07-17-09 We Love Canada!

Betsy speaks: Not much to tell today as we haven’t moved from our spot in beautiful Orillia, Ontario. We intend to stay here 3 nights, as they have a buy 2 get 1 free deal and this is a nice location with lots of shopping nearby and nice facilities. We spent a good part of this morning cleaning the boat inside and out. Then just before lunch we looked up and saw our friend Maurice chugging in on his 21 foot Ranger Tug. We had left him behind in Bobcaygeon and weren’t surprised that he caught up with us here. He’s docked right next to us again.

The other looper boat that is here is Idyll Time, a 48 foot trawler, so you have the smallest and the largest boats that we’ve seen looping here together.

So since there’s not much to tell today, I want to talk a little about things we like about Canada. Generally, it is a beautiful country with beautiful waterways and wonderful people. But there are several specific things that we have appreciated and that we think the US would benefit from.

First, they are SERIOUS about recycling. At some marinas in the US we saw signs encouraging you to recycle, but that is hard to do when there aren’t any recycle containers to be seen. Here in Canada, there is a recycle container next to nearly every garbage can. We have always been able to find the place to put our cans and bottles, be it at lock sites, restaurants, marinas or city parks. We discussed recycling with some Canadians and they indicated that the goal, in the beginning, was to reduce landfill use by 65%. They have exceeded that goal. In Canada, they are closing landfills, not because they are full, but because they do not need them.

If you want a plastic bag to carry your groceries in, it costs you a nickel. They have reusable grocery bags available everywhere for about 99 cents. They want you to buy and use them rather than using plastic bags. I know I’ve tried to get in the habit of taking reusable bags to the store when I go, but I usually forget. If I had to pay a nickel for every bag I brought home from the grocery, I’d be more likely to remember to take my own bags!

On another subject about grocery shopping: how mad do you get when you see someone leaving their cart in the middle of the parking lot, too lazy to push it to the cart holder or back to the store!? It infuriates me! At some of the grocery stores here, you have to pay a quarter deposit to get a cart. Then when you return the cart you get your quarter back. What a great idea! However, there’s a funny story to go along with that. The first time I saw this was at the grocery store in Peterborough. I saw a long line of grocery carts right outside the store. I tried to pull one from the line, but I noticed they were locked together with a chain on each cart locking it to the next cart. I just figured this was some way to get all the carts back to store without them coming apart…I didn’t pay much attention to it and headed for another group of carts just inside the door. A man was pushing his cart from the parking lot toward the store, so I just reached for it and said “I’ll take that for you.” He gave me a funny look and sort of hesitated, so I said again “I”ll take that cart into the store for you.” He let me have it and sort of walked away shaking his head. It was then I noticed a quarter sticking in the slot in the handle. You’re supposed to stick a quarter in the slot to get your cart, and then you get your quarter back when you take your cart to the proper place and attach it to the next cart and your quarter pops back out at you. So that poor man I’m sure thought I was some crazy American too cheap to use my own quarter.

Another smart thing the Canadians have done, and I think we’ve touched on this in previous blogs, is to turn the lock operation over to Parks Canada, which has done a marvelous job of making the lock grounds beautiful. The lockmasters and their interns all wear nice uniforms and all are exceptionally nice and helpful. Always cheerful, they go out of their way to welcome you to “their” lock. Each lockmaster is responsible not only for the operation of the lock, but for the landscaping of the lock site and for the maintenance thereof. The first thing every morning they go around with a broom and clear spider webs off all surfaces (there are LOTS of spider webs up here). The bathrooms are always clean. The picnic tables are always clean. There is not trash falling out of the garbage cans. It is just incredibly clean and fresh and beautiful. You can stop at any lock before or after locking and tie up to the wall and go in and use the restrooms or have a picnic lunch. If you want to spend the night tied up to the wall, they give you a key or code to use the bathrooms during the night. We did not find this to be the case at most of the locks on the Erie Canal.

Everywhere you look there are beautiful flowers. Where our annuals in North Carolina are usually parched and spent by mid July, here they are beautiful. There are lots of hanging baskets, lots of gardens, and all are so vibrant and healthy looking. Nearly every lock has gardens and baskets, all the parks have beautiful flowers, and nearly every city has hanging baskets on the light poles, which is reminiscent of Alaska and of Europe. I’m sure climate has a lot to do with it.

As we travelled in New Jersey and New York, we were often appalled by the language we heard in restaurants, on the street, or dockside. I know I’m a little trashy mouthed sometimes, but we heard language in public that I would never use, and we heard it over and over and over. We have not heard any foul language out of the Canadians.

We’ve met many very nice Canadians, but one just stands out and I want to tell you about him. His name is Al…I have no idea what his last name is. We first met him at the marina in Peterborough. Al travels in a little 17 foot homemade boat. He had cut a plan out of Popular Mechanics magazine in 1958 and saved it. Then in the mid 70s his wife encouraged him to build that boat. So he started on it in the mid 70s and finally finished it in about 1990. He told me he really built the boat for his wife because she loved the water, and they had a great time on it for one year and then she died.

Now Al travels back and forth on the Trent Severn every year, probably several times a year, by himself. Several of lockmasters told us he was a regular. He never stays at marinas, always at lock walls. He eats 3 meals a day on the boat; for his evening meal he gets out a checkered table cloth and puts it on a nearby picnic table and cooks on a little portable grill, usually something real simple like a baked potato.

Inside his boat I couldn’t stand up, but Al is short so he could stand up. The boat itself was made from the plan, but all the insides he did himself. The seats are old automobile seats, so he tries to keep them from getting wet. He has plastic/canvas enclosures, but if there is rain coming, he covers that area with a single sheet of plastic to keep the inside dry. The steering wheel was custom made by a friend because every storebought steering wheel he tried was too large. The friend has since died, and Al put a bronze plaque on the wheel saying who had made it and when.

We ran across Al on several occasions after Peterborough. Our final meeting with him was the night before we got here to Orillia. We pulled over to a small marina to spend one night. As the marina staff was showing us which slip to take, we realized we were going to be next to Al. Turns out this was his home port, and he was through travelling for this week. He actually lives 2 hours away from where he keeps the boat, and he said he was going home long enough to pay the Visa bill and then go boating again.

I just loved Al’s little boat. It reminded me of my daddy building our first boat in our backyard in Durham when I was about 7 years old. It was made out of wood, then coats of fiberglass. I remember him telling me to stay away as he put the fiberglass on so I wouldn’t get the bits of glass in my fingers. I remember the smell of the coating. I wonder if his was a Popular Mechanics plan as well. That was the June Bug I, which was finally lost in Hurricane Fran. Wonderful, nostalgic memories.

Al’s boat had a 75 horsepower Mercury outboard, which meant it could probably go pretty fast. But Al never went more than 6 or 7 miles an hour. He always wore a life jacket (smart). He was just a nice, nice man with a beautiful boat and he loves the water.

Enough of that. Tomorrow we plan to leave Orillia and just head across the lake to the Ojibway Indian marina and casino for one night. Sunday or Monday we will make it to Big Chute to do the railway lock. You won’t want to miss that!

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