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Crossing Canada Day #18: A Tale of Two Provinces

We continue our Chronicles of Crossing Canada. Welcome back!

We woke up in Tony and Roxanne’s driveway. It was the first time we had slept in Pembroke in over five years.

The Middle of Canada, Saskatchewan by Jaime Lee Lightle (2022)

Jim writing…

We woke up in Tony and Roxanne’s driveway. It was the first time we had slept in Pembroke in over five years. Be it in our truck camper it was nice to have the Ottawa valley surrounding us. We had dessert for breakfast, some tarts to get the body going. As we were saying our goodbyes something hit me with the force of a stone in the back of my head. Tony was behind me, and I thought he chucked a stone at me. But when I took my hat off it had a fresh bird shit on it. This made me laugh but I was trying to find the bird. I looked up into the sky and there was Red Tailed Hawk up about two hundred feet. Pretty good accuracy from the bird. It is supposed to be good luck. I hope it is a sign that the rest of the Journey will be flawless travel.

We said our goodbyes after a good chuckle about the Hawk. Our next stop was going to be on the mighty MADAWASKA River. I am going to see a military brother of mine, Bryan. He was a great soldier and always made us laugh with his sense of humour. He was over in Afghanistan the same time as me. His vehicle’s call sign was nicknamed Prom Night because they always saw action. He now lives on a beautiful river front place on the Madawaska. We took the back roads to get there, I drove most of these roads while exploring the Ottawa valley in my past. We made it there and he just arrived from his girlfriend’s house.

He looked healthy and had a smile on his face. I gave him a hug “because brothers don’t shake hands. Brothers gotta hug” (Chris Farley said this in the movie Tommy Boy). It is a truth though. He showed us his new garage and his place was looking great. He asked if we wanted to go for a boat ride and so we took a ride on his pontoon boat up the mighty Madawaska. Jaime sat in the front and enjoyed the views. We had conversations about things that had been bothering us. The hardest thing for people to understand about injured vets is that we look young, and we look able bodied. The main issue is when you go to war you never come back the same. How can I relate to any average civilian? Example: how many civilians have seen a child with a hole in the top of his head the size of a softball from shrapnel? Not very many that is for sure. It is hard to relate to my civilian friends, but I can talk about this with my veteran friends. My therapist said it best: you have seen a lifetime of carnage in just a short amount of time. It takes the brain time to heal from these types of scars. This trip is a part of my healing process. Furthermore, I wanted to know if the people of Canada cared about their God given freedoms that my friends died to protect.

The mighty Madawaska River, Ontario. Photo credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

Bryan took us for a great boat ride all the way down to the Burnstown bridge. We enjoyed a snack on the boat while we floated along. We talked about how we will be staying at Jaime’s aunt’s place for the night. He suggested taking the Quyon Ferry so we got back to shore at a reasonable time. I said my goodbyes to Bryan. I know he will do fine. He is stronger than he knows.

Off to Aylmer Quebec, Aunt Michelle’s house. We took the little Quyon ferry to get there. It was a great little ferry and took us across the Ottawa river. Now we are into Quebec. We arrived and had a great meal. Jaime’s Aunt reminds me of Jaime’s late mother Debbie, from her laugh to the way she gets excited. The last time we saw Michelle was at Debs celebration of life in March 2020. Covid lockdowns started two days after. We had great conversations outside on her lawn. We talked about everything going on right now. From Covid to the stripping of our basic Canadian freedoms. Great conversations had with her and her Neighbour.

The night was drawing in on us and it was getting to the time where we should go to bed. Perfect night, time to sleep. Tired of driving and looking forward to seeing our dogs.

Jaime writing...

The day started on the right foot after Jim received a hot load of Hawk pooh on the top of his hat. Jim thought Tony or someone threw a stone at his head, that’s how hard the Bird dung hit when it made contact with his hat. Before we left, we were fed coffee, tarts for breakfast and the previous evenings’ leftovers were thrown into the cooler.

The first destination of day that we had planned was a visit to Burnstown where Jim’s army buddy Bryan lived. We took a slow, leisurely drive through the backroads of Renfrew County to get to Bryan’s house on the Madawaska River. We passed many farms, and enjoyed the pure, simple beauty of this area.

Jim on the Pontoon. Photo credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

We got to Bryan’s before noon and the men embraced like long, lost brothers. He gave us a tour of his place and the new garage he had built. Men sure love their outbuildings; I suppose it’s because that’s where they store all their toys.

Bryan has a beautiful spot on the shore of the Madawaska. We grabbed some beverages and embarked on his pontoon boat for a tour of the river. It’s been a dog’s day since I’ve been on a river tour and the familiar smells of the pine trees and fresh water filled my nostrils. We saw lots of Muskoka chairs lining the shore properties and a pair of loons floating along.

Brian talked about how fortunate he felt to be living in this place. He had just moved here in 2019.

We got back to shore at around 3PM. We said our goodbyes to Bryan and hopped in the truck for our next leg of our trip to visit my aunt Michelle in Alymer Quebec. To get to la belle province, we had to take the Ferry in Quyon Ontario which is near Fitzroy Harbour. As kids our dad took us often to camp at Fitzroy Harbour Provincial Park. It’s been an eon since I’ve been to this area.

The drive to the Ferry was smooth and the Ferry ride short. On shore in Quebec, we had some bumpy roads. To keep the camper from rocking too much, I had to take it easy on the accelerator. The view of the Ottawa River Valley from the Quebec-side of Quyon was lovely.

By the time we got to Aunt Michelle’s condo complex it was 4 PM. She was so happy to see us, and the feeling was mutual. The last time we saw her was at my mom’s Celebration of Life in March 2020 – 2 days before Nova Scotia announced its state of emergency prompted by the Covid crisis. For me, it was a relief to be in the company of my mom’s eldest sister and someone we can speak freely about how the Covid crisis impacted us without worry of sounding controversial.

Before we sat down to a meal of organic everything, my aunt surprised me with a bag of my late grandmother’s jewellery. Apparently, it is a British tradition to leave the eldest granddaughter the matriarch’s jewellery (sorry Madison and Sydney). My aunt told me that my mother was adamant that I received my birthright: a silver necklace with crucifix, family ring, wedding band and some costume jewellery. A modest collection of treasures, not worth a fortune by any means.

Memorial Rink, Rouleau Sask by Jaime Lee Lightle (2022)

The meal was delicious, the conversation stimulating. So much so in fact, that Michelle had to close the windows in case we disturb her neighbours in the condo complex. After we put down all that great food, we went outside to enjoy the last hours of the day.

While under the late day sky, the three of us chatted quietly, mindful that we were no longer in the wilderness, but sharing our space with an urban community. Eventually, a friend of my aunt’s joined our circle of lawn chairs in the small grassy area in the back of the complex (our truck-house was parked just a few feet away in Michelle’s designated parking spot). This gentleman is a film director and came to Canada with his wife and kids from Germany before the Covid Crisis to be close to his mother who lives in the same Condo complex as by aunt. He had met my aunt in the designated smoking area outside the building during the lockdown. My aunt meets interesting people, and this fella was no exception.

We shared some of our stories about our trip and he shared his family’s experience during this Covid Crisis. He told us that prior to Canada’s border closures in 2020, he and his wife were thinking about moving to Africa. Instead, they stayed, and they were living with the consequences. Their children were enrolled in the public school system in Ontario, and they were having a pretty difficult time. Their kids were getting bullied at school for being vaccine-free. The messaging from the government leaders had trickled down to the teachers in the education system: “Unvaccinated people don’t care about others”; “unvaccinated people are selfish”. These poor kids are the collateral damage of this “war on health”.

As we sat under the stars, the red Liberal banners flutter on the poles lining the streets of Aylmer. The Federal Election is only days away. I tried to imagine what kind of legacy we are leaving for our children in this country.

As the sun retreated over the buildings and the mosquitoes moved in, the conversation moved indoors again. Eventually our fatigue got the better of us and at 11 PM, we said goodnight to Michelle. She went to bed, and we climbed the tailgate of the Truck-house in the parking space she let us use for the night.

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