This land is my land, or how do you make a Nippising?

There is a serious crisis in the maintenance of public washroom hand dryers in Northern Ontario.

That’s one of the small conclusions I made on the first leg of our trip to British Columbia: Too many broken promises of hygienically dried hands, which are often the sole hope in restrooms that make me thank the Great God of Y Chromosomes that I’m not a woman.

But those aren’t the conclusions I seek on this trip, travelling across the country by car with Deb, my eldest daughter Emily and our youngest, Abby. I don’t want glib insights or pithy observations but true, deep, profound, cross-Canada truths.

Like this one: Canada is big. Really, really big. Ridiculously, unimaginably big. “I can’t believe we’ve spent three days in a car and we’re only at Thunder Bay” big

“Are we West yet?” Abby asked when there were still hours and hours of Ontario to get through. “No,” I felt like saying, “because someone put these stupid lakes in the middle of the country. Great Lakes? More like Great Big Pain in the Butt.”

“Oh, Ontario,” people warned us. “It never ends,” as if it weren’t so much a province as a penance. “Just rocks and trees and more rocks and more trees.”

But I liked it. And not just the rocks and trees and the place names that were like setups waiting for a punchline. (“How do you get to Petawawa?” “Ask nicely.”) I liked the unfathomable vastness of it, knowing that, relatively speaking, we were travelling just a small portion of the country. And it made me wonder: How can anyone claim to know this country? Better yet, how could anyone claim this country, period.

I imagine Cartier, Champlain and the other explorers claiming this land, as sparsely populated then as the wilderness we were driving through. They claimed it. Just like that. “I claim this land.” A-a-a-a-ll of this, we now call ours. Sorry, First Nations peoples, with your hilarious place names. This was the time of empires dancing, and it took a lot of imperial balls, if you will, to make such a claim. But these claims became property and property became society, which begat government and eventually what the citizens occupying that land called Canada.

But who can claim to really know it

Musicians, I thought. Professional musicians could know it, travelling from bar to bar, town to town, drinking in the landscape and getting to know the people and their insatiable desire to hear “Taking Care of Business.” Blue Rodeo for Prime Minister, I say!

And sure enough, overlooking Lake Superior, on the window of a gas station in Marathon (hand-dryer status: critical), a poster for an upcoming concert by Fred Eaglesmith. Fred Eaglesmith for Governor-General, I say!

Terry Fox probably knew this country, the parts he managed to cover, at least. Pulling off at his memorial outside Thunder Bay, where his run for cancer research ended, I imagined him running the route I had just travelled, day after day, in the spring, trucks whizzing by him on those winding hills. His story has always moved me in ways I can’t quite explain and now even more so, having witnessed the torturous route he travelled. Marathon of Hope? Marathon of Madness. And I complain about a cramped tush after six hours of driving…

All along this route there are small piles of stones purposely piled on outcrops of rocks and edges of waterfalls, inukshuks, little stone men that say, “I am here. This is my claim.”

Did that go through Terry Fox’s head as he ran-hopped through this wilderness, like the explorers of centuries ago? “I am here. I am here. This is my claim. I am here.”

Later at Kakabeka Falls (honestly!), I stood on a small rock and declared, “I claim this land in the name of me!” Why not, right? This land is my land. First order of business: fix the damned hand dryers


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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36 Responses to This land is my land, or how do you make a Nippising?

  1. Ross: enjoy Ont., cause once you hit our prairies you gonna miss all the lakes & trees; all you gonna see is “Weet-a-Bix” and more “Weet-a-Bix”! Comedians (along with music acts) also travel this land from gig to gig, and we “have to listen” to the locals tell us jokes that we heard back when PET was PM!! Okay, Mulroney! How’d ya like the bustling town of “Swastika”?or “Ka-puss-ka-pussy-kissing”? No,no, make that “Kapuskasing”!!! When ya get close to Moose Jaw, don’t ever ask the gas station cats the question: “where is Moose Jaw”? Their answer: “about 10 ft. from the moose’s arse, eh”? And, you better laff heartily at this, eh? PS: Attention pour les Nazis dans Red Deer aussi! Good luck/bonne chance!!

  2. catsworld1 says:

    First, a sarcastic answer to your question: find a song it knows.

    Seriously now, I used to work in the trucking industry and once had a driver describe the Toronto to Vancouver run to me this way: miles and miles of rocks, trees and water followed by miles and miles of flatland, followed by more miles of rocks, trees and water.

    This is a wonderful country and I envy you your trip.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Seven months later, I’m replying to your comment. No, the trip wasn’t that long; I was on the road when this was FPed and I couldn’t answer properly and, well, never got around to it. A little spring cleaning then!
      I loved the trip and, while the above was true, it doesn’t capture the nuances of the flats, rocks and trees. It was stunning!

  3. It looks like you haven’t gotten to the actual tough part of the journey, which is Winnipeg to Regina. Trust me, ten minutes into the prairies and you will miss those damn lakes.

  4. “hand-dryer status: critical” – very funny. Love the history references as well. Nice post!

  5. And after that, how ’bout free jelly donuts for everyone! Oh Canada!

  6. So many people added stones to the pile on Snowdonia that they seriously discussed altering the height. There is a small notice that says: ‘please do not add a rock to this pile as we are running out.” Snowdonia is in Wales, UK, where our mountains are your molehills and our lakes your puddles, in size of course. Yhr esyrt id putr snf nlur.

  7. kollshi17 says:

    thank you

  8. HoaiPhai says:

    Great post and congrats on being FPed! I was at a Buddhist temple in South Korea and saw that many people had piled up small stones in a seasonally dried up creek to signify they had been there (and perhaps that they remained there in spirit). Reminded me of our inukshuks.

    By the way, doesn’t “Chibougamau” sound like a 1930s dance? Wouldn’t “Chi-boogie-mau” make a great name for a bar?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      “Chibougamau” always sounds to me like that song on Sesame Street: “Manamana” — Chibougamau, bop beeee de-bee-deep…
      Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the long delay in replying.

  9. Back in the mid 80s I drove across the country from Alberta to NFLD, to meet the soon to be inlaws. That is when you find out just how big, and different Canada can be. Alsoo I agree about the great Lakes, was starting to think I made a wrong turn, and discovered a land bridge to Europe. 🙂

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Them lakes definitely be big. It took me all this time to get back around them again. Just kidding. I couldn’t respond to these comments at the time and never got back to them upon my return. Until now. Thanks for this.

  10. missdirected11 says:

    You got that right!

  11. Jean says:

    Hope you enjoy your cross-Canada trip. It is a rare opportunity. I lived in southwestern Ontario (including Toronto for over 25 yrs.) for first 43 yrs. Then Vancouver for 8 yrs. Now in Calgary. I have travelled across Canada to move household from Toronto to Vancouver. Since we bike, I’ve done multi-week cycling trips in southern Ontario, Quebec, Maritime Provinces and lower part of British Columbia and now Banff-Calgary-Waterton National Parks area over the past 2 decades.

    The more I see Canada, the more I’m awed by the sheer magnitude of size and its breadth, its diversity in regional topography, history and subcultures. One becomes even more “Canadian” when experiencing many different sides of it. Even for a Canadian-born like myself, I see my own country anew.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Beautifully said. I’m sorry it’s taken this long to reply to you, but I was on the road until the end of August and couldn’t properly reply, then just forgot. Rude blogger! Thanks.

  12. Isn’t Quebec pretty massive too? Enjoy your drive through Ontario! I would love to see all of Canada one day – I still haven’t been to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland. But like you said, this country is just SO big and there’s only so many card games you can play on a VIA rail train. I’m in Toronto and there’s a lot of people here who don’t think the rest of the country is very interesting. I couldn’t disagree more.

    But I always thought “Happy Valley Goose Bay” was the strangest name for a city. Oh and Swastika is pretty ridiculous too considering they changed “Berlin” to “Kitchener” during the war. To be fair, I think the town of Swastika had the name first.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I did not know about Berlin and Kitchener. There’s a Berlin in New Hampshire not far from where I live here on the Quebec-Vt border. Believe it or not, there was a small POW camp just north of it in Stark, NH during WWII.l

      Thanks for the great reply. Sorry it’s taken so long to respond to; I was on the road for two more weeks after this was posted and never got around to all the comments until, well, now.

  13. dmitry says:

    good read thanks for sharing.

  14. inukshuk says:

    You must be listening to the Arrogant Worms on the road !! 🙂

    I felt exactly the same, having left from Ottawa and after soooo much driving arriving in Thunder Bay – what, STILL Ontario ?!?

    But I must disagree with those who say that once you reach the Prairies it becomes dull. No way ! Just avoid the Trans-Canada at all costs once you leave Manitoba. I took Hwy 18 in Saskatchewan, way down south near the US border, and it’s actually beautiful country: rolling hills (not flat!), old grain elevators in ghost towns… rather melancholic, but it made me wonder about all those people who basically fed the country for years; where are they now ?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      You are right about the rolling prairies. This was probably the biggest unexpected surprise of the journey. That and how rugged Vancouver Island is.
      Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I am doing some spring cleaning and answering what should have been answered as soon as we returned from our trip. Apologies.

  15. rlogan1155 says:

    Did this trip many years ago and loved every bit of it. We are so lucky to live in such a vast and diverse country. Took the Chi Cheemaun car ferry to avoid all those lakes. You might want to try it on your trip home.
    Ruth from At Home on the Road

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Our trip home was through the U.S. Loved it as well, especially Montana. Like living in sepia.
      Sorry it has taken so long to reply to this. I was FPed on the road and couldn’t reply at the time, then just plain forgot. Appreciate the comment.

  16. Somewhere past overpass exit to Steinbach MB and close to Winnipeg MB you will pass the longitudinal centre of Canada. If you aren’t looking closely you will miss the ordinary looking brown roadsign. Once past that sign, you will officially be in the west.

    Enjoy the trip! I’ve made it numerous times, although never at one time.

  17. I just recently took a road trip from Boston to Ohio. All I remember thinking is “WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE IN THIS STUPID COUNTRY!!!” Maybe I need to move to Canada.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Canadians are very forgetful, as in forgetting to reply to all these comments that were made seven months ago. Doing some maintenance here, chance to say thanks. “Thanks!”

  18. Pingback: Drinking the purple accolade | Drinking Tips for Teens

  19. dee says:

    “One becomes even more “Canadian” when experiencing many different sides of it. Even for a Canadian-born like myself, I see my own country anew.” This. So Much. I did this trip a few years ago, and was just blown away by the magnitude of it all. A Most Excellent Adventure we all should do! But I can’t help but wonder: Why, oh why, don’t we still have the roadside park and pee stops?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It was a wonderful trip, and I wish life had been such at the time that we could have done it with all four of my kids. They’ll have to make their own adventures, I guess.

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