When you’re a Canadian traveller, you come across little reminders of home all around the world. There’s Canadian Club, the Canadian canoe, travel posters with Canadian forests and totem poles, the music of Céline Dion and Justin Bieber: the list goes on. But on my recent visit to London, I came across one that stopped me in my tracks. There, in front of Victoria Station, was a red London bus with a strange and cryptic destination on the front: Canada Water.
Was this a misplaced ad for some kind of bottled water, melted from Canadian icebergs? Or was it a reference to some ancient English word that had nothing to do with the Great White North? I didn’t find out until I returned home, but a little investigation showed that it was neither.
“A little cluster of Canada in the heart of England”
In fact, Canada Water does have to do with Canada, and with water. It’s a place in the docklands of east London where there was once a great dock frequented by Canadian ships, bringing in the wheat to make Britain’s bread. The dock was built in 1876, and was later joined by a second, named after Quebec (an ironic political note, if you know Canada’s history). The docks were closed down in the 1970s, but not before developers built a housing district around them, full of apartment buildings with names like Calgary, Edmonton, Manitoba and Niagara — a little cluster of Canada in the very heart of England.
Today, the dock is gone, replaced by a pond called Canada Water, a scenic setting for the housing development, a shopping centre and a very modern-looking library. There’s a new high-rise tower, too — called Ontario Point. And there’s a transit station, which is why I saw buses running around downtown London with my country’s name on them.
So Canada Water is indeed a little tribute to Canada, with perhaps a wistful memory of the days when we were part of the British Empire. As for the inscription on the side of the bus: well, Canada is a very nice place, with the world’s most progressive prime minister, but paradise might be an exaggeration.