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.

28 Jul

Yellow Winnipeg

For the second time in a week

On our street someone took a leak
In the middle of the day, he unzipped his fly
To relieve himself in front of a large audience, my oh my
Go with the flow, his motto must be
As many of us could clearly see
If you need a washroom and can’t wait anymore
Just use the street, that’s what it’s there for
15 Jul

Ode to the Call of Nature

In the middle of the summer heat
A couple of guys took a leak on the street

In front of the house, they each unzipped their fly

And watched the yellow stream go by

In broad daylight, they stood and watered their tire

With a liquid that would corrode a wire

They drove away leaving nothing but a puddle

As a memento of their brief little huddle

Such pigs we have in our fair city

It really is such a pity

11 Jul

Touring Altona, Winkler and Stonewall

Yesterday, I spent the day on the bus as part of a tour that included stops at tea houses in Altona, Winkler and Stonewall.

Tea, however, was not on my agenda. I had never been to either of Altona or Winkler and it had been decades since I had last set foot in Stonewall. When I saw this “Tea Tour” on the brochure, I instead saw it as an opportunity to explore all three communities. As I have long since learned, you are in charge of your own experience, not the tour company.

Bright and early, we headed south on PTH 75 before turning west at PTH 14.

I am old enough to remember when there used to be a truck stop at this junction.

Proceeding west on PTH 14, we passed by the nearby wind farm.

For those of you that may be unaware, PTH 75 used to be known as PTH 14 before it was renumbered in the 1950’s to match US 75 in Minnesota. Not only was it foolish to reuse the number for an adjacent highway, but it was doubly bad considering that PTH 14 actually follows Road 13N, one mile south of Road 14N. I have no doubt that PTH 14 and Road 14N are often confused with each other.

Moving on, we turned south towards Altona and the Jasmine Tea Room.

I used our half hour in Altona to explore the town.

The offices of the RM of Rhineland. Like many other municipalities in the province, their offices aren’t actually in the municipality that they serve. Details, details.

The Altona Mall. Yes, there is a mall in Altona.

Altona Civic Center.

The last three digits of this license plate were a welcome sight. Message sent. Message received. Those of you who know me may understand the significance.

As you would expect, highway signs were part of my agenda on this tour.

Some sort of sculpture in front of Friesens printers.

A fake German license plate on this Beemer.

Our next stop was North Wind Clayworks north of Altona, located on Road 5W south of Road 11N. Unfortunately, neither our tour guide nor our driver seemed sure of where the place was. Given that we were virtually in the middle of nowhere, however, one of the very few farm houses in the area was bound to be the right one. Luckily, they got it right on the first try.

First, I toured their well-manicured garden.


Their garden reminded very much of the Lily Nook in Neepawa.

I then toured inside the pottery barn.

With my well-used camera, I recorded the pottery demonstration.

After spending an hour there, we were back on the highway bound for Winkler.

Passing around Plum Coulee.

There is a bypass around Plum Coulee and Garson, yet drivers on PTH 75 are still forced to go through Morris. I know that it must sound like a broken record, but the logic behind the failure to address what is the Achilles heel of the Manitoba highway system continues to baffle me.

Approaching Winkler.

Once we had arrived, most of the passengers had lunch at Gingerwood Lane, conveniently located next to the Triple E factory and its sweet-smelling paint fumes. As you would expect, I had my own plan and got some shots before eating the lunch that I had brought with me at the nearby Southland Mall.

I didn’t take advantage of this “splcial”:

Hay, anyone?

In Altona, all the bikes that I had seen outside were not locked up. In Winkler, however, two of the four on this rack were locked. It is perhaps a poignant symbol that Winkler has indeed arrived as a city and not one for the better.

After nearly an hour and a half in Winkler, we were back on the road, this time headed north towards Stonewall.

We passed through Carman. It is a town that I imagine will soon be feeling the pressure of political correctness to adopt a more inclusive moniker such as “Carperson.”

In Stonewall, our bus pulled up two spots behind a truck with a sticker from Gimli Ford.

Again, message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.

We went into to the McLeod House, where I joined the group and had some tea.

There was an odd musty smell in the air and for a specialty tea house, I was shocked to hear that they only serve Red Rose. I had instead expected to be offered any of a dozen or more varieties, not to have less choice than I would have had at McDonald’s.

Upstairs, they have a gift shop.

This is the genesis of your future garage sale.

With some extra time, I made a brief tour of the town.

Do you need a “reliner” sofa?

How about some “stationary”?

Every small town in Manitoba has a Chicken Delight, or at least they did.

This location has since been closed and the building is for sale. There had been a time that a Manitoba town would have seen the loss of their Chicken Delight as a mortal blow, but with other franchises rising to prominence, it probably doesn’t even register on the radar anymore. Today, the presence of a Tim Hortons franchise is a much bigger symbol that a town has arrived, so to speak.

Parking restrictions in Stonewall? Can the crew from A & E’s Parking Wars be far behind?

I went off the beaten path and toured some side streets.

Alas, it was time to get back on the bus and return after a long and exhausting day. I was glad that I went and it was an enjoyable experience, even it was very different from the tour’s official purpose.