Thoughts on Canada

Canada is BIG, Very BIG – 7,121.78 kms 102 days to get across, 75 cycling days and 27 rest days.

In a nutshell Canada is big, the people are quite reserved, but on the whole friendly. The roads in the western Provinces are good and have wide shoulders. In Ontario the roads are not very good with narrow or non-existent shoulders. Quebec has the best cycling infrastructure in the whole country. New Brunswick is trying to implement a similar cycling infrastructure and encourage cyclists and tourism. PEI is a lovely province to cycle, if you like trails. It has one of the most comprehensive trail systems, utilizing the old rail lines. If you choose to go onto the roads be prepared for rolling hills. Nova Scotia had some nice secondary roads to ride on.

We didn’t notice any abject poverty other than in Vancouver where there is a whole neighbourhood of homeless people living on the streets.

I have written about each Province rather than generalize about the Country, it is very diverse.

What disappointed us the most was the amount of garbage on the roadsides. Coffee cups, beer bottles and cans and even diapers. Come on Canada you can do better than this.

British Columbia (BC)

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful British Columbia. “Beautiful British Columbia” is on the license plate of the cars in British Columbia – definitely agree with that statement. British Columbia is a stunningly beautiful province with mountains, rivers and nice cities and towns. There appears to be a lot of money in BC, house prices are expensive and so is the general cost of living. We loved the mountains but in some Towns, Nelson, Fernie etc the mountains surrounded the Town and felt almost suffocating they dominated the landscape so much. The majority of the residents of these mountain regions came for the outdoor lifestyle and are very active and fit. Cycling appears to be their summer passion, and all winter sports are their winter passion.

In BC we stayed at campsites or warmshowers, the private campsites were reasonably priced (about $25 – $30.00) and some had biker rates, or gave us a discount because we were cycling across Canada.

For the most part the vehicles gave us plenty of room, the shoulders on the road were well paved. Most of the Towns and cities had designated cycle lanes.

Initially we noticed that a lot of the Canadians were a little reserved. If I was waiting outside of supermarket with the bikes, not many people would talk to me. After a few days cycling further away from Vancouver more people responded to my smile and cheerful greetings.

Unfortunately, we did see a fair amount of roadside garbage, the discerning drunk driver in BC drinks Kokanee Beer.

Alberta

We were only in Alberta for a short while. The route we had chosen out of BC took us through the bottom end of Alberta – the prairie part. Almost as soon as we got out of the mountains of BC we were on relatively flat roads. Alberta’s roads are well paved with a wide shoulder but the drivers didn’t give us much room at all. In the major towns and cities we went through there were very few designated cycle lanes. The transport drivers although still giving us room, didn’t slow down at all, I definitely felt the draft from their vehicles too often.

This part of Alberta is farming and along with farming goes big pick-up trucks. The pick-up trucks don’t give cyclists much room, they often forget that their big mirrors stick out a long way.

We camped in Alberta and only had one warmshowers host. We found the camp-sites were more expensive, we were charged the same as a trailer that needed electric and water hook-up when all we got was a grass pitch with few facilities and no discounts for cyclists. Although there was one really good municipal campsite in Medicine Hat.

Albertans were quite reserved, we were more often stared at as if we were some strange alien coming into their quiet Town. Then occasionally we were surprised by an offer to stay overnight (Lethbridge).

While we have been cycling through the US we were unaware of what the oil prices had been doing, we knew the dollar had dropped but didn’t connect the two together. In Alberta oil is the main industry and we noticed what the low oil price means to this Province. House prices are dropping and the economy is struggling, even though we are along way from the oil-fields in the north.

The discerning drunk driver in Alberta also drinks Kokanee Beer.

Saskatchewan

The scenery in Sasakatchewan was farming, miles upon miles of fields of corn, canola and occasionally cattle. Saskatachewan is a prairie province. The roads were good with wide paved shoulders. The cars and transports gave us lots of room. We were surprised that in the bigger Towns, there were designated cycle lanes. We had the best tail-winds in Saskatchewan, it would have been brutal if we had headwinds.

Most of the Towns we cycled through were small and getting smaller, young people do not want to farm and have moved to the city. However, the medical facilities in these rural towns were better than we had in Barrie. There was a politician who promised to provide hospitals to all rural communities. He fulfilled his promise, because he was reportedly paid a back-hander. A lot of the bigger hospitals were never fully funded by the Province, but most of the smaller clinics were funded and still have a Doctor, Nurse Practitioner and other medical staff. Often these clinics provide services to less than 3,000 people.!

We camped and used ‘warmshowers’ throughout Saskatchewan, the residents were very kind and friendly. We were often approached and people were very interested in what we were doing.

Saskatchewan felt as if it was better off financially than Alberta. They have oil exploration in the south and are doing quite well with oil and farming.

Saskatchewan is a Province that I thought we could live in, however, their winters are brutally cold. Although Saskatchewan is not flat, as reported, there are not the challenging hills and mountains that we need to keep our interest in cycling, the roads are dead straight. A lot of the side roads in Saskatchewan are gravel roads, therefore the cycling is limited.

Again, we were surprised about the amount of garbage along the roadside. The discerning drunk driver in Saskatchewan drinks Coors Light.

Manitoba

Again Manitoba, is a prairie province, which means more farm fields and flat roads, although there was some bends in the roads. The scenery could never be called stunning in Manitoba. The roads had wide shoulders but there was a lot of construction on the TransCanada. However, for the most part the car drivers gave us enough room.

In the bigger town and cities (Winnipeg) there were cycle lanes.

Again a lot of the small Towns are disappearing, there are big corporate farms and the smaller family farms are barely surviving.

We stayed primarily in campsites and ‘warmshowers’. The campsites were quite expensive, for little facilities. The people were friendly.

The discerning drunk driver drinks Coors Light.

Northern Ontario

We left Winnipeg and headed towards Northern Ontario with a little trepidation. We had been told that this stretch of the cross-Canada trip is the most dangerous due to the narrow roads and fast moving trucks. In Kenora we were advised to head south into the US and take the southern route to Sault Ste. Marie. We opted to continue through Canada. The TransCanada Highway going through Northern Ontario was narrow with no paved shoulders. Often there was only six inches of pavement after the white line and then we were on soft gravel.

There are a lot of major road works in Northern Ontario. However, they are not adding wider paved shoulders. Both Ralf and I were ashamed of the infrastructure in Northern Ontario, this is supposed to be the Trans Canada Highway not a rural road.

The distance between Towns and cities are great – Northern Ontarians often drive two hours to get their groceries from a major centre like Kenora, Dryden etc. Most of the Towns and Cities are one-industry towns and mining towns which fly their staff in and out as needed. Consequently a lot of the Towns are dying.

Northern Ontario was also one of the dirtiest areas in Canada, a lot of graffiti on beautiful rock outcroppings, garbage in the gutters and roadside. Although the North has very beautiful scenery, it is a desolate place to live, harsh winters and short summers.

Bud and Coors are the discerning drunk drivers drink of choice.

Southern Ontario

Normally I would not split Provinces/States into north and south or east and west but Ontario is so big and the north is very different from the south. The southern Ontario is more diverse with farming, industry, retail and towns and cities that are much closer together. We were surprised at the friendliness of the people both in the north and the south. We were expecting southern Ontario not to be as friendly, but were really pleased at the openness and generosity of the people. We were invited to stay with people we had just met more in southern Ontario than anywhere else in Canada. We stayed with friends, warmshowers and a couple of motels which made it very economical.

Quebec

Cycling in Quebec was everything we had hoped it to be, based on what other cyclists had told us throughout our travels. Quebec has a series of cycle routes called the Route Verte – Green Route. They are well signed and take you on quiet country roads, crushed gravel rail trails, and paved trails. The country roads can get busy. However, we saw one sign that said “If you are in a hurry, take the Highway” Love it.

The cities, of course, are busy with traffic, and we had to be careful, but we found the car drivers to be very considerate. The roads in Montreal were appalling, one pothole after another. Ralf at one point said to me “No need to point out the holes, point out the good sections of road”

While cycling through Quebec it felt as if we were back in Europe. We only had one instance of rudeness from a Quebecoir, and he was a police officer. Ralf asked politely in French, if he spoke English and he responded in French “That this is Quebec and we speak French here”. Then switched to English to answer Ralf’s request of how to get through the road blocks to the ferry terminal. He made us go the long-way around, even though we could have easily allowed us to slip through the road-block.

The campsites were mainly for trailers and campers, although they did have a few spots for tents. They were reasonably priced and people were friendly and chatted to us about our trip.

There were also more hostels in Quebec than in any other province, Montreal, Quebec city, Riviere du Loup, Rimouski etc.

One of the things we did notice about Quebec is that it was the cleanest of Provinces. Not much garbage in the ditches and we hardly saw evidence of any drink-driving, there were more plastic water bottles than beer bottles.

New Brunswick

We only spent a few days in New Brunswick but we both really enjoyed the time there. The scenery was nice other than the major city of Edmundston which was a big industrial pulp and paper mill city. The people were really friendly. At our first stop in Edmundston, we were checking the map and within a couple of minutes a couple asked if we needed directions. The same thing happened almost every time we stopped to check the map.

The roads we took through New Brunswick were rural roads, and often paralleled the Highway. New Brunswick is hilly but very nice, the car drivers gave us plenty of room. New Brunswick is hoping to emulate Quebec with cycling routes, although they are calling their routes the “Blue Route”. I hope they succeed in building a sustainable cycling infrastructure through New Brunswick, it is a really nice province to cycle through.

In the rural areas New Brunswick is very poor. There were a lot of run-down farmhouses and little in the way of employment. There used to be a large forestry industry and like many other areas that relied on natural resources it appears to be struggling.

The campsite we stayed at was quite expensive, but it did have a covered gazebo on most tent sites. I really liked New Brunswick, especially Fredericton.

Prince Edward Island (PEI)

PEI is famous for its Anne of Green Gables stories. For Canadians, it is also the province where confederation was signed.

Surprisingly PEI is quite hilly, although we did cycle on the rail trail which was fairly flat. The rails were taken up in PEI in the mid 1980’s and the rail trail network was implemented fairly shortly after. The advantage of the rail trail is it keeps you of the roads, it is well signed and when you come close to a Town there are signs that direct you in to the Town and where to find services – lunch etc. The rail trail was well maintained, we passed several work crews cutting the hedges and this was at the end of the tourist season.

We only spent two days on PEI, one day at a campsite, which was reasonably priced (even the cabin) was reasonable and two nights in Charlottetown at the Hostel, which was also reasonably priced. Hotels in PEI are quite expensive, due to it being a very touristy place.

Farming and tourism are the two main industries on PEI.

Unfortunately like many other provinces the road side was littered with garbage.

We didn’t get chance to speak to Islanders, we chatted to other tourists at the hostel and we didn’t need directions when we were in Charlottetown or on the road.

Nova Scotia

Again we only spent a few days in Nova Scotia. It was hilly and the weather was very changeable. According to our friends, it is often windy in Nova Scotia. The major TransCanada Highway had little to no shoulder, but there were some back roads that we could take that kept us away from the TCH and the traffic. Unfortunately, for the average cyclist these are not well advertised, we found them by accident. We came off the TCH at one point and found this wonderful parallel cycle route (the Blue Route).

The weather turned really nasty after we had got to Dartmouth with the tail-end of a hurricane coming through the area. Again our friends told us this was not uncommon.

Nova Scotia seemed to be one of the poorer maritime provinces. Houses that were run-down were more common than the nicely maintained properties that we had seen in PEI.

Unfortunately again Nova Scotia also had a lot of garbage in the ditches. Beer of choice for the drunk driver was Molsons.

Due to another impending hurricane we cut short our cycling in Nova Scotia and headed back to Barrie by train.

We enjoyed the challenge of cycling across this great country. The diversity from Province to Province was amazing – mountains to prairies to the Canadian Shield, lakes and trees. It is a beautiful country and we finished the Adventure with a great train ride back to Ontario.

If we were going to move to a different Province we would probably move to Vancouver Island (Sydney), the cycling was varied – hills and flats, the weather is milder and access to Vancouver is relatively easy for flights.  Second choice for me would be Fredricton New Brunswick, although the winters can be bad.  We will be staying in Barrie for the foreseeable future, we have friends and it is a nice area, varied cycling and weather.

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