Antonina Grinchenko was Barbara Reinhardus’ interpreter in the Ukraine many years ago and since then she has heard a great deal about Canada, Barbara’s country. This summer Antonina came to Canada as Barbara’s guest and spent the month along the Ottawa-Toronto-Niagara Falls corridor.
What surprised me most about Canada? That it is a country of nations with people coming here from all around the world. Also that Canadians are such friendly people, speaking to you on the street, saying sorry all the time. Some people say Canadians are too polite but I disagree. You cannot be too polite and it is so nice when someone says I’m sorry.
A lot of people smile at you. We were at Niagara-on-the-Lake and some man was passing by and said something that I couldn’t understand and I said that I am a foreigner and he said, “Oh, so you are a foreigner? Isn’t it a wonderful day! Where are you from?” It is rare in the Ukraine to just talk to people on the street like that.
We took a boat trip around the 1000 islands on the St. Lawrence River where there are houses that look like toy castles. Then we went to Toronto where we stayed at a friend of Barbara’s. She lives in an apartment that looks like a museum. In the Ukraine my apartment has two rooms for four people.
We went to her church and the sermon was very interesting. I was brought up as an atheist and never thought about religion until after the breakup of the USSR when I started to look for a substitution. It was a new experience for me. The choir was so wonderful with such beautiful voices. Everyone seemed like they were part of a big family. Back in the Ukraine we also have beautiful cathedrals with wonderful choirs but nobody speaks to you. At this church in Toronto, everyone greeted me and I was introduced to the pasteur who gave me a book about the history of the church.
We also went up the CN Tower, which I was a little afraid to do because it is so high. There’s a glass floor and Barbara wanted me to go out on it and I told her that I would faint even at the thought of doing it. So instead we had lunch and then went for a sail in Toronto Harbour and saw the Tall Ships.
After a few days we continued on to Niagara-on-the-Lake with its many, many shops that sold things from all over the world. And there are all these cute houses and perfect gardens full of flowers. Gardens are more practical in the Ukraine.
There must have been hundreds of cafes and very nice ones too, which is another difference from the Ukraine.
The house where we stayed was very nice. The host was Mr. Lee and he was very friendly.
The first day we just went to see Niagara Falls from the bank of the river. Already I was so impressed by its emerald green colour. The closer we got the more impressed I was. The beauty is simply incomparable. I have never seen falls like that before. And the rapids! You are so close that you feel you can almost touch the rapids.
The next day we had tickets for the Maid of the Mist cruise. We went so close to the falls that we were wet through, even with raincoats. There was water all over our faces. It was wonderful to be standing there so close to these falls.
Then we went to the cottage, which is another heaven on earth. There are cottages in the Ukraine that are owned by rich people—big impressive summer homes behind fences. Here there were no fences, nothing, just a piece of land, a beautiful piece of land, and a lake, a huge lake, and very clean water. It was amazing. You can see through to the bottom of the lake.
There was a snake sitting beside the dock each morning. It was a garden snake and I got use to it because I saw it every morning and was told it is harmless and just lives in the nearby rocks.
I was afraid to swim at first because the lake is so huge. It is like a sea. But I saw the children jumping into the water, laughing and enjoying it, so I said, why not! So I found a sandy place and had a swim twice a day.
For so long I dreamt about coming to Canada and seeing Barbara again and visiting the cottage. So that was very special.
Barbara is always working in her garden at the cottage, buying and rearranging plants, mulching and clipping the dead flowers. In my country, if a woman worked like that she would really want everyone else to be working too but Barbara just seems to enjoy doing it although she is allergic to just about everything that she grows in her garden.
Other than the cottage garden, the most spectacular thing I saw in Canada was Niagara Falls. That’s really the reason why I stayed in the country for such a long time. When Barbara wrote and said she could take me there, my granddaughter and I checked it out on the internet and my granddaughter’s immediate reaction was “I want to go there too”. I will take my photo of the falls to a photo shop before I leave Canada and get them to make it really big to give to my granddaughter when I return home.
Your country is so beautiful. I don’t know what it is like here in winter but in summer it is wonderful.
This interview with Antonina Grinchenko has been condensed and edited
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
© Riding the buses 2013