This past week, I took my second train trip in as many years to the nation’s capital, where I spent much of the time across the river in the empire du mal exploring Gatineau on foot and getting many pictures in the process.
Bright and early Monday morning, I made my way to Fairview Mall in time to catch the 6:12 GO bus to Burlington. As the VIA train was not scheduled to leave Union Station until 10:45, I knew this bus and connecting Lakeshore West train would get me to Toronto two hours early, but if I had left it for the next bus and if it had broken down, I would have missed the VIA connection. The extra hour of sleep wasn’t worth the risk.
The bus came as scheduled and I instantly recognized the driver as the same one I had coming back from Peters Corners this past September. On that trip, the bus indeed had broken down and though they did dispatch a replacement promptly, it took GO two months to iron out the problems with my Presto card as a result of the change of buses.
Fortunately, that would not be a bad omen for the rest of the trip.
When leaving on trips from Winnipeg, I would always be excited at the prospect of getting away, but on that morning, I had a touch of sadness leaving St. Catharines behind. Not that I needed the validation, but it was yet another sign that I made the right decision, not just in leaving Winnipeg, but in coming to St. Catharines. Many of you may take liking the city where you live for granted, but as someone who had spent most of his life in Canada’s toilet bowl, I don’t.
At the Beamsville stop, I took note as someone got off with a Crown Royal bag. It would be the first of many signs that would tell me I would not be alone on this trip. Some of you will understand. Some of you will not.
Seated among many snoozing commuters on the Lakeshore West train, I made it to Union Station with much time to spare, as expected, which gave me some time to check my email and do some people watching. One guy seated nearby eating a sandwich was stuffing as much as he possibly could inside his mouth as if someone was about to take it away from him. His mouth was bulging as much as those baseball players who chew big wads of tobacco and if there was such thing as mouth enlargement surgery, I had no doubt he’d be first in line to sign up for it. I wonder if OHIP would cover it.
Also seated nearby was a gentleman who said, “Have a safe journey and may the Queen of England bless you” before getting up to leave. May the Queen of England bless you too. And the garbage you left behind.
Seated in the VIA concourse, I couldn’t help but notice this “flame retardant” covering. With political correctness running amok these days, I was shocked that they were still using that term. After all, some snowflake might get triggered by the use of the “R-word.”
At long last, it was time for boarding and we were ushered onto the train by staff who were only marginally polite. On GO, most of the staff go out of their way to be helpful and friendly, but for those who work for VIA, it’s a job, not an adventure. A serious upgrade in their customer service standards is in order.
Not meaning to take a gratuitous pot shot at fat people, but seeing this behemoth across the aisle, I couldn’t help but be reminded of VIA’s strict policies on overweight baggage. Had I been even slightly over the limit, I could potentially have been charged extra, yet as long as her baggage was under the limit, she wouldn’t have been even though I would have undoubtedly brought less weight aboard than she did. But apparently obesity is some kind of human right. Not exactly “progress” in my books.
The four-hour ride was relatively quiet and uneventful. The guy seated to my left spent the entire time reading a book and didn’t say a word all the way there. He had clearly done this before. The only real chatter came from someone seated behind me who was obviously prepping for a medical exam. By the time we got to Ottawa, I think I could have passed it.
The service attendant reading the announcements was in such a rush to finish that I could barely understand what she was saying. In either language. Later, when she came down the aisle, she had such a perma-scowl going that I think her face would have cracked if she tried to smile. Being friendly is probably a violation of their union contract.
They made four runs with the food wagon, but only a couple of times collecting garbage. I had some garbage for them, but I wasn’t lucky enough to be in one of the few rows where the guy marginally slowed down so that passengers could make a deposit into the Glad bag he was racing down the aisle with. Perhaps he was getting graded on how fast he could complete the task. Kind of like the ring time at the Real Canadian Stupid Store.
When the train slowed to a crawl ever so briefly, I took advantage of the opportunity to unload my bladder. For those who haven’t had the chance to ride the rails, trust me, it’s a lot easier to answer the call of nature then than when the train is speeding along at more than 80 mph.
After dropping off my bags, I headed out for some highway pictures. Crossing the nearby bike-pedestrian bridge over the Rideau River, I was again struck by the number of cyclists in the area. It is something I would notice throughout the trip on both sides of the border, and cycling seems even more prevalent than in Niagara, itself a world-class cycling destination.
Yet what surprised me was the fact that very few OC Transpo buses had bike racks and I didn’t spot a single one on the many STO (Société de transport de l’Outaouais) buses I saw. Here in Niagara, throughout the Golden Horseshoe and even on Metro buses in the Great State of New York, I have yet to spot a bus without one.
Passing through the University of Ottawa – Lees Campus, I noticed how Quebecese was first on all signage. On the other side of the border, however, the Canadian language is not allowed, something that is rigidly enforced by the language Gestapo otherwise known as the OQLF.
While crossing a street on the way there, despite the fact that I had a walk sign, several tour buses from La Quebecoise bullheadedly kept turning right through the crosswalk, unconcerned by my presence or that of a senior on the other side of the street also wanting to cross. By contrast, several Canadian drivers over the next hour were quite courteous in allowing me to cross streets.
My next stop was the Cancer Survivors Park, where I stopped for a few pictures before continuing on to Walmart to pick up meals for the next three nights. I make a habit of avoiding restaurants whenever I can.
Before settling in for the night, I took a brief tour of the hotel, something I didn’t do last year.
Following a less than restful sleep, I was back at it on Tuesday morning for what would be the first of two cross-border adventures. I first caught the #9 OC Transpo bus for the short ride downtown before getting off to transfer to the #33 STO bus that would take me deep into the empire du mal.
Halfway there, I noticed someone running up alongside the bus, only to have the driver take off just as he got to the front door. I don’t mean to laugh at the poor sap who missed his bus, as I’ve been there often enough myself, but it was a classic Winnipeg Transit moment that brought a wry smile to my face.
Having not taken the STO before, I wasn’t completely sure if the Presto transfer from OC Transpo would work, but when I tapped my card on the reader, the green light came on and I took my seat. While waiting for the bus to come, I noticed many others also using Presto to board STO buses, so my fears were somewhat alleviated beforehand.
The STO marked the seventh different transit system where I’ve used my Presto card. Yet I still cannot use it on St. Catharines Transit or on any other transit system in Niagara. Explain that, Messrs. Caslin and Sendzik.
During the ride, I noticed, just as I did on the OC Transpo bus, that almost everyone paid with Presto or MULTI, a card available only to Quebec residents. Of the dozens of people who boarded during my travels, only two or three paid with cash. Just to be on the safe side, I was prepared with the $3.90 in change, but I never needed it. Quebec gets enough of my money, so I was happy not to have given them any more.
The bus itself looked to have been something they dragged out of a museum, and the buses I rode to and from Jets games in the 1980s were of newer vintage. Winnipeg Transit truly would have been embarrassed to put a jalopy like that on the road. To borrow a line from a long-lost friend, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the driver had to wind it up to get it started. Inside, the seats were tattered and torn and there were no automated stop announcements, standard operating procedure on public transit these days.
The roads in Gatineau certainly were no better and without much of a suspension system on the bus, there were times I felt like a Mexican jumping bean. With the high taxes in Quebec and the gobs of money they get from Canada, you have to wonder what on Earth they’re spending it on. It sure isn’t on buses and roads.
Crossing the Alexandra Bridge, just as I did last year, I noticed the massive backlog of Canada-bound traffic, proof that the public service has simply become an affirmative action program for the French. Even in the private sector, from the job postings I saw on storefronts, you can’t get anything there without being able to speak the language of the occupying power.
Soon after crossing the border (oddly, there were no customs agents), a car just stopped in the middle of the road to let someone out. The bus driver honked loudly, but the woman getting out paid no attention to the waiting cars and took her sweet time before crossing the street, forcing oncoming cars to stop for her. A couple of blocks later, someone else just stepped into traffic and the car in front of the bus had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting him. Bienvenue au Québec!
After a long and circuitous journey, we got to Parc-o-bus Freeman, the end of the route. Rather than politely explaining that this was the end of the route and advising passengers to take their personal belongings with them, as is commonplace in my part of the world, the portly driver just bellowed “TERMINUS!” at the top of his voice.
I instantly knew I would be laughing over that line for years to come.
In Southern Ontario, it is indeed rare that a departing passenger, even when exiting from the back door, does not say “thank you” to the driver, yet only two people had said “merci” to the STO driver along the route. So I bucked the trend and also said “merci” to him on the way out the front door. He acknowledged the other two, but not me, no doubt because, to borrow a line from Denis Lemieux in Slap Shot, I just was some stupid English pig with no brain. But I was still proud to have held myself to a higher standard. I am from St. Catharines, not from Winnipeg or from Quebec.
From Parc-o-bus Freeman, I proceeded north along Boulevard Saint-Joseph/Route 105 for, you guessed it, some good highway pictures. Soon to appear on a website near you.
After getting my fill of pictures in this area, I returned south along Boulevard Saint-Joseph. Just past the A-5 junction, this guy pulled up onto the sidewalk right in front of me, parked behind a couple of cars and went into the store. Just do as you please.
Not more than a couple of blocks later, a woman riding a bike pulling a trailer behind her with her kid inside went right through a red light and only grudgingly stopped at the median when it appeared the oncoming car, which had the right of way, wasn’t going to stop. Just do as you please. Again. As I observed last year at this time, this place makes Winnipeg look good, but it also gives a sarcastic writer like me plenty of good fodder.
Near this fire hall that I stopped to take a shot of for the benefit of one reader I’m looking forward to seeing in the coming days, I passed by l’École Secondaire de l’Île, where I actually heard some English spoken. Wondering if they were breaking the law, I quickly learned what their favorite English word was. Four letters. Starts with ‘F.’ You figure it out. A word I thankfully hear very little of in my part of the world.
My final destination on this day was the so-called Canadian Museum of History that isn’t located in Canada, but first, I stopped into the Outaouais tourism office, where I picked up a cycling map of the region. Throughout my travels, I marveled at the number of great trails and only wished I had my bike with me. If I come back, I will have to seriously consider renting one.
While I was there, I was served by a very friendly clerk who actually spoke to me in the Canadian language. Again, I’m not sure it’s officially allowed, but I appreciated the fact that he stuck his neck out and risked possible arrest to offer his help.
There was also a jersey on display of the late Tim Horton from when he played for Buffalo. I told someone taking a picture of it that there was a statue of him in downtown Buffalo, right by where the old Aud used to stand.
Unfortunately, aside from the nice hockey exhibit, there was very little else of value there.
This hall was the crown jewel of the place, and as you’d expect, you get hammered with the official narrative of how the white man is responsible for every ill that has ever befallen someone of First Nations heritage.
All in all, I walked out of there feeling like I had flushed $23 down the toilet. If I make a return trip to the area, I won’t make that same mistake again.
With rain looming on the horizon, I decided to call it a day and make for the bus, which took me back to the hotel just as it started to pour.
For the next day, I had originally planned an outing on the Canadian side, but seeing something good along the way on the STO bus, I decided to change plans and go back to l’autre pays, taking the same bus, but getting off at Boulevard des Hautes-Plaines where it met A-5.
This time, the bus was of a little newer vintage, but it was still something Winnipeg Transit would have embarrassed to put on the road. It was a little more crowded than it was the previous day, so I went to the back to get a seat. The first row of seats past the back door were facing to the front, but oddly, the second row was facing to the back. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. It is, after all, Quebec.
I again said “merci” to the driver as I got off at the front door, the only one on the trip who did so, and to his credit, he politely acknowledged it.
I couldn’t help but notice another probable violation of Quebec’s language laws. “Osgoode Properties” should instead be “Les Properties Osgoode,” n’est-ce pas? Maybe the OQLF should offer me a job. But then again, I’m not of the right ethnic heritage. Only pure laine Québécois need apply.
Not only is Boulevard des Allumettières notoriously littered with roundabouts, but at Boulevard Saint-Joseph and Rue Montcalm, there are two within a few feet of each other. If you hate roundabouts, as I know one reader does, this is not the place for you.
I noticed this sticker, one of two I spotted in my travels. Of course, it’s French only in Quebec, but anyone daring to suggest English only in Canada is branded a racist, xenophobic and intolerant, along with a host of other such terms leftists like to pin to those who don’t agree with their view of the world.
Near the border, I spotted someone else’s idea of “art.” Pigeons and a tomato soup can. I wouldn’t care that much except for the fact that again, I shudder to think of how much I paid for that. Not to mention the fact that it’s likely another language law violation. It’s “soupe aux tomates” don’t you know?
Back in Canada, I had lunch at the War Museum cafeteria before taking a stroll down Wellington.
Passing the Supreme Court, I noticed this group of First Nations protesters chanting and beating their drums, presumably lobbying the judges-turned-lawmakers to give them more concessions. You have to wonder why they bother. I don’t think any First Nations group has ever lost in a Canadian courtroom in my lifetime. Whether they were right or not.
I stopped at the Terry Fox statue across from Parliament last year and did so again. For those who are not aware, Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg and I attended the same elementary school as he did when he lived there.
My last stop of the day was Byward Market. For those familiar with Toronto, it’s kind of a cross between St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District. It looks like a good place for photographers, but that’s about all it seems to be good for.
Just after getting on the #9 bus to go back to the hotel, I came within an eyelash of being a witness to a double fatality as two teenage kids ran in front of the bus. The driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid making them Darwin Award candidates, but to them, it was all a big joke when they made it to the other side of the street. Some funeral director who was narrowly cheated out of some dough wasn’t laughing.
In front of me in line was a guy with a rainbow-colored NDP button stuck to his backpack. On it read, “Pride: It’s not just a dance party.” As one reader might say, “Gag me with a Kathleen Wynne election sign.”
I noticed the extra leg room in the car right away and unlike the car I had going in, the row numbers were also on the seats in addition to being on the window. Passing by was a guy with his belongings stuffed into a Glad bag, much like the cyclist I spotted in Gatineau on Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps Glad is branching out to appeal to the budget-conscious traveler.
Nearby was a group of kids and a mother who were going to Toronto for a dance audition, and I was able to hear them throughout the ride. But by far the biggest chatter in the car was seated immediately to my left. An Ottawa resident originally from Nova Scotia who was retired from social work, M.A., short for Mary Alice, was currently studying Japanese flower arranging. She said Nova Scotians were great storytellers and she didn’t disappoint.
During the four-hour ride, I and many people around me found out that her husband was from Holland and used to investigate airline crashes. She described Trump as “scary,” but she made no more forays into politics when I replied that what was truly scary was our prime minister.
While polishing off the ham croissant she bought on the train, she mentioned how clean and efficient the trains were in Japan. At major stops, people would exit along the sides while those boarding would get on in the middle to expedite the process.
Before spending much time telling me how fascinated she was by children, she mentioned an occasion when she was at a social function with a person who had been paralyzed in a rodeo accident. When she was leaving, she said without thinking, “I’ll get on my horse.”
It was all interesting, but I was somewhat relieved when the train pulled into Union Station. From there, it was an uncomfortable ride back to St. Catharines among thick crowds both on the train and on the bus.
On the bus, seated in front of me was an obese woman talking about her favorite places for ice cream and extolling the virtues of a donut place in downtown St. Catharines. She then proceeded to check prices on Snickers bars, something she undoubtedly buys in bulk, and lamenting about people complaining about her and her friends smoking on the platform. This is probably someone who endlessly moans and groans to her doctor about all the health problems she has.
In spite of everything, I had a great time, and the old adage of enjoying something better the second time indeed proved true. I don’t know if I’ll make a return trip or not, but there still is more to see and do in the region that I haven’t experienced yet.