Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alberta to Ontario

I left my lovely camping spot behind the general store on July 22 and headed for Saskatchewan. My first stop was Cardston, where one of Brigham Young's daughters and her husband formed the first Mormon settlement in Canada. This town is also the birthplace of Fay Wray of Hong Kong fame and home of the Remington Carriage Museum. This fascinating museum was formed around approx. 50 superbly restored carriages, sleighs, and wagons donated to the province of Alberta by Don Remington. I spent 4 hours here and it was well worth the price of admission ($9). The carriage building industry was massive in the late 19th century, using assembly line techniques and automation that formed the foundation for the 20th century automobile industry. I learned where such car terms as dashboard and trunk come from (dashboard was literally a board at the front of the carriage to protect the passengers from whatever the horses stirred up). Another interesting (to me anyway) fact was that some people welcomed the coming of the automobile as it would reduce polution from horse manure that filled the streets in many towns.

Dump wagon - ancestor of the dump truck - used in road building.

Sleighs and wagons.

Next I visited Writing on Stone provincial park and hiked the Hoo Doo trail to look at the battle scene petroglyph. This and the other drawings in the park were quite hard to see and some idiots had writen their names over the pictographs (red pigment paintings). I was too late for the tour to the restricted area, where there are supposed to be better scenes.

Battle scene pictograph with increased contrast.

Hoo doos.

I camped at the side of a dead-end farmer's road (in a ditch) near Medicine Hat that night. It is much harder in farming areas to find good free campsites. I was now reduced to finding a place near dusk and cooking my suppers and breakfasts at picnic parks along the way.

The next day I spent in Eastend – a charming small town with a very good little museum. The museum had the obligatory dinosaur bones and several restored buildings including a marvelous 1950's/60's bungalow that reminded me of where I grew up. The main difference was that they had an armadillo in their living room... Strangely, I met up with and had coffee with 2 sailors in this very landlocked town. They live on board a large ferro cement boat in North Carolina and were interested in sailing the Pacific coast, so I told them about our adventures there.

Armadillo on classic 70's carpet.

Because driving across the highways of the prairies can be a bit sleep inducing, I took to stopping in all the towns along the way. Some were quite lively and clearly a going concern, but most were faded remnants of their former selves (see picture of Aneroid's sign). I found it very sad to see churches and businesses closed up and houses collapsing into the high grasses. The amalgamation of so many farms and the resulting increase in farm size has depopulated many centers.

What's wrong with this sign?

Abandoned house.

My next night's camp was much more pleasant, with deer grazing nearby and a nice view out over a farmer's pond. Thinking of Rani, I concocted a one pot Indian 'biriyani' of rice, mexican peas, red pepper, soy protein, and Patak's vindaloo curry paste. It actually tasted quite decent :)

The next day I visited the excellent Cherniak gallery in Assiniboia. This privately created gallery is free to the public and has an excellent collection of recent Canadian paintings, Australian art, Chinese antiques and even a room full of group of seven paintings. It is the gift of a local banker to the community. The gallery was superior to many public galleries I have seen. That night in my farmer's field campground, I heard two coyotes howling very close to the tent.

The following day I reached Winnipeg and enjoyed a walk along the trails near the Forks historic site, followed by an afternoon at the Musuem of Man, etc. The museum had some superb dioramas and the Hudsons Bay company exhibit was particularly good. They also had a complete – and I mean complete – replica of the Hudsons Bay Company's Nonsuch ketch housed in a massive room that was built around her when she retired from her sailing voyages. The legislature here reminds me of the one in Victoria, complete with statue of Victoria in front and fountain at the rear. The Manitoba version is strict neo-Classical with massive doric columns.

Buffalo hunt diorama

Nonsuch transom - I plan to redo Ladybug II to look like this.

Manitoba Legislature
The next day I crossed into Ontario, stopping to make breakfast in the lovely town of Kenora. In Vermillion Bay I had a refreshing swim in a lake and a much needed wash (the only main downsides to this nomadic lifestyle is having to carry your own water and limited access to showers). I bought some water treatment for the tent as it looked like rain was threatening. The night's camp was up a lumber road and I went for a nice hike through the woods here after waterproofing the tent fly.

In Thunder Bay, i spent most of the day at Fort William – an extensive and well presented reconstruction of the North West Company's main fort and trading post. There were dozens of re-enactments and I had a chance to paddle a voyageur canoe. The North West company was based out of Montreal and competed head on with the Hudsons Bay Company until they amalgamated around 1820. In downtown Thunder Bay I visited the marina (of course!) and chatted with a sailor on a boat the same size as Ladybug. He had paddled around lake Superior last year in a kayak (an 8 week trip) and hoped to sail the same route. My camp that night was by a peaceful gravel quarry.

Furs at Fort William.

Birch bark and wood canoes.

Terry Fox tribute near Thunder Bay.

I finally had a good hike the next day in Lake Superior Provincial park. They have a Coastal trail here similar to the Juan de Fuca trail near Victoria. I met two large groups of teenagers on this trail. I almost ended up camping here, but decided to drive a little outside the park and camped on a lovely sand beach overlooking Lake Superior. The driving here is through lovely mixed forests and the hiking trail was in great shape and looked lightly used.

From here I drove into St Sault Marie and visited the locks (broken) and art gallery (not great). It was somewhat depressing to learn that the Canadian locks fell down in 1985 and were rebuilt on a much smaller scale in 95, leaving the only way for commercial shipping to reach Lake Superior via the 3 sets of American locks. The reason we built our own locks in the first place was because in 1870, the Americans denied access to a ship load of our soldiers en route to quell a rebellion. It strikes me as ridiculous that we did not maintain this important shipping link from the Atlantic. From Sault St Marie, I began to see farms again amongst the woods. I camped that night beside a microwave tower with the sound of cows lowing in the distance. Today I am off to see the big nickel in Sudbury.

Video of oil pump in Saskatchewan - there were hundreds of these in farmer's fields in this province and Manitoba.

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