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Crossing Canada Day #5: The Middle of Canada

We woke up to clear skies in Thunder Bay and packed up just after daybreak. Two deer greeted us at the park office as we left. We continue our Chronicles of Crossing Canada. Welcome back!

Renfrew County Horses (2021) Jaime Lee Lightle

Jaime Lee writing ~

Up through the remote, Northwest route of Ontario; the unknown border restrictions in Manitoba were several hours away. It was hard to get the fear to quiet. Will we be able to pass through Manitoba? As the kilometers of our Ontario leg of the trek wound down, we watched the “check your gauges signs” dot the trans-Canada as we entered no-man/woman’s- land. The CN rail track and the trans-Canada ran in parallel through the marshes, treed and open bog areas of this ecozone. There were rest stops dotting our route with toilettes, thank goodness! Every 50 km or so, we would hit a small community; their challenges apparent as signs of arson and poverty met our full attention. My fear abated and my heart lifted by the friendly welcoming attendant at a small gas station where I got my much-needed coffee. A highlight of this drive was reaching the continental divide sign; this is where the waters flow north rather than south.

Jim writing ~

The drive was a beautiful mix of trees, rivers, lakes, and stones. We passed a sign to Sioux Lookout. Yet another 2CER engineer I worked with was from here. I understand why some of the troops did not make it home for Christmas when you are posted so far away from home.

As we were coming up to the border lands, this was the only point of our trip where I was worried. If the province of Manitoba had a check point like the province of Nova Scotia, we may not be able to pass through it. Jaime was driving as we got to the Ontario – Manitoba Border. I had the copper penny taste in my mouth. I was holding my engineer prayer book so tightly. I was worried my dream of crossing Canada would not happen. To some this trip might seem stupid, reckless, and subversive but to me it was a way of finding out if Canada was worth all the sacrifices made by my brothers and sisters in arms. My fear was slowly turning to rage as I was running scenarios on a loop going quicker and quicker in my head as we got closer to the border. Copper penny taste increasing. We drove into Manitoba without a checkpoint, my fear slowly going away as the kilometers piled on. We made it to Moosomin Saskatchewan as our destination for the day. The only place we will worry about on this trip is Nova Scotia. our Home province.

Nova Scotia Bubbles by James C E Lightle

Jaime Lee again ~

Once we drove through Hawk Lake Park, we knew we reached the Prairies (the 100th meridian). So Flat! As Trans Canada laid ahead of us, it gave the appearance that we were driving into the sky because all there was for us to see was sky. “We were in the middle of Canada hon”, I exclaimed.

Middle of Canada, Manitoba. Photo credit: James C E Lightle

Grain elevators started appearing. Whether wood, tile, or concrete, the grain elevator continues to dominate the visual landscape of the Great Plains, where it has played a significant role in the economic life of small towns for more than 100 years.(

To describe our drive through the Great Plains, I cannot omit the experience of witnessing farm and passenger vehicles crossing the trans-Canada. There were no overpasses to take vehicles over the highway, so the North/South country roads intersected the highway. Crossing the highway was no amateur sport; cross the first 2 lanes, pause to “yield”, then cross the next 2 lanes.

In Manitoba, we started seeing Magpies – the cousin of my favorite Corvid, the American Crow. The Red River, and the Assiniboine cut through Southern Manitoba. This area is no stranger to flooding. There is no geological way for the water from the North and higher altitudes to escape so a series of diversion canals were built to take the pressure off the banks of these rivers.

A highlight in Manitoba was seeing a crop plane flying over the fields. The plane got so low that we could see the pilot’s face as he flew overhead. To pass the time we took inventory of the Election Party signs in the Prairies: mostly Blue and Purple.

The afternoon sun seemed to stand still on the horizon as we passed ranches and foothills, then suddenly, we were in Saskatchewan! The CN rail line continued to be our companion and so were grain elevators and the odd oil pumps. We got to Moosomin, a dusty, small town 20 Km from the Manitoba border on that Sunday afternoon. It was 8pm AST (NS time zone), it was 5 PM local time. It literally felt like we went back in time. A time of no masks, no pandemic. We gassed up and headed to Dairy Queen. This was our first dine-in meal where the staff did not have to wear a mask and there were no counter shields to be seen. Folks looked at us with a silent curiosity as it goes in a small town. We just smiled uninhibited by face coverings.

In the local paper provided at the DQ we read that there was a supply glut of beef and pork as the Global Lockdown caused Chinese markets to dry up – lowering the demand for meat, one of the main exports of Sask.