Stories along the way: Chapter 5 Manitoba and Ontario
Needless to say, I’m far behind with posting as we actually arrived home on May 8. But, adventures never grow old, so here it is….
Saskatchewan flows into Manitoba prairies. It is a long trip but will end in Brighton, MI where the Sprinter will stay for the summer months. We want to travel to the Maritime Provinces in the Fall, and we’ll return to MI in September for the trip. We know that our time is limited and so there is no “We’ll do that next year or two years from now.”
The prairies turn into gentle rolling hills, but still farm country. One of Manitoba’s symbols is a sheaf of wheat. Fields are sprouting with packed grains as, in unison, they emerge from their winter slumber.
I am looking for a yarn shop for help with Jim’s sweater as we drive into Brandon, Manitoba’s second largest city, but no luck. Nor can we find the promise of a campground in the city. We spend the night in a Walmart parking lot. The store closes at 6pm and it’s far from the highway so it’s quiet. Cities are not our favourite place to stay.
It’s a beautiful day, warm and sunny. I squeezed the last of the oranges for fresh juice this morning. We’re on our way to Winnipeg to see the acclaimed Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
I read a sign “Reptile garden, 10k”
“Really?” Jim says. “I thought all reptiles were in Congress.”
There are fewer signs now supporting the Humboldt survivors. But we run across them periodically. Someone decorated a large beaver with a hockey stick and green and yellow ribbons around his neck. Two hockey sticks stand at the end of a driveway and other tributes.
The Globe and Mail, Prairie edition, continues to feature stories about Humboldt. The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newsletter, a serious newspaper. It includes very little U.S. news except in pertinent situations like the NAFTA negotiations. NOTE: When we returned home, we learned even the tiny town of Nikiski’s youth hockey teams wore their jerseys to school in honour of the Humboldt players.
Pairs of geese sit on the ice or float in the newly opened water. Remnants of snow surround trees. Swans fly in pairs. Spring is here. It’s mating time.
The Forage at the Forks is the location for the Human Rights museum but it is closed on Monday. We walk on paths in the sunshine thinking how beautiful this will be in the summer with green grass and flowers. We take an elevator to the top of a building and walk outside and view the city. As soon as Jim spots an elevator to overview a city, it becomes a must do. I think he went to the Seattle Space Needle three times with different people during his cancer treatment.
The next day we visit the museum. I’m not sure what to expect, but I am impressed from the moment we step into it until we leave. Far more than we can see in one day. It touches on all types of human dignity and rights as humans including boarding school trauma for First Nations children, same sex marriage (Canada approved it in 2005 while some of the provinces approved it earlier). It displays stories of wrongly interned Japanese in WWII. The treatment of Chinese and other nationals and the reparations made by Canada. Canada banned slavery years before the US did and established the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to Canada. Some eventually returned to the US while others remained in Canada. Religious freedom, language equality, refugee opportunities. I bought a small box of chocolates in the gift shop from a Syrian refugee family placed in Nova Scotia—a far from the Middle East. They had a chocolate factory in Syria and now revived their vocation. “They’re well accepted in the community,” the clerk said. I bought a model of the wooden rack Canadian doctors developed to carry supplies into the remote areas of Nepal. They put the rack on the back of donkeys with their precious supplies securely packed. It also served as a small operating table. So many heroes.
One of the opening exhibits features photos of historic leaders along with historical timelines about attempts at furthering human rights. I am happy to see many students here. I think there would be so much more tolerance if all people visited this special place. We ran out of energy and so we did not visit other floors including one devoted to the Holocaust and a meditation area. Bravo for the leaders of this incredible museum. I wish we had a week to spend time and learn.
Before we left Winnipeg, I want to find the yarn shop. I was knitting a blanket and not Jim’s sweater sleeves, having run into a “challenge” and since he is hoping to wear the sweater before he is 90 years, he was happy to take me to the store—surprisingly the only one in Winnipeg. It’s in a neighborhood with a few small stores including a co-op health food store. The employee is busy helping a customer. After checking with me about my needs, she finishes the sale and turns to me. I tell her the story of the sweater and she is happy to help. Crystal is the mother of three boys and started knitting three years ago when her husband and brother-in-law experienced health crises. She said knitting “saved her life—almost.” The family travels in summer in an Air Stream trailer. She began knitting her husband’s sweater at the beginning of the trip and finished it just as they arrived home. I’m going on three years now and am in the middle of sleeves.
The prairies give way to colourful rocks and deciduous trees and pine trees. The steep sliced rock walls show how the road had cut through the rock that stood over the area for centuries.
We drive through Kenora with its many frozen lakes. It is a resort area but quiet now. Stopping at the A+W we share a teenburger and root beer. Jim’s cold is worse now and he is tired and coughing.
We pull into a rough construction road off the highway. We are near Vermillon and the evening sun reflects off the rock face. Jim heads to bed and I go exploring, first climbing the road to see what lies beyond and then along the road to capture the evening light on the rocks. Freight and log trucks whiz by. On top of the rock walls are stone cairns. (From middle Gaelic, the word means “mound of stones built as a memorial or landmark.”—therefore, these are not true cairns but that is the common term).
These “cairns” continue for miles and miles as if another traveler took up the task followed by others. In the woods, the snow is still pristine with few imprints.
The resort lakes and golf clubs give way to farmlands, microwave towers and solar panels. I want to stop at a welcoming sheep/wool farm, but Jim’s on a roll. I idly think how I won’t pass this way again.
Up ahead a vehicle with blinking lights straddles the right lane and road shoulder. In the window there is a handmade sign that says NO METH. At the head of the three vehicle caravan, two First Nation people walk determinedly down the road. I don’t know their story, at least the details, but the drug and opioid story is one that devastates the First Nation people as well as many other people. Their brave journey along this remote road strikes me as an attempt to take control of an uncontrollable situation.
We reach Thunder Bay at the northern edge of Lake Superior, the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes. Jim’s cold and sore throat is worse and so we spend the night at the Comfort Inn.
Good weather travels with us most of this trip. The devastating snows, ice, rain and wind seem to disappear, as though we are traveling in Camelot. A cloudy day is rare. It is a beautiful morning when we stop at the Terry Fox memorial at the edge of Thunder Bay. It’s a beautiful park high over the road and lake. Terry Fox was a young Canadian athlete who was diagnosed with cancer and lost a leg to the disease. Determined to make a difference, he dedicated his life to run from the Canadian Atlantic to his home in British Columbia. Along the way he raised $24 million for cancer research. The whole country ran with him on his journey. Unfortunately his cancer returned and he died before he could finish his journey. His memorial faces West, the direction he was headed. The world has many heroes. In fact, anyone can be a hero.
The strong Spring sun continues and we drive into Marathon. We follow signs to Pebble Beach, park and get out of the car. The mighty Lake Superior, often with giant waves and treacherous winds, lies calmly today. Its clear, calm waters reveal the stones and sand beneath the water. It is a gem of a day.
“Are you lost?”, a man pokes his head in the window and laughs. He has a strong French Canadian accent. As we head to North Eastern Ontario, the French presence is strong. The man has seen our Alaska license plates. He and his friend, both retired, drove down to the water to enjoy this special day.
Conversationlly, I ask if the Edmund Fitzgerald was ever found. “Oh no,” the man replied, “And there’s many other ships buried deep in Lake Superior.” They left us to step to the water’s edge and soon we returned to the Sprinter, reluctantly leaving this beautiful oasis.
Jim is feeling much worse and after looking around, we decide to stay at the WaWa Inn. The town’s mascot seems to be a giant goose. After checking in, we go into the restaurant and Jim orders his favorite, spaghetti. After all, who can ruin spaghetti? After a few bites, Jim declines a to-go box and we head to bed. Jim coughs and coughs, the over the counter cough drops doing little good.
We stop at Tim Horton’s for breakfast, a crowded space with groups of retired people and couples enjoying companionship, food…..and steeped tea. I watch a woman slide into a booth with three other people clad in country clothes. She is an exception. A French Canadian woman with white hair, she is meticulously groomed and dressed with a scarf around her neck and her hair held back from her face with a barrette. I wonder about her life in this small town, she does not give up her Frenchness and is quietly elegant.
This is what our slow travel is about, people, places, and small, precious memories.
The trip, as planned, is interrupted by Jim’s continuing cold and worrisome cough. We want to stay in Ontario and stop and visit Alaska friends now living in Bracebridge and then onto Toronto for a few days with my cousin in the heart of the city. However, our new plan to head directly down the center of Michigan’s lower peninsula promises new memories.
We cross into the U.S. at Sault Ste Marie, Ontario where a terse lipped, upper middle aged woman with beady eyes, demands to know if we have even one orange on board. She had lived in Fairbanks but disparaged driving across Canada to get back to Alaska by her friends. She was undeterred by our “we loved it” and sent us for an inspection. Because we had declared/admitted to the forbidden fruit, she wouldn’t fine us. “I hate filling out those papers,” she said.
Unusually, the bored custom’s agents were professional, helpful and kind, even though tasked with finding an errant orange. They brought the offending fruit into the station where we waited. Since my immigration card is up for renewal, I asked for recommendations. Helpfully, they suggested I become a US citizen, (NO) because if I moved back to Canada and wanted to move back to the US, I would be a citizen!! I politely declined, fighting back my political thoughts.
Jim’s cold/flu requires a change in our plans to continue on to Toronto. But a detour means new adventures …….