I spent a couple of days in Silverdale, Washington this weekend and it's beautiful. Mountains rising out of the sound, the rain turning everything silver and grey. What amazed me - and I think this is a Canadian thing - was how many amenities there are in what is a relatively small town.
In Canada, even though in terms of land mass we're bigger than the U.S., we tend to have almost all of our population within a few miles of the Canada/U.S. border. So we have a few big cities, surrounded by suburbs, but once you get away from there, there aren't many mid-size towns like Silverdale. Oh, there are a few, but Canada tends to be a country of big spaces - you can go for thousands of miles and see only the tiniest of villages.
But Silverdale? They have a very big mall - the Kitsap Mall - which has TWO (count 'em, two) bookstores and dozens of other stores, from J.C. Penney's and Macy's and Sears to Cost Plus and Victoria's Secret. There are restaurants everywhere and the lovely hotel - the Silverdale Beach Hotel - where I stayed.
So for me, it was beautiful, entertaining (a workshop on promotion and marketing and a signing at the Barnes and Noble), but it was also interesting to see the difference between a country that has 330 or so million people in approximately the same size as a country that has 35 million or so people in that space. Yes, of course there are vast expenses of land without too many people in the U.S., but there are also a multitude of mid-size towns and cities which we don't have and I love. Maybe that's because so much of Canada is almost uninhabitable, all that country that exists close to or above the Arctic Circle. Maybe that's it.