Monday, 5 January 2015

A Canadian's Review of the Canada Pavilion in Disney World's World Showcase

It's that time of year again: Christmas has passed, and everyone is getting back into their old grind of school and work. I hope everyone here among my readers has had a safe and enjoyable holiday season - I know I have. And that's why I'm here: to talk about where I was.

Shouldn't take a genius to figure out where I was if I got photos like this!
From December 22 to 27, 2014, I was on a family vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. That's close to a week, and I still wasn't able to even scratch the surface of what the parks and resorts had to offer. However, I was able to, fortunately, check out my favourite part of the entire complex: the World Showcase in Epcot.

For those of you who aren't aware, the World Showcase is designed to feel like a one-stop-shop trip around the world. There are areas - called Pavilions - focusing on 11 different countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the USA, Japan, Morocco, France, the UK, and Canada. Naturally, being a very patriotic Canuck myself, I made a point of paying particularly close attention to the Canadian one.

It should be very obvious that, with the sheer amount of possibilities inherent in every nation's culture, the representations in the World Showcase are kitschy at best, and downright stereotypical at worst. That still didn't detract from my enjoyment, though - not this time, nor the first time I went back in 2010.

So...what was it like for this Canadian to see how Disney chose to show my country to the world? Let's find out!

I ended up approaching the Canada Pavilion from the side of Epcot known as "Future World"; in other words, this was the first "country" I visited in the World Showcase. However, before I even got into the Pavilion proper, there were already clues that I was in "kitschy Canada":


See those? They were in a kiosk promoting the Disney Vacation Club, and the first thing I saw entering the World Showcase. If you think those look an awful lot of Northwest Coast First Nations art, you'd be correct. In fact, that was a running theme throughout the Canada Pavilion: just like any proper souvenir shop back home, you can't say "Canada" without some nod to our First Nations, particularly those from British Columbia. Take a look at some of these other examples - this time from the actual Pavilion:

First Nations totem pole and a Haida house as a storefront.

Not only does this give a good view of the wall artwork in the gift shop, but you can also see how the staff at the Canada Pavilion were dressed. The cashier is wearing a white shirt, a leather fringed vest, and a red plaid skirt. Guys word red flannel plaid "lumberjack" shirts.
Carving on the front door to the gift shop.
The shop that these photos is from is also worth mentioning. Oftentimes in the World Showcase, the stores for each "country" are connected internally: you walk through them as one cohesive unit, but there are various different storefronts on the outside all along the way. The one for the Canada Pavilion, for instance, was made up like an old fur trade post in one part, and a Haida house (see above) in another.

Inside these stores, there are many souvenirs that are meant to be reminiscent of the nation being represented (although, with the recent boom over Frozen, "Norway"'s shops seem to have lost some of that in favour of being Disney's latest place for more Arendelle-related merchandise). And the Canada Pavilion is no different. Here, I found more than my fair share of maple-related goods, hockey paraphernalia, etc.

Maple-flavoured goodies - Yum!
Winnipeg Jets gear for sale in the gift shop. There were shelves like this for all of Canada's NHL teams (the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets - shown here - Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens). This is my nod to Canada's newest :)
Also, because it was the Christmas season, the entire store was also decked out with holiday gear: wreaths, garlands, snowshoes....Yep, there were snowshoes worked into the garlands here.

Perhaps I really shouldn't be so sardonic about all of this. In all honesty, I really liked what Disney did in this Pavilion, and I get a good laugh out of it every single time. But, let's be honest: no Canadian I know works snowshoes into their Christmas decor. Then Again, "We Are Winter" (Team Canada slogan and all that), so I suppose it only makes sense that we'd be associated with ice and snow all the time.

Speaking of snow, nature in general is a huge running theme in the Canada Pavilion, at all times of year. And it makes me really proud to see my country being associated with such gorgeous (albeit man-made) vistas as this:

That, mes amis, is an artificial mountain formation that acts as a backdrop for the entire Canada Pavilion. It is absolutely stunning to see in person - and very easy to forget that it's all man-made. I am very, very glad that Disney decided to think of "wilderness" when they thought of "Canada", because that is something many Canadians, too, are proud of. Yes, the wilderness is tough, and winters are tough, and we gripe about them all the time. But, all the same, we Canucks won't have it any other way.

There is also a nod to one of Canada's most well-known man-made landscapes. Victoria Gardens, as this area is called in Epcot, is directly inspired by the very real (and very famous) Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.

Now, Canada is not just about the First Nations, hockey, and nature. There has also been a long history of European (predominantly French and English) settlement, and that is marked in some of the architecture here as well, inspired by buildings seen in Ottawa and Quebec.

Reminds me of the houses I saw in Quebec City
This building is inspired by the Ch√Ęteau Laurier hotel in Ottawa
So...are there any rides in the Canada Pavilion? No. However, there is, if you ask me, one heck of a good show: "O Canada". It's a Circle-vision movie, meaning that you stand in the centre of a room and images are projected on a screen that wraps all the way around you, and shows a lot of what Canada has to offer, narrated by one of our many comedians: Martin Short.

And, perhaps as a nod to how Canada's economy relies predominantly on its natural resources, the theatre is inside an old mine:

Just how good is this movie? Well, it can be a bit disappointing, after spending a long day walking, to discover that it's just standing-room only in the theatre. However, everyone in my family thought it was great, and that our country was certainly worth "standing on guard" for. (And, yes, that's a very lame attempt to work the actual "O Canada" into this!)

So what's my overall verdict? As a Canadian, I could see this pavilion for being the mishmash of stereotypes it is - more so than I could have for any other Pavilion in the World Showcase. However, I do commend Disney for choosing the particular set of stereotypes it did: these are all things that many Canadians, myself included, do feel proud about, and I, at least, am more than happy to use them as markers of our distinctiveness as a nation.

Bonus

Just for the record: the question of "Where are you visiting from?" is a huge icebreaker while you're in Disney World. Everyone asks it of everyone else: characters during autograph sessions, other visitors whilst you're in line, the cashiers in the stores. Naturally, I joined in the fun, and had some great conversations this way. Here are my top picks for "I'm a Canadian!" moments at Disney.

1. Waiting in line for Winnie the Pooh's autograph in the United Kingdom Pavilion, I started chatting with the family in front of me in line. It turns out they're from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and were happy to have a fellow Canuck in their midst. As we waited, we remarked on the irony that Winnie the Pooh was considered a British character by Disney when Winnie, the actual bear that inspired the story, was Canadian and named for Winnipeg. Seriously - look it up. Granted, A. A. Milne was British, and he saw Winnie at the London Zoo, but, well, the Canada Pavilion has no character greetings, and the UK already has Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins - let us join in the fun, why don't you, Disney?

2. The first thing I did when I arrived at Disney World was buy an autograph book at the gift shop in my hotel (the All Star Sports Resort). Every single time I buy something in the States, I have to wrap my head around all the bills looking almost exactly the same. I told the cashier as such, and he asked me where I was from. I answered, "Toronto, Canada. I'm used to the technicolor money we have there." He thought that was funny, and it did break the ice a bit.

Speaking of "ice", here's a very famous Canadian whose photo was featured on a "Wall of Fame" in the hotel: Wayne Gretzky, NHL hockey player from the Edmonton Oilers (aka "The Great One").
3. Meeting Elsa from "Frozen" at the Magic Kingdom Park. Yes, I was one of those who got the coveted Fastpass+ to see her (book early, guys, or you'll be in line for HOURS). She asked me, while signing my book, where I was from, to which I answered that I was from Canada. She then said, "I've never been to the Kingdom of Canada before," and then said that she'd like to go because of all the ice and snow. Actually, both she and Anna remarked on how cold it must be there. I deigned from telling Elsa, however, about how Toronto quite literally froze over last winter; don't know how she would have reacted if I did.

Edit: I've been notified via e-mail by a reader that I accidentally left out the Ottawa Senators from my list of Canadian NHL hockey teams. That's been fixed, and I apologize - no offense was intended to the Sens or their fans.

Image Credits

All photos (c) Kita Inoru

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