The Home Stretch

10 Sep

After 23 years in California, we’re moving back to Canada—crossing the country in a truck camper. This is the 4th post in a series.

Manitoba got shortchanged on this trip. Or I guess Manitobans would say we got shortchanged. We crossed the entire province in a single day. It’s not that there’s nothing to see there, but most of the highlights seemed to be further north than we had time for. Sigh. The one concession was that we got off the Trans-Canada highway for a few hundred kilometers.

The landscape we saw is a lot like Saskatchewan, but with more variety of colour and texture.

There are grain elevators here too. In addition to the grain elevator, this photograph shows a very important feature of almost every town: the arena (hockey rink)!
Colour and texture in the Manitoba landscape.

Suddenly, we were in Ontario, in pouring rain.

Northern Ontario is part of the Canadian Shield: a huge area, centered around Hudson’s Bay, of igneous rock that is exposed or covered with just a thin layer of soil. It’s heavily forested, but the rock is always close to the surface, and we often wondered how the trees found enough ground to take root!

Roads are cut through masses of rock.

Ontario is bigger than we had realized. Almost half of our total distance in Canada would be through this one province, and we weren’t even going all the way across it! It’s home to Canada’s largest city (Toronto), its capital (Ottawa), and almost 15 million people, yet the northern part is sparsely inhabited and thousands of miles of road wind through nothing but dense forest. Many of the towns were built on the pulp and paper industry, which continues to thrive.

Dense forest as far as the eye can see.
And lots of water—ponds, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls in deep gorges.

Our route took us around the north shore of Lake Superior. The largest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area), it feels more like an ocean—we drove for 700 km/435 miles with Superior at our right.

The village of Rossport, on Lake Superior. Once, a stop for voyageurs on the fur trade route, a stop on the Canadian Pacific rail line, and inspiration for Group of Seven artists.
Terry Fox ended his Marathon of Hope forty years to the day after we visited this memorial lookout on Lake Superior. I was in high school when he captured the attention and the hearts of Canadians from coast to coast with his run to raise awareness and funds for cancer research; he lost the battle, but the work carries on in his name.
We spent a night near Nipigon and visited the town’s waterfront on the way out.
Nipigon has a tower (65 steps, no elevator) just for the purpose of showing off this view!

We covered so much ground in so little time that this trip was inevitably a superficial overview, but traveling during a pandemic made it even more so. We had decided that even if museums, visitor centers, and other such venues were open (some were, most weren’t), we would avoid them. And staying out of restaurants, stores, and hotels significantly limited our opportunities to chat with locals. So we were grateful for signage along the way, and for the internet (when we could access it, given the limited cell coverage in the remote areas).

I think it was my mother who introduced me to the art of the Group of Seven, and I’ve loved their work as long as I can remember. The famous Canadian artists spent a lot of time on the North shore of Lake Superior, and we discovered these displays along the way.

Like many countries, Canada’s has a painful history with respect to colonists and indigenous people. If you pay attention, you realize that any drive across the country passes through/by hundreds of First Nations communities, and it’s impossible not to think about that history as you do so.

In Lake Superior Provincial Park there is a short but steep hike down to Agawa rock, which rises high over the lake that the Ojibwe call Gi chi Gamiing (“Great Lake”). Along the rock face, high above a narrow ledge that is uneven at best and perilous when wet, are pictographs from the 17th and 18th centuries. The waves were enough to deter us from going closer, but we were able to see a few of the drawings.

The rock ledge is slippery when wet.
Pictographs at Agawa Rock

This is the boreal forest, so different from the redwood forests of the west coast. The dominant trees in this coastal region of Lake Superior are white birch, trembling aspen, and balsam fir; the fall colours must be breathtaking.

Somehow, these trees take hold on the rock.

Eventually forests gave way to agriculture, industry, and business, and traffic picked up as we neared Toronto and entered cottage country. The vegetation become more familiar—this is the landscape I grew up with. The roadside flowers made me smile as I recognized them from childhood summers in the country: asters, goldenrod, trefoil, chicory, jewelweed.

I love landscapes, but I’m always more interested in the people who live in them. In Algoma county we saw several Mennonite carriages along the road.

We didn’t stop a lot in Ontario, other than brief touchdowns for a short walk or a sketch or a view. As always, I would have liked more time to explore. The last few days were spent popping into government offices for healthcare applications, drivers’ licenses, car registration, license plates, etc., quick visits with family, and a giant grocery order. The truck and camper were caked with dirt from more than 8000 km/5000 miles of roads from single lane dirt to divided highway. We were just a bit tired of driving, although I would do it again in a heartbeat. Before we knew it we had arrived at this place we have loved for years—this time not as visitors, but going home.

A lovely surprise on our doorstep!
The sky put on a beautiful show for our first evening.
And this is what we’ll be waking up to, although the view will change—a lot—with the weather and the seasons. Yes, those are swans across the bay! Glorious.

3 thoughts on “The Home Stretch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.