A Capital Idea

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Unbeknownst to Henry the display spider had been switched for a real one

With Ottawa in the rear-view mirror it’s time to reflect on our visit, to discuss the highs and lows, to contemplate all the capital had to offer and to ask – what is it with all those Beaver Tails trucks?

Beaver tails

Damn your golden doughy goodness

The place is crawling with them. It’s bad enough our national animal is a buck-toothed rodent but why give visitors the idea that we eat their tails. Yuck!

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War, the ultimate buzz-kill

Ottawa’s comprehensive war museum is a must see for all ages. A huge complex divided into four sections–early wars, World War 1, World War 2 and the Cold War—it has plenty of big guns for those out there with little guns and interactive displays for the little kids and the little kids with facial hair.

The take-away is that humans are predatory and violent and we never learn. The second take-away is that women need to take over the world so the museum will never have the opportunity to add a 5th section.

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The Parliament Buildings seen from Gatineau, or as they call it, “that anglophone place”

Gatineau, the city formerly known as Hull, is across the river from Ottawa. Crossing the bridge into Quebec to visit the Museum of History in Gatineau (a massive strangely attractive, structure meant to reflect the architects’ interpretation of nature’s power) you immediately see “la difference.” No English/French equal billing here my friend. Signage is in French and you’ll be hard-pressed to find English translations, with the exception of government signage and tourist attractions. I am envious of the fluid bilingualism of the museum workers. My French resembles the mangled syntax of Pepe la Peu (cartoon reference, look it up)

The museum is a rambling affair, spacious walkways and massive windows overlook the Ottawa River and Parliament buildings. One river – two worlds.

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The Grand Hall of the history museum, seen from the Ottawa side, big enough to hold 100 foot totem poles or Donald Trump’s ego

The highlight for us was the special Terry Fox collection. Filled with artifacts from his aborted run across Canada, including the chase van that followed him, it was a treasure trove of memorabilia including a computerized collection of every letter, card and postcard of encouragement sent to him that can be accessed by town or name or school. A quick scan and we found a card written by The Dude’s nephew Darren Maloney to Terry all those years ago.

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A card for Terry so many years ago

Walking the streets of Ottawa is like a gigantic history lesson. Beautiful stone buildings hundreds of years old nestled next to a Subway store. Somehow it works. The renovation industry is booming here. Scaffolds abound as workers toil away keeping Canada’s image untarnished by the years. The problem with historic buildings, is that like an old house, they need constant repair. Of course my house repairs aren’t funded by tax dollars, but I digress.

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Even Canada Post is fancy schmanzy in the Nation’s Capital

Like to eat? Like to drink? Like to eat and drink? Ottawa has an amazing number of restaurants, pubs and casual eateries. A lot of them are themed, apparently every Irish or English person who ever moved to this region opened up a pub and stocked it with a staggering number of strangely named beers and deep-fried anything. (Now you know why we love it so much)

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Even the Scottish got in on the pub game though they added plaid skirts & haggis

A double-Decker bus tour of the city, like wearing socks to your knees, a Tilley hat and a fanny-pack, separates tourists from the Ottawa bureaucrats. The driver pointed out where the Prime Minister’s office was, in a historic baroque style building with windows facing out on the streets below, no fencing, and no armed guards. Just a beautiful old building on a corner.

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See this unassuming building with the small symbol of patriotism, that’s the big guy’s office

Dude’s addendum

Driving into Ottawa on Canada Day from our campsite off Bank Street in the village of Greely brings to a disturbed mind Joseph Conrad’s iconic novel Journey into the Heart of Darkness. A straight shot through the city’s development, Bank Street starts out like a drive through Surrey—car dealerships, strip malls, fast food places—before narrowing into a two-lane neighbourhood thoroughfare with the one- and two-storey brick buildings of the old downtown and finally ending at the Nation’s seat of power.

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Daisy put on her struttin’ shoes before heading out onto the mean streets of Ottawa’s political district

Unlike Conrad’s hero, immortalized on the silver screen by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, the intrepid traveler is rewarded not with headless corpses and a mad, bald Marlon Brando mumbling “The horror. The horror.” but instead with all the trappings of civilization and an immaculately coiffed Stephen Harper, hands clasped below the waste as if protecting his privates, stomach slightly distended beneath an ill-fitting suit, mumbling patriotic platitudes to the masses.

The horror. The horror.

The Horror

His plan for world domination almost complete, Mr. Harper watches the parade

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.

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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.

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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

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

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