Day 9: July 10 Ontario

Sault Ste Marie has a population of 73,000 (2016 census). 

The two cities of Sault Ste Marie–one Canadian, one US–used to be one, until the War of 1812 established the international boundary between them at the St Mary’s River. The two cities are joined by a bridge.

Shipping traffic uses either the American Soo Locks, or the Canadian Sault Ste Marie Canal.

* * *

We hit the Lake Nipigon area July 10. We are realizing just how long it took us just to get to the Ontario border; it seems like the vast majority of the trip is still ahead of us, after traveling for a week now.

From the journal: “A rainy cloudy day. We could see lots of lakes. Stop outside Nipigon and we took pictures from a lookout of Lake Superior. Pretty much was all we saw of that lake.”

The Lake Nipigon area July 10.

Just another typical day in Ontario, here at the Sault St Marie Walmart; we seemed to bring bad weather with us. Here our fourth thunderstorm hit us!

An excerpt from Cheryl’s journal: “We were excited the next day as our route to Sault St Marie was to take us along Lake Superior. However, the fog came in and stayed all day, so we saw very little. Very disappointed.”

Day 8: July 9 Ontario

Ontario is just east of Manitoba, and located in Central Canada. It has 38 percent of Canada’s population, is home to both Ottawa–Canada’s capital–and Toronto, Ontario’s capital and most populous city.

The province is also separated into Northern Ontario and Southern Ontario. Most of the arable land and population is in Southern Ontario.

Ontario is also home to the Great Lakes of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. There is access to the Saint Lawrence River through Kingston.

Thunder Bay, with it’s population of about 100,000 people (2016 census), takes its name from the Thunder Bay at the head of Lake Superior.

Founded in the 17th century as a French fur trading post, it grew into an important link in the shipping of grain from Western Canada through the Great Lakes to the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the east coast.

* * *

From Cheryl’s journal: “We left the next morning and headed for Ontario. A very cloudy rainy day. We drove to Thunder Bay. Stayed at the Walmart and hung out in the motor home as a thunderstorm (#3) rolled through town.”

Our first impression of Ontario is a lot of bush, and then the Kenora area, which was pretty.

Kenora. A solid overcast seems to be following us around.

Our first views of Ontario.

Day 5-7: July 7-9 Manitoba

Manitoba is just east of Saskatchewan, and is the longitudinal center of Canada. It’s population is estimated at 1.37 million. It’s capital and largest city is Winnipeg.

Portage la Prairie is 75 kms west of Winnipeg, and sits on the Assiniboine River. If you google up Portage you’ll see the same coke can image that we took for this trip.

* * *

We made it to Portage La Prairie on Jul 7th still, but then we spent a couple of days visiting with Cheryl’s relatives at Ste Anne, just north of Steinbach.

From Cheryl’s journal: “Had left over pizza for lunch and made it to Portage La Prairie for dinner and had hamburgers. Now Marcel is on a mission to find a sani-dump. Over to A&W to look for one on the internet. Found one. Will try to dump tomorrow. Difference between Saskatchewan and Manitoba is pretty stark if you look at the GPS. You can see small lakes everywhere on the Manitoba side, although from the road it looks the same. Lots of wind on the road today, especially around Big Quill Lake, an international bird sanctuary.

Filled the propane tank thinking that would help, as the fridge had stopped working, though we hadn’t used very much propane. Next, if that doesn’t work, we’re hoping we just need to charge the batteries.”

The giant coke can–what Portage is famous for.

Jean and Rick.

From the journal: “We arrived at Auntie Jeans on Monday and stayed the night. A very nice visit. She has a lovely mobile in a huge park. She and Rick showed us around and they have a large community centre with a pool. She made us chicken sandwiches and we took them out for dinner. In the afternoon as we were sitting on the deck a huge thunderstorm rolled in. It rolled on for hours. Aunt Jean told us that Rick had dementia. We could tell as he kept asking Marcel if he followed any sports. Marcel was a good sport and responded as if it was the first time asked.

We realized the fridge stopped working. I put our freezer packs in Jean’s freezer. She was good enough to give us a cooler so we could keep our food from spoiling. We also washed our clothes and put them out on the line. Got them in before the storm. Winnipeg is the middle of the continent.”

We head straight east to Kenora ON on Jul 9.

Day 5: July 7 Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan–land of 100,000 lakes–has a population of about 1.1 million (2020 census). Along with Alberta it is landlocked. The capital is Regina. 

I have fond memories of Moose Jaw, where I essentially began my Air Force career, after training in Ontario and Nova Scotia. 

Saskatoon was founded as a Temperance colony in 1882, and has a current population of 330,000 (2019 census).

* * *

We spent a whole day leaving Alberta, taking the #16 south to Saskatoon, where we stopped at a Walmart for the night.

Well known to RVers, Walmart loves campers! We began navigating from Walmart to Walmart at this point; free overnight camping, washrooms, and an awesome store to pick up supplies in. And almost every town has at least one.

From the journal: “Most of the day we spent with Irene was mild with showers. When we left we left the rain behind too. Took most of the day before the sun poked out from behind the clouds and warmed us up. Found our first Walmart–for overnight parking–in Saskatoon. Parked and had dinner. Went for a walk and went to bed. Along day of driving.”

These were mostly the view on the #16.

Parked at a Walmart in Saskatoon. From the journal: “This morning another warmer day and the sun was out. Went to Cora’s for breakfast. Had a crepe that was filled with fruit and custard, yum! Got away again by 8 am. Throughout the day we filled up more often instead of waiting until 1/4 tank or so. Marcel was worried that we wouldn’t find a gas station. Once it was $34 to fill up. Suppose better safe than sorry. The rest of Saskatchewan was pretty much the same as the first half. Flat! Although on the #16 I found there to be more green and a few trees to look at.

Leaving Sask now, we were able to make it to Portage La Prairie MAN still on the Jul 7, after another long day driving.

Day 2-4: July 4-6 Alberta

Alberta is just east of British Columbia, with a population of 4 million (2016 census). It is one of two provinces of Canada that are landlocked.

While Edmonton is the capital, both Calgary and Edmonton have over 1 million population.

I have fond memories of Edmonton, where I spent three years in school as a child, from 1977-1979. We lived primarily in Millwoods, which they were literally building all around us from the 12th Ave area outward.

Known as the “Gateway to the North” the city is a staging area for oil-sands operations and mining operations in the Northwest Territories.

* * *

From Cheryl’s journal: “After waking up to showers we began the drive to Edmonton. Lot of trails I’d like to come back to–Heidi, you free? Marcel’s not able to go on slippery, wet walks anymore. We did stop at one pullout needing to go pee. I headed for the forested area, there I could see a trail. I headed down–after going pee of course–and could hear the rushing of water. As I got close I could see the river cut through solid rock. There was an overhead embankment that I inched out on. It was a good thousand feet down, we had just climbed up it in our motor home. I could see the water down in the valley that the river was spewing over and down through the rocks. Fabulous find!”

From the journal: “The Columbia Icefields has gotten a lot smaller since I was there in the late sixties. As a child I remember being able to walk on the glacier from the side of the road. Still, the rivers around this area with the glacial hue are striking. We stopped at Jasper and walked around for a bit, but it was raining so we continued on.”

After frolicking for a bit (see above photos) we spent the rest of the day driving to Edmonton. We spent a couple of days there visiting with Aunt Irene, who sold us the motor home, and who’d also visited my Mom lots in BC.

Aunt Irene.

Cheryl with that “damn that was some nice pizza” look.

From the journal: “We got to Edmonton late afternoon and spent the night and a day with Irene. Wonderful to see her. She looks great and really happy and self assured. Met her boyfriend Frank, and had a salmon dinner with him, along with playing RummiKub.

After saying goodbye to Irene in the morning we got out on the #16 hwy. Got past Sherwood–half-hour away–before I realized I had forgotten my purse. Damn! All the way back into Edmonton. Good thing Irene had not left for her bike ride yet. After hugs–again–we headed east–again!

Leaving Alberta heading east to Sask. So far the RV is performing well. We are getting used to the GPS as well, without which the trip would have been much more difficult/stressful.

Day 1: July 3 British Columbia

What we drove

We are driving a 1988 5.7L V8 Chevy Vanguard Class “C”  motor home. This 10,000 lbs monster comes fully loaded with fridge, stove/oven, toilet, kitchen and bathroom sinks. We usually sleep downstairs, but there is a huge bed upstairs which we mainly used for storage for this trip.

We still have the original documentation for all the vehicle systems.

As with all our driving trips, we shared driving duties sixty-sixty, two hours on, two off.

What we ate

We have been quietly vegan since 2014, after watching one too many docs about how horrible meat production is for the planet. We discovered to our initial disappointment that most restaurants have a veggie burger option, if you’re lucky.

We had to let our veganism go for the couple of months the trip took; when in Rome, and all that…

Usually our go-to breakfast at home is a fruit smoothie with protein shoved in there. Because of the basic reality of we were camping now, we had to switch over to bowls of fruit, a banana, and peanut butter sandwiches. This worked just fine.

For lunch we typically made cold cut/cheese sandwiches. If we could get the vegan versions so much the better, but it didn’t really matter anymore.

We loved to load up our fridge with nutritious salads: broccoli, cauliflower, and even seafood salads. Good value for the money.

At dinnertime we loved to walk to a restaurant/bar and have whatever the local favorite was. In the Maritimes that was lots of seafood.

* * *

British Columbia is the westernmost province in Canada, with a population of 5.1 million (2020). Although Victoria is the capital, Vancouver is the largest metro area in Western Canada. The University of British Columbia (UBC), where I do my annual Huntington’s Disease check ins, is at Vancouver.

We live three hours east of Vancouver along the #3 Crowsnest Hwy, at Princeton (originally Vermillion Forks).

Princeton is a lovely town of about 2800 (2016 census) that sits right on the convergence of the Tulameen and Similkameen Rivers. We actually live about 22 kms east of Princeton, at the Bromley Rock subdivision.

* * *

We begin our journey July 03 in Princeton BC. The night before we did my annual HD appointment with my team of doctors at UBC, three hours west in Vancouver. 

We knew that the #1 (Trans Canada) highway from Vancouver BC to St John’s NFLD was 8030 kms, but how many would we actually manage in such an old vehicle? I had my doubts. 

From Cheryl’s journal: “Finally we were ready. 9 AM we left home for parts unknown. It was a beautiful day. Everything packed we were full of excitement and adventure. First leg of the journey was to go to Edmonton to visit with Aunt Irene. It was only fitting since she sold the motor home to us. We thought we’d only get to Revelstoke/Golden but the kms ticked away. We found ourselves in Lake Louise with rain and nowhere to stay. We thought we’d be able to stop on the side of the road or rest stop, but apparently in National Parks that’s not allowed. So on we went hoping we would find something else inside the (Banff) Park; if we didn’t we’d have to drive another 360 kms just to exit the Park. We finally found Mosquito Creek Campground. Although the campground was full we were able to park in the overflow area. Best seats in the house for the view. At 1800 m altitude the mountaintops were still in the clouds. What a majestic sight! Settling in at 9 PM. A long day with beautiful sights. Going to be hard to beat.”

The below image was taken in Revelstoke BC on the way out to the Rockies.

Images above: July 04 Mosquito Creek. The Mosquito Creek Campground is 24 km north of Lake Louise, along the Icefields Parkway.

We are leaving Princeton behind, heading east into a seemingly vast Canada. First stop, Mosquito Creek Campground.

Getting started … thx Mom!

In 2019 my partner Cheryl and I paid about $1700 CAN (so about $50 US) to inspect and repair our old 1988 Vanguard–really really old as it turns out, most certainly an antique–C-class motor home, with a Cross-Canada trip from Princeton BC all the way out to St. John’s NFLD and back again on our minds. 

We’d been camping with our 27-footer for about three years straight after acquiring it cheap from a dear aunt, so we knew the systems worked, and how they worked. We were also reasonably good with our GPS unit, without which the trip would not have been possible.

Our GPS was the true hero of trip. It has lists of Walmarts (and other businesses) for any given city, so just pick one in a location you like–for example, downtown or not–and just follow the visual or audio prompt. The hardest part to learn at the beginning was how much is 150 meters, versus 300 meters, outside on the road in front of you, but you become experts pretty quick.

I got my Huntington’s Disease– 44 CAG repeats–from my father, who passed away precisely fifteen years after the onset of the disease. His onset began at 45 years old, same as me. So even though every single Huntington’s Disease patient has a different set of symptoms, and lives with a different progression rate, to my mind a betting person would bet that I’m going to die at 60, like my father.

Even though I have a much better diet than my father, and hit the gym to exercise and weight train, I might live to see 62, but not 65. That’s just practical. Having a “best-before” date is also helpful in allowing us to get on with the meaningful stuff before it’s too late.

Cheryl and I celebrated my 52nd birthday at Matane QC on the south shore of the mighty St Laurence, on a very unlikely but very meaningful Cross Canada trip.

Mom decided to support us financially for the trip, and with my Huntington’s Disease symptoms slowly getting worse we figured that time window for doing this sort of constant driving in possibly stressful situations was running out.

It was now or never.

A selfie on the beach in Stephenville NFLD, July 31.

Marita Fiebiger. Mom was generous with her financial help. You can’t thank parents enough, so thanks again Mom!