Travel Log: Oh, Canada! Eh?

The Red Boat
“The Red Boat” Brief glimpse of St. Petersburg, Florida. (Nathanael Miller, 19 Feb. 2018)

(Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada; Aug. 4, 2018) – Before you say “Salt Saint Marie,” it’s actually French and pronounced “Soo.” So the town is properly known as “Soo Saint Marie.” “Soo” refers to the rapids on the St. Marys River at this point. Prior to the War of 1812, the Ontario town and the Michigan town were all one municipality, but the treaty ending that war settled the U.S./Canada boundary down the middle of the river, splitting the town.

The town(s) grew up here because of the rapids. This is the one spot on the St Marys River that required shipped goods be ported on land to clear the rapids. Eventually locks were built, and today shipping between the Great Lakes is as busy today as it ever was.

I headed into Quebec only two days ago, but it has been a whirlwind time. I headed to Roxton Falls to track the gravesite of my great-great-great grandparents. I found the cemetery I believe is the correct one (kind of easy to deduce that—it’s the only cemetery in the parish that covers Roxton Falls). I could not find their graves, but I’m not terribly discouraged. The only stones in the graveyard date from the 20th century (the oldest one I saw was 1906). My ancestors were buried in the 1880s and the 1890s. I found a couple of old, rotted wooden markers and a vault that was marked as a communal family vault. Either they were buried in a plot with a wooden marker, or they were interred in the vault. More research is required.

I then drove across the Quebec countryside towards Toronto in Ontario. Quebec is a lovely country and the day was great…until I hit Ontario road construction.

Rural Quebec
Get into the Quebec countryside and you’ll find a gorgeous land with rolling hills, bright skies, and clear air.  Quebec, Canada. (Aug. 2, 2018)

Ok, ok, that was on me. I decided to do an extended drive and get to Toronto late at night. Well, Ontario is doing a lot of construction on their version of our interstate highways. To be fair, they are doing the work at night, and I’m the genius that decided to drive right into all that as they began to close lanes, detour traffic, etc. I ended up on the road about three hours longer than I should have!

Toronto as a city was amazing. But the bad news first: I’m sorry to be blunt, but drivers around Toronto are the most dangerously aggressive, hyperactively unpredictable bunch of motorists I have ever survived. I’ve driven a 15-passenger van safely through New York City at rush hour and my stress level then was far less than driving through Toronto yesterday. The motorists alone seriously impair my desire to return to that city.

Now, the good news. Once you park and start walking the city, Toronto is an amazing place. It is a very clean city and very easy to navigate. The highlight was the Royal Ontario Museum (“ROM” in the local shorthand). The ROM is Canada’s version of the Smithsonian Institution, and it is worth every minute. The building itself itself was not something I enjoyed navigating. It’s a art-deco-collides-with-New-Age structure that I found difficult to figure out. However, the collection is more than worth the time.

Royal Ontario Museum
Richard, a staff member at the Royal Ontario Museum, is a walking encyclopedia and an engaging story teller.  Let him take you on a tour of ancient Egypt or Native American cultures.  Toronto, Ontario.  (Aug. 3, 2018)

If you’re lucky you’ll find Richard in a red lab coat waiting to tell curious visitors the history of a totem pole that stands over 80 feet tall, or else he might in the Egyptology giving a lively rendition of the life Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the second historically-confirmed female pharaoh. She ruled over a golden age of trade and prosperity, but sort of did it by usurping the throne from Pharaoh Thutmose II’s son by a secondary wife (Hatshepsut was the primary wife, so if she had been able to bear a son, he would have been the heir). She was supposed to rule for only short time as regent, but apparently assumed the full title of pharaoh and ruled for 21 years. When she died, Thutmose III finally got the throne.

The ROM is the only museum I’ve ever visited that let me view dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies, Chinese and Japanese treasures, European art and culture, and Native American history all under the same roof. You need to go see it.

Royal Ontario Museum
Visitors examine an ancient Egyptian mummy at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Toronto, Ontario.  (Aug. 3, 2018)

I then decided to drive north over the Great Lakes to Sault Saint Marie so I can re-enter the U.S. at Michigan tomorrow. As it turns out, I ended up driving on one of Canada’s great national treasures quite by accident: the famed Trans-Canada Highway. This is not a single highway, but a connected ribbon of several major arteries that lead across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It is an understatement to say you’ll spend a lot of time not seeing anything but trees, hills, signs warning of moose and bear crossing the road, and more trees.

I loved every minute of that seven hours.

A common sight are the inuksuk (“inuk-shuk”) you’ll see all along the Trans-Canada Highway. These are rock cairns that originated with native peoples such as the Inuit. They were used as trail markers, sign posts, etc. Somewhere in the highway’s history people started building small inuksuk along the road, and most research indicates it’s just a way saying “I was here.” Well, better that than spray-paint!

Inuksuk are growing phenomena in both Canadian and U.S. parks, and rangers in both countries are not entirely happy about it. They discourage the practice because the free-built inuksuk can confuse travels in off-road areas by distracting from the real trail markers maintained by the parks. However, seeing them along the Trans-Canada Highway was (for me, at least) a wonderful experience. For one thing it reminds one that we’re not alone out there (somebody will always come by); for another, they remind us that our continent has a rich history long predating the nations we know as the U.S. and Canada.

Inusuk Along the Trans-Canada Highway
An inuksuk along the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario.  (Aug. 4, 2018)

The funny part of the Trans-Canada Highway drive came when I stopped in Sudbury for lunch and gas. I just went to Pizza Hut (yes, Pizza Hut). The two young ladies working there and I got to talking; they were very interested in my travels, but were also very curious as to my opinion of Canada. I told them I’d been having a great time…except for the Toronto drivers.

Both of them nodded and groaned in unison, almost as if they had rehearsed their reaction. They told me no one in Canada was terribly impressed with the drivers in Toronto! But they were happy I enjoyed the city itself.

They were also very impressed I spent time time in Quebec and that I am apparently the first member of my family line to return to our ancestral lands in Quebec since at least 1878 (my great grandfather was born in Rhode Island in 1879, so my line of the Tartre/Miller family obviously left Quebec by 1878).

I have more Canada to see. I have no idea how this will go, but if I can somehow pull off seeing all of Canada’s provinces in addition to all 50 of our states, this might just evolve into Grand Tour North America, eh?

But, back to the U.S. tomorrow. I want to see a bit of Michigan’s upper peninsula, and then Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas!

Toronto from Humber Bay Park
The Toronto skyline rises above Lake Ontario.  (Aug. 3, 2018)

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One thought on “Travel Log: Oh, Canada! Eh?

  1. Glad to hear you had an enjoyable time. Toronto traffic is well known – the constant political clash between cars vs. alternative transit has produced a bizarre & annoying mix in the traffic flow. They are not that hospitable to bicycles either.

    Along the way did you smell Espanola ? Depending on the time of day and the wind direction you will get a strong announcement of the pulp paper mill. 🙂 Ironically you never get a whiff at the highway 6 turn-off when you are just 5-10 minutes from the mill.

    You drove past us here in Elliot Lake, once a centre of Uranium mining, now a Retirement opportunity community. 😀 Hope you get to see more.


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