For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in visiting far away places. As a kid, the world seemed so much bigger and those places could have been less than a couple of hours away. But they were always somewhere other than my home. They were somewhere new, somewhere exotic, like Winnipeg — not that Winnipeg isn’t exotic.

The source of my early fascination was the set of World Book Encyclopedias my parents bought when I was five years old. Those volumes were my Internet in 1973. They contained all the answers to anything I wanted to know about. And I had plenty of questions.

Pretty much every time I would ask my parents a question, they would tell me to look it up in the encyclopedia. They taught me how the information was organized alphabetically and how I could track down whatever I wanted to learn about on my own at young age. This is not a boast. It’s a sincere thank you to my parents for giving me one of the greatest, most impactful and influential gifts possible.

The world was opened up to me in a way that a young farm boy could only imagine. I learned about the biggest cities, the largest countries, the ones with the most people, and the ones that were so small it was hard to comprehend they could even be considered countries. Micro countries in Europe like Andorra, Monaco, San Marino — these places were real! And there was an even smaller sovereign state within a much larger city within a vibrant, dynamic, world leading nation — that sovereign state being the Vatican — with all that history? My young mind was blown.

Of course, I didn’t immediately understand everything I was reading. It took years of studying. But for me, this was the fun of it all. It was the beginning of the “little Canuck who was not even close to being ‘at large'” setting out on a new expedition every day from the comfort of the living room. And I couldn’t get enough!

What caught my attention at first, and still does to this day, were the pictures of places — and the maps! Oh my goodness, the maps!!! I was hooked from the start and would spend hours studying country maps, city maps, provincial and state maps, maps that showed the routes of famous explorers — maps about everything. All those places I had questions about, wondered about, I could see where they were, how I could find my way to them.

They looked so close on paper. Of course they were far away, much farther than a couple of hours. But one day, I would visit Winnipeg and Toronto and Ottawa and Montreal and Calgary and the Rocky Mountains and New York City and Boston and Los Angeles and San Francisco and Florida and London and Paris and Berlin and I could go on and on and on. And maybe even live in a few of these places some day!

I could never properly express my thanks to my parents for buying those encyclopedias. Thanks Mom and Dad! 🙂

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