Today was our longest day so far. We left the hotel and drove to Fort William, which was the North-West Company’s inland headquarters. The reconstructed fort complex is huge and employs 30 people year round with 60 students added in the summer. All of the ‘work’ done in the fort; its farm, blacksmith shop, tinsmith, canoe maker, bakery, etc. are done all summer by the staff in period costume. Since it was Canada Day there were also lots of special activities, crafts for the kids, and music. We got there when it open at 10 and there were only a few other cars in the lot. When we left at 12:30 there were people lined up through the doors waiting for admission and both parking lots were full. Ft. William is a very popular place in the summer, ranked one of Canada’s best attractions. We also stopped at the Terry Fox Memorial Lookout east of Thunder Bay. The memorial is located on a cliff top with a panoramic view of Lake Superior. It seemed fitting to be there on Canada Day to acknowledge a young man who, through his courage and determination to leave the world a better place, created more national pride in Canadians than had ever been seen before.
We made two other stops along our 478 km drive from Thunder Bay to Wawa. First was an 11 km drive into the forest to see the Ouimet Canyon. It is so deep and so narrow that sub-arctic plants grow on the canyon floor.
Second stop was just a short bit off the highway to see Aguasabon Falls. Like Kakabeka Falls yesterday, Aguasabon was full and roaring into the narrow gorge through which it flows.Our final ‘quick stop’ was at White River. White River bids itself as “The Place Winnie-the-Poo Began.” In 1914 a Canadian serviceman passed through White River on his way overseas. While there he purchased a black bear cub (heaven alone knows what he was thinking really) and named the cub Winnie for his home town of Winnipeg. The cub became the troop mascot and when the Lt. was shipped to France he gave Winnie to the London Zoo to care for in his absence. Winnie was a Zoo favorite, especially of author A.A.Milne and his son Christoper. In 1926 A.A. Milne gifted the world with his wonderful story about Winnie-the-Poo.
After spending the day driving through forests and here-again/there-again views of Lake Superior we arrived in Wawa at 8:30 pm, the latest by far we have checked in to our hotel. We are now 1/2 way across Canada. The ‘official’ middle – half way between Victoria, BC and St. John’s, Newfoundland – is considered to be Sault St. Marie which is 227 km further east Considering we began in Salmon Arm, not Victoria we are now over half way to St. John’s.
We did another day today similar to yesterday. Driving from Selkirk to Kenora takes about 2 3/4 hours. We took five – after we did some sightseeing around Selkirk.
I wanted to see Lower Fort Garry which is a National Historic Site located just south of Selkirk. Fort Garry was THE trading center and boat building center for access to the West. Unfortunately it was Sunday and the park isn’t open on weekends until July 1. Fortunately the actual compound is open all the time so we could still wander around. The interpretive center and all the buildings were locked but we were able to look in some windows and had a good walk around the grounds. We stopped briefly at the Manitoba Maritime Museum in Selkirk on our way north out of town but didn’t tour any of the boats.
Our northward destination today was Grand Beach, located on the opposite side of the end of Lake Winnipeg from yesterday’s drive. Grand Beach is considered one of the best beaches in North America. It has 12 miles of beautiful fine white sand and is a very popular weekend and summer spot for people escaping Winnipeg – an hour’s drive south.
Today’s weather was similar to yesterday’s with forbidding dark clouds covering the sky. Over night the wind had blown quite fiercely and it was still blowing hard. We drove to the main parking lot for beach access but the sand was blowing around so much John was afraid for Poppy’s paint and we went back to another place along the road where we could climb up a brush-covered dune to the beach.
Beach on the other side .
It is pretty impressive to clamber 50 feet up and across the top of a sand dune and find 12 miles of gorgeous sandy beach spreading out to the left and right. Not exactly a beach-type day, but there were people not only on the beach but in the water. Br-r-r-r. Standing in Lake Winnipeg Back down the dune to the truck
After we left Grand Beach we turned southward again and drove a winding road through forests (and intervals of heavy rain) to connect with the Trans-Canada Highway just before the Manitoba/Ontario border. We arrived at Kenora at 10 minutes after 4 pm. The view from our hotel room
Kenora is on the north shore of Lake of the Woods, an area of 12,500 islands and LOTS of avid fishermen and boaters. So many people live on the nearby islands that the Safeway store is built out over the water and has boat docking facilities beside the parking lot! Sunsets are supposed to be gorgeous here but all we saw tonight are grey clouds and rain drops. Maybe tomorrow the sun will shine….
We are in Selkirk, Manitoba this evening; about 30 minutes drive north of Winnipeg. We left Winnipeg a little after 10 am this morning and arrived in Selkirk at 5 pm this evening. How is that possible you ask?
Well….let me tell you how to do it. You leave Winnipeg via highway 7 and stop for an hour or so at the 36 square kilometer Oak Hammock Marsh which is a major migratory and nesting area for 200 bird species. (The coolest thing at Oak Hammock, besides the endless view of marsh land and the sounds of chirpping birds, was the visitors center which was built of light colored stone, surrounded by grass-covered berms and sporting a prairie grass roof that birds actually nest in.)
After you leave the marsh drive due west to the town of Stonewall where the citizens have turned an old rock quarry into a lovely park with paths, picnic areas, a pond and a really nice community center.
Old kilns in the quarry.
After lunch at the top of Hwy 7 in Arborg, drive over to Hwy 8 and go north until you cross the causeway to Hecla Island. In 1875 Iceland’s largest volcano erupted violently driving many people from their homes. The Canadian government offered the Icelanders land on Hecla Island – called New Iceland at the time. The village still has some of the original buildings. Hecla Island is the largest island in Lake Winnipeg and fishing was a major part of the Icelanders life there.The one road of Hecla Village runs along the shore of Lake Winnipeg. On the other side of the road are regularly spaced small homes on approximately 1 acre lots. Every one of those lots was covered with neatly mowed grass. We saw about 5 guys out mowing their monster lawns with everything from regular size ride-ons to tractor pulled commercial-size mowers. It must be a continuous job! It does look nice though but all that space around each building made the small house look even smaller.
After you tour the village from end to end turn around and head south again on Hwy 8. Drive past the turn off you had taken going north and keep on Hwy 8 to Gimli, another Icelandic village (we were looking for the giant Viking but couldn’t find him), then continue on to Winnipeg Beach where you will follow Hwy 9 into Selkirk.
We had driven from Arborg to Hecla Island with the roof down on Poppy and had a whole flock of Canada Geese fly directly overhead as we neared Hecla Village – thank goodness none of them dropped any ‘souvenirs’ on the way by. I just pointed the camera straight up to get this shot.There had been very dark grey clouds off to the west for most of our drive from Hecla Island to Selkirk and 30 minutes out of town the sky opened. And I mean opened. Is there such a thing as a rain-out? We could barely see the road and the almost-running-board high water on the streets in Selkirk were flooding Poppy’s undercarriage. She got a power wash for sure today. Thank goodness it stopped before we had to get the luggage out of the truck.And that, my friends, is how you drive all day and end up 36 miles from where you started.
Today was a quieter day; mainly due to another of our planned tourist attractions being closed. Hence the early posting of my blog today.
After breakfast we drove out to the Canadian Mint. Quite a few people were milling around outside the doors and as we approached we heard a staff person apologizing again for the delay, but that the fire alarms were still ringing and even though the fire trucks had left, the Chief had not yet given the all clear to re-enter the building. Now that was familiar talk with John’s 40 years in the volunteer fire department back home!
Some people chose to leave and come back later or another day. Tours are held every 1/2 hour in the summer so no real risk of not getting in later. We decided to just wait. We knew the odds were pretty good that we would be allowed in soon, which proved to be the case.
Our tour guide was a chipper young lady named Michelle. We have two mints in Canada, one in Winnipeg and one in Ottawa. All paper money is made by the Bank of Canada. The Ottawa mint makes all the specialty coins and medals – like the 2010 Olympic medals on display in the gift shop.The Winnipeg mint makes our circulation coins. And this is the interesting part – we also mint coins for over 70 other countries! This is because Canada is the world leader in technology for minting coins. Particularly an electromagnetic plating process that makes the coins identifiable. The driveway into the Mint is lined with the flags of all the nations we have made coins for in the past or are currently making coins for today. Michelle told us that yesterday they were minting United Arab Emirates coins which was pretty cool since our son and his wife lived there for six years.At the back of the gift shop stands a security guard in front of a 23 lb solid gold bar. It is worth about half a million dollars! You can pick it up but it doesn’t go too far as it is attached by a chain at the bottom. Trust me on this – when you see robbers tossing gold bars and lots of coins into their backpacks to carry away in movies don’t believe it. You couldn’t possibly pack more than two of those things very far.We were having a bite to eat out of the back of the truck in the parking lot and a very distinguished-looking Indian fellow and his sari-clad wife came over. “How old is your vehicle?” he asked, waving a gold-ring bedecked hand towards Poppy. “She is a 2006,” we told him. “Is it for sale?” he shot back right away. We told him no and he remained talking to us for quite awhile, comparing places around the world we each had been. The whole time his wife never said a word. I suspect that, even though he spoke excellent English, she did not.We had on our list of Winnipeg things-to-do the Dalnavert House and Museum. this Victorian-era house belonged to Hugh MacDonald, the only son of our first prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald. It was the first house in Western Canada to have electric lights and running water. But…..it was closed for ‘restructuring’ – whatever that means.We wandered along the downtown streets and took a look inside The Fort Garry, a hotel built by the CPR in the chateau-style used at the Hotel Frontenac in Montreal, the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Banff Springs Hotel, and Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta – plus a few others. Gorgeous interior. We didn’t ask the nightly room rate.Feeling lazy and a bit tired after all the walking yesterday we decided to go back to our room and take it easy for a bit. This we do well wherever we are. Tomorrow we leave Winnipeg and drive north to Hecla Island, a former part of Iceland.
After breakfast we drove to the RCMP Heritage Center and Depot and toured the galleries, watched a series of interesting videos on the RCMP training regime, and took part of a walking tour around the Depot. We were supposed to see the Seargent-Major Parade but it was raining – A LOT – so they moved it into the Drill Hall instead of holding it on the Parade Grounds as normal. It was also a Graduation Day for Troop 21 and since there were three school groups with us on the walk-around there was not enough room for all of us and the family and friends of the cadets so we were unable to go in. We did see them march into the Drill Hall so that was cool.
We left the RCMP Center and drove down the street to Government House which was the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest Territories from 1891-1905 and of Saskatchewan from 1905-1945. It has been beautifully restored and turned into a museum of the period. It was a real treat to wander through. We had planned to tour the extensive gardens, but the torrential rainfall began again while we were inside and was only slowing down as we left. We next went to the SK Legislative Building, built between 1909-1910 and faced with white stone; it has marble from Ireland, Vermont, Cyprus, Italy, Quebec, and I think Sweden in the floors, pillars, and columns. Beautiful, beautiful, building. Our guide was a young fellow from Quebec so we got some tips from him on how to get around in Quebec City when we get there. The rain had started again while we were inside – we had good timing on that all day – and stopped again as we came out so we were able to visit the nearby War Memorial.All in all it was a good, albeit wet day in Regina today.