Life is sweet on The Rock

So we’re finally here – in Newfinlan, affectionately known as The Rock. It takes exactly five minutes to figure out why – this island is built to last. After we landed in Port au Basques, our first destination was Gros Morne National Park – about a four-hour drive up the western coast. There is a fair bit of road construction going on and I imagine the going is a little slower than other parts of the country. Now these are rocks – we drove for about 50 km. beside these massive boulders, and watched two-storey drills trying to break them up.

We’re camping about 6 km. from Rocky Harbour, one of the Park’s main little towns.


Rocky Harbour offers all the staples one might need – ice, basic groceries, liquor and fudge. A number of “home-cooking” restaurants feature notable Newfoundland specials such as moose burgers and stew, toutons (deep-fried bread), and cod au gratin (pronounced gratten).  Newfoundland is not noted for its delicate or innovative food – this is a cuisine based on what is available – anything that can be fished, hunted or grown. It is basic scoff served with walloping sides of hospitality.

Rocky Harbour also caters to the souvenir-hunters:


Our campground is very well-equipped, with spotless showers and washrooms, laundry and a shelter with big wood stoves and twin sinks for washing dishes. We appreciated the shelter the first day, as it poured rain for most of the morning.

There is no wifi at the campground  and I’m writing this from the Visitor’s Centre, which is a bit spotty. Wifi is an issue on this coast and will get worse the further north we go. My next couple of blog postings may reflect that with fewer photos and less narrative.

Gros Morne Park cannot possibly be “done” in just four days, but as an advertising blurb goes, “we’ll just have to come back.” It is a staggeringly beautiful area – I felt a little choked up on our hike yesterday; it is a privilege to be here.

Gros Morne was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique geological features, and while there are a number of museums and local festivals, most tourists are here for the great outdoors.

There are over 30 trails, ranging in length from 1-16 km. as well as a multi-day backcountry hike. We managed to fit in five of them.

Green Point was a remarkable site. We were lucky to run into tourists from Virginia who could explain the rock formation in layman’s terms. Basically, the earth tilted and went sideways (millions of years ago), and shoved up the many layers of rock into the air. This was once the bottom of an ocean, and is the world geological benchmark for the start of the Ordovician period. (and no, I have no idea what that means).

The simple act of driving in the Park is a delight – there are no bad views. Motorcyclists are in heaven – they are nimble enough to dodge potholes and often have the road to themselves. We spoke to a man from Scotland yesterday – he was taking three months to  ride his bike from Nfld. to Vancouver Island.

The skies are pure drama. We’ve been lucky with the weather in our four days – three out of four have been clear. Weather forecasts are almost pointless – you know what weather you’re getting when it arrives. Clouds like this are a good indication that it’s time to pull out your raincoat.


If it is picturesque fishing shack photos you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. They are abandoned…

…and in full use.
We went to Norris Point on our first morning here, in search of an indoor activity, since it was pouring rain. The Bonne Bay Marine Station was a hit; a young biologist took a group of us around the tanks to see blue lobsters, explain how crabs regenerate missing claws, and showed us tiny jellyfish (that grow to 100 feet in the ocean). As we left the building, the rain was just letting up.

Norris Point is one of a number of towns with this designation. I like it – it matches perfectly the appearance of most towns – not fussy, not overdone, just…tidy.


We took a hike out to Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse. It is so quintessentially East Coast, it looks Photoshopped.

It is the original light keeper’s home and has been redone to demonstrate the heritage of the place – right down to the (new) wood stove from Elmira, Ontario! One of the park staff brought out an ugly stick and encouraged one of the spectators to hold the songbook so she could sing and play. A stout stick has dozens of beer caps attached, with a rubber boot on the bottom and a Carnation milk tin on top – the player bangs a stick on this contraption and sings, and bingo – a kitchen party.


We headed south to hike the area around Woody Point – about an hour’s drive away. By the time we got there, the skies had closed in and the winds were picking up, so our plan to hike the 9-km. Green Gardens trail was cut a little short – we did a total of 6 km. – didn’t quite make it down to the beach, but it was still a fantastic hike. In many places, the trail was very steep and muddy, so it was our most challenging hike.

The highlight for us was the Western Brook Pond hike and boat ride. Western Brook Pond is a freshwater lake with billion-year-old  650-ft. cliffs. , accessible only by a 3-km. hike in, on lovely soft paths and boardwalks. On either side of the boardwalk is peat – five meters deep.

The boat has 99 passengers, but only room for 45 on the upper level, so we lined up in order to make a rush for the stairs. We had a perfect view, and for two hours listened to our guides talk about various points of interest. It was a mesmerizing experience.

The guides were fantastic – on the way back one of them pulled out a guitar and got the crowd singing and clapping. One woman leaped to her feet and danced a jig for the entire length of “Eye’s the Bye” . Someone called out and wondered where all the moose were, and the quick-witted response, ” If you’re not a Newfoundlander, they’re not interested in you.”

So that explains it. We’ve had eyes peeled since we arrived, but have seen nothing more exciting than a chipmunk.

Our last hike today was a lovely coastal stroll for 6 km. – first through a forest canopy.

All too short  a time here, unfortunately. I suspect that will be the case wherever we go. We pack up camp tomorrow (in the rain – it is raining right now) – to make our way north to St. Anthony’s. We’ll check out the Vikings, and hope for whales and iceberg sightings.

See you again soon, wifi permitting.

On the road to Frenchy’s

Even if secondhand shopping is not your thing, a trip to Frenchy’s is a must-do.  This uniquely Nova Scotian ode to bargain shopping has spawned bus tours and inspired a book. Founded in 1972, the chain has a dozen or so stores that dot the province. Goods, both new and secondhand, are brought in by bale from the U.S. – many of them high-quality apparel and some of them with the original tags still attached.  New clothing that was once priced at $50 and $150 can be found for just $5 or $10. I shopped here regularly, with great success.

When we left Nova Scotia in 2005, this was one of the many things I knew I would sorely miss. When we parked outside this Frenchy’s in Digby, I was so excited I practically ran from the car to the front door.

Clothing, shoes and household goods are set out in bins; fresh merchandise is added hourly. There is a certain protocol in place – pick a spot in front of your desired bin and start digging and piling. Don’t throw your discards on someone else pile. Toss your desired item in your basket and move on to the next bin.

We came away with two pairs of pants and a top for me and a brand-new jacket for Stephen – all for $20.
We were on the “Valley” tour and by now it was lunchtime, so we headed into town for a big bowl of fresh chowder – lobster, haddock, mussels and the famous Digby scallops. Accompanied with a homemade white bun and lots of butter.

The waterfront in Digby is both pretty and workmanlike – this is very much a fishing town.

The town is compact and well-laid out – two or three streets climb back from the harbour – filled with an interesting mix of clapboard, saltbox and Victorian homes and buildings.

The Annapolis Valley runs along the Bay of Fundy coast and is Nova Scotia’s breadbasket. The land is incredibly fertile, and sunnier and hotter than the rest of the province.  Nova Scotia’s tiny wine industry has grown immensely in the past several years to 43 wineries and most of them are located in the valley.

While parts of this region are prosperous, other areas are struggling due to lack of employment. We saw a number of abandoned homes like this one.

The town of Annapolis Royal is well-preserved and  historic and – Fort Anne is situated here.

We walked around the grounds, then strolled around through the town’s back streets. Although the homes are lovely and well-kept and the main streets are filled with charming cafes and specialty shops, Annapolis Royal is far enough away from big centres that the young people are forced to leave for work. This is a problem all throughout Nova Scotia – gorgeous small towns and rural areas that are suffering stagnating financially and are dependent upon tourism.

For the price of a luxury car, you could buy this home. Listed at $75,000.

Annapolis Royal is filled with handsome bed and breakfasts. This one even has a widow’s walk.

Saltbox homes are typical of Nova Scotia – with their steep roofs and sturdy shingles, they are built to withstand the wind and the weather.

The Bay of Fundy is most notable for having the highest tides in the world. There are many places to visit where the drama of these changing tides is easily visible and Hall’s Harbour is one of them. We arrived at 4:30 pm, about one hour after the lowest tide. The boats were still lying on the ocean bottom, just waiting for the tide to bring them back up 12 feet off the ground.

We sat out on the end of the pier and watched the water begin to move in. There was a spit of sand that disappeared in about 10 minutes.

Our final stop of the day was Wolfville. Enroute we passed by miles of fields of corn, apple trees and grapevines.

Wolfville is a tiny perfect town. Situated on the bay, surrounded by fertile farmland, in spitting distance of dozens of wineries and breweries, and possessing several very good restaurants and charming shops, it is also home to street after street of absolutely fabulous homes. The crown jewel of the town is the picturesque Acadia University, which also supports excellent sports facilities, a theatre festival and a number of other university-related activities. Like the tides, the town population swells in the winter and drops in the summer.

We ate dinner at The Naked Crepe, one of the many attractive and delicious restaurants in town.

I loved this sign in one of the shops – typical of the rather wry honesty you will find down here.

Just past Wolfville on our way back to Halifax, we drove through Grand Pre – home to one of the province’s  first wineries and also home to one of the first fair trade coffee roasteries in Nova Scotia. Just Us (justice) Coffee was around when we lived here and it has grown and expanded a great deal. They have a finely-tuned social conscience as well as very good coffee.

And with that – our time in Nova Scotia is sadly over. We will miss this place and our friends here very much.

Halifax is the next big thing

According to a recent article, Halifax is going through a bit of a boom and it has a lot more to do with its desirable lifestyle than with the proliferation of (building) cranes on the waterfront. As major Canadian cities become increasingly unaffordable and unliveable, this is a city that knows how to look ahead to the future without sacrificing its heritage and way of life.


Although we loved Nova Scotia, we left after five years for a number of reasons. We could not see a future for our boys here and we could not shake the feeling of being CFA’s (come from aways). I remember my heart breaking a little when a lovely new neighbour told me we couldn’t be friends because “I don’t have time for any more friends.” It wasn’t a brush-off – it was her reality – extended family on both sides, combined with friends she and her husband had known since grade school left no time for new acquaintances. We did meet wonderful people and made friends, but since we were not surrounded by our own circle of multigenerational family with roots here, we often felt quite alone.

Twelve years later, much has changed. CFA’s are moving here  attracted by affordable houses, small-city charm, and a half-hour drive to the beach. And jobs…there is a steady demand in the construction trades and the tech sector is bringing in Ontario refugees. As the article said, “The spotlight is on Halifax.”

With good reason – this is the house we lived in – it would probably sell for around $400,000 right now.

The Regional District of Halifax is Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and surrounding suburbs. Halifax and Dartmouth square off across the harbour, and Dartmouth possesses the same leafy streets and gorgeous homes as Halifax for even less money. We’ve been staying with our friends Harriette and Mike, who live in a charming home right on Lake Banook. Stephen worked with Harriette at NSCC (Nova Scotia Community College) and we’ve remained friends ever since. They have been treating us to their very own brand of maritime hospitality, including a ride in their convertible, which is way more fun than our station wagon. Here, Mike striking a pose.

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We’ve been having a grand time discovering Dartmouth. On Canada Day, we walked a 3- km. pathway that skirts Lake Banook. Not sure how necessary the Moose Crossing signs are, but we kept our eyes peeled, just in case.

Lake Banook has a very active rowing club – this was taken on a misty Canada Day.   Right now it is bright and sunny and I am watching kids puddling around on little kayaks and leaping in and out of the water.

Further down the street – a veterinarian with a sense of humour.

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And beyond that a former school turned into loft apartments with a sense of style:

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The Dartmouth Saturday market on the waterfront was a delicious diversion.  Wineries, cideries and craft breweries are exploding in Nova Scotia, along with scores of new restaurants. With such a healthy marketplace, food entrepreneurs are testing the waters at their local markets, before going bigger.

Riverview Herbs has been around since 1988 – cheeky comments are free with all purchases.

The thing we enjoy most about the people here is their humour. Maritimers have humour in spades and if they’re not naturally funny themselves, they still love to laugh. If you can’t take a joke at your own expense, don’t come here, but you will be expected to give as good as you get.

We dropped by to see Cheryl, another dear friend of Stephen’s from the NSCC days. She and her husband visited us on Gabriola a few years ago after a cross-country motorbike ride and it was like no time had passed.

That’s been the case with the rest of our Halifax friends – the catch-up and connection has been immediate.

We stopped by for a delicious dinner with Deb, her sister Dianne and her niece Lauren. Deb is a chef instructor at NSCC – she and Stephen also worked together.

While we lived here, I went back to school and became fast friends with two young women, Teri and Jennifer. We have kept in touch over the years and met up at Jen’s place for dinner to meet for the first time in a decade. In that time, Teri met and married Jordan, and Jen and Glenn had two kids, Ava and Carson. It is so satisfying to meet up with friends years later and realize you like their partners and families as much as you like them.

Jen, me and Teri.

And finally – my friends Joan, Louise and Helen.  I had the opportunity to teach communications at NSCC and I had never been so terrified in my life.  These three women were my stalwarts – reassuring, sensible and funny. I don’t know if I would have survived without them. We met up for coffee and once again, the years peeled away. They are as dear as ever.

Louise, Helen, me and Joan

So now – on to Halifax. We did as many tourist-y things as possible. Ten days here is not even close to being enough time, but I’ll take you through a snapshot of our time in the city.

Bud the Spud – don’t miss this food truck. They have been in business for three decades, and are a Nova Scotia institution. Their french fries defy description.

Nova Scotia Duck Toller – cutest dog ever. We ran into this one on the waterfront –  her owners were besieged by admirers of 12-week-old Belka.

Pier 21 – the site where over one million new Canadians arrived by ship. A National Historic Site and  a must-see for any visitor. Staff is available to help trace your ancestors. Soon all immigration records will be housed here, regardless of point of entry.

The exhibits are touching – Ariella’s small suitcase of clothes on display with a pictorial account of her family’s arrival from Naples.

Many exhibits are wrenching reminders of what people left behind. This young woman, an ethnic Albanian, is saying goodbye to a family in a Macedonian refugee camp that she may never see again.

Most importantly Pier 21 informs us that, with the exception of First Nations people, we are all immigrants. All of us arrived here from somewhere else.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is another important stop.

The Halifax Explosion and the Titanic are prominent events in Halifax’s history and both are well displayed. Intricate models of Cunard ships as well as full-scale models of typical boats can be found here. The waters off Halifax’s coast are a diver’s delight – filled with hundreds of shipwrecks and treasures that still lay hidden beneath the waves. Every red dot indicates the site of a shipwreck.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has Maud Lewis’ tiny home and paintings on permanent display.  She was a beloved and well-known folk artist in Nova Scotia, who was extremely prolific in spite of her crippling arthritis and challenging life. 

Her home was moved from its site and reconstructed in the art gallery.

The artist posing with one of her paintings.

Part of the exhibition of Inuit art from Labrador.

Street art depicting a cross-section of Haligonians.

And…the Public Gardens.  Halifax is filled with green space, including the huge Point Pleasant Park, overlooking the ocean at the southern tip of the city. The Public Gardens are right in the centre of the city, providing Haligonians with an easy and instant nature fix. Surrounded by wrought iron fences, and encompassing four entire city blocks, the Public Gardens are one of my favourite Halifax destinations. It is a showpiece of specimen plantings, dozen of benches and seating areas and twisting pathways.

A pond filled with ducks and turtles.

And plenty of shady, quiet spots to read.


Our last image of Halifax is the iconic Citadel,which dominates the downtown sightlines.  It is well worth the climb up the hill for the visit and the view.

Our last Nova Scotia posting will be the Bay of Fundy coast, with stops in Wolfville, Halls Harbour, Annapolis Royal and Digby.


The Doer and Dreamer’s Guide to Nova Scotia

For a number of years before we moved to Halifax in 2000, we sent away for the NS Tourism annual guide, “The Doer and Dreamer’s Guide to Nova Scotia.” It was better than the Christmas catalogue, filled with activities, events, festivals and photos of lobster suppers, lighthouses and crashing ocean waves. It’s the crashing waves that got to us and changed forever the way we want to live.

We’re fascinated by the treacherous power of the North Atlantic, with its long history of shipwrecks, fishing disasters, hurricanes and rogue waves, to say nothing of epic tragedies like the Titanic and the Ocean Ranger.

Our ocean visits this year have been quite benign – even Peggy’s Cove was like a millpond the day we stopped by. I feel faintly sheepish being part of the throngs of tourists who invade this tiny fishing village on a daily basis. There are two huge parking lots and hundreds of people spill out from buses and cars and start clambering over the rocks. Millions of photos are taken. A gift shop engorged with fridge magnets and saltwater taffy can barely keep up with the demand.


And yet, we are all here for the same reason:

The setting is expansive and in spite of the crowds it is possible to find your own quiet moment here and savour the view. It is always a mesmerizing sight, but even more exciting if the wind is up and the waves roll in. There are archly-worded signs warning people to keep a safe distance.


The poor old lighthouse is in need of a fresh paint job and a little TLC. When the Harper government declared a number of lighthouses to be “surplus”, Peggy’s Cove was among them. An eleventh hour private buy-out saved the lighthouse, but it doesn’t seem right that such an iconic tourist attraction does not fall under some governmental jurisdiction to ensure enough funds are in place for regular maintenance.

There are countless ways to photograph Peggy’s Cove – everyone who has visited has variations of the following scenes:


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Just up the road is a memorial to the 229 people who lost their lives in the 1998 Swissair 111 plane crash, in the waters offshore from Peggy’s Cove. The crash location is roughly the mid-point between the arches. Just right of this photo is Bayswater, an area where a number of fishermen first responded to the rescue call.  There is a memorial there as well, with all the victims names engraved.  The locals and the families of the victims wanted the memorials to be exactly what they are:  simple, sombre and moving.


Peggy’s Cove is not all about the lighthouse. This road is perfect for a bike ride.


A familiar sight in Nova Scotia are the lupins –  roadsides painted in broad strokes of purple and mauve and pink. They can be found just about everywhere, but especially close to the sea.


Lawrencetown Beach was one of our favourites when we lived here. After a scenic 45-minute drive from Halifax along the eastern shore, this was the dramatic entrance:

The view heading back is equally striking.

You don’t come here to swim. The water at Lawrencetown Beach is unimaginably cold – there are no coves or bays to shelter from the wide open Atlantic. The “beach” is made of large flat rocks that are challenging to walk on without turning an ankle. And yet, this has become a major surfing destination.  The day we visited the surf was quiet, but that did not deter this young man; especially since he had the beach to himself.

Just waiting in the wings was another young man with a van full of wetsuits and boards; another week or two and his business will be brisk.


Closer to home, our encounters with the ocean have been our outings on Halifax Harbour. We are staying in Dartmouth with Mike and Harriette, so there are two choices to get over to Halifax: take the little 10-minute ferry across or drive over the bridge.  Either way, the views are fantastic.

The Halifax waterfront is a reflection of the city –   a mix of old and new, historic and under-renovation – one foot in the past and one in the present.

Walking along the boardwalk is a treat for the senses. Great people-watching, good food, a harbour full of marine traffic, and funny little moments.

This wave has been a kid-magnet for years – our boys climbed it when we first visited here. There is a sign that makes a limp effort to show some level of concern – it is soundly ignored.

Segways are a popular attraction – they make covering the length of the boardwalk a breeze, especially  now before the weather gets too hot and the summer crowds hit.

Of course, boats are the big attraction. This is a very busy working harbour, with coast guards, ferries, container ships and tugboats plying the waters. In addition, cruise ships, the Tall Ships, and international ships are frequent visitors.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in Halifax harbour a few days ago to great fanfare. It is one of the largest aircraft carriers in the US arsenal,  at over 333 metres long, with over 6000 men on board and the capacity to carry 60 aircraft on board.

Keeping it company were two massive cruise ships docked at Pier 20. The ship with the blue hull was quite luxurious: visible from the rear were two-storey staterooms.

Less luxurious and quite controversial was a Tall Ship, the 400-ft. Chilean Esmerelda, reportedly used as a floating prison and torture ship during Pinochet’s regime.

The marina at one end of the boardwalk is always a delight – tiny boats, big yachts, sailboats – fun to check out the flags to see who is in town.


Halifax used to dump their raw sewage right into the harbour; making a boardwalk stroll far less pleasant. Ten years later, the water is clear and clean; the transformation has been remarkable. This is water you can now paddle in, as demonstrated by this crew on their way to the launch.

If you look closely, you can see Theodore the Tugboat just over the top of the kayak.

And finally – Canada 150.

IMG_0034Like the rest of the country, Halifax was all dialled up and ready to go – concerts, fireworks, pancake breakfasts and parades planned and most of it washed out by steady downpours. The rain has subsided now, but I’m writing this to the beat of a steady fog horn.

We celebrated Canada Day by  going to the Dartmouth farmers market in the morning, walking around Lake Banook in the afternoon, stopping to listen to some blues (with about 12 other soggy souls), munching on a bag of Halifax’s famous and incomparable Bud the Spud french fries, then heading back to the dry cover of Harriet and Mike’s deck to listen to Canadian tunes. We led out with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah sung by k.d.lang. We tried to get a rousing discussion about all things Canadian but gave up as it felt a little too earnest. We were polite about it though. Harriette treated us to an exceptionally fresh and delicious haddock chowder for dinner.

A fantastic way to celebrate being Canadian, being with friends and having the freedom to do what we do.

Sailboats, lobster rolls and wild roses: Summer on the South Shore

We lived in Halifax for five years, and returning here after a 10-year absence was one of the most anticipated parts of our trip across Canada. Driving into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick demands that you pay attention. You are given advance warning, but you have just one chance. The road splits right and left; if you miss the turn, you are heading for Cape Breton. We turned right.

With great excitement, we drove into Dartmouth (across the harbour from Halifax) to stay with our friends Harriette and Mike. We are here for another eight days and there is much to tell about Halifax and our past and present.  But we’ll begin our Nova Scotia stories with a trip to one of our favourite parts of the province – the South Shore. In one day we visited Peggy’s Cove, Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg.

Note to first-time visitors – go much slower and see a lot more. But we’ve been here before and we’re trying to pack in as much as possible.  When we see cottages like this, memories of summers in Nova Scotia come flooding back.


This frequently-photographed home is right on the bend coming into Chester – a pretty and polished little town which looks very much like Cape Cod and for good reason. It was settled by colonists from Massachusetts in 1759 and is one of the South Shore’s primo sailing and yachting resorts. Just around the corner is the marina.

We used to call these roses “Gaspe roses” – but in fact they grow everywhere down east – tough, hardy and more fragrant than peonies.


Even in tony Chester, boys are still up to the same foolishness. It was deja vu all over again as we watched a younger version of our sons hitching a ride on his skateboard.

I would have to do a lot of research to identify the many maritime styles of houses. Architecture buffs will recognize the small porches, pitched roofs, elaborate mouldings, shake shingles and be able to differentiate specific styles. For me, houses are like wine. I don’t know much, but I know what I like.

Another Chester waterview home:

And this one:

We headed further south to Mahone Bay, next in the series of painterly seaside towns. Mahone Bay curves around a large crescent cove, and is famous for the “three churches” that line the shore – United, Lutheran and Anglican.

We visited Mahone Bay a lot when we lived in Halifax; our Toronto friends Don and Anne had a summer cottage here, high on a cliff overlooking the sea. The town has not changed much since our last visit; in fact that is true of most of the South Shore. Shops and restaurants change hands, but the beauty and heritage of this area has remained intact.

One of the newer restaurants in town is Oh My Cod! I had a pound of mussels that I could barely finish, served in a beautiful broth soaked up with grilled ciabatta.  “We got them from Pete”  – a local fisherman  who brings them in fresh every day. Stephen had fish and chips – a menu staple that can be the ultimate in food mediocrity. Oh no – a large serving of plump white haddock caught near Lunenburg, very lightly battered, served with a basket of thin, crisp hand-cut fries and a red cabbage slaw.

What we want to know is this – why is fresh, still-swimming fish and seafood considered basic food here (in availability and cost) when it is more of a luxury item out west?

IMG_0080 Next, a stroll around town for more house-gawking. This bed and breakfast is for sale…


My grandparents had a root cellar which was fascinating and a bit scary as a child – you would open the door and climb down a few steep steps into darkness. I always imagined the door would slam shut and I’d be trapped, never to be seen again. To this day, the root cellar door still feels a bit creepy to me.

A captain’s home, high on the hill, overlooking the ocean.

On down we went to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site which was founded in 1753 by German and Swiss settlers. They made their fortunes from timber and deep-sea fishing fleets and built a fantastically candy-coloured town on steep streets climbing up from the harbour.

Bluenose II was in town and we arrived just in time to watch her take off for a two-hour tour. Bluenose II is a replica of the famous original (immortalized on our 10 cent coin),who was the fastest vessel of her kind in the ’20s, until she sank off the coast of Haiti in 1946.

Bluenose II (built in the ’60s) is one of Nova Scotia’s iconic tourist attractions; based in Lunenburg, but frequently sailing throughout the summer to Halifax, Pictou and any of the Tall Ships events.


Lunenburg is still very much a fishing town – the busy harbour is filled with fishing vessels and trawlers.

The boardwalk along the harbour has mementoes of its seafaring days – old wooden fishing vessels and this – a 17-foot jawbone of a whale.


To walk around Lunenburg is to trip over history – ideally you should have a guide so as not to miss the many points of interest. The Lunenburg Academy used to be the area school – it is now a centre for a variety of businesses and is reputed to be haunted.


The Lennox Tavern was built in 1791, and had various incarnations as a temperance house and boarding house. Restored in 1991, it is the Canada’s oldest operating inn.


Across the street, two women were catching up on gossip across the fence; seemingly oblivious to the nosy hordes who peer in their windows and squint at the plaques by their front doors. What must it be like to be part of a living museum?

The joy of Lunenburg is its devotion to maintaining its priceless heritage. When St. John’s Anglican church burned down in 2001, it was painstakingly rebuilt four years later in all its Gothic splendour.


This private home is one of Lunenburg’s oldest buildings, still intact. The sign below is typical of signs adorning many of the homes and buildings. They identify the original owner by their name and trade and year of construction.


Streets are so full of beautiful homes that it becomes impossible to choose one – if you had to. We began the game of  “which house would you pick to live in”, and came up with a few. If we went back tomorrow, we would choose several more.

This would be perfect for me – big enough, but not too big. A pretty view and a small garden. I love the big homes in all their glory, but all I can think of is the maintenance – the endless scraping and painting and landscaping and required adherence to heritage details.

We wonder if these owners have thrown up their hands – they painted one side and then stopped. You can hardly blame them.

You’ve seen a few houses. Next post will be about the Atlantic and how it has shaped the people who live here – Laurencetown Beach, with its international surfing buzz, Peggy’s cove and the Swissair disaster.

You know you’re in Atlantic Canada when you see this…

…a sign in downtown Fredericton warning motorists against cutting across traffic to get to Timmy’s.


Or this, near Florenceville – home to one of the world’s largest frozen french fry producers.

Or this – a food truck unabashedly dedicated to potatoes, cheese, gravy, chocolate, bacon and Mars bars – most of it deep-fried.

We LOVE Atlantic Canada. If I refer to this area as “the Maritimes”, I am always politely corrected – we are in the Atlantic provinces (this area was the Maritimes prior to Newfoundland joining Canadian Confederation in 1949.)

We lived in Halifax for five years, leaving for the west coast in 2005. The last time we were both back for a visit was over 10 years ago. It feels long overdue.

People who have never been “down east” can sometimes overuse the word “quaint” to describe it – a word that is inaccurate and a bit condescending. Doilies are quaint. Atlantic Canada is just busting out with life. Still…they do have their picturesque barns.


And their covered bridges. This one, in Hartland, is the world’s longest covered bridge at 1,282 feet.


If you are currently renting a basement apartment in Vancouver or Toronto, or have managed to buy your first 450-square-foot condo, houses like this are the stuff dreams are made of – classic style with steep roofs, carved trim, shutters and welcoming front door. We have no idea what these homes are worth, but a quick glance through MLS shows similar homes for between $250,000 and $500,000.


Another example of Maritime style:


And another one:

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Fredericton frequently ranks in the “best-of” lists – prettiest, most livable, best place to retire, etc. It makes sense – it feels more like a large town than a small city – walkable, accessible, with several kilometres of walking and biking trails along the river, and filled with interesting shops, cafes, restaurants and brew-pubs. It has both history in abundance and a face-forward to the future. We visited the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which is currently under renovation for an expansion that will open in the fall. The grounds and sculpture garden set the tone.

The gallery carries important painters from other countries, but with a focus on Canadian artists for the 150.

I liked this ceramic of P.E.T, done in 1982. I think artist Joe Fafardi captured the elder Trudeau’s familiar F-U expression very well.

The Gallery showcases young artists who have been part of their youth program and the current exhibit was by Sebastian Kennickell, son of Drew Kennickell, artist and professor at UNB and New Brunswick College of Craft and Design
Sebastian is 12 years old, but already has a body of work.

There are numerous buildings of note – the Legislative Assembly, The Fredericton Playhouse, the Library, The Justice Building, etc. Most municipal buildings have the sombre and dignified air that one might expect of their station and era.

City Hall:

There are numerous significant places of worship – Christ Church Cathedral is one of the most striking.

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The downtown streets are filled with bookstores – we found at least three within two blocks – a rarity in this day and age.  Music also rules – Tony’s has been a mainstay on Queen Street since 1975.


We passed by a number of men who were panhandling. We usually drop a loony or two in the hat.  And then we saw this – “Kindness” meters placed around the downtown streets.

The sign asks us to make a change in someone’s life by dropping our coin in the meter instead,and donating to community services that help people in need. It’s a conflict – to walk past someone sitting on a sidewalk and drop a coin in a meter feels like a judgement on them and yet, we definitely get the intention.

We’re not sure the transfer of funds would work that neatly and  think we would still rather say hello to someone and put money in their hand.

Every Saturday, the Boyce Farmer’s market is in full throttle, so even though it was pouring rain, we could not resist heading there. The poor outside vendors – mainly plants and fresh produce – their tents offered scant refuge from the storm.  It didn’t stop the buyers – they were out in full force. We had fun watching this lady – she was mightily annoyed that the market manager hadn’t called it a day and let everyone go home. She was standing guard over her preserves and watching as the puddle in front of her stand turned into a lake.

Inside, we met up with several very interesting vendors. We talked to Debbie Pugh – she and her firefighter husband Bill have developed a terrific business called Out of the Ashes. They use decommissioned fire hoses and turn them into useful and decorative objects like bags, dog leashes, floor mats,firewood carriers and growler bags.

We were stopped in our tracks by the display of hand-woven bedspreads, throws, napkins and dish towels.  Tissage Magely Weaving is a second-generation family business – the queen bedspreads for the incredibly reasonable price of  $200, (either wool or cotton), were exquisite. If we had a home, we would have bought one on the spot.

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And last, but not least – The Royal Barbershop. Stephen and I arrived in Fredericton feeling a little road-weary and scruffy. I’ve discovered that one of the challenges of being “unhoused” is that I no longer have a hairdresser. My big thick hair is at the mercy of whomever I find along the way. Lately, I’ve been turning to barbershops (but only the “cool” ones), and it’s been working out well.

We walked by The Royal Barbershop by chance, and got scrubbed up real good. Ashley texturized the daylights out of my hair and did a fantastic job – a fresh modern cut emerged out of a mushroom cap. Stephen came out with a neat beard trim and hair cut.


Next stop – Halifax. I’ll try and send shorter, more frequent postings – so much to report in the next 10 days.


So long Ontario, bonjour Quebec et Nouveau Brunswick

Five bucks goes to the first person who can tell me what a duster is.

This ephemera is part of the Lorne Katz collection. Another five bucks goes to the person who knows who “Ed” is.

Ed is Ed Mirvish, the late, great one-of-a-kind businessman who built theatres, restaurants and Honest Ed’s –  a square-city-block emporium to bargain shopping. He helped put Toronto on the map back when it was still competing with Montreal. Shoppers lined up for his specials – such as the one shown – the $6.99 duster. When Honest Ed’s closed its doors last year, among the items for sale were thousands of these signs – each one hand-painted and many of them speaking to an era that is now gone forever.

You have to be at least my age to know this, but a duster is also known as a housedress – garments universally hideous and instantly identifiable by their gaudy florals, often embellished with ric-rac trim and a front zipper.  Long before the days of yoga pants or even sweatpants, women threw on their dusters to vacuum, scrub and…dust. My mother wore them. Another item of note – the use of the word “misses” was for women of average height and weight, while “ladies” indicated a curvier body. I haven’t seen the use of “misses”  or “ladies” for a very long time – “vanity sizing” has taken over.

Back to Lorne and Anne Katz – dear friends from our pre-children days in Toronto. We grew up together.  Eventually we moved west, but stayed close and now one of their sons, Jacob, has a child of his own. Their other son Aaron, just got married three weeks ago in Germany to Vanessa; they are living in Berlin and back in Canada for their honeymoon. We had a fabulous multi-course dinner with them when we stopped by for a night with Lorne and Anne – a lot of laughs, but another reminder of time just flying by.

I have little to report on Toronto – we’ve been in twice to see friends and I will likely be back again at least once in August. I love Toronto – even though housing prices are now rivalling Vancouver, it is still a city of neighbourhoods and nationalities and has retained enough grit and personality to keep it interesting.  Toronto would require a blog of its own, so my best advice if you haven’t been there yet, is …go! Discover it for yourself. I’ll talk about other things.

Like Farren Lake, in eastern Ontario.  Kris and Gord (whom we met two years ago in Mexico and who are partially unhoused) have the perfect solution. They sold their home in Windsor  and moved to their cottage on Farren Lake, where they live from mid-April to mid-October. The rest of the time they travel. Their lovely cottage, which they describe as “rustic” (it’s not – it is snug, beautifully furnished with unique finds and has a screened-in porch), is my happy place. Rock and floating dock, with pristine lake, loons and canoes. It is iconically “150” Canada – all they need is a Mountie and a jug of maple syrup.

There was a good wind and a chop on the water – the only one who braved a swim was Stephen. You will never see a photo with me jumping into cold water – that is a promise.

After a great gab and delicious dinner, we all settled down on the dock to watch the sunset.

Good-bye to Kris and Gord – a la prochaine.

The beautiful little town of Perth is just a half-hour away, so we stopped by for a visit. It is filled with stone buildings and weeping willows and reeks of history – a photographer or painter could spend hours here.

So could architecture buffs. This appears to be a private home (I saw no B and B or municipal signs). Typical of the fine details and stately proportions of many Perth homes, although on a larger scale.

The River Tay runs through town, with lots of shops and restaurants lining it, and the main street.

We passed by the statue of Big Ben, the champion show jumper from the ’80s, ridden to victory by equestrian Ian Millar, who owns a stable near Perth.

Their outstanding accomplishments are listed on a nearby plaque.

And with that, we left Ontario behind and drove straight into La Belle Province. My family is from the Gaspe coast and I was born in Montreal, but entering Quebec is like a foreign country. It always feels a little je ne sais quois, including my inability to make myself understood in my high school (plus one teenage summer immersion in St. Pierre) French. While in Quebec I feel somewhat ungainly and upon leaving, I resolve to buy only fabulous shoes.

Minor insecurities aside, being in Quebec is a buzz. The following photos are just a preview on our way to the Maritimes. We will spend much more time in Quebec on our way back in August.

We called in at the Fairmont Montebello hotel, located about 90 km. from Ottawa.  The world’s largest “log cabin” was built in 1930 in just three months, in the form of a six-point star, out of 10,000 hand-cut B.C. red cedar logs.


Set on the Outaouais River, used by the first voyageurs, Montebello is a destination for history buffs.

I spoke to the very friendly concierges, Jessica and Rosalie, posing here with the very shy hotel mascot, Bello.

We spent our night in Trois Rivieres, drove over the bridge at Quebec City and up the coast toward Riviere-de-Loup, taking the old highway as much as possible.

Some of the sights along the way:


Quebec has a tradition of wood carving – everything from lamps to furniture to toys. Must be the long, cold winters.

Habitant-style homes – dormers, stone or wood foundation and steep roofs to allow snow to slide right off.


Making our way into New Brunswick (Nouveau Brunswick – the other French province). Beautiful scenery on our way to Edmunston – a stop for many on their way to and from the Atlantic provinces.

We are staying at Motel Cleo – a combination hair salon, spa and themed-room motel (five rooms appropriately decorated – we are in La Chine; Paris and Rome were booked). Our first dinner in the Maritimes and fittingly, it was seafood – at La Pirate de Mer. Stephen had fresh haddock and chips, and I had a lobster roll – split toasted hot dog roll filled with big, fat chunks of lobster. More great food stories to follow.


The Beach, the Bard and Bieber

In the last few days, we have visited our old stomping grounds (Guelph), a teenage beach hangout (Wasaga Beach) and the hometown of Justin Bieber (Stratford). While that town is primarily and justifiably well-known for its world-famous Shakespeare Festival, it is possible to download a Bieber-iffic Map that will show you his school, skate park and favourite ice cream parlour. Just in case you’re interested…

Oh, and soon-to-be-retired Peter Mansbridge lives in Stratford and while there is no Peter-iffic map, he is a familiar face around town.  Apparently his home is “impressive.” Stratford is a town full of impressive homes – I wanted to take more photos, but everyone was out working on their gardens. This home is typical:


No, it is not celebrity sightings or nostalgia that have taken us to these places – once again we are catching up with old friends. This has been a full and meaningful week.

We lived in Guelph for 12 years while the boys were growing up. It is a vibrant mid-sized city about an hour north-west of Toronto; home to the University of Guelph,  a robust restaurant scene and a thriving music and arts scene. The city’s tree-lined streets are filled with beautiful and still relatively affordable homes.

We lived on a street close to the university. Neither Stephen nor I are handy (beyond being able to paint and hammer a few nails) and in a moment of self-delusion, we bought a derelict student rooming house and spent years renovating it.  It was a labour of love, made all the sweeter because we had such wonderful neighbours on our little street.  Our house has since changed hands a few times and no longer looks well-loved. I put hours into that front garden – it feels a bit sad to see it now.

Our friends Bob and Trish and their three kids, Fran, Rob and Peter lived down the street and the boys all played together. Seventeen years later, we were back on the street, sitting on their back deck and getting re-acquainted. We were so happy that it was possible for all of them to come together from their various homes to see us. The boys are busy with school – Rob taking his electrician’s apprenticeship, Peter going back for Teacher’s Ed in the fall, and Fran working on her PhD in Music Ethnology. Under the category of “great things one learns from young people”, we found out about “shape-note singing” – something Fran has been involved with for a while now with a group from Alabama. There are a number of YouTube videos or this rather dry Wikipedia explanation:

From left: Fran, Rob, Bob, Trish, Peter

Our time in Guelph was happy – young family, busy with work and friends and home. Driving around the city brings back floods of memories, since very little has changed. There are lots of new businesses and swank little shops and cafes, but the signposts of the city remain – including the Guelph Farmer’s Market. For five years, I had a baking business there – every Saturday morning I would bring my muffins, cinnamon rolls and cookies to my corner stand, and spend a few hours selling and chatting with friends.

My little stand was at the back right, just past the seating in the windows. There was a coffee stand beside me – a perfect draw for customers.


The next day we drove to Cambridge to visit Robert and Marilena. Cambridge is a small town west of Guelph, close to Kitchener-Waterloo. Southwestern Ontario is a series of  small towns and cities punctuated by great swaths of cornfields, dairy and beef herds and markets. This is also Mennonite country – the back roads are shared with Old Order Mennonites riding horse and buggy.

We met Robert and Marilena several years ago in Sayulita, Mexico. They are also friends with Piotr and Ela, our friends from Portland. We would all arrive in Sayulita around the same time – sometimes for 2 weeks, sometimes for longer. It was a time and a place – a lovely shared memory of a favourite destination in Mexico before it became touristy and overly developed. We have all agreed we are unlikely to return there, but we are grateful for the lasting friendships from that time.

We visited Robert and Marilena at their beautiful home in Cambridge – we know our paths will cross again before long.


Back to Stratford. Stratford is a gorgeous town, set on the Avon River. If it did not have the Stratford Festival and the Stratford Chef School, it would still be beautiful, but the tone was set 60 years ago when Sir Alec Guiness performed from a tent on the banks of the  Avon River and the Festival was born. As it developed in size and stature, the Stratford Chef School moved in, and innovative restaurants began popping up. High-end shops followed, along with luxe bed and breakfasts and boutique inns.  The Stratford Festival runs every year from April to November; set in several theatres and offering a good mix of modern and traditional theatre.  Theatre-goers come from all over North America (and beyond) to watch world-class performances. This is the main theatre:

It overlooks the Avon River, home to a famous bevy of swans. I had heard they were bad-tempered and snappish, but I did see one being hand-fed, so perhaps they’ve received the memo from the tourism bureau. I maintained my distance and admired from afar:

Stratford is also home to our friend Dorothy, who has lived here for many years. We all met when we were young, working in restaurants in Toronto. We have more than a few stories of mischief and foolishness before we were all forced to grow up. Amazingly, we have not seen each other since those restaurant days. And yes, of course we have changed, but our 20-something spirits prevail – a good thing, I think.

Dorothy was always brutally honest, witty, and super-smart. I call her Dorothy Parker. She still smokes, unapologetically. We are so happy to have her in our lives again.

And finally, to Wasaga Beach. Wasaga Beach was party central when we were teenagers – a scuzzy hangout for bad bikers and their girls. Tiny little cottages and chip trucks. Tiny little bikinis and the boys that followed them around. Naturally, we wanted to go there.

Sooner or later, everything gets gentrified, including down-and-dirty Wasaga. Forty years after our teenage-hood, my dear friend Nancy moved there. I have known Nancy since Grade 9, which makes her my oldest friend. We were friends, roommates, confidantes and co-conspirators. She is like a sister.

When Nancy told me she was moving to Wasaga, I was a bit aghast. However, she was not the only one with that idea – there are many Toronto transplants and recent retirees, as well as our mutual friend Lisa. The bikers are still here, but so is artisan beer. The little cottages are still here, but so are new resorts and golf course subdivisions. And who doesn’t love chip trucks?

The big attraction, then and now, is the beach. Part of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, it is 14 km. long – the largest freshwater beach in the world. It is divided into several distinct beach areas – with the party crowd cordoned off into a couple of packed and noisy sections and the rest left for strolling and bird-watching.

Both of those activities have been curtailed somewhat this year due to record high water levels in Ontario lakes. This beach used to go out at least 100 feet further.

We had a very pleasant chat with Braden, the park warden who was cruising the beach. Among his duties were making sure the flats of beer flying out of the liquor store on a Friday night would not interfere with everyone’s peaceful and lawful enjoyment of the beach.  He was fully kitted out in boots, flak jacket and baton, but my money would be on the crowds of drunken yahoos if they decided not to play nice. A residue of the old Wasaga still exists.

Braden and my friend Nancy.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Lucky me – I will spend it with my dear dad and my dear husband – two very caring, involved, supportive and loving fathers.

To everyone who is a dad, or who has a dad, or who will be remembering their dads – Happy Father’s Day.

Friends and Family, Inc.

We’ve aways been movers and we’re not sure why. It may be curiosity about the colour of the grass on the other side or we may be restless spirits, but after a few years in any place the call to hit the road becomes too strong to resist.

The downside is we have lifted ourselves out of a stable and secure community but the upside is we have a network of friends and family all across the country. We have a core group of friends and family we belong to and see on a regular basis. We also have old friends we see infrequently or lost contact with at some point, but the ability to easily reconnect is still there. The years just fall away. A big part of this road trip is not just seeing places we haven’t seen, but catching up with as many old friends as possible.

We’re staying with my parents in Fergus and using this as a base to visit everyone else. Fergus is about 90 km. northwest of Toronto; a pretty town filled with stone homes and big trees. When my parents retired here 30 years ago, Fergus was conservative and Protestant and they were CFA’s (Come-from-aways). Now, like many Ontario towns, subdivisions surround the picturesque core and are filled with residents fleeing Toronto in search of affordable housing. The growth hasn’t affected the feel of the town; I really like it here. And I love my parents’ home – many years of great memories.


When we moved to Toronto from Montreal in the ’60s, we rented a home in North Toronto for a couple of years. Our very first neighbour and friend in Toronto was Don – he lived right next door to us. When he married Anne, they split their time between Toronto and their Nova Scotia home and Stephen and I developed a close friendship with them during the years we lived in Halifax.

We dropped by for a visit – (from left: Mum, Don, Dad, Anne)


Not to be cranky about the fact that real estate prices have risen in 50+ years, but our stately old neighbourhood in North Toronto now embodies that aspirational, greedy ego-driven change. Just three doors down from Don and Anne is a black hole of “all-about-me” – a 3-years-and-counting project that has disrupted the neighbourhood and will dwarf and outstrip everything on the block.

We drove up the street a couple of blocks to see our home on Briar Hill Avenue – my coming-of-age home and neighbourhood. My parents bought this house for $27,000 in 1966 – a modest (by today’s standards) red brick home with a Toronto backyard, one bathroom and a shared driveway. We shared that driveway with our dear friends and neighbours – Penny, Mike and their boys Chris and Tim.  Penny – I look at that driveway and can still see you racing in or backing out – always on the run.

Our house is the one on the left.


Stephen grew up in Oakville, but half of his family has lived in London for years. We spent two lovely days there, re-connecting with them all.

From left: Ted (our brother-in-law), Stephen, his dad, our nephew Tyner, his girlfriend Sara, Stephen’s sister Lee Ann, Stephen’s stepmum Nicole.

We also spent time with Stephen’s sister Andress, her husband Mike and their two adorable children, Ben, 3 and Stella, 1. I took several photos of the kids but they were in perpetual motion, so all but this one was blurry.

Ben, barely restrained by his dad.

Mike and Andress, in front of their new home. Kids are in bed, the kitchen is clean and the visitors are leaving – that sweet spot in the day of tired young parents.

Off to St. Catharines for a whirlwind visit with three sets of friends.  Bey and Andy moved here from Gabriola three years ago; in part to be closer to family in Ontario. They traded an oceanfront home for a “pond”-front home – they now live right on Martindale Pond where they can watch the rowers practising and competing.

We walked from their home to Port Dalhousie for lunch. A view of the pond:

Bey and Andy

After lunch, we walked through Port Dalhousie (pronounced dal-oozy by the locals) and admired the older homes.  Here is one example of the many charming homes found in Ontario. More to come in the next post.

We headed to Font Hill, an area in southwestern Ontario close to the wine district, to visit  Paul and Sue, friends we have known since our pre-child days. We worked together in Banff – Paul was GM at Sunshine Village and Stephen was the food and beverage manager. By then Sue had two tiny kids and I was pregnant.  In the two years we lived there both our boys were born and we had a lifetime of stories to tell – anyone who has lived and worked at a resort will know what that means. Life has taken us in very different directions – it had been 15 years since we had last seen each other. We arrived mid-afternoon and stayed the night, catching up on our lives and reminiscing.  We were happy to be able to meet two of their adult children and their partners.

This is what happens in the blink of an eye – your friends’ children grow up. We remember these boys as little kids.

Their son Colin, his girlfriend Michelle, Paul, their daughter-in-law Jessica, (with second baby Emmett due to arrive in a month), Sue, their son Ross. Missing: baby Henry, down for a nap. Also missing – their daughter Robyn and her family – they live in Oakville.


Paul and Sue live on the property Paul grew up on – a bucolic paradise complete with two houses, a pool, tennis court and this: an old settler’s cabin Paul’s father had transported to the property.


Paul also pointed out a massive willow tree he planted over 50 years ago when he and the tree were both little saplings. The tree is now about 80 feet tall.

We talked as though no time had passed between us and left knowing we won’t wait another 15 years before we see them again.

Back to St. Catharines to visit another set of friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time – Vera and Frank. We knew them from our Guelph days and while we went east to Halifax and then west to Gabriola, they moved into Toronto for several years and then retired to St Catharines a year and a half ago.

Another wonderful visit and catch-up, and a promise to keep in regular contact.

We have many more friends and familiar haunts to visit in Ontario, both now and when we come back this way in late August.

I’m finding it a strange experience to be a tourist in my old province. Everything seems familiar – even places I haven’t been before – they have the “Ontario” look and feel. When we were driving south from Manitoulin Island, I experienced that moment of regret one feels when the holiday is over – similar to when we and the boys were coming back so many years ago.  The next instant I realized that we were not coming home from camping with our boys, we were on a different trip, many years later and our holiday would continue. A parallel reality follows me through Ontario – little pops of deja vu.

Next posting I’ll have photos of the architecture that is so distinctive in this province, and one of the things I miss.  This sight could be found in most of Canada, but it says, “Ontario” to us.


North of Superior: heroes, home cooking and flying geese

If you are driving east from Manitoba, you’ll know immediately when you have entered Ontario. The ground rules for travel in this province are laid down tout de suite ( in both official languages).  Signs for every misdemeanour from drinking and driving, distracted driving, speeding in construction zones, speeding (and the fines and demerit points assigned) are posted within 10 minutes of crossing the border. These are followed by entreaties to “take a break – fatigue kills”, which makes sense since the stretch of highway from Thunder Bay east across Lake Superior while stunningly scenic,  is notoriously long. One’s boredom is mitigated by magnificent scenery and hopeful glimpses of animals, prompted by frequent postings of “night danger”. We did see two moose and one bear, but all three times were unable to pull over safely as we had cars right behind us.

We spent one night in Thunder Bay, with plans to hike in Sleeping Giant Park the next day, but the weather gods were still uncooperative, so we switched to Plan B and headed to Wawa. We stopped just east of town to see the Terry Fox Memorial that is situated high on a hill overlooking Lake Superior.  Thunder Bay and Terry Fox will forever be connected, as it is very close to this location that Terry was forced to stop his cross-Canada run for cancer.  It is impossible to imagine the character and strength of this young man, who ran a marathon a day for 143 days under the conditions he did. Not for one moment to compare myself to Terry Fox, but it doesn’t take much to realize I have a long way to go when a 10-km. hike can bring on the whining.

A beautiful setting and appropriate memorial for a true hero.


About an hour east,  we pulled off the highway to check out the Ouimet Canyon.  It is a massive gorge, 150 metres across and 100 metres deep – with a unique ecosystem at the bottom that supports arctic plants normally found just 1000 km. north. We had to take their word for it, because looking over the side bought on intense vertigo and besides – 100 m. is too far down to see much of anything. A 2-km. boardwalk led to the lookouts, which are well buttressed.

The view looking back into the canyon.


On the way back to the car, we passed by a massive deposit of moose poop (I Google’d later), which was a thrilling reminder of how close we might have been to an up-close sighting.

You’ve all either seen or heard about the famous goose at Wawa. It commemorates the final link of the Trans-Canada Highway to Sault Ste. Marie and Western Canada. Since the new highway bypassed and ultimately threatened the livelihood of downtown businesses, the giant goose was erected to attract drivers and direct traffic into town.

In recent years, the poor goose has deteriorated – as you can see from the photo, the body is pretty rusty. A brand-new goose has been built and will be unveiled on Canada Day, but we bring you a final glimpse of one of the most photographed monuments in Canada.


The miles rolled by and so did the vistas – forests, water and Canadian Shield.

And construction. Always construction – but we never waited for very long.

We stopped at Timmy’s for a quick break and met two enterprising German girls who had bought this car in Vancouver (already outfitted with platform), and were spending a couple of months travelling across the country. They were cooking up a lunch of pasta and sauce right in the parking lot. And yes, it was as cold as it looks.

Finally, we reached Manitoulin Island – the largest freshwater island in the world and a place with a very special place in our hearts. We went there for two or three summers when our boys were young.  It was perfect for little kids – rustic and easy and they were still at an age when going for ice cream was a big treat. We rented a cabin and we ate hot dogs, built campfires, swam in the lake and picked leeches off our legs. We were keen to see how the island survived our rosy memories.

Almost symbolically, we left our stormy weather behind as we drove onto the island.


Still quite chilly for camping, so we rented a trailer at South Bay Resort – an intro to trailer living for us… and we are sold. Cozy, comfy with a bathroom, tiny kitchen and protection from the elements, but the outdoors is right there – fire pit, picnic table and view of the lake.

The resort is set on a large lake, with swimming, boating, fishing, all available, and a good mix of tents, cabins and trailers. Many people (the seasonal) leave their trailers here year-round for the very reasonable fee of $1400 a year. This becomes their summer home, and many of the guests here are French from Sudbury (including the young owners) – we are surrounded by great humour and joie de vivre.

The path to the main lodge
We wanted to check out Bass Creek Resort ( the place we visited with the kids) and had a bit of difficulty finding it at first, as there are no signs on the road. Finally, we turned into the familiar old driveway, only to find it all locked up. The owners we knew had sold it after 60 years (it is over 100 years old), and the new owners had a sign up saying they would not be open until July. So, we decided to trespass (with good intentions), and see how it measured up to our memories. It looked pretty rough, but it hasn’t had a winter cleanup and spruce up for the season yet. Still…what was rustic 25 years ago appears not to have changed a bit. The dock looked rotten, and the cabins looked saggy, but I saw little ghosts…
Manitoulin is filled with small resorts like this – tired old cabins with mismatched tables and chairs and perhaps the odd mouse or two. I’m sure there are luxurious resorts on the island, but the island is a no-frills place and that is exactly why we love it.  Our host at South Bay confessed it was hard going to keep their resort in the black, but after seven years, they’ve turned a corner.

Not the same can be said for every business. We drove by many buildings that looked just like this one. A lady walking by told us this business has been closed for years – the sign still remains to re-direct potential business.

Manitoulin is filled with prosperous, thriving farms and enough herds of beef cattle to merit having their own abattoir.

But there are plenty of old farmhouses just like this one – left to the elements after years of sitting empty – no-one willing to take on such a risky venture.

Manitoulin Island has so much to offer,  including incredibly, a lack of bugs – almost no mosquitoes, no black flies. This may be due in part to being surrounded by water and a steady light breeze, but that would be enough to lure me here for an Ontario summer.
There are fantastic hiking trails, including the famous Cup and Saucer trail (closed while improvements to the trails are being made), but we did check out Bridal Veil Falls.

Apparently that pool is a popular swimming spot in the summer, but we just followed the 2-km.trail along by the creek.

IMG_0064And then we came upon a sign that took me back to my Girl Guide days – “leaves of three, let it be”. I know poison ivy exists out west, but for some reason it reminds me of Ontario.

Our trail ended here – where the creek spills out to the North Channel.

Much of Manitoulin is First Nations land, including parts like Wikwemikong that are unceded, as their chiefs refused to accept the treaties being offered at the time. The island is policed by both O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) and a native police force. Without any insider knowledge, the two cultures appear to co-exist without too much trouble.  Summertime is non-stop with crossover events such as festivals, fairs, marathons, pow wows, fishing derbies, etc.

Manitoulin specializes in “summer food” – barbecued meats, ice cream, shortcake, and fried foods. While there are any number of spots to indulge, locals and tourists come from all over the island to Mum’s in Mindemoya. They serve killer breakfasts and dinner-plate sandwiches, but they bring in the crowds for their baking, in particular for their cinnamon rolls – about 5″ x 5″ of sticky deliciousness. They are on the counter at 11:00 am, and in the summer, they are gone by 11:30.  We decided to split one. “Do you want butter with that?” (which apparently is considered a legitimate question).


“Home cooking” is the way of the road here and sugar, fat and salt are restaurant mainstays – a cardiologist’s nightmare.  We popped down the road to Carol and Earl’s for a perch dinner, which began with a generous salad (or soup), followed by: a dinner plate piled with hand-cut fries, and topped with five pieces of battered perch and a cup of creamy coleslaw. Earl looked a bit crestfallen that we weren’t having pie.

Stephen couldn’t leave without at least diving in the water. It was 15 degrees out and I was wearing a hoodie, watching from the sidelines. Clark Bay swimmers – we’re throwing down the gauntlet!