We crossed into Manitoba on Sunday, June 20th. Janice was a little sad along the way, this being her first Father’s Day without her dad, Bill, who died in November. We crossed the border at the International Peace Garden and then drove on to Turtle Mountain Provincial Park and Adam Lake. It was sunny and hot so we swam in the lake and I threw a football around with a twelve-year-old for a while. There was a family from Colombia at the lake so Janice got to practice a little Spanish. The campfire that night was punctuated with a lot of bug slapping.
Photo: We entered Manitoba from North Dakota, driving north. Later we exited, driving east to Ontario.
For anyone that’s contemplating a visit to Manitoba in June, run the other way! We used to get our fair share of mosquitoes where we lived at East Barriere Lake – so much so that we were constantly amused by visiting city folks’ persistent, frenzied swatting at the slightest hint of anything moving in their personal spaces. There were a lot of mosquitoes at East Barriere Lake in June too and we got hours of cheap entertainment laughing at our friends madly scrabbling at their various body parts, slapping themselves silly, mostly at nothing but phantom bugs. We, on the other hand, were beyond the phantom bug phase. Like most other locals, we would calmly, but with deadly accuracy, execute the occasional mosquito that dared to land on us. We joked that it was extremely thoughtful of our city friends, offering up their rarified blood for the bugs to feed on. Youngsters were really good, but fresh, new baby flesh was best to take the heat off the rest of us.
I’m paying for it all now in Manitoba. There is such a thing as bug karma – it’s real. All the dancing and flailing I’ve been doing for the last few days only serves to further keen the little blood suckers’ interest. It seems these Manitoba bugs like old, male, flesh best. Janice sits idly by and watches as I furiously try to outmaneuver the relentless little heat seeking vampires.
Driving north to the town of Souris, we thought we might spend the night, but it was raining so we had lunch, checked out the peacocks that freely roam everywhere, and rode our bikes across the five-hundred-and-eighty-five-foot suspension bridge, which claims to be the longest in Canada. It’s certainly not the highest.
Photo: Janice at Canada’s longest suspension bridge at Souris, Manitoba.
We drove on to Brandon but didn’t like the campsite there, and so kept going to Minnedosa, the home of the Manitobans we had met at Minot, North Dakota. They had recommended it as a nice place to hang out for a few days, and they were right. The campsite at Minnedosa was ideal, right on Lake Minnedosa, just a short bike ride over the dam that holds back the Minnedosa River. The town itself is very quaint and the locals claim that it has an exceptionally nice golf course. We never found the time.
Photo: Our campsite at Lake Minnedosa.
We were on the cusp of a time zone and, being June 21, it stayed light until almost 11:00 pm. Some young people were skiing, wakeboarding, drinking and making lots of noise until 10:45. The Mounties almost busted them but the kids pulled a fast one and eluded trouble, this time.
As soon as the sun went down the mosquitoes came out, so we retreated inside and watched local news on the one station we could pick up on the antennae. Checking our emails, we discovered that an old friend of ours from North Vancouver, Danny (The Mayor) Carslen, died today.
In the morning we walked to, and around, downtown Minnedosa, population 2500. The downtown has a nice feel to it. It’s old and has a few grand pieces of architecture. We had a coffee at one of several outdoor cafes before returning to camp through the beautiful and historic riverside village that has been turned into a kind of living museum.
Back at the trailer I did some blogging while Janice prepared a picnic lunch before we hit the road, headed north to Riding Mountain National Park. There we took a walk part way around the startlingly clear, spring-fed Clear Lake. Later, at the bike rental outlet, near the park headquarters at Wassagaming, the owner agreed to fix my bike. The bearings in one of the wheels had given and he was going to them.
Photo: Janice tests the water at Clear Lake at Riding Mountain.
We had considered camping at the park but, after going for a short driving tour to another little lake, it became obvious that a storm was brewing. The radio stations were broadcasting severe thunderstorm warnings so we drove back into Wassagaming and parked where we had a good view of the lake. Janice prepped dinner as we waited both for the storm to subside and for my bike to be ready.
After picking up the bike we drove north to Dauphin where I finally got some bug relief. The municipal par, where we thought we’d have dinner, was so overrun by huge clouds of mosquitoes that I convinced Janice to stay the night at a Walmart parking lot instead. I went into the Walmart to inquire if it was OK to overnight there. The first guy I asked, not needing to find the manager, said, “Yup, no problem.” As advertised, the people of Manitoba are very warm and friendly.
Photo: The unit parked at our first overnight Walmart.
We placed our lawn chairs on the view side of the trailer and enjoyed a little red wine, bug free, as the sun went down. I did some writing while Janice did her nails and studied Spanish.
My new debit card wasn’t working so we had to stop at a bank in Dauphin before driving out to Rainbow Beach Provincial Park at Dauphin Lake. We managed to have a picnic there, barely, while, again, fighting off droves of mosquitoes. By this time the bugs were actually starting to drive me a little buggy, no, frantic. I’ve started to desire nothing more than just to get the hell out of Manitoba altogether. We were due in Swan River to see our friends, Lynda and Guy, though, so I submitted, for Janice’s sake, to toughing it out. That, plus the fact that I know they live in town, where there just might be some mosquito relief.
A couple of hours later I was helping Guy hoist some insulation into the attic of their place at Swan River while Janice and Lynda went for supplies. Guy grew up on a farm near Swan River and he still owns part of that property so this house was a fixer-upper-money-maker. They’ve done a great renovation on it and hopefully it’ll move quickly.
Photo: Lynda and Janice prepare to ride their bikes into town for some essentials, (wine).
The back yard campfire went until late that night, and the next day Guy drove us north towards Dawson Bay. There were large wildfires burning further north so the air got smokier the further north we got. We stopped in several little, mostly abandoned towns, where, when we exited the vehicle, there were so many mosquitoes, horse and dragon flies that there was actually a constant, incessant hum. When I looked around I felt as though I was inside some kind of crowded bug aquarium. It’s a different world, this boreal forest, magical in its own way.
We stopped and had lunch on the wharf at Dawson Bay, on Lake Winnipegosis, north of the fifty-third parallel, where the wind managed to drive most of the bugs away. The commercial fishing boats there are forty-foot, steel-hulled affairs that appear quite different to the ones we’re used to on the left coast. They’re meant to handle the shallow but very choppy waters of the lake, which, incredibly, especially considering its enormous size, only reaches a depth of twenty-five feet.
Photo: Guy and Lynda with fishing boats at Dawson Bay.
We drove as far as Overflowing River and then turned back south, stopping in at the very cool little Bosman Pub, truly an oasis in an otherwise drab little, half-vacant town. Bosman is just a few miles north of Swan River, and Lynda had flipped another house there the year previous.
Photo: Janice and Lynda at the Bosman Pub.
For dinner we had our first eve pickerel and it absolutely lived up to its billing as the best-tasting fresh water white fish there is. Later we had another campfire but, as any long-term RVer should get used to, it was tempered by the fact that our brother-in-law, Grant, called to say that one of the office air conditioners was toast. We told him to go ahead and replace it. We’ll chalk it up as one of those unexpected costs that will have to go into the contingency budget.
The next day, after I walked to the post office to pick up a little herb that I’d mailed to myself before Guy took us on a tour of the Swan River area. There were a couple of eye openers that stuck with me from that tour. The first was that all of the immense farms, no matter what they’re growing, are sprayed with crop-specific Round-up – throughout the entire province! The other was an acquaintance of Guy’s family whom we stopped to talk with. He has a thousand head of meat horses that he ships to Japan on a 747 which is dedicated to nothing else but the shipment of these horses. The Japanese pay roughly $4,000 per horse!
We drove to Guy’s farm where we lunched on sandwiches that Janice had packed earlier. Later, back at the house, Lynda and Guy indulged in a nap while Janice and I rode our bikes around Swan River before I busied myself installing Sirius Satellite Radio in the truck. We would strongly advise that you do not leave home without satellite radio because, when you’re able to tune in the local stations, they’re likely to drive you crazy with all the commercials and, for us, the country music.
Photo: Janice, Lynda and Guy at the farm outside of town. Guy rents the pasture there for hay.
Photo: Barns on the property adjoining Guy’s place.
Lynda cooked an unforgettable bison roast for dinner and then we retired to the campfire where we were entertained by a wild lightning show before the bugs eventually drove us inside.
Today is Saturday, June 26. As I write this I’m with Janice in the public library in Swan River – me blogging and Janice emailing. We’re going to Guy’s uncle’s 80th birthday Jamboree at a farm outside Swan River this afternoon and then to the Bosman Pub where some Metis cousins have a trio, fronted by a fiddle. We’re taking our campers to the parking lot so we can jig the night away. Guy plays fiddle and banjo and will likely be doing some jamming. We had a great time partying with some of the genuine local characters.
Photo: Guy jams with his cousin at the Bosman Pub.
In the morning we drove back to the house where Janice and I showered up and got ready to depart. Lynda and Guy are great hosts. We had a lot of laughs and got a genuine taste for the region because Guy was a botanist and Conservation Officer in a former life. It was revealing to see the region where he was born and raised as viewed through his eyes. If we hadn’t had Lynda and Guy to direct our attention toward the finer points of living on the prairie, I’m pretty sure we would have high-tailed it out of Manitoba due to the record-setting bug season.
It had rained heavily overnight and was still coming down in sheets as we hit the road. We decided to take a different route south, driving first east towards Camperville on Lake Winnipegosis. The heavy rain turned the trip dark, dangerous and lonely. There are very few vehicles on these northern roads and the land is so flat that there is nowhere for the water to run off. It fills the ditches to road level so that we were hydroplaning a good deal of the time. Again, Janice wanted to stop but I couldn’t see any percentage in staying where it looked like it could be truly flooded in no time.
Finally the rain eased off and we made it to Camperville where we had planned to lunch and maybe even overnight. It sounded like a good place to camp but turned out to be a tiny hamlet at the center of an Indian reservation. We thought we’d get out and stretch our legs but were immediately swarmed by mosquitoes, so much so that we were literally covered with them within seconds of exiting the vehicle. Swatting and flailing, we retreated to the truck. To our amazement the native kids we came across a block later seemed completely unaware of, or at least unperturbed by, the droves of mosquitoes. We continued south to the town of Winnipegosis where we took refuge in a small café for lunch.
We drank in a touch of local colour and then drove south through Dauphin and on to Wassagaming at Riding Mountain National Park, where the guy who’d fixed my bike had forgotten to re-attach the kick stand. We picked it up and then drove further south, back to Minnedosa, where we knew we liked the campsite. We had a fire that night and, much to our relief, the bugs weren’t nearly as ferocious as they were further north.
The next morning we awoke to sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, and toured Minnedosa again by bike, having coffee with some locals at another sidewalk café. After doing a little Skyping and blogging, we pulled up camp, headed east, but only got about forty kilometers up the road when we saw an RV park that we liked the look of. It was on the outskirts of Neepawa, where Margaret Laurence lived and worked. We biked around the town and then played Jacks, yes Jacks, back at the trailer. At one time I used to be good at Jacks, though not so much anymore. Later we talked to some friends by telephone and then had a campfire.
The next day we drove to Portage La Prairie where we enjoyed a round of golf at Island Park, camping along with one other unit. Island Park is a beautiful facility in the middle of town with an equestrian centre, walking and cycling paths, and a surprisingly good golf course. Our favourite area of Manitoba comprises the towns of Minnedosa, Neepawa and Portage La Prairie.
It was windy with high clouds in the morning. I washed the truck and trailer while Janice did laundry and then we hit the road for Winnipeg. We found a pleasant but slightly noisy RV park at the edge of the city. After setting up we drove into the city to find a bikeshop to fix my bike properly. I had the same problem with the bike that I’d had before I got it fixed so I decided to have the wheel replaced, under warranty.
We inquired of the bike shop people about the best place to eat nearby and were pointed a block down the road to an Italian place that had been serving the best pizza in town for the past fifty years. After lunch we toured downtown Winnipeg and then returned to camp where we walked around the campgrounds, had a fire and went to bed early.
The next day we were on the road first thing, destination, Kenora, Ontario…