West Through Canada
OK, friends -- let's look at Canada. Yes, it's what's above that solid line on most maps of North America shown to children at schools in the US. When we left Thunder Bay in western Ontario, we joined the Trans-Canada Highway, heading into the prairies.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, larger than the US, even including Alaska. However, few people live in “the frozen north” of the country, and even in the southern provinces, the population is spread very thin. I did my Google homework: Manitoba has 250,116 square miles with 1.272 million people. That’s 6 people per square mile. Tennessee has 42,143 square miles and 6.716 million people or 153 people per square mile. I’d always thought of Tennessee as relatively rural – it’s nothing like Manitoba.
We left the Trans-Canada Highway, and headed north toward the Alaska Highway, trying to travel about 150 miles a day. There are virtually no interstate-type roads, and the 4-lane roads are not limited access except around big cities. Trucks are polite, but bigger and heavier than trucks in the US – I counted 32 tires on freight trucks. Winds are strong.
We were advised to stay on the Trans-Canada to Calgary and then go north to Edmonton, but we chose to take the diagonal route: Highway 16 to Edmonton, Alberta, then Highway 43 to Dawson Creek in British Columbia at the east end of the Alaska Highway. This route was slower, but prettier, so I was happy. In 2007, we drove the US interstate highways from Tennessee to Grand Teton National Park in four days and drove north through the US and Canadian Rockies to Dawson Creek via Calgary and Edmonton. My conclusion: if you want to make time, don't drive through Canada.
One advantage of traveling through Canada is that you can stay at its provincial parks. Often quite small, they are usually protected areas, established to support tourism, but also to preserve beautiful, historically or geographically significant areas. Many large RVs can't fit into the campsites, and most parks provide only vault toilets, very clean gravel sites, firewood, and (sometimes) a water faucet. There are usually no hookups at the campsites.
Million Dollar Falls Campground, Takhenne River, Yukon (which has Territorial, not Provincial parks)
Manitoba. I grew up in the Midwest and love the prairies, where you can see the whole sky, unobstructed by hills, mountains, and cities. Manitoba is majestic!
Saskatchewan. In 2007, we heard our first joke about how flat this province is. Two fellow campers were sitting at our fire and one (from Alberta) joked that his friend was from Saskatchewan, “where it’s so flat that you can watch your dog run away for half a day.” We drove Route 16, and found that Saskatchewan isn’t as flat as Manitoba.
Alberta: wheat is still largest crop, but agriculture only counts for a tiny part of the economy. I'll write more later, but much has changed here since 2007. Commercial extractions of oil from the oil sands of northern Alberta has transformed this beautiful area to an industrial site. Here's a link to a "National Geographic" article on the subject: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/alberta-canadas-tar-sands-is-growing-but-indigenous-people-fight-back/
We’ve learned a good deal about the immigrant heritage of this part of Canada.In Yorkton, Saskatchewan, we visited a “Western Development” museum, a polite way of describing the European influx and its effect on the native nations.Immigrants from Britain, Iceland, Germany and Ukraine dominated the 19th century and early 20th century waves, though the immigrant inflow continues. In the first weeks in Canada, we met families from the Philippines, Nigeria and Korea.
The photos above were taken at 10:00 pm on June 21 and about 4:30 am on June 22 as we were driving through Manitoba. As you can see, the nights really are very short during the northern summer!
Measures: One of the great things about traveling in Canada is that we US citizens can practice living like the rest of the world: distances in kilometers, weights in kilograms, temperatures in Celsius, and different currency that makes much more sense to me. Some cool things about Canadian money:
· No pennies. In 2013, the government stopped issuing them, and you just round as needed.
· One and two dollar coins. The one-dollar coin has an impression of a loon (bird!) and is therefore usually called a “looney”. The two-dollar coin is (of course) a “tooney”.
· Plastic money. Bills are now like those in many other countries: plastic with holograms and a transparent picture in the middle.
Black spruce trees always seem puny to me, as they are stunted by wind and harsh winters.