Day 3 – June 30, 2019, Sunday – Canada!! Sault Ste. Marie, ON to Thunder Bay, ON
We woke nice and early – and on time. Continental breakfast (where some man was angrily talking about “le Americans” and Korea in French to his breakfast companions… yah America). Off into the car, fueled up with some liters of petrol (Matt is still confused by the gas here – you have to prepay, and he has to figure out how many gallons he thinks the car will take, convert it into liters, and then guess who much it will cost), and then hit up Tim Hortons for a 20 pack of timbits (donut holes) and XL black coffees. Ahhh…
Off onto the Trans-Canada highway we went! For the longest day of our lives. There are no words to describe this day, but we will try. You have to live it. At this time, Matt would like to be very clear: we have driven more than 600 miles in a day multiple times with our children. Yet this was worse than all of that. Because the speed limit was 90 km/hour. Oh, you say? That sounds fast. NO. That is 56 mph. And they actually enforce it, based on the dozen or more cars we saw pulled over on this travel day. We saw a guy’s seemingly ok looking Audi being put on a tow truck and thought nothing of it, until we saw a sign saying that they will do a road side seizure of your car along with heavy fines for driving 30 mph over the limit (50kmph). Holy shit. So we drove the speed limit (well, close to it).
We oohed and were awed by the gorgeous tall trees, lakes, rivers and gorges. So pretty! We will never get tired of these! (Lies, we realized many hours later, it is only pretty for a few hundred kilometers, then it gets old). We stared at the signs for Agawa Crafts. It was the Wall Drug of Canada, with signs every kilometer x many kilometers advertising their various wares . We were pretty intrigued, and then we passed the abandoned husk of a building that used to be Agawa Crafts. Bummer.
The first stop we wanted to make was at Pancake Bay Provincial Park. This was about 76 km into the trip. There was an Edmund Fitzgerald Lookout Trail where you could see dramatic views of the bays and overlook the closest point to shore to the wreck (Coppermine Point – which is where half a lifeboat washed up). Oh, it will be a quick hike, Sarah promised the family. Well, a quart (liter) of bug spray later, many bottles of water later, and covered in sweat, we emerged at beautiful look out. There was a chatty couple from Wisconsin up there, and amazing views. The entire hike took 2 hours which we did not have.
Our stop was going to be at Katherine Cove – the all important magazine stated it was “captivating”. We knew there would be problems when we saw the dozens of cars parked on the highway near the entrance. So on we went to our substitute stop, Old Woman Bay. This was a very pretty rocky and sandy gorgeous beach, with a man sleeping in a car and no one else. Perfect. The kids searched for rocks and we all enjoyed a little rest.
Next up was our first stamp related stop (did you forget the real reason we are doing this? To get the stamps to get the damn certificate for circling the lake) – Wawa. It means “wild goose” and there were multiple large goose statues in this town. The lady at the tourist place had tons of Circle Tour maps and helpfully stamped the other two we had missed on the map but been to (Munising and Sault Ste Marie) so we were up to date! We stopped at a Subway for lunch and continued on.
Next up was the town of Marathon. We love the map because it says “Hemlo Gold Fields”. Yeah, if you consider open pit mining next to the road in the middle of wilderness “gold fields”. Not the pretty fields laced with gold we were expecting. Also, there was nothing here. Nothing at all. Just many many lakes and trees. If you ever have to go to the bathroom, pray for a Provincial Park trailhead. We stopped at one when another car was pulling out, and the couple was like, are you here to hike or use the bathroom? We said bathroom, and they said, good, because there’s a bear right there on the trail. Eh, we REALLY have to go to the bathroom.
We picked up some A and W burgers in Marathon to bring to Sarah’s destination that she was looking forward to, Jackfish Bay. We had read in several places that there is awesome rock picking there, and we had pictured ourselves happily eating burgers while collecting rocks. We are strange people. We then watched sadly as the highway happily curved away from Lake Superior and there was not a single road down to Jackfish Bay. WTF. Why advertise the goddamn rockpicking if you can’t get there except by boat? So mad.,
We then drove into Terrace Bay, depressed with lukewarm burgers in tow. We stopped off at 6:30 pm and their tourist info center was open. YESSS!! We got our next map stamp, and the gal working told us a great rock picking beach was in the next town over, called Schreiber. Alrighty then. We happily rolled in and drove down to the little beach. It was an entirely rocky beach, with lots of quartz which the kids loved. It had a clean bathroom (please note all bathrooms are pit/composing toilets, but not gross like American ones) and picnic tables. The town? Totally creepy. It was like 7:30 at night, but due to being on the western edge of the Eastern time zone AND being middle of the summer, it was like high noon. No one was outside at all, and we went past their old timey railroad depot, which was packed full of people. But why?
And then the last stamp related stop? Nipigon. By this time, it is almost 9 pm at night and yet still weirdly light outside. No one was in the tourist info center, so Matt snapped a photo to prove we had been there and he and the kids climbed a tower, while Sarah studied a sign that showed where all the public bathrooms were. Nowhere convenient. Thus, we forged on.
After an unfortunate emergency restroom stop at what appeared to be a wayside where drug dealers peddle their wares, we rolled into Thunder Bay to stay at the Holiday Inn Express and collapsed in our room. Note, we pulled in at 10 pm and it was still light out – sunset was at 10:02 pm. We were so done.
Beer drank: HopBot IPA, Hop City Brewing, Brampton, ON
Day 4 – July 1, 2019, Monday – Canada Day – still in Thunder Bay, ON
We slept in and enjoyed every second of it, and went downstairs for breakfast. Everyone we have run into in Canada is so polite and friendly! This includes staff at the hotels. Zoe bought some green furry animal claw slippers (at the freighter museum of course, where else) and wears them to breakfast to rake in the compliments.
Our only plan for today was to go to an Amethyst Mine. The largest amethyst mine on the continent is located just east of Thunder Bay, and off we went. We chose to go to Amethyst Mine Panorama, for no reason other than it had the most recognizable name. The road to it would have been dicey in a little car, but we did fine. It was lovely! It is family owned, and you do pay an admission fee (some of the other mines are free and you just pay for what you keep), but they give you a 15 min intro to Amethyst and how it formed, and then you just hang out in a big rocky field and sort through rock. You can look down and it looks like you are standing on gravel, but it is all purple amethyst! The kids LOVED this. You collect what you want in a bucket, and can dig around, and then wash off your finds and see what you want to keep.
We thought the staff was fantastic, and really liked a lot of what we found. Matt wondered why it was $4 per pound, as it was Canada and shouldn’t they use kilograms as they use liters and kilometers? Well, according to google, Canadians prefer imperial units for cooking, and measuring height and weight. Huh, who knew. So now we have lots of amethyst. Lots.
We then ate lunch (Costco trail mix and granola bars) and drove over to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. This is about 32 kilometers outside of Thunder Bay, near the amethyst mines. This is located on Sibley Peninsula and is gorgeous. We drove out to a trailhead on the southern part of the peninsula and hiked to the Sea Lion rock formation. Initially we were not impressed, until we realized we were looking at the wrong rock formation. We also went down the wrong trail until some very nice gentleman partaking in the legal Canadian marijuana in the middle of the forest directed us in the right direction.
We were cruising out of the park when we saw a sign that said (some small amount of) kilometers to Thunder Bay overlook. We thought, hey, let’s drive out to it! Dear god. This road was not for the faint of heart. It took us 20 minutes to get to the overlook, which was stunning. It had a viewing platform that jutted past the side of the cliff 100 meters over trees and water that was terrifying for those of us scared of heights (so just Sarah, as Zoe spent her time dropping leaves over the edge and the boys kept jumping up and down).
We then drove home, trying to figure out what to get for dinner. Everything is closed for Canada Day – everyone wished us Happy Canada Day that we saw (we said it back, to fake being Canadian, although we were missing our leaf shirts). So the kids got Mickey D’s, and Matt had to try the poutine from there. (Don’t). We adults got food from some place called Shoeless Joe’s which was chosen because it was a) open and b) located 20 feet from the front doors of the Holiday Inn.
We played in the pool (with all the other clearly American guests who were not attending the grand Canada Day celebrations), did laundry (we classy) and spent the evening collapsed in front of the TV.
Beer drank: Mr. Canoehead, Sleeping Giant Brewing, Thunder Bay, ON