Hello to the Prairies!

It felt as though we could have stayed in Kenora all summer, but the Prairies were beckoning, so we hit the road.  After 1,400 miles from Toronto, we said goodbye to Ontario and crossed the border to Manitoba.  Crossing provinces for the first time felt like a milestone and we were excited to see the changing landscape as we headed straight for Prairie land Canada.

Although Winnipeg is a very interesting city with lots to offer, we decided to bypass it this time as we planned to cover a fair amount of ground in a few days.  The closest we got to Winnipeg was a Tim Horton’s just outside the city limits for lunch and some obligatory road trip donuts (Tim Horton’s donuts are unparalleled in their donut glory).  It was in this particular Timmy H’s that we met a guy travelling across Canada on his Harley Davidson.  Originally from Slave Lake, Northern Alberta, he told us about his life on the road and with his grandchildren back in Alberta.  A total inspiration at 70 years old, with an amazing beard.  He was full of wisdom from the seat of his Harley.  In particular he strongly advised us to get shares in a couple of cannabis growing companies – which were incidentally making him a fortune. 

Coinciding with a heat wave across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, we were glad of the air conditioning in our Toyota Sienna.  As we saw our new friend ride off into the distance, helmet glistening in the sun, we were reminded of yet another reason to take our hats well and truly off to one of life’s true adventurers!

Just southeast of Winnipeg we found a large sign on the highway in Tache, Manitoba, celebrating its position as the longitudinal centre point of Canada. The title however, is controversial as Baker Lake, Nunavut is also a popular choice for Canada’s true centre, central in both longitude and latitude. The Canadian Cartographic Association have cited yet another location for the spot, where the intrepid can now find a geocache.

There are many stories surrounding the naming of the Prairie towns (we found a book which talks about them in detail, Calling The Praries Home by Mike O’Brien)   To cite just a couple, a decision was made to name the small towns alongside the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway alphabetically – running through the alphabet several times over, across the hundreds of miles covered. The town of Xena (90 km east of Saskatoon) was the only town they could name inspired by the letter X. 

In one of a few legends on how the town of Arden got its name, it is said that a group of construction workers just north east of Neepawa employed a cook who was fonder of napping than he was cooking.  His frequent naps caused the gang foreman to shout “Where’s Arden” again and again. The town of Arden was born.

Travelling with two small children, we always need to factor in how possible long jumps across the country are – in a way that keeps the journey happy and meaningful for every one. Generally the best timings we could come up with for our boys on the prairie leg, which involved quite a lot of long drives, was a longer hop in the morning (2-3 hours covering Monty’s nap time), a stop for lunch and an activity, followed by approximately 2 hours in the afternoon. This and a few snacks and stops along the way.

The boys have certainly adjusted to life on the road and our schedules and plans have evolved with them – Monty’s nap timings have altered as time has gone on, so we have adjusted our long stretches accordingly. Theodore is a pretty happy car traveller’s so providing him with activities, games, music and conversation is usually fairly straight forward – although, we all have our off days!

Across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the smoke drifting across the plains from forest fires in British Columbia and Alberta could be pretty thick and heavy. So we also needed to factor that into our activities. Mike has occasional bouts of asthma when the air quality is poor, and he was certainly feeling it as we crossed from Manitoba into Saskatchewan. Local advice was to be near water when we could be – so we prioritised finding splash parks for our breaks – a welcome decision for all!

A few miles west of Yorkton, we made a flying stop at the small town of Theodore, Saskatchewan – purely to take a picture of Theodore’s namesake, a large grain elevator. We were excited to be in Saskatchewan! As fans of Canadian folk-bluegrass ensemble (Wikipedia) The Dead South, it felt like a bit of a pilgrimage – although not entirely as we didn’t quite make it their base Regina, SK. Still, it was hard not to keep clicking our fingers, In Hell I’ll be in Good Company style as we drove through the golden plains – not a reflection of our feelings for the beautiful prairies – but an awesome song nonetheless!

Next stop, Saskatoon.

Big Fish

First of all I want to thank romeoromeotango.wordpress.com for sharing in our adventures and taking such a supportive interest.  It is a privilege to be featured on a world class cricket blog, and I would encourage anyone interested in cricket to go and say hello!

Before we get to the Lake of the Woods, I must talk about how much we enjoyed the Mennonite farm shops and stalls that peppered our journey through Ontario.  Once we had discovered how delicious the corn, fruit and veggies were, and such amazing value, we made stops at as many of the road side stalls as we could.  Theodore and Monty are both huge fans of fruit and made short work of gigantic tubs of organic blueberries, raspberries and juicy peaches. 

There are many different strands of the Canadian Mennonite community. Each have varying views and beliefs around the roles of technology and other aspects of modern life.  All are based around Christian teaching and share a strong belief in the importance of community and a life lived in love and peace.   

On arriving in the small town of Kenora, we immediately felt at home.  Mike made a beeline for the excellent local craft brewery, Lake of The Woods Brewing Company and acquired a good beer selection to celebrate our arrival.  We booked into Anicinabe Park on the outskirts of town and set up camp in a beautiful spot by the lake.  

As we unloaded and the boys started to explore our new lakeside home, we enjoyed some classic 1970’s tunes from the trailer on the site behind us.  Later, to Theodore and Monty’s delight, two young boys emerged playing ‘golf’ down the slope behind us.  Very soon Theodore had acquired his own golf ball and was busy playing his own version of the game with the boys.  We then met Kerry and his wife Laurie, who introduced us to their two grandsons.  Later when the boys were tucked up safely in bed, we shared beers and stories around the campfire, and Kerry invited us to join him on his boat to visit Coney Island.  The boys thoroughly enjoyed their tour of the Kenora area of the Lake of the Woods, ending in a swim and ice-cream on the beach with ‘Captain Kerry’.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time together and I’m so glad to say that we are still in touch.  As locals, Laurie had even popped back to the site – sadly after our departure – to see if we wanted a hot bath at their home, such kindness that we will never forget. Theodore also continues to treasure the two golf balls Captain Kerry gave him!

We made our way into town to the weekly farmers market, which was an epic space filled with local food and crafts.  The town has a relaxed and easy vibe which we all really loved. 

During our stay we were blessed with absolutely beautiful weather, which allowed wonderful lake swims and lazy afternoons toddling with the boys.  We enjoyed all our meals and evenings under the sky and the stars – and felt in absolute no hurry to leave. 

We decided that if British Columbia didn’t work out for us, Kenora would be a wonderful place to live if the opportunity arose.

Which places have you been to and instantly felt a connection to?

Niagara of the North

We decided early on that if we were doing a quick one night stop somewhere, a motel was the best option for our little tribe.  Setting up and packing up camp is a definite project with two littlies in tow, so we made the rule that unpacking the Vicars village was a two night minimum job.  So after a swift night at a motel in Nipigon, on Uncle Don’s recommendation we hit the road again and made our way to Kakabeka Falls.

We set up camp at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, in a beautiful little spot in the trees.  Set back from the river and the falls, you could still hear the roar of the water, which was pretty darn awesome!  We have found all the Provincial parks on our journey to provide such beautiful camping options, with just the right balance of being in nature, with the benefits of amenities.  As new campers with a young family, it was better for us to use campsites with some facilities.  We usually used unpowered sites, but with access to wash stations, which has been very helpful in keeping little ones warm and clean when spending lots of wonderful time outside.  

We all thoroughly enjoyed exploring the falls at twilight.  There was intermittent heavy rain during our stay, and true its name, the Thunder Bay district provided a backdrop of rolling thunder.  Coupled with the rather heavenly golden light as the clouds rolled by, it made for a stunning and rather dramatic experience of the falls.

While picking up supplies in Nipigon, we got chatting to a guy who was mid way through sailing his boat from Toronto through the Great Lakes to Thunder Bay.   He strongly recommended a visit to Fort William Historical Park.  A huge site offering a comprehensive view of life in the Canadian fur trade, at a time where exploration was a key part of life for many settlers.  With a village of heritage buildings and a farm, a favourite for the boys was watching a recreation of a battle between the North West Company and Hudson Bay Company, the loud bangs from the canons and rifles their favourite part.  They also loved seeing all the animals on the farm, again an experience really bought to life by the actors on site who did a very skilful job of involving the boys in lots of hands on experiences.

After our brief stop at Kakabeka, we got back on the road to embark on a longer hop to our next destination, Kenora, Lake of the Woods.  This would be our last stop in Ontario before we crossed the Provincial border to Manitoba.  Not only did that feel like a bit of a milestone, this part of Northern Ontario is an absolute stunner, so we decided to kick back and enjoy it for the best part of a week, a decision we did not regret!

Gardens in the Sand

After our first night camping at Blind River (see July’s post) we travelled on and spent four nights camping in Agawa Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park.  I remember those days feeling relaxed and endless. It was the first time on our trip we had no permanent access to power – so the process of adjustment could begin.  We were cooking most of our meals on a camp stove and generally spending our time outside, relying on natural light, so the days took on a different rhythm. 

A Superior supper. Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes and the worlds largest freshwater lake by surface area.

My favourite memories of Agawa Bay were wandering down to the shores of the lake with the boys, collecting the beautiful jewel coloured agate and making ‘gardens’ in the sand with Theodore. We spent most of our days and evenings by the lake, the hours stretching for days. Monty was a big fan of the water, so he spent a lot of time ‘Montying’ his way in to the lake and throwing his pretty stones in with daddy. 



I’ll be honest, I was obsessed with bears for the first few nights (weeks) but reading up and speaking to the park rangers helped. It was later that I learned that whilst bears are definitely ones to be aware of, it’s the cougars you’ve really got to worry about. By which point we’d camped our way across five Provinces and survived, so I felt altogether better about the realities of co-existing in nature with two tiny, tasty looking humans.

One night after dinner we got chatting to a family from Fairbanks, Alaska.  A couple with their 13 year old son and family dog.  They explained that they were taking two years out to travel around Canada together in their ‘bear proof tent’, a small tear drop trailer.  They were planning on having a two week break with some friends on Manitoulin Island before heading to the East coast in time for Fall.  It felt reassuring to speak to another family on their own adventure and to exchange stories about our East and West coast experiences (Mike and I travelled the East coast and Newfoundland on a previous trip).

Our tents survived their first heavy night of rain, but we quickly realised the benefits of a tarpaulin suspended above – or at the very least pinned over the top to stop what we found to be inevitable water drops accumulating over time.  We also decided at this point that a screen tent to cook in during inclement weather was going to be very useful.  We already had a ‘play tent’ for the boys (a 6 berth tent), which turned out to be one of our most valuable pieces of equipment.  It provided a dry contained space where they could keep their toys and books and have space to play and move around freely, whatever the weather.  It also provided a place of safety, where Mike and I could sit and relax knowing no one could wander off.

The boys settled into sleeping in a tent very well.  We have co-slept with both of them, so sleeping in one room all together is normal for us – and incredibly useful.  That coupled with our days following the rhythms of sunrise and sunset made for healthy sleeping routines.  The only exceptions were nights when Monty was teething, and the occasional night terror (from me!)

An hours drive from Agawa Bay, there is a small town called Wawa – most obviously notable for a giant goose sculpture on the way into town, along with two others dotted along the road for good measure (the boys really enjoyed spotting the geese!).  

One rainy day we took a trip in to get supplies and to grab some ‘inside lunch’.  As we were legging it from the car into the diner, a tall friendly looking lady with a huge smile on her face and open arms leaped out in front of us, exclaiming ‘hey, how are you? Do you want to stop in and play?’  She explained that she was from the family centre and that they were having a French language day if we wanted to join them, an invitation we very gladly took up with two slightly grouchy children in the rain. 

This was our first experience of any services for children and families in Canada.  Having never leapt into the street to connect with the local community in my own social work practice, I felt inspired and excited by such a pro-active approach.  The boys enjoyed a good two hours in what was a beautifully equipped centre, learning the french names of all the different animals (their go to toys of choice every time, bar a few tractors and cars for Monty).  We enjoyed an enthusiastic and supportive chat (with a hug!) and a good play, a lovely surprise on an otherwise rainy day camping.

Moving on, we spent a night in Nipigon, then on to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park.


On the road beside Lake Superior, Ontario

9,332 miles, and counting

Writing about our adventures on the road has been more difficult than I imagined!  By the end of our first few weeks in Canada, limited access to power made jotting notes on my phone tricky, but in all honesty, that wasn’t it.  After a short time travelling, it just didn’t feel like anything I wrote did our experiences any justice.  It felt more like taking a photograph from a moving car (something I’m always trying to do) or joining up a dot to dot, with the dots dancing around the page.

Pinning down a picture somehow felt limiting.  Like endeavouring to capture a beautiful moment as its happening, sometimes a photograph just doesn’t cut it. It’s got nothing to do with the camera or the photographer (or, maybe it has…) but often that magic just can’t be captured.  Sometimes it’s like trying to replicate something completely original, oversimplifying it until its only a shadow of its original splendour.  

I picked up a book in a thrift store about Wabi Sabi a few weeks ago, and it describes these experiences wonderfully.  Wabi Sabi is a complicated Japanese concept suggesting that anything deeply affecting and beautiful is necessarily transient, imperfect and incomplete.  In terms of my attempts to write about our experiences, I think that is pretty much what I ran in to.  In fact, I think that describes so much of human experience. 

Transience and liminality can be such great creative spaces, and for me I find that I move into a more creative zone once some of the dust has settled. Helping two sproglets – and a husband – with their own swirls of dust is also something of a task that requires a great deal of loving care and attention. Now the pace has slowed and we have had time to catch up with ourselves, I feel like I have more of a base to write from. So, in the next posts I will attempt to share the highlights and the lowlights of our meandering adventures so far… they will be imperfect and incomplete, but all wholehearted parts of the journey we would like to share.

Toddlers on a Plane

Our flight to Toronto went extremely well for two young children who had been woken up at 4.30am that morning.  I was a little nervous and trawled the internet for ideas about how I could keep a 3 year old and a 1 year old entertained, for at least some of the time anyway.  I found www.babycantravel.com to have some great pointers.  In particular, wrapping each activity individually to be unwrapped at different intervals – we didn’t actually end up having time for that – but we did manage to pack some things in a gift bag!  Peekaboo Farm and Peekaboo Wild apps are firm favourites for both boys. The Montessori wooden cheese was and still is a surprising hit for Monty.  He spent a long time threading and unthreading it, and still enjoys it in the car.  This brightly coloured first words cloth book is also a good travelling favourite for him too. Theodore was very happy with some dinosaur and animal sticker books (courtesy of Nanny Jones) and appreciated the inflight films.  Sleeping and eating also proved to be excellent activities for all! 

After we arrived, we spent a week with Mike’s Uncle Don in Port Dalhousie, St Catharines.  In that whirlwind of a jet lagged week, we went for our visa medicals and met with some friends who made the move from Amesbury, UK to Ontario the previous year, which was a wonderful welcome.  We bought our trusty workhorse of a car and eventually sorted out some car insurance – which is probably the most complicated process we have encountered, other than the visa!  We also visited the stunning Niagara Falls, (of course!) and enjoyed a dance on the shores of Lake Ontario at the Niagara Jazz Festival.  After being a very kind and welcoming host to our gaggle of a tribe, Uncle Don then took us up to his cabin on Lake Nipissing for a couple of days.

Even with their ultra cute life jackets, the mummy bear in me had some reservations around taking my two babies on a speedboat. Thankfully as we bounced through the water, some wisdom came to mind. Not from the most traditional of philosophers or spiritual teachers, but from Poppa in the The Good Dinosaur.  Being immersed in his teachings, at one stage on a daily bases, has obviously had some effect on me, “You gotta face your fear Arlo….if you don’t face your fear you won’t survive out here. You’ve got to get through your fear…”

Deciding not to dwell on how things turn out for Poppa and focusing more on the on the outcome of Arlo’s journey, I found it strangely comforting, and very quickly I was relaxed and loving the wind in our faces and the new blue and green world speeding by.  Monty was even more relaxed and was either fast asleep or feeding every time we got on the boat.

On our first lake swim, Monty, Mike and I  had a grand time pretending to be turtles. It was when I got bitten on the bottom by what looked to me like a small pterodactyl which then pursued me up the bank, that we decided to rejoin Theodore and Uncle Don in the safety of the cabin- and to make our next purchase some child friendly bug repellent.  

A couple of days before we left Port Dalhousie, as we were loading all our Canadian worldly belongings into the boot of our car, a lovely guy called Alan introduced himself to us.  He said that he often got feelings about people and when he saw us he thought we looked like we were on a special journey.  He wanted to give us a gift to help us on our way, and gave us an arrowhead he had made out of clay.  He told us he was of Native American descent and was also travelling to Vancouver to be with his daughters.  It felt like such a good omen to have met him at the beginning of our trip, and was just the beginning of the friendliness and warmth we have received from folks across the country since our arrival.  The clay arrow head has had pride of place hanging from our rear view mirror ever since. 


July

camp vicars, agawa bay
Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, Ontario

As I walked up to put a nappy in the large bear proof bin, I suddenly realised what people were talking about, why there was a look that some people got when we told them that we had sold our house, given up work and bought plane tickets and a bunch of camping stuff… we have just sold our house? It dawned on me that the little camp behind me is literally everything we have right now.  Suddenly I got it, and I couldn’t help but laugh, it took me this long? The sheer absurdity and a cold fear suddenly gripped me. The whole thing was completely insane. I walked to the shower hut with a sense of foreboding. If we’d have only kept the house at least we’d have had something to go back too… I brushed my teeth and thought of terraced houses with cute back gardens… And we’re spending the money from selling our house on travelling across Canada?  There is no job, no anything lined up at the other side… we don’t even know anyone. With two young children. This is LUNACY. Probably best not to think about it. How can I not think about it? God I want to speak to my Mum… That’s probably not a great idea now either, best wait until I’m in a better frame of mind…

I left the shower hut and as I walked in the evening light, caught sight of our little camp. Just as suddenly, my fear and feelings of absurdity started to dissolve.  This is everything we have, right here, right now. This is everything we need right now. We have sold our house, and we’re using everything we had stored up in it to live, right now.

As we settled together into our cosy tent for our first night under the stars, our two boys all jarmied up, I knew again exactly why we are doing what we are doing.

For this.
For the crickets.
For the spaciousness.
For the uncertainty.

For the stars.

nipissing
Uncle Don’s Cabin. Lake Nipissing, Ontario

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Lake Nipissing, Ontario

agawa bay beach 1
Agawa Bay.  Lake Superior, Ontario

 

 

 

 

 

Invitation To Apply

#thisthankfulmoment

To anyone uninitiated into the workings of the Canadian Permanent Residency process, this term won’t mean a great deal.  But to anyone familiar with it, you will know this is the moment we have been waiting for!  

The process so far…

After finding a buyer for our house only a week after putting it on the market and the sale going through in the time that we had hoped for to the day – we didn’t feel that we could complain too much about any other delays.  As you might imagine, there are a lot of hoops that need to be jumped through.  Alongside completing a fairly hefty application form, Mike and I both undertook English language tests (IELTS) at the University of Bath (which, I am at pains to say I will never hear the last of, as Mike got the higher score), obtained police certificates and had our qualifications verified for Canadian equivalency by World Education Services (WES).

Unfortunately an unexpected request for more paperwork from WES, turned into a 7 week delay and despite all efforts on our part to be patient, the pressure did feel like it was beginning to build.  Whilst we were feeling confident that once we had the right documentation we would make one of the upcoming rounds of invitations, the longer we waited, the more chance there was that the points threshold could change… in short, it was a bit frustrating!  

Nonetheless, on the 21st June we received the document we needed from WES, and on the Monday 25th June 2018, we received our Invitation To Apply for Permanent Residency.  Hurray!  

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The next stage…

We now have 90 days to submit all the evidence we need to support our application.  Having previously collated the documents we were aware of, a new list has now emerged.  It turns out that in the chaos of the move, things like our wedding certificate were put somewhere in a storage facility near Birmingham.  So, weighing up the swiftest course of action, we are very grateful to our kind friend in Italy who is doing his best to cut through all the red tape to obtain us another copy- which is unfortunately more complicated than we could have imagined!  Failing that we will be travelling to London via Birmingham next week…

We also need medicals, which are half price across the pond, so we have decided to get them done when we arrive in Canada.  Once submitted, our application should be processed within 6 months, however the average time on the Government of Canada website is currently 58 days, so we are hoping for something closer to that!*

*Update: As of September 2018, we now know that this 58 day time frame actually refers to the Permanent Residency card itself, which is received seperately after the initial paperwork.  This means that the average processing time is usually, but not always, within 6 months. 

In the mean time, we are enjoying our last week in Ireland.  It feels (to me) like our time here has flown by.  Playing, swimming, meditating, growing, learning, exploring together.  Monty has both learned how to walk and run!  It has been such a privilege and I am full of gratitude for a moment in time I am sure we will look back on with great fondness. 

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Garnish Beach, County Cork
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Grandma and Grandads garden, Castletownbere

Next weekend we travel to London to spend some time with close family and friends. Play time with cousins, evenings out for mummy and daddy and an important trip to the Natural History Museum is all on the cards before we say our fondest farewells. We then catch our early morning flight to Toronto, travelling on holiday visas with the intention that we will receive our residency cards on the road.  And so, the big itinerary planning has commenced!

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We are planning our trip from Ontario, on through to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and then on to British Columbia.  The route after this will depend on if we have our residency cards and any job offers.  So far, after four job interviews we have discovered that whilst there is an encouraging amount of interest, until we have the visas (and permission to work in Canada), it is difficult to get any further forward.  In order to bridge the gap as economically as possible, we have decided to take to the road in a trailer tent, which we are hoping will take us through to somewhere around the end of September, depending where we are.  

St Catharines - Nelson

Google maps won’t plot any more stops, so we’ve had to stop at Nelson for the purposes of the above map, but after that we plan to spend a few weeks travelling in British Columbia- further itinerary pending.  Depending on job offers this might include a trip up to Whitehorse in the Yukon, but if not, we are looking to pause and take stock on Vancouver Island… although part of the fun will be to see where the wind takes us!

Thankfully we are pretty much where we hoped we would be back in January, even with the unforeseen delay.  So the next time I write, we will (hopefully!) be on the other side, post flight with a couple of jet lagged toddlers, and the proud new owners of a second hand trailer tent – all advice for surviving the flight very welcome!  There is still a small part of me that can’t quite believe that we will be flying off and following our hearts into the big unknown, but there is a larger part of me that really can!  It has taken the best part of a year to plan and process between us, the vow being that whatever happened next, it would all be part of the adventure… We’re stuck right in now, the sun is shining, our spirits are high and the dinosaurs are ready and waiting!

Bon Voyage!! 🇨🇦

#preparations