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Day 3 of our western Canadian odyssey represents a kind of pivot point for us as we head out from Obatanga Provincial Park northwest of Wawa, Ontario. So far the 3 voyageurs have navigated our bateau on a narrow strip from the Province of Quebec through Ontario, 1500 kms. on a highway that has been carved out of the expansive boreal forest. We have thrilled to the sight of giant shimmering blue reservoirs of water holding back and doling out their lifeblood through rivers, the pulsing arteries of water, to power the industrial heart of Ontario.
West to White River which boasts surprisingly on a billboard that it has recorded a temperature of -72 degrees farenheit and is therefore the coldest spot in Canada. As if to balance that frosty statistic, White River adds with heartwarming pride that it is the birthplace of a little bear, Winnie, who later found a home in the hearts of millions as Winnie the Pooh. Current records seem to contradict White River’s claim for unchallenged frigidity but to challenge the birthplace of dear little Winnie would be downright uncanadian, wouldn’t it?
Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Nipigon, Port Arthur. Here we arrive at a cross roads, a point of transition between east and west, the end of the navigable line for Great Lakes freighters like the Edmund Fitzgerald which transport ore from Eastern Canada to American ports. Lake Carriers will also transport agricultural products which have been brought here from the Prairies by rail to markets in Central and Eastern Canada. The towering grain storage elevators in Port Arthur reveal an energetic hub, the largest community between Sudbury and Winnipeg.
At Port Arthur we stop at a coin wash laundromat to deal with two days of accumulated soiled clothes. The starter solenoid which has given notice of its intent to stay in Ontario abandons us and no amount of entreaties to a Manitou nor any ministrations with the trusty screwdriver can convince it otherwise. We calculate that with the remote terrain that we will cover the next 24 hours, that we should not risk an automotive breakdown. A Port Arthur service station replaces the starter and the solenoid and restores our confidence in our vehicle and we head west towards Kenora. Six months later in January 1970, Port Arthur and Fort William will lose their identities but will be reincarnated phoenix-like and renamed Thunder Bay.
West of Port Arthur and Fort William we note a discontinuity in the passing landscape. Regrettably we have left the scenic northern shores of Lake Superior and we have fewer vistas of Big Waters like Gitche Gumee. Further west, Kakabeka Falls, the Niagara of the North surprises us with its power and a delightful little picnic spot on the Revell River between Ignace and Dryden shows us a photogenic set of cascades.
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Going west from the Lakehead we have an intimation that we have crossed a threshold, our Rubicon. From now on although we will still be in Ontario for over 250 kms., the Manitoba border, where the West commences, is in the mind, and psychological gravity pulls the western bound travelers into an assessment of the losses about to be incurred through the decision to abandon the comforts of the known to invest in a common pool of personal human qualities and resources that we have been developing between us.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
We reach a geographical tipping point somewhere between the Lakehead and Kenora where the rivers drain into Hudson Bay rather than into the Great Lakes St. Lawrence system. This cross Canada journey will take us from a region of lakes and hills with relatively little vertical differentiation in Ontario to the benign, non-threatening flat lands of the Prairies to the dramatic Rockies, sometimes crushing, sometimes claustrophobia producing, always breathtaking, and finally to the Coastal Mountains which crowded in upon the western shores of the Continent, drop melodramatically to the Pacific Ocean.
The realization of the geographical variations arouses a curiosity about our abilities to adapt to our new environments as much social as physical. Importantly, we will lose a supportive social base of family and friends. In 1969 neither Deanne nor I has any friend or relative west of Ontario. Fourteen years away from emigration from the Caribbean, home has been defined by my Ontario addresses, Oshawa and Ottawa and a brief 10 months in the Province of Quebec. With one 18 month old infant and a 7 month old fetus being incubated inside Deanne, where will home be? What will home be like? Who will lend us support if and when we need it?
To a great extent Canada at this time is still parochial in its outlook and regional in its views. The trivial parts of the considerations of losses from in-migration involve allegiances that I have built with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Argonauts. Hockey Night in Canada has been the single most important television weekly feature since I have arrived in Canada in 1955. Ice skating for a tropical young emigré in an era before the electronic media shrinks the wide world into the global village is astonishing. Ice skating, backwards, at speed, is virtually miraculous. Choreographed and balletic, Tim Horton and Carl Brewer of the Leafs retreat in tandem, fluidly and effortlessly backwards while a red wave of Habitants mount a power play led aggressively by the elegant Jean Beliveau. The attack features speedy Yvan Cournoyer, Bobby Rousseau, Gilles Tremblay with Guy Lapointe the lone defenseman. They swarm in formation like a squadron of angry bees over the red Center line. To kill the power play, hard working Bobby Pulford and pesky Dave Keon are attempting to disrupt the marauding Canadiens in front of Tim Horton and Carl Brewer. For the Maple Leaf fan that I have been, after the glory of the 1967 Stanley Cup the dénouement to that little scenario was almost inevitably a power play goal scored by Yvan Cournoyer against the besieged but courageous, old goaltender, Johnny Bower. In the end the Leafs would fall.
With the reassurance that our move to the West Coast need not be irrevocable, that we could simply retrace our steps back to Central Canada if our uncertainties continue, we resume our voyage. and drive towards Winnipeg.
Kenora’s Lake of the Woods dappled with many islands seems somewhat anti climactic after impressive Lake Superior. The fishers in us make the obligatory stop to the shrine of the giant Musky, a statue erected in Kenora to the barracuda of the freshwater lake, the Maskinonge. Kenora’s Musky reignites the passion to be connected to a wilder, more diverse fauna and dismissing the reservations about the wisdom of abandoning the comfortable past, we push on west into Manitoba camping at West Hawk Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park east of Winnipeg.