Well, we did it! We managed to take back roads and side roads and the odd main road to see the Prairies, Eastern Canada and the Maritimes…so many places in this beautiful country called Canada…in a matter of approximately 15 weeks or 103 days, to be precise. Now we begin the journey home, keeping mostly to the well travelled Trans Canada highway. Our aim is to be home by September 28th so that gives us 25 days without pushing ourselves too hard and time to stop and smell the roses along the way.
When we left New Brunswick, we stopped overnight in a campground in Riviere-du-Loup, QC. We were lucky to get a site, being the middle of the last long weekend of the summer. The campground we were in had a lot of seasonal campers so they were holding a bit of a party that night. Karaoke was happening in the hall, and a 50-50 draw was won by some lucky camper…but not us! We enjoyed a roaring campfire and would have joined in the festivities had we been able to speak the language but neither of us know enough French to carry on any sort of conversation and very few people speak English. In fact, we were talking about our Quebec experience…it is such an incredibly beautiful province but we were unable to fully enjoy it due to the language barrier. Even information and historic signage was only in French so we tried to make them out but mostly failed. We eventually stopped trying to understand them. Stopping at small towns and attempting to get a feel for the town through conversation with the locals was out of the question. But beauty in nature knows no language limitations so the camera was our salvation.
We drove as far as Thetford Mines the next day. There was not much to see along the Trans Canada until we turned south toward the area called the Beauce, south of Quebec City.
Along the way we passed again through the area that Michael had lived when he participated in Katimavik. We ate at the same great restaurant in Vallee Jonction…the waiter even remembered us! And so did the girls at the train station museum that we made another quick stop at! It was their last day of work and many items were being sold at half price.
As we drove through the small town of St-Joseph on the opposite side of the Chaudier River, we were shocked to be stuck in a traffic jam. The town was holding semi-truck competitions along with a midway. People, trucks, trailers and cars were everywhere…every available parking area and field was full! We even noticed a semi from Mullen Trucking in Aldersyde, AB!
Passing beautiful homes sitting on rich farmland that produced grains, dairy, cheese, we eventually arrived at Thetford Mines. The old King Asbestos mine which opened in 1878 and closed in 1986 after carcinogenic properties were identified in asbestos, is undergoing a revitalization in the form of an urban park with reference to the economic impact that it had been in the area.
We were surprised to find out the next day that asbestos is still being mined in the area! We passed the huge open pit mine on the highway west of town. From what I can tell, there is still an international market for it but it is limited to things like tires and siding and no longer used in insulation or anything else where the fibers are exposed.
Continuing through the lovely Eastern Townships, we drove through the little summer town of Disraeli on Lac Aylmer as fog was lifting over the water. The little town was already busy in the early morning hours, presumably the last of the summer tourists getting ready to leave at the end of the long weekend.
We started to see more changes in the colours of the leaves as they gradually turn from green to vibrant red.
Weedom is home to a large lumber mill and the surrounding area is beautiful rolling hills with large groves of trees, fields of golden corn and Christmas tree farms.
We arrived at Ken & Lynn’s home in Saint-Lazare by early afternoon. It had been seven weeks since we had said goodbye to them on our way east. The weather was stifling hot and extremely humid. Certainly not ideal for a woman in menopause! Thankfully, they have air conditioning in the bedrooms…we stayed three nights, celebrating my birthday while we were there. And our van got another wash, cleaning, oil change and checkup.
We spent the afternoon checking out the area. The Byward Market was an amazing market of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, preserves, wines, shops, boutiques, restaurants, pubs and coffee houses. It was evident that this is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. It is part of historic Ottawa so the buildings had great character.
The Commissariat along side the canal is one of the oldest structures still standing since the time of building the canal in 1827. It was used for storage of supplies during the construction of the waterway and today offers a history about the actual construction of the massive engineering feat that the Rideau Canal signifies. Completed in 1832, it connected Bytown, now known as Ottawa, and Lake Ontario with a series of locks, channels and dams. The original purpose for the 202 km channel was military defence but it was never used for that. It definitely opened central Canada to settlement and trade and today it is used primarily for recreational boating and deemed a National Historic site operated by Parks Canada.
An evening walk along the canal gave a great view of the Ottawa River with two major bridges connecting Ottawa to Gatineau, Quebec. The sunset was lovely and as the lights came on all around us, the old buildings took on a whole new charm. We walked back to the market area for supper, enjoying a night of people watching from the patio of one of the pubs.
When we woke the next morning in that luxurious hotel room, our thoughts went back to 38 years ago …our wedding day! Memories of all our experiences over the years flooded in and we felt blessed to have spent so many good years together.
We checked out of the hotel and headed to Parliament Hill to take a tour of the building that determines all that happens in Canada. The only tours left for the day were the French ones so we had to take that. We didn’t understand much of the information being offered but we recognized so much from the TV news. Seeing the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament…even the hallways with the magnificent ceilings, arched doorways and windows, marble floors and columns…created an amazing sense of pride in all it means to be a Canadian citizen. Having just seen so much of the country and understanding the history of the making of this great nation solidified that sense of patriotism even more.
We also did a short version tour of the Supreme Court of Canada. This is the last chance for prisoners wishing to appeal their sentences. Architecturally, it is not as ornate and magnificent as the Parliament building but awe inspiring nonetheless. It is very symmetrical with marble and rich wood everywhere…even in the washrooms!
Across the street from all the beautiful government buildings we could see amazing modern architecture mixed with the old. In fact, the Bank of Canada kept its original facade and built a huge glass structure around and behind it. I love how the new reflects the old…like a symbolic salute to our history as we move through time.
By the time we had seen the Parliament buildings and taken a tour of the Supreme Court of Canada, the oppressive heat and humidity (28 degrees but feels like 39) was taking its toll on us. It was mid afternoon, Friday, and the traffic was already getting heavy. We decided to move on even though there were numerous other things to see in Ottawa.
Rideau River campground was only an hour south. We had stayed there before and knew it was nice so off we went, arriving in time for a meal and a few games of cards before night fell. The days are getting shorter!
There was no rush to leave the campground early. With the weather so lovely, we hung around and hit the road mid afternoon again. The Trans Canada led us to Peterborough for the night.
Overnight brought high winds and heavy rain but it had stopped by morning. We treated ourselves to breakfast out and then decided to go see the big hydraulic lift lock on the canal on the off chance that we might see a boat going through. The canal was calm and lovely in the morning light. The ducks and geese were going about their morning feeding and the maples lining the canal were starting to change into their fall colours. We sipped on coffee, biding time, fingers crossed.
We were just about to leave when a large yacht from Washington came cruising ever so gently down the canal. The gates to the lock opened, the yacht pulled in, the gates closed and up it went, 80 some feet in the air to be deposited in the lake on the other side. This lock stuff never gets old for us.
Satisfied with our morning, we headed west through Orillia and on to a tiny place on the Trent Severyn Waterway called Big Chute. It is home to the most unique lock that we’ve seen… And we’ve seen plenty on this trip. What we have at Big Chute is a Marine Railway lock system operated by Parks Canada as most of them are. So the way it works is this…a very large flatbed railcar travels down by way of cables on a double set of tracks into the water of one lake. Because of the double rail system, the car remains level throughout the whole procedure. Once it is immersed in the water, the boat enters the railcar and is suspended by slings to keep it in place. If it has an outboard motor, the back end is lifted higher than the front to keep the motor from dragging. When everything is secure, the car travels back up the track, across the highway with the railway guards holding back traffic, and then down the other side into the neighbouring lake. When fully immersed, the slings are removed and the boat carries on its way. Truly fascinating to watch! Because it was Sunday afternoon of a lovely weekend, the lock was very busy. We stayed to watch a number of boats being transported from one lake to another.
While at the lock, we got chatting to a couple from Collingwood, ON. They were staying at the same campground as we were planning to check into just a few kilometres away. Tom and Nancy asked us to join them for Happy Hour once we got ourselves settled. We ended up staying two nights and reciprocated by having Happy Hour at our place the second night. This is one of the best things about travelling! They had travelled to many of the same places as us so we had fun sharing stories!
During the evening of the first night, we were sitting by the fire in the dark. Jim left me alone while he walked to the privy at the end of the road. Suddenly I heard a snort and a snuffling noise behind me. I jumped from my chair, turned around, and noticed the garbage bag swinging from its hook at the end of the picnic table. A creature larger than a raccoon lumbered off into the trees behind the van. We had been visited by a bear!
We lingered in the campground till noon the next day, loving the late summer heat. From this point on we knew the days would be cooler.
North of Parry Sound, we left the main highway for a short diversion to Bying Inlet. What a treat…mama bear and three cubs scampered across the road just as we passed (the camera was not handy) and then a turtle stopped to say hello!
Gas, groceries, and we were on our way around Lake Superior, prepared for at least two nights of provincial campgrounds. Our first stop was Pancake Bay, just a short drive north of Sault Ste. Marie. We had missed this spot on the way out so didn’t want to miss it again, especially since we had warm sunshine and a long sandy beach!
It was at Pancake Bay that we were thankful for our AMA membership. I ended up locking the keys in the van while Jim was at the beach. “No worries,” I thought. “Jim will have his keys in his pocket as always.” Little did I know he had removed everything from his pockets when we did laundry earlier! Everything we had was locked in the van, including cell phones, jackets and wallets. We made our way to the office to call CAA and waited close to an hour till they arrived from the Soo. Because we have an older model van, the poor young man was presented with a bit of a challenge breaking into it. A wire coat hanger would have come in handy but even those are hard to come by these days, especially in a campground! He eventually got it open and we were glad to grab jackets and build a fire. Night had fallen during the process and so had the thermometer!
The down filled comforter went back on the bed that night. It had been at least three months since we had last needed it.
The drive the next day took us past lovely scenic views of Lake Superior and a stop at beautiful sandy Katherine Cove with a view of the Lizard Islands and Caribou Island. This area is a painter’s delight…sand, surf and trees.
Highway construction was heavy. Roads are being widened in many spots and bridges are being replaced. There likely isn’t much more time before snow falls around here so they are working from morning to night.
We got to Neys Campground in the late afternoon, giving us time to enjoy the sandy beach covered with driftwood. We stayed at this same place three months ago to the day! We loved it then and we love it now.