Why did a trip that took us 8 days of pandemic driving from Southern Ontario to British Columbia and back take me 2 months to write about? Well, chalk it up to a senior moment (or two or more), a fight with technology, and getting back to being busy again when we got home…… but excuses, excuses – I wanted to be really careful in describing the locations that we passed through – because they were all important. We are very lucky to live in beautiful Canada, and we are very fortunate to have been able to safely travel during this time.
As we drove closer to home, my husband, who was initially not as excited to drive cross country as I (and did almost all the driving!), said – “well maybe when this pandemic is over, we’ll drive all the way east!” I’m in!
When we started our day’s drive, we weren’t sure exactly which way we were going to go. We had decided to travel a little bit north on the eastbound way home of our original westbound TransCanada Highway Route, so that we could see some different scenery and that we did! We were lollygagging, and we knew it. As it turned out later that night – we should have been listening to the local news…..
We had no particular plans for our drive today, except to head generally eastward towards home, and to drive through Saskatoon on our way. It’s about 630 kilometers from Rocky Mountain House to Saskatoon – or 7 and a half hours. We took smaller regional highways, so we weren’t quite sure how the trip would go. We were following a map we had bought along the way, as our GPS would want us to take a faster more direct route – and that would be no fun.
As we headed east and from Rocky Mountain House along Highway 11, we enjoyed seeing this display of flags before we got to Red Deer. The 195 flags (from our provinces and countries around the world) ran for about one kilometer along highway 11. They were a tribute to front-line health care workers and first responders – created by the Veterans Voices of Canada.
From Red Deer we travelled eastbound on Highway 11. We were out of the Rocky Mountains and into central Alberta and rolling green fields. We pass oil wells, farms and processing facilities. At the small town of Clive Alberta. There is an enormous carbon recapture pipeline and processing facility project. I had never heard of anything like this, so I find this exciting, but I think I’m going to have to read some more about it to fully undeerstand…..
“it is being built to facilitate enhanced oil recovery, it will sequester so much CO2 – up to 1.8 megatonnes annually – that, at full capacity, it will have the same effect as taking 339,000 cars off the road each year, according to Natural Resources Canada.The Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, when completed, will be the world’s largest CO2 pipeline. The 240-kilometre pipeline will collect captured CO2 from a fertilizer plant and the new Sturgeon Refinery near Edmonton, and pipe it to mature conventional oilfields near Clive, Alberta.The total project cost is $900 million, of which $470 million is for the pipeline. It is estimated that the CO2 from the pipeline will allow producers to wring an additional one billion barrels of light oil out of mature, largely depleted reservoirs. It is scheduled to be operating by 2020.“
We jumped onto Highway 12, driving through very quiet pastures and farmland. At about Alix Alberta – still a very rural area – we observed some industry. and wondered if it was also related to Alberta’s abundant oil. It was actually Rahr Malting – which processes barley and other grains into brewing supplies. I think that’s a very good thing.
If we weren’t social distancing, the Alix Wagon Wheel Museum would have been an interesting stop if we weren’t social distancing.
We travelled east and south through the small towns of Nevis (where there is a giant gas plant) and Erskine. On our drive west we had beautiful sunny skies and warm weather, while eastbound we had lots of grey skies and rain. At about Castor Alberta, we headed east on Highway 599, then North on Highway 41 to Czar, then Southeast on Highway 13 and over the border to Saskatchewan and East on Highway 14 to Unity. We stopped for a bite to eat at Unity, where we were asked for the first time at a drive through how we got over the border from Ontario to the west. It made us pause to think for a bit. I think that during the pandemic there has been some impression in the news that some sort of authority stops people from travelling across provincial boundaries along our westward journey, and our eastward journey home – but there is none.
Unity is a prosperous small town – though slightly larger than some of the hamlets we had travelled through today – with 2600 people. I thought it was appropriate travelling through Unity – as there was an award winning Canadian play titled “Unity (1918)” about the effects of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. We stopped for a few pictures of the beautiful pastures and big skies!
We couldn’t help but stop to take more pictures of skies, grain elevators, green fields and trains as we traveled across Saskatchewan.
We traveled through Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s largest city which sits on a bend in the South Saskatchewan River. I have only previously visited Saskatoon in the wintertime, and so I enjoyed this warm summer version. It seemed to me to be a very beautiful and organized city with lots of suburban neighbourhoods. We also notice lots of bridges. We read that Saskatoon is known as “The City of Bridges” because of it’s 8 bridges across the Saskatchewan River. The river winds around and through the city and creates a lovely view from so many points.
We were enjoying listening to a Canadian music playlist, (Lots of Guess Who – “Running Back to Saskatoon” – because that’s too obvious, Neil Young – “Harvest Moon” and so on…..) and we felt very relaxed and happy enjoying the now sunny day and blue skies. As we passed a sign in Saskatoon for “The Paris of the Prairies” – we fast forwarded through to the song Wheat Kings by the Tragically Hip.
“Sundown in the Paris of the prairies
Wheat kings have all treasures buried
And all you hear are the rusty breezes
Pushing around the weathervane Jesus“
Now, I never have any idea what the Tragically Hip’s lyrics are about, but the music perfectly suited the drive! Saskatoon is also known as the Paris of the Prairies of course.
From Saskatoon we took the Yellowhead Highway – diagonally southeast through the small towns of Clavet, Elstow,Colonsay, Viscount, Plunkett, Lanigan and Dafoe. We saw many long trains taking food, fuel and fertilizer across Canada.
Just south of Plunkett, there is another Salt Lake – Little Manitou Lake where it’s possible to float on the salt water! That would be awesome.
At Dafoe, we passed the shores of Big Quill Lake. The waters seemed very high at this point. That should have been a clue for us to pay attention to the weather/local news……
We continued on the same route towards Yorkton Saskatchewan – We were considering stopping for the night at this point, but it was still very light and we were enjoying the drive – so we kept going through Manitoba – heading towards Russell. Even though I am writing about this day in September, this was still the first week of July – and so at this latitude we still had more than 16 hours of daylight – more than an hour longer than in our southern Ontario home. It still seemed like daytime at 8:00 at night – so we kept on driving.
In a wooded area in Solsgirth Manitoba, a moose stopped roadside to watch us. It didn’t seem to mind us – but the light was getting a little dim at this point – so the photos aren’t that clear.
Just after Strathclair, we encountered a black bear by the side of the road – he quickly jumped out of the way and we missed the photo opportunity – but we read that we were just outside of Riding Mountain National Park, where there is a very large of bear population.
As we traveled through the small towns Minnedosa and Rivers, we saw in the dimming light that the waters in the surrounding rivers were at road level. We were following our GPS southwest towards Winnipeg and as it was getting dark – pylons started to appear in the rural roads warning of road closures. We weren’t sure what was happening, as we hadn’t stopped – planning to motor through Manitoba before it got too dark. We also had gotten used to listening to the Sirius Radio in our rental car – which is just not local. NOT A GOOD IDEA!! Our GPS cut out, it was getting dark – and our map was not detailed enough to show sideroads and detours.
Apparently the water in the local dam at Rivers Manitoba was at it’s highest level ever and was in danger of failing. It was described by the local news as a one in 1000 year event. Local homes were being evacuated just in case, and roads were slowly being closed. Our GPS and map were of no help at this time – so we picked a sideroad that headed generally south and east. In the dimming light, with no GPS – we suddenly realized our headlights weren’t working. We had pushed some darn button or other in our rental car – and stopped to spend about 15 minutes trying to figure it out with the vehicle user manual.
Can you picture two old people in the dark, reading a user manual, worried about flooding, lost in Manitoba? We eventually figured it all out and proceeded about 30 kilometres on our sideroad, which gradually became dirt, then mud with big ruts, trying to figure out in the dark if that was water on either side of the road……
It all worked out in the end, and we found the TransCanada again and proceeded Eastbound towards Winnipeg. The floodwaters had receded somewhat for the time-being, thankfully, for the people of Manitoba. While we had not planned to stop in Manitoba due to the pandemic isolation rules, we ended up pulling into a Best Western Winnipeg at around 1:30 in the morning, exhausted. In the dark, there were so many deer in the road that the ride had become hazardous, and we had had enough adventure for one day!
The hotel staff let us know that they had no restrictions regarding travellers from out of province, as long as they were travelling through to another province and were remaining socially distant. We definitely were.
I’d like to say that we’ve learned a lesson about being more prepared for local emergencies, but we will see!