If you pick up a brochure anywhere in the world about Canada, you can be pretty confident of seeing the following images: bears, moose, big snowy mountains, chipmunks and most importantly of all, a red coat-tailed Mountie.
Actually, come to think of it, while the animals are all accounted for and the mountains impossible to miss, I feel a bit cheated on that final icon. Not once in the almost 12 months Ive lived here have I witnessed that splendid sight of a man in a funny hat sitting on a horse.
To right this huge oversight I demand the municipality install a fulltime Mountie with horse in the village or I will hurl accusations world-wide of false advertising. After all, thats why I moved here. But I digress.
When images of the great white north come to mind, it must be said that castles are not among them. And Im not meaning rocks that look like castles or freaky medieval type natural landscapes. Im talking about turrets, moats and drawbridges with little flags dotted along the top.
Yet no one has told this to the folk living along the highways that link Cache Creek and Rogers Pass, who seem to have an obsession with them. I must have counted at least 12 on my recent drive through these towns, beginning with a startling red and white castle hotel, reaching the midpoint with Salmon Arms castle toy shop and finishing with a stern grey castle in the middle of nowhere. Despite scouring local tourist brochures on this apparent secret royalty, the reasons for imitation England remain a mystery.
Other curious sights along this same stretch of pavement include a miniature farm where everything is, err, miniature, a petting farm where presumably you pat farm animals until the cows come home, and an enchanted forest. To be honest I was quite tempted by that one, and of course it came with the obligatory castle partially hidden in the green glade.
Now while these bright tourist corals are designed to lure hapless tourists into parting with their cash, the sheer frequency of them was eerie. It made me wonder if the Americans, those champions of cheese, finally had made inroads into their neighbours psyche, or at least sense of taste.
To list the tacky tourist attractions in the USA would be beyond the length of this column. But I must tell you about this town I stumbled into some three hours drive east of Seattle where the whole theme is Bavaria right down to the window boxes and little painted shutters on every single town centre building. It was obviously a case of "go Barvaria or go home." Walk into any of the local establishments there and hear the strangled music of some far away swineherd of the Alps and see the strangled expressions on the staff made to wear authentic Germanic daywear. Even better, the town is in the middle of a desert.
And what would a trip to the Grand Canyon be without your special take-home plastic Indian figurine? Or my personal favourite, the crying Madonna statues found in towns that have supposedly received divine visits. The best thing about these authentic souvenirs is that if you look closely at the bottom of them, there is usually a small label or trademark saying "Made in China" or something like that.
And now Shania Twain is about to go where no pop star has gone before unless you count Graceland and Dollywood with the building of a $11 million Shania museum in her hometown of Timmins, Ontario. Pity she wont be there for the grand opening.
At least this part of B.C hasnt yet resorted to the relentless countdown signage you get on freeways in the States that start with "100 miles to Bills Amazing Bug Farm " and continuing ad naseum.
Not that I can really be too judgmental. In my hometown of Rotorua a big tourist magnet, especially among the Japanese, is the Agrodome. Here you can meet different kinds of sheep, watch a sheep strip-show (i.e. shearing) and get a framed photo of yourself with an extra woolly one with big horns. (No New Zealand sheep jokes please youre just jealous because our sheep are prettier).
Anyway I must be off. Only seven weeks left to find a Mountie.