I used to love visiting the East Coast of Florida and watching beautiful sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean. But once I saw a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, that all changed.
I’ve been spending at least one week each winter in Florida since the early 1980s. And given the bitterly cold and snowy weather this past week back home in Eastern Canada, I’m grateful to be in the Sunshine State right now.
Growing up in Montreal, like my fellow Quebecers I initially gravitated to the east coast of Florida for my winter escapes. We’d jump in the car, drive down I-95 to Fort Lauderdale, and rent a room at one of the many beachside motels on Ocean Blvd.
One day while sunning on the beach opposite our motel, a salesman offered me 50 US silver dollars to attend a time share presentation just down the road in Pompano Beach. A nearby motel called Canada House Beach Club had just been converted to a time-share with beach-side studio and one-bedroom units. I was hooked, and immediately bought a one-bedroom unit on the fifth floor for U.S. $5,000 that provided a spectacular view of the ocean.
Once the children arrived, Canada House became our family’s annual winter sanctuary. As our unit slept six people, we would always bring guests with us – grandparents Bill and Fran, Cousin Danielle, or an assortment of Samantha and Lindsay’s friends.
There was always plenty to do. The club had a mini-put course, a shuffleboard court, a hot tub and a large heated pool. And we were just steps from an expansive beach with rolling waves that were perfect for body surfing.
At night, we would barbecue dinner on one of several charcoal grills that faced the ocean and were overlooked by each unit’s balcony. As I cooked, guests sipping cocktails on their balconies would tease me about my colourful aprons, which are my trademark to this day.
In the morning, we would often get up early, grab a cup of coffee, and watch the beautiful sunrise from our balcony – a moment of tranquility before the kids woke up.
We enjoyed some two decades at Canada House, but as we got closer to retirement, we started to look for a place that was more suitable for an extended winter stay. So after our regular week-long stay at Canada House one year, we added a few more days to our vacation so we could visit a friend in Madeira Beach on the West Coast of Florida near Tampa.
Our friend John took us up and down the barrier islands between Clearwater and St. Pete Beach, where we fell in love with the more relaxed and casual atmosphere of the Sun Coast. In contrast to the glitter, soaring condo towers and high prices of Gold Coast cities like Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, this stretch of the Sun Coast exudes Old Florida – small condos and motels, beachside tiki bars, and reasonably priced, locally owned restaurants.
The West Coast also attracts many tourists from Ontario, whereas Quebecers frequent the East Coast of Florida. As we had moved to Toronto from Montreal several years after buying at Canada House, it now seemed natural to move further west for our winter retreats. So 10 years ago we started to spend some of the winter on the Gulf of Mexico, not far from Clearwater.
Being in Central Florida, we can occasionally get cool spells where the daily high drops to 8 degrees Celsius, and the winds blow at 20 mph. But for the most part, the winter weather is usually pretty warm and sunny, with highs around 25 Celsius. In any event, our winter visitors escaping the frigid north seem to enjoy it.
However, while the sunny weather brought us to Florida in the first place, it’s the gorgeous sunsets that keep us coming back. This was never more true than last Friday when we took our visitors from Ottawa and Montreal to the Doubletree Tiki Hut in Redington Beach, which provides sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico.
While Eastern Canada was suffering through a deep freeze and snow storms, we sat on a patio in shorts watching a spectacular sunset as we sipped on Rum Runners and beer. We used to love those sunrises on the East Coast, but nothing can match a beachside view of the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Especially when it’s freezing back home!
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