Archive for October, 2008

the bones of the land   10 comments

Posted at 1:11 pm in Uncategorized

After leaving the Terry Fox park, I continued on into Thunder Bay to fill up the gas tank of the van before setting out for Kenora where we would be staying the night at a motel. From this point on, we would be moteling our way across Canada. My original plan was to camp as much as possible, but the weather had been cold and damp, so that plan went out the window. I wanted to get the van repaired as soon as possible, but with it being Thanksgiving Day in Canada, there wasn’t much chance of that happening. By noon, the rain had stopped and the roads were reasonably dry, so I decided to forge onwards — knowing well that this part of Ontario has few towns and fewer repair shops.

From Thunder Bay to Kenora, there’s a long stretch of mostly flat highway with only the occasional curve or gradual grade. It’s a land of shallow lakes, boggy looking wetlands, and endless stands of stunted conifers over rock. In places, it must be nearly impossible to sink a telephone pole as many were constructed with wooden support struts. Somewhere along that stretch of highway, I spotted the Arctic Watershed – From here all streams flow north into the Arctic Ocean sign — familiar to all who have driven the TransCanada across northern Ontario.

Driving soon became tedious. With the cruise control on, I tried sitting in slightly different positions trying to give my legs a rest as they were falling asleep from rarely needing to brake. There was a brief moment of excitement as I spotted a moose standing just a few feet from the road. As I became increasingly restless, I laughed to myself, lines from Jill Frayne’s autobiographic book Starting Out in the Afternoon, mentioned in my first post, ran through my head.

After three days of driving I was still in Ontario. We think of the province as a pan of paved-over ground along the shore of Lake Ontario, a stretch of a hundred kilometres where most of us live, but the real Ontario is the Precambrian Shield – the great wastes of rock overarching tiny southern Ontario in an endless tract of elemental granite and pointed black spruce. The land up here is ponderous, orchestral, especially where the road follows Lake Superior, giving tremendous views of the hills standing up to their mighty shoulders in the sea. Once you leave Superior, though, and plunge into boreal forest — the dark, acid, interminable land west of Thunder Bay –the project of getting out of Ontario becomes daunting. This rock carapace is nothing less than the bulge of the earth’s raw core, scarred, disordered, primordial. The density and weight of the rock have an emotional quality that penetrates the mind. Time seems to clog in the runty trees and gravity tugs in a bold, unbounded way like nowhere else.

Drawing closer to Lake of the Woods and the town of Kenora, the bones of the Canadian Shield were laid bare in many places. Road cuts of great, sagging masses of pink Precambrian granite bordered long sections of the highway. The weather had turned frigid and rain began to fall. The van began running badly, so I stopped in an empty parking lot to let the engine dry out for awhile before pushing on. Arriving in Kenora, I checked into a motel, taking note of a small poster on the glass next to one of the doors. It read something like:

To our valued customers: As you may know, this is the time of year when black bears often enter the town. Please use caution when in the parking area of the motel, especially at night. Do not leave food in your car or outside of your motel unit.

Actually, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bear in the parking lot, but though I checked periodically, there was no such luck. In the morning, after checking the weather and seeing several clear days ahead, we carried on with our journey.

Written by bev on October 26th, 2008

courage highway   8 comments

Posted at 1:35 pm in history

In my last post, I described how the van was running so badly during the final stretch heading west to Thunder Bay. I guess that could be regarded as something of a cliffhanger. The saga continues…

The van’s engine sounded like it wasn’t going to make it, but with a bit of encouragement — mainly pressing down a bit on the gas pedal to keep it from konking out — we reached the last few miles leading to the city of Thunder Bay, which lies at the western edge of Lake Superior. That section of the route is known as the Terry Fox Courage Highway and those marker signs began to appear as we chugged and sputtered past Nipigon. I was a little stressed, but began to relax as we neared the city limits. My friends back at the cabin had told me that there was a great view from the Terry Fox memorial park before Thunder Bay, so I turned off there to rest and take a few photos. Arriving just as a couple of other vehicles were leaving the parking lot, I had the place to myself. Walking to the look-off, I planned to take a few photos of the countryside from this high vantage point. However, the statue of Terry Fox, backlit by the grey morning sky, immediately drew my attention. On this drizzly morning, and in my frame of mind, the statue struck an odd note with me — almost as though it was alive — as though Terry was running the last stretch of highway where he was forced to end his run just short of Thunder Bay.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, it was in this place that he had to abandon his run due to the return of his cancer. In the summer of 1980 – he ran 5,374 kilometres (3,339 miles) in 143 days. And then, on September 1st, 11 kilometres (seven miles) outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, something felt terribly wrong in his chest. The pains were so bad, he wondered if he was having a heart attack, but whatever it was, he needed to see a doctor. The doctor confirmed his worst fears – the cancer was back, this time in his lungs. Terry had run his last mile – The Marathon of Hope – was over.

I suspect that just about every Canadian old enough to have been following the Marathon of Hope on our televisions, will remember the shock and sadness when Terry announced that he would retire from the run. But that wasn’t the end of the Marathon of Hope. Terry Fox died, with his family beside him, on June 28, 1981. That September, the first Terry Fox Run was held in Canada and around the world. More than 300,000 people participated, raising $3.5 million. According to Wikipedia, the runs, which raised over $20 million in their first six years, grew into an international event as over one million people in 60 countries took part in 1999, raising $15 million that year alone. By the Terry Fox Run’s 25th anniversary, more than three million people were taking part annually. Grants from the Terry Fox Foundation, which organizes the runs, have helped Canadian scientists make numerous advances in cancer research. The Terry Fox Run is the world’s largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research, and over $850 million has been raised in his name as of May 2022.

For me, the Terry Fox monument was a reminder of how much determination it takes to keep moving on while living with cancer.

[Note: I arrived in Thunder Bay on Thanksgiving Day, was not able to get the van fixed, so continued west. More about that in a subsequent post.]

Written by bev on October 25th, 2008