Coming Home

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 Family Photo that appeared in The Star By ZOE MCKNIGHT Staff Reporter Tues., June 17, 2014

A Family Photo that appeared in The Star By ZOE MCKNIGHT Staff Reporter
Tues., June 17, 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…


Google Maps

Google Maps

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.img_1805 img_1841 img_1850

Day 3 Winnipeg to Thunder Bay

This leg of the journey always gives me a little bit of anxiety, in anticipation.  Driving to Kenora is seamless, but I always feel, once leaving Kenora, that I am traveling into a bit of a foreign world. Some distance east of Kenora, I pulled over to sort my music at a plaque for The Last Spike at Little Joe Lake.  It was a beautiful place and I felt so happy standing there, all on my own, looking out at these views.

IMG_0163 IMG_0165Plaque Text

In the 1870s, Canada needed a reliable all-Canadian transportation route between Lake Superior and the western prairie territories it acquired in 1869. After promising a rail connection to British Columbia, the federal government started to build a railway between Thunder Bay and Red River in 1875. It took seven years to complete the 600 kilometer (375 mile) line. Thousands of workers battled mosquitoes and black flies as they cut trees, blasted granite, bridged chasms and filled in muskeg. On June 19, 1882, the last spike was driven just south of here near Feist lake. The line was transferred to the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway, which delivered the first shipment of western grain to Thunder bay in the fall of 1883.

Now…take a look at the land…riddled with lakes, weaving and often times very low on traffic.  All of the big semis on this trip seemed to be heading west.

Winnipeg to Thunder BayWhile the landscape can hold so much magic, road tripping on your own doesn’t always allow for pull overs and picture snapping, so as driver on a single lane highway, I try to take in as much as I can on the move, all the while, cranking up the music.

I can only liken this particular landscape to a remote, heavily wooded, increasingly rolling terrain.  This is where, typically, I spot wildlife…the last time, a pair of wolves crossing the highway.  This time I didn’t see any animals, but, by late afternoon, I was feeling like I was in a scene from the movie, Deliverance.  I wouldn’t do this road in the dark, ever, simply because I have been out on the highway, late getting into Thunder Bay and clenched the wheel the whole way.

I had fun reading over another traveler’s 2013 journey about this same leg and credit her blog, the map.

I had a truly awesome moment as I drove past a wee piece of landscape just east of Ignace.  Tallest Man on Earth was belting out this tune and everything was so green and the sky was a perfect blue.  The moment had everything to do with the light.

As we do in Thunder Bay, Max and I ordered Boston Pizza’s Greek Salad…a bit of a treat after this big day.  I poured my third glass of wine since leaving Calgary.  I relaxed, after painting a little bit of a sense of the landscape I had finally entered, arriving at the head of my Lake Superior run.

I thought lots about my children, remembering drives with them going east.  We would have stopped for an ice cream cone in Upsula, had they been with me, but on my own…I just wanted to make Thunder Bay.

2011 Drive Bottle Three

Returning to Belleville

I’m getting ready to return to Belleville and as I do, I am not only thrilled about seeing my father and spending ‘real’ time with him again, but I look forward to visiting Belleville.  Belleville has ended up being a remarkable place, offering experiences that I would not enjoy in any other place across Canada.  I like the arts community.  I am in love with the history and the architecture.  I’ve yet to find any places with live music.  That’s a goal this year.  I’ve made friends in Belleville…not many my age…but people who are rich with stories of love and loss and youthful remembering.

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Cool Breeze on a Very Humid Evening!

Writers come out of Belleville or nearby…for example, on the edge of Roblin Lake.

Dad and I attended an event at Al Purdy’s A Frame last visit…I will return for a visit to the museum and the A Frame again this summer, that’s for sure.



I will return to Susanna Moodie’s home and look for the same warmth and mystery that I remember experiencing at my last visit.  I will visit the memorial to her life that has been erected, in part, because of my explorations and non-relenting communications with the city.  Most currently published, is a graphic novel Susanna Moodie: Roughing It in the Bush by Carol Shields and Patrick Crowe, illustrated by Selena Goulding.


My mother will not be there.  But roses will be blooming or will have bloomed in Belleville.

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I will share Power and Politics with my Dad and we will sip red wine that has been ‘cooking’ at Dave’s.

I am looking forward to getting out on the high way.  I’ll be listening to myself.

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Gorilla House LIVE ART: April 17, 2013

Bruce demonstrated how to do an image transfer some months back and my cousin, Margy, has been using these techniques successfully out in the studio for several of her amazing collage pieces. Last night,  I really wanted to deal with the Trans Canada Highway in some subtle way.  Since coming home from Ontario, I’ve been thinking about the extent of the highway that has become so familiar to me.  An asphalt thread, it is all that separates me from these important family members.  I decided, before even driving to the Gorilla House, to adhere my mirrored image of the map onto my board…that, along with the colour test sheet that popped out at the beginning of my print job.

One of the concepts of the night was Cruelty and Beauty.  I was thinking about the painful experience of separation and the cruel reality of physical distance (This might be an emotional distance in the case of not being able to reach into the heart of someone you love.  It might be the seeming impossibility of attaining a career goal.) ; on the flip side, the awesome experience of knowing love for those who are not physically present…how beautiful is that love…how powerful.

Ravens are dealt with in art works right across Canada.   They are icons of a changing culture across regions.  I was introduced to Prince Edward Island artist, Karen Gallant, on my ancestral search in North Rustico two summers ago.  The raven appears both as a central subject and as a supporting detail in much of her work.

Artist: Karen Gallant Prince Edward Island

Artist: Karen Gallant Prince Edward Island

Amy Switzer, North Bay, Ontario artist, exhibits with my grade nine art teacher, David Carlin and masterfully creates mixed media sculpture, often with the raven and other birds as her subjects.

Amy Switzer: Untitled (Standing Bird 3), 2008, ceramic, steel and graphite, 14 x 6 x 18 inches

Amy Switzer: Untitled (Standing Bird 3), 2008, ceramic, steel and graphite, 14 x 6 x 18 inches

installboothAnd while I am whizzing across Canada, it’s imperative that I represent an image from the west coast, known for the historical reference of the raven used in First Nations masks, totems and art for generations.

Traditional and so absolutely beautiful…

“An elegant hand-carved and painted bass wood West Coast Native Canadian “raven rattle” by Gerry Dudoward, a Native Canadian artist known for his West-Coast style carvings. The body, painted in greed,  red, white, and black, is carved in the shape of a wingless raven, with West Coast geometric motifs painted along the body, with a small carved man sitting backwards on the raven’s back.
1.6″ x 1.4″ — 4 x 3.5 cm” SIC

Raven Rattle by GERRY DUDOWARD

Raven Rattle by GERRY DUDOWARD

Emily Carr’s observations of the lush coast and her observation of totems had a profound impact on the conversation about Canadian art and Appropriation.  “Canadian Expressionist Painter, 1871-1945 Canadian painter and writer. She studied art from 1891 to 1894 at the California School of Design in San Francisco. She lived in England from 1899 to 1904, studying at the Westminster School of Art in 1899, and settled in Vancouver on her return. Her stay in Paris in 1910-11, during which she had a painting shown at the Salon d’Automne in 1911, proved far more influential on her art, familiarizing her with Impressionism, with Post-Impressionism and with Fauvism.”

Big Raven 1931 Oil on canvas 87.3×114.4cm Vancouver Art Gallery

Emily Carr

Emily Carr

Here, W. Allan Hancock’s wildlife paintings represent the contemporary approach to ooooober realism.

Ravens of Klemtu by W. Allan Hancock

Ravens of Klemtu by W. Allan Hancock

This is my own two-hour painting resulting from last nights Art Battle. I am grateful to Emily, Grace and Alex for purchasing the piece at auction and to all my friends for their warm welcome home.

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Emily, Alex and Grace

Emily, Alex and Grace

The Third Time I Cried: A Sign for the Trans Canada Highway

The drive along the Georgian Bay, heading north, was absolutely beautiful!  Cottage country!  Every third vehicle was topped with a red canoe.  I, all of a sudden, wanted a red canoe!  The vehicles on the road represented vacations and family and the last week at the lake!  The views were spectacular.  From the beginning, to the left and right of me was farmland, sprawling colour…barns of every sort, tall corn, dairy cows…everything was pastoral and heart-warming; to the end, rugged coastlines, rock, lush trees showing early encounters with cool air.  Autumn was evidenced.  My window was rolled down to let it all in.

At Parry Sound, I first saw the Westward sign for the 400.  I didn’t pull over when I cried…I just drove as I cried.  I don’t know that that is a safe thing to do, but I thought it best not to pull over when everyone was moving along so fast.  These tears were the sort that just fall down your cheeks in a stream.  I hadn’t much of an idea where they came from.  I didn’t think about them until later.

My thoughts, at the time, were about military moves and the east-west migration that my family found itself taking.  Going west meant leaving Ontario behind.

Moving West on the Trans Canada Highway

Journey: Medicine Hat and Redcliff, Alberta

Medalta Hotel China

I’ve always wanted to stop and see what has been described as Alberta’s ‘Great Wall of China’ at the Medalta Factory.   This will be a wee side-trip that I may take one day, just three hours east of Calgary.  This might turn out to be my first break to stretch my legs.  Only my closest friends know that I have a hotel creamer collection, some of them originating from this very location.  I really enjoy these wee bits of memorabilia.  Rarely can I find these anymore, so there must be many collectors!  Porcelain is one of those materials that I am drawn to.  And, as perhaps you can tell, I am also very caught up in stories and history, so these little objects of function AND beauty really appeal to me.

Hmmm…I also notice that there is artist-residency-potential at this location!

I’ve had some fun playing around with my camera this afternoon, so I got utterly distracted by things while planning on this blog entry!  I really do need to get the manual out for this camera and read about the possibilities.  I used to take zillions of photographs, but have steered away from that in this ‘incubation’ phase of my creative spirit.  As I find ‘things to do’ along the Trans Canada Highway, I’ll post them here.

A Portion of My Creamer Collection

Cross-Canada Driving

Buffalo Pound Provincial Park

So, another trip is in the works.   We grew up making this trip on Mom and Dad’s airforce-moves and there is something absolutely magical about revisiting that west->east migration.  The artist Rene Derouin has been captivated by a lifetime migration north^south, from his home along the St. Lawrence River to Mexico City and back again. (I LOVE HIS WORK !) My life journey, the one that comes naturally to me, has been west ->east and west again.  Not many will tell you that they love the Trans Canada highway, but for me, it’s a beautiful place.  Every province offers its particular beauty.

I’ve decided to share the planning of this journey because ultimately the writing and research will get me excited.  And I AM truly excited!  I will be minimalist camping, as per usual and am seeking out new and wonderful places to see along the way.  Two years ago, departing from Raymond, Alberta, I made it to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, just north of Moose Jaw, for my first night.  It was exquisite and nothing could be better than the grilled chicken and fresh vegetables my daughter prepared for us, while we sipped on cold Coronas!  

So, this summer, the first leg of the journey will be Calgary to Moose Jaw OR beyond.  I had earlier invited your thoughts and suggestions, but of course I’ve just realized that you don’t read this blog, so this is really for me to explore alone.  Alright…a few minutes of searching the web!  Gillian, your thoughts about your husband’s thoughts on blogging were ‘magical’!  I’m still wearing a smile over it! 

Early Morning Water-Watching With Max