Growing up in Michigan, especially if you lived in the southeastern part of the state, the northeastern tip around Sault Ste. Marie or right near the middle around Port Huron, you knew you were always a bridge away to another country — even if it didn’t quite feel like another country. Yes, you need a passport to travel to Canada, and yes, you need to go through the annoying customs process, but sometimes traveling right across to Ontario feels like you never left Michigan. So, what’s the point, right?
I’m here to tell you there’s a world beyond Windsor and the other Sault Ste. Marie. Travel isn’t getting any cheaper, lodging seems more and more ridiculous, and time off from work seems fruitless since everyone needs a vacation after their vacation. You could make your precious free time easier on yourself by hopping on a cheap flight to the many diverse and accessible Canadian cities that, with an open mind and a willingness to explore, are far more interesting (and, sometimes, even more queer) than their American counterparts.
Here’s why I’m suggesting Canada as a destination for more than poutine and Labatt.1. It’s significantly less expensive to fly within Canada than from outside it.
Ever look at airline fares in Europe and see it’s like 40 bucks to hop from city to city? OK, so it’s not always that cheap to hop between Canadian cities, but you can shave off a few dollars by making your way to a Canadian airport and traveling from there, rather than flying out of Detroit Metro. For Detroiters, it’s a quick trip through the tunnel to Windsor’s tiny airport, where you can leave your car in a parking lot while you’re gone. Canada’s budget airline, Porter Airlines, is the maple leaf equivalent of Spirit, and as long as you pack light, you can find your way to most of the country by booking the same way online as you would any other American airline.2. Many Canadian cities are just European dupes.
You can certainly argue that Canada doesn’t have a Louvre, a Big Ben or Spain's Running of the Bulls. But if we’re being real, most queers just walk around, eat, party and get some good Instagram shots when they’re not waiting in line for these places. For example, Old Montreal — Vieux Montreal when you’re there — is undeniably French, with 17th-century architecture still standing on cobblestone streets and many of the locals only speaking French.
3. Canadian boys love tourists.
The little airplane stickers on Grindr and Scruff that show up when you travel to a new place are like blood in the water for Canadians looking for new friends. Locals in some of the midsize Canadian cities point to two main reasons why. One, queer communities are thriving, but small in some of these cities, which means that everyone knows each other, and everyone has dated or hooked up with each other already; they need a new challenge. Secondly, very much like Detroit, no one loves their Canadian hometown more than a homebody, and they’re eager to talk about all the insider tips with new visitors. You’ll never be offensive if you ask, “What’s a good bar to check out?” before “Into?” — it’s very welcomed.
4. Nature abounds.
The things we love about Michigan, like coastal areas, trails and scenic drives, are just as much in abundance up above. Take for instance Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, which is known worldwide as having some of the best scenic drives in the world, rivaling the fall colors tour we Michiganders take to Traverse City every year. Banff in Alberta, which may ring a bell because of its film festival, is a must-visit for hikers. Thunder Bay in Ontario, which has its own airport, is a must-visit for climbers and sailors.5. Immigration has brought a wide variety of culture.
Canada didn’t fully open its borders beyond mostly white countries until 1967, something many in the nation are still reckoning with because of how recent it was. (And like in the U.S., we’d be remiss not to mention that they’re also reckoning with their treatment of Indigenous residents.) Still, thousands of folks from across the world have settled and integrated into almost all of Canada’s major urban centers, bringing with them cuisine, music, dance, art and other cultural expression. The American gyro is a “donair” in the Atlantic Provinces with a distinctly Canadian spin; West Indian and Caribbean music is felt almost everywhere and was way ahead of the Afrobeats wave sweeping the U.S.; and indie bookstores are especially supportive of showcasing local authors and poets offering tales of the immigration experience.6. The exchange rate currently works to Americans’ benefits.
Speaking of dollars and cents, everything – for the moment – is cheaper in Canada, with one U.S. dollar being worth 74 Canadian cents. That means you can splurge on the lobster dinner without guilt and pick up a few designer labels while shaving some percentages off.7. Alanis Morissette is on the radio everywhere.
She’s a mainstay of adult contemporary (I refuse to call it oldies) radio in the country, which means you can have your main character moment of queer millennial angst in the back of an Uber, in the middle of a mall or over a bowl of poutine at the corner pub.8. Some of the best seafood on the planet is readily available.
Particularly in the Atlantic Canadian provinces, where salmon, halibut and crustaceans are in surplus. Just like in the States, a rise of avant garde chefs have opened forward-thinking restaurants — and don’t for a minute think that just because you’re in Canada, those restaurants will be automatically friendly to walk-ins or they won’t be crowded. You will need a reservation for some of the hotter places, or you’ll have to be prepared to be placed on a waiting list. If frou-frou isn’t your thing, every city has its old standbys with traditional seafood favorites. Everywhere has oysters — and don’t forget, oysters are an aphrodisiac.9. Poppers aren’t sold in Canada.
In 2013, Canada outlawed the sale of nitrite products for health concerns usually associated with inhaling them, which can include drops in blood pressure, seizures and arrhythmia in extreme cases. And yes, officials are wise to the ol’ “VCR cleaner” trick, so don’t go into any store thinking they’ll have it under a code name; it simply is not for sale. That said, there is somewhat of a black market for poppers among locals, but some have complained that the formulas are diluted, and the selections are limited. Now, I’m not saying that you’ll be the most popular boy on the apps if they see you’re an American with a few hard-to-come-by brands of nail polish remover in your toiletries bag, but...