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Posts from the ‘USA & Canada ’04’ Category

And so it ends where it began

After my brief look at Ottawa I arrived back in Toronto for two nights before flying home. I started the trip here and had completed a large odd-shaped circle of travel…

(All it needs is a couple of legs and it would sort of be a cat?) The mapping tool spazzed out when I tried to include Churchill, north of Winnipeg, as there is no road there only a railway. So the map is missing that wee subarctic foray.

I liked Toronto, the lovely weather helped I’m sure, and it was nice returning there being vaguely familiar of my surroundings for once. These are a few photos covering my first and second visits.

My hostel was on Church Street, this being one of the namesake structures

During a tour on Lake Ontario

CN Tower

And a view from the top of the tower

A fort originally established to protect the city

Casa Loma on the main tourist route. Not overly significant historically?, it's just your average 98 room grand mansion with immaculate gardens

The Hockey Hall of Fame

And with 10 weeks up it was time for the final dose of sitting down for mega hours while getting from A to B to C, though a plane was a nice change from buses and trains. A quick tally now on Google maps indicates I covered 20-25,000kms. That type of information was a bit harder to come by then – so much has changed on the technology front in the last few years to help travellers research, plan, record and communicate. I’m pretty sure I won’t be arriving back from travels with 41 rolls of film again!

With well stuffed bags earlier in the trip

This concludes my 2004 USA and Canada recap. The full collection of related posts can be found here.

One visit to Niagara Falls is probably enough

I skipped Niagara Falls earlier in the post sequence so I’ll tuck it in now. I spent a couple of nights there at the start of my trip after leaving Toronto. With the exuberance of someone early in their trip I packed in as much as I could. There is loads of stuff to see, both in and away from the townships.

It is a place of interesting contrasts. My rather shabby hostel was based in the original N.F. township which is a relatively old and worn place about half an hour scenic walk away from the falls and the newer ‘tourist end’. Clifton Hills is where the majority of tourists are catered for on the Canadian side, but big tourism seemed to have sent it into tacky overdrive. Some descriptions liken it to a mini Vegas but that almost sounds a bit complimentary.

But the natural attractions are what people go there for. The falls, three in total, are stunning. From the Canadian side the Maid of the Mist boat tours get you up close to the Horseshoe Falls. The power and noise is incredible and you (and your camera) quickly become thankful for the dorky waterproof coverings they give you. The American and Bridal Veil Falls are accessed from the USA side. Along the River Road and Niagara Parkway are various viewing places and walkways and other attractions.

While there was a lot to appreciate it was overall a bit of a funny place and I left there with no desire to return. Never say never though eh?

Clifton Hills is the garish tourist end of Niagara Falls. Load of people, loads of neon.

Horseshoe Falls

Tourists getting drenched on the Maid of the Mist

The Bridal Veil Falls and walkway, next to the American Falls

Somewhere there beyond the mist thrown up by the falls is an old power station

The Whirlpool Rapids Bridge from the Niagara River

Given my employer prior to the trip (and since as it's turned out) I took the opportunity to tour through this power station when I stumbled upon it

Another of the attractions along the Niagara Falls Parkway. While not much of a botanical gardens person I had a bit of a look, but the nearby butterfly conservatory was a bridge too far!


In search of hockey

In planning my trip I was determined to see a game of NHL ice hockey. Along with drag racing, speedway tracks and polar bears, it was one of those North American experiences I really wanted to notch up. I stalked websites waiting for the draw to be released. I saw a game was scheduled in Ottawa that would tie in nicely with the end of my trip. I planned an overnight excursion especially for that, on the basis that I would sort a ticket later when they were released.

What I didn’t count on was a lockout which resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2004-2005 NHL season. It was to be the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded. Awesome.

While I couldn’t believe my bad timing, I decided to go up to Ottawa anyway.

After my final Greyhound ordeal from Winnipeg to Toronto I overnighted in the same hostel where I began my trip, and caught a train north the following morning. The trip took around 5 hours. It was mostly wet and I had an obscured view – and when I did wander to the rear of the train for a look I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the scenery.

Somewhere between Toronto and Ottawa

I had booked into a hostel which used to be the city’s main jail for more than a century until its closure in 1972. Such history was an irresistible pull.

My hostel, the old jail

Clearly such a building would not have elevators so had to hump the bags up four flights of stairs to get to my six bed jail cell dorm, which had retained a lot of its charm from its former life. That evening I went on their daily tour of other parts of the building. It was a prison where hangings took place, three apparently, and the hangman’s noose remains today. Though well fenced off!

Where naughty tourists are sent

With less than 24 hours in Ottawa, I got out on foot to see as much as possible.

The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America

The Peacekeeping Monument

On Parliament Hill: the Peace Tower with Centennial Flame

Poking around the old carbide mill on Victoria Island between Ottawa and Hull

Halloween is nigh

Gorgeous autumn (oops, fall) colours

View over the Ottawa River

Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River into Quebec

And so this was about as close as I got to ice hockey.

Monument to a famous Canadian hockey player from the 1950s

Despite the hockey disappointment it was still a worthwhile trip. I even won $5 in the Canadian lottery. But with only a couple of nights left on North American soil it was time to scoot back down to Toronto.

Manitoba beaches and other stuff

One day we grabbed our winter woollies and bundled into Angela and Adam’s car for a day trip to see what else Manitoba has to offer.

Lake Winnipeg was first up, the southern end being some 55kms north of the city. It is a massive body of water: about 24,500 square kilometres. In comparison, Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake by surface area, is just a wee drop at only 616 square kms!

We stopped for gas at an interesting place called Sherwood Forest. Luckily not a long stop – I’m sure I heard duelling banjos in the distance…

Grand Beach is one of several communities round the lake and a popular destination in summer. But this was the latter half of October and I was getting an early taste of how cold it gets in these parts during winter.

Clearly not a summer visit to Lake Winnipeg

We had passed bits of snow on the roadside on the way up and around the lake ice was beginning to form.

The bonus of this unbeachy weather is that we basically had the place to ourselves.

Although there were definitely creatures around.

Who needs a chainsaw when you have a beaver

This is what they call cottage country, with many houses being more holiday cottages than year round residences. The little nearby settlement was quiet but pleasant.

On the way back to Winnipeg we detoured for a quick look at Springhill, a small ski field only 15 minutes from downtown. It’s just off the highway which is visible in the background.

Waiting for snow

Another detour took us to the Fort Whyte Centre, a bit of a wild life and bird life reserve. A couple of hours were easily spent walking the trails and looking through the facilities.

Geese doing what geese do

With a bison at the visitor centre. Still cuddly even though he was a bit dead.

Soon enough my week in Winnipeg drew to a close. I’m sure I’ll return one day if Angela is still there when I next get back to Canada. As I was leaving another North American tradition was on the horizon: Halloween.

Ange started the Halloween adornments before I left

I was also nearing the end of this trip and about to get my final dose of Greyhound. Toronto was a mere 30 hours away.

Relaxing in Muddy Waters

After a few weeks on the go it was time to chill for a while. I bid farewell to Churchill and climbed onboard the train for the 40-odd hour journey back to Winnipeg, which was to be my stop for the next few days. Not sure how much of a destination it is ordinarily and if not for my friend Angela living there I would likely have skipped over it.

Angela and I were penpals had met in person once, 16 years before, when a group from her school toured NZ. To be able to see her again was fantastic, especially on her home turf.

With Angela and her partner Adam

Winnipeg lies on the edge of the expansive prairies that span Manitoba and further west. Its origins as a trading area and garrison are perhaps not surprising given its location at the junction of two major rivers. Winnipeg in Cree means ‘muddy waters’.

Angela took me to a number of local attractions. The rivers meet at a place called The Forks which today is a destination for culture and entertainment. We wandered around the markets, as well as the nearby Fort Gibraltar and St Boniface Cathedral.

View over The Forks

Market at The Forks

St Boniface

We went to the zoo in Assiniboine Park which was pleasant enough and housed some furred and feathered creatures that I don’t often see.

The more I look at them, the odder they seem

I didn’t like seeing the lone polar bear in its enclosure. I remember when there were two polar bears in the Auckland Zoo and now feel very strongly that they just do not belong in captivity.

Winnipeg has a famous historical bear connection: Winnie the Pooh was named after a WW1 army officer’s actual pet bear which he named after his home town, Winnipeg. That bear ended up in London Zoo.

I coincided my visit with Angela’s birthday and also Canadian thanksgiving – my first experience of this North American tradition. These occasions were spent with other members of Ange’s family and it was good to meet names that I had heard about over the previous 20 years.

Thanksgiving with Ange's family

We had a great day trip outside the city which I’ll cover next. We may have been in prairie country but we were off to the beach!

Close encounter with polar bears

I’m now getting back to the latter part of my Canadian trip in 2004. My last post saw me in Churchill, northern Manitoba, a remote place famous for big white bears. And big white bears was my reason for being there.

I booked a polar bear tour before I left home and seeing this threatened species in their natural environment was to be one of the highlights of the trip.

It was fairly early in the morning when the mini bus picked me up from the b&b. With just eight of us heading out it was a nice small group – I imagine when the season gets cranking these tours are well subscribed. We went out of town 20km or so to the tundra buggy depot where we transferred into one of these odd looking vehicles. It came complete with furnace so we were nice and cosy as we slowly crawled and bumped around the sub-arctic tundra.

Our tour vehicle, the tundra buggy

The first stop was near the tour company’s mobile lodge located near a polar bear nesting area. There was to be no getting out of the vehicle on this tour and the buggy was high enough off the ground to be out of reach for inquisitive (or hungry) bears.

Next to the lodge – which was basically a couple of long rooms on wheels – was a female bear with cubs.

Mumma bear and cubs, roughly 1yo

We watched them for a long time. Initially they were sleeping, all curled up together, but they eventually started to get a bit restless. The bears are not fed as that would create all sorts of problems, but food smells from the lodge are perhaps inevitable.

After sniffing around the lodge for a while, one of the cubs came over to our buggy. He/she was bold, standing on hind legs up to the windows and under the grated platform at the rear. We were thrilled at being able to inspect a polar bear so closely.

We then saw another female adult bear which had wandered into the area.

However, mumma bear wasn’t having a bar of that and chased her away under the lodge.

We left the nesting area to drive further afield, stopping for lunch overlooking the coast. Winds from the north made it a bitterly cold day but the furnace was brilliant. A couple more bear sightings during the afternoon helped round out the day until it was time to head back to base.

Nice place for an afternoon nap

We interrupted this fella in the middle of having a scratch against the rock

Crossing part of the frozen Hudson Bay

Bear on the tundra

I would love to return to Churchill one day but it is not to be taken for granted that the bears will always be accessible. Climate change is slowly reducing the duration and intensity with which the Hudson Bay freezes over each year and this threatens the bear population as they have a shorter period of time in which to hunt. I’m glad I took the chance to see them when I did.

Not your average small town

I was in Churchill for 2.5 days so couldn’t dilly dally about. My b&b was in town and being a small place it was easy to cover on foot. Provided I did so during daylight hours and didn’t venture down to the bay. So with these words of caution from my hosts I spent the first afternoon walking around, doing a spot of shopping and looking through the museum.

This is the b&b. All of the buildings are built for the unique climate and are mainly wooden and weathered looking.

Their scary looking but lovely three-legged dog.

It is quite a sparse and barren looking place.

The next day I went on a long-awaited polar bear tour which I’ll cover in a separate post. Later that evening I met up with another girl from the tour and a couple of others to go to a ‘polar party’ to mark the start of polar bear season. There we got to sample local cuisine such as caribou and musk ox – which is about as crazy as I get when it comes to food experimentation!

My departure the following day was not until the evening so plenty of time to fit in another tour. This was around the local sights and was really interesting. Polar bears are the mainstay pull but is certainly not the only feature.

However, their presence did mean our tour guide carried a gun for the parts of the tour where we left the bus.

And Churchill isn’t just about nature either – there is a fascinating history from its trading origins and now defunct military base. This is an old radar facility.

The wreck of a cargo plane which crashed in 1979.

Visiting a stretch of beach called polar bear alley…

This is a jail of sorts for polar bears. Any that repeatedly venture too close to town are captured and held in this compound until the Hudson Bay freezes and they can be released to find food.

A rare sighting of what is apparently a variant of red fox.

All in all, not your average small town.

Another subarctic adventure begins

I went on a big northerly deviation a couple of weeks prior and it was time for another big journey north here in central Canada.

The town of Churchill on the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba can only be reached by train or plane. Or ship. Flying is quite expensive so I opted for the train experience – a daunting 40 hour, 1700km journey. I also opted for no sleeper cabin.

Why would you put yourself through this? Pretty straight forward really. Churchill is known as the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ and is a fantastic place to visit if you want to see these animals in the wild.

But for the meantime there was nothing else for it but to get comfortable (lots of legroom, yay) and alternate scenery watching with photo taking and book reading. Lots of book reading.

The sunsets were amazing and in the night skies I was fortunate to see some northern lights. They proved a little elusive on the remainder of the trip and I’ll definitely be seeking them out on another trip one day.

We neared the end of our journey on a fantastic clear and crisp day. I guess I expected there to be a bit of snow around which there wasn’t, although some of the lakes were iced over.

When finally we reached Churchill one of my b&b hosts was there to meet me.

In the mouth of T-Rex

I was looking forward to a decent sleep but alas this did not eventuate due to a combination of inconsiderate room mates and unexplained ‘things that go bump in the night’. So it was back into it fairly early in the morning. I planned to leave Calgary later that day but not before fitting in a group tour over to Drumheller.

The main theme of the day was the area’s dinosaur history. We stopped by viewing points of more badlands terrain, similar to where I visited a few days before.

Our longest stop was at the excellent Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. The large complex is built in complementary fashion to its surroundings.

Dinosaurs of course feature heavily and this chap is a bit of a star attraction.

In the town of Drumheller they embrace their prehistoric heritage. That’s me waving from the mouth of T-Rex, apparently the world’s largest dinosaur…

The tour bus (actually just a peoplemover on account of the small group) dropped me off at the bus terminal and a few hours later I was on the tedious 1300km journey to Winnipeg. Through the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba you soon run out of interesting things to look at.

I initially had just a quick overnight stop in Winnipeg and would return for a few more days later to visit a friend. But the immediate priority was to take the train to the subarctic north. I was off to see polar bears!

Stampede city

From the ranch I headed back to Calgary, completing my little circular road trip. I returned the car and prepared for a return to hostel sleeping. Here it was a six-bed dorm.

Walking distance away is Stampede Park, venue for the annual Calgary Stampede which I guess you could say is a full-on western festival with rodeo events, country music concerts and cowpersons galore. I always remember mum mentioning that she would have loved to have gone to the Stampede and as I had missed it by about three months, I thought the least I could do is go and see where they hold it.

I found the site and wandered around, a huge outdoor complex of buildings and outside areas. Oddly quiet, in contrast to the peak in July when the Stampede attracts more than a million visitors.

I was quite taken with all of the rodeo imagery dotted around the place.

My rural upbringing featured things like exposure to copious amounts of country and western, going to the New Years Day rodeo in Warkworth, watching westerns with dad, and hanging around with friends who had horses, so the Stampede wouldn’t be too alien an experience. I could see myself returning one day.

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