You think of the fall and you think of New England. But here I was in Ontario, not the most obvious place or the most fashionable but, for me, absolutely right.

One word summed it up: Panna, my sister or Chordi, as I called her in the Indian style of respect for an older sister. She had lived in Toronto for nearly half a century and I had decided to spend time with her following the death of my mother and also make the most of the timing of my visit by taking in some of the scenery I had seen in the father and daughter Fonda film, On Golden Pond.

It had been a bad year: as well as my mother’s death, I had ruptured the tendon which holds the knee to the thigh (and without which you cannot stand) not once, but twice in five weeks.

I have been going to Canada for 47 years. The first time was to escort my sister for her arranged marriage. For me, an articled clerk in London training to become a chartered accountant, but secretly wanting to be a writer, this was an unexpected bonus.

Then, Toronto was a land of discovery for someone from the UK. I had come from the country with three television channels that shut down at around 11pm with the national anthem being played, and where, for most of the day, television sets showed a test card carrying a picture of a little girl with a dog. Now, in the little apartment that my brother-in-law-to-be had installed us, television was on all night and, for the first few nights, I did not sleep at all as I watched old Hollywood movies. To add to the wonders of this new world, unlike shops in the UK, here supermarkets stayed open all hours of the night, milk came in litre cartons, but beer in brown paper bags – a reminder of Toronto’s anti-drinking puritanical history. Multi-supplement newspapers were almost thick enough to fight off the muggers as Gore Vidal put it. But in 1973 there was no CN Tower, Toronto’s Eifel Tower.

This time there were new discoveries. “Torunah” was to be my springboard to the glorious fall colours and the Canadian Thanksgiving, which takes place at the same time, a month earlier than in the US.

But before we could enjoy the colours, there was the wretched disappointment of how Niagara had changed for the worse since I first glimpsed its beauty on a cold January night in 1973. I had driven the newly weds there the day after their wedding. It was winter and, despite the snow, the roads were clear and Niagara dazzled, even more than in the Marilyn Monroe film of the same name.

Now it was autumn, the leaves were golden, the waterfall breathtaking still, but the tawdry town made Las Vegas seem chic. To go from Niagara-on-the-Lake to downtown Niagara is like going from a chichi town doing its best to preserve a lost world to a world that should never have been created.

Mihir at Niagara Falls

Not even having my first Canadian Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant overlooking the gaudily illuminated falls could make up for Niagara having sold its soul so wantonly to Mammon.

The second Thanksgiving dinner was back in Toronto, when we dined at the CN Tower overlooking what Jonathan Raban describes as “the land of the émigré not the immigrant” and, with some irony, I was served by a Bangladeshi from the land of my ancestors.

Next morning we drove to “fall colour land”. But the price to pay for all the Thanksgiving dinners and a sudden, unseasonal cold snap was that we arrived a bit after the colours were at their best.

We stayed near Algonquin Park at the Deerhurst Resort, Huntsville, a fine hotel situated on a lake.

Deerhurst was basking in the excitement of having held the G8 meeting a few months before. In the spa, which had been converted to a hospital for the G8, one of the staff, Bonny, told of her meeting with David Cameron whom she described as very open and approachable during their chat about her specialism, homeopathy. He swam in the lake every morning, Mr Darcy-style, and made a hit with Bonny. Although not a natural Conservative, she was keen for Canada to remain part of the Commonwealth.

One of Bonny’s colleagues shook hands with Barack Obama and was surprised to find how dry his handshake was – she thought he must have an aide ready with a machine to keep his hand free of sweat. Angela Merkel’s minders, on the other hand, were more protective of her and got very anxious when she asked Bonny to fetch a knife at breakfast.

My wife and I had looked forward to our trip to Algonquin Park, hoping this would provide the riot of colours we had anticipated. To get there we drove on Highway 60 which runs through the Park and which opened up in 1936. In spite of our being there almost at the close of the season, the park was still very beautiful. The Visitors Centre showed a film about man’s destruction of nature over the last 200 years and criticised the British for the commercial logging, touching on the 19th century tax concessions which drove the opening up of North America. But, while the drive was interesting and the park offered many walking trails, the fall colours eluded us and could not match anything we had seen in Toronto. Part of the explanation was that, situated further south, the change in season took place a bit later. Our consolation was to be told that, in a normal year, we would have timed our journey just right. Fall colours, like so much in life, depend on timing.

Sunset on the lake at Deerhurst

However this disappointment was made up by a fantastic dinner at a restaurant called the Three Guys and a Stove. Everyone in Huntsville told us we must eat there and it was much better than the name, though in fact only one guy still remained there. But the Stove the three had originally set up still produced some of the best food we had on our travels.

We ventured on to Dorset, a pretty little hamlet with a true general store selling something of everything, much of it pretty tacky. We had tea in a cafe decorated in over-the-top flounces and frills and it was made clear to us that Dorset was not be confused with Cape Dorset where we had read about homicides among the Innuits.

On our way back to Toronto, we stopped in Bracebridge where, at Marty’s cafe, we were served by Jessica. If Canada is the land of the émigré, then Jessica represents the Canadian who wants to flee her native town. She explained that she had just graduated and couldn’t wait to see the world. She thought we were from South Africa because of what she described as our posh accents. All her friends locally had married and had children and she felt that, if she didn’t leave, she would be trapped into the same fate. She wanted to go into banking but there were no jobs available.

Back in Toronto, we had a third Thanksgiving dinner at the house of my sister’s best friend, an Australian émigré long settled in Toronto. And, to round up this search for natural beauty, on our last night, we had a dinner at my sister’s house to celebrate the Hindu festival of Bijoya. It marks one of Hinduism’s most cherished festivals and, like the western Thanksgiving, comes at the end of the harvest and proves that, for all the differences in the world, we have more in common than first appears.


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