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Monday, June 30th, 2008

The time was that hearing the distinctive clipped accent of white Southern Africans at the hostel was a rare occurrence indeed. To the untrained ear it could easily be mistaken for a New Zealand accent with which it has strong similarities.

Of late, more and more white South Africans have come to the hostel. Most of them are young backpackers on working holiday visas who are intending to stay for a year.

The oddest thing about these “Saffas” (as they refer to themselves) is that the majority seem to be Afrikaners; members of the only white tribe on the African continent. They refer to themselves as “Boers” which means “Farmers” in their native tongue, Afrikaans.

They first settled in Africa more than three centuries ago and have developed a unique culture with an almost pathological connection to the land. They are the only whites on the continent that do not claim to be European. Their language is an odd admixture of Old Dutch, with Huguenot and German influences. They have even developed their own literature.

We have two young South African brothers working at the hostel. The brothers have relocated to Canada. By virtue of the fact that their mother had been born in Canada allowed the brothers to obtain Canadian citizenship.

Both brothers, Wouter and Evert, have been imbued with the strong Boer work ethic and are both a strong asset to the hostel. With recent events in Southern Africa (like the land seizures, hyperinflation and stolen elections in Zimbabwe) and the election of an avowed racist and alleged rapist as the President in waiting, many South Africans are seeking alternatives.

The brothers are fortunate, because they have one.

Most Boers would have to look back as many as 10 to 15 generations to find European roots. And contrary to popular belief, they do not, in our experience with them, tend harbor overt racist attitudes.

It is a sad reflection on the future of Southern Africa; but, if the hard-working brothers, Wouter and Evert, are typical examples of Afrikaner immigrants, it seems they should prove to to be most desirable migrants to this country.

Wouter and Evert Canadiana backpackers youth hostel downtown Toronto

Wouter (left) with his younger brother Evert.

Backpacking Post 9/11

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City did not harm only the USA. It did, in fact, alter the way we all live and interact in the western world.

What were once free, open and welcoming societies have become suspicious and paranoid, almost to the point of xenophobia. So many backpackers have come to the hostel with horror stories of encounters with customs officials in Europe, the U.S.A. and right here in Canada.

We’ve been hosting backpackers (thousands upon thousands of them) for over a decade now and we’ve yet to come across and “terrorists”. A few football hooligan types (maybe); our fair share of drunks and the odd less than bright traveler. But the vast majority are just young, adventurous and well-behaved “kid next door” types.

Some are first time backpackers, while others have been badly bitten by the travel bug and often have been globe trotting for years!

Canada and the U.S.A. form the world’s largest trading partnership. And whether we like to admit it or not, share a lot of cultural similarities. Since the 9/11 attack, we’ve begun to share even more.

A lot of the horror stories of border crossing encounters concern customs officers in the United States because that’s where a lot of our backpackers landed first in north America. But we also get tales of a good many nasty run-ins with Canadian border officials.

Canada and the U.S.A. once boasted the world’s longest “undefended” border. Citizens of both countries could cross over very easily and without a passport, to shop, eat, holiday or simply visit friends. After 9/11 that has all changed.

Customs - Canadiana Backpackers Inn Downtown Toronto Youth Hostel for BackpackersCanadian Customs officials (according to a lot of our visitors) have become suspicious, aggressive and less civil in their dealings with visitors. But I think the most telling example of change is the fact that we are currently in the process of training our Customs Agents to use firearms as a prelude to issuing them guns!

In fairness, it is not the fault of our governments or border officials. Machine gun toting cops at major airports are now a common sight. No country s immune to foreign and domestic terrorism. It is merely a sign of the times.

The job of maintaining security has just become a lot more important and immeasurably more difficult. That is the post 9/11 zeitgeist. And all an innocent traveler can do is to try to understand their position and, above all, co-operate!

Water, water everywhere…

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

How much freshwater does Canada have? The answer is about 9% of all the renewable freshwater resources in the world!

It’s virtually free at your tap too. The average cost per thousand liters of tap water is about fifty cents!

So why are people paying a dollar for 375 ml of water in a plastic bottle? If you think about it, that’s more than you pay for gasoline and everybody complains about the cost of gas!

Last year, 700 million liters of bottled water were sold in Canada at a cost of almost one-half billion dollars!

What people are not aware of is that one quarter of all bottled water in Canada comes directly from the tap and it is perfectly legal to do so.

Scientists have stated that in Canada, there is virtually no difference between bottled water and tap water and that tap water is totally drinkable.

Water - Canadiana Backpackers Inn Toronto Youth Hostels

Firms that sell bottled water claim that their industry is more tightly regulated than municipal water supplies. Scientists disagree.

Pierre Payment, an internationally recognized microbiologist at the Universite du Quebec, says, “There is more regulation in fact, for tap water. If you look at the number of samples that must be taken for water that reaches your tap, it’s huge! Each system is tested on a regular basis, almost daily.”

So why have people (especially visitors to Canada) taken to bottled water? The answers are simply, marketing and fear.

Two of the largest selling bands of bottled water in North America Dasani and Aquifina are owned by Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola respectively. Together hey account for billions (literally) in North American sales every year.

However, it was revealed that both companies were selling little more than filtered tap water. In fact, their bottles contained virtually the same water as your toilet. Scandalous!

The bottom line is that not only is tap water as good as bottled water; moreover, in 25% of the cases it is exactly the same product!

Work Visas

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

? Steve the window cleaner at Canadiana Backpackers inn a youth hostel in downtown Toronto

Times have changed for young travelers. In the past a backpacker on a limited budget was subject to the same visa restrictions as any other tourist.

Today, because of reciprocal agreements between governments, young people (usually under 32) from a developed country, can apply for a one-time, one-year. working holiday visa. This gives therm the right to work and travel within the country for a full year.

Steve, a young man from Australia, is in Toronto on just such a visa. But his aim is to make his year in Canada as big an adventure as possible. So he didn’t look for the same type of work he did back home.

Instead, he got a job washing windows.

What’s so special or adventurous about washing windows, you ask? Well it depends on where those windows are. The one’s that Steve will be cleaning are on Toronto’s high-rise buildings.

They start from the top windows and work their way down lowered from the roof suspended in a harness or bosun’s chair. So it often involves cleaning city-grime encrusted windows hundreds of feet above the pavement.

It is not a job for the faint-hearted or anyone who has a problem with heights. Part of the job interview is watching a video showing what can go wrong with the equipment for this job. It’s a process that rapidly weeds out the timid.

Steve is still in the middle of training which, as one might expect, is extensive, intense and exhaustive. But once it has been completed and he’s is ready to work solo on high-rise buildings, the job can be quite lucrative.

But all I can say is, better you than me, Steve. Better you than me!

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Two window washers working their way down in tandem.

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It looks like quite a drop if the rope breaks! (It’s a good thing he’s wearing a helmet!)

What’s with the Weather?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Toronto is well known for its’ up and down weather. They often say that in the winter, it is so cold, you can’t even breathe! And in the summer, it is so hot, you can’t even breathe!

Last week, the weather was around 31C. But when you factor in the humidity it felt like 41C! That’s the way it works around here. The temperature rarely goes above 34C; but, the humidity in Toronto makes it feel as if it were in the mid 40C range.

Rain at Canadiana Backpackers youth hostel toronto

After weeks of warm (hot) humid temperatures, we have experienced a pronounced drop of the thermometer and this morning, the temperature is a mere 13C at 10 A.M.

We are less than 2 weeks from Canada Day (July 1) and the temperature is not expected to rise above 20C until, at least, this weekend. People have begun to pull their spring and fall jackets and “hoodies” out of storage.

There is, however, an upside to this cooler weather if you operate a hostel. Among the hostels in Toronto, we are centrally air conditioned and the monster units we have draw copious amounts of hydro.

The weatherman says that we cant expect temperatures even approaching seasonal norms until the middle of next week when a moderate 25C is predicted by mid week. All of this translates into substantial energy savings for the hostel!

A Prescient Pedagogue

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Some say that rural or small town Canada is often a cultural wasteland. That’s probably partly true because they are usually ethnically homogeneous areas with minimal cultural diversity.

We’ve been fortunate to host (several times a year) various groups of high school students from West Ferris High School in North Bay, Ontario. For whatever reason, of all the hostels in Toronto, they choose to stay at ours and we’re glad to have them.

North Bay, as it name would imply, is situated in a northern bay of the beautiful Lake Nipissing in an area first explored by Samuel De Champlain almost four centuries ago. The picturesque little town is located about four hours drive due north of Toronto.

The area’s growth began in 1882 with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the town of a little over 50,000 souls is located close to where the first spike of the Trans Canada Railway link was driven.

The trips to Toronto are organized by a remarkable pedagogue by the name of John Hetherington. Each trip has a cultural link such as visits to a Mosque, Temple or Synagogue, or visits to ethnic shopping areas, like Chinatown, Little India or Greektown. The aim is to give students exposure to various cultures, their customs and different religious beliefs.

The theory is that if the students can’t be exposed to other cultures and ethnicities at home; then bring them to Toronto which is arguably the most culturally diverse city on the planet! John has been leading these excursions for the past nine years.

The student groups brought to Toronto by John are also remarkably well behaved and one gets the impression that they leave the city a little richer than they were when they arrived.

And that’s pretty much the aim of education; is it not? It’s also a program that other rural/small town schools would do well to emulate.

Canadiana Backpackers youth hostel downtown Toronto

John Hetherington reclining outside of our front door in front of a group of his students here on a cultural outing here in Toronto,

Update on the 16th Cycle Messenger World Championships

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Bike courier race at Canadiana Backpackers Inn youth hostel toronto

Kym from NYC and her bike (with frame destroyed) after a run-in with a car door.

A couple of posts ago, we told you about the Bicycle Messenger World Championships being held in Toronto. The event attracted hundreds of competitors from North America, Europe and Asia.

As mentioned before these guys and girls can really scoot on their bikes! Making a living as an inner-city bike courier depends on speed!

You might assume (correctly) that bike messengers are a pretty fit bunch. They are mostly young iconoclasts who’s antics on busy city streets can often border on the reckless!

Of the hundreds of competitors who came for the competition, about 20 stayed with us at our hostel in Toronto. And this group achieved some pretty impressive results!

Sixth to eighth place were taken by competitors staying with us! And the second fastest female qualifier was a guest of ours!

Eighth place was won by Craig Roth a courier from the crowded streets of Boston. What made his top ten finish so impressive is that at 38 years of age, Craig was twice the age of some competitors!

I mentioned that fact to him; however, Craig is quiet and unassuming! He told me that the ninth place finisher was a 52 year-old from Washington, D.C.!

Kym Perfetto, a lovely lady messenger from New York City, had the second fastest time in the qualifying heats. She might have gone all the way too! Unfortunately, Kym had a run in with a car door, opened into traffic by a careless driver after parking, the day before the race!

You can see a photo of her bike above (complete with shattered frame!).

World Messenger Championship at Canadiana Backpackers hostel toronto youth hostel backpackers

A group of competitors on the hostel patio.

Cycle Messenger World Championships

Friday, June 13th, 2008

World bicycle couriers staying at Canadiana Backpackers hostel in downtown Toronto?

Toronto is hosting the Annual Cycle Messenger World Championship for the second time in the event’s 16 year history.

Since 1993, the event has been held in various cities from San Francisco to Sydney. Toronto last hosted the event in 1995 and as become the only repeat host of he event.

We’ve had about 20 competitors from around the world check in to the hostel for the event which begins today on the beautiful Toronto Island Park. These are among the best (and fastest) bike couriers from major cities around the world.

These urban road warriors are like other city cyclists – except a whole lot quicker. You can get a taste of what they do by watching the Kevin Bacon movie “Quicksiver”!

It’s pretty much accepted that a bicycle can navigate heavy traffic in the center of most major cities much better and faster than you can a car. You also don’t have to worry about parking. Enter the bicycle courier.

Professional bike couriers can travel much faster than an ordinary cyclist. They provide inner city businesses with faster and more dependable deliveries than foot or vehicle deliveries.

We hope the winner of this year’s competition is one of our guests. That will give us a pretty interesting update piece. Stay tuned!

Heading West

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Cycling Canada from Montreal to Toronto at Canadiana Backpackers youth hostel toronto?

Every year about this time they begin to arrive at the hostel. The first to arrive are a German couple Iris and Christoph. They’ve brought their bicycles and are about to head out of the Toronto, bound for the Pacific Coast.

They are no strangers to long distance cycling having traveled from Germany through Spain and back. However, I am always under the impression that European travelers don’t really realize just how vast Canada really is.

They have their own website at (in German) to chronicle their adventure. They refer to it as the Trans Canada Velotour.

They intend to camp for most of the trip and stay in hostels when possible. But the Ontario portion of their trip is over 1200 miles to the Manitoba border and, off the top of my head, I can only think of two hostels between here and Winnipeg.

They also seem to have collected as much information about camping in Canada as was available in Europe. I suggested that they invest in a powerful can of Bear Spray. Christoph said that since Ontario only had Black Bears they didn’t think it would pose too great a threat.


Although they are considerably smaller, Black Bears are a greater danger to humans than Grizzly Bears. Grizzly Bears only attack when they feel threatened whereas a Black Bear will try to eat you! And there are lots of them!

It’s best to have a can of Bear Spray handy and not need it; than to need it and not have it!

The first part of their journey over the Great Lakes to Thunder Bay and on to Winnipeg, Manitoba is spectacular! Then they’ll reach the prairies which are flat and seemingly interminable. It stretches from Winnipeg almost to Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Just for your passing information, this is where they might find Grizzly Bears! The mountains are breathtaking and in more ways than one! Get ready for a lot of uphill climbing!

I hope they are able to keep their website updated. I’d like to follow their progress, even though I’ll have to get one of our German speaking staff embers to translate for me.

Good luck and safe journey to both!

It’s a Small World!

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Portugese guests at Canadiana Backpackers hostel toronto you hostel

We’ve got a school group here from Portugal. It is comprised of about 14 students and five teachers. They are actually from the Azores.

The Azores are a group of nine major islands and eight smaller Formigas Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean fully 1,500 kms from Lisbon.

Teresa, our superwoman and head of housekeeping, is also from the Azores, although she has made Canada her home for close to three decades.

She recognized the regional accent that is distinctive to the Islanders and struck up a conversation with our guests in er native Portuguese.

But one young student’s accent proved very distinctive! “You’re not from the city,” she said. “Where do you come from?”

The boy admitted that he was from the countryside and told her the name of his village. When she asked him what his address was, the address he gave was the same house where Teresa had lived as a child and where two of her siblings had been born!

It turns out that Teresa’s father and the boy’s grandmother were brother and sister. This makes the boy Teresa’s Second Cousin, once removed (different generation).

Who said it’s not a small, small world?

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