The second day of our journey began with a search for coffee in Thunder Bay at 6 a.m. Saturday morning. The recommended Robin’s Donut shop (a Franchise chain that started here in Thunder Bay), was still closed, but we scurried down the road to a McDonald’s and all was good. The Best Western provided pre-packed breakfast bags, but was not able to provide coffee.
The bags were a great idea for a touch free pandemic breakfast – granola bars, juice, a muffin, and a fruit cup in each. What else could you need? Well the young lad followed up with 2 Sausage and Egg McMuffins, but he burns a few more calories than the rest of the world. Several of the Best Westerns we stayed at substituted similar paper bags for the breakfast buffet because of the pandemic – and this was a good idea. A few didn’t offer coffee, but I thought they could have done that – but oh well.
Our plan for the day was to drive from Thunder Bay, past Kenora to Manitoba – to travel straight through Manitoba and stop for the night in Regina Saskatchewan. This should be a 13.5 hour drive – about 1280 km.
We were glad to have not seen a moose at night, but I was promised one today! A moose cooperated about 100km west of Thunder Bay on the TransCanada highway. She posed for a minute roadside as we scrambled for our phones, and then ambled towards the forest. She looked like a big healthy young lady, but we just caught photos of her behind.
The landscape was suddenly less dramatic and mountainous as we went further from Thunder bay, but as we travelled through Ignace and Dryden, we passed amazing Evergreen forests, signs of a prosperous logging industry and the traces of a recent forest fire near Ignace.
Somewhere after Thunder Bay (at 90 longitude), we moved from the Eastern Time Zone to Central Time! Our phones and car clocks gradually clued in (before we did). The part of our drive from Thunder Bay to Kenora was about 5 hours or so.
We stopped for a photo at the Artic Watershed sign and historic plaque. I find the concept a bit confusing, (but I’ve always had issues with left and right, North and South, etc.) but the sign marks the divide in the Watershed. Waters in Manitoba flow northward towards the Arctic Ocean – Hudson’s Bay, while the waters on the Ontario side flow towards the Atlantic Ocean in Quebec City.
Behind the watershed sign – tucked strangely into the forest is a historic plaque. I took a blurry picture of it while stepping carefully through the forest in my flip-flops – why is the plaque hiding? – but copied the text below to make up for my awkward photography.
Plaque Text: “North of this watershed all flowing water eventually reaches Hudson Bay, while south of it all watercourses form part of the Great Lakes drainage system. The height of land follows an erratic course of some 2250 km across Ontario, ranging from 32 to 280 km north of Lakes Huron and Superior. This watershed was declared the inland boundary of the tract surrendered to the Crown by Ojibwa Indians in the Robinson Superior Treaties of 1850. It was also widely considered to be the southern limit of Rupert’s Land, the vast, ill-defined Hudson’s Bay Company territory transferred to Canada in 1870, and it figured prominently in the Ontario-Manitoba boundary dispute of 1883-4.“.
We moved again into beautiful rolling green forests and passed numerous small lakes and rivers. As we approached Kenora, the highway acquired more twists and turns – past rocky outcroppings and high above lakes. We enjoyed seeing a deer run across the road.
Kenora was initially named Rat Portage, and thankfully changed it’s name (combining the names of two merged townships – Keewatin, Norman and Rat portage). The TransCanada has a Bi-pass loop around Kenora – which we took, or you can go straight through to stop for gas and food.
In the Kenora area we passed the top part of Lake of the Wood or Lake of the Islands.It is known for it’s fish population of walleye, smallmouth bass and pike – the fishing rods in the back of the car stayed put though as we rushed towards Manitoba. Lake of the Woods has thousands of islands and a jagged shoreline of over 100,000 miles.
As we left Kenora – we saw a Magpie! We had previously only seen them in Alberta, and had no idea there were any in Ontario! (Wikipedia tells me that the Black Billed Magpie is native to western North America, and has been observed as far east as Northern Ontario – so there you go!)
Finally we entered Manitoba. There is no “border crossing”. just the nice welcome sign – but there are new electric message boards about COVID-19 Quarantines. We re-read the COVID-19 instructions online – all non-essential travellers must self isolate for 14 days. We would love to make a stop in Manitoba, but will save touristy stops for another time!
At this time, travellers from Ontario staying in Manitoba, must go immediately to their residence or hotel and stay there for 14 days, leaving only for essentials. However travellers to the Western Provinces are permitted to enter and pass on through – stopping only for essential supplies. We are very respectful and supportive of this – and had no plans to stop, other than for gas and fast food. The portion of our drive from Kenora to Winnipeg was about 2.5 hours.
We pass Falcon Lake, which is also just north of the Shoal Lake Reservoir, which supplied Winnipeg with freshwater. The elevation gradually decreases as we get further into Manitoba. The TransCanada Highway here is 2 separated double lanes with a great shoulder for cyclists. We offered to drop our cyclist off for a stretch, but he declined!
We drove straight along the Transcanada in the loop around Winnipeg, through Brandon and along our way to Regina. This part of our drive was about 6 hours. Manitoba on a warm summer day is an EASY and very pleasant drive. There was occasional construction and very little traffic we could see for miles. The beautiful flat fields – initially rolling and then flat as we approach Saskatchewan are green with grass, crops and dotted tidy farmhouses and trees.
There were signs for attractions at exits – Adventure climbing, museums and just farm road stands – but we stayed on the TransCanada. The province had a total of 322 cases at the time we drove through with only four new cases that day – which left only 15 active cases in the province! Manitoba had moved to Stage 3 of re-opening and we were happy to see lots of cars in plazas and restaurant patrons dining inside as we drove by!
Our only roadside statue snap was of the White Horse statue just west of Winnipeg. The statue is a commemoration of a Legend of a newly married First Nations couple fleeing their enemies with a white horse. The couple perished but the white horse escaped and roamed the plains with their spirits until they were reunited. The area became known as the White Horse Plains in honor of this romantic legend.
North of the Trans-Canada are Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, remnants of ancient Lake Agassiz, which at the time of the last Ice Age covered an area twice that of today’s Great Lakes.
From Winnipeg through to Brandon Manitoba, we noticed train rails on both sides of the TransCanada. One set of tracks heads to Regina, Calgary and Vancouver – while the other heads to Saskatoon and Edmonton.
While gazing at hydro towers in the skyline, and we thought that the windy weather would be perfect for Wind Turbines. Later as we travelled further west, the fields were full of them.
We entered Saskatchewan uneventfully – the sign was modest – “Saskatchewan naturally”, the road was equally easy – double laned, flat and divided and the green fields and blue skies went on forever.
As we traveled we saw many farms, green fields, lots of grain elevators, and then our first Rodeo grounds. On the way to Regina, we passed Whitewood, with signs for Moose Mountain Provincial Park and then Indian Head. The highway seems to be climbing higher very gradually from Manitoba, but as we approach Regina it seems to be very flat, with farms and clumps of trees near the houses, which I imagine are snowbreaks or windbreaks.
We were excited to see Prairie dogs sprinting across the highway, but once again didn’t get any pictures of them. They are a squirrel-like rodent that burrows and lives in grasslands.
The City of Regina has a by-pass or ring road around it and we stop at the east side without going through the city. I read that the city was at one time called Pile of Bones, after the large quantities of buffalo bones in the area left from hunting. It was renamed Regina in 1882 after Queen Victoria, and is sometimes called the Queen City.
We checked in to the Hampton Inn and Suites East Gate Regina. Some of the hotels were full in the area and we were happy to find our required first floor room (to keep out of elevators and keep as physically distant from others as possible. We laughed when we noticed that the lobby was exactly as we remember the lobby of Hampton Milwaukee, where we had visited just before Christmas 2 years ago! That’s why we like chain hotels – we generally know what to expect.
We grabbed some take-out dinner, but we noticed that people were dining in restaurants and visiting stores. Businesses were looking prosperous in Saskatchewan! We were tired from the drive, but we had had a sunny day and it was easy to feel positive while enjoying all of the varied and beautiful scenery during our drive.