Taking the Trans-Canada Highway from our home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to our home in London, Ontario, is a long, long drive. 7000 kilometers, to be exact.
Crossing Saskatchewan and Manitoba over miles of prairie and whispering grain fields holds a wonderful sense of freedom. You can see for miles, the roads are straight and the driving is easy. The land is as flat as a pancake and sunsets are sensational.
We have to say we were shocked to see giant marshmallows growing in the fields.
(Until we realized they were wrapped bails of hay.)
Saskatoon is now known as the Paris of the Prairies. It’s a pretty city with a river winding through it and miles of walking and biking trails all along the river. The castle Bessborough, the old Canadian National Railway Hotel, sits as a sentinel in the centre of town on the North Saskatchewan River.
Regina, the only other major city in Saskatchewan, is a windy city, dry and dusty in summer, with frigid winters. Even in Saskatoon, winters are brutal, with days where the thermometer hits 30 to 40 degrees below zero centrigrade. “But it’s a dry cold” they say, “Not like the wet biting cold of humid places like Southern Ontario.”
It’s not always cold in Canada. Summers in Canada are perfect. Warm and sunny days see everyone out working in their yards or fields, children playing outside, barbecues smoking, people walking or biking, and everyone enjoying mild nights with the sun setting late into the evening hours.
There is an attitude in Canada, where Easterners, especially Torontonians, think they are superior to Westerners. Westerners think Easterners are snobby and ‘scared to get their hands dirty’. Easterners think Westerners are all farmers and cowboys with little class or sophistication. To some extent, this is true. But there is a warmth and honesty to Westerners that is well-appreciated by many. The competition has abated somewhat since the economic crash in Eastern Canada (Ontario), while the economy of the Prairies has remained stable and solid, even growing. The East does not refer to the Maritime Provinces, which again, are generally thought of as an area of poor fishermen with little refinement. And don’t get me started on Quebec – that’s a whole other ballgame.
In the fall on the Prairies, the sound of a farm truck on a country road kicking up the gravel and leaving a blooming dust trail brought back memories of growing up on the farm. Combines urgently harvest the grain fields, and farm equipment is a common scene on the highways as farmers move to another field. Grasshoppers chirp and plug up the rad on your vehicle. Frogs sing as dusk falls, and watch out for deer crossing the highway. The sights and sounds of childhood live on forever.
We took a detour to stop and visit M in Morden, Manitoba, a lovely little town in Southern Manitoba. We got in after 9 pm and hadn’t had supper. Much to our dismay, everything was closed except a pizza place. This is typical of small prairie towns – we should have known. And we just missed the Corn and Apple Fest.
It is flat again here until you hit the Great Canadian Shield near the Manitoba/Ontario border. Remember studying that in school? That massive splay of bedrock spreads like a grand sweep of paint on an angle across Northern Manitoba and Ontario.
There are few towns, often with nothing but your vehicle, the mountains and lakes and forests and bears and moose for hundreds of miles. There is nothing between towns, so if you’re looking for a gas or a bathroom, you may be in a bit of a bind, so to speak. You feel like you are in the far North, yet there is an excellent divided highway. This is a Must-See area if you are driving the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s a region where there is lots of fishing, diving and hunting, with many signs for Bait and Ice. We saw two black bears, one near Marathon, and another near Sault Ste Marie.
A dramatic change of scene as you drive along both before and after the Manitoba/Ontario border is surprising. Suddenly there is rock everywhere. Huge rock cuts along the highway have you imagining the gigantic boom from the dynamite that blasted away that rock to make way for the highway.
The forest is thick and impenetrable. You imagine someone getting hopelessly lost in that forest, never to be seen again. Black bears are abundantly roaming the area, and moose signs are everywhere. Thousands of lakes spread beautifully along the sides of the highway. Not ordinary lakes. No, these lakes are dotted with rock islands and treed islands, big islands and small islands. Hundreds of pretty lakes. Who knew?
In Dryden, take a stop at the Trading Post Motel along the highway to get a smile from the Super Hero statues and the little yellow plane.
Bridge construction seemed to be on every bridge, with one-way lanes, so that slowed down our progress a bit, but gave us more time to look around. We must have crossed 10 bridges under construction.
And mountains. Well, big hills really, but the locals call them mountains. Despite driving through in heavy fog, the mountains shrouded in fog, there were impressive views in every direction.
Hiking view above courtesy panoramio.com