To attract tourists, a good narrative matters

Winnipeg architect Brent Bellamy had a rather fascinating piece in today’s Winnipeg Free Press about the branding of what has been traditionally called the city’s Exchange District as “the Design Quarter”, along with nearby areas of Downtown and The Forks. He wrote:

The world is becoming smaller, travel is becoming easier and globalization is making cities more homogenous. As a result, tourists have begun to look more often for unique stories and authentic, local experiences in non-traditional destinations.

In recognition of this changing trend, last Friday a new initiative was launched to further attract this evolving tourist market as well as provide Winnipeggers with a new experience in their own city.

Design Quarter Winnipeg is an organically organized, grassroots initiative hoping to position downtown Winnipeg’s artistic community as a design and cultural tourism destination.

The idea hopes to bring together local, independent, design-focused events, shops, services and organizations under a single marketing umbrella, empowering them by establishing a broader collaborative network. It’s modelled after existing programs in similarly isolated winter cities Reykjavik, Iceland and Helsinki, Finland, where the design district concept has strengthened their civic image as design centres and tapped into new opportunities in the growing trend of cultural tourism.

Indeed, long-haul international travel has never been as affordable to both Canadians and to many foreigners as it is today, or as easy to plan online, offering opportunities for places considered “flyover country” to develop small but lucrative niches.

Tourism is like a library. Just as probably 99 percent of the books in the library are of absolutely no interest to 99 percent of the population, so too are 99 percent of places in the world likely of absolutely no interest to 99 percent of the world’s population.

But that one percent or even less who are attracted for some reason to that book on the shelf, or that place on the map — that’s what matters. One percent of Canada’s population, for example, is a still-substantial 350,000 people. Not that they’re all going to descend on Winnipeg all at once, or even visit at all. But if the narrative is right, they might consider the possibility.

Which brings me back to the “similarly isolated winter cities Reykjavik, Iceland and Helsinki, Finland” noted above.

In recent days, I actually seriously looked at the possibility of taking a trip to Helsinki this summer. Helsinki ticked a lot of the right boxes: the airfare-plus-accommodations price of a visit was competitive; the summer weather isn’t too bad; the seaside setting was appealing; the fact that many Finns speak English would have made communication easy; Finland is a safe country with a strong culture of trust; and Helsinki is considered by some visitors to be an underrated city that could become the next “hot” city to visit for a weekend city-break.

There was also something appealing about visiting a more normal and serene European city like Helsinki, not being in the mood just now for the Disneyland-for-Adults environment that can characterize A-List cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Rome. And I just plain like the Nordic countries, having been to Denmark and Sweden on two previous holidays. They’re not the cheapest places, but the Nordic countries are “Order People” (as opposed to “Chaos People”) cultures who like to keep things running smoothly, and you can afford to relax a bit more.

Helsinki didn’t quite make the cut, however, having decided on cozy Edinburgh instead. There was enough of a narrative there to justify spending two or three days in Helsinki in conjunction with somewhere else; but not enough of a narrative to justify spending a week there.*

Or, when I asked myself, “Why spend a week in Helsinki and not somewhere else?”, I couldn’t answer that question to my complete satisfaction, despite plenty of help from the Visit Helsinki web site and their Twitter feed, both of which are as good as any other tourism agency’s. (If you’re reading this, Visit Helsinki, cheer up: One year’s runner-up is often a future year’s winner.)

If it had been easier to pair Helsinki with somewhere or something else — nearby Tallinn, Estonia is apparently a great city, but suffering from weak air links for visitors from North America — the narrative might have been complete.

So too it might have been if the city offered a wider array of thematic walking tours, which is an area where Helsinki has a weak selection on a walk-up-pay-and-go basis. Cities that don’t have a good offering here are less competitive for the burgeoning solo-tourist market. These are people for whom spending an afternoon walking around town, conversing with fellow Canadians, Australians, Americans, Brits and other nationalities who share their interests, is far more fun than visiting yet another (*yawn*) famous museum.

Winnipeg faces those same challenges as Helsinki in attracting tourists. Tourists will come here if there is a good supporting narrative.

“I’m on a business trip” or “I’m visiting family” are perfectly good narratives that attract many people to this city every year. So too are “I’m 20 years old and I can’t legally drink at home in North Dakota,” or “Winnipeg has a hell of a lot more nightlife than Minot,” or even “Winnipeg is the back-of-beyond from where I live, and I just wanted to see what’s there.” (That, above all else, was what attracted me to the otherwise nice-but-not-spectacular Perth, Western Australia in 2006.)

Some people come from further afield because there are similarly strong narratives supporting their visit. These include, “We can’t do the kind of fishing and hunting we can do in Northern Manitoba back home in Germany,” or “I’ve been cooped up on this train from Toronto for 36 hours; let me off before I lose my goddamn mind!” That last one might be a bit crude, but it’s a fantastic rationale for spending a few hours being a tourist in Winnipeg.

The supporting narrative matters. Give people a convincing answer as to “Why should I spend a [day, weekend, week] in Winnipeg and not in [insert place name here]?” and their odds of actually paying a visit soar. It’s possible that 99 percent or more of the world’s population will never have a good answer to that, no matter what.

But, so what? Like that seemingly untouched book in the library, to someone somewhere, for the most complicated of personal reasons, that’s exactly what they’re looking for. The key is to find that person.

 

* – Indeed, Finland’s main tourist sources seem to be its immediate neighbours including Russia, for whom Finland is an easy weekend getaway; and the Japanese, for whom Helsinki is a logical gateway to other places in Europe thanks to the curvature of the Earth and Finnair’s use of Helsinki as a hub for connecting Europe and Asia. (There might also be some interesting underlying cultural reasons, discussed here, for the Japanese interest in Finland.)

The World’s Best Countries, 2017 Edition: Denmark, Made Great Again

It has been more than two years since the last time I compared countries across four indices — the Human Development Index, the Corruption Perceptions Index, the World Competitiveness Scoreboard and the Global Peace Index — in search of the world’s best countries. So, I decided that it was time to do so again to see if anyone has moved up, or down, in the world.

This is particularly timely given that the White House is currently occupied by a bizarre new president who has vowed to “make America great again”. Just what does “great” look like? To be a contender, by my standards, a great country needs to provide its citizens with an exceptional quality of life, an honest form of government and judicial dispute resolution, economic opportunity, and protection from harm. Thus, it should rank highly across all four of the indices noted above.

As I did last time, I converted each country’s raw score in each index — not its rank — into a new score showing the country’s proximity to the best performer in that class. Then, I calculated the average score across the four indices

Last time out, Denmark emerged as the world’s best country, followed closely by Switzerland, New Zealand, Finland and Norway. Canada’s average score of 91.6 was good enough for a seventh-place finish, just behind Sweden.

This year, not much has changed. Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand repeat their first-, second- and third-place finishes, with Sweden and (surprise!) Singapore rounding out the top five — even though Singapore performed relatively weakly in the Global Peace Index. Iceland, Norway and Canada tied for sixth place with a score of 91.5, while Finland and the Netherlands round out the top 10 with another tie at 90.1 each.

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX (2015) CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX (2016) WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD (2016) GLOBAL PEACE INDEX (2016) AVERAGE
Denmark 97.5 100.0 93.6 95.7 96.7
Switzerland 98.9 95.6 100.0 87.0 95.4
New Zealand 96.4 100.0 87.3 92.6 94.1
Sweden 96.2 97.8 94.2 81.6 92.5
Singapore 97.5 93.3 99.6 77.7 92.0
Iceland 97.0 86.7 82.2 100.0 91.5
Norway 100.0 94.4 91.9 79.5 91.5
Canada 96.9 91.1 91.9 85.9 91.5
Finland 94.3 98.9 83.7 83.4 90.1
Netherlands 97.4 92.2 93.2 77.4 90.1
Germany 97.6 90.0 90.4 80.2 89.6
Ireland 97.3 81.1 93.4 83.2 88.8
Australia 98.9 87.8 86.0 81.4 88.5
Austria 94.1 83.3 81.8 93.3 88.1
Japan 95.2 80.0 80.3 85.4 85.2
Belgium 94.4 85.6 82.3 78.0 85.1
United Kingdom 95.8 90.0 85.0 65.1 84.0
United States 96.9 82.2 99.9 55.3 83.6
France 94.5 76.7 74.9 65.2 77.8

What if we calculate each country’s standing a bit differently by looking not at the average, but at the weakest link — the point at which the country deviates the most from the perfect score of 100? In this case, Denmark still remains number-one, with a score of 93.6, followed by New Zealand and Switzerland. Canada, meanwhile, breaks out of its tie with Norway and Iceland for a fourth-place finish.

COUNTRY HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX (2015) CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX (2016) WORLD COMPETITIVENESS SCOREBOARD (2016) GLOBAL PEACE INDEX (2016) “WEAKEST LINK”
Denmark 97.5 100.0 93.6 95.7 93.6
New Zealand 96.4 100.0 87.3 92.6 87.3
Switzerland 98.9 95.6 100.0 87.0 87.0
Canada 96.9 91.1 91.9 85.9 85.9
Finland 94.3 98.9 83.7 83.4 83.4
Iceland 97.0 86.7 82.2 100.0 82.2
Austria 94.1 83.3 81.8 93.3 81.8
Sweden 96.2 97.8 94.2 81.6 81.6
Australia 98.9 87.8 86.0 81.4 81.4
Ireland 97.3 81.1 93.4 83.2 81.1
Germany 97.6 90.0 90.4 80.2 80.2
Japan 95.2 80.0 80.3 85.4 80.0
Norway 100.0 94.4 91.9 79.5 79.5
Belgium 94.4 85.6 82.3 78.0 78.0
Singapore 97.5 93.3 99.6 77.7 77.7
Netherlands 97.4 92.2 93.2 77.4 77.4
France 94.5 76.7 74.9 65.2 65.2
United Kingdom 95.8 90.0 85.0 65.1 65.1
United States 96.9 82.2 99.9 55.3 55.3

Improving in one area can help a country improve its performance in all four areas. For example, corruption can take a toll on a people’s well-being, stifle economic growth and spark a desperate struggle for mere survival that can rob a country of its peace. Likewise, improvements in education — a “human development” issue — can reduce tolerance for corruption, open up additional economic opportunities and calm the overall social environment.

Some countries, including Canada, have done a good job in that regard, and have the excellent quality of life to show for it. But for now, the Danes can justifiably pat themselves on the back for a job well done — and grin broadly at how jealous the Swedes, their traditional friendly rivals, will be.

As AM empties out, FM is nearly full with no relief in sight

My first introduction to Winnipeg’s CKJS 810 came in high school when one of my classmates, either knowing it would appeal to my fondness for the absurd or in a failed bid to save my soul, handed me a leaflet promoting The Bob Larson Show. As I recall it, Larson performed on-air exorcisms and chattered away about Satan during a controversial, quasi-religious syndicated show that aired on CKJS starting at 11 p.m.

So, for a while, I would listen to 15 minutes or maybe a half-hour of Larson doing his weird late-night show until I lost interest after a while. Given that I remain about as religious as your average coffee pot, it hardly sold me on Larson’s quirky brand of Christianity, but it was mildly amusing all the same.

The times haven’t been kind to CKJS, whose schedule is a mix of ethnic and Christian programming. If the 43-year-old station ever had an impact on Winnipeg’s radio ratings, those days are long over. This week, parent company Dufferin Communications applied to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for permission to move CKJS from 810 AM to 92.7 FM for economic reasons:

While analyzed on its own, CKJS has been operating at a low PBIT margin, its role within the Winnipeg Cluster cannot be overstated. Dufferin is very concerned about it’s declining revenues year over year. The scenarios with and without approval, filed confidentially, clearly show the outcome stemming from this decision. Denial will keep CKJS on the downward trend, likely to become more aggravated when combined with rising operating costs and inflation. Approval on the other hand will ensure its incumbent status, reverse the trend and keep it modestly profitable as a key and integral part of the Winnipeg cluster.

[…]

At present, Dufferin leases several acres of land in order to operate the antenna array required to deliver the signal of CKJS. In contrast, single tower rents for FM services in the market are not nearly as expensive. Allowing Dufferin to operate CKJS on the FM frequency would result in an immediate decrease in costs, as well as ongoing savings into the future. These profits would then be used to ensure all three members of the Winnipeg Cluster can deliver high quality programming to the demographics they are intended to serve.

“The Winnipeg Cluster” refers to Dufferin’s other Winnipeg stations sharing CKJS’s Corydon Ave. studios, Hot 100.5 and Energy 106.

If the CKJS application is approved, the new 92.7 FM signal would originate from a Rogers Broadcasting-owned tower on St. Mary’s Road at a maximum power of 35,000 watts. The current 10,000-watt AM signal originates from a series of towers just off Waverley St. south of the Perimeter Highway.

The new signal would complicate the operations of Awaz 92.9, a very-low-power East Indian radio station operating, without a CRTC licence thanks to a regulatory loophole, “from the second floor of [owner Baldev Gill’s] Gill Taxi Meter and Radio shop on Selkirk Avenue.” Gill’s station would be forced to a new frequency both to prevent interference to 92.7 and to avoid being completely drowned out by the stronger signal.

Yet CKJS 92.7 might struggle with its own reception issues. If you tune your radio to 92.7 right now — especially in the south end of the city, close to where most of the high-powered 100,000-watt FM transmitters are located — you might not necessarily hear the calming hiss of dead air, but a cacophony of signal spillovers from other stations.

Some of this might come from 92.1 CITI FM, whose powerful signal throws off radio debris up to several FM frequencies away in both directions. The lower end of 92.7’s bandwidth is also nearly 10.6 MHz below the powerful Virgin Radio 103.1 signal, which could cause some radios to pick up both signals due to design issues.

The state of the lower FM dial, April 2017. Note the splatter thrown off by the high-powered station, and the background interference on 92.7 (upper right).

The 92.7 frequency is also one of a shrinking number of plausibly useable FM frequencies in Winnipeg. Stations with the kind of strength needed to push an easily audible FM signal deep into office buildings generally need to be kept at least 0.6 MHz apart just to prevent mutual interference.

Depending on signal strength, new FM signals may need to be up to 290 kilometres (180 miles) apart from existing FM stations on the same frequency, and up to 240 kilometres (149 miles) apart from neighbouring-frequency stations. The latter radius alone includes Kenora, Grand Forks, Brandon and other communities.

Add to that the aforementioned splatter from other high-powered stations which has left very few “quiet” zones between stations on the local FM band.

Normally, the regulators at the CRTC frown on a single station owner holding more than two FM licences in a single metropolitan area, a limitation that CKJS’s owners have asked to be exempted from on public service grounds. Granting the exemption, however, raises the question of why a low-listenership station should be given priority over Winnipeg’s two remaining commercial AM stations, CJOB 680 and TSN 1290.

Even if they would prefer to abandon the AM dial, it would be very difficult to shoe—horn either CJOB or TSN 1290 into a crowded and interference-plagued FM band. There has been talk about extending the FM band down to 76 MHz now that TV channels 5 and 6 have been nearly abandoned due to their poor suitability for digital TV broadcasting, but any action is still years away. So too is a migration to all-digital radio, which would allow two or more stations to share the same frequency, just as digital TV stations are able to do today.

* – Some fellow radio geeks might wonder how I was able to generate the image above. This was thanks to a handy device called the SDRPlay Wideband USB Radio Receiver, which allows the user — after downloading a free program called Cubic SDR — to receive radio signals almost up to the microwave range on a laptop or desktop computer. I’ve used its visualizations with a bit of success to improve my digital TV reception, by finding the “good” spots where my antenna receives the most signal and the least noise on the troublesome VHF band. One of my discoveries: both channels 7 and 13 are vulnerable to FM harmonics. That is, the same FM stations that litter the rest of the FM dial with signal splatter are throwing their radio debris up into the 176 to 216 MHz range, i.e., 88 to 108 MHz times two.

Here to there and there to here

Statistics Canada has long been in the habit of releasing annual interprovincial net migration numbers, which never fails to stir up a bit of debate here in Manitoba because we — like several smaller provinces — almost annually see more people move out to other provinces than move in from them.

If we’ve long known where provinces stand in relation to one another, the same hasn’t been true for cities. Only recently did Statistics Canada release its first data on movement between the nation’s cities — this coming to my attention only after reading the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog’s analysis of the patterns.

What does Statistics Canada’s numbers say about Winnipeg? To no one’s surprise, the majority of Winnipeg’s domestic newcomers in 2014-15 — 57 percent — came from other parts of Manitoba. Meanwhile, 41 percent of those who left Winnipeg, but not the country, also stayed within Manitoba.

English-speaking Canada’s five big metropolitan areas — specifically, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa — were the next largest sources of both domestic newcomers and leavers, collectively accounting for 17 percent of those who moved to Winnipeg and one-third (32%) of those who moved away from the city. Rural and smaller cities and towns in the western provinces and Ontario collectively accounted for little more than one-in-ten newcomers and leavers.

The flow to and from more distant parts of Canada was distinctly thinner. Fewer than two percent of those who moved out in 2014-15 ended up in either Quebec or Nova Scotia, while the other East Coast provinces and the northern territories only drew tiny numbers of Winnipeggers.

Indeed, across Canada there was a distinct pattern whereby those who left their communities either stayed within their provinces, or moved to Alberta or B.C., or to a lesser extent moved to the closest convenient province, eschewing more distant ones.

For instance, of those who left Thunder Bay, Ont. in 2014-15 — a city facing a bleak future — 69 percent remained within Ontario, while the only other provinces to capture five percent or more of leavers were Manitoba (5%), B.C. (9%) and Alberta (11%). A similar pattern could be seen in Halifax, where there was a strong preference for Ontario (27%, identical to the percentage of Halifax-leavers who moved to other parts of N.S.), with only Alberta (18%), B.C. (7%) and New Brunswick (7%) cracking the five-percent mark. (Newfoundland and Labrador, however, came close at 4.7 percent).

The same pattern of staying as close to home as possible unless a truly compelling economic, educational or retirement opportunity beckons shows on the arrivals side. Of domestic migrants who arrived in Winnipeg in 2014-15, for example, 57 percent were moving within the province as noted above, while nearly one-half of those who arrived from another province came from either Ontario (38% of those arriving from outside of Manitoba) or Saskatchewan (11%). Almost all of the remainder came from within western Canada: 22 percent from Alberta and 16 percent from B.C.

The strong pull of the Big Five cities, compared to the inconsequential effect of the country’s secondary cities, illustrates the former’s importance in Canada’s future. But ultimately the most important markets for each of Canada’s cities, in terms of the ebb and flow of citizens, are their own hinterlands.

Amazon’s annual list: Canada’s 20 most romantic cities, or its dullest ones?

To garner some publicity ahead of Valentine’s Day, Amazon produced last week its annual list of Canada’s 20 most romantic cities. As in past years, it included some odd picks. Cities like Montreal and Quebec City, known for their character and nightlife, were completely excluded from the list. Yet cities like Grande Prairie, Alta. and Burlington, Ont. — cities which even some locals might hesitate to describe as “romantic” — made the cut.

What gives? There’s a good chance that Amazon’s own methodology inadvertently results in a list of Canada’s dullest cities instead of its most romantic ones. As the online retailer described in its news release, the rankings are based on Amazon’s per capita “sales of romance novels (both print and Kindle editions), romantic comedies, relationship books, jewelry and sexual wellness products.”

Naturally, this would tend to produce a skew toward places where these things are not easily available in the community and must instead be shipped in.

So, if Abbotsford and Grande Prairie aren’t exactly Paris in the Spring, where might love be in the air in Canada? “Romance” is difficult to quantify, and a city’s romance factor can vary greatly between the inner city and the suburbs, so just for fun, let’s have a look at one basic metric: the percentage of the population age 15 and over who are available — that is, single (and not living common-law), separated, divorced or widowed.

Since 43 percent of Canadians aged 15 or older are “available”, one would expect that the areas where this percentage is far higher must have some sort of special appeal — to be the places where love, or at least sex, are in the air.

Fortunately, Statistics Canada allows us to focus on specific neighbourhoods now that they provide demographic statistics by Forward Sortation Area (FSA) — better known to most Canadians as the first three characters of our postal codes.

With that data available, which of Canada’s urban neighbourhoods have the highest concentrations of available people? A Top 10 list, with a few hard-to-explain surprises of its own:

1. Montreal, Que. H2X (Place-des-Arts/Ville Marie): This neighbourhood on the northeast side of downtown Montreal can claim to be the Singles Capital of Canada. Not only are 70 percent of its residents neither married nor in a common-law relationship, it’s one of those rare neighbourhoods in which the majority — 57 percent — are single. Credit at least in part a large university population, with McGill University and UQAM being in close proximity.

2. Vancouver, B.C. V6A (Downtown Eastside [!]/Strathcona): A questionable #2, admittedly. While Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (often abbreviated “DTES”) is somewhat notorious for being one of Canada’s most troubled neighbourhoods, at least the area can claim to have lots of available people, as 70 percent of residents were neither married nor living common-law as of the 2011 census.  Perhaps there’s a Skid Row effect at play here? Nevertheless, between the mountains and the sea, the City of Vancouver is at least a stronger contender than some of Amazon’s picks for “most romantic” status.

3. Saint John, N.B. E2L (City Centre): I’m not too familiar with foggy Saint John, N.B., but for whatever reason, the inner city has a disproportionately high concentration of available people, given that 68 percent are neither married nor living common-law, and nearly one-half are single. The city has become a popular cruise ship stop, so it must have something going for it.

4. Ottawa, Ont. K2P (Centretown/Golden Triangle): The nation’s capital attracts a lot of young people who work long hours for low pay as political staff. So, perhaps it should be no surprise that inner-city Ottawa, within walking distance of Parliament, has one of the nation’s highest densities of available people. Not only are two-thirds (68%) neither married nor in a common-law relationship, but the majority (53%) are single.

5. London, Ont. N6B (City Centre-Woodfield, south/east of Downtown): Another surprise. Unlike its British namesake, London, Ont. has a reputation for being rather dull. But it’s a university town, and that’s perhaps why its inner city has a disproportionately high number of available people (68%) and particularly of singles (48%). This particular area also has a number of high-rises, which in themselves tend to have higher concentrations of single, separated, divorced or widowed households than do neighbourhoods full of detached homes.

6. Toronto, Ont. M5B (Garden District): If you’re looking for nightlife, you can’t go wrong living in Toronto’s highrise-intensive Garden District, which includes Toronto’s busy Yonge St., Massey Hall, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and Ryerson University. That might explain why two-thirds of the area’s residents (67%) are neither married nor common-law, and 55 percent are single.

7. Ottawa, Ont. K1N (Byward Market/Lower Town/Sandy Hill): With the University of Ottawa within its boundaries and Parliament Hill being just a 25-minute walk away, this area of Ottawa, heavy with apartments and condos, can’t help but to have its share of available people. Sixty-one percent are neither married nor common-law, and 51 percent are single.

8. Toronto, Ont. M5T (Chinatown/Kensington Market): Located west of downtown Toronto and made famous by the ‘70s TV show King of Kensington, this area of the country’s biggest city adjacent to Queen’s Park and the University of Toronto is not a bad place to look for love: 66 percent are neither married nor common-law, and 50 percent are single.

9. Halifax, N.S. B3J (City Centre): If you’ve ever been to Halifax, it’s not hard to see how its city centre could be conducive to a bit of romance, with the harbour on one side and the Citadel on the other. A large university population — Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities being nearby — help account for the fact that fully 58 percent of the area’s residents are single. Add in the divorced, separated and widowed, and the availability rate rises to 66 percent.

10. Montreal, Que. H2L (Gay Village): Perhaps it should be no surprise that a neighbourhood simply known as the Gay Village has a population that is 66 percent available, including 52 percent single. Located northeast of downtown Montreal, the neighbourhood is close to both UQAM (ostensibly boosting the student population) and to the nightlife, for which Montreal is famous, along Rue Saint-Denis and in the Quartier des Spectacles.

Winnipeg falls just short of the Top 10 list, with R3B — north of Portage from the University of Winnipeg to the Exchange District — being good for a #11 finish, as 65 percent of residents aged 15-plus were neither married nor living common law in 2011, including 45 percent who were single. While this includes some sketchy areas — a moonlight walk along Cumberland Ave. is perhaps not the safest thing to do — the presence of the university and the development of the Exchange District quite likely helps.

At the extreme opposite end of the list, the hunt for love is not likely to be harder than in Ingolf, Ont. P0Y. Not only is the population small — just 63 people — but only 17 percent of residents aged 15 or older are neither married nor living common-law. But if we once again exclude the most thinly populated areas, Canada’s most “settled” neighbourhoods — the bottom five — include:

5. Calgary, Alta. T3L (Tuscany/Scenic Acres): These two outer suburbs in northwest Calgary start off this list, with just 29 percent of those aged 15 or over being single, separated, divorced or widowed. Not much to do for fun out that way, except perhaps to go for a coffee at the Starbucks in the strip mall parking lot.

4. Winnipeg, Man. R3X (Island Lakes/Royalwood): Way out on the edge of town, with virtually nowhere to go for fun locally, this suburban area is Married-With-Children country. Seventy-one percent of the area’s age-15-plus population is either married or living common-law, leaving just 29 percent available.

3. Bedford, N.S. B4B (Bedford/Hammonds Plains): This deeply suburban area on the western outskirts of Halifax offers little to see or do, except perhaps a walk in the woods. Not surprisingly, this has one of the country’s lowest proportions of single, separated, divorced or widowed people — just 28 percent.

2. Whitby, Ont. L1M (Brooklin): Brooklyn, New York might offer a lot for the single, separated, divorced or widowed to do; but Brooklin, Ont. — politically part of the city of Whitby, but physically separated from it by a freeway and open land — certainly does not. Strictly suburban Brooklin doesn’t even have a town centre; just a mall called the Brooklin Towne Centre where you could look for love at the Tim Horton’s, or perhaps at Dollarama. For more excitement, downtown Toronto is just 45 minutes away — by freeway.

1. Calgary, Alta. T3M (Cranston/Auburn Bay): What could be more romantic that the cul-de-sacs of the most far-flung subdivisions of a city defined by sprawl? Just about any other neighbourhood in Canada, really. The Cranston and Auburn Bay neighbourhoods, on Calgary’s southeastern edge, are the most settled of Canada’s urban neighbourhoods: three-quarters of its residents aged 15-plus are married or living common-law, leaving just 26 percent up for grabs.

2007 U.S. passport requirement sent Canadians out into the world

Difficult as it might be to imagine today, at one time Canadians did not even require passports to visit the United States. Then came the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, and it was soon clear that those days of going through little more than a casual inspection to cross the international border were coming to an end.

In 2004, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — better known as the 9/11 Commission — released its report on the Sept. 11 attacks, and recommended that Canadians, Mexicans and Bermudans be required to show passports or other secure documents proving their identity to enter the United States. The same rule would apply to Americans returning from those countries.

Prior to this, many Canadians had never owned a passport. It wasn’t necessary to have one if you were travelling to the United States — which offered a range of destinations from big cities to mountains to coastal resorts — so few bothered to apply for one.

In any case, obtaining a Canadian passport came with its own archaic rules which seemed to assume that most Canadians still lived in small towns, as we had a century earlier. For example, you were required to have a guarantor from among a limited list of professions deemed trustworthy by the federal government. If you didn’t personally know a professional engineer, local mayor, ordained minister or postmaster for at least two years, you could always ask your dentist or doctor for the favour.

But the Canadian government quickly realized a big change was coming, and began to simplify the process of applying for a passport.

The official announcement came on Nov. 22, 2006, in a U.S. State Department news release: “The requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere will begin on January 23, 2007.” It was expected that the passport requirement for land or sea crossings would take effect by Jan. 1, 2008.

In just a few years, Canadian passport ownership rates rose significantly. In 1999-2000, the Canadian government had issued a little over 1.5 million passports to a population of 30 million. In 2005-06, it issued more than 3.1 million passports.

Ten years after the U.S. passport requirement went into effect, Statistics Canada data shows that those new passports gave Canadians a case of wanderlust that still hasn’t subsided.

The red squares on the graph below show the number of Canadians returning from countries other than the United States annually between 1972 and 2015.

The green circles represent the growth trend line based on the period from 1987 (when airline deregulation allowed lower international fares to be offered) to 2001 (when the 9/11 attacks shattered the status quo).

The green circles suggest that the 1987 deregulation did not give Canadians a newfound urge to go out and explore the outside world. Even if you had no idea how many Canadians came home from abroad each year in the ’70s and ’80s, merely extending the 1987-2001 trend line back to 1972 would have given you a decent estimate. After 1987, the number of Canadians coming home from abroad each year continued growing until 2003 on a trajectory not much different from the 1972-1987 trajectory.

us-2007-passport-requirement-effects

In 2004, something changed. That year, the number of Canadians coming home from countries other than the U.S. was 13 percent higher than the year before — the first time since 1987 that year-over-year growth had exceeded 10 percent. In fact, during the preceding 10 years, five percent year-over-year growth had been more typical.

Thereafter, growth charged ahead at eight to nine percent per year until 2008, and then slowed to more anemic levels usually under five percent between 2009 and 2013. In 2014 and 2015, growth surged again at about 10 percent in both years.

By this time, the 1987-2001 trend line had clearly been departed from, and a new trend line had taken its place. Had nothing changed, the number of Canadians coming home from abroad should have risen from a little over five million in 2004 to about seven million in 2015.

Instead, it took only three years to hit seven million, and another year to hit eight million — a figure it otherwise should not have reached until about 2018 had nothing changed.

In reality, in 2015 alone, more than 11.5 million Canadians had come home from countries other than the U.S. Year-over-year growth in the first 10 months of 2016 was relatively weak — about three to four percent overall — so the final number for 2016 should be around 12 million once that information is available.

The 2007 U.S. passport requirement was a rule change that many Canadians weren’t fond of at first. But its introduction unleashed a desire among Canadians to go out and see the world beyond North America, hopefully coming home not just rested and relaxed, but with a bit of fresh thinking as well.

That’s cause enough to wish America’s passport requirement a happy 10th birthday indeed. Now if only we could do something about that stingy two weeks’ annual holiday thing we’ve got in our labour laws.

Modern-day air travel versus 1974: Packed in like cattle, but the mileage is better

If you want to find quick sympathy in Canada in January, you can complain about one of two things: the weather, or the airlines.

“Long-time air traveller Guilford Boyce says he misses the golden age of travel, when airlines went out of their way to make passengers feel special,” a Jan. 2 CTV News report noted, in a web article titled “Passengers lament ‘nickel-and-dime’ fees as airlines face thin profit margins”.

“Boyce says things have changed in the last few decades, to the point where he feels more like livestock every time he gets on a flight.”

Indeed, the days when airlines promoted themselves on the basis of their service — at least in Economy Class — are gone. To the extent that they still do compete on service, it’s usually in their expensive premium cabins.

But if we, the traveling public, are getting less pampered in our close-together Economy seats, at least we can claim that we are getting better mileage out of our dollars.

A web site called Departed Flights has posted a collection of image scans from old airline timetables. One of the more interesting scans is the Winnipeg page from a Northwest Orient timetable published in December, 1974. The Twin Cities-based airline, which dropped the “Orient” part of its name in the ‘80s and was absorbed into Delta Air Lines some seven years ago, published its each-way fares in its timetables.

This was possible at the time given that air fares were government-regulated, and set at fixed prices proportional to distance, even if these prices were at odds with supply and demand.

And those fares were usually eye-wateringly expensive by today’s standards.

Keen to get away from Winnipeg’s winter cold to someplace warmer, like California? A 1974 round-trip to Los Angeles or San Francisco would have set you back $290 Cdn. — or $1,366 in 2016 dollars. A round-trip to Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla., meanwhile, would have cost the equivalent of $1,281 in 2016 dollars.

Currently, July 2017 round-trips between Winnipeg and both Florida and California are priced in the $700 to $800 range.

The only fare that is more expensive today than it was in 1974, after adjustment for inflation: the relatively short trips to Minneapolis/St. Paul and to Chicago; and presumably to Grand Forks.

 

Winnipeg to… 1974 one-way fare (CAD) 1974 round-trip fare 1974 fare in 2016 dollars Typical mid-week July 2017 fares as of Jan. 8, 2017 (CAD) 1974 fare would now pay for a round-trip to…
Boston $125 $250 $1,178 $340 London
Chicago $70.35 $140.70 $663 $699 Seattle
Grand Forks, N.D. $22.05 $44.10 $208 Not bookable, despite Delta serving both cities via MSP. Google Flights lists “travel agent” fares from $900 and up.
Los Angeles $145 $290 $1,366 $706 Honolulu
Miami $148 $296 $1,394 $751 Madrid
Minneapolis/St. Paul $46.20 $92.40 $435 $597 Montreal
New York City $111 $222 $1,046 $396 Shanghai
San Francisco $145 $290 $1,366 $760 Hong Kong
Tampa/St. Petersburg $136 $272 $1,281 $748 Lima

It’s also instructive to observe how much further one can go for the same amount of money in 2017 compared to 1974. The same amount that one would have needed to fly to New York City and back in 1974 — $222, equivalent to $1,046 in 2016 — would pay for a round-trip to Shanghai thanks to the current trans-Pacific fare wars.

As for that 1974 $296 round-trip fare to Miami — equivalent to $1,366 in 2016 dollars: Today, the same amount would pay for a round-trip journey to Madrid. And the $250 you would have spent in 1974 to go to Boston — $1,178 in 2016 dollars? That would get you to London and back today.

So, while passengers might be packed in closer together than ever, less fed and less pampered, today is still arguably the golden age of international travel. Never have so many been able to travel so many miles at such a low cost.