Oh, Canada: Maple Dip-Donuts, Public Transit, and Disability Accomodations

Earlier this week, Tina and I spent the day traveling through Ontario on our way to the Burlington IKEA. Many of you may not know that I have harbored a deep love and appreciation of Canada pretty much since I was young. I know that I also tend to romanticize Canada, but Canada and its provinces are filled with so many fascinating and beautiful vistas and they always seem to be miles ahead of us Americans in many respects (public transit, universal healthcare, etc.). It’s hard not to be impressed or taken by some aspect during a visit.

Every time I visit Canada lately, I’m blown away by their public transportation options, of which they appear to have tons – such as their national VIA Rail train system and the Ontario Go Transit system. I’m especially blown away by how gorgeous their Go Transit Trains are (that absolutely put American Amtrak trains to shame). Tina and I rode a Go Transit Train into Toronto’s picturesque Union Station when we took an impromptu trip to the GTA this past spring. My Anglophile brain was instantly reminded of what I imagine European trains to be like on the inside with the second level of seating options and the overall modern appearance that featured carpeted floors and high-backed chairs reminiscent of video gaming chairs inside the Go Trains’ cars. The biggest thing that has blown me away is the frequency of service around the Ontario province. Before heading into IKEA, I watched several Go Trains pass behind the store and again when I popped into a nearby Walmart for some real Cadbury goodies (I swear I heard a few more while in Walmart too)!

As both an American and Buffalonian, I’ve grown accustomed to transportation that is antiquated and poorly executed. Take our Metro system here in Buffalo, NY – many of our stations are stuck in the 80’s when the current system originally opened in 1986. The system has largely remained untouched, unexpanded and allowed to deteriorate. The escalators and elevators are often plagued by brokenness (often contributing to accessibility woes for riders with disabilities). The layout of the Metro Rail system here in Buffalo offers riders the opportunity to ride a light rail line that traverses a combination of 13 stations both underground and above ground that is essentially a back and forth rail system resulting from federal funding cuts to the project. And that’s just the Metro train – the Amtrak service is ridiculously expensive and equally disappointing in terms of riding conditions. The sheer frequency of Go Trains at the Burlington stop or the amount of busses available is just really shocking to me. Here you’re lucky to encounter a bus or train to where you need/want to go. The process of public transit as we’ve experienced taking the Go Transit train round-trip from Union Station seemed mostly simple save for one cranky ticket machine. I’m not going to lie, but I’m a little bit jealous and I could absolutely see myself commuting with Go Trains – they’re so quiet, the inside of the cars looked so sleek and clean and the seats were so comfy (seriously, I kept wishing I could borrow them for playing The Sims at my computer)!! The mere public transit options in Canada as I’ve seen in my visits are honestly fascinating, with just the Go Transit system alone!

During the drive to Burlington, Tina and I both noticed signs that sparked a discussion on person-first and identity-first language as one of the signs read “child with autism in area” and another said “autistic child in area”. It’s actually something that I’ve become more aware of with my Disability Studies grad program. One of the best ways to understand it comes from disability activist and YouTuber Annie Segarra who’s video on the different language preferences was used in one of my courses this past fall. I know a lot of autistics like myself prefer identity-first language (i.e. saying ‘I am an autistic woman’ versus ‘woman with autism’), but it definitely varies on a personal case-by-case basis. There’s also some people who feel very strongly about changing the wording utilized by correcting it (perhaps unnecessarily) and criticizing those who fumble with getting the language right. Personally, I don’t think it should be a source of fighting since it’s really up to the person who has the disability/disabilities to decide their preference. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s another area that people maybe go overboard with, I think in similar fashion as using the right pronouns. I think as long as you put good intentions by either asking for a person’s preference or apologizing if you get it wrong initially but correcting yourself after the fact, I don’t see any issue. We’re all human – nobody’s perfect (except maybe Chris Evans and Mariska Hargitay).

Speaking of inclusivity, a huge discovery Tina and I encountered in our travels was during a stop at the Canadian grocery chain, Sobeys. Tina has been on the quest to find Dunkaroos so we hoped we might finally found them there along with a Canadian-version of Cheetos for myself. We struck out on both the Dunkaroos and Canadian Cheetos, but we were able to snag some Cadbury for our mom and some waters for the drive back to the States. Sobeys was a mystifying experience – from walking in it was noticeably quiet. Initially it was weird and a little creepy, but after experiencing too many loud grocery stores stateside (I’m looking at you, Wegmans) it was a soothing change of pace. The other thing we noticed was how dark some of the aisles were. Tina was starting to question whether they were closing, but my thought was maybe it was to save energy (it was hot after all with the temps hovering in the 70s Fahrenheit-wise, or above 20 degrees Celsius). When we were checking out, we asked the cashier how late they were open and about the lights. Turns out, we popped in during the store’s sensory-friendly shopping hours!! What a novel concept!!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the simple act of going grocery shopping is a taxing ordeal. Not only am I an autistic woman, but I also have anxiety and get migraines so the intense lighting and obnoxious noises in grocery stores can be distracting and often trigger migraines or leave me feeling tense/overwhelmed. We’ve been buying most of our groceries from Aldi which may have some bright lights, but at least they don’t blare music – it’s usually quieter in their stores so going to Sobeys yesterday was absolutely amazing. I was admittedly trying to restrain myself from totally geeking out about it at the checkout – I just couldn’t believe it! I mean it’s not often you see a grocery chain be inclusive to shoppers with disabilities like that – they may claim they’re a diverse company to work for, but I’ve never heard of a shopping chain providing for neurodiverse shoppers like that before! It got me to thinking why American stores don’t do the same. If you think about it, it’s a win-win. The stores reducing the lighting and music might actually save both power and money while perhaps lessening the load on the power systems during hotter months, plus they still get business. Business from customers who might be enticed by the comfortable shopping conditions and become regular customers at a particular store. I remember last summer when both Target and Wegmans lowered their lights and A/Cs because of the strain on the power system as everyone was using their air conditioners to try and stay cool in the heat. It was one of the most relaxing times shopping in either store as the lights were dimmer and you could hear yourself think since it was quieter!

All things considered, our trip to Canada was a blast! I snagged some Cadbury, Ketchup Lay’s (seriously, try them before knocking them because they are delicious), and some cool stuff from IKEA (in addition to trying their soft-serve and hot dogs) that will definitely come in handy during the semester. Oh, and of course we grabbed a few Tim Horton’s Maple-Dip Donuts right before crossing the border. I have many thoughts about Tim Horton’s and how their Burger King ownership has tainted their quality, but if you ever find yourself in the Great White North and by a Tim Horton’s, grab yourself a Maple-Dip donut and an Iced Capp. I swear that they taste a million times better in Canada!