We are packed and to the car with a quickness. I always feel bad leaving the dogs in the car – it’s not the tight space, but the change of scenery and a different place to sleep that I feel they miss out on. Though I’m sure they could care less. Regardless, it’s back to the field for exercise and breakfast before we spend the morning waiting for the Manitoba Museum to open at 10:00 am. I drive us downtown and park in the Exchange District.
There are tall terra-cotta clad buildings with lots of windows; bronze statues with water, flowers, and glass on and around them; brick walls housing institutions and museums; empty streets loudened with the shuffle of our feet, the Red River curving lazily by parks and under bridges; architecture that is square, round, and many-sided; colorful signs and meaningful murals; flyers taped and pinned in layers; and a silver stage, The Cube, that cost 1.5 million dollars to make – of 20,000 aluminum links that hasn’t operated properly since it was opened in 2010.
As soon as the museum opens we are inside trying our luck at discount tickets. They offer youth, student, senior, and family rates. We ask about military and lucky for us the lady behind the counter gets us in half-off for the museum galleries, one of the three exhibit areas – saying the guidelines don’t specify that government workers have to be Canadian, but the students do. We’ve been to a few museums in our day and I suspect there to be one section that catches my eye and the other five will be glanced, parts read, and photographed. I was not expecting nine galleries among other rooms housing over two million artifacts and two hundred thousand specimens.
We are in for a surprise. This museum has levels and turns the size of a large labyrinth. It teaches us about the grasslands, the dinosaurs, local mountain formations, about the animals and rocks of different biomes, life in the arctic, the way of the Eskimos, the history of Hudson Bay, and lets us on a ship, the Nonsuch, for a feel of the sea life and trading it made possible. It doesn’t stop there. We get introduced to animals high and low that live in the boreal forest, the effects of coal mines, the popularity of fishing, the usefulness of arrowheads, the beauty of beadwork, the education for children in the past, a glimpse into the home life of settlers, and by the time we reach the apothecary our heads are spinning.
All the shapes and colors of the displays keep the eyes moving, but what draws us further in is treasures like the Giant Trilobite – the largest complete one of its kind as of 2006 that was found along the Hudson Bay. I am enthralled that as difficult as it was for immigrants to settle in the States it was even more of a challenge in the weather that sustains Canada’s harsh environments. I am awed at the determination and perseverance that it took the aboriginal people to call this place home. And Caleb can’t forget the lady that approached us in the Urban Gallery. We weren’t sure if she worked there, but she was willing to point things out and suggest we go inside each building – if only we had more time.
I had debated waiting around for some museum to open, but this place is phenomenal and very large. We spent three hours and needed at least three more just to see this one section. So when I get the chance to go back I can plan on spending three days there if the other two sections prove just as big and educational. Even their washroom had something new to show me – a toilet paper dispenser that keeps portions appropriate, like a triple-sized Kleenex box, and the roll from ending up soaked on the floor. Had we packed a lunch we would’ve stayed longer, but a trip to the store for a bag of greens, a can of corn, and some veggies with dip will be on our menu and our last stop in this friendly, fingerless-mitten-shaped province.
We pass the longitudinal center of Canada, near the town of Lorette, that measures the extreme points of Canada from east to west, including islands. Then to keep our minds busy while driving I created a new in-the-car game. My family is used to the traditional license plate game (whether it’s math, personal plates, or states) and Caleb and I have long played finding the alphabet in order using billboards and signs. Today’s new idea was to list things – presidents, tree types, dog breeds – anything that there is a lot of. And then we were in Ontario, our fifth Canadian province, and the one with the most roads planned to cover its sloping south.
Highway 17 must have issues with speeding if the second sign on the road is how high the fine will be per 10 km/h over the posted limit. It doesn’t seem to be slowing anyone down, but we aren’t in a hurry either – no worries. The next thing we notice is the abundance of cairns, called inuksuk by the Inuit, by the road and up on cliffs where the rocks were blasted to make room for pavement below. They come in different colors, sizes, and some in groups and are a historical reminder of the Inuit’s use of them for travel and hunting.
Our first long stop in Ontario would be the city of Dryden. We drive around some, missing the turn for the information center. Inside is an elderly woman who loves the area and flowers so much that she painted them and wants to sell those paintings to us. We thank her for the other advice, things to do and a place to eat, and are on our way sans art. She turns out to be a savvy travel guide as she directed us to Johnston Park, another turn easily missed and the location of “The Pieces of Dryden”, a hexagon with four benches surrounding it covered in tile mosaic representing the seasons and the locals who helped bring the idea to life.
Also from Johnston Park is a trail leading to the Roy Wilson Suspension Bridge that crosses the Wabigoon River. There are wooden steps and a gravel path leading to the 34 meter long bridge that spans the rushing water below. Piggy is terrified of the sound, but is able to crawl across the swaying wood in three minutes with the help of a chain-link fence to keep her from falling off the sides. At the end is information on the history of a paper mill that was destroyed in fire and pictures of some of the local birds, fishes, mammals, and trees. I carry Piggy back across. She has faced her fears enough for one day.
Onto our edible recommendation for dinner at the B&B Roadhouse Bar and Grill located inside the Best Western Plus. Seating is quick and by a window, but from there the service declines. The place wasn’t that busy, but our waitress was hard to find. We ordered French fries and sweet potato fries that came with honey dill, honey garlic, and pink anju sauce for dipping – we’ve had better. We did get a laugh out of their monetary cheese on the menu. We waited for our receipt, that didn’t come, and went to the register where we weren’t the only ones in line. It’s there that our waitress appeared, receipt in hand, and was kind enough to take off the $8 martini that tasted like frog fart water. We will not be going back and we will no longer be taking fries advice from older women in information centers.
There is an annual county fair going on. I could see the Ferris wheel from my bench in the window, but Caleb gets sick on the rides, I don’t want to watch a steer auction, and we have over an hour drive to Sandbar Lake Provincial Park. It will be dark when we get there. We get gas in Ignace and find a spot near the entrance which makes me feel better about keeping our headlights off people already sleeping. Caleb notices clouds and says the weather report warned of a 20% chance of rain. Won’t be our first time waking up to sprinkling or mud and we hope it will keep the mosquitoes away.