By Karen Burns, WDW Radio Team
O Canada! Where pines and maples grow,
Great prairies spread, and lordly rivers flow.
How dear to us thy broad domain,
From East to Western Sea.
The land of hope for all who toil,
The True North strong and free!
My family and I have always had a fascination with Canada and our love of this vast, beautiful, friendly country was reinforced when we visited Vancouver city and Vancouver Island in July 2022. My only disappointment on this trip was that I didn’t bump into Ryan Reynolds, Michael J. Fox, or William Shatner whilst I was there, but I suppose you can’t have everything!
Many years before this trip, I remember visiting the Canadian pavilion in Epcot and I do think it does a nice job of giving visitors just enough of a tantalizing taste of this amazing country. It meets the original design brief of piquing your interest just enough to encourage you to want to learn more about the different provinces and perhaps go there to actually experience the real thing.
As we all know, Walt Disney was a proud American patriot and expressed his love for his country in numerous ways in the Disney parks. However, his family lineage actually has roots which spread across Europe and North America. His grandfather, Kepple Disney, was born in Kilkenny, Ireland and migrated with his family to Canada in 1834. He would go on to marry another Irish immigrant, Mary Richardson and their son, Elias, was born in the small town of Bluevale, Ontario in 1859.
In a 1963 TV Interview for the CBC program, Telescope, Walt explains how his ancestors left Ireland and bought a section of railroad land which stayed in the family for several decades before Walt’s uncle decided to sell as he approached retirement. Walt told the interviewer:
“I went to my brother, and I said let’s buy this virgin land that our ancestors, you know, acquired. And he said, ‘what do we want with farming land?’ He wouldn’t go with me, so I didn’t go ahead. I found out later that they struck gas and oil on it!”
According to the Quebec Gazette dated December 9, 1830, just over 17,500 people emigrated from Ireland to Canada seeking employment and a better life, although this figure may be far too conservative with some historians estimating the actual figure was likely around 30,000. This was mainly due to the rapid progression of the industrial era which saw factory machines replacing workers, resulting in mass unemployment.
Keen to retrace his family line and visit his father’s place of birth, Walt traveled with his wife Lily to Ontario to find the location where he believed the Disney homestead once existed. They both fell in love with the small Canadian town. Walt spoke to the locals to get directions to his father’s childhood home and after spending a considerable amount of time walking around the rather rundown house and taking numerous photos, it was only later that he came to realize he was in the completely wrong spot, a story Lily delighted in retelling people, much to her amusement!
The Canadian pavilion celebrates the Canadian great outdoors and the stunning gardens based on Victoria, Canada’s Butchart Garden, is the largest and most labor intensive in Epcot. The clever horticulturalists at Disney even use white plants in the landscape design which flower in Canada’s winter months to represent snow. What an inspired and creative detail!
You can walk around the ‘Rockies’ and stop for a rest and to cool off by the cascading waterfall. Forced perspective (a Disney specialty) achieved by larger plants and boulders at the lower sections of the mountain which gradually become smaller as the rocks extend upwards, give the illusion of a towering peak.
There is always time for a spot of shopping and if you look very closely on the wall of the Northwest Mercantile store, can you see the hidden Mickey in the scales of the fish suspended by the chalk board?
If you are lucky enough to visit the pavilion during Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, perhaps try one of the Canadian ice wines. As the name suggests, ice wine is produced from frozen grapes. This natural freezing process concentrates the sugar, acid and berry extracts in the grape giving a much more concentrated, sweet, flavor to the wine. Because of its colder climate, Canada is also known for its fruit wines and meads which are honey based alcoholic beverages.
Epcot is a wonderful place to dip your toe in different cultures, their history, their architecture, the people, and the food. If you aren’t able to actually visit these countries and experience them first-hand, the pavilions can still give you an appreciation for our diverse planet and maybe inspire you to learn more about other places and people.