Tails of a Travelling Cat
The Canada Edition
Hello, all! Still on the train. Still in Ontario. Still snowing. We’ve now reset the clocks to Central Time, another hour behind, although we’re still in Ontario. We’re now six hours behind the UK. It was incredibly hot down in the train so I headed up to the dome where I watched endless snowy trees and frozen lakes pass by. Mostly, I was working on typing up my blog on my tablet (much slower than using a computer) but I happened to look up at just the right time to notice, walking around an icy lake, a black bear!!!! The train had passed before I could get a picture, but I was still happy, I’ve now seen a bear! Now I just needed to see a moose, a wolf and a racoon. My success rate has not been high.
Well, the day continued to pass as it had yesterday – trees, lakes, snow, ice, the odd animal (but alas no more bears) – until we reached Sioux Lookout around midday. This little town was less exciting than its name suggests, but it was all the reason I needed to get out the train, which was getting quite stuffy, to go for a walk. This was a stop to refuel the train which I’m pretty sure does run on petrol or diesel. We were back in the carriage and ready to go in fifteen minutes.
After this I played checkers with my train neighbour for a bit, but then it was back to writing up the blog and enjoying the views. Some time after lunch, the snow began to clear from the ground, although we continued to see frozen lakes for a long time after. At one point we passed what was either a very long lake or fairly wide river, bordered by trees, so, so many trees. There are more trees in Canada than I have ever seen in my life and they are spectacular. The train is slightly behind schedule, something I’m sure isn’t helped by the snow and that we have to keep stopping on side tracks to let freight trains pass. These trains are immensely long, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were over a hundred wagons long, carrying shipping containers, oil cylinders and what seem to be empty trucks. There’s even a freight train passing us right now.
I’ve spent quite a lot of the day up in the dome, the views are just that little more spectacular here. Then, suddenly, just after dinner, the vast forests ended! Now there are farmed fields, maybe not quite prairie country yet, but close. In fact, I think we’ve made it into Manitoba. The train announcer just informed us we’re an hour out of Winnipeg just after passing the little town of Erma. As Winnipeg seems to be a little over 100km from the border, I say that means we’re in Manitoba.
So now seems a logical time to tell you what I’ve learnt about Ontario.
After Québec, it’s the second largest province and this train has just crossed it at its longest point. This province borders the US and cradles Hudson Bay. As I’ve learnt, most of its lower part is lakes and forests. We’ve passed many lakes including Georgian Bay, Lake Nipigon and Lac Seul. There’s a London, Ontario as well as a Peterborough and a Perth, but otherwise the British place names of the major towns seem less common than in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It’s also the province of Ottawa, Canada’s capital and the home of the Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in the 1670s and the Group of Seven, artists who revolutionised Canadian art in the 1920s. And of course, maple forests. Toronto was once a colonial town in the British empire days, today it’s Canada’s biggest city. Niagara Falls is also the country’s biggest tourist destination. It’s also bear country as I’ve seen first hand. All this might seem like Ontario has more than its fair share of amazing sights, but it’s sheer size probably helps it gain a monopoly.
Despite its size, there was something particularly fascinating about Toronto that I can’t explain. Maybe it was the huge height of the skyscrapers or the stunning view of the city from the CN Tower. Maybe it was the wonderfully laid out grid system, or how easy it was to navigate the subway. As much as I did love Toronto, the concrete and glass simply paled in to insignificance compared to the vast and seemingly endless beauty of the Great Lakes. There is nothing to compare it to, I could, and genuinely did, watch the view for hours without getting bored. Every tree was different, every lake and rock, the surprise of the black bear. The vast emptiness of the place, only occasionally interrupted by power lines and the odd tiny town. Like Niagara Falls, words simply can’t do it justice, you’ll just have to visit for yourselves, and take the train, it’s the only way to do it.
Not long after the fields started, the trees were back, but not as many and these seemed to be monocultures again. After that, the fields started to get larger as we moved closer to prairie country.
The train arrived in Winnipeg nearly an hour late and as it was due to leave at 9:30pm as scheduled, this meant I’d only have forty minutes in the city as reboarding started at 9:10. I set off with one of my fellow passengers in the direction of the Red River. We crossed it via a funky bridge and stood at Provencher Boulevard, the main road into St Boniface, which is Canada’s second largest French speaking community outside Québec. I'd forgotten this was the way to St Boniface until I saw a billboard all written in French and the street signs were bilingual again. We didn’t spend long here as our time was limited, but this historic area has been here since 1818 when priests founded it to care for the Métis. The Métis of Central Canada are Aboriginal-French, semi nomadic and resisted integration, rebelling twice against the country’s unification. Originally they were given no land rights but as of 2017, talks were beginning with the government so this might change.
After our brief visit to St Boniface, we crossed back to downtown and headed over to the Forks Market. I was looking for a carton of soya milk or juice but it quickly became clear this was not the place to find it. This was take out food and souvenir and shopping stores. Well, it was a cool market and would have been fun to explore it some more. On the way back to the station we found a lit up Winnipeg sign and the chance to pose for a photo.
The Forks Market is so called because it’s in the Forks National Historic Site (although I think the oldest thing I saw was a skate park) and I believe the site got its name from its location at the confluence of the Red River and the Assiniboine River. We made it back to the station ready to board when we found out that the train was delayed, there was a problem with the toilets. Great... In the end, it wasn’t too late boarding but as of 10:27, we’re still waiting to leave.
As it’s all dark outside and we’ll be in Saskatchewan in the morning, I’ll tell you now what I’ve learnt about Manitoba. Like Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta – the prairie provinces – this flat land was once the realm of buffalo, but hunting them almost to extinction in the 19th century all but destroyed the First Nation's way of life. This lead to prairie country becoming the producer of grain, oil and gas.
Winnipeg is geographically in the very centre of Canada and half of Manitoba's population live in this one city. First Nations have lived here for over 6,000 years, but after the 1880s, grain going west became the principal export, leading to the formation of the Grain Exchange.
Manitoba is also the home of Lake Winnipeg which seemingly covered most of the south of the province. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see the Lake but time restraints! On the shore of the lake is the town of Gimli (one for you Lord of the Rings fans), home to the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland. Arriving in 1875, the Icelanders proclaimed an independent state which lasted until 1897. There’s even an annual Viking festival which I’d love to see – I’ve become very interested in Viking and Norse mythology since visiting Iceland, as may have been mentioned in previous Editions.
Well, it’s now 10:42pm and the train still isn’t moving so I’m going to call it a night. At some point when the train is moving, I’m going to go up in the dome and watch the stars, but now we’re in the station which has a roof over the train.
Then I fell asleep and awoke to find the train moving finally at 2:15am nearly five hours behind schedule. I watched the city lights pass the train and promptly fell asleep again. I didn’t get to see any stars through the dome or otherwise. Onwards to Saskatoon!
Until then, folks