Just one of 21 chapters about our adventures while crossing Canada in a cranky van called “Boo the Menopausal Van.” The last three chapters are valuable resources for travellers.
Chapter 5: Ontario (ON)
Water, Water Everywhere
Welcome to the biggest province on our trek and the one with the biggest heart! Even with gas funds in meager supply, we have faith in our sales here. This happens to be the land of thousands of lakes, moose, muskeg, trees, fishing, and chip trucks and, of course, French Fries. There’re so many lakes a map of Ontario looks like Swiss cheese. It’s a recreational paradise. Our first stop occurs at the provincial tourism office at the border, to share Powell River information.
A giant muskie welcomes visitors from the west to Kenora (pop.16, 500) on Lake of the Woods. Past the lake, dotted with 14,000 islands and a 65,000 mile shoreline, Hwy. #17 takes us right downtown. We stop at the tourism office (Ch. 21) to distribute information and get fresh water, then cross the street to a Husky station where we use the sani-dump. They have a beautiful walk along the waterfront with many unique gift shops. The downside of Kenora is the many “no overnight camping signs” throughout the town which makes RV’ers like us feel like not stopping at all.
From there we head south on #71, The Kings Highway, also called the Heenan Hwy., to Fort Frances. It was blasted through some of the most formidable rock in Canada. It opened in 1936 between Kenora and Fort Francis, named after Peter Heenan, born in Ireland. He came to Kenora in 1902 where he served as a Liberal Labour member until 1943. We have him to thank for the Old Age Pension Act in 1927.
This is one of the most scenic drives we’ve been on in Ontario. With few semi-trucks bullying us down the highway, we enjoy a peaceful drive on smooth highway. The only problem seems to be the lack of pull-offs. We stop at Sioux Narrows for a walk down to the lake. They have an interesting gift store with totem pole. Nestor Falls in the heart of the Canadian Shield also rests on the edge of the lake that teems with fish. Cabins nestle along the water and make us wish we were stopping, but we want to be in Fort Francis tonight.
Out of the blue we drive through a little community called Finland with farmland and few trees, all quite different from the lakeshore drive. We turn east on #11, through more farmland and stop at Canada’s smallest church in Emo. This minute 8’x10’ chapel was built in 1935 by a blacksmith, but a fire in 1973 consumed the church. The cross fell inward but didn’t burn so they rebuilt the church.
After a long day of driving we look forward to camping at Wal-Mart in Fort Frances. As we pull in I sigh, “Home at last,” certain we were done for the day. Not! We try to be respectful campers by going in and asking permission. We’re told a bylaw prohibits camping in Wal-Mart but they’re sympathetic and give us directions to where they thought we could park at Pither’s Point by Rainy River. The only campground in town ($30) on the other side of the train tracks from Pither’s Point sits half empty in the middle of tourist season. Exhausted, we stop in a very pretty spot, but the beauty doesn’t make up for the tracks above our heads just before they cross the bridge.
June 20: Trains terrorize me all night with their screeching and groaning. At 3:30 a.m. the third one since we arrived bumps along grinding metal for 20 minutes, and at 5:00, 6:00 and at 8:00. I want to scream! What a sleepless night while in typical husband mode Dave sleeps like a baby. Oh, and throw in a thunderstorm. So why were we camped here when I swore in the last book I would never camp by tracks again? Because we’re hiding out from those who might kick us out. As soon as Dave is up, we move into town and park by the side of the lake to salvage our day. After breakfast I sit on a bench overlooking the lake. Diamonds glitter on the water reminding me there must be a shining lesson in this experience.
Lesson #13: Take bad experiences and chew them over like a cow does its cud, bring them back up for the useful parts, expel the rest and move on to greener pastures.
With new resolve I journal my intent for the day: To create income opportunities, to spread inspiration instead of complaining, to live in the moment with joy and childlike wonder, and appreciate Dave.
The town sits beside Rainy River with many historical things to see so we walk around creating good memories to erase the bad ones. The area depends on a pulp mill presently working on an $84.3 million project. We stop at the Chamber (Ch. 21) and find out RV’ers stop at Wal-Mart all the time, at their own risk. If we’d known, we wouldn’t have asked and maybe we would have slept. We do notice there are no signs in the Safeway lot, so use your own discretion.
The Museum tour costs $2 for seniors and provides us insight into the area. In 1731, Fort St. Pierre was built at the south end of the lake. The Rainy Lake Post, operated by Hudson’s Bay Company and renamed Fort Francis in 1830, honours Lady Frances Ramsay Simpson.
Refreshed, we leave town over a high bridge, the Noden Causeway, crossing Rainy Lake, eventually climbing to Rainy Lake lookout. On the road I entertain myself with their imaginative place names: Red Gut Bay, Ottertail Road, Seine River, Blue Lantern, Pair-a-Dice Road, and Crilly, to name a few.
By 4:00 p.m. we arrive at the information centre (Ch. 21) at the highway junction to Atikokan. When we explain to Nicole and Morgan that we’re selling our way across Canada and need to sell in the area, they get on the phone. By the time we leave they’d received permission for us to sell in town. Turning up #11B we end up in Atikokan, The Canoeing Capital of Canada, (pop. 3,500), or as they say, “We are the little town that could.” They’ve survived mine shut-downs, logging crises but still hang onto their spirit and pride. Only 43 km. away lies Quetico Provincial Park, a world renowned wilderness park. Canoes are displayed around town inviting people to experience many canoeing opportunities. Atikokan in Ojibwa means “dry Caribou bone.”
At city hall, helpful staff members say, “Anywhere on municipal property, no charge.” Now that’s hospitality! We stop for the night by the side of an industrial strip and no train tracks. The only noise being the distant hum of the mill. I watch a steady stream of people going to work; people with bills to pay, families to raise, dreams to live. Hopefully they view their work as a means to an end and not a replacement for making their dreams come true. We know from experience that it’s easier to stay in a safe rut than take a risk. Sure gas money is tight, but I believe in miracles. Yesterday, Bud our house-sitter had to leave for work in Vancouver, yet out of love still deposited $200 in our account. That’s the miracle! At this point, 4,929 km. from home, we want to rest. Gas has cost us $1615 so far with sales covering most of it.
June 21: Happy first day of summer Ontario! Four years ago today we left on this same epic journey without knowing what to expect. Don’t know which is worse, ignorance or knowing. By 10:30 a.m. our tables are set up in the sun on the main street. Right away we sell a jar of sauce. A guy on a bike admires our goods but says he’s broke so I give him a Power Rock. He peddles away smiling; small reward for us ‘paying it forward.’ We love small town Ontario where the roads are rough and the people friendly.
We happily wave at people and tell our story to passers-by. “Oooh, look at that.” I point at a 1934 yellow International truck as it pulls up in front. We have to talk to the driver and take pictures. By 12:30 we’ve had a fun, relaxing morning and made $19. That’s $19 more gas money than we had when we woke up. After gassing up Boo, we head for Thunder Bay, 203 km. away.
Happy RV’ing for us means smooth highways, few truckers, rolling scenery dotted with lakes, and masses of wild flowers along the road. That changes when we come upon resurfacing, so for miles Boo slogs her way through loose gravel pulling the old grey mare that bucks along behind. We pass the Atlantic Watershed Point where all waters now run south to the Atlantic. Once again, picnic sites and rest stops are scarce as hen’s teeth. Unless you’re prepared to go off the highway some miles to a lake, there are few spots. After we’re on the road for two hours without stopping, I get cranky. Just like a kid, I need to get out and play.
Third time zone passed at 4:10 p.m.! Only three to go until Newfoundland. Finally, in desperation, we pull off in a pulp load check area to stretch our legs. Black flies immediately smell blood and attack, ending our walk. At the junction of #11 and #17 East to Thunder Bay it becomes #102, MOM’s Way (but changes back later to 11 and 17). No, it doesn’t have anything to do with mom’s escaping down the road, although maybe that’s a thought. It stands for Manitoba, Ontario, Minnesota tourist route. At the junction we choose #102 the shorter route to Thunder Bay. Once again we’re on familiar road with the familiar stream of semis. But now we’re running out of gas so we pull into the first gas station before Thunder Bay.
Welcome to Thunder Bay (pop.110, 000), one of our favourite places in Ontario. It’s the beginning of the 100 km. Terry Fox Courage Highway. We stop first at the Delaney Arena behind the Soroptimist International Friendship Garden to empty our tanks. (Ch. 21). Then, four years after our last trip, we pull into our friend’s yard. No searching for a place to bed down for five days. Nice! Thunder Bay lies alongside Lake Superior, the largest fresh-water lake in the world. We always feel like we’ve come home when we sit besides its vastness.
June 22: Old friends at Victoriaville Mall market warmly welcome us back. Torsti Landvik, the new coordinator, buys a book right away because of the write-up about their markets. Joanne Barrie, the past coordinator, is dealing with the sudden loss of her husband who had a heart attack while gardening. She hugs us, bringing all of us to tears. We need to live our dreams before it’s too late. No one knows when that day will come.
Lesson #14: Don’t wait until everything lines up perfectly before making your dreams come true. All of the lights will never be green. Life is fragile no matter our age or health. What dreams have you put on hold?
Our table faces the mall door so the constant stream of people sees us right away. This mall, beside a resource centre, means many of those down on their luck hang out here, but we’ve had the best talks! A chatty fellow we met in 2003 tells all his friends about our work. Another guy talks about our rocks and offers to bring us a special one. Across from us, Isabelle, an 89-year-old flower/produce seller, looks a little more bent over than she was, but her spirit remains high. People count on her fabulous bouquets of flowers for bargain prices. By the end of the day we made $155. Joanne convinced the vendors and the mall to allow them to sell Wednesday instead of Tuesday in order to maximize our sales since pension cheques will be in then. Good ole Thunder Bay folks come through for us again!
We finish our day in our little home with me curled up in a lot of pain. In the middle of the night, I’m up and taking pills, I’m grateful we’re travelling in our RV. Imagine what this would be like staying in other peoples homes. At least we’re in our own space. The cost of fuel is still the cheapest part of RV’ing.
June 22: In Thunder Bay we have the opportunity to sell at several different locations in one week; one of them being Wilson St. Market. It’s too early in the season for the produce sellers consequently buyers are few, but we sit in the sun with Torsti working on our crafts and visiting. People tell us we should be at the CLE market because there’s lots of produce but we’d decided the $55 cost was prohibitive. By noon we’ve only made $15, so maybe CLE would have been a better bet.
Lesson #15: When selling, choose high traffic areas even if it costs more. Do your research ahead of time instead of wasting hours sitting around for a couple dollars.
Afterward we head for Fort William and the 30th birthday of their Franco-Festival. Last time we couldn’t afford the tickets to get into the fort, but this time it’s free!
Lesson #16: Check out the local holidays, festivals, parks etc., either at the tourism office or online. There are many free or by donation events.
Fort William was the hub of the fur trade in 1815 as voyageurs brought their furs from the west and traded for goods from the east. At Rendevous in July there could be up to 1,000 people in the fort, but that dropped to 30 in the winter. With guides in period costume, we take a walk back in time as they play out their roles.
Historical trivia anyone? Beaver top-hats, from matted beaver down, were made without glue or stitching. The hat was so solid a child could sit on it without ruining it. The hatters used mercury in the process and eventually went mad. Thus the saying, “Mad as a hatter.” People in England believed that pale skin was more beautiful so they made slits by their ears and put leeches on them to suck their blood. Yuk! The extent people will go to for vanity’s sake hasn’t changed much through the centuries.
Back at home, the Tocheri’s are in from their cabin so we visit. It hardly seems like four years has passed. That evening a thunderstorm scares me, but not Susan who is thrilled by the display. As a child, her dad would gather the kids on the porch, make hot chocolate and, unafraid, they’d watch storms. I, on the other hand, was told every bad thing that could happen in a storm. “Stay away from windows, off the phone, out of water, stay in inside.” The litany of fear-based information succeeded in instilling a terror which I am working on calming. We hear about a tornado touching down east of Winnipeg at 400 km. an hour. That could have been us, but once again we are ahead of it.
June 24: Soggy Sunday and 948 km. to Sudbury, which will take about $350 in gas and 2 ½ days to get to. We have $263 and faith our sales will come through. But for today, we’ll enjoy a lay-about day before the market tomorrow. In spite of the rain we appreciate a leisurely breakfast and game of cards. In fact, we don’t poke our noses out till noon when we head down to the waterfront for a walk. Thunder Bay has sister cities in the USA, Finland, Italy, Japan, Ghana, Singapore and Taiwan. A beautiful pathway along Lake Superior in a park-like setting gives us a chance to unwind. Just up from it stands the old 1905 railway station which evolved into a restaurant/gift shop. Strolling around there we meet up with a cute little Terrypoo puppy walking his family, Keith and Julie. Patting and oohing over him, we talk with them on the walk.
We sit on rocks and munch on fresh pineapple while watching the sailing club circle a capsized sailboat and get it upright. Lake Superior is the largest fresh-water lake by surface area in the world, covering 31,700 sq. mi. being 350 mi. long by 160 mi. wide. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island would fit into it. No wonder I feel like I’m sitting by the ocean. There’s a Circle Tour covering 1,300 miles around Superior down into the states. We’ve added it to our wish list.
Back at home with the Tocheri’s, we relax in their yard while Bruce, a generous, great cook, barbeques for us. He makes sure we are stocked up with veggies and herbs before we leave.
June 25: We wake to brilliant sun streaming in, and no thunderstorms! Without a market to sell at, we stay put all day showering, lining up markets, Dave beading. We find a Toastmasters club to visit, and clean up emails from the comfort of our trailer thanks to WIFI in the area. I’d assumed there wasn’t any WIFI, and found it by accident.
Lesson #17: Don’t assume WIFI connection’s are only at regular sites like libraries and internet cafés. Try it anywhere: a mall, outside a casino or hotel, at a truck stop.
June 26: My least favorite way to start the day: with thunder rumbling and lightening flashing so I crawl closer to Dave. My knight in shining armor will protect me. But I can be brave. I get up to unplug my computer, make tea and sit writing by myself during a thunderstorm. I keep reminding myself that life is all about “facing the fear and doing it anyway.” The storms pass and the birds are singing. We can learn from them. Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?
At noon we meet upstairs over the International Tea House with Heart of the Harbour Toastmasters Dave, Mike, Joanna, and Tony. We help set up, and I take on roles of evaluating, invocation and toasting. They’re effusive in saying we inspire them, but it works both ways. Their big attitude with a little group was symbolic of what Toastmaster clubs do all over the world. There are five clubs in the area, based out of Minneapolis.
In 2003 we’d run out of gas in Thunder Bay. By knocking on doors we met a wonderful couple who helped Dave find gas for the motorhome. This year we drive around until we find the area again and surprise them by knocking on their door. We meet John and Jan Pomfrey again and give them a book as a gift. Then off to give Boo $100 of gas @ $1.11 and Canadian Tire bucks before hooking up the trailer to dump the tanks.
That evening another big thunderstorm hits. I watch the TV in horror as they forecast severe thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes heading our way. EEK! Big chicken me cringes while Susan says how serene the storm seems. Is she nuts I wonder as lightening strikes and knocks the power out? I can’t say I am disappointed when the storm moves on and we can have our usual fashionably late dinner with them. Bruce has been simmering meat balls in sauce all day….mmm! We love our ‘extended family.’
>>>to be continued when you purchase the book.