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Canadian Gothic

I have made a career out of not enjoying Canada. It is one of the few things I do well. My radical malaise, Canada-wise, is associated mainly with Toronto the Good, and my hellish adolescence in that winter-benighted place. (I was Not Very Good.) Both my novels—and most of Canadian literature, come to think of it—take as a given that my country is a bitterly repressed thumbscrew of a place, in which the human spirit thrives only in willfully exotic opposition to dour, Scottish-tinged emotional bondage.

Now, if you look closely, you'll see that Nova Scotia is transparent code for New Scotland. Am I going to be happy here?I don't think so.

The capital of this maritime province is Halifax, and that's where I first intend to be miserable. I check in at the Waverley Inn, a notorious bed-and-breakfast downtown. How many B&B's can properly be called notorious?The Waverley is where Oscar Wilde stayed during his 1882 sojourn in Nova Scotia, and if most cozy inns might be compared to polite Scottish matrons, this place is a drag queen. I sleep in the Antique Chinese Wedding Bedroom, where the bed is a real Chinese wedding bed, raised and canopied, and not so much kitsch as just odd. Oscar Wilde is misquoted as having said on his deathbed: "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do." At the Waverley it is clear that Oscar left, but the wallpaper stayed.

So I am immediately disappointed: to my surprise, Halifax turns out to be quite weird—an attribute I can't help but enjoy. Weird, in fact, becomes the theme of my journey through Nova Scotia. Robertson Davies once pointed out that Canada is in fact a mystical northern race, though it prefers "to present itself to the world as a Scottish banker." Americans in general refuse to acknowledge the weirdness of Canada, dismissing our more flamboyant demonstrations of the grotesque—the filmmakers David Cronenberg and Guy Madden, for example—as exceptions. Time to visit the Maritimes.


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