Musing about Mishaps

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Reliving a happier Red Chair time, The Dude and The Dog ponder life beside the Rideau Canal

Two months on the road. Two months, 5 provinces, 15 campgrounds, 2 dead-end roads, one tow, one locked 5th wheel door, three major rainstorms, one potential tornado and innumerable helpful people.

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Guess what, it’s not only a skating rink!

Now my people are a superstitious lot, I am constantly knocking on wood, throwing salt over my shoulder, no shoes on the table, walking under a ladder etc. etc. You get the picture. Which is why I have hesitated to talk about some of the trips mishaps, but now that we have more than 3 under our belt it’s safe to talk about it. Unless something else happens while writing this in which case all bets are off.

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Merrickville’s magical medicinal mishap memory remover

The most recent included a mysteriously locked RV door, frantic lock picking with a golf tee, panicked calls to CAA and a Hail Mary involving the picnic table, emergency window over the bedroom, a boost with The Dude hoisting the Dame’s butt and legs, with much wiggling and cursing across the sill before catapulting over the dresser onto the bed. Ahhh… life on the road, please tell us we’ll laugh about this later.

Other frustrations involve pull-throughs and back-in sites. One is a lottery win and the other is a soul-sucking exercise in embarrassment and frustration.

Some campgrounds don’t have pull-throughs; these will forever be known as the port of last resort. Port Perry had no pull-throughs but the end of the day was nigh, there were no other close options and so we relented. How bad could it be. The campsite was lovely, narrow and perched alongside a beautiful marina. It had rained a lot the lady said, so we’ll give you a drier site.

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As the truck and trailer sink into the marina, The Meanderers ponder what a great story this will make some day

Rain, being the torrential, tornado-warning type, had saturated the ground, so when we began the forward/backup dance of RV parking, the ground sucked in our rear tires and we were parked. Albeit in the middle of the campground road and close enough to the marina to dive in for a refreshing dip from the driver’s window.

The Marina has a repair shop busy this time of year getting those yachts and expensive water toys ready for the season. This being lunch time the fellas were lined up on the pier munching sandwiches and watching the show. An offer of a pull out by a backhoe on site was offered and then rescinded, a tow-truck was called, curious onlookers gathered to watch as our home on wheels was pulled from the muck.

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It’s not all bad, Merrickville is a great mix of history and eclectic shops and eateries

Other back-ins have been less stressful and involve the use of the “good enough” philosophy. If after a half hour of to-ing and fro-ing to park your RV and it is reasonably straight it is “good enough”. The Dude has enthusiastically adopted this strategy and uses it for all aspects of camping life.

Merrickville was a back-in site and definitely fell into the “good enough” category; in fact the Grey Ghost took up most of two sites after narrowly missing taking out the side of the RV in a misguided attempt to check out the rest of the campsite in search of an “easier” site. (Note to self, ask first, drive later.)

Thankfully the town of Merrickville, bisected by the Rideau Canal and a little gem of a place, had cold beverages, hot food and interesting shops to soothe our frazzled nerves.

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One of the canal locks, now if we only had a boat

Shamefully, my knowledge of the Rideau Canal was limited; a huge outdoor skating rink in Ottawa is the only thing that came to mind. As an engineering feat it is unparalleled, seeing the locks and how they are used to move boats from one body of water boggles the mind, given the resources and equipment available at the time they were built.


Patriotic yachters Buffy and Chip prepare for the long journey down the canal

We watched as yachts, glided by our campsite, close enough to borrow a cup of champagne and a dab of caviar. Not really what the builders intended I’m sure but “good enough”.

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Merrickville main street and one of the fine establishments there

Four washings and a Fido

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Most campgrounds will have this* *(camping chairs, wood and beer not included)

After almost two months of meandering it’s time for a word about campgrounds or as some bill themselves—‘camping resort.’ When I think of a resort swim-up bars, spa facilities and all-you-can-eat buffets come to mind. But I digress.

There is a certain “sameness” to RV parks: trees, gravel roads, washroom facilities, playground areas, miniature golf (usually a sad collection of tattered windmills and soggy Astroturf fairways) and if you’re lucky laundry facilities.

Of all the things I will never take for granted again, my beloved washer and dryer tops the list. The days of casually wearing jeans one day and washing them the next are gone. The only clothing that doesn’t get multiple wear is underwear. (Clean underwear, unforeseen accident, hospitals, you know the drill).

Laundry on the road has a certain rhythm to it – essentially, once the tote bag is full to bursting laundry day has arrived.

It takes cunning to do laundry at a campsite. You are competing against full-timers and family groups who have accumulated enough laundry to outfit the cast of The Sound of Music (musical reference thrown in for Brother #2). The objective is to land the triple-loader, other-wise known as laundry mecca. That bad boy can handle the contents of your tote bag in one wash cycle. Current record for start to finish on laundry day – 58 minutes, top that Martha from site 52!

Some campgrounds have stores which stock camping essentials; junk food, firewood and the fixin’s for a batch of s’mores, a big ‘ol bite of deliciousness consisting of a fire-roasted marshmallow tucked in between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate (Hershey’s preferably) and stuffed into your gaping maw.

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RCMP hot on their trail, Debbie and Chester race for the exits

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After a quick blow dry and comb-out these competitors are ready to take on the world

What most campgrounds don’t have are dog shows. Picture the Westminster Kennel club dropped in the middle of rural Kingston complete with obstacle course, show-rings and prep tent in case Fido needs a quick wash, blow-dry or nail trim.

Lassie runs

It’s vague resemblance to an Oscar Meyer wiener convinces Desmond to finish the tubular course

Showing a dog involves a lot of waiting, nervously eying up the competition (human and canine) followed by running around a show ring, followed by you and others running around show ring at the same time, followed by a judge who inexplicably fondles the dog’s muzzle, ears and… ahem… private parts, particularly disturbing when it’s the turn of our neighbours’ 150 pound Mastiff with bowling ball sized testicles.

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I swear to god you rearrange my balls one more time, I’m outta here

Dog shows are the United Nations of the dog world. Breeds range from tiny Bichons to exotic Afghans to mighty Mastiffs. The Dog, always the first in line for a how-do-you-do-bum-sniff was haughtily rebuffed by his canine betters as we walked the grounds after a refreshing dip in the Rideau Canal. Apparently these pampered pets don’t mix with their civilian counterparts or partake in plebeian activities such as swimming or playing.

Dog obstacle

Coco DO NOT pee on the obstacle poles!

The Dog’s addendum

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Rejected by show organizers for his inferior lineage, The Dog leaves the show grounds with his tail between his legs

Sheesh. What a humbling experience. Listening to the Dame and pretend Dude ooh and aah over these poofty pooches really hurts.

“Look at this one’s ears…ooh.

“Look at that one over there with the beautiful coat…aah.”

It’s enough to put me off my dog cookies. And my game.

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Did you guys see the Golden Doodle from BC, What a loser!

At first I thought the four dogs next door would be good for a few tail wags, maybe a quick bum sniff. I didn’t know doggy crap about bull mastiffs. Then the big guy turned his back and flashed the aforementioned ‘bowling balls.’ Talk about feeling inadequate. I can’t even ‘grow a pair.’

I wasn’t given a choice. ‘Chop, chop’ and ‘you’ll never know what you missed.’

Thanks, Dame and pretend Dude. Thanks a lot.

Meanwhile, I have to suffer a parade of pretenders strutting past the campsite, turning their noses up as they amble past without a sideways glance. None of the geezers pay any attention to me, now. All the focus is on these freaks.

One particularly ridiculous poser looks like a cross between a mountain lion and a sheepdog.

Dexter and the chicken

Banned from the show, The Dog takes solace with his bird friends


Confessions of an ill-informed Canadian

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Canada’s first prime minister lived here

Travelling across this great country it becomes shamefully apparent this native son knows little about its history. I suspect I’m not alone

Take a few seconds to think about what you know about Kingston.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

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The entrance to the former Kingston Pen, soon to be a Tim Horton’s location

Okay, many of you identified the city as the home of Kingston Penitentiary but did you know that Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, began practicing law here at the tender age of 20. He lived here with his invalid wife while launching a political career focused on creating a country that spanned from sea to sea, no small task with our land-hungry southern neighbours viewing the vast western wilderness as up for grabs.

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The Maritime Museum reflects Kingston’s past as a major port

In a previous blog I noted his role in the Riel Rebellion and dismissively referred to him as ‘often-inebriated and not-too-honourable.’ While it’s true he had a taste for the drink and didn’t do right by the Metis, without his strongminded leadership over 19 crucial years of the country’s beginnings we might all be singing Yankee Doodle Dandy.

One humorous story has MacDonald on the campaign trail waiting to speak at an all-candidates gathering in a hot town hall. He might have had a few libations before the proceedings began and became increasingly queasy as his opponent droned on at the podium. It’s said he turned from the audience and vomited on stage and without missing a beat wiped his mouth before explaining to assembled voters that he “always reacted this way when he heard his opponent speak.”

Now a short tutorial on The Limestone City, so-named because of the proliferation of magnificent stone buildings built from limestone quarried nearby. Kingston was Canada’s first capital with parliament meeting in the newly constructed hospital’s boardroom, the only room big enough to accommodate Canada’s fledgling legislative body.

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Kingston City Hall – giving all other city halls an inferiority complex

Kingston Penitentiary, the first such penal establishment in the country, was de-commissioned in 2013. Home to a who’s who of Canada’s bad guys, (serial killers Con. Russell Williams, Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo among them) it sits on prime waterfront and is the subject of local controversy. Locals are lobbying to have it preserved as a museum while the federal government mulls its potential for condominium development. Former guards who volunteer at the Penitentiary Museum are happy to share stores about the notorious inmates. Child killer Paul Bernardo, the lowest of the low in prison hierarchy, had plexi-glass installed on his cell door to prevent other prisoners from throwing food and excrement at him.

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Olsen, Bernardo and Williams, a veritable who’s who of the most evil men on earth

Some of you hockey nerds will know the Limestone City as the home of former NHL star Doug Gilmour. But did you know the country’s first hockey game was played here with a square puck. Or that its Original Hockey Hall of Fame pre-dates the pretender in Toronto.

Kingston’s evolution from a fur trading post to the nation’s short-lived capital came about because of that most fundamental of real estate dictum’s: location, location, location. Situated on Lake Ontario at the head of the St. Lawrence and Cataquari rivers, its strategic importance was obvious to our British overlords. Fearing the Americans, still licking their wounds from the war of 1812, would seize control of the crucial St. Lawrence waterway, the British constructed the 125-mile-long Rideau Canal as a safe route to transport supplies to forts in Upper Canada by way of Ottawa. An engineering marvel of its time, the canal was built in six years. And no, you can’t skate from Ottawa to Kingston in winter.

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Fort Henry a must see in Kingston

To protect the canal entrance from marauding Americans, the British built Fort Henry, a massive stronghold on a hill overlooking the town and entrances of the St. Lawrence and Rideau Canal. Combined with the firepower of a series of strategically placed round mini-forts called Martell Towers, Fort Henry’s cannons successfully discouraged interlopers from messing with what would soon be the new Dominion of Canada. The fort is a national heritage site where you can watch the red-coated guards drilling in the square.

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Formation marching which is strangely more compelling than you might think

Kingston is billed as the entranceway to the famed Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River. Long a playground for the rich, the islands straddle the U.S. border, two thirds on the Canadian side and a third in American waters, though the land mass is the same.

The most impressive summer home was built to replicate a full-size Rhineland castle by George Boldt as a tribute to his wife Louise. In addition to the 120-room castle, the estate contains a replica of the Arc d’ Triumph and impressive grounds with castle-like stone outbuildings. It took 300 workers four years to construct. Unfortunately, Louise died before it could be completed. The grief-strickenI owner of New York’s Waldorf Astoria ordered workers to put down their tools and never visited the site again.

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The Boldt Castle – house or CN Hotel?

In short, Kingston with its magnificent city hall, cathedrals, unique neighbourhoods and architecture, and plethora of museums and, more importantly, historic pubs, should be on every Canadian’s travel bucket list.

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Our lunch companion at Fort Henry overlooking Kingston

Blame it on the rain

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Hmmm looking a tad ominous out there

Rain and Taiga jackets – the quintessential West Coast duo. When The Dude and Dame moved to the South Okanagan desert we smugly put the Taigas away in a downstairs closet as relics from our previous sodden life.

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Even The Dog won’t go out in this

In an abundance of caution we packed them in the Grey Ghost for those “occasional rain showers in the fall.” Rain, like falling snow, is different each time; soft drizzles, steady downpours, cloudbursts, driving rain – you get the picture.

I have a new one to add to the repertoire, torrential monsoon, occurring only under the following circumstances: a) you are packing up to leave your campsite, b) you have left your awning out c) you have just remarked what lovely weather you’ve been experiencing.

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Port Perry campground or the scene of a Stephen King novel

Rain drumming on the skin of the RV is normally a soothing sound as we sit snugly inside, electric fireplace glowing in the corner. But when the sound becomes an ominous pounding, accompanied by an automated warning message blaring from CBC radio about tornado and extreme weather warnings in the area, (and we all know tornadoes are programmed to find RV parks) Plan B springs into action.
‘Wait, maybe things will improve.’

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Bike gangs infiltrate Port Perry for the “Ride For Dad”

Turns out Plan B works and we head out two hours later towards Port Perry to avoid the weather now blowing towards our original planned stop at Wasaga Beach, and for a free parking lot overnighter at The Blue Heron Casino. Free overnight camping is a point of pride for long term RV’ers. Websites dedicated to the inner Scrooge abound. As most of you know, The Dude loves nothing better than a good poker game and is inherently cheap, so this stop is right up his alley.

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The Blue Heron overnight stop or as the Dude calls it “Pigeonville

The rhythm of constant travel has resulted in travel Alzheimer’s – the inability to determine what day it is.

The Dame has a special connection to Ontario; her “Pops” lived and passed here. He would have appreciated the irony of the Meanderers driving through a torrential downpour on Sunday to visit his resting place in the tiny, toney village of Kettleby, past brick mansions on vast estates, crisscrossing the countryside to find flowers to bring to the grave and the Dame’s contentment that we had overcome adversity to pay our respects on Father’s Day – except apparently Father’s Day is this week…

I blame it on the rain.

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Finally flowers…they wouldn’t miss one of these baskets would they?

A tale of trees, trinkets and three bears

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Miles of nothin’ but this…..

Brother #3 who lived in Ontario briefly, warned about the tedium of crossing Ontario. “It’s miles of nothing.” Being that #3 is more likely to be watching TSN than the travel channel, we took his warning with a grain of salt.

With Wawa and the feather-challenged geese in the rear view mirror, we head towards Sault Ste Marie into the ‘miles of nothin’ that reveal endless thickets of trees punctuated by breathtaking views of Lake Superior, dotted with islands and so vast it reminds former West Coasters of the ocean.

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The world’s strangest petting zoo

Native trinket stores abound. Want your picture taken beside a giant moose or bear, they’ve got you covered. Want a t-shirt with a pithy saying about how old and entitled you are, or one related to your beer obsession, they’ve got that as well. Inside are a mélange of strange foodstuffs; jalapeño popcorn, gigantic warty pickles and chocolate covered hotdogs (okay I made that one up). In sharp contrast are the impressive wood carvings of First Nation artists, from tiny animal figures to huge but intricate creations like eagles in flight or turtles swimming out of stumps, all carved in intricate detail.

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An engineer’s magical mystery tour lies behind this

Sault Ste. Marie is a city that got it right. Blessed with an abundance of downtown waterfront, the past city fathers (sexist, but city mothers doesn’t sound right) dedicated land for a linear park along the St. Mary River which connects Superior with Lake Huron. At the end of that walk is Whitefish Island, stolen from the Ojibwa First Nation but returned after a court battle. The route allows a close-up view of the locks. I know now why engineers get the big bucks. The planning and execution that goes into designing a system that allows a ship to transfer from one body of water to another without flooding out an entire city is impressive – gold star engineering nerd, gold star.

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Don’t feed the bears in Sault Ste. Marie, they feed themselves

Maybe you’ve heard of cottage country in Ontario. Cottaging is a fluid definition out here, sometimes the cottage is a ratty rundown travel trailer on a lot near a lake or it could mean a kabillion dollar home on the water.

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Parry Sound’s pride and joy, apparently #4 meant how many days it’s open                    

Parry Sound, in the heart of cottage country, is most famous for being the boyhood home of Bobby #4 Orr. A museum housing memorabilia of his storied career is on the waterfront. I can’t tell you what type of memorabilia because it was closed when we were there, as were the public bathrooms which apparently only open Friday to Monday, a lot of crossed legs and pained faces downtown Tuesday to Thursday.

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The Dog given a choice between this agility field and dog yoga chose the latter

We settle at a KOA outside of Parry Sound. KOA’s, in case you didn’t know, are the McDonalds of the camping world–ubiquitous, clean, efficient and staffed with well-trained yellow-shirted employees. Oh, one difference from McDonalds – expensive. Somebody’s got to pay for those yellow t-shirts and the dog agility training area. The Dog refused to try it out, sniffing that he wasn’t some trained monkey who did tricks on demand or was that the Dude?

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The Dude – trained beer drinking monkey

Dexter’s mind doodles

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Slouching away the miles in relative comfort leaves the real ‘Dood’ plenty of pondering time. And what better to ponder than the foibles of my two traveling companions—the pretend Dude and the Dame.

The thing I find most annoying in the magnification of 24/7 exposure is the way they use me to talk to each other. They don’t seem to get that I only know 3 human words; Dexter, cookie and walk, I choose to ignore the other ones that mean I’m in trouble.

“Dexter, go see pops. He’ll get your dinner this time; take you for a pee this time, yada yada.”

Or “Dexter, I can’t help it if pops is a bad dog owner.”

And what does pops reply?

“Dexter likes me better.”

And so it goes on. And on. And on. I mean, why bring me into their petty squabbles why not do what me and my pals do, work it out with a quick roll in the grass, a few chest bunts, fake snarls and it’s all good.

The Dame should know better on this the 16th year of their marriage. We all know the pretend Duke is narcissistic and totally untrainable. I found that out even as a puppy. And I was a cute puppy, as some of you will remember, all curly and cuddly. Even so, I had to work my life around his schedule.

The Dame? Now that’s a different story. I knew I had her at first bark. Pretty soon she was opening the door on signal whenever I wanted to lift my leg in the orchard. It didn’t take long before I could get her total attention anytime I wanted. I even started sticking my wet nose in her face in the morning to wake her up for my morning stroll. I think she liked it.

Art Linklater had it right when he said people are funny. Or was that the balding guy from Candid Camera. Whatever, they’re both before my time.

When I go for my daily pee strolls with the Dame I can pretty much do as I please. Walk on either side, pull on the leash. It takes maybe four or five real annoyances before the Dame gets harsh. That’s something you don’t want to see, trust me on that, so I generally don’t push it too far.

The rare time the pretend Dude takes me for a pee I have to walk on his left side, at his exact pace. We all know the guy’s obsessive but he takes it to the extreme. Speed up or slow down an inch either way and he’s all over me. How stupid is that? I mean, I like the guy, he’s my pops, but we all know he’s out there a bit.

Its common knowledge The Dame is ‘the Queen of small talk’. She talks to me nonstop. Sometimes I’d like to tell her to put a cork in it, especially when she starts talking down to me in that baby talk voice “Dexter’s such a handsome puppy.” “ Is puppy thirsty?” “Poor puppy couldn’t do his business.” It’s hard to do your business when you’ve got the Dame standing there with bag in hand waiting for a treasure to drop.

Think about it. Here I am a large, middle age dog blessed with considerable physical stature, (I turn seven this week if anyone wants to send along a treat.) and she treats me like a baby. And doesn’t she just love it when the poofter dog people in the RV parks comment on my looks. You’d think they were talking about her.

Don’t get me wrong. I love mumsy to bits. She’s my master’s master.

On those infrequent occasions when the pretend Dude takes me on the RV park rounds he makes me do that stupid walking thing. He rarely speaks to anybody along the way and when we get to a sufficiently secluded area he sits on a picnic bench lights a cigar and stares off into the distance. He could care less whether I’m constipated or not. No baby talk from that guy.

Like Allan Funt the balding guy said. (It just came to me, it’s weird what comes to mind if you have enough time to ponder.) People are funny.

P.S. Don’t forget to send along those birthday treats.

On the Woad to Wawa

Thunder Bay in the rear view mirror

Thunder Bay in the rear view mirror

One-night stands, hooking up. Salacious phrases that mean something completely different in our world.

After our hasty retreat from Thunder Bay and the “the dead-end incident” we were left without a plan, which in our world is an everyday thing. Seat of the pants would best describe our travel routine.

The bear necessities

Why did the bear cross the road?

This is where the one-night stand comes in, no un-hitching the trailer, just park that sucker, pull out the slides and you’re set for the night. No fuss, no muss and in the morning you’re gone. Nipigon, our choice for a one-night stand and a great dinner overlooking the river at the Edgewater, gotta love those Tripadvisor recommendations. We make a quick stop at the Travel Info centre (who knew these things existed!)

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Leaving our one night stand in Nipigon

We arrive in Wawa, odd name, nice town and the home of the famous 28-foot metal Goose, unfortunately in a state of decline inspiring fund-raising drives to “buy a feather, save the Goose”. Only in Canada, eh.

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Take a gander

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At these

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But it’s really the other story of Wawa and Ontario that needs to be told, of the horrors that the guide books don’t tell you about.

Skeeters, mozzies, colourful descriptors for these tiny terrors, but in truth they should be called Demon blood-suckers.

Life in B.C. has left the Maloneys ill-prepared–sipping wine on our deck in summers past, lazily waving off the occasional wasp or black fly, our Prairie visitors sitting in wonder, covered in netting. “Where are the mosquitoes,” they exclaim, “Is this heaven?”

As we set up camp in Wawa, those years of smug complacency come back to haunt us. The Dame is quickly surrounded by a cloud of voracious demons and she begins the skeeter dance. Walk two paces, wave your left hand frantically, walk one pace, wave your right hand frantically, slap at your left leg, then right, and swat at your forehead and the back of your neck several times. Such fun really.

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We were eaten alive by mosquitoes

Moquitoes are cunning, open the door a crack and the ten sentinels waiting outside quickly fly in to wreak havoc. Bottles of anti-itch sticks and creams litter the trailer. Spray bottles of OFF and Deep Woods Off fill the cupboards. The Dame has taken to wearing a clip-on OFF personal protector on her belt. A sort-of mosquito repellant condom if you will.

The Dog has other issues, we are in tick country and his rather large head and nose are a magnet for the blood-drinking drillers. At one point a large bubble forms on his back, a tick enjoying prime Golden Doodle snacking.
But other than that things are going well.

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The Dog, a Tick Magnet

Anybody need a used Floatplane?

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Rainbow Lake Park enjoying the view, The Dog is quite the photographer

Travelling Highway 17 along the coastline of Lake Superior you can almost believe the breathless adjectives in the North West Ontario travel brochures. “Epic adventures, fascinating history, outdoor adventures, stunning scenery” Wow, makes you want to get out there doesn’t it.

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On the trails near Davey Lake in Ignace before we break for ice cream

Choosing your next stop on a trip like this is a carefully thought out, painstaking process Take Ignace, our first stop in Ontario; Dude, “I’ve got to stop for gas” Dame, “It’s 4 o’clock, there’s a campground here, we may as well stay”.

See, travel magic.

Ignace like other towns we passed since entering Ontario has that whiff of better times gone by. Themes are important in small towns; it’s what makes the tourists stop. You have to have a big egg, or a giant goose or moose or hockey stick or something kitschy for photo ops. The theme here is float planes, one on each side of the highway. This is strange because Davy Lake, beside the campground, doesn’t appear large enough for a float plane.

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A strange water pit on the trails where off-roaders prepare for Mad Max, the sequel

Kilometers of trails surround the campsite, many used by off-roaders. This became apparent when we cycled out the next day to explore. The trails were either rutted and sandy or narrow and root-bound. The Dame is a sissy-cyclist; I have a comfort bike for gawd’s sake. I’m all about flat trails, preferably paved and scenic byways. The Dude has cycled from Vancouver to Edmonton, I am the cycling albatross around his neck, but he agrees to cycle in town once the promise of ice cream is raised.

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Mmmmmm ice cream

Next stop Thunder Bay. Now that’s a name with some testosterone behind it. It’s a port city, rough around the edges and the scene of every RV’ers nightmare – the dead-end road.

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Houston we have a problem

The GPS is a godsend. But our guide let us down, a satellite malfunction that led us down a road with a “Road Closed” sign posted beside a drunken man lying beside it, who helpfully waved and pointed at the sign in case we hadn’t noticed.

The dreaded long back up. It’s how you react that makes the difference, which separates the true RV’er from the weekend warrior with their rental camper. The Dude, cool and efficient, starts the evacuation, ten minutes later, tire tracks crisscrossing the grass the Gray Ghost is free and heading east out of Thunder Bay towards the Terry Fox Memorial. Some days you just need a little inspiration.

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An iconic image of a great man

Head east, old man (and young Dame and Dog), head east

I think I was too hard on Winnipeg. Traffic aside, Winnipeg has a bounty of both cultural and historic offerings. We spent a day at the Forks which is eerily similar to Granville Island in Vancouver, without the yuppies and sky-high real estate prices. The Human Rights museum located near the Forks is one of a kind both architecturally and culturally.

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The Canadian Human Rights Museum. See Winnipeg has culture and a heart.

I had the best, and I mean ‘the best’ tourtiere pie I have ever eaten there (sorry mom). For you non-French-lapsed Catholics out there, it is a seasoned pork and beef meat pie that our family has every Christmas Eve, after mass. Well actually after mom returns from mass.

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Secret home of the world’s best Tourtiere pie

Did I mention the dog park we found. The Dog is still barking about it. Open fields, trails, plenty of other large canines to play with, it was four-legged nirvana.

So my apologies Winnipeg, any city that was home to Louis Riel and The Guess Who can’t be all bad.

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I’m telling you, one more day in that trailer and I’m going to lose it!

So what did this foray into Winnipeg teach the Maloneys. Simply – big city bad, small town good. Fortunately we were heading into Ontario where small towns dot the north west side of the province.

Like the transition from Saskatchewan to Manitoba, when you cross over to Ontario the landscape changes. Thickets of pine trees line the highways, the Canadian Shield is the closest I’ve felt to B.C. since we left. If it weren’t for the signs warning of imminent death by moose collision every ten kilometers I’d feel at home.

Wanna feel at home in this part of the province, get yourself a shotgun and a fishing rod my friends. Hunting and fishing is the name of the game. Signboards for camping and fishing resorts line the sides of the highway. Resort being a loosey-goosey term for any campground offering a roof over your head and fish bait in the office.

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Isn’t this the home of that city that’s the centre of the universe?

This part of Ontario is like a ten-year-old car. Still runs but the paint jobs a little tattered, the tires are a little worn, the upholstery needs some work. Abandoned businesses–motels, gas stations, restaurants–speak to an area that once thrived.

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The Minnow business, still thriving in NW Ontario

We marvel at people’s bravery (foolishness) for starting a business in an area with seemingly nothing to offer but a shot at a moose or a chance to land a speckled walleye.

Our meandering takes us past Kenora with it’s beautiful Lake of the Woods location and seen-better-days downtown, through Dryden with a massive mill dominating it’s industrial landscape, until we arrive in Ignace and idyllic Davey Lake campground.

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Ignace Ontario where float planes mysteriously appear on the side of the highway for no apparent reason

Winnipeg – A tale of two cities – Part 2


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Maloney compares profiles with Louis Riel

It’s easy to dismiss ‘Winterpeg’ as an urban sprawl set amongst a plethora of lakes, rivers and rolling prairie, but that is to discount its unique place in our nation’s history. The city and its surrounding prairie played a pivotal role in the country’s early development.

It is here the French, Scottish and English trappers first ranged for game to fill the Old World fashionistas’ insatiable appetite for animal pelts. These intrepid explorers formed a close association with the First Nation peoples they encountered, taking Indian wives and producing half-breed children by the score. By the time Canada had elected its first Prime Minister, the often-inebriated and at times not-too-honourable Sir John A. MacDonald, the Metis, as they came to be called, had settled the land.

By the time Sir John began pushing the railroad through in an effort to keep the country out of the clutches of our Yankee neighbours to the south, the Metis had established riverside farms to sustain themselves as the buffalo they relied upon for life itself disappeared from the great plains.

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The Riel Ancestral home in the centre of urban Winnipeg

The new Canadian government, as indifferent then as it is today, refused to recognize their rightful claims and a leader was born. Louis Riel, hanged as a traitor though he played a central role in quelling the unrest and the subsequent formation of Manitoba as a province, is referred to on official government plaques as a “significant person” in Canada’s history.

Riel was forced to flee south, where he lived a quiet religious life until called back by the Metis to help do the same for the province of Saskatchewan. Half-mad and calling himself a prophet, he none-the-less rallied the Metis, who took up arms in what was to become known as the Red River Rebellion but was actually little more than a bunch of mixed-blood farmers fighting for their land.

It was at this juncture in history that Riel crossed paths with my great grandfather Dan Maloney, who came west with Canadian troops as a volunteer/guide, having previously travelled by Red River cart to the wilds of St. Albert, Alberta, where his name now graces the RCMP headquarters–Maloney Place.

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A Maloney at Maloney Place

History has not recorded whether the two men met, but great grandad, not withstanding his morally suspect stand on the side of the federal government, went on to become an upstanding Albertan, fluent in English, French and Cree, and a member of its first legislative body.