A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I drove from Calgary, Alberta to Knowlton, Quebec. It’s a long way geographically as well as culturally. One province feels completely isolated and hard done by and the other is Quebec, but I digress. The journey presents an opportunity to empty one’s mind but maintain enough focus so as to keep the wheels between the lines. For the record, it’s a drive we’ve done before and one that I don’t mind doing – just not too often.
We currently have houses in both places but hopefully not for much longer. Prior to leaving on our journey we had a few weeks of intensive fix-up and clean-up to do. Our Calgary house is for sale and our intention is to be in Knowlton full time. Fingers crossed.
The SUV was packed tight and deep with all manner of stuff. I had a bunch of new paintings that were mostly unframed and a couple of boxes containing 4 new silkscreen print editions. There was also a circular saw and various other tools intended for various projects in and around the Knowlton house. We also had clothes and shoes and a cooler and pots and pans and on and on and so forth. Lots and lots of stuff that took up the entire back of the car with the back seats folded down.
The silkscreen prints were done in advance of the 2020 Tour Des Arts. That event was also impetus for getting new paintings done. Of course, because of COVID 19 the tour has been cancelled for this year but something in me felt the need to proceed as though it is still happening. It was a case of bringing it all or sticking it into storage back in Calgary. Also, I hold hope that some us will still be able to put together some kind of show in lieu of the tour. We shall see.
Driving Cross Country During a Pandemic
Yes, we drove across a goodly portion of the country during a pandemic. While I realize this may not ingratiate us to many, I can assure everyone that precautions were taken seriously. During the rare times we left the car, we wore masks. Motels were not a problem and each seemed glad to see us. Rates were definitely lower than what is typical. CAA card also came in handy for discounts. Staff seemed to be very cautious of sanitation and cleanliness. Front desks were protected by plastic barriers, etc.
Tim Hortons We Salute You
I take this opportunity to give a special shout-out to this pre-eminent Canadian institution. Of the many franchises dotting the route, all but one location we stopped at had open bathroom facilities. Coffee, lunch, and bathroom breaks all happened at Tim Hortons. Timbits are also an excellent amuse bouche on a long drive. Tim Hortons holds this country together in good times and bad.
Loving and Leaving Alberta
This is the part of the trip that seems easiest. After the final check and packing is done you head off on the adventure with a sense of relief that you are finally on your way. Heading east of Calgary offers little in the way of anything to look at other than bald ass prairie. Occasionally, I would search the landscape for a suitable tree from which to hang myself were I to ever find myself domiciled in these parts. I never found one.
The Province That’s Easy to Draw
Saskatchewan is mostly, although not entirely, flat and an easy drive. It has a few gently rolling parts to occasionally relieve the monotony but requires little real effort in terms of driving. In fact, half asleep is not a bad way to do it. I’m pretty sure that I drove most of it with the little finger of my left hand while the car was set to cruise control. They call it ‘Land of the living skies’ by default. It’s a good part of the drive to let your thoughts wander where they may.
Brandon was our first stop and we took up in a Super8 just barely off the highway. Manitoba has terrible highway and road conditions. Bumpy, rutty, and generally terrible.
The one thing I know for sure is that Ontario is very long indeed and the most taxing part to drive. The Trans-Canada, as it is called, is really a bunch of cobbled together secondary highways once you get into Northern Ontario. Highway 17, which you are on for a good part of the way is mostly two lanes with intermittent sections with passing lanes. These are helpful for sure and likely prevent a lot of accidents. The route tends to be very twisty-turny so the driving required in Northern Ontario is far more active than say Saskatchewan is. We budgeted and spent two days to get through Ontario in order to avoid driving at night. Best not to hit a moose.
There are some very beautiful parts of the drive through Ontario. The fact that we took two days allowed us to stop occasionally and breathe some of it in. Big stretches of Northern Ontario have very little in the way of services like gas and lodging, so you need a bit of a strategy.
We went into Thunder Bay to stay the first night. The city itself is a little off of the Trans-Canada but it is surprisingly beautiful and vey well-kept. We stayed in a funky hotel that had previously been the courthouse. Funnily enough there were 3 cars (out of a total of 10) in the parking lot that had Alberta plates. Apparently, we were not the only Albertans defying recommendations not to travel. In the morning we took the short trip down to the waterfront and recharged a little before resuming our big drive. From there, we were on to our next big stop in Sault-Ste-Marie.
By the ‘Soo’ we were starting to get a little crusty. By this point your mindset is bordering on a dream-state so you have to keep your wits. Ontario was not finished with us yet and we were determined to get this done and be in Knowlton by day’s end. We made a brief stop in Ottawa to have a socially-distanced visit with our daughter on the front steps of her place. Gas, coffee, Timbits, and off we headed to our final destination which at this stage was 2.5 hours away.
We did finally arrive in Knowlton late in the evening while it was still light enough for us to glimpse the yard-work and general clean-up that was in store. The general condition of the house and yard is much improved but by no means are we finished. I haven’t had the time or energy leftover to do any painting. It’s hot and humid here right now. Hopefully I can get to that point next week. Everything is a journey, right?
In closing I just want to say that I haven’t had a Timbit since getting here. However, there is a Tim Hortons within about 2 kilometers. It’s still too soon, but one day. You see, it really is the glue. – L/C