Crossing Canada

by | May 6, 2012

This post was imported from an old blog I used to have.

Creative Non-Fiction Class

Assignment number three is to write about an event (are you sensing a theme?) and once again I know what I want to tackle. The problem is that the event that I want to write about is big. Huge, really, and I only have 1500 words to tell the story. It would have been smart to choose something else: a birthday, a birth, a wedding, anything, but I really wanted to write about my road trip across Canada with friends. I’m stubborn like that. So I tried. And I was not entirely successful.

Word limitations are good, or at least a necessary evil, but it’s important to choose a topic you can fit into the space provided. I had too much to say, too many pieces I wanted to include, and ultimately, I ended up with a fractured travel journal instead of a cohesive essay about an event. But in the spirit of sharing, I’m still going to post it here. (December 2010)

The Destination:

Cameron Beach, Port Howe, Nova Scotia.  I’ve never lived there, but it’s home.  My Aunt Marilyn and her family have owned land here for a couple of generations, and my parents got a good deal on some property a few years ago.  Now that they’ve retired, mom and dad have built a summer home and relocated from Alberta.  It’s been eleven years since I’ve stepped foot on the muddy red sand, walked for hours on the sandbars when the tide is out, or smelled the seaweed-salty air, but I can recall all of these things perfectly.  When I was young we used to return to Nova Scotia every two to three years to visit family, always spending time at “The Beach,” which, despite its generic title, always means Cameron Beach.  We’d stay with Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marilyn at their log cabin cottage that my uncle built in the early seventies.  Eleven years is a long time to be away from home, and I can’t wait to get back.

The Travelers:

Marsha – That’s me.  I’m 31, a recent graduate of the University of Alberta with a B.A. in English.  I’m using my degree to its full potential, working full-time in a chain restaurant. An upscale burger joint.  One great thing about working in the service industry is that it’s easy to get time off, provided you can live without a paycheck.  My boss has assured me that I’ll be welcomed back when I return in two months.  I’m lucky.  This is a luxury not many people I know can afford.
Dan – My boyfriend.  He’s 23 and a current English undergrad.  He’s the moody, artistic type that I find so attractive.  After being “just friends” (occasionally with benefits) for a couple of years, last summer we decided to try being a couple: so far, so good.  Dan also works at a restaurant, although his attitude is more negative than mine.  He’s quitting his job to go on this trip, and planning to spend the entire two months with me.
Wade – My roommate and close friend.  He’s 23, and he graduated with a slightly more employable B.Ed.  Wade is from Northern B.C. and he returned there after graduating to work for the local school board.  It turns out that Fort St. John doesn’t have much to offer an attractive and intelligent gay man.  In less than two years Wade returned to Edmonton, moved in with me, and got a job as an instructor with a private company.  He hasn’t been there long, but he’s still managed to get a full two-week vacation.  I’m thrilled that he’s spending it with me.
Andrea – A friend.  26 years old with a B.Ed. and working as an employment counselor.  She’s banked three weeks of vacation time and is going to spend an extra week in the Maritimes with Dan and I after Wade heads home.  Andrea is our glue.  She’s five years younger than me, but she’s the mother of the group.  Andrea is also our social convener.  She’s the one who plans and organizes the activities and events that have kept the four of us close when life outside of school could have caused us to drift apart.   In fact, it’s Andrea who pulled this whole trip together.

The Vehicle:

1990 Cadillac Seville: white with navy blue interior and leather seats.  If you have to drive a car on your cross-country road trip, you want a roomy and comfortable luxury vehicle like Caddy.  She actually belongs to my parents, but when they moved from Alberta to Nova Scotia they took their Ford diesel truck and left the Cadillac in my care.  It was a win-win situation.  They could make their road trip together in one vehicle, Caddy got to spend the winter months in my heated underground parkade, and I got to drive her.  Of course, mom and dad eventually wanted their car back.   My dad’s proposal was simple: I drive Caddy to Nova Scotia, and they pay for the gas.  It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and the 2006 Crossing Canada Road Trip was born.

The Trip:

Approximately 5500 Kilometers.  Our goal is to do it in twelve days.  We don’t want to rush, but Wade would like to spend a couple of days in Nova Scotia before his flight from Halifax takes him back to work.  We arm ourselves with dozens of maps and tour books from the AMA.  The plan is to stay in Canada the entire way, and not cheat by crossing the border.  Over a couple of bottles of red, we make a rough plan of our route, discussing where we want to go, what we want to see, and where we will likely spend our nights.  Friends and relatives are contacted about spare bedrooms and floor space.  When a hotel is necessary, all four of us will stay in one room.  Dan and I get one bed, and Wade and Andrea will share the other.  We giggle over hotel espionage: only two of us will enter the lobby to book the room, that way we never have to pay for two extra people!  Andrea would like to make hotel reservations in advance, but she is vetoed.  Although we’ve discussed possible destinations and tourism possibilities, Dan has insisted we don’t make any concrete plans, and keep the journey open to the possibility of spontaneous adventures.

It’s all Relative: Edmonton – Saskatoon – Gimli
The trip starts off great with everyone in good spirits, although Dan’s a bit hung over from his goodbye party at work.  The road from Alberta to Manitoba is mind-numbing, but the company makes it fun.  We play car games and sing along to whatever soundtrack is chosen by the current driver.  Friday night is spent at my Aunt Lorraine and her partner Esther’s little farm near Saskatoon.  On Saturday we stay in Gimli, Manitoba with Linda and Eric.  Technically they are Wade’s great Aunt and Uncle, but they’re too young for such grand titles.  Both hosting families are generous, providing us with comfortable accommodations, delicious food, tasty adult beverages, and excellent conversation.  Staying up late isn’t a problem since we can take turns napping in the backseat the next day.  We couldn’t ask for a better start to our trip.

The Long and Winding Road: Gimli – Great Lakes – Niagra-on-the-Lake
We knew that this would be the most difficult part of our trip.  I was not looking forward to driving through Northern Ontario.  Towns are few and far between.  There are a lot of rocks and trees.  This is where savvy travelers veer south into the U.S., but we’re persistent.  As we travel around the Great Lakes Dan becomes moody and stubborn, Wade gets annoyed, I become bitchy and Andrea tries to smooth things over.  It’s like being in group therapy.  We drive until we can’t stand each other or being in the car a minute longer and then Dan suggests a walk and a picnic near Lake Superior.  It’s exactly what we need. We skip stones, take silly photos and remember how to smile and laugh with each other.  We keep going.

In the Niagra region we get to be tourists: we see a play at the Shaw Festival, check out Niagra Falls and take a Wine Tour, which appeals to everyone’s taste.  I’m relieved that we’re having fun again.  However, we’ve also started to have minor car troubles.  Sometimes when we try to start Caddy she gives us a three-minute anti-theft warning.  If you remove the key, wait a few minutes and then try again, she’ll start up.  It’s annoying, but we figure we can put up with it until we get to Nova Scotia.

Je Suis Canadien: Ottawa & Montreal
A road trip is about the journey, but you’ve got to have destinations along the way.  We spend two nights in Ottawa exploring the city streets, Parliament, and the National Art Gallery.  When it’s time to move on, Wade insists we take a quick detour to Carp, Ontario for a tour of the Diefenbunker – a Cold War bunker.  He’s a history buff and this turns out to be the highlight of his trip.  While I have my reservations about spending a couple of hours in an underground bunker, it turns out to be pretty cool.  When we emerge from the underground we head to Montreal.  Thinking it might be cheaper, we stop for gas about 45 minutes from the city.  Big mistake.  Caddy has decided that we no longer deserve the three-minute warning.  She refuses to start.  Maybe she’s tired.  Maybe she’s angry about something one of us said.  Whatever it is, she’s decided that there’s no way we’re going to go any further in her.  We spend hours at the gas station trying to figure out what to do next.  We end up taking a cab into Montreal and get a tow truck to escort Caddy to a dealer within walking distance of our hotel.  After arranging for her repair, we put that stuck-up bitch out of our minds and enjoy our time in Old Montreal.  We shop, we walk, and we laugh.  We soak up history and culture.  We eat amazing meals.  We spend an afternoon wandering in The Village and try, with varying degrees of success, to speak French.  After two days we get word that Caddy is feeling better and is ready to move on.  So are we.

Coming Home: Montreal – Port Howe
I’m excited to get to The Beach and see my family, and everyone else is tired of being on the road.  It’s over 1000 Kilometers to Port Howe, but we haven’t been driving in Montreal and we’re feeling up to the task.  Dan and I get up early, pick-up Caddy from the shop and return to the hotel for Wade, Andrea and our stuff.  We drive straight through, stopping only for gas/pee/stretch breaks.  I take the wheel in New Brunswick, and as we cross the border into Nova Scotia I begin to recognize landmarks from my childhood and the distinctive smell of the maritime air.  My heart starts to pound in Amherst when I realize we’re less than an hour away.  My friends laugh at my childish excitement, but it’s started to rub off on them and they join me in giddy anticipation of our arrival.  As we turn on to Toney Bay Road – the road to the beach – I can barely contain myself.  I was twenty the last time I was here, my parents’ house is new and the night is dark, but I know the place as soon as I see the welcoming glow through the front windows.

I’m home.  And I brought friends.


  1. We made a group blog for our trip here.

  2. Thanks for capturing the memories so well. Through the ups and downs it was a wonderful trip indeed.

    • Bam. Moderating comments and making spelling corrections (upon approval by original poster, of course)!

      Thanks wader! I enjoyed re-visiting the experience last year when I wrote these pieces and then again recently as I put them online. There are so many more stories and memories from the trip, I’m sure I’ll be telling the stories for years to come 🙂