We left Neys Campground in Northern Ontario with a light rain falling and the promise of the same all day. Heavy fog met us as we passed through Terrance Bay and Schreiber and that eventually turned to heavy rain. Northern Ontario offers so many beautiful roadside lookouts over Lake Superior but we were unable to take advantage of many of them today.
As we passed Rainbow Falls Provincial Park area, however, the rain had let up and we saw a bear taking advantage of human negligence. The big trash container on the side of the road had not been closed tightly and Mr. Bear managed to pull most of the garbage out of it. Orange peels, paper, containers…all strewed around the bin and he was a happy bear. Lunch would be easy today!
At Nipigon, we hit an odometer reading of 112802 which signified 20,000 kilometers of travel since the May long weekend. And Jim had driven every one of them. I felt blessed to have been able to sit with the map on my lap and navigate us through this country while he did all the driving.
We arrived at Mirror Lake Campground, about 50 km east of Thunder Bay, to camp with Wendy and Brian. They are seasonal campers there and have a beautiful set up on the lake that really does look like a mirror. We pulled into a site nearby and enjoyed two nights with them. Wendy spoiled us with great food and Brian kept the campfire stoked for all of us to enjoy. We were happy to see that they had their grandson, Austin, visiting with them from Claresholm. At two years old, he is a going concern and he made us miss our little ones so much!
The weather had been cloudy, damp and misty most of the time so when we woke to more of it on our third day there, we decided to pack up and head directly to Kenora. The morning fog didn’t lift until sometime west of Thunder Bay and heavy grey clouds loomed on the horizon ahead but we were teased with patches of blue sky along the way. We were longing for sunshine again.
We arrived in Kenora in the late afternoon. The sky was just clearing and the soon the warm sun was out. A quick visit with some acquaintances, Kevin and Betty, at their home and then we checked into the campground on the lake. The sun was lovely and we were able to sit out around the campfire until late that night, watching lightening flashing in the east. We looked forward to a lovely day of sightseeing in the area tomorrow.
It was not to be. The next morning dawned clear and sunny but by the time we had eaten breakfast and packed up, the clouds had rolled in with a strong north wind. Flocks of geese were honking across the sky, heading south for the winter. Was this a sign? We looked at each other and somewhere in that moment we decided it was time to hightail it home. Maybe we could make it home by Wednesday to pick Carlo up from pre-school. If not, it would be a surprise for the kids whatever time we arrived since they weren’t expecting us until a week later. We had hoped to see the MS Kenora but it was closed so a walk along the waterfront and a photo of Huskie the Muskie in the beautiful gardens along the waterfront sufficed. Then we were on our way.
We fought strong winds all day and drove right across Manitoba, arriving at Moosomin, Saskatchewan as the sun was setting. Along the way, we stopped at a mall in Winnipeg to “mall walk” for an hour and then another stop for a short hike in the forest near Brandon. We also visited the Discovery Centre in Brandon, a beautiful interpretive centre dedicated to the preservation of nature in the area.
Moosomin must be train central! We heard trains passing all night long…each of them blowing their whistle as they passed through town. When we were woken by the 7am train, we decided to get up and hit the road again. The sun was just getting up and there was a chill of autumn in the air. Coffee at Timmies and we were heading west again with a breakfast stop an hour up the road at a pretty little roadside rest area. Birds and squirrels were busy in the trees and we learned from a plaque that this had once been a major wagon trail during the days of the fur trade and later for the settlers to the area.
Travelling west through the prairies was so beautiful in the early morning light. Golden fields, cut with precision, fresh hay bales dotting the landscape, and cattle grazing in the pastures while trains snaked their way through the low hills and valleys.
We had a long drive ahead of us but we still took time to stop and smell the roses. Wolesley, a tiny little town of 3500 was so beautiful. A swinging bridge across the water beckoned and the colors of the trees reflected in the water was so gorgeous.
Indian Head was our next stop. Our niece used to live there so we knew it was a pretty town and we were anxious to see the Qu’Appelle Valley in its fall splendour. She had recommended a stop at the bakery for a cinnamon bun so we grabbed one and headed north into the valley to have our snack. Along the way, a big round stone barn caught our attention. It was the Bell Barn, a reconstruction of the original barn built in 1882 for the first corporate farm in the area. At that time, 27 houses had been built by the corporation on the surrounding land to house the farm workers.
The valley was so, so beautiful. The trees were splendid in their fall foliage and the lake was so calm. Picnic tables were stacked, ready for cooler weather, and maintenance workers were busy marking trees that needed attention. Some were spray painted with the word “DED” which at first we thought was a mis-spelling of “DEAD” but then realized it meant “Dutch Elm Disease”. Gulls and loons floated in the lake and we basked in the warm sunshine.
Reluctantly, we left the valley. Regina was our next stop…such a beautiful city. A walk through Wascana Park gave us a great view of the Legislative Building and from there, we went on a tour of the building itself.
The Regina Legislature was built in 1909-1911 and officially opened in 1912. It is built of Manitoba Tyndalstone in the traditional English Renaissance style, incorporating 35 types of marble from around the world. It is magnificent, as would be expected. The copper on the dome was just this year replaced so it looked so shiny in the sun. Within the next two years it will oxidize and turn to green and eventually to black.
The gardens outside the Legislature were showing signs of fall but the roses were still in full bloom and most of the other flowers were keeping up their appearances!
Leaving Regina, we passed the Chaplin Salt Mine on Chaplin Lake. This 18 km long lake is one of the richest and purest sources of sodium sulphite deposits in the world. A little town that struggled agriculturally because of its poor soil in its early years came to life when the mine opened in 1948.
As we made our way to Swift Current in the early evening light, what we thought was fog developing in the valleys turned out to be harvest dust as groups of combines worked their way across the fields. The landscape looked soft and velvety in the low light and we were treated to another beautiful prairie sunset.
When we arrived in Swift Current, we treated ourselves to dinner out…it would be our last night on the road. Following dinner, we took advantage of the beautiful Aquatic Centre where we soaked our tired bodies in the hot tub before turning in for the night in the Walmart parking lot. It had been a long day.
How excited we were to get on the road the next morning! We would see our family again! We were amazed at how much we loved the look of the prairies. After seeing mountains, forests, beaches, oceans, and lakes it was unbelievable how good it felt to see flat prairie and big sky.
We started plotting our surprise tactic as we drove towards Alberta. Crossing into Alberta was nostalgic…it would not be long before we were back in our own town in our own house with our own family!
We stopped to walk about in Medicine Hat at the largest Teepee in the world. The Teepee is a tribute to the native heritage of the area and paintings by various artists depict the native culture and the impact of European settlement of the land. One of the paintings is done by Nona Foster, a well known artist from our area.
We stopped in Lethbridge for groceries, a stop that required a drive through the beautiful river valley. Had we not been so excited to get home, we would have wandered through the valley or around Henderson Lake but we were on a mission now.
Once we were on the road home, groceries to stock our fridge piled in the back of the van, we sent a dinner invitation by text to Holly and Trevor. At first, Holly thought it was a joke…a sick joke, as she called it…but then realized we truly were on our way home.
After nearly four months living in less than 100 square feet, our house seemed humungous! We had two young ladies living in it till the beginning of September and they left it spotless…we almost wondered if they even stayed! The flowerbeds had filled with weeds and overgrown perennials, trees needed to be trimmed and planters required my attention but that could all wait. We wandered from room to room, marvelling at the space!
The kids arrived for dinner. It felt so good to hug them all. Carlo was pumped to see Papa again and went flying into his arms. Lewis didn’t remember us…we had expected that…but it wasn’t long before he was smiling and crawling around the house as if he knew where he was! Tears and hugs and chatter and excitement filled the air.
It was great to be home on the first day of fall after travelling 22,209 kilometers in 121 days. What a great vacation! Thank you, Miles, for an amazing holiday and getting us safely home.