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.
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.
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.
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.
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.