Travelling to Canada? Don’t forget to pack your hair shirt and handy travel whip. Because no matter how low-impact you intend your visit to be you’ll still be made to feel guilty. “Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints” isn’t enough for Canadians who would prefer their signs to read: “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints and flail yourself in penance for the damage wrought by the footpath you are standing on and the road that brought you here.”
And don’t dare step off that trail when hiking up to the beautiful lake / river / waterfall / glacier. If you do leave the path, you will almost certainly be ‘compacting the soil’ which apparently restricts new growth. Also don’t let your dog run free off the leash because he’ll disturb the wildlife or worse, deposit a small steaming pile of foreign biotics into the delicate local ecosystem.
On paying your entrance fee to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies you may receive a leaflet which includes the words “Avoid stopping for bears”. Which is the equivalent of a leaflet in Paris advising: “Avoid visiting the Eiffel Tower – you polluting foreigner.” Apparently if everyone stopped to look at the bears, they would lose their fear of humans, become a danger and then be euthanized. As no one has ever resisted stopping to look at a wild bear, 700+ a year do lose their fear of humans and are killed in British Columbia every year. OK, so as with all worthy causes, it’s difficult to argue against without sounding like the poor sucker forced to dispute the installation of expensive metal detectors in their local school and hearing in response: “You mean our children’s safety is NOT your highest priority.”
But even animals that have no fear of people are dished up with a generous spoonful of guilt. The Killer Whales off Vancouver Island make for a thrilling and uplifting encounter with nature but your soaring spirit will soon be punctured when you learn that your boat engines are greatly disturbing them. Though the guilt pill is somewhat unintentionally sweetened by the revelation that fleeing seals use the circling tourist boats as cover – which is hilarious.
Even staying at home you cannot avoid a Canadian guilt trip. The famous Athabasca Glacier up in the Rockies is melting too quickly and guess whose fault that is? You left the TV on standby all night didn’t you? The glacier is now considered too unstable to walk on and signs warn that: “The last three rescue attempts were unsuccessful.” Children are particularly vulnerable as they fall further down the crevices than the rescuers can reach and succumb to hypothermia sooner than adults.
So, if you’re the kind of person who is wondering who might be to blame for the glacier’s previous retreat 15,000 years ago, feel free to pack your bags sans sackcloth and ashes. But if you’re already feeling just a wee bit guilty for melting that glacier then rest assured – quality cilices, hair shirts and whips for self-flagellation can be purchased from tourist information points throughout Canada.
[Wikipedia: A cilice /?s?l?s/ was originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt) worn close to the skin. It was used in some religious traditions to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.]