Category Archives: Ontario

14 Sep

Terry Fox Run in St. Catharines

This morning, for the first time in my new home city, I participated in the annual Terry Fox Run.

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I was one of the early birds.

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Sponsor tents.

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The registration desk.

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As those of you who know me would expect, I added the name of the late Carli Ward to the list of dedications. Long before her cancer diagnosis, Carli made the Terry Fox Run a habit and I’ve since continued the tradition in her memory.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that, unlike what happens in Winnipeg, the ceremonies were kept rather understated.

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Local volunteers.

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This speaker was from Café Amoré, one of the sponsors.

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Dawn Dodge, one of my councillors and the deputy mayor, read a prepared statement on behalf of the city. She should have finished it with the line, “This has been a recording.”

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Another of the speakers, this one from Brock University.

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The warmup.

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At the starting line. I was impressed that they thought enough to stagger the departure times. In order to avoid the unruly free-for-all that normally takes place in Winnipeg, the cyclists went first, followed by the rollerbladers, runners and walkers. As they explained, it makes sense to have the faster participants leave ahead of the slower ones.

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A scene along the route. Again, I was impressed that they had police blocking traffic. In Winnipeg, there is no traffic control and participants have to be on the lookout for passing vehicles.

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There were people cheering the participants all along the route. It was a very nice touch that is unsurprisingly absent in Winnipeg.

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Once again, cheers greeted participants at the finish line. It was another welcome reminder that I no longer live in the SPRM.

I heard runners who passed me boast about their times and the pace they were able to keep, but the Terry Fox Run is one event where the times are not important. What is important is that the run Terry was not able to finish continues year after year in city after city to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. There have been so many advances in detection and treatment, but the battle against cancer is far from over. That struggle that touches nearly every one of us is the reason so many dedicated volunteers work so hard to put the run together and why so many of us set aside time to be part of it.

08 Sep

Voyage South of the Falls

My most recent scenic tour of my new home region comes south of Niagara Falls. For this particular outing, I eschewed Google’s recommendations and took Taylor Road past the outlet mall and up the escarpment to Mountain Road.

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The climb up the escarpment was in two manageable stages and there were paved shoulders on both roads. In addition, the roads seemed well-maintained and were not littered with potholes, unlike what I’m accustomed to from my years in the SPRM.

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Passing Walker Industries. Disclaimer: I have no connection to this organization.

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Turning east at Mountain Road towards the QEW.

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From atop the escarpment, you can see all the way across the lake. In the distance is the C.U. skyline.

I proceeded south on Dorchester Road, east on McLeod Road, then south on Portage Road past Marineland.

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Everyone loves Marineland.

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I then headed through the village of Chippawa. As the sign says, Chippawa is the home town of James Cameron, a famed Hollywood director who worked on many films including The Terminator, a true classic.

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While taking some shots at the bridge over the Welland River, an older couple sitting on a nearby bench kindly pointed out the weasel. I talked to them briefly and they asked me if I moved to St. Catharines for school. Those of you who know me may pause for a moment to laugh hysterically.

After passing through Chippawa, I found the Niagara Parkway Trail and headed south. The sign said Fort Erie was 24 km away and that journey will have to wait for another day. Nonetheless, I did make it past Navy Island, cycling through scenery that reminded me of scenes from Gone with the Wind. I kept expecting to find Rhett Butler on his horse coming around the next bend.

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Pictures don’t do the area justice.

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I imagine this would be a popular golf course for those who are so inclined.

I turned around here and headed back to the Falls, stopping for more pictures along the way.

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This humble abode was for sale. $3.2 million or best offer takes it.

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The Willoughby Historical Museum. Curiously, the sign on the door said it was closed for the season. Since when is early September out of season in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?

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More homes along the route.

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The historical marker for Navy Island at the south end of the island.

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Clear water. It’s still a novelty to see, coming from the murky shores of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

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Farther north on the trail, I stopped at the Chippawa Battlefield Park, site of another famous battle during the War of 1812, or more appropriately, the War of 1812-1815.

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The northern shore of Navy Island. Interestingly, Navy Island was once mentioned as a prospective site for the United Nations headquarters following World War II.

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The northern bridge connecting Grand Island to the mainland in New York State.

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Robert Moses Parkway. This is why the Canadian side of Niagara Falls remains much more popular than its American counterpart as my neighbor, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, can attest.

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Near Main Street in Chippawa, the trail cuts across the water towards the Falls.

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The Niagara Falls skyline. That’s mist coming from the falls, not the aftermath of an arsonist, one of the ten most popular occupations in my former home city.

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The dam as part of the hydroelectric generating station.

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Another couple of skyline shots.

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The mighty Niagara River.

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At Dufferin Islands, or “Daufferin,” as my late grandfather would say.

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I stopped by the Floral Showhouse, but I’ll save a trip inside for a future visit. The price of admission was a reasonable $5.65, but I was outraged to see that they want $5/hour for parking. There’s a difference between charging a fair price and gouging. This falls into the latter category.

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The incline railway and adjacent Welcome Center.

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Before heading inside to the Welcome Center, I had to hunt high and low before finding a rack to lock up my bike. Given the number of cyclists who traverse the Niagara Parkway, the lack of facilities for guests arriving on two wheels is a rather significant oversight that I hope is addressed in the near future.

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Once again, I know I was not alone. You may understand. You may not.

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I know one and perhaps only one reader will appreciate this.

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Elements on the Falls. Any connection to a former pair of colleagues from my distant past is strictly unavoidable. Most readers, even my close friends, will not understand.

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Tourists line the railing to get a good view of the falls.

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Still others want a more up close and personal look.

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Before leaving, I took a ride down Fallsview Boulevard and noticed a traffic jam in front of the Embassy Suites Hotel. I presume this is for the valet parking.

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The Fallsview Casino, an ATM for the government.

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I couldn’t help but stop to get a shot of this billboard. The farmer did not make my eggs today, a chicken did.

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A reminder of a piece of my past. I wonder if it’s a fighting moose or just a regular moose. One reader will understand more than most.

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Political incorrectness in its most egregious form.

It was an interesting outing and yet another positive experience. Once again, I only wish I had come here sooner.

05 Sep

Waterfront Trail – St. Catharines to Grimsby

Taking the lead of a friend and former colleague from the SPRM who recently paid me a visit in my new home, I decided to take a trek west and cover the section of the Waterfront Trail between St. Catharines and Grimsby.

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On the way, I noted this sign with particular interest as I passed through Port Dalhousie. I was most impressed to see that the city has a Clean City Committee and organizes activities like this. It was yet another pleasant reminder as to why we packed all those boxes and came all this way. I would ordinarily be the kind of person to see this as a waste of resources, but a fresh perspective has certainly made me appreciate being in a community that cares about such things. I don’t think readers from my new home city can properly appreciate that perspective unless they have spent any significant time in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

Incidentally, I still find myself pronouncing Dalhousie as dal-HOW-zee. Old habits from the SPRM die hard.

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For the most part, the trail is well signed, but after leaving Port Dalhousie, it would be more appropriate to call it the QEW Trail instead of the Waterfront Trail since you end up seeing more of the QEW than you do of Lake Ontario.

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Nonetheless, there are some nice views of the lake as you pass by Charles Daley Park on the way to Jordan Harbor.

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At Jordan Road, the trail officially takes a detour into Jordan Village. I continued west on North Service Road, but I will check out the sights in Jordan Village in a future visit.

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Behind the Ramada Beacon Harborside Resort is Jordan Harbor.

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Even though the path of the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, this is one of the few places along the route where motorists can actually get a glimpse of the lake.

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Hidden away behind some brush is the rusting remains of “La Grande Hermine,” or “Big Weasel” that has been in Jordan Harbor since 1997. The full story of this abandoned vessel can be found here.

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Continuing west, I passed by the Lake House restaurant as the trail veers away from the lake.

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Prudhomme’s antique store and factory outlet.

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Prudhomme’s Landing Inn hasn’t seen too many landings recently. I don’t even think the buzzards bother to stop there anymore.

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Despite passing mainly through farmland, there are oases like this when you need to stop for a break. There’s also another such area in Beamsville a few miles to the west. Despite the ancillary traffic it brings, there are advantages to having the trail near the QEW.

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There’s more to Vineland than just a carpool parking lot.

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Another roadside attraction.

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I know one reader from the SPRM will appreciate this, even though I know it’s not spelled the same.

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I’ve seen these signs before, but never one at such close proximity. I know I’ve mentioned it before in a previous entry, but I unreservedly endorse these measures to punish reckless drivers. I do hope that, unlike the way it is in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, driving like a maniac is indeed a reportable offense.

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After putting on 19 miles, I reached Grimsby.

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I didn’t want to venture too much farther on this morning, so I turned around at Bal Harbor Park, but not before a little break to snap some more pictures.

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I imagine that second-floor patio gets a lot of use.

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The water was clear and didn’t smell like a sewage lagoon. This just in.™ This is not the Red or Assiniboine River.

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On the way back, I needed another break, so I stopped at Charles Daley Park, just west of Seventh Avenue Louth.

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View of 15 Mile Creek.

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Other views from the gazebo on the east side of the park.

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I noted this sign with interest especially having seen the signs in the washrooms along the Niagara Parkway advising that foot washing in the sinks wasn’t allowed. As a newcomer to the area, I don’t quite understand the fascination with foot washing in this part of the world. Maybe I’ll figure it out in time.

Going west from St. Catharines doesn’t offer the same quality of scenery as it does in the other direction, but it was a relatively non-contentious route, the kind of which I could only dream about when I lived in the SPRM. It offers a good view of the escarpment, but you won’t be climbing it, so it offers some of the easiest miles in the region for a cyclist. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back.”™

30 Aug

Getting Around

As I begin my fifth week in my new home, as many of you might suspect, I continue to get around and discover the area.

Earlier this week, I headed south for my first visit to Welland, the city whose name adorns the canal that bisects the peninsula. One of these days, I need to look into why it’s called the Welland Canal and not the Thorold Canal, Port Colborne Canal or the St. Catharines Canal.

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Upon reaching the Welland Canals Recreational Trail, I did a double take when I noticed the name of this ship. When I lived in Winnipeg, my home was backing the sewage lagoon otherwise known as the Assiniboine River.

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I continued down the trail, up the escarpment through Thorold.

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Between Thorold and Welland, the terrain mercifully Saskatchewanizes and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it very much reminded me of the area around Whiteshell Provincial Park, located at the western tip of the Canadian Shield.

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On the way, I took a side trip across Bridge 11 to Allanburg.

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As those of you who know me would expect, picking up more highway pictures was the motivating factor behind this particular diversion.

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I then retraced my steps, got back on the trail and was soon in Welland.

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The Main Street Bridge, under construction.

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Canal Terrace, a nice little place to stop and look out at the Welland Recreational Waterway. Again, I kept expecting to find bums staggering around a morass of broken beer bottles, condom wrappers and other assorted presents left on the sidewalk. Old habits from Winnipeg die hard. Instead, the area was clean and perfectly well civilized.

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I made my way to Main Street and the roundabout where King’s Highway 406 ends. Standing on the sidewalk, I was able to understand the instructions on this mammoth sign, but I can imagine how motorists not familiar with the area might throw their hands up in despair trying to decipher its meaning. It is thorough, but I think someone at MTO outsmarted themselves on this one. They might have been better off applying the K.I.S.S. principle. Winnipeg has a famous intersection informally known as Confusion Corner and I think Welland just got one of its own.

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The Main Street Tunnel. I will save my first trip through it for a future visit.

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I returned through downtown and stopped for a break at the Welland Transit Terminal.

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Like Winnipeg Transit, Welland Transit also operates a “Sorry” route.

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Continuing on, I passed Welland City Hall.

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Elsewhere in downtown Welland.

As I have noticed ever since I set foot on the peninsula, the people have been very friendly and Welland proved to be no exception. However, I must have stood out as an unfamiliar sight as I got a lot of “you’re not from around here, are you” kind of looks. Which is true. Sort of.

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I returned to the trail and headed north back towards St. Catharines.

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Crossing under both spans of the 406.

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This frog was in the middle of the trail and I luckily avoided him.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit and I look forward to returning when I have a little more energy to look around more. Because of the side trips I made along the way and being an experienced cyclist well aware of my limits, I knew I was at the end of my tether. I will have to make a point of studying the Welland Visitors Guide to see what other attractions the city offers.

Later in the week, I went to the Seymour-Hannah Complex to check out the training camp of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, likely soon to be my new favorite team.

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It was an impressive facility and had four rinks. For those reading from the SPRM, it was like the ChipmanPlex. Without Chipman.

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Before heading for Rink 1, where the IceDogs were working out, I stopped at the display for the City of St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame. Of particular note for me was the name of Rudy Pilous, who was listed in the inaugural class. A Winnipeg native who had spent many years in St. Catharines, Pilous was once the coach and, later, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets during their years in the WHA. His biography at scshof.com incorrectly states that he had coached the team in 1973-1974, but he did coach the Jets the following year and subsequently served as the team’s general manager until John Ferguson dismissed him on December 15, 1978.

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Stepping inside, my nose immediately told me that much hockey had been played in this rink as the stench of decades worth of fermented sweat shot right up my nostrils. However, the rink looked very well maintained and I was stunned to see clean, padded seats on both sides of the ice. I had expected instead to see rows of bench-style seating consisting of little more than roughly chipped plywood that had not had contact with the end of a paint brush in the last quarter century. Again, that was the cynic in me that many decades of living in Winnipeg brings to the surface.

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Action between the red and black teams. I was a little curious as to why they were sporting jerseys with the OHL logo rather than that of the IceDogs. Perhaps that’s one of those things I’ll learn as my fandom builds. While watching, I really didn’t know who many of the players were, but again, I’ll learn.

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The IceDogs braintrust, I presume.

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I noticed this ad on the boards and it was another pleasant reminder that I no longer live in Winnipeg. According to the Winnipeg police, if you are walking down a street and are hit and nearly killed by a car pulling out of a driveway, it is not a reportable offense. You can imagine how they would react to something as comparatively trivial as graffiti.

In my first real foray into the world of junior hockey, I was surprised to see so few young, female admirers fawning over their favorite players/would-be boyfriends. When I followed the Manitoba Fighting Moose during their years in the AHL, watching the fanatical behavior of these groupies/puck bunnies proved almost as entertaining as the games themselves. Perhaps that will come when the puck drops for real.

I didn’t stay all that long, but I am eagerly anticipating the junior hockey experience. Unlike the case in Winnipeg, where junior hockey barely registered on the radar even when they had a team, smaller communities such as St. Catharines really seem to rally around their team. This new fan experience intrigues me as much as any future action on the ice and the seeds of a future novel have already been planted. Our MP seems to have dibs on “Hockey Night in St. Catharines,” so I’ll probably call it something else.

A couple of days later, I rode out to Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the way there, I went out of my way to take Niagara Stone Road. It isn’t a route I would normally choose or recommend due to the high volume of traffic, but the opportunity to get some shots of the former King’s Highway 55 was the reason I went that way. There was at least a paved shoulder to keep me a reasonable distance away from passing cars and trucks.

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I know it’s a lousy picture, but this particular sign on Queenston Street struck me, one that obviously dates back to when Niagara Stone Road was King’s Highway 55. After the route was downloaded to the region, they must have simply stuck a regional marker over the provincial marker, leaving the rest of the sign intact. Even though it has clearly seen better days, the sign still serves its purpose and common sense dictated that it did not need to be replaced entirely.

In the SPRM, they adopt a much different approach. Evidently flush with cash, the province has been on a search-and-destroy mission over the past few years to replace signs such as this at a dizzying pace and for no apparent reason. In a case like this, crews would be out either repainting or replacing the entire sign, most likely on a Sunday or holiday to rack up overtime. Click here for a glaring example of how this practice works in the SPRM.

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Entering the Greenbelt. Oddly, the sign is in blue. Perhaps it should be the Bluebelt.

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The Great Mountain Center, one of the places along the route that offers grape and wine tours. This one also offers locally-grown ginseng and tea.

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I soon reached the community of Virgil.

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Crossing Four Mile Creek.

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At East and West Line, cyclists like me can take advantage of a shared pathway and get off the road.

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Picard’s Country Store, where you can buy Ontario-grown peanuts.

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I had to pull off the road and get this shot. On this specific day, on the occasion of the four-week anniversary of my defection from the SPRM and arrival in St. Catharines, I spotted an SPRM flag and a New Brunswick flag on the same pole. Immediately to my right as I took this shot was a Beemer.

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Not far from this spot was Anne Street.

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Later in the outing, I would spot this “C” on the ground near the spot where I took a particularly nice picture.

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During a break, I would also spot this Whirlpool Jet. Number 5.

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Across the river was the number 5 on this communication tower.

As always, I knew I was not alone. Some of you will understand. Most of you will not.

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I continued on into the Historic Old Town, a place I am quickly becoming very fond of.

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A clever sign.

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One of the many fashionable dwellings along the lake.

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Scenes in Ryerson Park.

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Niagara Boulevard.

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I got another shot of the floral display honoring the United Empire Loyalists. When I got there, there were two women taking turns snapping pictures of each other, so I offered to take a shot of the two of them together. Sadly, the only words of English they spoke were, “I’m sorry, we don’t speak English.” Nonetheless, through the use of some clever charades, I got my point across and they gratefully accepted my offer. I hope the shots I took worked.

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The post office. As I understand, this is the correct spelling of the town’s name, yet I would later find this sign that has a capital “O” and capital “T” in the “on” and “the,” respectively:

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I know I’m being a little petty here, but the town ought to spell its own name correctly.

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One of the many bed and breakfasts in town. It seems like there’s one on every street corner.

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Overlooking New York State as I stop for a break. I know you’ve heard this before, but I could get used to this.

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Visitors from Wisconsin. Or as they say, “Wiscahnsin,” in their catchy accent. If you haven’t recognized the symbol, the picture I use on both my Facebook and Twitter profiles is a Wisconsin state trunk highway sign.

These are just the latest in a series of adventures over the course of the more than 300 miles I’ve racked up on two wheels during my first month here. No doubt, there’s more on the way. Stay tuned.

22 Aug

Cycling to the Falls

As many of you who know me might expect, soon after my bike arrived from Winnipeg, I wasted no time in making a pair of visits to nearby Niagara Falls.

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Though I’ve studied plenty of maps, since I am still largely unfamiliar with the best routes to use, I decided to rely on Google to plan my first visit to the Falls since I was a young child on vacation from Winnipeg.

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Google recommended first heading south from St. Catharines along the Welland Canals Parkway into Thorold.

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As the sign says, Thorold is where the ships climb the mountain. It is also where cyclists climb the mountain, otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment. Coming from the flatlands, the frequent changes in elevation are something I’m going to have to get used to.

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I took the exit at Regent Street and proceeded south along Front Street through Thorold’s “historic downtown.” That phrase carries a very negative connotation in Winnipeg, but Thorold’s downtown has a lot more appeal than Winnipeg’s downtown does. Once again, I found no bums and the streets were clean. Thorold’s downtown reminded me of Kenora, a city in the northwestern part of the province I’ve visited a number of times when I lived in Winnipeg.

Google’s recommendation took me through the Front Street Park and towards the Thorold Tunnel that goes underneath the Welland Canal.

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I promptly got off my bike and walked it through the tunnel along the pedestrian walkway, separated from motorized traffic by a concrete barrier.

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MTO says the tunnel is 840 m long, but it felt like five miles when I was in there. I am normally not claustrophobic, but it was a harrowing experience having speeding trucks whizzing past me at close quarters inside such an enclosed space. After reaching daylight, I was visibly shaken for much of the remainder of the ride into the Falls. On my return trip, I would ride through and shorten the amount of time I had to spend in the tunnel. I suspect the Thorold Tunnel won’t be seeing much of my shadow in future.

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Once out of the tunnel, I turned south on Davis Road, then east on Beaverdams Road, following it to Lundy’s Lane.

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Beaverdams Road passes through a golf course and a few homes, but mostly through farmland. It seems to be lightly travelled, but it had no paved shoulder. This is why I normally don’t rely on Google or other cycling maps. There’s really no substitute for experience.

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After reaching Lundy’s Lane, I crossed the QEW and made my way towards the falls. Not unexpectedly, there were tourists galore and when I next want to spend some time looking over the falls, I’ll park my bike somewhere and walk. Walking a bike through such a large crowd was rather awkward.

A few days later, I opted to rely on my limited personal experience for my next trip. I crossed the lift bridge at Lakeshore Road and made my way directly to the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail using East and West Line. Lakeshore does see more traffic, but East and West Line doesn’t seem to be that busy. More importantly, there is a paved shoulder to give cyclists like me a little more comfort.

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Upon reaching the trail, I headed south towards Queenston and Queenston Heights, site of a famous battle during the War of 1812.

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As I noted in a previous blog entry, they don’t call it Queenston Heights for nothing. I made it up this incline without too much difficulty, but I had to get off the bike and walk it up much of the way through the town.

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Continuing south, I went under the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge towards the floral clock.

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After a brief break to snap a few more pictures, I passed by the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station.

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There are a number of spots where you can pull off the trail and get some shots, which I did.

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I noticed a sign for the Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory, so I stopped in to check it out. Sadly, I was too early and the conservatory was not open yet, but I will make a point of getting there in a return visit. Given that this was the height of tourist season, however, I was surprised they were not open at the crack of dawn.

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I continued south on the trail towards the Whirlpool Gorge.

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I stopped for some pictures alongside a busload of people from Maryland. On this trip, in addition to many from neighboring New York, I would also spot plates from New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and Illinois.

After passing Victoria Avenue, cyclists have to go on the road, but there is a paved shoulder that takes you past the Whirlpool and Rainbow Bridges right to the falls.

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I stopped at the Not-So-Secret Garden before turning around and heading for home. This time, I planned a different route myself, wisely not relying upon Google.

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From the 420 junction, I took Stanley Avenue north across 405 to Niagara Townline Road. Stanley Avenue is a little busier, but again, there was a paved shoulder for most of the way.

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I took Four Mile Creek Road and made my way to the lightly used Queenston Road. Unfortunately, it did not have a paved shoulder, but there was far less traffic there than I found on Beaverdams Road.

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I stopped for this picture just north of the intersection of York Road. I’ve since found out what an “Unassumed Road” is, but the terminology seemed odd. At first glance, it sounds like they don’t want you to assume this is a road.

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Hello, my name is Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Genius.

I followed Queenston Road back to St. Catharines and made it home safely. Overall, this route seemed to be a lot better than the one Google recommended, though much of the scenery to the north can be distracting.

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I’m sure there are other routes in the area to get to the Falls and back, perhaps better ones, and I look forward to discovering them over the coming months and years.

15 Aug

Hockey Night in St. Catharines

Last night, I attended Hockey Night in St. Catharines, the fifth annual such event in support of the United Way of St. Catharines and District. It is not an event I would normally have attended, but it was a way of taking the first baby steps to becoming part of my new home city. It also allowed me to see some former WHA players in addition to those who played in another major league, many of whom I have not seen for a decade or more.

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The game took place at the Gatorade Garden City Complex, a.k.a. Jack Gatecliff Arena, now, with the completion of the Meridian Center, the former home of the Niagara IceDogs.

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I was one of the first to arrive and I got some pictures around the seating area.

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The flags along with a picture of the Queen at one end. Ironically, the Winnipeg Arena, a building that saw my shadow hundreds of times, was famed for its long-standing picture of the Queen that hung in the south end before being moved across the rink once the Jets moved from the WHA into another major league. Unlike the picture that hung in the Arena, the Queen is sporting a cheeky grin, much like the one on my face when my one-way WestJet flight was taking off from Winnipeg two weeks ago.

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The banners honoring the Memorial Cup champion St. Catharines Tee Pees. The 1953-1954 Tee Pees were led by Rudy Pilous, who would later spend many years with the WHA Jets. Pat Stapleton, a former longtime major pro player and a wonderful man whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice, was a member of the 1959-1960 team.

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Before the game, Rick Dykstra, our MP, was circling the ice sporting a blue jersey with the Conservative logo.

After the warmups, it was time to introduce the players.

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Former WHA player Dave Gorman.

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Former Winnipeg Jet Bill Derlago.

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Dave McLlwain, another former Jet. Mark Osborne, playing for the red team, would make it a threesome of ex-Jets.

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MP Rick Dykstra.

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Steve Ludzik, a former pro player and someone who I last saw behind the bench of the Detroit Vipers of the late, great IHL. The woman circling the stands selling raffle tickets for the free WestJet flights and wearing one of his jerseys said that Detroit was “about four moves ago.” She also mentioned that Darren Banks, one of Ludzik’s former players with the Vipers, was playing for the red team. For those who don’t know, I followed the IHL for several years and the subject of my next book will be my experiences with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose. Pro hockey’s most unwanted team, its owner/president/general manager/head coach and its handful of supporters will be dissected with heavy doses of humor and sarcasm.

Interestingly, coaching the red team was former WHA player Jim Dorey. Like me, Dorey is also a member of the WHA Hall of Fame advisory board. For those interested in the history of the WHA, I encourage you to visit WHAHOF.com and, specifically, the database section that represents countless hours of research on my part.

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Former pro great Phil Esposito did the honors for the ceremonial opening faceoff. I found it odd that a security guard packing body armor followed him out to center ice. This is St. Catharines, not Winnipeg.

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O Canada being performed by Antonella Cavallaro.

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Al “Stomach Muscles” Secord chats with referee Ron Hoggarth. Hoggarth had a microphone with him all night and did his best to entertain the crowd, but I found it a bit much after a while. Having seen him work many Jets games at the Winnipeg Arena, it seems like he hasn’t changed a bit.

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During the first intermission, Hoggarth took his act into the stands. Later in the intermission, he had Kraig Nienhuis sing a little of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. I know one reader will appreciate the reference as it relates to my late uncle.

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Second period action. The game itself, as one would expect, was little more than an organized pillow fight with all the intensity of a Jets-Oilers playoff game from the 1980s. Sorry, old grudges die hard.

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“Bones”, the IceDogs’ mascot made appearances throughout the stands. On this occasion, he was dangling a woman’s purse over the boards and put on a show as he rifled through it. I didn’t find all that funny, but maybe it’s just me.

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The post-game handshake.

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Our MP holds up a ceremonial check for $182,329.00, the amount raised at the event.

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Both teams gather for one last picture.

All in all, it was an interesting evening and I’m glad I went. I’m looking forward to October when the puck drops for real at the Meridian Center.

10 Aug

Discovering New Surroundings

As you can imagine, my first week in St. Catharines has been hectic, to say the least. However, I have managed to find the time to get out on two wheels and explore some sights in and around my new home city.

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Soon after my bike arrived from the degenerate capital of the SPRM, I took a run up to Port Dalhousie, where 12 Mile Creek, the original Welland Canal, meets Lake Ontario. Having seen it briefly during my exploratory trip last September, I was anxious to check it out upon settling here. I would not be disappointed.

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The marina.

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For the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, I can describe it as a cross between Gimli and Duluth. Except better. Those who know me know that Gimli, the tiny cottage community nestled along the shore of Lake Winnipeg, will always hold a special place in my heart and now I can get a reminder of it almost within walking distance of my front door. I could get used to this. Quickly.

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The Riverboat Mexican Grill. Sorry, but as they say in Texas, El Paso. Those of you who know me know that I am not gastronomically adventurous on land or on the water.

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The lighthouse on the east side.

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A swan feeding.

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Looking out towards Lake Ontario.

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And, of course, a spelling error. Bad spellers of St. Catharines are now officially under “surveilance.”

On Saturday, I headed east towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, rightly named the prettiest town in Canada. One of the real estate agents who we met with on our visit last year took us around the old town area and it was one of the first places I wanted to visit once I returned permanently. Once again, I would not leave disappointed.

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Waiting for a ship to pass at Lakeshore Road.

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Peach and pear trees along East and West Line and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see.

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I guess you can call me a Niagara Nut.

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Jackson-Triggs Winery.

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I made for the Historic Old Town and toured the streets near the riverbank.

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A floral display commemorating the United Empire Loyalists.

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The Charles Inn.

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The Old Bank House.

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The Prince of Wales Hotel.

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Scenes from Queen’s Royal Park. Across the Niagara River is Fort Niagara State Park.

Unbeknownst to me, the annual Peach Festival was taking place, so I parked my bike at one of the many racks in town and walked along Queen Street.

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One of the exhibitors along the street was the Niagara Historical Society and Museum. This, along with the St. Catharines Museum at Lock 3, will be places I will be visiting soon so I can learn more about the history of the area.

I didn’t know how lucky I was that I was there so early in the morning. Later in the afternoon, crowds kept pouring into the tiny community.

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A line of cars headed for the festival. Sadly, there was nowhere left for them to park.

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Wanting to explore a little more, I headed south along the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail towards Queenston.

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Scenes along the trail.

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Youngstown, New York. All the way down the trail, you can look out to your left and see the USA. With a slight easterly wind, I was even able to breathe some American air. I know one reader in particular will be especially jealous.

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The Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. Or the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, depending on which side of the border you are on.

The pathway was relatively deserted in the morning, but coming back in the afternoon, it was the cyclists’ equivalent of being on the QEW near the site of the recent Burlington Skyway closure. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised how well the trail users made it work. With some rare exceptions, courtesy and respect were in abundance. Many loyal readers know how effusive with praise I have been over the courtesy shown by the trail users in the Twin Cities. If anything, it was even better here. There were no unleashed dogs, I was not sworn at, threatened with bodily harm, swung at or dragged off my bike, like I have been in Winnipeg. This is definitely not the SPRM and I couldn’t be happier to leave the hatred and vitriol that permeated every nook and cranny of Greg Selinger’s sovereign republic behind.

One anonymous person from the SPRM who commented on one of my recent postings said that Ontario would eat me alive. If this is what being eaten alive is all about, Ontario is quite welcome to keep gobbling away at me.

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One of the many sights along the way.

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There were many parks with clean washrooms along the route. Inside each of them, I noticed this sign by the sinks. I can’t say I had been planning to wash my feet in the sink, but it’s good to know that they don’t allow it just in case I got the sudden urge. Thank you, Niagara Parks, for the heads-up.

Upon reaching Queenston, I saw a familiar sight.

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Green is the color, football is the game. We’re all together and winning is our aim. So cheer us on in the sun and rain. Saskatchewan Roughriders is our name. For the benefit of the husband of one reader, please do not throw anything at your monitor.

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I was ready for a break and the Queenston Heights Park provided such an opportunity. I was a little worn out after climbing the steep hill and you can take it from me that they don’t call it “Heights” for nothing.

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I wasn’t too bushed to notice this sticker on the back of the above sign. I suspect someone stuck it there as a joke, but it was interesting to see a USPS Priority Post sticker on the back of a Canadian highway sign. It’s one way to ensure the sign was delivered to the right location, since Canada Post can hardly be trusted.

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Hopefully someday soon, I will be one of those cyclists heading to the USA for an adventure on the east bank of the Niagara River.

The park itself was beautiful and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it reminded me of the Peace Gardens south of Boissevain.

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Butler’s Rangers.

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The monument to General Brock.

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Looking north from the scenic overlook near the monument.

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The fountain.

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I returned along the same path, but before returning home, I stopped at Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm, a little petting zoo as part of a scenic park along the shore of Lake Ontario, located east of the canal.

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One of the goats.

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Poultry.

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More poultry.

There is a nice walking path that follows the lake and I will be sure to explore more of it in a return visit.

My first week here has left me feeling so thankful to have been blessed with the courage and conviction to leave Winnipeg and come to St. Catharines. I look forward to exploring more of my new home in the weeks and months to come.

29 Sep

Visit to St. Catharines

This past week, I spent four days in St. Catharines, Ontario. Some of you who know me will know the reason why, but for public consumption, let’s just call it a business trip.


Bright and early on Monday morning, I arrived at the Winnipeg airport ready to board a WestJet flight to the Center of the Universe in the first leg of the journey. The irony of flying WestJet to go east, while using QuebAir to fly west in June was not lost on me.

I had a little trouble at the self-serve kiosk, but a friendly WestJet staffer was there to help and got me on my way quickly. The friendliness of the WestJet staff would be a recurring theme both on the flight to C.U. and on the way back to Winnipeg. I can see why friends have told me that they far prefer WestJet to QuebAir.


Having just gone through the airport security experience recently, I was perhaps a little too cavalier and forgot to remove my necklace and watch. As a result, I got the full body swipe in the circular scanner. It turned up something near my stomach, but after a brief pat-down, they found that it was just some partially-digested food making its way through my system.


Past security with plenty of time to spare, I used the time to unload my bladder and tour the airport.

Airport Hilton?


I was not alone. You may understand. You may not. If you’re getting puzzled by these references, I encourage you to read my second book.



Is it wise to be plying passengers with liquor before boarding an aircraft?

Gate 6 with service to Toronto.


While waiting at Gate 6, one fellow traveller seated across from me lifted himself off his seat to blow off a little exhaust. For the benefit of one reader, yes, I did think of our former colleague and his connection to the postal service. Strangely enough, Mr. Fartman would later accompany me on the same Niagara Airbus shuttle bound for St. Catharines.

Leaving YWG.

The plane was much larger than the dinky contraption that QuebAir had used to take me to Calgary. There were three seats on each side of the aisle and I was thrilled to see the on-board, real-time display showing where we were. I could roughly tell where we were even without the visual aid, but it was nice added touch.

A paper vomitorium.

I was fortunate enough to have a window seat and got some good shots along the way to C.U.


Once we reached our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet and with the plane pointed in the direction of Toronto, I was surprised that they didn’t just turn the engines off and allow the vortex generated by the Center of the Universe to pull the plane into Pearson Airport. Perhaps they did and piped in engine noise just to give the passengers a more natural flight experience. It was another indication as to how far WestJet will go for their customers.




Approaching the Center of the Universe.



Almost immediately after touching down at Pearson Airport, I could definitely tell that I wasn’t on the prairies anymore. The enormity of the GTA is hard to digest for someone like me who has thus far spent his entire life in little old Winnipeg. Welcome to the world.


This really is the Center of the Universe.

During my brief time in the airport, I had hoped to find a place where first-time visitors to Toronto could change a light bulb. Like many of you, I’ve heard the stories about how Torontonians simply reach up, grasp onto a bulb and wait for the world to turn around them. Sadly, I couldn’t find one. Should I end up flying to C.U. again, I’ll have to inquire at an information desk.

I’ll spare you further Toronto jokes for the time being.

I did take note that the baggage claim area at Pearson Airport was in the secured area, unlike Winnipeg, where the carousels are accessible by anyone who walks in off the street. This was yet another grave oversight by the WAA in the design of the new terminal.

The second leg of the journey involved a Niagara Airbus shuttle to St. Catharines.


I quickly found the ground transportation desk next to Door C and within minutes, I was heading out into the labyrinth of concrete that is Southern Ontario’s sophisticated freeway system. If you’re a resident of the GTA and chortle at the term “sophisticated,” I invite you to visit the SPRM and make the comparison for yourself.



The driver was nice enough to let me sit in the front seat and I took full advantage. Many more pictures will soon be appearing on a Web site near you.


Westbound 403 past Hurontario Street.


Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the Dorval Drive/Kerr Street exit. The alert reader may notice the “ER” initials atop the light standards, which means Elizabeth Regina, Latin for Queen Elizabeth.


Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the split with 403 in Burlington.

Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the North Shore Boulevard/Eastport Drive exit in Burlington.

Fort Erie-bound QEW crossing the Burlington Skyway.

The first sign for St. Catharines.


Entering the Regional Municipality of Niagara. At right is the Niagara Escarpment that protects the region from much of the winter snow. The clerk at the front desk of the hotel would later tell me that she had to take her children to Buffalo to go tobogganing last winter because there was so little snow in St. Catharines. During the trip, I would also learn that they have year-round golf courses in the area as well as green grass in the middle of January. My envy was as green as their January grass.



Crossing 40 Mile Creek. I’m surprised that it remains legal in Canada to name anything in Imperial measurements.



This sign certainly got my attention. Then again, every sign gets my attention. Indeed, it is a stiff, but deserved penalty for such reckless driving. I hope that it is enforced, unlike the SPRM, where governments spend their time enacting laws that police choose to ignore.

An encouraging sign.


Passing Jordan Harbor in Lincoln. Despite the fact that the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, it is one of the few views of the lake that motorists get on the route.


Interestingly, Lincoln’s population of approximately 22,000 only qualifies as a town in Ontario. In the SPRM, an urban center of 7,500 or more can be granted city status.

Welcome to St. Catharines.


After checking in at the Capri Inn, I set off on a tour towards the downtown area.


This qualifies as a bus stop in St. Catharines. Most bus stops don’t even have this much. There is a stop down the hill to the right that has only a pole with a sign from St. Catharines Transit where riders must stand off the curb on a piece of unmowed grass.


They have ratmobiles there, too. Oh right, they’re called “food trucks,” or, in this case, a “food trailer.”


This is the sign outside the General Parking lot at the General Motors plant. I took note of the sign saying that all vehicles not made by GM would be towed. I wonder if they would tow my bike away.


Despite the presence of a GM plant in St. Catharines, I would be shocked by the number of Beemers that I spotted during my stay. GM is a major employer in the community and it would almost seem disloyal to drive a foreign-made product.


There was even a “Beamer Avenue” off Niagara Street.


Perhaps there would be the same number of Beemers on Winnipeg streets if Winnipeggers could buy from a dealership that was not owned by the Chipman family. Just saying.


The offices of the Standard, the local paper. Strangely, I would not spot a single paper box anywhere in the city during my extensive travels on foot. Even in little Gimli, I’ve always noticed many boxes for the free Interlake Enterprise. Perhaps there’s a local ordinance against putting out those paper boxes.

Marker on St. Paul Street.

The Meridian Center, future home of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

Paul on St. Paul.

As they say in Texas, El Paso.

I stopped to take this shot on St. Paul Street. It is the familiar scene that the Standard uses as the cover image on their Web site.

I tend to agree.

 The public library. It’s not open on Monday.

 
 

City Hall.

Returning north, I visited the Fairview Mall.


While there and throughout my stay, I noticed that the majority of St. Cathariners seem to fall into one of two categories: student at Brock University or senior citizen. I was told the next day that St. Catharines recently tied with Vancouver for the highest percentage of seniors per capita in the country.

The sight of anything Snoopy-related is always going to catch my attention.

North Dakota plates are more common in the SPRM than in Southern Ontario.


Um, it’s “St. Catharines.” It would be only one of two misspelled signs that I would spot on the trip. As many of you know, I spot such signs in Winnipeg with frightening regularity.

No, I have no connection to this facility.


The GO bus that runs between Burlington and Niagara Falls.

Tuesday was mainly spent in meetings, but I still had time to explore Port Dalhousie and the areas north of the QEW east of Martindale Pond.

Locally, it’s pronounced da-LOO-zee, not dal-HOW-zee.


Martindale Pond. The seats in the background are to watch the rowing events.

Scenes in Jaycee Park.


An afternoon meeting involved a welcome side trip to nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake.


No, I was not horsing around.

A break at the Little Red Rooster.


Little could my gracious host have known how appropriate the motif was. Then again, maybe she did.


Wednesday was my day to explore the northern part of the city between Port Dalhousie and Port Weller.



The C.U. skyline from across Lake Ontario. I’m surprised that I wasn’t dragged across the lake into that swirling vortex. Before coming, I had half-expected to find a big seawall to protect St. Cathariners from a similar fate.

A ship headed for the Welland Canal.

Scenes along the Waterfront Trail.

This staircase had less stability than a swinging suspension bridge.


I reached Municipal Beach near Port Weller before returning to Lakeshore Road and Lock 1 of the Welland Canal.


Pear trees, I believe.

Goose crossing.

Highway H2O.


The start of the Welland Canals Trail. And yes, it is plural, as this is the fourth Welland Canal. The City of St. Catharines’ logo has four blue stripes to represent the four canals.

Welcome to St. Catharines.

Heading south on Niagara Street, I spotted house number “666.” Message sent. Message received.

 

Badly needing a lunch break, I finally found a Subway. I could have used a break much earlier, but the problem with spending your time in residential neighborhoods is the lack of washrooms and restaurants.


A Starbucks location was also conveniently located next door. Those of you who know me know that I will never patronize a Starbucks as long as I walk the face of the Earth, but I have no problem mooching off their Wi-Fi. My Twitter followers can guess pretty easily which tweet I sent while eating there.

After a much-needed rest and infusion of sustenance, I followed Scott Street east. On the way, a couple stopped and asked me for directions. Naturally, despite only having been in the city for three days, I was able to help them.

After reaching the canal, I headed south on the trail.

 

 Lock 2.


More than one reader may notice the lack of a trademark acknowledgement on the term “Staging Area”™. That’s an inside joke that most of you will not understand.


Approaching the Garden City Skyway.


Feet aching, I made it to the Welland Canals Center and the St. Catharines Museum.


I wanted to tour the museum, but a ship was headed in, so I instead headed out to watch its arrival at Lock 3.



I also captured video of the ship’s arrival.



This is the time-lapse edit, three times normal speed.

While watching the ship, I was talking with someone behind me who was from Windsor. He said that Winnipeg was a “friendly town.” He obviously has a rich sense of humor.

After the ship entered the lock, using reserves of energy that I’m not sure I had, I headed west back towards the Capri Inn.


I wondered about the tastefulness of placing the St. Catharines and District Retirees Association office next to a cemetery.


The surname “Duffus” rang a bell as I harkened back to my years following the IHL. Minnesota hockey “fan” Fiona Quick’s legendary infatuation with former Moose goaltender Parris Duffus will earn a full page in my next book that covers my experiences with the Manitoba Moose, pro hockey’s most unwanted team.


As I said, everything Snoopy-related catches my eye.


They’ve got construction there, too.


A New Brunswick plate. Message sent. Message received. The first three letters are also significant in my household, but I didn’t catch it at the time.


The next day was a travel day, though the prospect of returning to the SPRM was not exactly warming the cockles of my heart. I would be miserable and depressed the whole day and that feeling would persist long after touching down in Winnipeg.

Having received a call from Niagara Airbus on Wednesday saying that the pickup would be an hour earlier than previously arranged, I got up bright and early and waited for their arrival. And waited. And waited. After calling to find out where they were, they said that Wednesday’s call was for a different passenger and that I wasn’t scheduled for pickup for another half hour.

So I waited. And waited.

Growing increasingly nervous, I breathed a sigh of relief when the shuttle finally arrived. After getting in, the driver then told us that there had been an accident on the QEW near Stoney Creek that had closed the highway to all C.U.-bound traffic. He said that we were about to get and adventure and we got one.

He exited the QEW at Vineland, then navigated at high speeds through back roads atop the Niagara Escarpment to get us around the accident. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea and we ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic soon after reaching Hamilton.

Westbound on the “Linc” in Hamilton near the 403 interchange.

Fortunately, traffic moved much more swiftly after getting on the 403 and back to the QEW. The driver’s best efforts, however, weren’t enough for one passenger, who kept complaining the entire way to C.U.

“Of course there’s going to be a letter out.”

No doubt, she was talking about a letter of complaint, but given how well the driver had done under the circumstances, she should have instead been talking about a letter of commendation. The only thing that he could be faulted for was driving too fast.

All the while, I was having a friendly chat with the driver as I was taking pictures. It turned out that he lives in St. Catharines and used to write for the Standard. He spoke with pride about once having the opportunity to interview Pierre Berton, author of many outstanding works including the authoritative history of the War of 1812. The Niagara region was a major theater of that conflict and history abounds throughout the area.

There was one scary moment on the drive when someone used the emergency lane next to the median to pass us on the left, but we got to Pearson Airport safely and in plenty of time for the flight back to the SPRM. There was a long wait at security, however, since I was behind the women’s volleyball team from the U.C.U. Varsity Blues. Or would that be the Bluettes? No matter, they were annoying, but, fortunately, they were perfectly well behaved on the plane.

I didn’t have a window seat on the return trip, but since I was so depressed, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it much anyways. Even the fact that we spent much of the flight over U.S. airspace couldn’t cheer me up.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely productive trip and it was well worth going. No one squeezes more out of a travel dollar than I do and this particular excursion was no exception. It is my hope to return at some point in the future.
19 Aug

An Epic Adventure in Sioux Narrows

On Friday, along with 34 other passengers, I set out for my last major bus tour of the season. It would also prove to be the most adventurous tour of the season.

Our destination was Sioux Narrows with stops in Falcon Lake, Rushing River Provincial Park and Rat Portage along the way.

As I approached the waiting bus, I groaned upon spotting our tour guide for the day. I had been with her on tours on two prior occasions and both times, her inexperience and/or ill-preparedness had hampered the tour. Unfortunately, this time would be no exception. For reasons that will become evident as you read on, I will not name her publicly.

I was not surprised in the least to hear that she had never done a tour to Sioux Narrows before. Equally unsurprisingly, I would discover quickly that she had made little effort to find out about our various destinations. Instead, she would rely upon her passengers to do her job for her. Sitting in the front seat, I would do more to point the way than she would. 

Upon our departure from Winnipeg, I was encouraged to hear when she had asked our driver to point out when we were near the GWWD railway crossing and the Aqueduct so that she could read a spiel about it. That slightly encouraging feeling faded once she and the driver became engrossed in an hour-long conversation as we headed east. It was I who interrupted and pointed out the approaching Aqueduct, enabling her to deliver her material at the right time.


In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive and I was almost disappointed when we reached the Whiteshell and arrived at Falcon Lake. Even though I already have the drive filmed on video, this scenery never gets old.


Eschewing the large lot nearby, our driver parked in front of the Falcon Lake Meat and Grocery store and squarely in front of a “No Parking” sign.



Later in the day, he would park in front of another “No Parking” sign at Rushing River.



Noticing that he had done this for the second time today, I jokingly mentioned the new site WPGParkingFail.comto him. He responded by going into an angry tirade about how that site’s operator was “poking his nose into places it shouldn’t be” and “who cares if someone is taking up two parking spots.” He then proudly proclaimed that “he doesn’t pay much attention to that stuff.”

Needless to say, I was quite taken aback at his brazen contempt of parking regulations. I was doubly appalled that he would be so open about it with a customer.

I would also later reflect upon the interesting stories that he had told during his conversation with the tour guide about his year in China teaching English. What impressed him greatly was how much respect his Chinese students showed him as a teacher.

Perhaps it might serve him well to show the same level of respect for those regulations that he flaunted with such apparent pride.

As with the tour guide, I will not name him publicly either.

I didn’t have much to see in Falcon Lake, but I did take a stroll around.


The bakery.



A nearby trail.




Is it “Cottonwood” or “Cotton Wood”?



Shops in the area. 

After our half-hour break, we headed east towards the SPRM/Ontario border. As we passed the weigh station, I looked to my left and spotted our driver writing while driving.



Sadly, this would become a repeat occurrence on our return.




On numerous occasions, he would pull out a small piece of notepaper and jot something down while driving. Each time, his note taking would only last a few seconds, but that’s all it takes to lose control. The risk factor with distracted driving is only multiplied on the two-lane highways through Northwestern Ontario.


Crossing the frontier into Ontario. I made sure to take this shot before Greasy Greg decides to take a page out of Nikita Khrushchev’s playbook and build a wall.

Upon nearing Rat Portage, we took the bypass to the north.






The scenery is even more breathtaking than it is west of Rat Portage. I was in awe of these rock formations and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to build this highway. Travellers often complain because the highway hasn’t been twinned, but the fact that there is a road at all is remarkable.


East of Rat Portage, we turned south on King’s Highway 71 and headed for Sioux Narrows.







A short time later, we arrived in Sioux Narrows. Or, as the sign says, “SIOUX NARROWS.” I know that at least one reader will appreciate that.



Just on the other side of the Sioux Narrows Bridge was our lunch stop at Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern. No, I’m not making that up.



I am still wondering what would ever possess a tour company that caters mainly to elderly ladies to book a lunch at Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern.



Once again, however, it was left to me to point the place out as we went by. Our tour guide was not paying attention and, furthermore, had not bothered to investigate as to where this place was. We might have driven halfway to Nestor Falls by the time she had realized that we missed it.





Inside, I took my place with three others and surveyed my surroundings. It’s about what I would have expected for a hunting lodge in the middle of bush country.



The view behind my seat.



Our meal.

There are those who will eat anything that is put in front of them. I am not one of those people. For the record, that is cream of broccoli and cauliflower soup.

I used the time to get some shots around the Sioux Narrows Bridge.







More shots of Big John’s:




Walking down to the lake:



A little deferred maintenance here.

After the others had devoured their meal, we boarded the bus for a one-block ride south. Naturally, our tour guide had no idea where the gift shop that was on her itinerary was. Once again, it was left to me to point it out.

Later in the day, it would gall me to see a couple of passengers giving her a tip. If they had been sitting near the front, they might have given that tip to me, since I had done more to earn it than she did.

Instead of gathering more items for a future garage sale, I used the opportunity to walk around the town.



The Lazy Loon restaurant. It couldn’t have been any worse than what we had.



Gill’s Trading Post.



You had to know that this was coming. The only King’s Highway marker in town was not going to go unphotographed.





More shops.



The Sioux Narrows Motel. I don’t think that the Hilton chain has too much to worry about as far as competition.


The Northern Lights of Sioux Narrows, where the bus was parked.

In short order, we were headed back north towards our next destination, Rushing River.





Passing by Old Woman Lake.







As we passed Andy Lake, I remembered a former colleague, Lloyd Klassen, who had passed away last year.


During our many conversations at his desk, he had mentioned Andy Lake on occasion. Like me, he was also an avid photographer and I am sure that he had plenty of shots around the area.

I know that he would have been astounded to learn that this was my 746th shot of the trip this far. He might have shot back with a quip like, “How many more shots of highways can you get?”



Approaching Tower Lake.

We soon arrived at Rushing River Provincial Park for what would become the day’s biggest story.

Prior to our arrival, our tour guide announced that we were limited to only 20 minutes due to limitations imposed by the Province of Ontario.

Huh?

The Province of Ontario will let you stay as long as you want as long as you pay for the privilege, something that the tour company was apparently unwilling to do. She explained that she did have to go in and pay, but that they could get a refund if they left within 20 minutes.

At that moment, I heard a flock of birds flying overhead. They were all singing, “cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.”

Ah, but it gets better.

It should come as no shock to any reader at this point to learn that the tour guide had absolutely no idea where within the park we should go. When going inside to pay, they gave her a map, but she instead rolled it up and used it to swat flies. Maps are for sissies.

We came to a fork in the road. I told them to go left. They went right.

Ten minutes later, the driver was earning himself a gold medal in the Bus Driver Olympics trying to extricate us from a narrow one-way trail surrounded by small campsites. One camper had to move her pickup truck to allow us to turn around and, despite my criticisms of his distracted driving, our driver did yeoman work in getting us out of this mess. One false move and we would have been crashing down a hill.

It was only after we had come to the end of this winding trail did it dawn on the tour guide to unroll her map and look at it.

After returning to the main area of the park, having burned up so much time with this senseless maneuvering caused by an ill-prepared and indolent tour guide, she announced that we had only ten minutes in the park.

We had come all the way from the degenerate capital of the SPRM for ten minutes in the park.

Yes, I feel cheated.




I managed to get a couple of pictures and not much else.

Soon, we were back on the road headed for Rat Portage.




We parked near the harbor and I took the opportunity to go and get some shots of Husky the Muskie.





Engraving your name on Husky’s tail is apparently a rite of passage in Rat Portage.



A view of the harborfront from Husky’s perch.



Winkler Harborfront Park? I thought that we were in Ontario, not in the SPRM. For those of you who are not aware, Winkler is a city in the southern part of the SPRM.



Before getting back on the bus, I went to the washroom. Druggies welcome, obviously.

After our half-hour stop, we were rolling west back into the SPRM.



My heart sank after re-crossing the frontier.



After another brief stop in Falcon Lake, we were back on the road. En route to Winnipeg, our driver told us one of his favorite jokes. I’ve heard it before, but it was more appropriate than even he may have realized, given his penchant for note taking while driving on this day.

To summarize, a bus driver and a preacher meet St. Peter after going to Heaven. St. Peter gives the bus driver a palatial mansion on a mountain top, then gives the preacher a small house at the bottom of a hill with smelly sheep nearby. Puzzled at the apparent injustice, the preacher humbly asked St. Peter why the bus driver had received such a nicer home. St. Peter answered that the preacher, though a faithful servant, had put people to sleep during his services. The bus driver, meanwhile, had made people pray.

Normally, our arrival in Winnipeg would wind up the adventure peacefully. Not so in this case. Our tour guide had announced that there was an additional drop-off point at Donwood West, near Polo Park, the same place where they had made a pickup that morning.

This news triggered a backlash from the peanut gallery. Cranky old ladies started yelling, “That’s a crock” and other assorted verbal barbs.

The fact that they were making an additional stop to let people off was not the problem, rather it was that the office had not let passengers know about it in advance. There were people from Charleswood who had travelled across town to avoid having to wait downtown due to safety concerns and would have loved to have been able to be picked up near Polo Park instead.

In this case, the tour guide was completely blameless as this was undoubtedly a matter for the office. Nonetheless, instead of being apologetic and promising to raise the issue with her boss, she shot back with an angry, “That’s just the way it is.”

There was a right way and a wrong way to handle this situation. She chose the latter.

In many respects, it was a fitting way to end the day. The high standard of customer service that I have come to expect from this tour company was not met on this day. Not by a long shot.

Though I was cheated out of some valuable time at Rushing River, I did enjoy the experience. I always like seeing Northwestern Ontario and I got plenty of pictures to show for the day. I wanted an adventure and I got one.

29 Jul

Return to Rat Portage


On Saturday, I set off with a full busload of people bound for Rat Portage, currently known as Kenora, where I cruised Lake of the Woods aboard the M.S. Kenora. The breathtaking scenery and the made-to-order weather would make it into a fabulous day. 

I had done this tour two years earlier, but I was so awestruck by what I had seen that, as soon as I got back that day, I knew I had to go again. The pictures that follow cannot possibly do justice to the landscape.

That said, I was fully prepared with four sets of fully-charged batteries and 40 GB worth of storage on my SD cards. I would fill up nearly every byte with HD-quality video of the drive there and back. Time-lapse video will soon be appearing on canhighways.com.
Our bus came early and our tour guide, Rob, came out to meet us, along with our driver, Jack. I’ve had Jack on many trips, but, despite being a veteran of these tours, it was a first for Rob. He usually does the longer trips, which explains why I haven’t had him before.
On the way to Falcon Lake, our first stop, Rob entertained us with the first of a number of jokes while I was watching the highway through the viewfinder on my camera.
He told us about a skydiver who was having trouble with his parachute after jumping out of an airplane. On his way down, the skydiver spotted someone going up. He asked, “Do you know anything about parachutes?” The other guy replied, “No, do you know anything about gas barbeques?”
On the way back from Rat Portage, he told us a couple of Scottish jokes.
One was about an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman and how they give donations to their church. The Englishman and Irishman each drew circles around themselves and tossed some coins in the air. They gave whatever landed outside the circle to the church and kept the rest for themselves. The Scotsman didn’t bother with the circle and instead just tossed the coins in the air. What the Good Lord didn’t need, He sent back and the Scotsman kept it for himself.
The other was about an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman each drinking a cup of tea when a fly flew into each cup. The Englishman and Irishman each carefully plucked out the fly in their respective cups, while the Scotsmanplucked out the fly in his cup and wrung it out so as not to waste a drop of tea.
The quality and taste of the jokes is left for the reader as an exercise, but Rob’s experience made the trip go a lot better. He made an effort to engage as many passengers as he could, he was very organized and he did not make it glaringly obvious that he had not been on this specific tour before.
That level of experience has been sorely lacking in my tours of late. For one reader in particular, I think that your former employer misses you more than they realize.
Once we got to Falcon Lake, I spent some time around the lake.

I also briefly walked around town.

On my way, I passed by a semi-trailer from Moncton. Message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.
Want some “spagetti” and meatballs?
 
After the 45-minute break, we were back on the bus headed east, crossing the frontier from the SPRM into Ontario and Rat Portage.

On our way through Rat Portage, we passed the roundabout at Rupert Road, which is a constant thorn in the side of bus drivers like Jack and semi-trailer drivers who have to make deliveries in town. It was designed far too narrow for even a skilled driver like Jack to avoid having to go up on the curb to get through it. 
Perhaps fittingly, the highway that heads north from this reviled roundabout used to bear the number 666. In 1985, amid protests from church groups, MTO renumbered the highway to 658.

Interestingly, the current MTO minister is Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg and Manitoba’s most polarizing and controversial political figure since Louis Riel.

We stopped near the Blue Heron gift shop and many of the passengers went there while I set off for a brief tour of the town.

For those of you who weren’t aware, both Manitoba and Ontario once laid claim to the area and the issue was not settled until a ruling from the Privy Council in 1884. There are those in Northwestern Ontario who understandably feel disenfranchised from the Toronto-based regime, but if they think that life under the rule of the SPRM’s heavy-handed government would be better, I would only advise to be careful what you wish for.

 

Kenora City Hall, currently undergoing a facelift.

Traffic in downtown Kenora. Most of it was coming from cars with plates from the SPRM.

Two of the murals.

Need any “mocassins”?

The “historic” Kenricia Hotel.

Ye Olde Line Up at Ye Olde Chip Truck.

Before getting back on the bus, I stumbled upon this sight:


Abandoned pants with an empty bottle of hand sanitizer nearby. Any connection between the two is again left for the reader as an exercise.
On our way to the boat, we came across a family of deer crossing the road.

Sadly, one of the adult deer was limping badly.

We arrived at the dock and waited to board.



Our group was allowed to board early and we were served a half-decent meal.

After eating, I went up to the top deck and took many pictures.

A married couple lives on one of the islands, while the mother-in-law lives on the adjacent island. According to the ship’s captain, they do have phone service on these island villas, courtesy of underground cables.

The captain also gave us a lot of interesting information on the area and the boat itself. The boat was built in Riverton and spent its early years cruising up and down Lake Winnipeg. It was later purchased by interests in Kenora and hauled there in two pieces where, today, it takes tourists like me around Lake of the Woods.

Interestingly, the captain bore a strong facial resemblance to the actor who played “Rostov” in the Chuck Norris movie, “Invasion U.S.A.” I kept waiting for the captain to break into Russian and for Norris’s character, “Hunter,” to make an appearance.
Many fisherpeople and boaters waved to us.

More scenery:

Yes, that’s a bald eagle.

Adjacent to this house is a tennis court overlooking the lake:

A dish head: 

 

The painted rock at the Devil’s Gap:

The Devil’s Gap Marina:

The luxury yacht Grace Anne II:

You’re welcome.

Disembarking from the boat.

From Rat Portage, we headed west and returned to the SPRM, where we made a brief stop in West Hawk Lake.

While many of the passengers patronized the Nite Hawk Cafe, I walked through the town.

The West Hawk Cafe:

The West Wok:

The lake:

What are you doing here?

After the brief stop, we were back on the bus and a couple of hours later, we returned safely to Winnipeg. For anyone who has not had this experience, it is something that I would strongly recommend.