Taking to Canada’s highways is just one of those things I love to do. Nothing is better than a road trip! While I didn’t snap a lot of photographs on my journey home, after eight weeks away, I did feel very emotional and in awe of Canada’s landscape and its people. I thought as a wrap up to my blogging about my experience this past summer, I might dig into my night time notations and see if there are some moments worthy of mention.
Leaving Belleville, I took my ‘balcony shot’. Let me go and see if I can find it. There you go. I’ve taken one of these as a ritual when leaving Parkwood Estates every time I’ve made the drive. (and there have been more than a few drives) Typically, five minutes away, I start crying my head off.
I had a small container on the passenger seat next to me, filled with Dad’s hermit cookies, a recipe that was given him by my sister-in-law, Ann Marie. The highway 401, heading for Toronto, is a rush of a place to begin a morning, but with the early start, things seemed to really move to Whitby, where I pulled off, refreshed my coffee and gave Max his first break. (And, no! I am not going to go into such detail as I continue.)
The point in all of this is that the first leg of the journey is the toughest part of driving home, because I feel like I’m leaving family behind and it is time to turn west. I am also somewhat on edge through Orillia (because I take hwy 12 to hook up with the 400), concerned that I make all of the correct huckle buckles when I arrive at the Midland sign. Once I’m on the 400, I just motor it to bypass Sudbury (my birth place) and beyond.
Driving in September meant there were fewer vacationers on the road, a few red canoes on top of cars, but not what summer brings. I was sad that driving cottage country meant witnessing a bear cub, struck by a vehicle. The road kill scene always breaks my heart, as does traveling behind transport trucks moving pigs and cattle in what I feel are inhumane practices. I pledged to myself that this trip was going to be the start of different eating practices and that I wanted to become a more evolved person in regards to what I ingest. This is not something I take lightly anymore.
However (all that eating-consciously discussion aside)…I DID stop to have fries and gravy, just because I knew it would be my last chip truck, a regular thing in this part of Ontario. Outside Parry Sound, I noticed a remarkable memorial. There are so many marks of humankind along the highways of Canada; many heaps of rock along the shield, in the spirit of the Inukshuk, and many memorials. I scratched a note in my notebook…
Once home, I looked up the circumstance connected to the beautiful drum kit sculpture. It was placed as a memorial to Cole Howard, a young man, along with three other teens, who lost his life in 2012 in a head on collision.
A road trip as extensive as the one I take on a fairly regular basis reveals so much about the heart of Canada. I have thought about Cole’s family as a result of their memorializing this event in this way. The sculpture was built by retired welder and artist, Laval Bouchard.
It was only a very short while after passing a sign for Algoma Territory that the weather changed. Dark clouds surrounded me, but I pushed on, thinking that I’d still like to make it to Iron Bridge for the night. I was pushing nine hours driving, but it would make the drive in to Thunder Bay do-able the next day. Max was agitated in the back. I told him everything was going to be okay. I remembered Dad’s words. Weather is moving east. When you’re traveling west, drive like the wind and you’ll go through it. When you’re going east, hold off for a few hours and the weather will speed ahead of you. The lightening was straight ahead of me and over my right shoulder. Everything boomed. Water poured in sheets across the windshield. On the highway, some pulled over. Transports pounded me with flying ground water. I was being pummeled, but persisted. Sure enough, the weather thinned and like the great monster, it hurled its way east. Ahead, I saw the sun behind the clouds and the rain became dancing sparkles as my wipers continued to thud.
We made the Red Top Motor Inn in Iron Bridge...and happily, I chatted with the owner…more about art, this time. He is a collector of Norval Morriseau and is a local enthusiast for the visual arts. His partner, in the back kitchen, prepared me a dinner of Huron White Fish, tiny carrots, green beans, braised roasted potatoes. I went back to my comfie room, after throwing the whizzo for Max countless times in the beautiful yard, and poured myself a nice tall glass of red.
The next day was a day of magic on the road…something about the rain of the day before and the sunshine the next morning. I set off early toward Bruce Mines, tickled by the romance of the Mennonite horse drawn buggies, straw hats, little girls in black bonnets. There was a 3/4 moon and a single vapour trail straight ahead, on a perfectly blue sky. The soft light hit the side of a red barn in just a particular way and a soft haze danced on the fields, now ripe and full. Red maples were set into dappled forests of olive green and yellow. Autumn was evident around the lakes, although this would be my only encounter with the season on this drive, while I thought that I had left it late enough that I would enjoy that particular Ontario colour.
I delighted in the drama of Lake Superior on Day II At 10 in the morning, I pulled over to spend time at the water’s edge. Something about Lake Superior gives me confidence and causes me to bask in a sense of celebration.
Beyond Superior, both east and west, the roads reveal the economic times to the driver…small towns are lined with abandoned buildings; eateries, motels and gas stations; and there is evidence of graffiti everywhere. Broken windows are like giant dark eyes, that lead to past narratives and histories of the people who have now moved on. Nailed boards cover over a former life. I drove past Orphan Lake, Dad Lake, Mom Lake, Katherine Lake. I sighted two eagles.
I stopped at Old Woman Bay, where a man with a very thick accent, wanted me to take his photograph, not in front of the wild and dramatic water, but in front of his sports car in the parking lot. I fixed a lunch of Italian meats and cheeses. A honey-mooning couple offered to take my photograph. A wonderful offer as I am rarely a part of my archives.
More exploring at Rossport, knowing that the beautiful and abundant experience of being at the water’s edge would be over at Thunder Bay. The third day is always the most difficult for me, given the drive in land through the most isolated and creepy landscape I know.
People were all off the highway. I had very little traffic sharing the road with me. I let the truckers chug past me on big hills. I just wanted to take in the scenery. Awe-inspiring. Miles later, we hit Thunder Bay and not a single room was available in a ‘cheap’ hotel! More than once, I’ve thought how much I’d like to be driving my own little customized pull over ‘bus’/camper. So many picturesque places along the way. But, I didn’t have a customized camper. And, I needed to get off the road. It had been another epic day by the time I rolled in and so I took a room in the only posh hotel in close proximity to the Trans Canada highway and I headed for the shower.
Max liked this place. He knows class when he sees it. I poured myself a glass of wine.
Day III, my least favourite day, but I aimed to enjoy it…to relax into it…to really look. The encounter in Upsala with this roadside attraction pretty much says it all…
A train thump thump thumped along a track, for it seems like, miles. I listened to country music. At first, the trees were dense…then ferns, gold and sepia, lined the edges of the road as the marshlands encroached closer and closer to the highway. More Moose Crossing signs. Cars disappeared. I felt alone out there, so I hit cruise. (my father would be proud) I remembered, as I do every time I drive through English River, the movie, Deliverance. Think of the Squeal Like a Pig scene…or the Red Neck Scene…the disturbing sense of these envelop me every time i drive this road. At Ignace, I pulled into the Scenic Viewpoint. I had never done this before. I drove for quite some time and came to a circle of dirt road, a bobcat, a port-a-potty and if I were to hike into the dark woods, I might be able to see a bit of the valley that the highway sign professes, is an awesome view. I returned to the car and headed back to the highway. Max was unnerved by the silence of the viewpoint.
I entered Ignace and pulled in for a coffee and maybe a tart. I learned quickly that the home made tarts were back in Upsala. I was disappointed. A burly man in a plaid jacket moved a fridge. The grapefruit juice I pulled from the other one, duct taped handle, was room temperature. At the counter, paying, the middle aged woman entered into the dance of conversation. Lonely, likely, she pulled out her phone and we proceeded to goo goo over the photos of her chocolate lab…this went on for quite some time. The man, red faced, continued to struggle with the fridge. The conversation ended as another customer drove over the bell hose stretched across the wet dirt at the pump. I was relieved to get back into the car.
There were miles of straight road. There, finally, Savanne Portage and a huge sign for the Time Zone Change.
Early fur traders used a portage at Savanne Portage to connect east to Lac du Mielieu (near Raith) to the Kaministkwia River to complete a fur trading route between Lake of the Woods and Lake Superior, at Thunder Bay. Raith marks another Continental Divide, with points to the north and west flowing into Hudson’s Bay, and points to the southeast flowing to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic.
A painted bear and moose sign dominated the side of the road, at a point, Hand crafted, it was more evidence of the remote feeling that echoes through my day. All water, from there, flows to the Arctic Ocean.
A bloated moose in the ditch was being pecked at by crows and buzzards. I turned to CBC radio after miles of listening to Spotify selections. Static, but I was absorbed by interviews and such. Jane Jacobs spoke about gentrification. Emily and Ogden played.
Kenora meant a picnic and a walk about. I always take the drive through the city. I think about Jim and Sue when I make Kenora. I feel closer to home. It happens suddenly. More up and down, the landscape edges water and feels more open, in a less mysterious way than the landscape I have left behind me. We walked under the bridge to the big muskie. The tourists were gone.
On the outskirts of Kenora, I felt about trees, the way I’ve felt about cattle…their heads stretching to see out the back door of transport trucks, eyes wide, seeming to be asking…asking me. The trees, fallen, seem to be asking…asking me. It goes on for a couple of miles.
Making Winnipeg, the ring road seemed forever. I thought to call up Angie and Rylan, but I was drained. I flopped in the Motor Inn and felt comfortable, having stayed here on route to the east.
I knew already that I would not go north to Neepawa again, as much as I wanted to visit Margaret Laurence’s home town. Two extra hours of driving north and then back down seemed excessive, given my state at the time.
Max seemed accepting all the way along…he also flopped every time we stopped. Happy to receive his walks every hour and a half, he didn’t look for a lot of exercise in the evening. He took a pose…and this was it!
We would make Moose Jaw the next day. The weather was shifting again, becoming grey as we made our way west. Many hawks, a truly unreasonable number of hawks, were seen in a field just west of Regina. I wondered if they were mousing, given that the crops had come in and just stubble remained. I’ve never seen such a spectacle. In golden fields, horses stood neck to neck, all facing west. I think that we can take our cues from animals. Weather was coming.
By Moose Jaw, it was raining. Max waited patiently while I stepped into the CHAB radio station to see if there were any archives kept. My father used to sing live on radio with his sisters. That would have been the early 1940s. The receptionist explained that it would be a nightmare to keep historical archives. This was a disappointment to me, a chronic archivist. Who are the keepers of our histories? I guess I thought that radio stations, newspapers and such would be a safe bet, in terms of our contemporary narratives.
Driving home the next day, was a celebration-drive. I felt to be floating as the sky opened up so beautifully. I love Saskatchewan and Alberta skies. I had left home for home. My father and sister and brother are HOME, my children here in Calgary are HOME. Canada is HOME. I know her well and want to know her better. I dream to drive north…to stop…and really take in what makes the north HOME.