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Cross Canada for the 150th Birthday Party

August 15, 2017   ·   0 Comments

When our Humberview grad got his acceptance to the cooperative program in Engineering at Waterloo, we realized that this could be our last summer holiday with him for the next five years. So, being Canada’s 150th, we decided to make it a cross-country summer, stopping in at as many National Parks (NP) as we could.
It was far more spectacular than we expected. A journey like that makes you appreciate the size and splendour of our incredibly diverse country. The fact that it takes three days alone to get out of Ontario was one small indicator. After Tobermory, the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry to Manitoulin, the spectacular coastline of Lake Superior, and Kakabeka Falls in Thunder Bay, we were already exhausted.
But then came Riding Mountain NP in Manitoba, a cross between Blue Mountain Resort, Disneyworld and Algonquin Park – a very polished resort-style National Park. Contrast that with the Prairie wilderness of waving grasses, high winds, and endless horizon line at Grasslands NP in Saskatchewan, complete with prairie dogs and bison. Note to self: who knew black widow spiders liked to hide in prairie dog burrows? Check shoes in the morning…
Then it was through Cardston and the magnificent Mormon Temple there, to the splendour of Waterton Lakes NP. Nothing can compare to driving off the total flat of the Prairies and coming into the sheer vertical rise of the Rocky Mountains. Breathtaking and humbling. The Waterton hikes give spectacular views across the Rockies and south into Montana, while the Townsite offers an eclectic mix of shops and cafés – could have spent a month here.
Next, it was off to Gladstone Provincial Park in BC for a quick overnight, and a lot of smoky haze from the William’s Lake wildfires before taking our young engineer to the Hope Slide and bear witness to what happens when the earth moves. In 1965, in less than four minutes, the entire mining town of Hope was buried under tonnes of rock when the entire side of Turtle Mountain sheared off. A sobering site for young engineers to remember where the real power resides.
It was a quiet ride up to Vancouver, the Pacific Ocean and a family visit and rest time before the return journey. Relaxing hikes in the Lynn Valley Canyon, walking Lion’s Gate Bridge to Stanley Park, and digging for clams in the Port Hardy estuaries. Good playtime with a brand new grandchild and then packing up tight for the return journey.
The return trip back from Vancouver was nothing short of spectacular. First, you rise through the Coast Mountains from Vancouver, and then cross the Intermountain Plateau, and next the Rockies via Glacier and Yoho National Parks via Roger’s Pass. Each vista is more breathtaking than the last, and the Trans-Canada highway itself makes the best ride at Canada’s Wonderland look like tame by comparison. This IS Canada’s wonderland.
After walking the trail to Yoho’s Takkakaw Falls with a crowd composed of every culture under the sun, we headed for our final Canadian visit along the Icefields Parkway for three days in Banff National Park. It was pure luck that the William’s Lake, 100 Mile House, and Sunshine Village wildfires had been contained (with 40,000 evacuees much relieved), so the skies were crystal clear when we did our area hikes. I had to scramble out onto a rocky outcrop to get a tourist-free shot of the turquoise waters of Peyto Lake, but it was worth it! We hiked this trail with all ages and stages and languages that you could imagine – a triumph of diversity and community – the world invited to share our True North, respectful and free.
We made a nostalgic visit to our wedding site under the peaks of the Three Sisters in Canmore, and to the Hoodoos near our Tunnel Mountain campsite at Banff, before we packed up and headed home via Estevan, Saskatchewan. This was the crossing point for so many Syrian refugees this winter. One could only imagine their desperate quest for freedom that they braved the -40ºC temperatures and limb freezing Prairie winds as they crossed from Portal, North Dakota into Canada.
We had decided on the faster U.S. route home and made the trip across North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois as quickly as possible. After one hotel night in St. Paul, Minnesota our last campsite was near Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was at a KOA campgrounds and was by far the largest, most comfortable campsite of the entire trip. The facilities, however did not compare to the excellence of our National Parks. The other difference, perhaps the most profound revelation of the trip, was that at this campsite, everyone was white and spoke English.
When crossed the border and saw that first big Canadian flag waving proudly over the American-Brazilian owned Tim Hortons, we all spontaneously broke into our national anthem, in English and French, including “In all of us command”, with a heartfelt Miigwetch at the end. Old wisdoms, new realities.
Oh, Canada, thank you for your diversity in landscapes and in peoples. In celebration of 10,000 years of First Peoples cultures, and 150 years of European nation building, Happy Birthday Canada. It was the trip of a lifetime!
For the six years prior to this trip we did the run every summer from Caledon to family on the East Coast, so Québec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia have been well explored, including the Cape Breton’s iconic Cabot Trail. I have been fortunate enough to have swum in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans, panned for gold in Dawson City, danced under the Northern Lights in Arviat, and shared muktuk in Iqaluit. We are blessed with a beautiful country.
Maybe one day my children will get to The Rock for Newfoundland’s 100th Birthday. It is always the journey though, never just the destination. Happy trails!

By Skid Crease



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