Cross Country Canada
My dream is for people around the world to look up and to see Canada like a little jewel sitting at the top of the continent.
Tommy Douglas – 7th Premier of Saskatchewan
Late Start in Montreal
It was almost noon when after hours of waiting we finally got our turn to go through Canada customs. The officials were friendly and efficient. The long delay was due primarily to the large number of passengers whose innumerable suitcases, boxes and crates needed to be checked. Afterwards we stowed away our stuff in rental lockers and took a taxi to the City of Montreal. Our sister had already said good-bye to us, as she was going to board the next available train to Calgary. So Adolf and I were on our own in search for a car dealer. My brother needed a reliable vehicle that would carry us across the North American continent.
Queen Elizabeth Hotel at Montreal – May 1965
Near the city center we got off the taxi and decided to make use of the much cheaper transit system or cheaper and healthier yet to just walk. Now I had a chance to take a few photos of the new office buildings that were popping up everywhere like mushrooms after a heavy rain. I found that the Elisabeth Hotel towering over a much smaller church building was especially interesting, as the structure symbolized the transformation of Quebec from a church dominated province to a secular society. I was getting a little worried, while Adolf dragged me from one car dealer to another. He had not yet found, what he had in mind and was already talking about taking the train as well.
Typical Outside Staircases in a Residential Area
As we were roaming through the streets of a residential area searching for another car dealership, I noticed the peculiar construction of most of the houses. In order to gain more living space, they had no interior staircases but had metal stairs leading up to the entrance doors at the second and even third floor. I was thinking of the densely populated cities back in Germany, where floor space for renters was at a premium. How much more apartment space could be generated with this typical French-Canadian building concept.
Proud Owner Adolf of a Used Pontiac
Finally Adolf had found a good, used 8-cylinder Pontiac at an equally good price of $2,500. The manager, apparently very pleased with my courageous attempt to communicate in French with him, made an arrangement with Adolf that quickly consolidated the sale. It happened exactly the way my brother had once explained to me on our summer wine tour to Trier. He paid the full amount in cash. In return M. Gagé allowed him to travel with the dealer’s license plates to Alberta to save him the high provincial sales tax. Those were the days when business transactions were concluded with a handshake based on mutual trust. M. Gagé expected Adolf to mail back the plates to Montreal.
I had never sat in the such comfort of a huge and powerful American car before. It was even equipped with automatic transmission quite rare in Germany during the mid 60’s. I really enjoyed the ride back to the storage facilities, where we picked up our suitcases and wooden crates with all our belongings. It was already getting late in the afternoon, when our cross-country Canada trip began.
Peter’s Immersion into the English Language
Looking across the Ottawa River into Gatineau QC
Heading west our first goal was Ottawa. On a secondary road following the densely populated St. Lawrence valley, we drove quite slowly. The leisurely pace allowed me to take a closer look at the landscape near the river. Hundreds of islands were glowing in the evening sun. Many a romantically inclined individual had built his dream cabin on a treed retreat surrounded by water away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby City of Montreal. The properties on the mainland were generously large, where people had built their homes according to their fancy. Some dwellings were constructed entirely out of wood, others were stone buildings, some were imposing castle-like mansions, but most were simple and of modern design. Adolf must have noticed my admiring glances and remarked that in contrast to the Old Country – he always referred to Germany as the Old Country – hard working people from all walks of life could afford to live in their own house with a bit of help with a mortgage from a financial institution. His remarks swept away any remaining doubts and worries about the plans I had made with Biene earlier this year. Now I was almost certain that barring any unforeseeable adverse circumstances there was no turning back. It was here in Canada where I wanted to put my roots down. Looking at the setting sun that flooded the valley and immersed it into liquid gold, I felt energized, optimistic, and adventurous all at once. I also realized that the obstacles ‘Fate’ would throw into my path would be there to test my resolve to stay. It was almost dark when Adolf pulled up at a roadside motel, where for $6.00 we spent a restful night in comfortable beds somewhere between Montreal and Ottawa.
Adolf and Peter Studying a Road Map
The next morning at a nearby coffee shop I had my first Canadian breakfast, which consisted of two eggs fried over easy, two strips of crisp bacon, hash browns with plenty of ketchup, four slices of toast, all sorts of jam in tiny plastic cups and the standard not-so-strong coffee. Hunger is the best sauce, as the English proverb asserts. So for me this simple meal was a culinary delight. With Adolf switching to English only conversation, my English immersion program began, when he explained the difference between eggs over easy and eggs sunny side up. Obviously such fine details about the different ways of frying eggs had not been part of our English curriculum at the German high school. But there was much more to learn, especially in the use of idiomatic expressions. The waitress came by our table and asked me whether I wanted her to warm up my coffee. I replied a little taken aback by this seemingly silly question, “No thanks, my coffee is still warm!”
Fortunately, my strong German accent made it clear to her that I had not understood what she offered and that it had not been my intention to insult her. With a shrug she moved on to another table and asked the same question. “You idiot”, Adolf scolded me. “All she wanted was to give you a refill!”
My brother and his buddy Waldemar enjoying a beer
Having received my first English lesson under somewhat embarrassing circumstances, we traveled on to Ottawa and then crossed the Royal Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River into Hull now better known as Gatineau. There my brother had a friend by the name of Waldemar Klein from Rohrdorf, who immigrated with him to Canada in 1953. His house looked like it was in need of repairs on the outside, downright ugly from a critical perspective. In Germany a residence including its surrounding hedge or fence and even the lawn had to be prim and proper. Much later I found out that some property owners deliberately keep the exterior of the house unfinished with unsightly tar paper nailed to the walls in an attempt to keep the property taxes low. This was obviously the case with Waldemar’s home. However, the inside presented an entirely different view. It seemed to me that every spare dollar was invested into making their home feel more comfortable, cozier and more beautiful. The modern kitchen was equipped with the latest appliances to make life easy for Waldemar and his wife. She spoke mostly French and very little English, which made communication almost impossible. Obviously, she did not like strangers to enter her home. When she had at last comprehended that Adolf was her husband’s old buddy form Germany, she invited us in for coffee and called Waldemar from work. He was making good money as an independent contractor installing windows in the new federal office buildings that were popping up all around the city center. When he showed up shortly after the call, the joy of seeing his friend Adolf was great. Over a case of beer they revived old memories and exchanged the latest information on the Klopp and Klein families. Then it was time to move on.
A Brief Visit to Ottawa and a
Four-Hour Drive into the Night
Canada’s Parliament Buildings in Ottawa – May 1965
We crossed again the Ottawa River and half an hour later we were standing in front of the Parliament Buildings that was not in session at the time. Its Gothic revival suite of buildings serves as the home of the Parliament of Canada. The huge square looked almost deserted. A lonely mountie, short for a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was kind enough to let me take a picture in his red uniform. Too bad that the tulips were not out in full bloom yet! They would have added some much needed color to the somewhat dreary early spring landscape. Just then the afternoon sun was breaking through the cloud cover reminding us with its warm rays that spring was not too far off even in these northern climes of Canada.
Main Entrance to the Parliament
Back in the car we figured we had about three or four hours of daylight left to cover until dark a few hundred kilometres on the Trans Canada Highway. It is, along with the Trans-Siberian Highway and Australia’s Highway 1, one of the world’s longest national highways spanning more than 6,000 km from Victoria, BC to St. John’s, NL. As we were rolling through the great Canadian Shield, the largest and oldest rock formation in the world, towns and villages became sparser and except for the road there were few signs of human encroachment on the stark beauty of the bare undulating hills, pristine forests, crystal-clear lakes and wild rivers. I was fascinated by the images of the constantly varying scenes and yet conveying the feeling of one unified untouched wilderness.
A Mountie in Traditional Uniform posing for a Picture
All of a sudden like in a bad dream barbed wire fences, military installations, artillery shooting ranges and barracks emerged in the distance. ‘What would it be like to be a Canadian soldier?’ I asked myself. But I instantly brushed aside this silly question, which had brought back some bad memories. Shortly afterwards we drove by a nuclear research facility at Chalk River. What was the purpose to have it operating out here in the bush far away from the big population centres of Toronto and Montreal? Was it concern for public safety that motivated the Ontario power corporation to experiment with radioactive materials? Or would there perhaps be less criticism, less public opposition out here in the wilderness? These were some of the questions Adolf and I raised and could not answer.
Route on the Third Day of our Cross-Country Journey
We were now following the Ottawa River in a northwesterly direction. It once had provided access for the intrepid voyageurs and enterprising fur traders to the vast interior of Ontario. My brother switched on the headlights, as it was getting dark. He also drove a lot faster now. The next service station and motel was still more than two hours away. One hour before midnight we finally arrived at a small motel at the outskirts of North Bay. Needless to say we were dead tired and slept like a log in our cozy motel beds.
Canada’s Natural Splendour
And the Price of Economic Growth
Granite Lake, Ontario – One of the many Lakes Dotting the Landscape on Highway 1
The next morning we had to put up with an annoying delay. Adolf, having noticed disturbing vibrations from the front wheels, decided to have them balanced. Unfortunately, the mechanic of the small town service center took his time showing up for work on this Sunday morning. He gave us the distinct impression that he would rather go fishing than manning the lonely service station and doing repairs on a car that should have been fixed on a weekday. On second thought, we were lucky that we did not have to wait till Monday.
To make up for lost time Adolf especially on the long straight stretches exceeded the speed limit often clocking 130 km/h on the speedometer. I was not too unhappy about it, since the landscape, as we were approaching Sudbury, looked more and more like a moonscape, barren and desolate. The city named after a town in England had once been a major lumber center, but now was a booming mining community, where high concentration of nickel ore was being mined. Looking at the treeless industrial wasteland, where big processing plants with their tall chimneys belching out a mix of steam and smoke, I had a first real inkling of what man’s emphasis on economic growth could do to nature. I was not interested at all how many thousands of tons of ore were being processed in the Nickel Capital of Canada. One could even read these facts on picture postcards and travel brochures.
Nuclear Research Station
Adolf stopped for lunch at a downtown restaurant where the food was good and the prices were reasonable. While we were eating a juicy hamburger, I softened a little my critical stance on the devastating effects of industrial exploitation. I realized that people in order to live needed work. I also found out later that much larger regions, some greater in size than the two Germanys put together, remained untouched and unspoiled wilderness. I could see that Adolf was right after we left the dust and grime of the city, where a quarter of all its workers were employed by the giant nickel company Inco. Once we had traveled past Sault St. Marie, a steel manufacturing town just across from the State of Michigan, I was in for a visual treat. All of a sudden we were back in the forest driving past idyllic lakes and streams, then through the Lake Superior Provincial Park. All I remember is a blur of images and impressions of one the greatest freshwater sources in the world. Whenever we drove close to the shoreline of Lake Superior, fantastic scenery would present itself to our eager eyes. When I glimpsed a chain of islands large and small within an easy reach by canoe, many of them treed, I enthusiastically exclaimed, “Adolf, as soon as I have earned enough money, I am going to buy one these lovely islets for Biene and me.”
Adolf put on a sardonic grin and replied, “To earn money, you need a job, perhaps in a place like Sudbury.”
My Brother Adolf Taking a Break at a Picturesque Waterfall
We stopped at one of the recreational areas with its robust wooden picnic tables near the edge of the water. It seemed like we had the entire park to ourselves, as it was still early spring for tourists to venture out to this remote natural paradise. In the cool of the approaching evening fog patches settled over both land and water creating a magical effect. The islands with their spruce tops sticking out in dark silhouettes against the orange evening sky appeared to be drifting like ghosts across the tranquil lake. Then we drove on to the small community of Wawa, the gateway to the hunting and fishing grounds of Northwestern Ontario. On this night we slept in a hotel for a change, having spent altogether $23.00 for gas, repairs, food and lodging.
Romantic Rhapsody About Canada
National Park at Lake Superior – Photo Credit: camperuno.blogspot. com
Up with the lark we walked through the sleepy town of Wawa. At 9 o’clock we stepped into a Chinese restaurant to have breakfast. The owner, cook and waiter all under the same hat looked just as sleepy as the town. He took a long time to prepare and serve the usual bacon, eggs and toast for the only two customers. We were quite annoyed with the delay and decided to buy our own food for the remainder of the trip, such as ready-made meals in cans, butter, bread, milk, fruit juices, oranges and apples. At a service station I bought gasoline for the camp stove, on which I planned to heat up the chunky soup at any of the roadside rest areas. At a hardware store we picked up basic cooking and eating utensils. By the time we had eaten breakfast and finished our shopping, half the day had already slipped away on us.
Early May on the Trans-Canada Highway – Adolf’s Car on the Left
Then we were on the road again at times traveling through dense forests often very close to Lake Superior. Unfortunately, fog and low clouds obstructed our view. They were so dense at times that Adolf had to turn on the headlights. At the entrance of a small village, whose name I have forgotten, was a large billboard, which claimed in large letters to hold the record at –72º F for being the coldest place in Canada. On we drove now along the seemingly endless shoreline. The impenetrable blanket of fog prevented us from viewing the lake. At a picnic area we stopped for lunch and unpacked our victuals in the frigid air. When the icy mist briefly lifted, we could hardly believe our eyes. A finger thick coat of ice still covered the Great Lake at a time, when on the same latitude on our planet flowers were already announcing the arrival of spring! We ate our frugal meal of homemade sandwiches not far from the city of Port Arthur, which a few years later amalgamated with Fort William to become today’s city of Thunder Bay. The only noteworthy thing about the drab scenery around these two towns were the huge grain elevator strategically placed near the railroad tracks. They stored the prairie wheat waiting to be shipped as far away as Vancouver and Montreal.
Peter Taking in the Sights at Serpent River Ontario
Heading north into the Land of Thousand Lakes, we began to cheer up as the sun finally broke through the clouds. A look at the map of Northwestern Ontario will convince anyone that the description of this boreal region is not an exaggeration. On the contrary, I would call it the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. What incredible mazes of lakes and rivers branching out in all directions, which the native canoeists, early explorers and the dauntless coureurs des bois had to navigate without the aid of any maps!
As if to underline the upbeat mood I was in, I took my harmonica out of my briefcase and played one merry tune after another. I was amazed how many different songs I could string together in a potpourri of folksongs, scout melodies and pop music. Adolf contributed to the sense of camaraderie by cheerfully whistling or singing along, while we were driving into the setting sun.
At Vermillion Bay I would have liked to call it a day. A cozy motel located directly at a lake beckoned us to stay. But our goal was Kenora near the Manitoba border. Also we had just gained over the past three days another hour of daylight in our journey to the Western Provinces. So after a short break we decided to roll on. The sun was almost blinding us. Adolf lowered the visor to protect his eyes from the glare. A few minutes later the fireball nearing the horizon was shooting crimson rays through the forest, flickering and dancing in a kaleidoscopic display of color and motion. At dusk myriads of tiny lakes swept by our left window like precious pearls strung up on invisible threads. In the absolute stillness on their glassy surface black spruce trees mirrored themselves with such clarity that on a photo one would have had problems in telling which were the trees and which were their reflections. Looking at this beautiful monochromatic scenery, I thought, as I often did when I discovered another facet of nature’s beauty, ‘One day, I will take Biene on a road trip to experience all these wonderful places that we are now having to rush through.’
On the Home Stretch
Kenora Ontario – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org
I have no recollection of Kenora, where we spent the fourth night. In those days it was just a small town on the main highway between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. In the fifty years since then it has seen a major transformation from a backward lumber town to a modern city with a sharp focus on tourism and support for recreational ventures at the Lake of the Woods with its 105,000 km of shoreline making it the longest coastline of any Canadian lake. Its name did not hint in the least at the wonders it had to offer to the outdoor enthusiasts. There was an incredible number of over 14,000 islands on this sixth largest lake after the Great Lakes. Surely there had to be a separate island for each canoeist and camper to land on here.
As we crossed the provincial border into Manitoba the next morning, the lakes became rare, the forest denser, the land increasingly more level, and the highway had fewer curves. Adolf and I began to get bored. We were both eager to get to Calgary as quickly as possible. When we left the trees behind and entered the open prairie, which was only now beginning to show some signs of spring, Adolf stepped on the gas to cover as many miles as the speed limit would allow. The grey monotony of the fields still waiting to be planted with wheat and the unfiltered harsh sunlight made our eyes burn. I was feeling tired, although I was only sitting on the comfortable car bench. I began to view the second last lap of our trip more as a burden than a pleasure. Adolf, my good brother in times, when my spirit was noticeably drooping, encouraged me, “You should come back here in June, when the wheat fields begin to green or better yet in the fall, when an ocean of golden stalks greets you with waves of ripe wheat stirred up by the wind and is putting on a show that you don’t want to miss.”
He was right. I should not have allowed my enthusiasm for the land to sag so quickly. Looking back at the marvellous sights of the past few days, I felt thankful to Adolf for having taken me on this trip. A few kilometres past Port La Prairie we stopped at a roadside rest area to have a lunch break. I delighted in seeing the first signs of spring in the green grass already growing around our picnic table. Cooking a simple meal like chunky soup from cans was really fun on the little gasoline stove that had been useful so often since my boy-scout years in Wesel. After this short rest in the sunshine we put in six or seven more gruelling hours of travel time and eventually dropped in at a small modest motel in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. It was going to be our last night on our way to Calgary. Thanks to Adolf’s tireless driving often at speeds going over the posted speed limits we arrived at Gerry’s house on Fyffe Road two days earlier than we had planned.