blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 9: in Rat Portage Bay

Kenora, with waterfront pavilion
The native people call this neck of the woods "the place where there are rats" (i.e. muskrats) and the early explorers and settlers from Britain therefore called it Rat Portage which didn't look too good on the bags of flour milled in the settlement; they changed the name to Kenora. Chris and I are spending two nights and a day here before flying on again tomorrow (we haven't quite determined in which direction).

The Wednesday market inside the pavilion

Gold mining diorama
Anyhow, we found a good restaurant for our evening meals, Dino's, serving Greek dishes, and lived on snacks for the rest of the day. We kept walking up and downhill into town and back, which took about 15 minutes each way, and I swam for a while in the outdoor pool at the hotel, so we must have had plenty of exercise, though most of the day we seem to have spent just sitting, watching the world go by. Most of the Kenora world was at the Farmers Market within the lakeside pavilion this morning, because it's a Wednesday. Shoppers were buying soaps, potted jams, elk jerky, fruit and veg and gluten free scones. Hand crafted gifts and paintings by local artists were on sale too. On other occasions I presume they have concerts in the pavilion which boasts a stage at one end. We looked round the Lake Of The Woods museum too, where there was a birchbark canoe on display, as well as old wedding dresses and skates and household equipment, photos of the boating parties a hundred years ago and a diorama of a scene from a gold mine.

Later, taking an afternoon cruise on the MS Kenora, we learned from the commentator that there were 20 gold mines near here at one time, all their waste dumped in this bay. He pointed out Huskie the Muskie, the giant fish sculpture in the lakeside car park, and the hospital on Coney Island to which everyone had to be rowed, originally. This institution was founded by the Grey Nuns of Manitoba. He mentioned a tug boat that hauled logs into Safety Bay near the mouth of the Winnipeg river and the 4 billion year old granite rocks on the shore.

As we sailed along in the sunshine we saw eagles soaring overhead, that had nests in the pine trees. Since the 1900s this lake has been a "playground for cottagers" --- in 1903 Princess Patricia had a yacht club built on one of the islands, with four tennis courts. On other islands lived the people of the first nations; a totem pole used to stand on the Isle of Pine, but it has gone. Another island or two used to belong to the churches who would organise youth camps on them, the materials for the buildings being hauled across by truck during the winter when the lake turned to ice. We turned back towards town and sailed through Devil's Gap narrows with the wind in our faces and sun on our backs, the ship's snack bar offering the passengers walleye burgers, the day's special, or poutine.

At the end of today, which happens to be our wedding anniversary, we set up a successful Skype link on Chris' iPad, and managed to talk to our Australian-Chinese grandson having his breakfast in Sydney and naming things--and us!--in Chinese.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 8: via a Little Town On The Prairie to the Lake Of The Woods

River valley in Saskatchewan
We witnessed an incident during our breakfast on 11th Street in Regina when a young aboriginal man walked in and started to help himself to the buffet. The house manager intervened, saying he was calling the police, but the miscreant was so hungry he wouldn't budge, telling everyone it was his country too, and that he'd had a terrible day yesterday as well as a terrible night, which I'm sure was true. Chris and I felt sorry for him and offered to pay for his meal; when the youth shuffled off with a pile of toast and coffee in a polystyrene mug, the hotel manager didn't charge it to our room, just shrugged his shoulders and told us this happens all the time. It's sad that the city centres in the midwest of Canada seem to belong to these dropout natives who give their compatriots such a bad reputation. Probably this is why regeneration of the downtown is not easy. I don't think that turning the elegant old CN train station into a Casino can help much, either.

It was perfect flying weather today, cooler at altitude than on the ground, with small cumulus, though this did begin to grow into towering cumuli over some river valleys with steep sides and flooded oxbow lakes. Then the clouds thinned out again.

Erickson: the road to the airport (PTN on the left)

The Viking ship at Erickson
We've had enough of flying west so have turned eastward and this morning's two hours in the air took us back into Manitoba, to an utterly peaceful little town or village called Erickson (settled by Vikings, to judge by the road signs) situated half way between Brandon and Dauphin, in the rolling fields. The runway cut through the middle of a hayfield. The airport building was a hut with lilies in bloom by the doorsteps, that was originally used as a one room schoolhouse, one of the last such schoolhouses to be built in all of Canada. Erickson's other claim to fame is that it's the highest town in Manitoba, at over 2000ft asl. We were greeted by a gentlemanly, softly spoken, distinctly Scandinavian looking person, and when we walked into town for lunch came across some others of his kind. The blonde waitress at the Nordic Inn greeted an elderly customer as Miss Something, asking her politely how she was. I'd lay a bet that she was once the schoolmistress in the one room hut. In the park by Otter Lake was a carved Viking ship with flowers round its prow and a sign by a disused railway track with the rails gone to say this is now part of the Trans-Canada Trail.

Leaving Erickson
Edge of Lake Manitoba
Red River, north of Winnipeg
I can imagine living here. I wouldn't mind it. We took off rather regretfully, having paid for our fuel by cheque, since there were no card readers, opening our flight plan to Kenora, just over the next provincial border in Ontario. This was another pleasing flight in fine weather all the way for two more hours, although we did see rain showers near our destination. One section was out across Lake Manitoba, crossing about 26NM of open water, a further distance than across the English Channel, we realised. But we were never more than 10 miles from the southernmost shore where the marshland is. We had a fine view of the (brown) Red River winding north of Winnipeg, too. Soon after that we were saying farewell to the prairies on the western edge of the forests. Kenora is surrounded by multitudinous lakes.

The last of the Prairie fields, near the Ontario border
Another crosswind landing!

Lake of the Woods on our approach to Kenora
Kenora airport is a long way outside town; the Shell office ordered a taxi for us to the Travelodge (motel) and the driver was a long haired native man with a large feather on the dashboard who was older and wiser than the young man stealing toast. This one spoke of the mistakes people had made when they tried to tame the flooded rivers with canals and dykes. When he was a child, he said, they'd let nature run her course and the flooded grasslands had quickly absorbed all the excess water with no harm done. If you leave nature alone, she balances things out in time. I told him I absolutely agree with that.

We walked to the main part of Kenora for an excellent Greek supper and sat on a bench by the lakeside boardwalk. Tomorrow we're staying on the ground for a rest.

Chris went to a lot of trouble to get the Internet connection working so that I could publish this post from the Travelodge. Thanks, Chris!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 7: another province, another time zone

We're flagging, so I ought to make this short! Chris fell asleep on the hotel bed just now, while I was nearly asleep in the bath. It's only 8:25pm, but that's the same as 10:25 Ontario time, so no wonder. We're in Regina, capital of Saskatchewan.

This morning, because the little cumulus clouds in the blue sky were so benign, we filed a VFR flight plan from CYBR to CYQR direct. Once again, we followed the flooded Assiniboine river that has lost its multiple meanders and turned into a line of muddy lakes. The canola fields, flax fields and grazing land are pitted with little ponds that remind me of the Australian billabongs. The white roads are long and straight. The fields aren't as vast as we'd expected from what we read long ago in our school geography books about Canada (perhaps those lie further south or west), but I did spot some archetypal silos (grain elevators) by railway tracks.

Prairie town with grain silos

It took us two hours to fly between Brandon and Regina, climbing for a while to 6500ft to give ourselves a respite from the thermals. Again, I'm glad we didn't have to drive a car all that way. On the radio we heard a couple of pilots in conversation who were overflying pipelines to check for damage, only 400ft above ground level.

Regina, over the city
Once in radio contact with Regina, we realised that one overworked air traffic controller was acting as ground control (taxiways) and tower control (active runways) combined, with many flights coming in. There was no "terminal" control (arrivals and departures in the airspace further out) so he was doing that too. He kept his cool and did a good job!

On the final approach to Regina, looking further west
This time, the landing wasn't scary. We came down onto runway 13 and taxied to the Shell Aerocentre where a marshaller gave us the thumbs-in signal meaning the chocks are in. After lunch in the passenger terminal, a taxi took us to the Holiday Inn Express in Regina's downtown core that we have spent the afternoon and evening exploring, finding a pedestrian area, Cornwall Street, the central park, Victoria Park, various monuments and glassy modern architecture, as well as the more ubiquitous turn of the 20th century buildings erected at the height of the wheat boom. People weren't gluten free in those days. We also found Chris a new pair of shoes in Regina's branch of The Running Room, to replace the ones he's worn out. Wearing the new shoes, he accompanied me to the big lakeside park--very pleasant--near Regina's Legislative building (under scaffolding) and university. People were rowing and canoeing, or riding on a river bus. On the bank, families of many different ethnic backgrounds were walking along, stepping round the geese.

Sculpture near our hotel, Regina

A sculpture paying tribute to immigrants

Riverside park in Regina
We walked back to the downtown on Broad Street. Supper was good tonight, at a popular, "authentic Thai" restaurant called Siam.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 6: reaching the prairies

Indoor view from our hotel room in Brandon
We are out of Ontario, finally, and on the prairies now, at Brandon, Manitoba, spending the night at the Victoria Inn where there's an indoor swimming pool for families right outside our sliding glass doors. When I ticked the box for a poolside room, I didn't realise what that meant. We don't have any other windows, so no view of the sky tomorrow morning.

Morning at the hotel in Fort Frances

Rainy Lake on a windy morning

Sandbags in Fort Frances, by the Rainy River
This morning was quite different, with a view of the stormy lake at 6:30am, waves breaking on the shore a few metres away. We heard the waves, and the rain coming down on Rainy Lake, last night. After breakfast in another lakeside room we used our borrowed van to drive a few km along Highway 11 as far as the causeway and long bridges, finding a harbour where a float plane was loading barrels, a typical northwoods scene! Back in town (Fort Frances) we had another walk beside Rainy River near the spot where they held the International Bass Fishing Championship "with big money prizes" this weekend. The riverside road was sandbagged. Everyone we speak to mentions the recent flooding which is also the talk of the town in Winnipeg and Brandon.

Climbing out from Fort Frances
Our first flight today was from Fort Frances to Winnipeg. (Chris dictating ... "We needed to get our flight clearance from Minneapolis Centre but couldn't contact them on the ground. Cloud base appeared to be about 2500' so we took off VFR and got our clearance in the air. We were in or above cloud all the way until very close to Winnipeg. For about 80 miles in the middle of the journey we were not on radar at all. At Winnipeg, runway 36 is closed for repair and so, although the wind was from 020 at 15 gusting 20 knots, we and all othe traffic had to use rwy 31.") I'm glad it wasn't I who had to do that landing; in fact with my eyes closed for some of it I didn't give it the attention it deserved ...but did see how he landed on the right hand wheel on the centre line. "I unnecessarily flew the ILS to minimums, 200ft," he adds proudly.

Approaching Winnipeg airport
We had an interesting lunch break at Winnipeg, welcomed by a nice young man from the Shell FBO, very assiduous in looking after us, giving us a gift bag of wipes and a good quality pen when we left. It was a posh facility that doubled as the waiting room for occasional flights to Nunavut. The nice young man advised us to get something to eat at an outlet of Chicken Delight in the next door terminal, a sort of bus station for passengers flying to the First Nations reserves. It was very crowded with not very happy looking people. The airline is called Perimeter Aviation and its slogan says: We Put First Nations First. There were notices on the wall saying that passengers travelling to DRY communities would be severely punished for smuggling in liquor or drugs. The chicken delights were rather slow in coming and we carried them in paper bags back to the FBO to eat there.

Strange landscape at the southern end of Lake Manitoba

Canal emptying into Lake Manitoba
From an aeronautical point of view the flight from Winnipeg to Brandon was uneventful: at 6000' we were in and out of cloud until we descended for Brandon. Flying IFR we had to go via a waypoint called UDE on the V304 airway, so from an observational point of view this made a wonderful detour: after the colourful patchwork of flat fields, yellow, green and blue, we saw the wonderfully patterned marshland on the edge of Lake Manitoba and the flooded rivers and canals emptying into it.

Brandon and the floods
The Assiniboine River is particularly flooded.

Road in Manitoba
A grey-haired couple in a Cessna 150 approached the field at the same time as we did; we let them fly the circuit ahead of us, and both planes used the gravel strip, runway 32, rather than the wide, paved one, runway 26. Brandon Flying Club has premises rather like Rockcliffe's. We made a Facetime call to Mum from the pilots' lounge then ordered a taxi to the hotel, thinking it would be downtown, but it happened to be on the far side of Brandon, on Victoria Avenue where it crosses 34th Street. The north-south streets are mostly numbered, as we noticed when walking into town for our supper, as far as 10th Street where the Downtown Hub is, that the Brandon city councillors are desperately trying to regenerate. They've done well with the street landscaping and the flowers, adding an inevitable skateboard rink, but they need to have some places for people to live and shop in, at the Hub, otherwise everyone will disappear back to the leafy streets around the university, where it doesn't look so derelict and deserted.

Arrival at Brandon airport

Downtown Brandon

The Brandon skateboard rink

Day 5: Rainy Lake

The fog behind us
The thunder we'd have met west of Thunder Bay reached us in the night and left us with a foggy morning: "300ft broken, 1500 ft overcast". However, visibility on the hill above town where the airport is was enough to get us airborne after lunch, when the larger clouds were gone. We heard a warning over the airwaves later that they were towering to 43,000 ft at the eastern end of Lake Superior.

Before we'd reached 2500 ft on our way up to 6000, we broke through the fog layer, and above and beyond it was a perfect summer's day. ATC turned us left heading 350 and then asked, "Do you want to fly the airway or go direct?"

"We request direct!"

View of Rainy Lake as we approached Fort Frances
"Stand by, I'll see what I can arrange. ... PTN is cleared direct to Fort Frances."

This took us over gloriously wild, mostly flat scenery full of oxbow rivers, muskeg and unspoilt lakes. We zipped along at what Chris ironically calls the nosebleed rate of 87 knots (not very fast for an aircraft, about 100 mph), through or under the small cumulus clouds, sometimes rocked by gusts of wind, sometimes in smooth air.

Winnipeg Centre handed us over to Minneapolis Centre. We could see the extent of Rainy Lake from a far distance, and as we came closer, the myriad islands and the twin towns of Fort Frances and International Falls that lie on the Ontario / Minnesota border. When we landed ahead of a family of 6 from Colorado in a Commanche, we had gained an hour. The gentleman who was Unicom and fuel attendant and airport manager combined has lent us his van until tomorrow, so that we could drive ourselves to tonight's lodging, La Place Rendez-vous, a resort on the lakeshore. And for an extra $10 I had booked a lakeside room--well worthwhile. Chris is sitting outside the room in an Andirondack chair watching the sky colour over the lake as I write this and the sun sets.

Mill, Fort Frances

Fort Frances Post Office

Swimming in Rainy Lake
We took the van into town for supper (steaks) and peered over the river to the American side where a cumulonimbus cloud was rapidly growing. The gust front caught us scuttling back to the main street, but didn't wet us too much. This evening I got myself wet all over swimming in the lovely Lake from the beach beside the hotel. We were the only people there.

Chris at the Place Rendezvous, outside our room

View from our hotel room

Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 4: a short one

Climbing out from Marathon
Today we only flew for one and a half hours but it counts as quality time.

The same taxi driver from Bob's Taxis drove us up to the airport on a beautiful clear morning while Chris explained to her what the VOR was, on the hilltop. Take off time was 9:45. Making a right hand turn out over the town, we saw last night's walk, although not the thick patches of vetch, clover, marguerites, buttercups and evening primroses by the roadsides from this height. Most of the way to Thunder Bay we were off shore, following the line of islands. 4500ft over Terrace Bay we clearly saw the crossed out (disused) runways as well as the large pulp mill there belching out a plume of smoke that drifted for miles downwind.

Terrace Bay, with the disused airport behind the smoke
Over the dappled islands
Heading out across the islands

The irregularly shaped islands were dappled with cloud shadows ... mention of this sparked a conversation later, on the pier at Thunder Bay, about the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins ("Glory be to God for dappled things ...") ...and Chris was noticing the white rocks edging the islands and the hills rising beyond them. There were hills, cliffs, chasms and small lakes on the islands themselves, no sign of human intervention other than the highway in he distance snaking along.

Beneath us the water looked transparent at first then multicoloured--green, grey, brown, creamy--where it had been stirred by currents. As we rounded the northwestern corner of the lake I thought of young Terry Fox making his incredible, painful way here from the east of Canada on his one leg and then collapsing and dying before he could cover the remaining half of Canada. There's a memorial to him in Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay waterfront, from over the lake
On the radio we were in touch with Thunder Bay terminal who informed incoming pilots that the glide slope was inoperable; it didn't affect us and came back into service after a while. Winds at the airport were light and variable. First we thought runway 25 would be the one to approach, but then that changed to 07. We were kept on a long downwind leg while a Dash 8 and Bearskin aircraft landed ahead of us. For practice or fun, Chris flew the ILS approach to 200ft above ground, unnecessary since we'd been seeing the runway quite clearly from a distance of 35 miles away.

Escarpment beyond Thunder Bay

Posing with life jacket at Thunder Bay
At the Prince Arthur hotel
Long discussion on whether to risk continuing west into a band of "weather" or not. In the end we cautiously decided not to take the risk of running into possible storms or being stranded in Kenora or Dryden, and so booked a room at the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel (where we have stayed once before) and spent a cool, grey, peaceful afternoon downtown by the marina with the grebes, seagulls and boys with their scooters and skateboards to entertain us. It has been raining here, but not alarmingly. Maybe we could have continued westwards after all.

Family of grebes, Thunder Bay