportunity to get those more of those one-of-a-kind souvenirs that people ask about and then regret when you launch into an hour-long play-by-play of your last trip.
I splurged at a few of the tables, myself, before joining the increasing crowds lining up on the sidewalks for the parade. Unmistakable as always, the pipe band commanded attention as it struck up at the far end of the street. The mass of musicians, dancers, and cars crawled up the baking street to everyone’s delight. Being a band groupie for the weekend, I followed to the end of the parade path where everyone paused and removed their hats as the national anthem was sung by one of the locals.
Suppressing the instinct to put my hand over my heart, I stood awkwardly as I strained to catch the lyrics of a song I only knew the first line to. Following the applause, the pipe band swung back around to “flash mob” the farmer’s market. Again, the smiles were instantaneous as people squeezed past one another to get a better look at the ghillies, kilts, red faces, puffed cheeks, and sunglasses that comprised the band.
The next place the band played was the Mather Walls House, which was hosting a Canada Day tea party. I was lucky enough to get an impromptu backstage tour of the Victorian home built in 1899, admiring the architectural features, furniture, and antiques carefully preserved by the Ontario Heritage Foundation and Lake of the Woods Historical Society. It reminded me of a dollhouse as it was so dressed up and slightly miniaturized by the modern American standards that I was used to. Always intrigued by a good story, I listened eagerly as my guide told me the tragic history of the house and its not-so-empty present.
While I did not experience any uneasy feelings myself (which was a relief) it was a little eerie to walk into the room that had been sealed exactly as it was for several decades after its occupant had died unexpectedly. Cobwebs hung from some parts of the ceiling in delicate curtains and the furniture gave the sense that it had settled into what would be its final resting place.
They really embrace the specter story in Kenora as local high schoolers dress up the place as a true haunted house for kids every Halloween.
I made it back to the yard just in time for the pipes and drums to strike up again and enjoy some of the Celtic dancing that took place in between sets. After that, my sister and I wandered down to The Muse – Lake of the Woods Museum. We perused the three-level permanent collection, as well as the feature exhibit about the story behind the sacred jingle dress – a healing tradition of the Anishinaabe culture. I was surprised by how relatively new the tradition is, originating in the mid 1900s. However, I find that one of the things that fascinates me most about the cultures I experience is the rediscovery of magic.
Not magic in the sense of fairy godmothers or love potions, but in the little mysteries of life that are explainable only by belief. Almost every day at lunch I read about another breakthrough in the treatment of diseases like cancer or a new discovery into how life came to our planet and in these moments it seems there is no question that humanity will not answer one day. But something like the jingle dress heals the spirit itself, thus healing the mind and body from the inside-out. In many ways, I have found sharing in other cultures to be a rediscovery of the human spirit – its strength and its belief that we were all chosen for something, something unique to our person. The best and worst part of such a belief being that most of us do not learn this “something” until later in life, if we discover it at all. For some, it is those we leave behind that truly understand our unique purpose and impact.
Yes, that was what hit me in that small museum in Kenora, Ontario. And if you would have told me before I left for my weekend excursion in Canada, a country I always assumed to be so similar to my own, that I would have such a revelation I would have laughed. But I suppose that is simply another lesson in the unpredictability of this funny little world we live in.
It would not be a patriotic celebration without fireworks, which is why at the end of the day, after the sun had set, I found myself sitting in the grass on the bank of the Lake of the Woods. Covered head-to-toe in pants and long sleeves, I still had to swat at the swarm of mosquitoes hovering nearby, waiting for the opportune moment to make a pass. I soon forgot about my arch nemesis, though as the first burst lit up the sky. I craned my neck to get the perfect view of the explosions framed beautifully in the sky by the reflection of the water and the two trees I sat under. I knew that if I closed my eyes now, it would feel just like home, sitting on the curb as the red, white, and blue fireworks lit up the sky back home. I chuckled to myself, if home is where your heart is, mine seems to move around a lot.
Kenora is an especially great place to visit for the outdoors or to escape busy city life. The woods and rocky outcroppings are great for hiking while the lakes provide ample opportunities for boating, fishing, kayaking, or swimming with the tadpoles. Just be sure you are up-to-date on your bear safety as they are prevalent throughout the area.