The Planning Stage
What would you do with an extra six weeks ? We chose to drive across our own country … Canada !!! Starting out in our hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
We planned to travel to the west coast of Canada stopping to visit friends and relatives scattered throughout Alberta and British Columbia.
There was a 50th anniversary celebration for my new sister-in-law and her husband. My wife and I had ourselves been married a mere 2 months when we left home.
But there were massive wildfires raging throughout British Columbia. City after city was being evacuated.
We decided to change our vacation plans and go east this year putting off our west coast trip to 2018.
By the time we began our trip east the site of the anniversary reunion had been evacuated due to wildfires.
We were glad to not be heading into the fires. We were off to a late start from Saskatoon. Last minute packing and good byes and checking for things we may have forgotten.
It was 12 noon by the time we filled the gas tank on the way out of town. It really didn’t matter… we had no schedule, no deadline, no reservations.
It was a beautiful August 1st and we were free as a bird. We passed merrily by the familiar scenery close to Saskatoon. Past the turnoff to Watrous and Manitou Springs Resort and Spa where we had spent many hours floating in the lake that is so full of salt that it is nearly impossible to sink to the bottom and the heated mineral springs pool that is so soothing.
We continued on past the Quill Lakes and Wynyard. We were following the Yellowhead Route of the Trans-Canada Highway. The Yellowhead east of Saskatoon is primarily a single lane in each direction and traveling south to Regina and then eastbound on the primary Trans-Canada would have afforded us a divided highway all the way to Ontario but we reserved that route for our return journey. I had planned a route that would provide us with different scenery in each direction for most of the country.
We didn’t truly pass Wynyard because we stopped for a cup of coffee and to stretch our legs. When we got out of the car, my wife Kathy couldn’t find her car keys. We searched everywhere we could think of and realized the last place she had them was when we filled the car with gas in Saskatoon. A phone call to that gas station confirmed they had Kathy’s keys.
I had my keys, we didn’t really need hers. BUT if I lost mine or locked them in the car somewhere down the road…. did we want to take the chance ? It was now 3 in the afternoon and we were only half way to Manitoba.
The day hadn’t started with the early start we had envisioned. We were still close enough to home to go back and too late in the day to get as far as we would have liked on our first day anyway.
We would go back for the keys, get a good nights sleep and a truly early start the next morning. We had already said our many good byes in our apartment complex and had some explaining to do when we returned from our epic journey the same day we left.
Hoping to leave by 6 AM we pulled out of the parking lot at 6:30 … only 30 minutes later than we wanted but still early enough to get lots of miles, or in Canada, kilometres under our belt.
It was another bright sunny day and at the beginning of the trip of our lifetime. Canada, unlike the USA, is sparsely populated, has less freeways, and more expensive gasoline. So many people going from west to east in Canada would elect to cross the border into the United States saving miles and money. But this was our journey across Canada and we wanted it to be 100% Canadian. There would be many places where we could see the United States across a lake or river but we would not cross that border on this trip.
We traced the same path we had on day 1 and once we passed Wynyard we were once again in “virgin territory.” Our next stop was the village of Foam Lake where we stopped at the visitor centre and took photos of each other with our faces poking through the “face holes” of two wooden figures. One of the figures showed us being famous hockey players from Foam Lake and the other portrayed us as “Mounties”. The “Mounties” were members of the famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police clad in their “dress” red uniforms.
Past Foam Lake we continued on to and through the city of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. By this time we had encountered some rain which would prove to be rare on this vacation. We did experience some rainy days but primarily we enjoyed sunny skies and warm temperatures.
Once we got past Yorkton we encountered something not quite so rare on this trip…. road construction.
We had followed the Yellowhead Highway from Saskatoon to Yorkton but at Yorkton we deviated our route onto Highway 10 going straight east of Yorkton toward Roblin, Manitoba.
Crossing into Manitoba seemed to bring the reality of what we were doing into focus. Past Roblin we continued east into the city of Dauphin.
Dauphin was a very attractive city but we continued on turning south toward Riding Mountain National Park. It was the first of many National Parks that we would see on this trip and was also the reason we had turned away from the Yellowhead Highway back in Yorkton.
Manitoba Highway 10 was the route number going south from Dauphin into Riding Mountain Park but it was also the main thoroughfare from Dauphin to Minnedosa, Brandon and other southern Manitoba locations.
We knew that and it was demonstrated quite loudly when we dared to stop and photograph some black bears alongside the highway and the locals had no time for tourists to be slowing traffic.
We got onto the narrow shoulder to some honking of horns but still managed to get some somewhat blurry photos of the black bears as they meandered in the tall grass and trees. It was still drizzly however we continued down Highway 10 as we encountered some bison.
We pulled into the town of Wasagaming which is the main resort area of Riding Mountain. Wasagaming is on the southern end of Clear Lake and also of Riding Mountain National Park.
It is a lively resort area with tourist stores and attractions. We took photos of each other sitting on a bright red oversized Adirondack chair large enough to make us look like children sitting on them with our legs barely reaching beyond the seat portion of the chair and our heads halfway up the chair back.
There were stores selling souvenir t-shirts and beach wear and others selling ice cream and cotton candy. The lineup of portable toilets would have featured lines of people had it not been a rainy day.
There was a National Park store with a museum section displaying stuffed replicas of local wildlife and trail maps and navigation guides for those venturing on the water.
There was a long boardwalk leading out to a boat launch and beautiful sand beaches as well as sports areas for people to enjoy their favourite outdoor activities.
There were teepees and a Parks Canada “oTENTik” which is a cross between a tent and an A-Frame cabin that you can rent for an overnight stay in many Parks Canada locations.
Riding Mountain is a very pretty park and well worth a visit and a longer stay but we had a lot more miles to cover and many more places to see. 2017 was the 150th anniversary of Parks Canada and the entrance fee to all National Parks across Canada was waived for the entire year. It was the first park we would visit but the first of many more.
Continuing south on Manitoba Highway 10 the rain stopped and the sun began to shine down on us once again. We rejoined the Yellowhead Highway at Minnedosa and continued east through Neepawa and Gladstone to the junction of the main Trans-Canada Highway designated Trans-Canada Highway 1 in the west.
We would follow the Trans-Canada Highway east through Portage-la-Prairie and into Winnipeg where it becomes Portage Avenue. There is the option for through travelers to bypass Winnipeg on Perimeter Highway which encircles the city but I wanted to make a stop at “The Forks” market area in the centre of Winnipeg.
It was supper time when we arrived in Winnipeg and I had planned to go to “The Forks” for some fish and chips. Winnipeg is worthy of a much longer stop as is The Forks Market area along with the nearby Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
As nice as Winnipeg is, it is still in the Canadian Prairies and we were anxious to see some other scenery. We continued east of Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada with the sun setting behind us and the province of Ontario beckoning.
We had left Saskatoon at 6:30 in the morning and despite crossing a time zone when we entered Manitoba, it was approaching the midnight hour when we settled down for the night in the city of Kenora, Ontario.
Although we could see with the headlights the night before that we had left the prairies and entered the Canadian Shield where trees and rocks, lakes and rivers prevail.
Waking up in Kenora showed us the beginning of the awe inspiring beauty of Canada. Some consider the prairies to be beautiful but endless flat horizon is not what inspires my wife and I. Give me mountains and oceans, forests and lakes, rivers and waterfalls any day.
We were entering an area called Lake Of The Woods. It is a large lake in northwestern Ontario bordering on Manitoba and the US state of Minnesota. Lake Of The Woods is over 110 kilometres long and wide and contains 14,552 islands. It is a boating, fishing and camping paradise.
We turned off the main Trans-Canada Highway once again and travelled on a secondary Trans-Canada Route 11 turning south just east of Kenora and continued south through the lake area passing the towns of Sioux Narrows and Nestor Falls on the way to Fort Frances, Ontario which sits on the Rainy River directly across from International Falls, Minnesota.
Now on our Trans-Canada trip we encountered many places that were worth a much longer visit than we afforded them and Lake Of The Woods is most certainly one of them.
With a boat and a good navigation system a person could get lost without truly being lost. Without the navigation system we may never see you again.
Fort Frances was a very nice city and we spent some time along the waterfront there. We ate an ice cream cone and peered across the river at Minnesota. There was a river walk with some children’s playground equipment and some towers you could climb if you got the keys from the ice cream shop.
We had come south through Lake Of The Woods until we reached the Rainy River at the town of Emo, Ontario. It was there that we found a First Nations community and historical markers and a tiny little church that looked like it might hold about 6 people at a time.
It was there that we turned east toward Fort Frances and we continued east beyond Fort Frances on our way to Thunder Bay, Ontario.
There were very few communities between Fort Frances and Thunder Bay as it is a large wilderness area and midway between lies Quetico Provincial Park. We stopped at the park office and learned that we would have to pay $110 for a season pass to Ontario Provincial Parks and we did not buy it then but did decide to buy it at the next opportunity. Ontario is a very large province in area and we planned to visit a lot of parks there.
Quetico was very beautiful and I would want to go camping there sometime but we pushed on toward Thunder Bay which is 350 kilometres from Fort Frances. Fort Frances is 215 km from Kenora.
One half hour before Thunder Bay we came to the main Trans-Canada Highway again and to Kakabeka Falls which is a must see waterfall.
It was drizzling when we got there but we took our umbrellas and hiked around the falls anyway. It was dusk. These photos were taken on our return trip to Saskatoon.
We had traveled 565 km today and twice that the day before. 1700 km in 2 days and we were ready for sleep when we settled down for the night in Thunder Bay.
Now I haven’t mentioned our sleeping arrangements but we were traveling in a Chrysler Town and Country mini-van and sleeping in the back of the van. Chrysler’s “Stow and Go” seats fold right into the floor in minutes and we had an area 48 inches wide and about 90 inches long to sleep in.
Throughout our journey east we parked primarily in Walmart parking lots. Walmart welcomes overnight campers in most of their locations and when you pull into a Walmart for the night you will find many others doing the same thing.
Up bright and early in Thunder Bay. I had been feeling pretty good about how far I had gotten in a short time but as my sister pointed out I was going too fast to see anything. I was anxious to put the prairie scenery behind me but now I would slow down and see some sights.
There is lots to see in the Thunder Bay area and we drove out of town on the Trans-Canada Highway eastbound and came to our first stop… Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.
The Sleeping Giant is a peninsula extending into Lake Superior that has highlands on it’s western side facing the city of Thunder Bay. It offers wonderful hiking, wildflowers and wildlife. For those young enough and adventurous there are trails leading to the top of the highlands which from the Trans-Canada Highway and Thunder Bay appear to form a giant in the prone or “sleeping” posture.
For my wife and I it was a nice drive through the lowlands on the eastern side of the peninsula. Oh, to be young again… but we did pretty well on our trip.
Then it was back to the Trans-Canada and a little further along that we came to the turn-off for Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park where we decided to buy our Ontario Parks annual pass.
Ouimet Canyon was beautiful and a short moderate hike to the viewing areas. There was a small gift shop. Nearby is a privately owned area called Eagle Canyon which features suspension footbridges and a zip line. We did not go to Eagle Canyon.
Instead we went back to the highway and continued east to Red Rock which was not what I was expecting as it was not a spectacular site. I guess I was thinking of the Red Rocks Amphitheater just west of Denver. Anyway we got some nice views onto Lake Superior.
From there it was on to Nipigon where all traffic between eastern and western Canada must cross a bridge over the Nipigon River. In January of 2016 a winter storm caused enough stress to the bridge to cause the deck to lift 24 inches (60 cm). They were able to reopen a single lane after 17 hours but the only other way from east to west and vice versa was through the United States.
There are now 2 spans open providing 2 lanes in each direction but the second span was not completed until November of 2018. The above photo was taken in July of 2016. The story of the building of the Trans-Canada Highway is a very interesting one as it is the story of the building of a nation. Many sections of the highway challenged engineers, workers, budgets and political will. The crossing of the Nipigon River was one of them.
The eastbound journey from Nipigon follows the contours of Lake Superior and in many places you can see the broad expanse of water. Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes. Its area is roughly the size of the state of South Carolina or the nation of Austria. Lake Superior is also the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes.
We made a beach stop in the town of Terrace Bay, Ontario where we dipped our feet in the lake’s chilly waters before discovering a delightful waterfall at the Aguasabon River Gorge, the Aguasabon River emptying into Lake Superior just beyond the waterfall.
In the above photo you see my wife doing what we did at beaches all across the country…. gathering the prettiest stones. And now we have them displayed in our back patio.
We continued on passing some places we wanted to see thinking that we may be retracing this part of the map on our return journey. There is a more northerly route we could have taken on the return trip but it offered none of the beauty of the Lake Superior shoreline.
We passed Neys Provincial Park and Pukaskwa National Park (which we did see on the return journey). You can’t see everything and you can’t cover much distance if you try. It would have been possible to get from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie in a single day without sightseeing. We made it a 2 day journey with some wonderful sights and made an overnight stop in White River, Ontario.
Neys Provincial Park and Pukwaska National Park are on opposite sides of the town of Marathon and that is where the Trans-Canada Highway veers away from the shores of Lake Superior and heads east to the town of White River and then south to the town of Wawa where it rejoins the shoreline.
It was dark when we arrived in White River and we were tired after a long day in the car and many short hikes to canyons and lake shores. There was a truck stop right at the highway along with an A&W hamburger joint. We had hoped to stay at the truck stop overnight but someone there suggested there would be less traffic noise if we pulled into the visitor information centre just to the back of the truck stop. We were not the only people spending the night there either and we were soon fast asleep.
Leaving White River in the morning we decided to forego the A&W and try our luck at the next stop which would be Wawa. The trip from Thunder Bay to White River would have been 385 km without all of our side trips. Our final destination today would be Sudbury, Ontario.
Arriving at Wawa, our first site was the famous Canada Goose statue. It was in the park area surrounding the visitor centre. Wawa takes its name from the Ojibwe word for “wild goose”, wewe. Wawa was a very interesting stop. We saw many interesting items in the Wawa General Store and the requisite Tim Horton’s was there for their favourite “double double” I have estimated that in my 5 weeks on the road I spent a full day of that waiting in line at one Tim Horton’s or another.
One more stop before we left the Wawa area was at Scenic High Falls.
From there we embarked on one of the most scenic stretches of highway in Canada. It was a drive that compared to more famous drives that we would eventually take such as the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia or the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper in Alberta.
Leaving south from Wawa we came first to Lake Superior Provincial Park. The Trans-Canada Highway cuts through the park like a ribbon offering majestic vistas overlooking the dense forest with rocky outcrops and water as far as the eye can see from high above Lake Superior.
We came first to Old Woman Bay with its high cliff walls. We stopped there to check out the beach and the water temperatures.
Then it was on to Agawa Bay where the more adventuresome could hike to see pictographs hundreds of years old carved into the rock walls of the shoreline. We chose not to take this particular hike but we went on many hikes on this journey.
Each settlement would bring the road sweeping down to the water’s edge and just as quickly we would be climbing the next ridge. The views were spectacular with each turn of the road or crest of the hill. We came through Montreal River Harbour and Batchawanna Bay before reaching the city of Sault Ste. Marie.
Sault Ste. Marie is an important transportation junction and has been since long before there were any roads or even any cars. It is where the waters of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, empties into Lake Huron and also Lake Michigan through the St. Mary’s River. There are actually two cities named Sault Ste. Marie and they sit facing each other on opposite sides of the St. Mary’s River. One is in Ontario, Canada and the other in Michigan, USA.
Early explorers to the North American continent made their way west in canoes traveling this route. In the early days explorers had to portage the St. Mary’s Rapids to get to Lake Superior. Nowadays large ships make their way through with the man-made Soo Locks and Sault Ste. Marie Canal. The St. Mary’s River travels for 120 km and drops 7 metres in its length from Lake Superior to Lake Huron.