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Heading off - AGAIN!!! I started life with nothing ... and I still have most of it

Through Nova Scotia to Duluth

CANADA | Sunday, 16 November 2008 | Views [863] | Comments [3]

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Nova Scotia to Duluth in Minnesota.


            I have described our travels from the Timeshare at White Point Beach Resort around the long leg of the seven and back to Truro for the tidal bore and our first day in the Cape Breton area. We had expressed our dismay at the amenities provided for those not in C.O.W.s (Condos On Wheels) – the 40 – 50 foot behemoths towing their cars behind in US campgrounds well the Canadians don’t come out of it smelling of roses either. Our site just outside Sydney was right beside the amenities. The building was unlined with the electrical cables on full view with a bare concrete floor one toilet and one shower (no place for the soap or shampoo or whatever) and just the one hook behind the door. The water stank of sulphur but was hot and soft to enable a good lather. It was basic with a capital B. I’m quite sure it would not have been shown in the various publications detailing van sites in Oz. It was however not expensive all things considered ($20) all inclusive. After our visit to Louisbourg, we found the other site in this part of the country which was still open (at the town of Big Bras d’Or). The laundry was not stacked to the rafters with mowers, deck chairs etc for winter here but the building itself was not all that much better. What really stuck in the craw was the 25¢ “for five minutes” shower on top of $25.99 for the site. Merran didn’t get her full five minutes and was cross which isn’t good.

            Baddeck and all of the Alexander Graham Bell museum stuff, plus some shopping (for groceries in Baddeck itself and gifty things at a store outside it) kept us late into the day before we headed around the “World Famous” Cabot Trail. Because it was there, we added in parts of the Ceilidh Trail too and it was here we really ran into the Gaelic place names. Like the south of Nova Scotia, there is a great deal of lobster fishing on Cape Breton (but they seem to have retained the old style pots). They also set traps for crabs and do net fishing for ‘normal’ ‘fish’ fish. The towns and villages are all outside the National Park which occupies almost the entire North-Eastern quarter of the island. All of the warnings about the migratory habits and grumpy nature of the myriad of moose within the confines of the park came to nought – we even camped in a National Park Campground too! A canal joins the Bras d’Or lakes to the Atlantic and the roads alongside them (both the lakes and the ocean) are dotted with marinas and boats pulled up onto the shore so that the hull is not crushed by the ice when the seas and lakes freeze – brrr. Most of the boats were also shrink-wrapped in plastic to keep them water-tight.

            Prince Edward Island can be reached by ferry or by bridge. Getting there is not important – how you leave is!

One only pays to leave the island so you need to decide whether you want to pay $45 to cross the bridge (and have a lovely chat to the chap collecting the toll because he just loves Australian accents) or $63 plus $15 per person to catch the ferry. We didn’t chat to people collecting the toll for the ferry. PEI as it is known is famous for lighthouses and Ann of Green Gables and (it seems to me) one day is probably sufficient to get a real taste of both, but we took all of one day and a part of the next so that we could explore Charlottetown. What a funny experience that was! We went to the Tourist Information Office in Confederation Hall but it was guess what – Closed for the Season!!! There were some diagrams showing the self-guided walks so we headed off following the yellow (no not the yellow brick road but the yellow) line painted on the footpath, boardwalk etc. There was not a soul to be seen – it was as if the world had come to an end and we were the last two people on the face of the Earth and this was at 1000 hrs on a workaday Monday. What wasn’t closed for the season was closed Monday and Tuesday (incl. the Art Gallery and the Museum) so we strolled around this very pretty, very small Capital City which still has families living in detached homes right in the heart of the city. It has preserved its old buildings well and placed a big store on the look of the place. It is well worth a visit.

            From PEI it was off for points west to get to Quebec and then pick up the four states we haven’t visited in the USA. They are Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota an Kentucky so we weren’t fussed about pretty byways to get to Quebec City but just the most direct main road. We made excellent time in New Brunswick … and then we reached Quebec Province. We weren’t impressed when we visited this province in 1999 and it did nothing to improve our opinion this time. On reaching the border, (from New York State in 99 and from New Brunswick this time) it is as if someone has switched off the light and transported you back at least twenty years with the road condition going from top rate best practice four lane divided highway to 1950s two lane patched and repatched on top of patches goat track. If you decide to come in from Ontario the experience is the same – it was a blessed relief to hit civilized road construction again once we hit the Ontario side of the Province. As we left PEI by the 13 Km long bridge, we swung under the bridge and into the New Brunswick Visitor Centre which was; you guessed it – Closed for the Season. They had however left copies of their tourism brochures and maps available as well as leaving the toilets available. Not so in Quebec! The Visitor centre in Quebec City is open right through the year but not any of those along the main highway into town. We saw a sign for one which didn’t have fermé across it so we ventured off the well beaten path and found ourselves at a ferry terminal. With a visitor centre which was not only open but staffed by a delightfully helpful young lady assisted by three ladies waiting for the ferry and a young man who came in for his own enquiry. She could not give us a map of the Province but she could sell us one for $5.19. Her recommendations were spot on! The route along the St Lawrence she highlighted on our new map is a virtual history lesson of the French settlement along the valley and is full of historic and scenic towns. It would have been delightful if we could have seen any of it because the fog had rolled in with the sleet and snow which greeted us. Our first motel of the trip since collecting the van – and for two nights! It had everything we needed:  a hot shower, a comfy bed, wifi internet and a laundry just along the corridor and at just $1 per load in both the washer and the dryer. Bliss on such a bitterly cold and miser able day.

            Day two in Levis on the bank opposite Quebec City dawned bright, blue and clear so we remade the bed in the van with the newly laundered linen (it requires the back doors of the van to be open and this is better done when it’s not raining) and hied ourselves off to the ferry terminal at the bottom of a veritable cliff face. One of the Princess liners was moored alongside on the opposite bank (right at the old port which was / is one of the spots our tour guide(s) recommended for our compulsory viewing to be able to say that we’d “done” inside the walls) so that just added to the photos as we crossed the harbour / river. There were about six or seven of the Canadian Coast Guard / Fisheries vessels also moored just below the Citadel which was one of a series of forts (Louisbourg was another) designed to defend “New France”. Simon Champlain selected the site for Quebec City because of its position atop cliffs over fifty metres high and at the confluence of two rivers affording protection on three sides (or so it was considered until Wolfe’s men scaled the ‘unclimbable’ cliffs and his men went on to defeat Montcalm’s forces on the ‘Plains of Abraham’ and thereby take the city. It has some delightful buildings and some which are imposing and then there is -the Fairmont Chateau Frontignac with its turrets and towers and copper roof and etc etc of complete over-the-top decadence and opulence. There is an electric (ecolobus) which plies the streets of the old city (within the walls) and which is free for one to just get on and off as the whim takes you. It helps to keep private vehicles out of the city. We walked part of the ramparts of the old walls and around the citadel onto a boardwalk hung off the cliffs below the citadel and built to commemorate the city’s 350th anniversary in 1958. This year marks its 400th anniversary! It blew our minds somewhat to be in buildings in the ‘New World’ which were 100 years plus old (nearer 200 actually) when Cook set sail from Whitby and ended up in New South Wales. We met a Kiwi family while in the boardwalk (and twice more during the day) who had sold their farm in Morrinsville and put all their money into US $ when they got a really good price and have bought a fifth wheeler and ute (SUV for North Americans) and are tripping around North America for a year. The boys are 9½, 8 and 3. The parents were worried that the boys wouldn’t remember things but we assured them that nine year olds can remember things from their travels as we well know because we took the boys out of school for a term when they were 11 and 9. Because there are five of them the fifth wheeler is 38 feet long so they don’t try to do any three point turns when the GPS says “When possible do a U turn”. The weather turned a bit colder and windier after lunch so we didn’t linger on Rue St Jean as we had on St Louis which we saw with bright sunshine and almost no wind.

            Montreal was a nightmare to traverse! Apparently there is a tunnel which would (possibly) have shortened the two and a half hours of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in a concrete spaghetti jungle of flyovers, crossovers and bridges BUT there was no warning coming to the entrance until one had to decide (with 18 wheeler semis biting bits out of the rear bumper) NOW!!!! whether that’s our road or not. The info about it is on the back of the map we bought but only in French of course because it’s in Quebec Province and they don’t use English. A pox on all their houses! I loved Quebec City but Hated is not a harsh enough word for what I think of the Province and the attitude of its citizens to the rest of Canada and all other visitors who are not French speakers. The experience here could have spoiled my whole enjoyment of the Eastern side of Canada if I let it.

            Ontario was a blur out the side windows as we crossed it quickly in our efforts to get through the three northerly states before the mild weather turns to winter. The campgrounds shut either on or before 15 Oct so we had to find places to park the van for the night and two memorable ones have been behind a ‘dead’ service station just off the highway and much more spectacularly a “substance abuse treatment centre” at Blind River just before crossing two of the marque bridges in Michigan. The first at Sault Ste Marie is over the falls and locks between Lake Huron and Lake Superior and because of roadworks and detours we were flung up onto it before we had visited the locks. Ah well we can have a look on the US side. Weren’t we lucky!!! the computer selected us at random for the full vehicle inspection and immigration third degree. Random my arse!!! Isn’t this an Oregon registered vehicle? How can you as an Australian own a vehicle registered in Oregon? What is your occupation in Australia? When did you enter USA this time? Where did you enter USA? Where have you been since then? How are you paying for all of this travel? All of this before the computer selected us at random. I don’t think so! Then exactly the same questions from a different agent while yet another inspected the van inside and out. Welcome to the USA – assume the position. Why do these people insist on multi – entry visa and then get surprised when we use it? They don’t present a welcoming face to visitors – and the never smile. The Michigan Visitor Centre was open and cheerful and a good remedy for the previous treatment. The lass was cheerful, helpful and informative so we felt well armed to visit the Upper Peninsular which is sandwiched between Lakes Superior and Michigan. It was one of the places the young man in the Chinatown Hotel in Chicago had told us to be sure to visit. Before we did any other exploring we headed down to the Soo locks and the railway bridge which lowers a span when a train needs that bit of track and raises it again so the ships can pass through. These locks are phenomenally large! They can take ore carriers 1000 feet or 300 metres long and 110 feet across. The ones on the Canadian side can only accept 105 foot width. The other bridge is the Mackinaw Bridge which joins the Upper Peninsular to the rest of Michigan. It’s the longest suspension bridge in North America – the span is about 300 metres longer than the Golden Gate. The entire bridge with its approaches is five miles long! We dove over it then turned around and came back just so we could say we’d been on it.

            Only three states to tick off now that we’ve reached Michigan. The Upper Peninsular has extended white sandy dunes along the Southern, Lake Michigan side and gravely brown sandy areas on the Lake Superior side with extensive forests and farmlands between the lakes. It is a pretty area with lots of camps and cabins for summer recreation. Lake Superior is so big and so deep that if it were emptied onto the (flattened) area of the continents of BOTH North and South America the water would be 300mm (1 foot) deep over the entire land mass!!! As we began our drive along the entire length of the peninsular, we became aware of a plethora of signs advertising pasties. So … always ready to try something else, we stopped at a wayside store and got one each for our evening meal – and a hearty meal they were too. Packed full of all sorts of healthy vegetables and crusty pastry. They even rivalled those from Cornwall. Once more we had to find somewhere to park for the night and we were glad there wasn’t snow that night as the forest road where we found a flat section of a track off deeper into the trees had a very distinctive and very definite sign stating that this road is Not ploughed to clear any snow which may accumulate thereon. It didn’t snow.

            Now just two more states as we flitted across the northern edge of Wisconsin right along that shore of Lake Superior and then just one once we entered Duluth in Minnesota. Duluth has an extensive waterfront area where sea-going ships up to “100 feet long and 110 feet wide” moor alongside and take on iron ore pellets for transhipment to the steelworks in Detroit and other destinations. There is a lift bridge which rises and falls 138 feet in less than a minute to along these gargantuan megaliths through the canal from the lake to the harbour. The entire setup is run by the Corps of Engineers as is the one at Chicago joining the Chicago River to Lake Michigan and is FREE. Above Duluth there is a scenic ‘Skyline Drive’ road which then joins another of the scenic byways – ‘The North Shore Drive’ which hugs the end of Lake Superior and is yet another truly beautiful part of this vast nation. We called at a closed campground and the owner let us park free. When he found we were Australian he even gave us some power because he’d visited Oz while in the Navy and loved the place.  



Congrats Merran. You got a 3rd place in SL 2008.

Just had both cataracts removed - I can see clearly now.

  Lyn Nov 16, 2008 8:46 AM


It has taken me ages to reread and catch up. Whew....I am exhausted, so you must be too. All I can say is you must look like a terrorist Ian, to have so much trouble with random checks!!
Look after yourselves (especially the hips).
love Sharon x
PS now I can go get the Sunday paper and coffee.....

  Sharon Brett Nov 16, 2008 10:23 AM


Great story,as a Captain Cook fan loved the bits around Quebec.
.Looking forward to more .
Regards Ron.

  Ron Scobie Nov 16, 2008 9:19 PM

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