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That Time I Went to Canada for Lunch

The CN Tower in Toronto

I’m in Toronto right now for TBEX (the largest travel blogging conference in the world) and the BlogHouse, and while this is my first visit to Ontario, it isn’t the first time I’ve been to Canada.

Nope, I’ve been once before.

I got lunch.

In Fall 2011, my brother, Ian (who wrote a guest post for me 2 weeks ago), and I spent a weekend in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. We own a condo there, which we inherited when my father passed away two years ago.

Carrabassett Valley is a small town in Western Maine, which is known for one thing: it’s home to Sugarloaf Ski Area, a large, destination mountain. However, we were there in the Fall, and winter sports weren’t the motivation for our visit. Instead, we were holding a memorial party for our father — nodding and smiling while people we didn’t feel like talking to gave us their condolences.

We had one day in rural Maine that wasn’t taken up by family obligation, and decided ahead of time to bring our passports. We were intrigued by the fact that Carrabassett Valley is only 30 minutes from the Canadian border, and told our family we planned to take a daytrip to Canada. Mostly because we’d never taken a daytrip to another country before, and we thought it was the most amusing plan.

Ian and I got in his car, which, until recently, was our dad’s car and started driving. The nearest large town over the border is Lake Mégantic, or Lac-Mégantic, considering it’s Québec, so that was our destination.

At this point in his life, my brother wasn’t terribly good at keeping his car clean. He’s a journalist and the back seat was filled with newspapers, personal mail, empty plastic bottles that needed to be recycled. The car was also filled with some of our dad’s things — objects my brother took when we cleaned out our father’s apartment in Rhode Island, but which never found their way out of the car.

As we drove toward the US-Canada border the houses thinned and Carrabassett Valley began to seem downright cosmopolitan — a bustling metropolis compared with forest interspersed by the occasional hunting lodge.

When we eventually crossed over into Canada, we immediately began to pass small towns and well-kept farmhouses — a change from the woods and rundown buildings on the Maine side of the border. According to my brother, most Canadians live within 50 miles of the US border, and the change from being very far North in a country to being very far South was obvious.

Before we could make any of these observations, though, we had to cross the border. We pulled up, rolled down our window, and said hello to the Canadian border police. They asked where we were going.

“Lac-Mégantic,” said my brother in his best French-Canadian accent.

“Lake Megantic?” It sounded decidedly like American-English.

“Yeah, that’s the one…” We said sheepishly.

“And where are you staying?” They wondered.

“We have a condo in Carrabassett Valley”

“What are you doing in Canada?”

“Getting lunch?”

We awkwardly explained the idea of a daytrip to Canada. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re following all the rules, border crossings make people defensive and clumsy.

Things were going well enough until the officer asked, “What have you got in the car?” He gestured to the backseat with its newspapers and other miscellany.

And then my brother replied, “I don’t know.”


“You don’t know?”

Two Americans driving over the border to Canada with a car full of stuff they can’t account for? Really?

“This is your car, right?” He pressed.

“Well, yeah.” My brother replied, his hesitation stemming from how recently the car had become his, and how we both still thought of it as dad’s car, but we didn’t get to explain this to the border police.

Instead they asked us to step out of the car…

While two officers searched through remnants of our father’s life, and newspaper articles with the byline Holliday, Ian and I stood around chuckling over how badly we had handled the situation.

Unsurprisingly, they found nothing illegal among the car’s contents, and we were allowed to proceed.

Our afternoon in Canada was pleasant, if uneventful. We ate poutine and quesadillas at a Mexican restaurant on the lake’s edge. Our server spoke little English and we spoke even less French, so we shyly pointed at the menu and mimed what we needed. We walked along the lake’s edge and drank café au laits at a chocolate shop before we decided it was probably time to head back to the US.

We had no trouble crossing the border going that direction.

Have you ever taken a daytrip to another country? Care to share an amusing border crossing story? Can you believe that’s the only time I’ve been to Canada before now?

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • CrysJ

    Back when we were kids, my mom and her best friend loaded all of their respective kids up in the backseat of my mom’s black Cougar and drove us across the border for lunch. I don’t remember it at all, but it’s my only visit to another country to date, and rumor has it we had pancakes as big as your face! If your face is as big as a rather large pancake…. Since then I have imagined Canada as a land of giant breakfast foods…

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