Taking the slow road back home

We’ve been on the road for over 100 days and 21,000 kms, and now…it is coming to an end. What an amazing trip it has been – sketchy motels, rained-out campgrounds, run-over skunks, less-than-healthy road food and all. Every single day has been an adventure and travelling through Canada has often felt like being in a foreign country. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

Our first stop heading west from Quebec City was Ottawa – to visit our friends Jon and Linda. We met them years ago on Gabriola – at Linda’s summer home. They split their time between homes on Gabriola, Ottawa and Jon’s cottage in the Gatineau Hills. We have now visited them in all three places. It was a gorgeous drive out to the Gatineaus from Ottawa – another area of Quebec we want to return to.

Jon’s newly-acquired raft – exciting playtoy for the grandkids and Stephen. It didn’t stay this calm for long.  In true terrorize-the-kids fashion, Stephen swam up behind the raft to grab little toes – lots of screaming and shrieking ensued.

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Cottage memories in the making.

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Back in Ottawa, we did the obligatory pose beside the poker-faced guards. I asked one of the RCMP officers about the guards – they change every hour ( challenging to stand for longer than that in those hot, heavy uniforms), and no, I would not be able to make them laugh unless I was a family member – their training runs pretty deep.

Below: Stephen, Jon, Linda and me.

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We were only in Ottawa for a day, and like so many other places, we will have to return for a longer period of time and really explore the sights, especially their fantastic museums.

Jon and Linda took us to see the MosaïCanada 150/Gatineau 2017, presented by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montreal, and built in a park in Gatineau in honour of Canada 150. At first, I was lukewarm about the idea (“some structures made out of flowers and plants”), but this exhibition blew us away. We walked through an old train station (made of plants) to see this:

Canada’s first CPR locomotive to bring travellers right across Canada, #374.

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This exhibition was constructed in Parc Jacques Cartier in Gatineau, and is open until October 15 – entirely free! There are 33 works of art, covering the 10 provinces and three territories, as well as some memorable Canadian moments, like the big goal in 1972.

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Before the exhibition, Parc Jacques-Cartier was simply the usual city park – grass, trees, shrubs and pathways. It is so completely transformed that it’s hard to imagine it hasn’t always looked like this. The work of over 100 horticulturists, including some from Beijing and Shanghai, used 3 million plants (80 different varieties of hardy, seasonally-changing flowers) for their creations.

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The plants were effectively used to create not only the figures, but landscape and sea.

This may be familiar to many Canadians – the sculpture of a killer whale done by Bill Reid in front of the Vancouver Aquarium, called Chief of the Undersea World. Not a bad replica.

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Or this – the image by artist Nathalie Bertin, used on The Royal Canadian Mint’s $10 silver coin. A lone wolf howls against a backdrop of northern lights.

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The puffins, cute as ever, with a mouthful of capelin.

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I loved the effect achieved  on the muskoxen, how the shaggy grasses match their real-life shaggy coats.

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And these extraordinary sculptures, by well-known U.K. artist Heather Jansch are known as “ecological art” – made of driftwood. Jansch carefully selects branches that do not require cutting or altering to fashion her creations – many of them take over 6 months of finish.
The mare Odyssey and her colt Hope.

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Our trip west from Ottawa involved two more visits with friends. We spent a couple of days again with Kris and Gord at their cottage at Farren Lake and this time the weather cooperated. We had beautiful swims, long walks and a trip to nearby Westport, one of the scenic small towns on the Rideau Canal system.

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Our final night on the road was spent in Toronto with Lorne and Anne – a relaxing dinner and gab and possibly a bit too much wine.

Now we’re in Fergus, staying with my parents for a few days until Stephen leaves for a quick overnight in London with his dad and family and then his westward trip begins. He’s driving through the U.S. – the land of cheap gas, well-designed highway rest stops and a whole different landscape to enjoy.

It will be another adventure to look forward to – solo driver, no  ongoing commentary and editorializing to keep him company, and an iPad full of tunes and audio-books.

I’ll be with my folks until September 12th and then fly back to Nanaimo, where we’ll be based until the new year. We’re looking forward to a couple of housesits to get our feet back on the ground and our animal fixes in, and are grateful to be in our old stomping grounds to re-connect with our friends there.

Our plans are to travel through India and Sri Lanka for a few months, beginning in January and we will resume our blog postings then.

Our heartfelt thanks for following along and helping to keep us connected to you all. It has made all the difference to know you’re there.

We may post occasionally before January, as we gather our thoughts about what it means to have no home and how we plan to go forward over the next few years. We’ll share our decision-making strategies, our (rough) financial plan on how we’ve made it all work and lessons from the road.

A final iconic image from our Canada 150 trip.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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The view heading back is equally striking.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.