A reflection on the little ways in which a Canadian can find a piece of home in London.
Red and white everywhere, hockey jerseys on the walls, cheesy poutine on the menu… Of course, a description like this conjures an image of the maple-loving, bitter-wintered Canada. But what if I were to tell you that I’m describing a bar right here in London?
Getting that taste of home while settling into a new city is definitely needed; and sipping my drink on Thanksgiving evening with my fellow countrymen represents one small way that I have been able to find myself a good dose of Canadian charm here in The Big Smoke!
As any Canadian student in London will soon come to realise, stepping into British culture is not all about clichés like red telephone boxes and tea. The more time I spend in London the more I realise that this city truly values its multiculturalism and takes pride in its history. As Canadians, we too value our multiculturalism, but lack England’s extensive past. Canada then seems to be an odd mix of Britain and the States; we are fairly newly founded and can easily become obsessed with American trash TV, yet will also feel a big swell of post-Commonwealth pride during a jubilee or royal wedding.
Yet having taken the leap across the pond and swapping a sunny Toronto summer for England’s joyous grey skies – yes, heat does exist in Canada – I’ve definitely experienced a nostalgia for certain patriotic staples that are attributable only to the Great White North.
For instance, in Canada when on a routine trip to Tim Horton’s for a coffee, doughnut or sandwich – not forgetting a side of signature Tim-bits – I can count on cheap, decent food. Its price alone is alluring and creates a big contrast to London. I have yet to find an equivalent that is up to par with Tim’s, but hold out hope that I can temporarily replace this staple here in London with possible Canadian alternatives.
It goes without saying that another Canadian staple is Thanksgiving. For me, this holiday will always remind me of fall (autumn for you Brits) – crunchy brown leaves falling and warm woolly clothes. Thanksgiving is also timed perfectly for freshmen in Canada to settle into university before a much-needed trip home.
Naturally, with such fond feelings towards it, the idea of Thanksgiving away from home was daunting. But making an effort in keeping up this particular Canadianism, by adapting my situation and making new traditions when necessary, has been key in making myself feel at home here in England. It was essentially one way to bring home to me even if just for an evening. My approach? I got in touch with a Canadian friend and headed over to the Maple Leaf London to celebrate our country with a night out among other nationals.
Situated in Covent Garden, Maple Leaf Bar (a self-described “little piece of Canada in the heart of London”) emanates the relaxed and friendly vibe that Canadians are known for. For food and drink, whether your favourite Canadian delight is a Molson Canadian or a cheesy poutine, the Maple Leaf has something for every nostalgic craving. NHL and Blue Jays jerseys hang in cases on the wall and there is particular homage paid to my favourite team; the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadian Society at UCL even hosts viewings of NHL games and poutine runs that will be sure to give you your Canada “fix”.
When we arrived on Thanksgiving we were initially strangers, but as is the Canadian way soon ended up chatting with the next table – a group who happened to be from my hometown! I couldn’t help but think about the intermingling of two cultures. There we were; enjoying Britain and all it has to offer yet sharing Canadian food and drink dressed in red and white plaid to celebrate our roots.
In some ways, I’ve become more patriotic since moving away from Canada, as the distance from home has allowed me to appreciate my home country more. But I am glad to be able to uphold some significant Canadian customs at the same time as integrating into London. So whether making an effort to maintain my accent, or hunting for a good alternative to Timmy’s, Canadian culture will continue to permeate through me as I make London my second home.
Featured Image: The Maple Leaf