Days 46-48 – Entering Canada for the Second Time

Saturday, September 20 (Muriel)

Allan and I drove north and slightly west to Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin for some bird watching.  As I had the previous day, he noticed that the farms seemed to be surprisingly small and prosperous.  Since the refuge center was closed for remodeling, we asked for advice from the leader of a bird watching class from an arboretum that was visiting the marsh and a local couple.  We got some tips on where to bird and were told that most of the local small, ultra prosperous farms were “hobby” farms.

A VIEW OF HORICON MARSH

We managed to see 4 Sandhill Cranes and a Common Moorhen.  There were also gobs of coots and Canada Geese, and several Great Egrets, Pied-billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, and distant unidentified female dabbling ducks.  A few Yellow-rumped warblers flew in and out of trees, and one “different” warbler was so backlit that we could only identify it as a warbler.

It was mid afternoon by the time we found a restaurant for lunch in Oshkosh.  Afterwards we drove north along the west side of Lake Michigan.  The countryside became much more industrial and less attractive than it was from the Minnesota border to Milwaukee, and north until beyond the Horicon area.

When we got to the area of Green Bay, WI, we left the highway and headed for the center of town, driving past suburbs, the football stadium and Lombardi Avenue.  We ignored the extensive suburbs, as they looked like fairly new suburbs that you might see anywhere.  I wanted to see central Green Bay to get a feel for the city where my grandmother’s family had settled in the late 1890’s and where my grandmother and her siblings had grown up.

The waterfront of the City of Green Bay was heavily industrial and uninviting, with huge tanks and smoke stacks.  The city is named for its location at the head of the Green Bay, a huge bay of Lake Michigan.  We drove on a large bridge over the Fox River which empties into head of the bay.  The river did not seem to have any recreational facilities or housing along it.  The downtown held many large churches, some huge ones, and an impressive but ugly old county building.  The stores were small and tired looking.  We did not see any shoppers.  The homes were small wood-sided two-story houses in reasonable repair that sat haphazardly on small lots.  There were no flowers anywhere.  At least there were grass and a lot of mature broad-leaved trees.  There were a number of kids hanging out but very few adults outdoors on this Saturday afternoon.  We found this the old urban core of Green Bay very depressing.  Although it felt safer than many of the areas near downtown L.A., it seemed entirely lacking in vibrancy.

Just as my family had moved to Green Bay a few years after immigrating to the USA, central Green Bay apparently houses many recent immigrants.  We even passed a Taqueria Jalisco.  I suppose that my great grandparents must have lived in a small wood house in the general vicinity of Green Bay that we visited.  I hope that in my great grandparents’ days there, the residents took enough pride in their surroundings and had enough energy to plant some flowers there, and that families enjoyed time outdoors on mild September Saturday afternoons.

We drove farther north along the edge of the Green Bay, to a motel in Marinette, WI, the most northerly town along the western edge of Wisconsin.  It was late and we were more tired than hungry, disinterested in going to a restaurant for dinner.  After we settled into a motel room, Allan headed out to a nearby market for apples, cheese, prosciutto and a bottle of wine.  One of the apples he bought was a local variety the store was pushing, “Zesta.”  I plan to look for this variety again – excellent.  We enjoyed our odd dinner.

Sunday, September 21 (Muriel)

The morning was cloudy, but the weather improved as we drove north along the west side of Lake Michigan.  Within minutes we left Wisconsin and entered the state of Michigan.  Continuing north, close to the west shore of Lake Michigan, we drove through mixed coniferous – deciduous forest.  There were extensive public lands (state parks and state forests), frequently mixed with vacation homes tucked behind a screen of forest.  Sometimes we could see through forest to Lake Michigan.

The terrain eventually became more open, with better lake views.  For miles and miles we could see the Door Peninsula that separates Green Bay from the open waters of Lake Michigan.  Then we passed smaller bays and eventually we drove along dunes.  We both recalled that one of Allan’s work friends had been so enamored of Chicago during a temporary job assignment there that he decided to settle permanently in Chicago.   One of its biggest attractions was his cabin on the Door Peninsula, where he spent long weekends and vacations.

We stopped for lunch in the attractive town of St. Ignace which had many resorts and lakeside facilities.  Eventually we reached Sault St. Marie (pronounced Soo St. Marie), MI.  We explored the Michigan city, near the meeting of great lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron.  We visited the American “Soo Locks” that enable large, ocean going vessels to travel past the 21-foot falls between Lake Superior to the west and lower elevation Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  With the aid of these locks and others between lakes Erie and Ontario, boats are able to travel from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Lakes and the St. Laurence Seaway.  At an Army Corps of Engineers visitor center, we learned that the much larger city of Sault St. Marie across the falls in Ontario, Canada has smaller locks that cannot accommodate large vessels.

We crossed over the falls on a large toll bridge from Sault St. Marie, MI to the larger city of Sault St. Marie, ON, Canada.  We drove through the city of 75,000 people and into the countryside.  We headed southeast along the top of Lake Huron toward Toronto.  We had hotel reservations in Toronto for tomorrow evening, but no reservations for tonight.  It was early evening on a Sunday night in a lightly populated area.  Fortunately we had cell phone service here and Allan found a AAA-recommended inn in Blind River, ON that was able to give us a room, although it appeared we would be too late to find dinner at their restaurant.

ENTERING CANADA AND FIRST LOOKS AT FALL COLOURS

The drive was lovely.  In recent days, deciduous trees had been showing hints of fall colors as early as my solo drive from Minneapolis to Milwaukee.  The hints were a bit stronger going north through Wisconsin.  Going north through Michigan and east through Ontario today, there were many areas where many of the trees had turned lovely and varied shades of yellow, gold, and rufous, some draped with vines that had turned maroon, and contrasting with dark green conifers.  The narrow highway passed many mirror-like bays and rivers, some reflecting the beautiful trees as we drove by.

It was very dark by the time we reached the inn.  When Allan had phoned the inn, they told him the restaurant had already closed for the evening, so we planned to dine on part of our supply of almonds from Trader Joe’s, augmented by a bit of cheese and a less appealing apple left over from the night before.  Fortunately the staff of the inn took pity on us and served up a lovely dinner upon our arrival.

Monday September 22 (Muriel)

We continued driving southeast through miles and miles of lovely foliage changing to fall colors.  We stopped for lunch in the town of Parry Sound, at the head of Georgian Bay, another part of Lake Huron.  The scenery was spectacular here, even from the window of the restaurant in a log cabin.  We enjoyed trying pickerel, a local fish that is a specialty of Georgian Bay.  We drove through town to its performing arts center where we parked and strolled along a harbor side path.  We found a flock of Blacked-capped Chickadees when we climbed stairs up a hillside, but otherwise the birds were starlings, crows and Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.

Continuing our drive we eventually passed beyond Lake Huron and turned more southwards, toward Toronto.  We had noticed that shortly after we entered Canada at Sault St. Marie there were many road cuts through hard rock (granite?).  This was in great contrast to all of the countryside that we had driven through for the past week once we were east of the Black Hills.  There had been no road cuts – no need for them – until this different terrain.  Eventually we came to areas where we could see construction of a four lane highway.  The terrain was so rocky that we briefly wondered if we were passing a rock quarry or some other form of mineral extraction.  Soon we were driving on completed portions of the enlarged highway and heading into Toronto.

The Lady of the Dashboard kept giving us directions to our hotel in Markham, Toronto that made no sense to Allan, so we got off the highway and headed for a gas station.  We filled the tank, got directions, and found the GPS had been set to not allow toll roads.  We reset the GPS and noticed a beautiful, modern drive-through carwash.  We drove through the carwash, which did an amazingly good job on our filthy car.  Allan had his first experience using a drive-through carwash.  I – more experienced with such facilities — was impressed with how good this one was.

The Lady of the Dashboard, having been set correctly, got with the program.  We drove easily on the logical freeway to our hotel.  The only wrinkle is that the freeway isn’t free; it’s a toll road without toll booths.  You’re supposed to have a transponder on your car.  Will the Royal Mounties come knocking on our door in Malibu, saying we owe $10 in Canadian tolls plus umpteen thousand $ more in collection fees – for sending the Mounties and their steeds to Malibu to collect the $10?  (Emily and Alex, Grandma’s just joking.)

Tuesday, September 23 (Muriel)

We spent a quiet day in our Toronto hotel.  We both had our hair cut, something we badly needed to do.   Allan caught up with a bunch of work.  I used the treadmill in the hotel fitness center.  We had visited Toronto a couple of times before.  Our main purpose for visiting Toronto this trip was to see our daughter-in-law’s parents who live here.  We had not seen them since the wedding of their daughter and our son 11 years ago.

Our opposite numbers – the parents of our daughter-in-law – met us at our hotel, where we had a leisurely dinner in the restaurant.   It was a wonderful opportunity to visit and catch up with them!

THE FOUR GRANDPARENTS OF EMILY AND ALEX KOTIN

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