“Who is Tim Horton?” I asked the immigration official at the Detroit-Windsor border.

I’d never heard of the chap and yet, within a minute of arriving in Canada I was being shepherded towards him by a pleasant young lady with a maple leaf on her uniform.

We’d just stepped off the ‘tunnel bus’, a vehicle which carried us under the Detroit River and across the US-Canada border.

It was only going to be the briefest of encounters with Canada (heading as we were to see friends in Ontario) but time enough, we hoped, to notice and appreciate some of the differences which Canadians seem so quick to stress between their homeland and the US.

Every Canadian we have met during our travels so far has seem anxious to put considerable distance between themselves and their cousins to the south. Without fail every item of baggage they carry seemed to be clearly emblazoned with the maple leaf flag.

I guess it for the benefit for ignorant non-North Americans like myself. Canadian and American, I’d struggled to tell them apart, the only clue being the accent which usually I didn’t pick up on. They spoke the same language, drove the same cars, ate the same food, indeed they seemed so inextricably entwined, did the differences Canadians friends had stressed to me really start with a simple hop over the border?

It started promisingly. There was none of the stony-faced procedures and paranoia in crossing the border here. Just patient smiles, efficient service and an explanation that Mr Horton was a popular purveyor of coffee beans and bagels.

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