Diary from my incredible journey
by James Shearer
Through every Canadian province, from Atlantic to Pacific Ocean coasts, across the Canadian Shield, over the Prairies and through the Rocky Mountains.
It took me 6 months to cross Canada and back again. Here you can read my travel diary with entries dated the day they were written.
The diary is organised in chronological order, but you can select the province and cities of interest.
January 27, 2002 – Glasgow, UK
It’s my birthday today!
My flight leaves tomorrow morning quite early so I am staying the night in Glasgow.
January 28 – Amsterdam, Netherlands to Toronto, Ontario
The flight from Glasgow arrived after leaving an hour late. That was the most unpleasant flight I have ever experienced! The plane was a Fokker 100 which is a small 100 seater twin, rear engine jet. With the extremely high winds at Glasgow the plane was thrown about in the air to the point where you couldn’t get up in the aircraft at all. The landing at Amsterdam was so hard the aircraft bounced and touched down with a lot of force. There was a lot of relieved people on that plane!
January 28 – Toronto, Ontario
A much nicer flight to Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport on a KLM MD-11 even though it was delayed by 2.5 hours due to all but 1 runway being closed due to the weather.
I’m staying in downtown Toronto so I am going to go get some food and then a good night’s kip!
January 29 – Toronto, Ontario
I walked for miles today! All around the city from my hotel in Cabbage Town south through downtown to the Waterfront.
At the waterfront I decided to go up the CN Tower. Always an awesome experience being at such a great height in the world’s tallest building.
From there I went along the harbour front to a crafts centre which allows local crafts people to have workshops and use the facilities there. Visitors can wander through around the edges to see what is being made. Quite an interesting place although there were only a few people there.
I headed north on Spadina Ave to China town. Now this is not a China Town like the ones in the UK. There is a fairly touristy part to it, but as I headed west, it was just Chinese people and nothing in English. Lunch was soo cheap, $5.75, which is about £2.50! And that included a lot of stuff which tasted amazing.
After that I headed along University Ave to the Parliament building and then went back to the Eaton Centre right in the heart of the city. This is a beautiful mall, with hundreds of shops in a long glass roofed building. It is always nice to sit by the fountains where many people go to relax due to its peacefulness despite being in a big mall in the centre of the city.
After dinner I went to Nathan Phillips Square which is where the City Hall is located and there is a large frozen pond that attract many iceskaters. This was interesting to watch for a while.
January 30 – Toronto, Ontario
Another Tim Horton’s breakfast got me off to a good start!
There was a crazy shooting north of the hotel last night where someone was shot after getting into a fight and the gunman chased them down the street shooting. This is very unusual for Toronto and indeed Canada, where crime is very low and it is safe to go just about anywhere at anytime.
After giving some students directions (??!!) I wandered down into the financial district of the city located around Bay street and King street. I visited the Toronto Stock Exchange which was quite an experience and then discovered a huge complex of shops under the entire financial district. There are 12 city buildings where the basements have all been turned into various shops and connected together. It is like being in 5 different malls underground.
This was good because it was, what was described as, ‘an unusually warm -2 degrees’. Apparently that is warm for this time of year. It didn’t feel too cold though which is good.
January 31 – Toronto, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia
This morning I woke up to what was described on CTV (Canadian Television) as ‘record breaking snowfall’. Perhaps not the best day to be flying to Halifax!
Trudging down the street to the bus terminal, about 1km from the hotel, was quite a mission. Toronto City gets a lot of grief from residents about the efficiency of their snowploughs. This was all too apparent because not a single street or sidewalk had been cleared all the way through downtown to the bus terminal.
The snowfall just got heavier and heavier while I stood waiting for the airport bus. Another girl who was waiting for the bus told me that it didn’t go direct but stopped at every hotel on the way. It was 10.00 am and my flight left at 12.30am. I decided to take a taxi to the airport instead.
Fortunately the driver was a really nice guy and also a very safe driver. The expressway to the airport had not been cleared at all either. The snow as so deep that cars and vans were getting stuck in the middle of the road. We took the expressway west for about 1.5 hours until we could get to side streets. Some of these had been cleared by local residents making it easier to get to the airport, which we did just in time.
Nearly all the flights going out had been cancelled. Argghhh!
There was no way I was going to go back into the city at my own expense after all the hassle of getting to the airport. I managed to get onto a flight going to Montreal instead. Right direction, kind of! I also helped a group of students who were also trying to get to Halifax. They were going to have to buy new tickets but we managed to get them onto a flight at no cost too.
The plane left just after 5.30pm and was sent to the airport de-icing centre. This is quite an experience. A lot of specially designed vehicles come and spray the aircraft to remove any ice before takeoff. Not seen that before.
It only took 45 minutes to Montreal and after being de-iced there we flew to Halifax.
I took the airport bus into town and the driver said he would take me directly to the hotel which was really nice of him. I was so exhausted and went straight to bed.
February 1 – Halifax, Nova Scotia
The snowstorm had now reached Halifax but despite well below zero temperatures, heavy snow, freezing wind and fog I decided to head towards the city centre.
The first place I came to was the Halifax Citadel. This is an old fort built by the British to defend against the French. Only the main courtyard areas were open because of the time of year so I wandered around but the snow was about 1.5m deep in there so I couldn’t go far without paths!
When they built Halifax they got it right. In the centre of the city, all the main office buildings have shops underneath or on the ground floors which are all connected by tunnels from the first floor to the building across the street. This allows people to wander around through 3 shopping malls and many other shops, hotels and offices without having to go outside. Perfect for a day like today.
After a good look around I went outside to the waterfront that hasn’t really changed since Halifax was built. Apart from the great explosion of 1917 when half the city was levelled. From here I saw a ferry coming through the thick fog over the harbour so I decided to take this across the bay to Dartmouth, Halifax’s twin city.
When I returned the Halifax Maritime Museum was just 1 block away so I headed there. What a fantastic place. It has won lots of awards and if you are ever in Halifax, then you have to visit this place!
I had lunch at one of the 55 pubs in the city, did some more looking around, found the bus station right on the edge of the city then headed back to the Inn where I was staying.
At around 9 I went out to a bar to get some food and sat and watched some traditional Nova Scotian live entertainment.
February 2 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia
I took the first bus north to the Northumberland coast to a University town called Antigonish. Pronounced An-E-Gone-Ish. The area around here looks very similar to that of the Highlands of Scotland.
The bus arrived just before midday and I wandered across town to the mall where I met a friend Amy. We met up later in the evening and went to meet some of her friends. This was quite a laugh!
We all headed out at about 11pm to a bar called the Piper’s Pub. A very lively atmosphere in there and because hardly anyone smokes in Canada it was not like a British bar or club which is filled with smoke. Bars here also stay open till around 2 or 3am. A good time was had by all and by the time I got to bed I was sooo tired.
February 3 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Today I had dinner at Tanya’s parent’s Chinese restaurant in town. After that, Amy, Tanya, Ginny and I went off to New Glasgow to see the movie “Mothman Prophecies”. New Glasgow is a larger town about 50km West of here.
February 4 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia
After a bit more snow fall I went with Tanya and Amy North to Cape George and along the coast. This was great because I was able to see some of the ‘out of the way’ areas of the province.
The area around here is very scenic and tranquil under the deep snow.
February 6 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia
A lot of snow fell during the night and the pavements are completely covered by well over a metre of snow. Drifts are up above people’s doors and some places I saw snow up to the first floor windows! Ploughing the streets was pointless so diggers were used to pile snow into car parks around the town. Walking into town was like going through a tunnel with snow on either side of the pavement at shoulder level.
The whole town was closed yesterday because of the amount of snow but things are picking back up again today.
Later on I am going out to dinner then to watch a hockey game. It is the local team’s last home game I heard so it should be a good one. The first time I saw a hockey game was when I was in Ontario in 1999. It is a great sport to watch so I will take plenty of pictures.
February 7 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick
I left Antigonish today. I was sad to go because I had been made very welcome there and had a great time and made good friends.
The bus I took went to Truro at 11am, known as the hub of Nova Scotia. This took 2 hours. The wait was only 45 minutes for the next bus to Moncton in New Brunswick. This next step took another 3 hours. From Moncton I took an SMT bus to Saint John on the Fundy Coast arriving just after 8pm.
I checked into a hotel on the edge of the city centre and headed for a good sleep.
February 8 – Saint John, New Brunswick
The map of Saint John I have is a bit messed up. Where it says the hotel is, is completely wrong and I almost headed off in the complete wrong direction this morning. Luckily I thought that the map didn’t really make sense so was able to find where I was going without a problem.
Saint John has malls like Halifax and Toronto where they are located under office buildings and all linked together with walkways and tunnels. One of the malls called Market Square is a must see. This is a very beautiful building which also houses the New Brunswick Museum. I had a look around here and it is a little strange. They have just about everything in there. Some interesting, some not.
I took a taxi across to West Saint John in the afternoon to go to the Moosehead Country Store which is part of the Moosehead Brewery, Canada’s oldest and largest Canadian owned brewery. Unfortunately the brewery was closed to visitors because of the season.
I walked to the Carleton Martello Tower and then headed back towards the city. From the bridge I could see the famous Reversing Falls. This is where the highest tides in the world meet the Saint John River. The tidal change is over 8.5m, higher than a 2 floor house! I crossed the bridge as the tide was going out and could see massive white water rapids and whirlpools.
Tomorrow I am going to Quebec. This will take 13 hours on the bus from here. I will be in Quebec City while the famous Quebec Winter Carnival is in full fling!
February 9 – Saint John to Fredericton, New Brunswick
I took the early morning bus to Fredericton. As we were coming into Welsford, the passenger sitting behind me calmly walked up to the driver and said “can you call me an ambulance please?” The driver, as was I, a bit shocked by this request. It quickly became apparent that this passenger was having a heart attack! A fire tender arrived very quickly and just as the only volunteer fireman who was occupying the truck was coming to help, the paramedics arrived.
Fortunately he was ok and eventually taken off to hospital by ambulance. It was very odd seeing a fire engine turn up to a medical emergency. It is the fire departments that operate the ambulances in North America and the fire crews themselves are often trained in giving medical assistance. Makes good sense I suppose.
February 9 – Fredericton, New Brunswick
I arrived in Fredericton, the small capital of the New Brunswick province, around noon. This gave me a few hours in which to explore. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the wind was calm and the temperature was at the highest yet, well, -7 Celsius. That is still the warmest yet and it is beginning to feel warm!
I had a quick lunch and then headed to the farmer’s market that is held once a week in each town in the province from 6am until 1pm every Saturday. The one in Fredericton was bustling with people and was quite a pleasant atmosphere.
After this I went for a wander around the town, down towards the Saint John river which is completely frozen solid right now and then along through the military compound that is filled with new and old military buildings.
I sat reading in the bus station for a little while, the sun coming through the huge windows making the place very warm. It was quite an odd feeling seeing waist deep snow up against the glass outside and snow blowing off the roofs across the street. Not that I am complaining!
February 9 – Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec City, Quebec
From Fredericton the SMT bus service headed West. This was my longest journey yet right the way along Highway 2 through many small towns and across very beautiful snow covered scenery.
By the time the bus arrived at Edmundston which is near to the border with Quebec and the United States border with Maine, the sun was setting. There was a scheduled stop long enough for me to go grab some food. It was a bit strange to find everything all of a sudden in French, even though I was not yet in Quebec. New Brunswick is also French as well as English and the further West you go the more apparent this becomes.
I slept most of the way to Riviere-du-loup on the east bank of the St Lawrence River in Quebec. Now everyone speaks French here, that is for sure. I had to wait 20 minutes for an express bus to Quebec City and sitting in the tiny single room terminal building reminded me of these bus stations in Eastern Europe! The fact that I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said amongst the many people who worked there added to the effect. Quite a strange little place.
The wait wasn’t long and I was glad to get off the plastic chair and onto a nice comfy seat in the bus to the city.
February 10 – Quebec City, Quebec
Stepping outside the hotel front door, it was immediately apparent that I was no longer in a place like any other in Canada. A change from the traditional Maritime province style wood buildings to the European stone and brick was one thing. Walking down the street to hear only French being spoken and not a single multinational logo on any shop down Rue St. Jean was also something different to the very commercialised world we now live in.
To get to Rue St. Jean, the main restaurant street and route to the old town (Vieux Quebec) I had to walk a block to a lift (elevator) that took me up the side of the cliff face, about the height of about 3 storeys. Upper Quebec (Haute Ville) is on a hill that has cliffs on all sides apart from the North East which is protected by the city wall that goes all the way around the old town.
From here I walked down Rue St. Jean to the entrance to the walled city. In front of the gate is Place d’Youville where the world’s biggest winter carnival really begins. The streets were suddenly full with people and things going on. Ice skating, snow and ice sculptures, musicians and other entertainers were everywhere.
I had not yet had breakfast so I walked to the end of the street to a nice little traditional French style bakery.
After feasting on freshly baked croissants and hot chocolate I wandered back along the inside of the city wall to Rue St Louis and where the snow sculptures lined the walk way to the huge Ice Palace. This is built from blocks of ice and uses nothing but snow and ice in its construction. This thing is pretty big!
On the Plaines D’Abraham the carnival had constructed what is called Village Mister Christie. Here a lot of activities and fun was happening all day and night for the entire 17 day length of the carnival.
After an exhausting 7 hours of wandering about the city enjoying the carnival and the canoe race across the frozen Saint Lawrence River I headed back to the hotel to relax. At 9pm I went back to the Ice Palace and was just in time for a light and music show where they illuminate the palace which is very impressive to see. I sat and watched ice skating in front of the Capitol Theatre Hotel where a fiddler played as people danced and skated seemingly unaware of the –18 degree Celsius temperatures.
February 11 – Quebec City, Quebec
Although there was nothing scheduled for the carnival today a lot was still happening. I breakfasted at the café next door where I had the biggest hot chocolate ever. It was in a 1-litre bowl! Yum! I walked further to the east of the old part of the walled city in the morning to Rue du Buade. This is a quiet street but as I walked further down I discovered a narrow alley lined with artists displaying their work. This is the famed Rue Du Tresor. The first artist greeted me with a strong Scandinavian accent. He was a Swedish man who had come to Quebec for the Carnival 19 years ago and never left. I don’t blame him.
It was nice to chat with him for a bit before heading up to Rue Saint Anne in front of the well known Chateau Frontenac – the Fairmont owned hotel. This is one of the most photographed buildings in Canada and seeing it first hand there is no reason to wonder why, from any angle!
The road ended at a cliff edge where a funicular railway carried people up and down the cliff face to the oldest part of the city, Quartier Petit-Champlain and Vieux Port. These areas date back to the 1600s before the French built on the hill after this area was repeatedly destroyed in attacks by the British.
People were tobogganing down the side of the Citadel in a specially created track onto the Promenade des Gouverneurs. I walked along here and up over 300 steps to the top of the deep snow covered Citadel. From here I was right at the head of the carnival and after taking a horse and sleigh down Avenue George VI to the Parc de l’Esplanade I wandered back through the carnival village. There were a lot less people about now it wasn’t the weekend. I could see a lot more of what was going on including ice fishing, many baby huskies and actually get a seat in the restaurant tent to warm up a bit.
Through the rest of the afternoon I explored the many streets of Vieux Quebec and took the hundreds of steps down to Quartier Petit-Champlain. A hot chocolate later and a bit warmer I walked the 2km back right across from here (which is the most easterly part of the city) to my hotel in Basse Ville.
February 12 – Quebec City to Montreal, Quebec
I checked out of my hotel room today to be presented with a 54 page bill that totalled $234,000 (about £100,000!) Fortunately this was a computer error!
From the incredible Quebec Central Station I took the train to Montreal. Trains in Canada are very different to that of the UK. There are very few of them but they are also much more comfortable. Standard class is the same as the UK first class but with a lot more leg room.
After the unexpected safety demonstration the train departed, slowly. Trains here are slow! I think the top speed was about 90kph!
3 hours later I arrived in the modern interior of Montreal Gare Centrale (Central Station). Having already heard that most of the city is accessible by underground walkways that look much like that of an endless shopping mall, I headed to the direction of McGill Metro Station stopping for food on the way.
The Metro took me east to Saint Laurent (Saint Lawrence) which is on the same block as the hotel I was staying at.
February 13 – Montreal, Quebec
Temperatures in Montreal are beginning to warm up a bit with the day getting to about -8. I walked down the street to Centre Eaton which is a large shopping mall connected to the rest of the subterranian complex. After wandering around for an hour I decided to take the Metro East to Olympic Park.
The Biodome was one of the few places open and the one place I really wanted to see. The Biodome houses 4 environments with thousands of animals and plants from across North, Central and South America.
Later in the afternoon I headed back into the city centre and walked around on the surface streets down to the Planetarium. There was not much happening here so I decided to just head back into the very centre of the city and explore some more.
February 14 – Montreal, Quebec to Ottawa, Ontario
After checking out of the hotel, where I had decided to rent a small apartment for my stay in Montreal, I walked the 4 or 5 blocks to the bus terminal. After a breakfast of muffins I waited for the express bus to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada.
The 3 hour bus journey was quite uneventful and the snow that was swept up by the wind restricted the view considerably. This area of the country is quite flat and I past by a lot of farms.
Arriving at the Ottawa bus station I was supposed to meet a friend (Jenn) at her apartment in the south of the city. The taxi driver didn’t seem to really know the way but I got there in the end.
Jenn and I headed back into the city centre where Ottawa was celebrating their winter festival called Winterlude. Many ice sculptures filled the parkland areas around the canal and in front of the city hall huge snow sculptures dominated the snow-covered car park.
In the evening Jenn and I met up with her boyfriend Rob and went out to a Mexican place downtown for some dinner.
February 15 – Ottawa to North Bay, Ontario
In the morning Jenn and I were heading back to her home town, North Bay, which is 3 hours to the west of Ottawa. Arriving at the bus station we were met with a queue (line up) that stretched the length of the terminal! When this happens and there are too many people for the bus they either lay on a second bus or it is a first come, first served basis. The next bus was not until midnight so after discovering that it was either bus or train to Toronto and then North Bay (10 hours travel time) we decided to wait in the queue. Fortunately we managed to get the last 2 seats on the bus.
The bus journey took us through the Ottawa River Valley that headed west towards the Great Lakes and north of the famous Algonquin Provincial Park. The scheduled stop was in a place called Deep River. A small town that was deep in the forests of Northern Ontario. The stop was more than welcomed. Even though it was a short journey in comparison to the longer ones I had done so far, due to the number of people on the bus, it was cramped and felt like hours had past by the time the bus arrived at the Deep River petrol station.
A quick lunch of fast food and I boarded the bus again where everyone was munching away on takeaway food. As we headed west along the highway we headed straight into a snow storm that carried on until we arrived at the North Bay bus station.
Some of Jenn’s family met us at the bus station and we headed over to Theresa’s house. This is where I am to stay for the next few months at least.
After a meal at Jenn’s mum’s house Theresa, Jenn, Jenn’s sisters and I went out bowling and then to a pub/night club in the centre of the city.
February 21 – North Bay, Ontario
It has been nearly a week since I arrived in North Bay. I have been all over the city, the cinema, bowling, a pub, the large Northgate Mall, the North Bay Mall down by the waterfront of Lake Nippising and trudging through the ever deepening snow.
Living with Theresa and her 2 year old son Brayden is going great and things are working out well.
I am not sure what is happening this weekend. A whole load of people were supposed to be going to Sudbury which is a few hours west of North Bay but that seems to have fallen through. Tonight I am going with Jenn and some of her friends to look after her dad’s puppy while he is away for the night.
February 25 – North Bay, Ontario
On Saturday Jenn and I went to play bingo. This was the first time I have been to play bingo before and the although Jenn had been once before, we were a bit stuck as to how to play! We figured it out eventually even though we didn’t win anything. Close, but not close enough.
Sunday there was the day the Canadian’s whipped the USA’s ass at Olympic hockey!!!
I spent most of the day on the edge of the city at Nippissing University where there was an Indian Pow Wow. The native aboriginal people dress up in traditional clothing and dance to drum music and singing. There was lots of things to see and eat and it was quite an experience to witness this.
February 28 – North Bay, Ontario
A friend (Keri) who I haven’t seen or spoken to for a long time came over to visit today with her 3 month old son. It was good to meet up again but the night took a turn for the worse when I had a call from Jenn saying that Keri had fallen down the stairs at her house carrying the baby. They were both rushed to hospital by ambulance and I spent most of the evening in the emergency room at North Bay General Hospital.
Fortunately everyone was fine but I was quite surprised that it took so long to be seen at the hospital and that there is a charge for the ambulance! $45.
March 01 – North Bay, Ontario
Today I met one of Jenn’s friends from the hospital where she used to work. The three of us had lunch at a restaurant and then were given a tour around both of the North Bay General Hospital sites. That was very interesting. It is not often you get to see all around a hospital and see it from behind the scenes.
March 02 – North Bay, Ontario
Nippissing University Theatre showed the premier of the play High Life written by a local playwright and performed and directed by a group from the area. The play has won lots of awards since the first ever performance at the World Stage Festival in Toronto. The play was excellent and I read that there are plans for it to be made into a movie.
March 03 – North Bay, Ontario
Today I went with some friends on their snowmobiles around the forests north of North Bay. This was my first time snowmobiling and it was so much fun. I was surprised about how fast they go (some up to 140mph). We didn’t go quite that fast but it was fantastic.
March 09 – North Bay, Ontario
I narrowly avoided landing on my butt on many occassions today! I went ice skating for the first time since I was about 12. I wasn’t too great at it but it was good fun.
Many people skate here, hockey is a way of life, and in places like Ottawa, it is often a method of transport to work. I skated at one of the 3 indoor rinks in the city. Outdoor skating on purpose built rinks as well as rivers and lakes is something that I have seen in every single city I have visited so far and something I will have to try.
March 17 – North Bay, Ontario
Northgate Mall is the biggest of the 2 malls in the city and I spent most of the day there. In the morning there was celebrity scrabble being played. I had no idea who any of the local celebrities were but I played a couple of games and that was fun.
After a bit of shopping and some lunch with my housemate’s mum I headed off home for a bit.
At 10.30 Eric and Crystal, who are some friends I met recently, went with Jenn and I bowling. That was quite a laugh and I think we invented more than one or two new bowling techniques!
We played a few games of pool in the city pool hall below the bowling alley afterwards and then headed off for a drive.
The drive ended up taking us north on Highway 11. After about 30km of straight dark highway, we took a right down some road/track to see if we could find anything more interesting. This road went on for a few kilometres and then came to a landfill site with gates across the road. These kinds of areas attract bears and we hoped that the car didn’t get stuck in the snow or break down at all!
We turned around and then headed down an even narrower road through the forest. This was a crazy road more like something you see in an off road rally! We eventually came to a sign stating that we were entering an Indian Reservation or something like that and the road was becoming a bit out of control with the bumps and snow drifts, so we headed home.
Home was delayed and we ended up at Burger King and drove around the city for a while. I finally got to bed just after 3am.
March 21 – North Bay, Ontario
Last night I went tubing at Jack Pine Hill, the ski hill that is in the heart of the northeast suburbs of the city. Tubing is basically sitting on a sort of inner tube and sliding down a hillside at a pretty fast speed. The there are 3 custom built tracks in the snow that run parallel for about a mile.
This was quite an experience! The speed that you go down is pretty amazing and it was great fun. At one point, the person who pushed me off at the top, pushed me into the side of the track so I hit it feet first at full speed, bounced to the other side of the track and back again. I ended up bouncing all over the place and spinning around like crazy! I was sitting on the tube with the handles behind me so that didn’t help but luckily I didn’t come off or it would have been a mile down the hill on my butt!
March 22 – North Bay, Ontario
Last night I went tubing at Jack Pine Hill, the ski hill that is in the heart of the northeast suburbs of the city. Tubing is basically sitting on a sort of inner tube and sliding down a hillside at a pretty fast speed. The there are 3 custom built tracks in the snow that run parallel for about a mile.
This was quite an experience! The speed that you go down is pretty amazing and it was great fun. At one point, the person who pushed me off at the top, pushed me into the side of the track so I hit it feet first at full speed, bounced to the other side of the track and back again. I ended up bouncing all over the place and spinning around like crazy! I was sitting on the tube with the handles behind me so that didn’t help but luckily I didn’t come off or it would have been a mile down the hill on my butt!
March 25 – North Bay, Ontario
Over the weekend it snowed almost non-stop. A lot of snow had melted leaving only about 12cm in unploughed areas. By Monday morning the snow had reached about 35-40cm deep again. I love how it snows like that and then you have about 10 days of beautiful blue skies, sunshine and no wind. It is so bright outside most days because the sun is shining and all around is pure white snow. The below zero temperatures are not even a bother, just so long as I am dressed up warm.
On Sunday I helped a couple of friend’s parents who are members of the Royal Canadian Legion. There was a big competition on so they needed help in the kitchen. I ended up cooking for over 120 people for 7 hours with the help of 2 others!
You can’t say that I am not doing a variety of things here in Canada!
April 15 – North Bay, Ontario
It has been an interesting last week. Snowstorms and followed by the region’s impressive day long blue skies made for nice weather but by the time the weekend was nearly over, the temperature had soared to an incredible 32 degrees Celsius. Monday and Tuesday had similar weather.
Walking through the streets of North Bay to see people clearing some of the still foot deep snow from the pavements and their yards while only wearing a pair of shorts was quite a different sight.
My time in North Bay was a time crossing Canada which I shall never forget. The people were so friendly and welcoming, the weather was so mild yet always full of surprises, and the way of life was something unique to Northern Ontario and something I was privileged enough to be immersed into every day of my stay.
April 16 – North Bay to Sudbury, Ontario
This morning I woke early, just as the sun was coming up. It was to be a long and busy day. Once my bag was packed I took the city bus for the last time downtown and then over to Northgate Mall where I met some friends for breakfast. Sort of like a last supper I guess!
I took the Greyhound bus along the highway for 3 hours to Sudbury. I was to meet the world famous VIA Rail Canada train “The Canadian” to head west.
Sudbury Junction railroad station is located about 15km out of the city along an old dirty road. I was dubious that the taxi driver knew where he was going, but the tiny VIA signs were some kind of consolation. The small shed of a station sat where the CN and CP rail tracks meet but apart from the tracks, bush is all that is in sight.
I talked with an elderly woman who was telling me of her travels across the world while I sat in the baking sun waiting for the train. About 30 minutes before the train was due a surge of people suddenly poured into the station building and the small deck in front.
At 4pm, later than planned, the train pulled into the station, which was nothing more than 20m of track level concrete. The famous Canadian transcontinental train had arrived and the next step of my journey had begun.
April 17 – Sudbury, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba
The Canadian train is definitely the Orient Express of the Western World. I sat in car 102, second from the front with a 120cm long window all to myself. The train was quite busy but everyone had 2 seats to himself or herself so they could recline them both and with the raised footrests it is like sleeping on a double bed that is a foot shorter than normal. With a few pillows and blankets it makes for quite a comfortable rest.
Moments after leaving Sudbury, the train was headed north through the bush and wilderness. All that was to be seen were cabins every now and again where the only way in or out was the train. Some were located near roads so they could snowmobile into town but that would be no quick trip.
It was 8 hours before we arrived at the first place on the map! The sunset in the dramatic tree and lake filled landscape and I fell asleep.
The walk to the rear restaurant car where breakfast was to be served was quite a trek. It was about 9 cars behind me and each car is about 30m in length making the total walk over 1/4 of a kilometre, a third the length of the train. The wait and the walk were worth it. The $10 breakfast was a full on feast of toast, cereal, juice, ham and eggs cooked to order and served in style with a view out across the north of Ontario.
As I sat back in my chair the train made its way through the deepening snow to the Indian Reservation of Collins about 200km north of Thunder Bay and Lake Superior. Here a few people in an all-wheel-drive Argo and a guy on a snowmobile met the train. There was no railway station here, just 2 sofas lay by the side of the track providing some comfort in the sun but no protection from the ensuing weather that was turning from a soft dusk to a rainy morning.
Just before midday the train rumbled into the small northern city of Sioux Lookout. The rain had turned into freezing ice pellets, something that is quite a dangerous thing to be out in. I had just met 4 Scottish women who were on the train with me, and they decided to risk the weather to go to the grocery store across the street from the station. I was getting hungry and thirsty so I went too.
I spent most of the afternoon in the upper deck of the observation car. The sun was shining through the now separating clouds as the train picked up speeds and left the Ontario bush and lake lands for the Manitoba Prairies.
The train was just over 2 hours late into Winnipeg’s Union Station, but after being on the train for over 26 hours, 2 hours was nothing! The sun was out and the clean, quiet city of Winnipeg waits.
April 18 – Winnipeg, Manitoba
The moment I stepped out of the hotel onto the street, I realised I had dramatically underestimated Winnipeg. As I took a short walk to get some breakfast I was immediately struck by the architectural diversity the urban streets of Winnipeg had to offer.
I nipped into Portage Place, the city’s largest mall, to grab a quick bit to eat before I set off to explore. I was more than a little surprised to see Christmas decorations all over the mall, a Santa’s grotto and a huge Christmas tree in the main lobby area. Had they not taken them down yet or were they getting there early? Apparently the movie “Christmas Rush” was about to be filmed there or at least, that is the excuse they were giving. Canada is being chosen by filmmakers from around the world because of the low cost implications along with the variety of places to film.
I decided first of all I would head to the Museum of Man and Nature in the northern area of downtown. This museum has everything from the dinosaurs to native aboriginals of Canada. There was a lot to see and it was obviously popular with schools. I think there were about 5 different school classes there at the same time as me, so the place was a bit busy.
During the afternoon I walked back down Main Street to Portage Avenue. Portage and Main is known as the coldest corner in Canada. The wind blows down through the tall buildings and off the Red and Assiniboine Rivers making for an extra –15 degrees on top of the often already freezing wind-chill factor. I spent about 4 hours wandering the streets admiring the most varied architecture I have ever come across. Every single building was completely different to the next. Everything from classic 1900 North American 10 storey office buildings to modern, 1980s skyscrapers. But this is just touching the surface. Apartment buildings, churches, government offices, the railroad station, hotels, you name it, it was a sight. See my Architecture of Winnipeg photo gallery to see some of the many pictures I took.
April 19 – Winnipeg, Manitoba to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
The train to Saskatoon didn’t leave until 4pm so I took the walk to the station and then right through out to the other side of the building where the two rivers meet. This widely successful redeveloped area is known as The Forks. Historic shops, old railroad cars, museums, art centres and recreational areas fill the site.
I went into the historic shops mall and spent an hour or so just wandering through. I decided to go and sit outside in the huge conservatory while I waited for the train. As I went in, I could hear a band playing right outside so I decided that outside would be a better place to sit and wait.
The temperature had dropped rapidly from the 25-30 degree weather I had been experiencing over the week. As I sat in the sun with the many onlookers, reporters and TV crews, the –5 degree weather was beginning to make itself apparent.
Winnipeg is known for its very community active gay community and this was one of the many events they put on all the time. The performers, which included, dancers, singers and bands, were all award winning. It is always great to come across little hubs of activity like this that are often put on at the spur of the moment.
When I boarded the train to head on west to Saskatoon it was late in the afternoon. The sun doesn’t set here until late in the evening so I sat up in the skyline car’s observation dome for most of the trip.
Crossing the Prairies, the scenery consisted of fields, a few rivers, many grain silos and a few towns dotted along the tracks which are the hubs for farming communities. As the train crossed into Saskatchewan, the sun set in spectacular fashion, which just goes to show, they don’t call Saskatchewan ‘the land of living skies’ for nothing.
April 20 – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
The train arrived into Saskatoon station at around 1am local time. As I disembarked I realised the station building was at the other end of the platform. Platforms in Canada consist of nothing more than track level paving slabs or tarmac. Sometime not even this. It was about 15 railroad cars to the building, which is about 300m!
After a short night’s sleep I took a walk down towards the river. The first thing that struck me about Saskatoon compared to any of the other Canadian cities I have visited so far is the width of the streets. I walked down 2nd Avenue, which is one of the main north-south roads through the city. Cars were parked side by side on both sides of the street still leaving enough for 4 lanes of traffic.
My first stop would be to the Western Development Museum. To get there I took a city bus from downtown, which crossed the South Saskatchewan River and zigzagged through the quiet, tree lined residential areas of the south of Saskatoon.
The museum was something of the extraordinary. Walking through the front doors of the museum you suddenly feel like you have walked through a time portal and arrived on Main Street in 1910. A whole street and a few side streets have been reconstructed to that of a 1910 Prairie town. The street is lined with cars and horse drawn carts from the era. Every building is open to be explored and each has its own fascinating tale.
From the museum I decided to walk the 2-3km back downtown since the nice weather had returned and it was now about 15 degrees, blue skies and the sun was beating down. I stopped at a small café on one the corner of one of the residential streets and feasted upon the biggest sandwich and bowl of soup I have ever had. And for $5 what a bargain.
I was amazed at the hundreds of houses I walked past, each one had its own style and had been individually built, not like the monotonous and repetitive urban architecture of modern Britain. Here, each home was different and sat in one of the many quiet, wide streets of the mainly residential suburbs of the city.
Arriving at the riverside, I wandered through the parkland on the south bank. The banks on both sides have been redeveloped into scenic parks filled with wildlife and people relaxing in the suntraps. I crossed over one of the seven river spanning bridges in Saskatoon and sat next to the Vimy Memorial Bandstand in Kiwanis Memorial Park.
Many people passed through the park, rollerblading, cycling, walking, jogging. Others were canoeing down the half ice covered river. Some young people were dancing in the bandstand while chipmunks scurried around the lawns.
I explored the park through the afternoon and into the evening before I headed off for some dinner and then back to the hotel.
April 21 – Saskatoon to Regina, Saskatchewan
Heading south from Saskatoon to Regina, this was my first trip across the open Prairies by bus. So far I have covered this area of the country by train.
The Saskatchewan Transport Company, known as ‘The Bus Company’, provided the 4-hour ride through the wide-open spaces occupied only by railroad tacks and farms. Every now and again the bus would pass through a small town but apart from that there was not a lot to see.
Arriving in Regina the clouds had begun to cover the sky and just like in Saskatoon, the place seemed abandoned. Sundays are not a day where people in Saskatchewan are to be found outside it seems, even if the weather is really nice.
Turning down Broad Street the bus driver turned to me and in my astonishment, he said “Is it the next block or where do I go for the depot?” Hmmmm!!!! Fortunately a woman sat behind me stepped in and showed him the way. What do you make of being asked the way by they bus driver? Well, we all got there in the end.
April 22 – Regina, Saskatchewan
A good Canadian style ham and egg bagel provided breakfast as I headed off into the baking hot weather (again). I decided to take a walk down to Wascana Park which is a huge park land area around the south of Regina.
Across the lake in the park sits the Saskatchewan Provincial Legislative Building. A beautiful English Renaissance style built in 1908 and containing structures and interior fittings made from 34 types of marble collected from all over the world. The cool interior was a welcome from the increasing heat outside. I was given a tour around the building and was able to sit in the gallery while the legislature was in session. One of the main topics being discussed was the death of a military serviceman in Afghanistan who came from Saskatchewan. Flags can be seen across Canada being flown at half mast in respect for the 4 Canadian’s killed in action, not seen in Canada since the Second World War.
As the tour ended I had already given up that I was coming from Scotland and travelling coast to coast, the guide, Theresa, suggested that we go out and I meet up with her brother who has just come back from Scotland.
After a wander around the city and rather a long walk I met Theresa, her friend Brad and brother Ian at a pub downtown. It was quite strange to be so far from Scotland yet hearing someone describe the layout of Inverness to me. It was great to meet some new people, which should never be referred to as ‘locals’.
April 23 – Regina, Saskatchewan
The transit system in Regina seems to run in figure of eights across the city. With this in mind I decided to go to the RCMP Depot and Training Base out on the northwestern side of the city. This bus first of all headed east and then south around the University of Regina. I took the extra long detour so I could see a bit more of the city before ending up where I wanted to go. This took a lot longer than I though!
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Mounties) are Canada’s federal police force and are charged with federal responsibilities such as efforts against drugs and counter-terrorism. The RCMP also cover provincial policing similar to the State Police in the US, but they also make up the police detachments in towns and villages.
Regina is the home to the RCMP training academy, which is used by the RCMP and many other Canadian federal police forces. A historic museum about the force is located on the edge of the base and I spent a good period of time having a look around and learning of the impressive history of maintaining peace in Canada during the pioneer days right up to present day.
Just as I was leaving the museum I was told of a tour around the base. This doesn’t happen very often so there was no way I was going to miss that. The guide took the small group of Canadians and me to the building next to the museum first. This is a small chapel, which is the oldest building in Regina. After explaining about the history of the RCMP in detail we were led through various buildings and were able to witness march training, cadets in fitness and coordination training, and a cadet being sprayed in the face with pepper spray! This is done so every officer knows exactly what it feels like. I could feel it from the expression on the poor guy’s face! Ouch!
Later that evening I met up with Theresa, Brad and Ian again at a coffee shop. We sat and chatted for quite a while. 2 of Ian’s friends came in by chance too and we all had a good laugh.
April 24 – Regina, Saskatchewan to Calgary, Alberta
Arriving at the bus terminal I discovered that the journey to Calgary was going to take longer than I thought… much longer! The bus left at midday and was not scheduled to arrive for another 10 and a half hours!
Looking out the window while travelling across Canada has been an amazing experience, to see all the different scenery go past… until now. The scenery between Regina and Calgary has to be the most monotonous ever. It was the same from the minute the bus left the city limits until the sun set. Incredible!
However the scenery is not everything in Canada. The weather is something out of the extraordinary. The first stop from Regina was Moose Jaw and shortly after leaving there the wind picked up and along with it lots of tumble weed. Soon their were sand and dust storms, some where huge and over a kilometre in length. The sun set was something else, seeing the colours over the Prairies, where there is more sky than anywhere else due to the complete flatness of the landscape. Another highlight while travelling the 800km between cities was the wildlife. I saw Bison for the first time on the Prairies and also a lone porcupine wandering down the highway. I never realised how large porcupines are. This one was about a metre long and 50cm tall.
The bus stopped at the city of Medicine Hat so everyone could receive some refreshments and exercise. Medicine Hat is quite and interesting place and with quite an interesting history.
When the bus finally arrived into Calgary the view of the skyline at night was a very impressive sight to see.
April 25 – Calgary, Alberta
Calgary was recently awarded the status of ‘Cleanest City in the World’. Everywhere you go in Calgary you can see how much the city deserved this status. Street litter is nowhere to be seen, the air is clean and fresh and everything has a very clean feel to it.
The Calgary Light Rapid Transit train (C-Train) stop was right opposite the front door to where I was staying so I took the C-Train downtown. This is German built street train system, which runs on rails located along roads and has its own stations at the side of the street.
My first place to visit was the Calgary Tower, a recognisable structure on the skyline. The Calgary Tower is as tall as the skyscrapers in the city and gives an excellent view from its location just to the south of all the high rise buildings so the view is not obscured apart from to the north.
From the tower I decided to talk a walk around the downtown area and ended up heading to Eau Claire Market in the northern area of downtown. This is an interesting shopping arcade where I breakfasted while a large wind band played in the food court.
I hopped back onto the C-Train and headed out to Calgary’s famous zoo. I was amazed at the different areas the zoo has including its incredible recreation of a prehistoric landscape featuring various dinosaurs! (Check out the pictures of Calgary Zoo Prehistoric Park). An area of about 35 acres has been landscaped using plants and vegetation from the age of the dinosaurs. The rock formations, lakes, volcanic deposits and caves are home to dinosaurs dotted about the place.
The rest of the zoo was equally as impressive. Animals from across the world, many unique to Calgary Zoo, were all out enjoying the sun. Many of the enclosures were designed so they could be entered by the public, which was something special, but also a bit daunting when a Bald Eagle is sat about 5m away looking not so impressed.
A huge area dedicated to the animals native to Canada was the last park in the zoo I visited an unfortunately my camera battery ran out just as I arrived at this part. Wolves, bison, otters, beavers, lynx, cougars, bears and moose were all very active. I was amazed at the size of the moose I saw. This one was not even fully grown yet there was at least 5 foot from the ground to its underside meaning it stood at about 9 feet tall.
From the zoo I went back downtown and into TD Square where there is a huge garden located on the 4th floor of this office building. The gardens complete with over 20,000 plants, ponds, rivers with fish and turtles occupy the whole floor of the block size building. It is quite a unique place to visit and was busy with many of the people who work in the buildings nearby having their late lunch breaks.
April 26 – Calgary, Alberta
The 25-degree weather of the day before had definitely disappeared. When I looked out my window I was more than just a little surprised to see 4cm of snow on the ground. The temperature had dropped 32 degrees and was sitting just about –7.
From the C-Train stop on 7th Avenue I headed for the nearest building. In many Canadian cities the office buildings have a collection of shops on the ground floor. In Calgary the shops were located on either the first floor or both the first and ground floors linked by what are called Plus 15s. These are walkways across the streets linking every building in the city centre through the first floor. Getting out of the bitter weather was great.
After a wander around the shops I took the C-Train down to the Calgary Stampede Park. Every year Calgary is home to the largest stampede in the world. I had a look around the group of large buildings that house the event and discovered a place called the Grain Academy.
The Grain Academy is a small museum that tells the story of Alberta’s role in the Canadian Grain industry. The huge models of railways representing Calgary and the grain collecting communities in Alberta, the Rockies and Vancouver are very impressive.
April 27 – Calgary to Edmonton, Alberta
The Greyhound bus left the depot at midday and the trip to Edmonton only took a few hours. It was quite uneventful and uninteresting along the highway north to Edmonton. Arriving into Edmonton the view across the North Saskatchewan River Valley that divides the city and exposes the skyline along the top of the ravine makes for an unusual arrival.
The hotel was right across for the Greyhound depot so after I dumped my stuff there I took a walk down onto the main downtown street, Jasper Avenue, and got a bite to eat. I walked a few blocks until the sun started to set.
April 28 – Edmonton, Alberta
This morning I took a walk west down Jasper Avenue. I had breakfast/lunch at a little bakery on 124th Street, which probably was another town that was eventually swallowed up into Edmonton like a few other towns and villages. I carried on walking for quite a while until I eventually ended up at the Alberta Provincial Museum and Archives. I wasn’t really interested in having a look around another provincial museum so I went across to the Alberta Government House right next door.
The tour of the Government House was better than the contents of the building. The property was quite a sight but due it still being used by the provincial government the interior had been very modernised.
I took a long walk back to the hotel so I could see a bit more of this area of the city.
April 29 – Edmonton, Alberta
The West Edmonton Mall, the biggest shopping mall and entertainment complex in the world. Over 120 acres of shops, cinemas, ice rink, leisure pool, casino and lots more. With Albert having no Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on goods, I headed to the mall to do some shopping. The mall itself is certainly large but it is when you enter the area with a big lake in that has submarines, a huge pirate ship and dolphins that is when the reality of the size of this place becomes apparent. I did plenty of shopping and ended up spending most of the day there.
When I got back I was able to get in contact with a few friends who I met in Paris 2 years ago. I met up with 2 of them, James and Dave and we headed back to the mall for a quick wander about. We ended up in a sports bar and watched an amazing hockey game as part of the NHL Playoffs between Montreal and Boston. When Montreal won, the place was alive. There was quite an atmosphere in there.
After that we went to meet James’s girlfriend who I also met in Paris and then I headed back home.
April 30 – Edmonton, Alberta
Edmonton is located on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and the river valley that cuts right through the city has huge parklands on both sides. I took a walk through the river valley through the morning.
By the afternoon I ended up at the Muttart Conservatory. This is 4 large glass pyramids that act as biospheres for different environments around the world. It didn’t take too long to have a look around but it was interesting to see. It was a much smaller version of the Montreal Biodome and after seeing that I guess nothing else could compare.
I met up with James and Andrea at the mall that evening. We went to see the movie “Murder by Numbers”. Quite a different movie and very enjoyable. As we were leaving the cinema, we witnessed the huge dragon model in the cinema lobby breath fire. That was different!
May 01 – Edmonton, Alberta
I posted some things back to Scotland today and when I walked past the railway station I decided to go pick up my tickets. I was more than a little surprised to hear the station had been moved to 4km away from downtown. That was a bit annoying because I thought I could just walk the 3 blocks to the station the next morning, now I will have to organise a taxi.
The weather was getting a bit nicer and the sun was out so I walked from downtown to the Provincial Legislature, one of Edmonton’s most recognisable buildings on the skyline. I sat in the park at the front which also used to be the site of the original Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Edmonton, the first settlement here.
I walked across the high level bridge to the south bank of the river and along through the parks into Old Strathcona. This is a lively suburb of Edmonton and still retains many original buildings. James, Andrea and Dave met me and we all headed out for Margaritas and Nachos at the popular Mexican place Julio’s Barrio on Whyte Ave.
After that we all went to an Irish pub for chicken wings and drinks until late. That was good fun and it was great to be able to meet up with people who I met when I was away from the UK before.
May 02 – Edmonton to Jasper, Alberta
It was an early start to get packed and head off to the new location of Edmonton VIA Rail Station. The sun was shining which was nice, especially because the train was an hour late so I sat on the platform instead of in the crapped waiting room. I think the free donuts and coffee had a bit of pull!
When the train finally arrived it got no further than an hour out of Edmonton when with a sudden stop the train broke down. It turns out the brake hose that links the 3 engines to the rest of the train had broke setting off the brakes on all of the cars. Due to a sudden stop 3 people were injured and one was ambulanced to hospital in Edmonton.
After a 2 and a half hour wait the train got underway and with no more events was on the way to Jasper. Crossing the edge of the Prairies the wheat fields turned to bush, the bush turned to forest and then as the train came over a hill the Rocky Mountains were in sight. And what a sight that was. The huge foothills of the Rockies, at over 2000m each rose up from the flat lands around. The train followed the Athabasca River from Hinton through tunnels and around cliffs.
The wildlife appeared out of nowhere with Elk standing just metres away from the train as it passed by. Coming into Jasper many people were eager to get off the train for food or to where they were staying. I jumped off and walked the couple of streets to the tourist home I had arranged accommodation at. The small town’s charm was immediately apparent.
It was getting late so I didn’t get a chance to explore very much but I had a quick wander around the town and a bite to eat.
May 03 – Jasper, Alberta
My first stop in the morning was the Jasper National Park information centre right opposite the train station. I was given plenty of information and maps. I was directed to a tours place just a few doors down so I headed over there right away.
The guy at the small tour office told me of a tour that was leaving shortly to the Columbia Icefields so I jumped at the opportunity.
When I got on the tour bus couple from England, a couple from Denmark, a guy from Korea, and two women from southern Ontario joined me. They were all seeing a bit of Canada while on a break from University. I think most of the other people I had seen wandering around the town were in the same boat.
The bus headed down highway 93 which is known as the Icefields Parkway. The clouds started to lift quickly and the views of the mountains as the bus travelled south through the Athabasca River Valley were spectacular.
The first stop was at Athabasca Falls. The snow covered and slightly flooded area around the falls was quite treacherous to navigate as we all climbed over rocks and used fallen trees to cross flooded areas. The view of the falls was quite impressive but this was to be beaten by the view of the Sunwapta Falls, which is where we stopped next.
Travelling further south down the parkway the minibus had to pull onto the hard shoulder due to a long horned sheep taking a leisurely walk down the highway. The Rocky Mountain native sheep was not bothered by the traffic trying to pass at all.
100km south of Jasper we arrived at the Columbia Icefield Center in dense clouds and driving snow. When we left Jasper there were clear skies and the ground was dry. Here there was 35cm of snow on the ground. Perhaps being 2000m above sea level had something to do with it. We decided not to go out on to either of the 3 glaciers or the icefield due to the poor visibility, so after a stop at the visitor centre we headed another 30km south to the point of a massive avalanche from the day before.
It had taken National Park staff 24 hours to clear the avalanche and the double-decker bus sized lumps of frozen snow that lined the highway were evidence as to why. The avalanche had buried a total of about 250m of highway.
We headed back along the parkway to Jasper where a few elk were the only Canadian wildlife that we spotted on the return.
May 04 – Jasper, Alberta
A massive snowstorm had left a few centimetres of snow on the ground around Jasper but when I arrived back at the National Park centre the warden I spoke to said that it is still nice enough to go for a walk.
For some reason I agreed. I headed along one of the trails, which lead me high up along a ridge that bordered the town to the north. Not slipping and sliding of the side of the mountain was my main concern but as I headed deep into the forest my concern was soon forgotten. Tracks in the new snow of two people heading the direction I had come from were accompanied by what my wild animal leaflet said were cougar (mountain lion) tracks. Realising I was no longer at the top of the food chain and being about 10km from the town by myself I was a little worried. When a Cougar wants you for dinner, unless you kill it, there is very little you can do to scare off the most successful killer of the cat family.
Leaving the trail is extremely dangerous because animals know where people usually walk and surprising a bear or elk can be a bad move, so I picked up the pace a bit and fortunately the snow stopped falling. As I arrived at a trail intersection I changed my route and headed back towards town.
By the time I arrived at the edge of town the snow in the town had melted and the sun was coming. With this in mind I took the trail around the east of town down along the railway tracks to the south of Jasper. As I walked through the forest I stopped dead in my tracks. I realised that standing no more than 2 metres away from me on the other side of 2 small trees was a fully-grown bear. Uh oh! This was a little bit too close (safe distance is 100m) and I was glad when the bear looked at me. If it hadn’t seen me it might have been surprised and attacked me. I backed away slowly as the bear stood by the side of the trail and watched me. As I looked around to make sure there were no other bears or cubs I moved behind some small trees so there was something between the bear and me. I moved back along the path as the bear came out and wandered along the path for a bit. Deciding to get some more distance between the advancing bear and myself I climbed up the railway embankment. I sat and watched the bear sniff along the trail for about 15 minutes but when the bear walked up the side of the steep embankment (30 feet high) with no problem I decided that I had better leave. If the bear had decided to chase me then I would not have stood much of a chance. (There is a great picture of this encounter in the Jasper Views and Wildlife gallery).
Happy to see my first bear in the wild but at the same time a little shaken by the proximity of this encounter I headed back along the trail into town. The warden I spoke to that morning was not surprised by the bear’s behaviour. They had just come out of hibernation recently and food was the only thing on their mind. Food was also on my mind so I headed into town and found a place that served me some Caribou (reindeer) sausages. Yummy!
May 05 – Jasper, Alberta
Before I had even arrived in Jasper I had decided I would hire a mountain bike and explore as much of the area as possible. Today despite the falling snow I hired a bike and headed out of town to the east along highway 16 in the direction of which I had arrived at Jasper. Cycling on the right-hand side of the road, which is the opposite from where I am from, was a bit strange but it was a case of ‘either learn it quickly or get splattered’. I learnt quickly.
On the edge of the town a group of female elk were standing by the roadside quite content to munch on grass as traffic went past.
As I headed east the snow stopped so I could actually see where I was going at last. I crossed the Athabasca River and headed along a riverside trail to towards the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Along the trail I could see many bear tracks in the mud and snow. One I noticed was much larger than any other I had seen so far. I didn’t want to meet that face to face. The snow began to fall again as I passed the lodge and headed around Lac Beauvert (a lake).
The terrain around this area was a bit different to the walk the day before and there were lots of wolf tracks in the mud. I didn’t see any wolves or bears today. The only other animal I saw today was Elk. 2 were standing in the ensuing snow in the middle of the river. I’m not sure why they would be doing that, it certainly must have been cold, even for deer.
By the time I reached the highway at the edge of town the snow had stopped falling again. I cycled down a forest fire road that followed the CN railroad west. I crossed the tracks after about 3km and headed into the mountains again. This became a very hard cycle and when I came across a downhill trail back to town I took it. This proved just as hard. The trails are no wider and 40cm and have rocks and tree roots sticking out all over the place. The snow on the ground and the steep hillside was quite difficult to ride along, especially when I picked up speed even if I didn’t want to. Lucky for me I made it back to town alive and very sore.
May 06 – Jasper, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia
The best time to see wildlife in the Rockies is in the early morning, so I woke up early and headed out with a guide and 2 other people from New Zealand.
We drove up to and around Patricia and Pyramid Lakes north of Jasper. The snow was fairly deep on the ground and the wind was fierce. All we could find was about 30 trees lying on the ground that a beaver had chewed through and knocked down. That was a very weird thing to see.
We headed back through Jasper and out along towards Medicine Lake and into the hanging valley of Maligne. The road was lined with various deer, white tail deer, mule deer and lots of elk.
As we rounded a corner a large moose was walking down the side of the road. Unfortunately these animals are very shy and if they hear or smell you getting near then they take off. Their eye sight is not so good so we edged closer along the road to get a better look but the moose clambered down the hillside and headed into the snow covered forest.
Medicine Lake has underground sink hole where during the winter and spring months the water flows into them so the lake drains completely and the out going river is nothing more than a trickle compared to the large river flowing in.
The snow got deeper and deeper as we headed further up into the valley. Maligne Lake was the end of the road. I had a quick wander around the Brewster’s Cabins which were build in the 1920s and abandoned for quite a while. The cabins were built by 2 brothers who explored this area and lead tours up along the route I had just travelled.
After a quick lunch we all headed back along the road and into Jasper.
I went straight to the train station only to find out that due to the train being over 5 hours late they had cancelled it entirely. Their odd plan was to put everyone on the train in Jasper when it finally arrived, not move the train and then bus the passengers from Jasper to Vancouver in the morning. This was not very good because it would mean 2 days wasted waiting and sitting on a bus.
As I sat in the station and tried to figure things out a I was approached by a couple who told me they are going to hire a car and drive to Vancouver if I would like to split the bill with them and two law students from Toronto who were also going home to Vancouver. This was very unexpected but I could hardly say no to that. Off we set in our people carrier, Jim and his wife Colleen, Sandy, Tara and I.
The road journey through the edge of the Rockies into British Columbia followed the Thompson River to Kamloops. The Scenery turned from huge snow covered Rocky Mountains to green pastures of the Thompson River valley. Along this stretch of the road were bear, elk and deer dotted about. But farm animals including Llamas were most commonly seen.
We caught an efficient, quick bite to eat at the edge of Kamloops before heading along the Trans Canada Highway through into more tall mountains of the British Columbian Coast Mountains range. The Fraser River lead the way into Vancouver.
We dropped Sandy and Tara at their houses and then Jim, Colleen and I headed to their house where they offered me a room to stay for the night, which was great. I had not expected to arrive until 8am the following morning if I had taken the very slow train. I was glad to get a good night sleep after an early morning and very eventful day.
May 07 – Vancouver to Victoria, British Columbia
I woke to a breakfast of eggs and the sun shining through the balcony patio doors. No more ‘Jasper weather’. Perhaps summer has arrived again. Colleen drove me from their home in Port Coquitlam to Hertz Rent-a-car in New Westminster where Jim dropped off the car we rented from Jasper. From there we headed from to downtown Vancouver.
The West Coast Air floatplane terminal was the same as all the others on the dock, just a port-a-cabin style building with a few business people waiting on the deck in the sun for the next flight. It wasn’t long before we boarded the twin engine Otter floatplane.
After the 8 or 9 passengers squeezed into the extra small seats the plane quickly picked up speed in Vancouver Harbour before gently lifting off. The plane circled over North Vancouver on the north shore of the harbour before turning back and flying over Stanley Park, Kitsilano and Vancouver International Airport.
The flight over the Gulf Islands changed direction so we flew over the Saanich area of Vancouver Island and down to the very south of the Island. The plane began to drop rapidly just over Esquimalt Harbour where Canada’s Pacific Naval Fleet are based. We flew feet above the water before touching down on the calm water of Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
As I disembarked the aircraft I headed along the harbour side to Hyack Air Terminal which Jim owns and where I was to meet up with his sons Marty and Daniel.
Marty was behind the desk in the sweltering office bobbing up and down on the side of the harbour. Dan arrived shortly after. He and I headed back to their apartment on the other side of the harbour overlooking Victoria.
Later in the afternoon Dan and I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to a cinema to see the movie “Spider-Man”. Arriving at the movie theatre we were greeted by a solitary man standing at the front doors with a picket sign stating “bring your own concession”. After purchasing a $3.00 bottle of water (normally $1.00) I saw ‘picket-man’s’ point.
Spider-Man was good fun and was the main focus of the discussion between Dan and I as we headed back to the harbour.
We ended up at the Royal British Columbia Museum where the National Geographic IMAX theatre is located. For those who have never experienced an IMAX theatre, they are huge screen (usually the same as an 8 storey building) and show documentaries and other movies of an educational theme designed for IMAX screens. Dan and I decided to see another movie, back-to-back, but at least at the IMAX the movies are educational. The movie we saw was called “Gold Rush” about the surge of prospectors looking for gold in the Yukon Territory of north western Canada in the late 1800s. It also followed a lone prospector who still surveys they vast, impressive terrain today looking for gold.
A quick drive around and a parking ticket later, Dan and I headed back to the apartment and a feast of spaghetti and meatballs.
May 08 – Victoria, British Columbia
After a good night sleep Dan and I headed out along the highway north of Victoria to Butchart Gardens. The sun was out again and the temperature made for a pleasant drive out of the city and through the narrower country roads lined with trees and green fields.
The car park at Butchart Gardens was filled with cars from as far south as Texas, as far east as Ontario and all over the USA and Canada.
We spent a few hours wandering around the beautiful gardens built by Mr and Mrs Butchart many years ago. The site used to be a quarry and was converted by a couple who moved to the site. I don’t know much more about the gardens but they are massive and a very beautiful place to visit. The amount of people there meant it was not such a peaceful place to be.
Dan and I grabbed a bite to eat in the over priced café before driving back into Victoria. It was only 5pm and the sun was still quite high in the sky so we decided to take a drive around the small city.
We ended up at the beach over looking the strait leading the to Pacific just on the horizon. From here Orcas (Killer Whales) are frequently seen from the shore. The lack of whale watching boats in the area was indication that the whales were in another area of the waters around the south of the island.
A Bald Eagle flew over a head as crows and gulls were mobbing it. Another eagle was flying just over the ocean presumably looking for fish to feed on. Bald Eagles and Orcas both feed on the migrating Salmon that head from the Ocean up the rivers in British Columbia to spawn. The Grizzly Bears are well known for fishing the salmon from the rivers and so are the Black Bear on Vancouver Island.
We collected Marty from Hyack as we headed back home. Marty once again cooked up a feast before we all crashed for the night.
May 09 – Victoria to Vancouver, British Columbia
Dan and I headed down to the harbour but this time we went to see the Under Sea Gardens located in the water of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. A variety of fish and plant life is easily viewed through a building built on the edge of the harbour designed to give a unique view to the life going on under the surface of the water.
The many species of fish and a pretty big octopus were as inquisitive as the people peering through the glass at them. It didn’t take very long to have a look around and after the scuba diving presentation we walked back along the busy dock filled with traders and people relaxing in the sun on benches and grassy areas.
Our wandering took us past the Provincial Legislative building, just across the street from the harbour, and past the museum. We ended up at Victoria’s oldest building called Helmcken House and has remained unchanged since its construction in the 1840s.
By the time we got back to the Hyack terminal on the harbour, Marty and 2 others working there had retreated from the heat of the office to outside in the sun. I stayed just a short time before heading over to the HeliJet building where the Victoria heliport operates.
It wasn’t long before I boarded one of HeliJet’s newest fleet member, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. Four business people heading to Vancouver also boarded and after a short and unusual safety demonstration we quickly headed off. The flight took me over the harbour and around the south of the island, north over the Gulf Islands and over downtown Vancouver.
Vancouver was as warm and sunny as Victoria. The helicopter landed right downtown next took Canada Place on the waterfront. From here it was only 5 blocks to the hotel I had reserved so I took a walk through the streets shaded by the downtown skyscrapers.
I dumped my stuff in the hotel room and immediately headed out back the way I came to the waterfront. From here I walked along the Trans Canada Trail, which follows the harbour edge around to Stanley Park. The Trans Canada Trail is a route of roads, waterways, paths, snowmobile tracks and bike routes that cross 16,000km across Canada.
I had dinner on a restaurant patio over looking the many yachts docked in the bay between Stanley Park and the main harbour. After this I carried on along the trail and walked around Stanley Park to the lighthouse on the north shore. From here I headed back through the park as the sun began to set and then back through the downtown area to the hotel.
May 10 – Vancouver, British Columbia
My first full day in Vancouver and I decided to spend it not in the city but across the Burrard Inlet in the district known as North Vancouver. To get there I walked down Georgia Street to catch the bus. Fortunately I discovered after waiting only 10 minutes that the direct bus doesn’t run unless it is peak hours. Since I was only a few blocks from the waterfront I headed to the sea-bus terminal.
The sea-bus connects the transit system’s on both sides of the shoreline along with the buses that run over the Lion’s Gate Bridge to the west. The journey across the inlet only took about 10 minutes and I jumped aboard a bus waiting at the terminal where I disembarked.
The bus wound through the tree lined, sun drenched residential streets heading uphill towards Grouse Mountain. A man sat in front of me turned and asked if this bus is going to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Since this was where I was heading too, I certainly hoped this bus was going there. We ended up chatting for a bit and when the bus pulled up outside the Capilano Suspension Bridge we both headed in. It turned out he is an air steward working on Philippines Airlines and has a few days on layover in Vancouver.
I took a free tour around the park with history about this impressive bridge that spans 140m across the Capilano River canyon at over 70m above the river. After wandering around the park I crossed the bridge that sways gently as people cross. The sun was shining down and the temperature was increasing by the hour. The gentle breeze coming down the river valley made it quite pleasant to cross into the heavily forested area on the other side.
After spending some time on both sides of the bridge and seeing a First Nations native craftsman carving a totem pole I headed back onto the road and boarded the next bus continuing up the road to Grouse Mountain.
Grouse Mountain is Vancouver’s most popular and easily accessible skiing hill just 15 minutes drive from the downtown area. When I arrived at the mountain I bought my ticket for the Sky Ride – Grouse Mountain’s cable car and also the only way up the steep side of the mountain directly to the plateau near the summit. The views across North Vancouver and over the Burrard Inlet to the downtown were very impressive and as clear as they get. The heat haze and no doubt some air pollution made the view beyond downtown Vancouver a bit obscured.
Upon arriving at the top I was amazed at the 30cm deep snow yet the 25-degree wind free weather. I followed signs to the Grizzly Bear rescue environment where 2 young grizzlies were sleeping in the sun. The information centre perched at the top of the mountain overlooking the city commanded some of the most impressive views in the province. Located inside is the ‘theatre in the sky’ where I watched a short presentation on British Columbia from the air.
With this still in mind I headed outside again and to the other side of the complex where a Bell helicopter sat on the helipad. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see some more of B.C. from the air so I chartered the helicopter and in no time we had lifted off and headed around to the east of Grouse Mountain.
The flight took me over river valleys, forests, a snow covered volcano crater and to the mountains just behind Whistler, one of Canada’s most popular mountain resorts.
When we touched back down on Grouse Mountain I took the Sky Ride back down the mountainside and walked down the road to the Capilano Reservoir and dam. From here I waited for the return bus to the sea bus terminal. As I stood in the street shaded by huge conifers lining both pavements I watched a squirrel desperately trying to cross the road towards me. Every time it made it half way across a car would come and it would scurry back to the pavement.
The bus stopped at Lonsdale Quay where I had a bite to eat and then took the sea bus back to downtown Vancouver. The sky train took me the rest of the way to Granville Street station.
May 11 – Vancouver, British Columbia
My first stop was to get a haircut. I found a little Barbour shop not far from the hotel. After this I walked right across the downtown area to Denmar Street to hire a bike for the day.
I cycled from Denmar Street to the waterfront and into Stanley Park. Being Saturday the park was very busy as I cycled around the trail that encompassed the entire 1000-acre park around the coastline. Lots was going on including an outside art gallery and many people learning how to roller blade, some more successfully than others. The beaches on the west side of the park were covered in people sun bathing and having a rest as they made their way around the park.
As I reached English Bay I could see yachts coming from False Creek and Kitsilano. Other people in canoes were not far from the beaches and the big container ships steamed past north of the beaches.
I carried on along the south shore of the downtown and along the side of False Creek past Science World and along the opposite shore to Granville Island. The first bit of activity at Granville Island was a junior skateboarding competition, which was attracting some interest from passers by. Various street performers, traders and hundreds of visitors to and from the city filled the streets of the busy, little leisure island.
From Granville Island I took the main roads back across to downtown over the Burrard Bridge. I had lunch from a vender on the beach by English Bay. After just a quick stop I headed back on the main roads through Yaletown and into Chinatown. Chinatown is a rather seedy area of Vancouver and many prostitutes were on the main streets despite being the middle of the day. This is also a very busy neighbourhood which still has some very unique Chinese characteristics lost in many other Chinatowns around the world. my route took me into Gastown which is one of the more tranquil districts of the city with cobble roads and street cafes. I passed the world’s only steam powered clock as I headed back downtown and to the bike rental.
I grabbed some dinner and then headed back to Chapters where I met up with Sandy who shared the rental car with me from Jasper. We met some more of her friends and spent the evening at an Irish pub in Kitsilano.
May 12 – Vancouver (British Columbia) (Vancouver, British Columbia to Nova Scotia Train Journey)
I packed all my things up and headed out to yet another beautiful day. The Sky Train station was only a few blocks away and from there it dropped me just across the street from Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station. I stowed my luggage and headed back onto the Sky Train to Vancouver’s east side.
I ended up at Metrotown, one of Vancouver’s huge malls. I had a quick lunch and then called my mum. Being May 12th, it is Mother’s Day in Canada. So this was my mum’s second Mother’s Day of the year due to the UK having Mother’s Day a few months earlier.
I bought a few supplies for the train journey I was about to take and then took the Sky Train back to Central Station. I had a couple of hours to spare so I spent them lying on the grass in front of the station in the park along with many other travellers with their bags and baggage trolleys.
Despite the location the small park was peaceful and an interesting place where many people of all walks of life passed through. Many homeless people passed through with their things in shopping carts often trying to sell bits and bobs to the people in the park.
Later in the afternoon I headed back into the station and eventually boarded the train.
Train Number 2, ‘The Canadian’, to Toronto, Ontario which would I would not arrive until Wednesday, more than 3 days away and just over half way to my destination in Nova Scotia.
I managed to negotiate a seat that has power outlets for my laptop from another passenger, Reggie. He was to prove an interesting passenger heading to Montreal. From the moment you see this guy you know he is something else, verging on 7ft tall a combination between a Rastafarian and Mr T. Taking the train, especially such long distances, all of the passengers have a different kind of attitude compared to those on city trains or buses. They are in no hurry to get anywhere otherwise they would have taken the much quicker and cheaper plane and all have an interesting reason as to why they are on the train.
I settled into my seat and as the train headed out through the city and suburbs, out into the Coastal Range of mountains the sun eventually set.
May 13 – Kamloops (British Columbia), Jasper, Edmonton (Alberta) (Vancouver, British Columbia to Nova Scotia Train Journey)
I had only slept a few hours when I woke up just as the train was pulling into Kamloops North. The train takes the north shore of the Frazer River when heading east and the south shore when heading west I discovered from the overly enthusiastic female steward who was responsible for the passenger car I was in.
The main lights in the passenger cars were all out apart from some subdued lighting allowing passengers to see where they are going. As I headed to the washroom I could see that I was the only one still awake in my car. Everyone else was sprawled out across his or her seats under blankets. A guy halfway down the train was snoring loudly. Normally passengers are provided with 2 seats side by side depending on occupancy so they have plenty of room. When reclined and footrests raised level with the seats they provide a fairly decent sleeping space.
Later in the day as the sun began to rise I walked down to the cafeteria. On the train there facilities provided to passengers included the cafeteria, restaurant, takeout counter, lounge for smoking and the dome car with 360-degree observation deck. Not forgetting the ball game style beer vender who would periodically wander up and down the passenger cars shouting “cold beer, get your beer here, cold beer”!
I joined another man who was by himself in the pretty much empty cafe serving breakfast. It was 7am and we were just entering the Rocky Mountains. We both had a breakfast of eggs, ham, pancakes and fruit juice. The meals served on the trains are of pretty good quality and even though you have no other choices of where to eat they are at pretty good prices.
The other passenger and I chatted through breakfast, he was coming from northern British Columbia near Alaska where he did some contract work with the government in forestry research. He was on his way back to Ontario to work. He was just taking the train as far as Edmonton to see the Rockies and then he would fly direct to Thunder Bay, Ontario.
After breakfast I went up to the dome car where I met another passenger, Michelle. She was sat working on her laptop. Another interesting passenger on her way to Toronto from Vancouver, we chatted for a while until she went back to her seat. The passenger I talked to at breakfast joined me in the dome car and we sat and looked at the incredible scenery and various wildlife, which in the space of the morning included 5 bears, 8 moose, 2 beavers, a herd of long horn sheep, mountain goats and a few elk, all easily viewed from the train.
As we winded around the mountains through tunnels and over bridges we came around a mountain side to a view I recognised. Ahead was Whistlers Mountain, which lies to the south west of Jasper Township. The hillside we were rounding is where I had seen bears in my bike ride around Jasper earlier in the month.
As the train pulled into Jasper I jumped off and headed to an Internet Café. Being here before proved an advantage because I knew where everything was located. The best pizza place in the world was just at the end of the street so I went there and grabbed myself a 2 topping 8 inch pizza for $5!!! As I arrived back at the station with 10 minutes to spare before the train departed I met the forestry passenger again so we sat and shared the pizza as we waited.
The train detached a couple of cars, which were to be used on another train making our train 27 cars long! That is a pretty long train, over 600m in length plus 3 engines.
We set off again through familiar terrain. I had arrived into Jasper along the same route and spent a lot of time outside cycling and walking around the surrounding area too. This gave me a bit of an advantage as far as wildlife spotting goes. Many of the animals can be found in the same locations so it was easy to spot more moose, sheep, goats, elk and deer.
As the train passed back through the Rockies and into the foothills, the terrain became flatter and flatter with every passing hour. By the time we had reached Edmonton it was obvious the mountainous terrain had passed and the flat Prairies would occupy the view for the next 40 hours.
The small out of town station at Edmonton was busy with passengers boarding and disembarking. When the train stops for any extended period of time, nearly the whole train disembarks to get some fresh air and stretch their legs. The late afternoon sun made sitting outside quite hot so most people were in the station building.
When I boarded the train again I met a passenger who had just boarded in Edmonton. David was also heading on an adventure, starting with the train to Toronto. We sat and talked for a few hours in the dome car until the sun began to set.
Just before midnight the train crossed into Saskatchewan at the small settlement of Unity.
May 14 – Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Sioux Lookout (Ontario) (Vancouver, British Columbia to Nova Scotia Train Journey)
I slept through the stop at Saskatoon, not that there was anything to miss. The station was miles out of town and not very well lit from what I remember when I was there earlier in the year. I woke a few times during the night and eventually got up and went up to the observation car at about 8am.
David was already there we sat and talked with Michelle as the train trundled along through the flat, golden Prairies. The only views of interest were huge piles of dirt from some underground mines, grain elevators and the occasional interesting settlement. The marker between Saskatchewan and Manitoba was also a point of interest, located in a river valley that cut through the otherwise flat landscape.
An hour later than scheduled we pulled into Winnipeg station. Just as I was getting off the train 8 police officers and a group of VIA Rail personnel, boarded the train in a hurry into the car in front of mine. I later discovered that a man had been acting very strange, disturbing other passengers and causing a general nuisance when shouting random things out at people.
I said to David that if he wanted food then the best place to go to is The Forks, located behind the station where the Assiniboine River and Red River meet. We met up there and had a bite to eat as David bought fresh fruit from the market.
When I got back onto the train I was asked by Vanessa, another passenger, if she could use my laptop power for her computer. We sat and chatted as she charged her computer battery. I was more than a little surprised to discover that her destination was the same as mine in Nova Scotia. She was having a stop over in Toronto where as I was going direct with out any stop overs.
Later in the afternoon I joined David in the observation car, which was becoming a second home to many passengers and the only alternative to sitting in their seat all day or eating in the cafeteria. As we crossed into Ontario from Manitoba and the scenery changed from the flat Prairies to the forested lake covered landscape of north western Ontario, we looked at his CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) maps of the area showing the tiny stations we were passing through and stopping at. It was obvious they must have relied on the railway as a primary link to the outside world. For some places the nearest gravel road connecting them to the rest of the province would be over 250km away. Float planes and boats through the hundreds of rivers and lakes would often be the only methods of getting from place to place. All of the settlements were built by the occupiers and hardly any had any vehicles other than a snowmobile or boat.
Some of the stations provided a source of amusement when we would stop for 20 minutes at a station that would consist of a shed no bigger than an outhouse with the station name sloppily painted on the side. Lookout for Rice Lake on the edge of Ontario. This is the smallest station you could ever hope to see with only 1 log cabin nearby. Sometime only 1 or 2 cabins could be found near the station. When we arrived at Ottermere, another tiny station on the side of a lake, a boat sped across the lake to meet the passengers, mail and supplies being offloaded.
David, Vanessa, Michelle and I all had dinner as hunger was setting in at a rapid pace and train snack food was beginning to loose any interest I may have had in it in the first place. I think the cheeseburger for breakfast had something to do with it.
By the time we reached Sioux Lookout, a large Indian Reserve in Northern Ontario, the only store was closed and the atmosphere in the town was somewhat unnerving. David and I wandered down the street as native people stood and stared at us. Vanessa went to the bank as we waited. A blood soaked tissue blew past and that was the sign to head back to the train quickly.
As night set in for the third time David, Vanessa, Michelle, myself and two other passenger, Beth and her friend went up into the observation car which has no lighting at night and watched a DVD on my laptop. By the time it was half way through about 4 other people had wandered in and were watching also.
One passenger pointed out the Northern Lights, which could be easily seen through the glass roof of the car.
The train made an extended stop at the settlement called Armstrong. This is an unusual town in that all of the residents work for either Canadian National Railways (CN), the forestry departments, the logging industry or are fire fighters for forest fires. It is a large camp where everyone lives in shared motel style accommodation and the train is their only way in and out apart from a small airstrip on the edge of the settlement.
By the time the movie was over, I was so tired and headed to bed.
May 15 – Capreol, Sudbury, Parry Sound, Toronto (Ontario) (Vancouver, British Columbia to Nova Scotia Train Journey)
After a fairly terrible night sleep I spent the morning going back and forth between my seat and the takeout shop getting snacks.
By the time the sun was high in the sky I went up to the observation car where Michelle was working on her laptop. I sat there in a semi-conscious state as she chatted with a woman from Jamaica.
The train entered into the huge area known as the Canadian Shield. This is the name given to the forested area of Ontario, which has a solid rock surface. This was to be the view for the next 6 hours, but at least it was not the extremely repetitive Prairies.
As the train began to head south into the more populated areas of Ontario the single building settlements became clusters of buildings and the roads began to appear. By the time we arrived at Capreol, many people were glad to get off the train. Michelle and I just stayed in the train because we knew that there was not enough time to get to the nearest store and I had a new collection of take out goodies.
Vanessa and I sat and chatted at my seat as we passed through Sudbury Junction where I had boarded the train to head east a few months ago. By the time they announced dinner was being served, the 4 of us were pretty hungry.
After another interesting VIA Rail meal we headed up to the observation car where Vanessa and I had apple pie and ice cream which was a bit of a treat. It somehow took 4 members of the crew to find us to bring our food. I’m not sure what that was about.
Communities were popping up more frequently now but the wilderness was never far away. When we reached Parry Sound on the edge of the Great Lake, Lake Huron and Georgian Bay we were about an hour behind schedule.
After a quick nap, we all met up in the observation car and the train began its route entering Toronto. From the time we spotted the CN Tower on the horizon to actually getting downtown through the winding route across the east to the west of the city and into Central Station we had picked up a bit of time.
Michelle immediately disappeared off to where she was going. David and I went with Vanessa to get her luggage. When she headed off with her parents David and I went to check out the upstairs of Toronto Central Station. This is where they filmed the station scene from the X-Men movie and it was very recognisable. We saw Beth again who said she was going on the same trains as me through Montreal and on to Moncton in New Brunswick.
David was staying at a youth hostel in the financial district, so we both went there so he could off load his things and I could check my email while I waited for my train to Montreal. We were quite surprised when we got there that Reggie was there too, making a reservation for when he returned.
We sat and ate donuts and bagels in Tim Hortons before taking a quick wander through the streets of the Financial District and then back to the station.
I boarded the train heading to Montreal. Reggie was onboard too but he was taking a sleeping car this time. I couldn’t find Beth and I was so tired I just got a seat and when the passenger in front of me stopped singing to his discman, I fell asleep.
May 16 – Cornwall (Ontario), Montreal (Quebec) (Vancouver, British Columbia to Nova Scotia Train Journey)
I woke up as the train drew into the south eastern station of Cornwall. It was about 5am and some commuters coming from the Ottawa area going to Montreal boarded the train. I dozed off again but woke about an hour later. The train was following the highway between Ottawa and Montreal and it was clear from the signposts that the train was in the province of Quebec.
At around 8am the train terminated at Montreal’s Gare Central, which is located underground in the massive underground complex of the downtown area. I had 10 hours to wait for the next train to Halifax. After I made a phone call I noticed Beth sat at the station reading. The first thing I wanted to do was to go have a shower so I headed out to the YMCA a few blocks away where I had a shower that I waited so long for. And only for $1, you can’t go wrong there.
I headed back to the station to see if Beth was still there and she hadn’t moved at all. We both went to get some lunch in the Eaton Centre. I had a huge plate of crepes and fresh fruit. As we wandered through the underground complex we came across the Paramount Cinema and managed to get a couple of tickets to the new Star Wars Episode 2 movie.
When the movie finished we headed back to the station. I fell asleep on our pile of bags while Beth went out to explore some more of Montreal. When I woke up the line had already started forming for the train going east to Halifax. I stood in the line and waited for Beth. The boarding was delayed by 30 minutes and Beth only appeared back at the station 10 minutes before we got on the train.
This train was much busier than The Canadian. The Ocean, going through to Halifax, Nova Scotia, was fully booked so Beth and I sat next to each other as the train rapidly filled up.
I went up into the observation car to stay awake for a bit longer. When I came back, Beth had gone to watch a movie, which was being shown in another car with a girl sat across from us.
As soon as the sun began to set we both fell asleep and I managed to sleep through until dawn, which was somewhat of a miracle.
May 17 – Moncton (New Brunswick), Amherst, Truro, New Glasgow, Antigonish (Nova Scotia) (Vancouver, British Columbia to Nova Scotia Train Journey)
I had some sandwiches from the take out place for breakfast and sat up in the observation car with Ainsley, the girl who sat across from Beth and I.
When the train arrived into Moncton Beth got off the train where she would eventually head to PEI (Prince Edward Island). Ainsley and I talked for a while. The train began to fill up after Moncton and when we arrived at Amherst a school of Amish people boarded. They filled up the observation car and the teacher sat across from Ainsley and I. He was an interesting person to talk to. He and his wife were taking the children on a trip on the train between stations. As the train slowly arrived into Truro, Nova Scotia, I disembarked the train for the last time.
From Truro I caught the next bus back to Antigonish through New Glasgow.
When the bus arrived at the new, temporary depot next to the mall, I went to find my friend Amy who was quite surprised to see me. I checked into a hotel and after meeting Amy and Marcel for coffee later in the evening I got into bed, the first real bed since Saturday. It is Friday now.
May 21 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia
After a few days back in Antigonish I met Vanessa again. She took the same route as I did on the train and bus from Truro a few days later. We met up at the Mall and Marcel gave us a ride down to James Street where the 3 of us had dinner.
Vanessa and I arranged to meet up the next day to go to Prince Edward Island. I stayed with Marcel and Ginny’s apartment for the night. Ginny and I watched a whole load of movies until late at night when we eventually both decided we needed sleep.
May 22 – Antigonish, Nova Scotia to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
I met up with Vanessa at midday and we spent the afternoon wandering around Antigonish. Her Aunt, who she had been staying with, drove us to the Ferry at Pictou, near New Glasgow. Needless to say, I slept most of the way!
We had about 45 minutes before the ferry was boarding so we sat on the rocks by the shore in the baking sun. The ferry was not very busy and the wind on deck was cooling in the evening sun so we ended up sitting inside most of the way.
A helpful woman who worked on the ferry organised a lift for us to Charlottetown. There is no bus or any other way of getting the 60km to Charlotte town without using a taxi. This was a great help and the woman who gave us a lift turned out to be an author of a children’s book.
We arrived in Charlottetown at around 8.30pm and we dropped at one of the hundreds of lobster restaurants across the province, just on the edge of the city. I realised, too late, that I had left the contact number of the place Vanessa and I were to stay in the car. We made a mad rush around the city trying to find an internet café to find the place I had looked up earlier in the day. Fortunately we found a public library but a scary looking woman security guard turned us away because there was only 7 minutes until the place closed. Bah! Across the street was an Internet café open late which was great.
We eventually arrived at the bed and breakfast just on the edge of the downtown at 9.30pm and immediately went out to find a place to eat.
Most places were either closed or very dingy looking but we found a nice pub on a street with about 5 other pub/restaurant style establishments.
Later that night we both decided to go and get some food from Tim Hortons. The only one that was still open was about 1km walk and when we got there it turned out it was just the drive through. So we walked through the drive through. I haven’t done that before.
May 23 – Charlottetown to Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
When we woke up we decided to check out and go and explore a bit more of ‘The Island’. The first place we decided to explore was a diner serving breakfast.
From there we wandered up University Avenue which is also the Trans Canada Highway out of town. We thought we would be able to get a lift to Cavendish but this thought was not correct. We eventually decided to go and hire a car and drive to Cavendish.
As soon as we left Charlottetown we could see the PEI was not the same as any other province. The flat rolling landscape covered with fields of lawn quality grass. Cows were grazing and fields were being ploughed to make ready for the famous Prince Edward Island Potatoes.
The wind began to pick up as we reached the north coast. We stopped at a small town called North Rustico and drove down along the harbour front to the lighthouse. By the time we reached Cavendish Beach it was still sunny and warm but the wind was too strong to enjoy the beach. We headed into Cavendish which turned out to be the same as all the other townships in the province. Each township merges into the next so you can never actually leave a township anywhere you go in the province. This makes for a unique drive where there are no built up areas, just clusters of houses, farms and services that spread out until you reach the next cluster.
After nearly being blown down the street we found a motel in Cavendish itself and discovered all the places Vanessa had visited when she came to the area a few years ago.
We ended up driving back to North Rustico to find a place to eat. Like everything in the small province, nothing is far away when you are driving. We ended up at the Fisherman’s Wharf, a famous lobster restaurant where we had a huge feast, of lobster, muscles, salad and chowder. Unfortunately I don’t eat seafood but the alternatives were just as incredible.
May 24 – Cavendish to Montague, Prince Edward Island
Once we had checked out of the picture postcard looking country motel we didn’t have to go far to find a place serving breakfast. Perhaps the only place serving breakfast and it was right across the road. The breakfast rush was on and the poor woman trying to keep up with the orders eventually got around to our order of pancakes and maple syrup after 45 minutes. It was worth the wait.
’Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ science park was just down the street but like everything we were to discover, was not open yet. Fortunately the Anne of Green Gables village, which is based on the successful Canadian books and movies written by a local author, was not open but we were allowed in to have a look around anyway. This was a step into the past and when open I am sure this would be an incredible place to visit.
We drove on west along the country roads trying to find a radio station that wasn’t playing country music. Eventually when we arrived in Summerside we decided that some cooling refreshments were required. A quick stop at Tim Hortons sorted this craving out and we were on our way again, this time along the south coast of the island over looking the Northumberland Strait.
Not far from Summerside is the world’s longest bridge spanning 13km across the open water linking the island to New Brunswick. The Confederation Bridge with its $40 toll fee was quite an impressive sight from the shore.
The almost empty country roads eventually led back onto the Trans Canada Highway and to the town of Cornwall. We took a short rest stop and bought some food from strip mall by the main road. The next mission was to find one of the hundreds of beaches PEI has to offer for us to relax in the sun and eat our food. This was not so easy. We followed the map to what could be the world’s smallest provincial park, blink and you miss it, and we did. After driving down a gravel road for about 10 minutes we turned back and headed to the large inlet opposite Charlottetown. Again, no beaches here just a load of dead ends and some crazy suicidal farm dogs. We ended up parking in a field.
It didn’t take long to reach Charlottetown and we headed to the mall for some supplies. As the sun began to set we headed east to the fishing town of Montague where we spent the night with an amazing view over the small river harbour.
May 25 – Montague, Prince Edward Island to Linwood, Nova Scotia
Our morning drive around Montague didn’t take very long. There was not much to see that couldn’t be seen from the hotel window. We headed back into Charlottetown later than initially planned but still in time for the 2pm ferry from Wood Islands some 62km south east of Charlottetown.
Arriving in Charlottetown, Vanessa and I were stumped with a bit of a problem we didn’t anticipate – where did we rent the car from? The car company had picked us up from the edge of town and driven through the residential streets that were not easy to back track. We had a rough idea and after a bit of searching we found the place.
Time was getting on and the car hire guy was not exactly speedy. We ended up paying $65 for a taxi all the way to Wood Islands, the complete lack of a public transport system in the province was proving expensive. Arriving at the ferry terminal we were just in time to see the 2pm ferry set sail. It was to be a 3 hour wait for it to return from Nova Scotia.
Eventually when we boarded the 5pm ferry, now so far behind our first plan we had when arriving the island, things began to look good again. A guy sat behind us on the ferry offered us a lift right to where we wanted to go, Linwood, Nova Scotia. This was a serious stroke of good luck but when he eventually dropped us at the Irving Mainway at Monastery near Linwood we discovered that it was another 6km walk with out backpacks and other stuff.
An hour into the rapidly tiring walk, a walk that we weren’t even sure if we were going the right way anymore, one of Vanessa’s relatives stopped as they drove past and gave us a lift the rest of the way.
May 27 – Linwood to North Sydney, Nova Scotia
After a couple of nights in Linwood I headed back to the Irving Station where Vanessa and I were dropped a few days ago and caught the bus north. Heading to Cape Breton, by myself once again, I dozed off until we reached the causeway between mainland Nova Scotia and Port Hastings on Cape Breton island.
The crossing was not at all like I expected. The causeway rounded the coastline and then cut across the narrowest part, which took the bus no time at all. Once in Cape Breton we took a very different route to the one I expected. Instead of taking Trans Canada Highway 105 along though Whycocomagh, the bus carried on past Port Hastings and into Port Hawkesbury. This route took highway 104 on the east of the island. An advantage of highway 104 is the incredible views over the enormous inland Bras d’Or Lake.
When the bus arrived into Sydney I wandered down through the streets of the town which is obviously in great need of an economic boost. I managed to book a room in North Sydney across the water and after dinner I caught the last bus going over there.
The bus was rather interesting and something out of the 1970s at the latest. The driver dropped me off at the door, which was not as close to the Newfoundland ferry terminal as I had been informed.
The temptation for good ol’ Canadian chicken wings were too much and after discovering the medium sauce was extremely hot I made a mental note that the suicide sauce must be murder!
May 28 – North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland & Labrador
Yet another early morning, I woke and dragged myself into a waiting taxi outside the motel. The smell coming from the taxi (or perhaps the driver) woke me up quickly enough though! Arriving at the terminal I more like dived out of the vehicle into the fresh air.
Once I collected my ticket that I had reserved I discovered that I was one of only 2 walk on passengers. When the cars and trucks had been loaded onto the ferry a few more passengers appeared on the various decks but the ferry was nowhere near full to its 1200 people capacity.
With 30 minutes before departure I headed into the café at the front of the ferry for some breakfast. My extra large cup of apple juice was not so large by the time I made it to a table. The stupid cup had a hole in it! I quickly at my breakfast and then headed up onto one of the outside decks to get a view of the ferry leaving port.
It took no time at all for the ship to leave the port area and head out into the widening waters and eventually there was no land to be seen.
The clam waters were quickly surrounded by thick fog so there was not much else to see. Despite a plethora of activities on the ship for the 6-7 hour crossing, my primary activity on board included sleeping.
When the bi-lingual voice came over the PA system announcing that the ferry would arrive in Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland, in about 30 minutes I went up on deck to get a view. Holding on to the handrails for 10 minutes I desperately tried to stop myself being blown overboard. The even thicker fog made the view impossible but just as I walked to the starboard side of the ship to head below, the fog suddenly cleared and my first view of ‘The Rock’ was one of the most impressive sights so far.
Newfoundland’s unique mountain formation with its steep sides and flat tops occupied the horizon and was easy to see with the dark rock and white snow patches on the mountain sides. The town of Port Aux Basques sat perched along the rocks to the west of the ship as it came in and every view was something from a postcard. The wooden houses, the lighthouse on the rock, the fishing boats and the surrounding fog just a mile offshore.
The ferry kept up a steady speed as she sailed into the narrow harbour and it wasn’t long before the other foot passenger and I headed to the gangway. Exiting the ship was more like walking into a building site. The narrow metal staircase down the side of the ship was lined with about 20 workmen with hardhats on. Getting past with my backpack was not easy and knocking someone overboard would have not been the wisest idea.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs two rather interesting men stood there both with Marine Atlantic ferry uniforms on. One had a huge moustache that went down the side of his face to his jaw line and the other wore a hat stating “I’m a Newfie”. The moustache man started talking to me about something but I had not a single clue as to what he was saying. The Newfoundland accent is unusual to say the least and once he had finished I replied with “I have no idea what you said”. The words “bus to terminal” were easier to understand so I followed him to the bus, which dropped me off at the terminal building.
A guy standing behind the Marine Atlantic ticket desk was talking to a baggage handler about something. My plan was to ask one of them where the bus leaves from in the morning. After hearing the two talk and realising that I would have no idea what any answers to my questions would be I headed off out of the terminal.
Meandering through waiting ferry traffic, I crossed from the Marine Atlantic Terminal to the boardwalk that lead into the centre of town beside the water.
It might be impossible to get lost in Port Aux Basques with its dead end streets all leading off a single main street, but the main street never seems to end. After walking 4km through the winding street and up onto the hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I finally found the Bed and Breakfast I was to stay at.
I off loaded my things and headed straight back out to see the ferry leave port to return back to Nova Scotia. I carried on walking out down the main street until I reached the edge of the town and a place to eat.
By the time I headed the 6km back to the B&B the sun was getting low in the sky. When I arrived at the B&B I was greeted by the friendly owners for a second time that day and later in the evening, along with 3 of the other guests, we all feasted on home baked muffins and cake. You can’t beat that! We all sat and chatted for a bit but the bus was to go at 8am so I headed to bed.
May 29 – Port Aux Basques to Corner Brook, Newfoundland & Labrador
I woke to a knock at my door indicating it was 6.30am. As I peeled myself out of bed and into the shower I had a feeling this would be another tiring day.
Breakfast of cereal, toast, juice and more freshly baked muffins went down a treat. By 7.45am I was on the only bus going west towards St. John’s. I was only to go as far as Corner Brook today, which was to take around 3 and a half hours.
My dozing session was ended abruptly to the sound of the in-coach movie. Looking about in a daze I realised that I was not the only one to have been woken up suddenly.
At about 9.30am we pulled into a motel at the side of the Trans Canada Highway. It looked like the only building for miles. It turned out to be a bit of a mad rush for the only washroom in the building. On these bus rides everyone gets off the bus at any opportunity. There are the people who go straight to the washroom, those who go straight to the tuck shop and those who light up next to the bus. This stop was no exception.
I’m not sure if it was the rocking of the bus between potholes or the movie that sent me back to sleep, but I woke as the bus made a sudden stop at an intersection and then turned off the highway to Stephenville Crossing. A huge beach replaced the rugged bush landscape with fishermen spotted about and people driving their ATV’s kicking up dust storms as they raced across the dunes.
The bus didn’t stop until we reached the old airbase at Stephenville. The road into the town began across a huge stretch of tarmac that was obviously where military aircraft rested, lined up for over a kilometre in each direction.
Corner Brook was not far from Stephenville. The road to the city left the highway and the rolling bush behind and as the city appeared below the ridge, mountains surrounded the area in spectacular fashion.
Half the bus departed along with myself to the Irving gas station overlooking the city. Across the road I spotted the tourist office next to an unusually placed lighthouse. There is something about the Atlantic Provinces and their small lighthouses located far from the water’s edge.
The tourist office proved little use despite their enthusiasm. I managed to score a free map, which is always useful. With my new map in hand I made my way down the hillside along a road straight into town. By the time I reached the downtown area and a payphone the heat was becoming so unbearable. I decided to only call the accommodation providers at the bottom of the hill so I didn’t have to carry all my stuff much further. This plan failed. I ended up walking up the largest hill in the city and then over the top to the place I booked.
Stepping in the door to the luxurious bed and breakfast, it was worth the wait. I was hurriedly shown to my room and I dived straight in the shower.
Refreshed and not smelling like the street anymore I headed back out into the increasing temperature that had already exceeded 28 degrees. My walk took me along the ridge overlooking the Humber Arm where the Humber River flows. Rounding the hill back towards the way I came up from downtown I could see over the city and the unusual small, colourful wooden hospital building perched on the side of the hill at the north end of the city. From here I could see Corner Brook lines a basin with an open face into the Humber Arm to the west. I was standing on the north side and had come down the hill from the bus to the east.
For some reason I decided that I should walk back down the hill, through the city and up the south side hill. With a couple of stops in each of Corner Brook’s small malls for some cool air I headed through the winding, steep residential streets. 2 hours after setting off I made my way up the gravel road to the top of the hill overlooking Corner Brook from the south. A dedication memorial paid homage to Captain James Cook and provided a unique viewing point in every direction.
I soaked up some sun and all the water from my water bottle before heading back down the hill and back up the other hill to the bed and breakfast.
The owner of the establishment offered me the choice of 3 bicycles, which I hurriedly took her up on so I could go and get dinner. I had the choice between a child’s bike, one with 2 flat tyres and one that clicked and clunked. I opted for the latter.
Within 5 minutes the back brake pad of the bike flew off. Bad timing. I was just coming to the a very steep downhill road. Leaving rubber marks down the road I put my feet down in an attempt at decreasing speed. This was not working. An old lady slammed her brakes on as I flew through a 4 way stop and on down the steep hill increasing even more speed.
Realising a car was coming up behind me limiting my manoeuvring ability I pulled onto the grassy verge at the side of the road. The boneshaker in warp speed passed straight over a fallen tree sending bits of branch flying across the road as I rocketed through another 4 way stop between 2 cars.
My stopping options were now coming to a critical stage as I saw the next street crossing the one I was flying down at a serious rate of knots was full of traffic. At the last minute I made a sharp turn into a graveyard and crashed straight into and through the hedge lining it and a neighbour’s garden. Shaking, I picked myself up and wheeled the bike back up the hill. I had suddenly lost my appetite but fortunately that was all I had lost.
May 30 – Corner Brook and Gros Morne, Newfoundland & Labrador
Whilst at the bed and breakfast in Port Aux Basques I met Cyrus, a salesman from Corner Brook. Last night I gave him a call and we arranged to head up to Gros Morne together. He would drop in on a client and then we can drive around the National Park.
Cyrus arrived at the Valley Mall where I was waiting sipping on hot chocolate. The weather outside was a lot cooler than yesterday and a warm drink was a welcome refreshment.
It didn’t take long before we were on the Trans Canada Highway heading north out of the city. Passing the city limits the mountains began to rise from the Humber River as the road made its way gently around the mountainside leading to Marble Mountain.
Marble Mountain is where the Canadian music station Much Music hosted it’s 2002 Snow Job back in March. I first heard about Newfoundland’s premier ski resort, Marble Mountain and Corner Brook from this event. We drove past the ski mountain, which had some snow still remaining on the lower slopes, but a lot less than from when it was on the TV.
Leaving the highway at Deer Lake and heading west into the National Park we spotted 3 moose on the side of the road. Stopping in the mist covered valley Cyrus and I had a closer look at the normally shy animals. They were not bothered by our presence in the slightest.
Driving on moose began to become more and more common. The mist in the valley and the fog coming off Bonne Bay in the Atlantic Ocean was becoming equally common. We drove along the parkway through the southern park of Gros Morne. The thickening fog was making anything off the road difficult to see. The road itself and most of the valley was easy enough to see but the mountaintops were drenched in a damp grey curtain.
Stopping to view Norris Point briefly from the side of the road I could see the true spectacle of the area. Fjords not far from sight and the mountains rising high out of the ocean and into the fog. Norris Point, a small community on the edge of a bay, was where Cyrus had to meet his client. We drove down to the small harbour first of all to see where the old ferry used to come in. The cool, yet not cold, damp air meant the few streets were as good as deserted.
On returning to the car we were greeted with an unusual clicking sound. Fortunately this was just a shortage of oil, which was easily available from the town gas station. Probably the only one for miles.
The PharmaSave pharmacy and what seemed to be a general store had just been built on the edge of the town on the way back to the main parkway. We stopped for a few minutes while Cyrus talked with his client before heading back up the hill.
As we traced our route back towards the Trans Canada Highway we pulled up for a chance of another view over a fog-surrounded mountain lake amongst thousands of conifers. The moose still stood on each side of the highway and as we came down towards the edge of the park a below a “Warning Moose Collision Area” sign stood a male moose, posing for the almost comical scene.
A few kilometres down the highway between Gros Morne and Deer Lake we pulled off the road down a sharp turn and into a little community of lake side cabins. At the end of the road made my constant four wheel drive vehicle travel was a cabin that had clearly been added to and modified endlessly over the years. Around the back turning soil we found Cyrus’s father-in-law.
We were both warmly welcomed into the Cabin where Cyrus’s mother-in-law was cooking some of the freshly collected vegetables from the garden. It was nice to sit and chat with them for a while.
Further down the road we stopped again at Cyrus’s father’s cabin. Both of these cabins were refuges from their normal homes in the city. This more elegantly constructed cabin sported a view across a large lake from its balcony and deck.
Back on the highway the rain began to come down in torrents. The visibility was minimal and the noise on the windscreen was incredible. This intense weather would suddenly stop and return to the overcast but bright weather before opening up with another waterfall just a few minutes later.
Corner Brook was damp but not raining when we arrived at Cyrus’s home. Another warm welcome from his family waited along with a delicious home cooked meal. I sat and chatted with Cyrus, his wife and two children until it began to get dark.
Not long after getting back to the bed and breakfast thunder and lightening began. The first strike hit the funeral home directly across the intersection that shook the house and resulted in a deafening bang. Fortunately only the power was knocked out and no one in the funeral home were hurt. Hmmmm… perhaps that is a bad pun.
May 31 – Corner Brook to Gander, Newfoundland & Labrador
The only bus going east was the one I had taken to get to Corner Brook. The stop was at the Irving gas station over looking the city. Walking from the bed and breakfast it took me about 45 minutes along the crest of the hill and then up the main ring road which followed the ridge across the east of the city.
I had another half an hour until the bus was due to arrive and the girl behind the counter at the Irving directed me to the waiting room located through a door to the back of the small shop between two refrigerators
The waiting room was obviously designed to be the back office of the gas station with the video surveillance monitor resting atop a yellow pages on an old desk in the corner. Delivery boxes lay about between the few chairs where a girl sat between her bags reading a book. I sat myself down on the cleanest chair and pulled out a book of my own.
“Hiking the Dream” by Kathy Didkowsky is a book I have been reading while travelling. The author and her family hiked the newly formed Trans Canada Trail 2000km over 4 months. Kathy’s trip was both an inspiration and guidance to me on my similar trans Canada journey.
By the time the bus pulled up outside 6 other people were waiting to board. There was plenty of room so everyone was able to have a couple of seats to themselves. An in-bus movie was playing as I boarded, fortunately not the same one as before but certainly not much better.
It wasn’t long to Deer Lake where the bus stopped at what they call a ‘Gas Bar’. Basically a gas station and restaurant where the bus emptied in for a 30 minute meal stop. I sat at the counter in the classic American diner style restaurant and was served up a substantial burger and fries. Most of the other people sitting along the counter were truckers with their interesting baseball caps chewing on a toothpick.
The scenery along the way to Grand Falls was not as dramatic as that around Corner Brook. The bush flattened out and the forests covered most of the view. When we stopped at Grand Falls quite a few people got on filling up most of the bus. A university student sat behind me taking the last available pair of chairs leaving a far from sober guy who clambered onto the bus a seat free next to her. I don’t think she was too impressed. The alcohol on his breath coupled with his open shirt was probably not the best company. When the bus steward came around they both bought tickets to St. John’s, so he was in this trip for the long haul.
The next meal stop was at Gander, which is where I departed the bus just after 5pm. The bus stop is located at the Gander International Airport that is right in the small town. Calling a bed and breakfast in town the owner offered to collect me, which I gladly accepted.
The elderly man who informed me of his wife’s recent death had decided to sell the house and felt that since I was staying I should be informed of this. I found that rather strange and wondered if he was planning on selling and moving out during my stay.
The weather was beginning to become rather cloudy and from the look of the ground it had been raining probably most of the morning. It didn’t look like it was going to rain anymore so I headed out for a brief dinner and then to the Trans Canada Trail. The Trans Canada Trail in Gander follows the route of the old railway that used to cross the province. Since the removal of all the tracks the remaining path has been improved in most places to form the trail. I walked 6km of the trail through and out the side of the town during the evening. The mosquitoes were driving me crazy by the time I headed back through town to the bed and breakfast.
Arriving back I went down into the rec. room to watch the Detroit Colorado hockey game. The owner was down there already watching the start of the game with his daughter. This was yet another interesting game from the NHL. Every game I have seen so far has been something that you know people will be talking about the next day. The 7 to 0 win over Colorado was something nobody expected to happen and pretty much ended the game in the first period.
June 01 – Gander to St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador
I breakfasted on complimentary cereal and toast from the bed and breakfast before heading out into the warm morning sun. The end of the road from where I was staying lead onto the Trans Canada Highway that I travelled on to Gander the previous afternoon. I backtracked about half a kilometre or so to the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.
Gander’s history is dominated by aviation events and to this day is still home to an International Airport. Arriving at the small museum building resembling an aircraft hanger big enough to fit a small airliner I could see a collection of aircraft surrounding the building. The rear end of an aircraft fuselage of an aircraft protruded from the front of the building. Walking around the back of the building my curiosity was satisfied by seeing the front of the aircraft sticking out the windowless rear wall. I peeked through a window back around at the front of the building to see the cluttered interior and no signs of the rest of the aircraft that clearly had been sliced up for exterior décor only.
To the right of the building sitting in uncut grass and dandelions was a bright orange and green Newfoundland and Labrador Forestry Service fire spotting plane. Although a museum piece today, this model of aircraft, which I am not sure of the type, remains in service for the province.
Climbing up on one of the tyres I opened the side door of the aircraft just enough to look inside. Bits and pieces of the partially stripped aircraft interior lay around the deck and cockpit. This must have been an incredible aircraft to fly over the province. Flying low over the treetops landing in calm lakes to drop off loggers and researchers. Today the 2 propeller plane sits next to a Canadian Armed Forces Voo Doo jet fighter, a paratrooper transport aircraft painted with a camouflage design and a small 1950s Canadian Navy transport plane.
No one else was about and I decided to head down towards a memorial site on the edge of Gander Lake. The 5km walk along the highway was beginning to get busy with transport trucks and people crossing the province. This held little appeal. At the first turning I headed off the highway and down a forest firebreak that headed towards the edge of the lake.
Dense forest lined the grassy walk where new pine trees and bushes were dotted around lasted for about 1km until it became slightly overgrown. Another firebreak running at an angle to the one I was on lead off to the east and provided a more direct and easier route running parallel to the lake shore.
The route went up over hills and down into small river valleys that I had to jump across on the stepping-stones. The only evidence of wildlife was the constant grouping of deer droppings along the deer trail I was following. Apart from this and the butterflies, the long clearing was void of wildlife. The only other wildlife was the flies. Not mosquitoes of the night before but some other larger fly that was equally as annoying.
Over a small hill I came to a gravel road leading down to the water’s edge. This was a welcome change to the increasingly boggy terrain. Shade from the fierce sun that was now high in the sky was possibly the most welcome.
On the edge of Gander Lake I followed the small beach around the winding coastline for a few more kilometres. Every now and again an outcrop of rock would require me to clamber up and over between the cool, calm lake water and the impassable, dense forest.
Over 8km from the museum I was beginning to wonder if I had some how passed the memorial site or if it would ever be around the next corner. As I reached another outcrop of rocks I decided to climb up the embankment to what looked like a clearing above the rocks. From here I hoped to get a better view or better walking surface from the now pebble beach.
The clearing turned out to be little more than just a group of birch trees which had more space around the base than that of the thick pine forest the curtained where I was now standing. As I headed to the other side of the clearing to climb back down the rocks onto the shore I heard a loud, bark from behind me. Knowing the nearest road was kilometres away and that was no bark from a dog I swung around to be confronted by my second close encounter with a bear.
This time the bear was not happy. He stood on the other side of a patch of closely grown pine trees that he was leaning against on his front paws clawing and pushing at the trees as he barked and growled at me.
Realising the bear couldn’t get past, at least in the next minute, I turned back towards the steep, rocky side of the forest leading down to the water and pushed my way through the tree branches whipping at my face and legs as I virtually dived head first onto the beach below.
Landing on my stomach I got to my feet, forgetting my exhaustion from the heat and took of down the beach to the next group of rocks. Looking back as I stopped there was only the sound of the water lapping at the pebbles by my feet and a small airplane flying overhead. The bear had not made it out of the forest.
What had upset this bear is something I don’t know. I didn’t see any bear cubs nearby. Perhaps it was just the unexpected encounter with me that shocked the bear and provoked a defensive reaction. What ever it was, I was sticking to the open shoreline.
Reaching an especially large group of rocks I noticed the remains of a campfire tucked into the hillside on the edge of the beach. Knowing that some sort of access route was nearby I climbed up onto the rocks to see a Sports Utility Vehicle parked further up the next beach. This was a joyful sight.
A road led up into the forest to the memorial, which I could see almost as soon as I reached the SUV. Looking down onto a clearing in the forest where I stood was the statue of a US airman with 2 children by his side. This was the site of the 1985 US military plane crash carrying 248 soldiers and 8 crew returning home from the middle east for Christmas. The plane came down on the edge of the lake in dense forest killing all on board.
It was quite a moving sight to see in the beautiful outback of Newfoundland. Such a horrendous event that affected lives of people across the continent. Now in the peaceful surroundings of the forested hillside a single soldier stands with a young boy and girl in silent witness to the tragedy. Crosses marked out in the grass by pebbles from the beach were scattered across the site.
As I headed up the gravel road leading to the highway I knew the walk to Gander was about 5km. The highway was easy to walk along. Stepping off onto the side of the road as vehicles went past it was easier on the feet than the pebble beach.
Having finished my water hours earlier I was beginning to feel dehydrated. The road off the highway to Gander was finally in sight and as I headed up over the last hill into the town I was never happier in my life to see in the distance the unmistakable golden arches of a McDonalds restaurant. Water!
The high school aged guy behind the counter finally got around to serving me from chatting with a girl sorting out the fries and I hurriedly ordered a large drink and milkshake. Downing them both quickly as I sat in the restaurant I rested.
Walking back to the bed and breakfast I slumped onto my bed. A knock at my room door followed. It was the teenage granddaughter of the owner. She asked me to join in a card game with her and her boyfriend, which I accepted.
After an hour or so I decided I should head back to the airport to catch the bus to St. John’s. I had arranged a lift back from the owner who was nowhere to be found. His daughter said she would phone around and ask someone else in her family to give me a drive over.
Once again, the hospitality and friendliness of the people of Newfoundland shone through. I couldn’t think of anywhere else where people were so kind going out of their way to help a relative stranger.
Arriving at the airport just in time to for the bus I handed the driver my luggage to be stowed below. Just as I was about to board the bus, to my amazement, the drunk guy from the day before was getting on the bus going to St. John’s. How did he get here again? He must have taken the bus to St. John’s then taken the only bus heading back this way 10 hours later, early the next morning to meet the bus we were both now going to board. This made no sense to me and was more than a little odd. I let him find his seat first and I sat half way up the bus in the only available seat.
The bus, through similar terrain to the day before, lead east into the Avalon Peninsula. This is the most populated area of the province and home to the provincial capital. The sun set in a unique array of colours and cloud shapes. The thick fog was lifting an added to the effect. A sunset I will never forget and will be tough to beat.
Realising I had not gotten off at the stop nearest to downtown St. John’s I left the bus at the International Airport to the north of the city. It was nearly 10pm and only one taxi was about. The driverless vehicle was parked in front of the revolving doors to the terminal. I entered the almost empty building. Just as I set my bags down a middle-aged, balding man host to a large beer belly appeared from the washrooms. Asking if I needed a cab I followed him to the taxi at the front door.
I agreed to the $18 flat fee to the bed and breakfast I had booked for the next few nights. The taxi driver became increasingly talkative as we approached the downtown area. Learning this was my first visit to the city he said he would drive me around the city and show me what is where. “All included in the fare” he kept reminding me. I was in no position to refuse, not that I would want to.
We drove around for about 20 minutes longer than the direct route before arriving at the ‘Oh What a View’ bed and breakfast. This tacky named place was definitely not tacky when I walked in to a greeting by the owners, Patsy and Harold and 3 other guests who were sitting chatting loudly in the living room. From the window I could see the lights of the St. John’s harbour and all across the city. The residence couldn’t be more appropriately named.
Heading out quickly to find something to eat I walked down George Street. Home to over 100 bars and clubs, the street was closed off on this Saturday night to vehicles and was beginning to fill with hundreds of people out for a good time.
In the city where restaurants become pubs and pubs become clubs, finding a drink this time of night was far easier than finding a bite to eat. Resorting to Tim Hortons, even this was closed by the time I reached it. Heading back to the bed and breakfast I found a small Italian restaurant with a nice selection on the fairly priced menu.
I had a great meal and quickly headed back up the hill to my bed.
— End of diary —