My Summer Vacation

A selective recap of our journey across the Canadian Shield–Arctic fireweed, pulp and paper mills, and giant walleyes–and musings about opportunities taken as well as missed.


“Continue six hundred and twenty four kilometres. Then turn left.”

Thus does our GPS let us know that she won’t be stretched to the limit in giving us directions across this southern edge of the Canadian Shield after our flying side trip to Yellowknife. With the road not occupying her attention or mine, I have time aplenty to reflect on what I did on my summer vacation. Well, not what I did so much as what I drove past or flew over.

So what did I encounter?

Piles of rocks: Canadians are, indubitably, excellent (maybe even compulsive) pilers-up of rocks. Most of the innumerable rock cuts along the road boast at least one such pile; a significant fraction (1 in 10, perhaps?) boast piles that are recognizable as inukshuks.

Memorial bridges: Named for Ontario Provincial Police constables killed in the line of duty, there are altogether too many of these.

Odd food ideas: One restaurant menu encouraged me to order French fries for dipping in their old-fashioned milkshakes and malts.

Odd signs: A truck stop sign advertised “Home cooked family dining” and pole dancers. (Seriously.) A gas station sign warned patrons: “Due to the increased cost of ammo, do not expect a warning shot. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Odd smells — No, forget that PC impulse — Bad smells: pulp and paper mills.

Interesting people — No, forget that PC impulse — Odd people: Steve O’Brien, skateboarding along the highway as part of his cross-Canada campaign to raise money to fight school dropout-ism.

Memorable local news: The Dryden radio station reported that a car had “collided” with an arena. I believe the driver of the arena was charged with failing to dodge.

Watersheds, passed through: Lake Superior and Arctic.

Watersheds, just missed: At one point we were just 90 km from Bemidji, Minnesota, headwaters of the Mississippi River, which would have added the Gulf of Mexico watershed to our tally.

Wildflowers, pretty: Arctic fireweed.

Close-up of purple Arctic fireweed blossom, flanked by stalk of grass gone to seed

Wildflower, pretty

Wildflowers, pushy: purple loosestrife.

Wildflowers, mutant: long-stemmed dandelion-like flowers growing by the thousands along the road cuts.

Animals, mutant and/or hybrid: one fox/coyote, two wolf/coyotes. What exactly is going on, out there in the woods?

Animals, dead: one skunk, not quite in the middle of the road.

Animals, living, non-mutant (as far as I know): turtle, black bear, moose, muskrat (one each).

Birds, identified: bald eagle, lesser yellowlegs, common loons (2), grey jays (3), wild turkeys (4), great blue herons (4), grebes or grebe lookalikes (8), crows (15,467).

Birds, unidentified: hawks (3), adding to my lifetime total of such raptors and imperceptibly worsening my identification percentage.

A bird-or-a-plane moment: a Northwest Territories water bomber, off to fight wildfires.

Airborne NWT water bomber in yellow and red colours against bright blue sky

Water bomber

Tourist attractions, stopped at: Terry Fox memorial.

Head-and-torso shot of statue of Terry Fox

Hero, Canadian

Tourist attractions, bypassed, sorta wistfully: amethyst mine (“Dig your own amethysts!”); Canada’s longest suspension bridge and zipline; historical plaques for the Great Fire of 1916 and steamboating on the upper Ottawa River; and the Brent meteorite crater.

Out-size statues: walleye, buffalo, Holsteins, hockey player.

Unfortunate juxtapositions: Gibson Lake (hurray!) and Mosquito Trail (boo!).

Road/bridge crews delaying traffic: 157. Seriously. Not honestly, but seriously.

Kilometres, flown over: 4,657; driven over: 4,983. Yes, the country is too wide. Seriously.


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8 Responses to My Summer Vacation

  1. Neighbour Dave says:

    What – you missed the Big Goose at Wawa? How about the Big Nickle in Sudbury?

    Perhaps they were obscured by road construction signs or flocks of crows. 😉

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dave M – We cleverly bypassed Sudbury and didn’t go past WaWa. If only I’d known about the big goose! Clearly, it pays to do your research on route options.

  2. The country is also, apparently, remarkably homogeneous. I think I will save your checklist for an awareness lesson to see if it’s worth the price of the gas to smell paper mills and see a statue of Terry Fox (having seen him in the flesh on a Hwy 400 leg of his journey). I certainly am insufficiently appreciative of the glories at my own back door. However, the boobies around here lack the charm of your Baby-Blue Brown Boobie and baby-boomer buddy “Wolfgang” Boobie. Such esoteric delights definitely are worth the price of the local trade-off that includes the cost of vets extracting a few hundred porcupine quills from two of our dogs last week and the lemon, vinegar, and labour for neutralizing the hit of a not politically moderate skunk on a third dog. Your travels enlighten my perspectives!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Homogenous would be kind, I fear, when viewed breezing past at 90km. Yet how lovely it can be up close – as on two walks around small Yellowknife lakes. There’s some general lesson to be drawn, perhaps, about the value of getting out of the car and onto feet. Not that the close-up view is always fabulous, either, as your dogs’ close encounters with porcupine and skunk can attest!

  3. Jim Robertson says:

    I agree with Dave re your missing the Wawa Goose and the Sudbury Nickel (that are no longer made of nickel – but that is another story…)

    I noticed no mention of the Pysanka in Vegreville….

    And yes a very sad comment re the number of bridges in Ontario named for OPP officers.

    Welcome back !

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – Not sure whether we flew over the pysanka on this trip, but I’ve seen it from the ground on other occasions, of course. I even knew a freelance writer who did a piece for the AMA magazine on all the oddball statues like that around Alberta, complete with maps and driving directions. The prairies are almost as “bad” as Shield for “Continue 624 kilometres. Then turn left.” And the turns may even be fewer!

  4. Ted Spencer says:

    We’ve done chunks of Canada in various smaller planes, at 300 km/h, pulling up for fences and trees. This makes Canada somewhat smaller. The rock piles go by faster. Interesting signs are harder to read. Interesting smells work about the same. But shorter. Birds – not fast metal birds – who take exception to fast metal birds: confrontations seldom work out well for either party.
    When we grow up, we’ll do it by road, and read the signs. We shan’t be put off by dire forecasts from GPS receivers. Or we could move to Lichtenstein and traverse the country on bicycles in half an hour, but where’s the fun in that?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ted – I hold to my view that there is (must be?) a happy middle ground between Lichtenstein and Canada. But come to think of it, I’m not sure what/where it might be. Maybe it’s to Laurna’s point about getting to know one spot intimately – about somehow adjusting to/for the scale. Getting out on foot in Yellowknife and environs, for example, was a delight.

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