A Winter Dash Across Canada

Chapter Two  –  Eating Dessert First

Kaslo Bay on a cloudy day

By early November the clouds hang low over Kootenay Lake. The view across the Kaslo Bay and beyond is often obscured by rain showers or fog and we begin to think of far away places. The main street of town, which has been bustling and busy since early May returns to a quieter and slower pace where everyone seems to know one another and stops to chat about local politics, the upcoming shows at the Langham Theatre or whose dog is running around town creating havoc.

Front Street in Kaslo – Late Autumn

The Angry Hen Brewery, a recent and welcome addition closes the outdoor patio but continues to offer eight or more tasty beer options in the comfort of a small and cozy eviron. 

Next door, the Bluebelle Bistro curbs its hours but continues to provide creative cuisine and frequent live music nights. Up the street Buddy’s Pizza opens three nights a week to satisfy everyone’s craving for the best pizza in the Kootenays along with frequent live music options ranging from coarse blues to smooth and intricate jazz – often accompanied by the proprietor, Aaron, who whips off his apron and chooses a saxophone or guitar, depending on the mood. Further on up the road, the Kaslo Hotel continues to offer local cuisine and beverages and the occasional blues night for those who love to dance.

The Langham Theatre in Kaslo

So, with all of these venues, along with a well stocked library and the prospect of mountains of ski-able snow in the forecast, most Kaslo-ites settle in for the winter and enjoy the slower pace of the community.

However,  for those of us who have planned an adventure and can eat dessert first the time has come to empty the fridge, put away the summer deck chairs and depart for parts unknown. Maggie and I were ready. We locked up the condo, loaded the car on November 4th and eagerly began our next adventure.

Early on in the development of this plan we were going to fly to Toronto and rent a car for the month while we did some visiting and sight-seeing in Ontario. But with all the time we needed and the fact that we had a suitable car which would be stored in our garage we decided to drive across. The trip would take six leisurely days and more if the weather cooperated and if we happened on something of interest.  

The first night we stopped in Revelstoke, BC.  Fifteen years ago Revelstoke was a sleepy little railway town on the CPR mainline through the Rockies, nestled on the shores of the Columbia River and adjacent to the Trans-Canada highway. Then some enterprising chaps decided to invest a few million dollars into a new ski resort and the accompanying infrastructure that ski resorts attract. Well, actually quite a few millions of dollars. Real estate prices soon jumped throughout the area, the central core of the town was revitalized and business began to pour in, mostly from the east. Alberta, with its throngs of oil rich workers, most of whom are young enough to have wads of disposable income and young enough to tackle the seemingly never ending kilometers of downhill slopes provides much of the revenue. In the summer busloads of Chinese sightseers eager to collect as many digital pictures as possible move in herds through the town while their buses await to whisk them away to Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Eastern Canadians and Europeans seeking BC’s famous champagne powder snow and tremendously long ski runs started to pour in. Like most commercial mountain cultures, an all season industry formed with a great downhill mountain slide and mountain bike trail network providing summer activities and a wonderful downhill ski operation spearheading winter tourist draws. North of town, up the Columbia Valley towards the Mica dam there are miles of back country snowmobile trails in the Monashee mountains and the alpine areas provide endless square kilometers of terrain for the guys who love noisy speed.

We found that as a one night stopover, the town provided everything we required. We also found that the prices of everything from lodging to cuisine reflected the upscale environment similar to what might be found in places like Whistler/Blackcomb and Mount Tremblant.

The Courthouse in Revelstoke, BC. 

As we exited the Rocky Mountain range and passed through the foothills of Alberta, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees to a frosty -5c. A light blowing snow drifted across the highway as the north wind seemed to say, “Welcome to the rest of Canada.”

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in Banff National Park

Since we were in no hurry, we elected to drive the Bow Valley Parkway which runs on the opposite side of the Bow River parallel to the 4 lane freeway through Banff National Park. We encountered the above fuzzy creatures placidly licking the stones which we assumed, contained a mineral necessary for the creation of their massive horns. Although there were no ‘full curl’ rams in this group, we did see a very mature ram earlier in the day whose horns were indeed, beyond full curl. We hoped that he would remain inside the park boundaries and thus, safe from the scope of a hunter.

We bypassed the town of Banff since in order to park a vehicle one must purchase a national park pass and elected instead, to have lunch in Canmore, just east of the park. Canmore has grown over the past thirty or so years into a tourist town, complete with hundreds of condos, many hotels and a main street complete with outdoor stores, outlandishly upscale clothing shops and the ubiquitous gifty shops full of so-called Canadian souvenirs, mostly made in China. Sorry Canmore, just telling it like it is.

Canmore Alberta, on the eastern edge of the Rockies

After a two night stopover in Calgary where we had a chance to catch up with relatives we carried on into Saskatchewan. Endless kilometers of prairie engulfed us, broken sporadically by the odd line of wind-break trees surrounding a farm house and its outbuildings. Most of these were occupied but there were some which had been abandoned and seemed quite forlorn, chilling in the cold embrace of a prairie winter.

What was once is no more.
The big sky of the Canadian prairies

We stopped for lunch in the city of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Dining along the Trans-Canada highway was one of our concerns for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that one of us is very conscious about getting the right balance of nutrition through organic foods whenever possible and the other has a compromised gastric system that doesn’t allow certain foods common to roadside cuisine. Aside from those concerns, we usually prefer to drive away from the highway and into the center of town where we can find restaurants or cafes that are locally owned and preferably owner operated. Servers can be either engaging, interesting, cute (both male and female) or typically boring, as in, “Hi, my name is Chelsea and I’ll be your server, etc,” or “Do you need more time with the menu” as if we’re really enjoying getting to know about the various flavors of poutine, or maybe it’s “How are the first few bites tasting,” like perhaps if they’re not tasting very good bells will ring and the pimply faced cook will show up with a concerned look on his face and a magic solution that will make everything taste better. On the other end of the scale, we often encounter an attentive server who intuitively knows when your water or coffee is nearing empty, who doesn’t automatically assume you want to be best friends and will ask intelligent questions like where are you folks from, how is it going, any complaints or perhaps even something like you’re not from here, are you? 

In Swift Current we found a secluded little cafe with great food and our server was a young lady who had obviously done some traveling herself and who we found to be witty, genuinely interested in our travels and who was so gorgeous with a natural beauty and the greenest eyes that had I been single and about forty years younger, etc, etc! Gagagaga! Well, old guys get that way on occasion, what can I say except that I’m forty years older and quite content in my current arrangement. 

We holed up that night in Regina. The night was windy and cold and we found a Sandman Hotel that had a decent restaurant that offered half price bottles of palatable wine. After a leisurely meal and a full bottle of French rose we stumbled back to our room, watched a movie and settled into a deep sleep while the arctic wind blew snow fairies and chill devils past our window. 

Regina in winter. Why bother?

We slept late and lingered in our comfortable room before packing the car, yet again and continuing east. Our goal today would be Kenora, Ontario and while I drove, Maggie perused the hotel apps looking for our next night’s perfect lodging. As we approached Winnipeg the landscape, although still flat, began to show signs of hardwood forests and mixed farming. East of Winnipeg the trees closed in and when we reached the Ontario border bits of the great Canadian Shield began to poke through the layers of prairie clay. We entered Kenora about an hour east of the Manitoba border and found our hotel on the north shore of Lake Of The Woods in downtown Kenora.  

Clarion Inn in Kenora Ontario

Arriving at the Ontario border lulls one into believing that you’re getting close to Toronto. Wrong! Toronto is still another two to three days driving. The geographical center of Canada is just east of Kenora. Ontario and Quebec make up about half the land area of the ten provinces combined.

We arrived at our destination in southern Georgian Bay after another three easy days drive, a couple of uneventful nights in Thunder Bay and Sault St Marie. Now we are in the midst of visiting with family and friends in Ontario, catching up on a variety of events, taking in the scenery and enjoying a few of the great foods and wines that Ontario has to offer.

Next chapters – wandering in Paris and then Christmas near Heidelberg!! 

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