Fear and Loathing on the Canadian Borders!!!!!!
(Kabow!@Bam!Yuk*#% Warning! This is not a pie in the sky piece. Tread lightly!)
I confess. I idealized Canada! We love Canada. Vancouver is my favorite city. If I had five million dollars, I would live there. We have visited Vancouver many times. Tom’s favorite is Halifax in Nova Scotia. We circled the entire province in an RV. Montreal is stunning and both Toronto and Ottawa boast diverse populations and lots of amenities. We have camped along the spectacular route from Calgary to Jasper, through the Rockies, Banff, and the Ice Fields. Then we headed East through the bad lands. We expected our adventure around the north of Lake Superior on the Trans-Canada Highway to be just as adventurous and memorable.
Thunder Bay. Can you hear it rumbling?
Thunder Bay is no longer Thundering. I have dreamed of visiting Thunder Bay since our honeymoon 37 years ago. Minnesota has been a destination several times, but there was never enough time to cross the border. Who wouldn’t want to live in a city with that name?
I should have done my research before I began dreaming. After checking into a very crowded, dusty, noisy, day care, and no WIFI KOA (Kampgrounds of America) we headed toward the dream. (Campgrounds north of Lake Superior are lost in the 1950’s.) First off, Google GPS took us way past our target. It happened to us again the next day, when we were directed to someone’s home. Google needs to talk to the Canadians. I think I will find the number for them.
After getting lost, we decided to visit the Mission Island Marsh. There were supposed to be trails along the lake and panoramic views of the city. We passed over a bridge heading toward McKellan and Mission Islands. On the right side, just before the bridge, we saw two Orthodox churches. We had to return.
Driving through McKellen and then, Mission Islands, felt like something out of a Sci-Fi thriller. Rusting structures flanked us on both sides. Grass was six feet high in many places. Debris was everywhere. We wondered if there had been a nuclear disaster and we were the only people left on the earth. The bleakness was interrupted only by two men directing one lane of traffic across a crumbling and sinking bridge. We were not alone.
After crossing the bridge, there were no signs pointing to the Mission Marsh. It was eerie. No one was around. We turned around and went back to another road where we finally found it. Mission Marsh was a great idea. Walkways went into the lake and grasslands, but no one was taking care of it. The grand water view was of a power plant. The best thing about the place was the oversized, clean, porta potty. (It looked brand new.) Soon the bridge will fall, and no one will visit. It will turn into another graveyard of decaying structures.
The Harbors of Marathon and Thunder Bay.
The harbor of Thunder Bay, like that of Marathon, a town a couple of hundred miles to the East has been destroyed and polluted by Big Business. Marathon’s harbor is being remediated to remove PCB’s and mercury (carcinogens). The view from the hill to the harbor in Marathon is glorious, with small islands dotting the bay. I could build a house there. We found only one fisherman at the harbor the day we visited. (I would not eat that fish!) And I wondered when we camped in Marathon about the water we were using. Eventually, the water flow diminished in our RV, so Tom changed the filter. It was brown!
In Thunder Bay, old abandoned Silver mine buildings and equipment, defunct paper mills and more, block the gorgeous views of Lake Superior and nearby islands. The harbor is so polluted that they don’t know how to clean up debris that would fill 130 football stadiums. Around 1958, in Michigan, I was playing with my Brownie Troup in Lake St. Claire. The next day, all of the Great Lakes were closed to swimming forever! The next day I became violently ill and was sick all summer from the poisoned water. It eventually gave me mononucleosis. Pollution is real and harmful. We were told not to eat any fish from the lakes for ten years.
It was a good thing that we noticed what we thought were orthodox churches. It diverted our attention from the holocaust sites. The area had been settled by Ukrainians and Slovakians. Houses were built so close that they were leaning on each other. We haunted and stared at St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Ukrainian Church, and the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ Ukrainian Church, all within a block of each other.
These people had fled violence in their countries around the beginning of the twentieth century. We searched their history and learned that thousands lived here and throughout Canada. It was a haven for them.
The Trans-Canada Highway and Tootsie Rolls.
The vistas from the Trans-Canada highway are incredible. Every turn presents a fantastic view of Lake Superior, its bays, and hundreds of tiny islands. But, creature comforts lack for tourists. I woke one morning having dreamed that First Nations peoples were smiling and offering us Tootsie Rolls and donuts all along our route. The truth is that many people are not very welcoming. We can only speculate as to why they look downward and won’t speak to you. It was particularly obvious in Kenora.
Service is so bad in restaurants that we left before we ordered. At a Finnish restaurant in Thunder Bay, a table of four people right behind us got up and left. They complained loudly that the food was cold, came out at different times, and it ruined their lunch. We waited, it seemed like an hour, for our Finnish pancakes. (We thought dining on Finnish food would be a memorable experience–and it was but in a different way!) And while, as mentioned above, most people do not look at you, we did find two very friendly Canadians who shared their stories with us.
Gracious Canadians who Welcomed us!
Along the way we met Arnold, a First Nations Canadian at Pukaskwa National Park, and an Austrian, Sophia at Batchawana Bay. Arnold, whose middle name is Eagle, was so interesting. He told us about how the national park came to be and how long he had worked there. He wanted to know what we thought of Trump. (That discussion has to be private.) He made us feel so welcome that we would come back to the park again just to see him.
Sophia owns a restaurant, Lake Shore Salzburger Hof Resort on Batchawana Bay, that was built by her father. Getting to this Austrian restaurant proved to be a little fearful for us. Tom brought the rig with car attached down a lonely gravel road. The closer we got, the more we realized that the place would probably be closed. Yes, it was only open for dinner. When we arrived, Sophia ran out to greet us. “Would you like to come in and dine with us, we are hosting a group.” She told us the story of her family and life, while at the same time, asking us where we had traveled. It was an unexpected treasured moment for us.
Natural Sites Without Critters!
As the RV sped Eastward, we discovered lots of mines, amethyst mines, gold mines. They have saved a lot of towns from bankruptcy. Clear cut logging has killed a great percentage of the landscape. We did not see any animals or birds. We wonder if the land is toxic. I can’t remember any road kill either.
This is so different from Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, or Nova Scotia, where every day we would see a wild creature. Here the only wild creatures we encountered were stuffed or made out of copper. Moose signs warned us often. The signs were the closest that we got to a Moose. The only evidence of people along this route from Thunder Bay to Wawa were small rocks piled on top of each other. First Nations people sometimes attach beads to a stop sign as a way of reminding you that you are in their territory. The land is so harsh that it would be difficult for anyone to live on it.
The Hype does not match reality!
Wawa was an overnight stop for us. We welcomed the little town because it has a few amenities like a donut shop and a general store, but it is also in decay. During a very rainy day we visited two waterfalls, Scenic High Falls and Silver Falls. Both were found at the end of muddy roads that eventually covered Tom’s car. We had to wash it twice before we got most of the mud off of it.
All across Ontario we picked up slick brochures but when we visited the sites, the reality did not match the hype. Sault Saint Marie has more of those comforts we need in a town of about 75K. We found a well-stocked grocery store, Dollar Tree, and Dollarama (My favorite Canadian store.) just outside the city.
Downtown Sault Saint Marie (Canada side) is a grizzly, empty, dirty place to visit. This once-beautiful town is dead. Wild flowers grow in the streets. It reminded me of some of the towns we found on Hokkaido, Japan or in Eastern Europe. Helena, Arkansas would make this list too! I am not going to mention Detroit. We thought we would walk the streets and find a restaurant. None was found! We ended up in the busiest place in town — Tim Horton’s donut extravaganza–for lunch!
Tom and I have speculated as to why most of the towns on our trip are so depressed. It could be the results of hundreds of closed mines and mills. But we think it is partially due to the number of Provincial and National Parks. There is barely any room for development along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Fear and Loathing as we pass through Customs
Read the rules regarding what you can bring back into the USA. I called Customs and asked which lane we should choose for our RV when entering the United States. The lanes are small and we could get into trouble. They reminded me that we could not bring in any fruit, vegetables, or meat. We are in an RV and have to have food. We chose not to throw everything out. If they wanted to throw it out at the border, they could do the work.
Taking canines across the border is mind-boggling. There are three Federal agencies that have rules. I worried about all the documents we had to prepare for them. A specially-trained Vet has to sign papers and you need to show that the dogs have had their shots for a number of years. My Vet had the classification but was very stressed when we went through all the paperwork. Dr. Hecker is such a good vet!!!
Crossing the border into Canada at International Falls, the agent never even asked us if we had dogs. (They did not bark at all. They were so good!) We wondered if they would stop us at the border when returning home because of our pets or the food we had on board. Shaking like a leaf, we entered the truck lane to cross the border. We had all of our documents ready. The agent asked Tom a couple of questions about his passport (only) and then waived us on. He did not even look at me. Not one person looked at the canine documents that were painstakingly prepared. We were angry and relieved at the same time.
So happy to be on USA soil (In spite of the cruel politics in the news every day.)!
A Positive Note. We are now in Michigan and the temperatures and humidity are high and can harm. We were so happy to be in Canada for a month where the temperatures hovered around 65 degrees. And, while the harbors are polluted, most of the lakes and streams were crystal clear. It was a shock to see the rivers in Michigan (once crystal clear when I was a kid) flowing brown and ugly. And driving was a breeze in Canada compared to millions of cars on I75 near Flint, Michigan and around Detroit!
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge. Soon, we will write something about our trek through Michigan, my home state.