Mary & Richard’s Excellent RV Canadian Adventure – Part 2


Mary & Richard are still navigating their “Queen Mary” motorhome on a cross-Canada adventure, that started with its purchase at the Port Alberni Arbutus RV location.

Today we left Ontario after three weeks of sightseeing and family history stuff and are now in Manitoba near Winnipeg,  their capital city.  Ontario was memorable for:

1000 Islands

I can highly recommend the 1000 Islands area around Kingston; Muskoka area north of Toronto…

The wonderful and interesting variations in the scenery, geography and geology.  The great Canadian Shield starts at the northern and eastern side of Manitoba and covers nearly all of Ontario as well as much of eastern Canada. The “shield” seems to be a thick covering of granite of various hues, pock-marked incredibly frequently by lakes, ponds and swamps and/or shaped and incised by ice or rivers and covered by a thin layer of soil.  But it is not all bad as Mother Nature has covered the land with forests and valuable minerals are found underground and there is good farm land to be found along the St. Lawrence River and south western Ontario. Ontario also excels in beautiful landscapes for bushwalking, fishing, hunting and winter sports. I can highly recommend the 1000 Islands area around Kingston; Muskoka area north of Toronto; Parry Sound and Georgian Bay with reportedly 30,000 islands and probably a cottage or two on each one; beautiful lakes and waterways around Fort Frances and the Lake in the Woods area including Kenora on the far west of Ontario. I have also wondered at the shear size and volume of the Great Lakes. How can one lake (Lake Superior ) hold 10% of the world’s fresh water?! I believe the other lakes combine to hold another 10%. We could sure use some of this water in Australia. We also travelled through an area signposted as “Canada’s Watershed” and until then it had never dawned on me that many Canadian rivers flowed northwards to the Arctic Ocean or Hudson Bay as the Canadian Shield provides elevation without actually providing a mountain range.  Mother Nature had also provided fault-lines, cataracts and other devices resulting in the Great Lakes also draining from one to another, West to East – Sault Ste Marie rapids, Niagara Falls and the St. Clair River are good examples of points where one Great Lake drains into another one. The more I travel across this country the more I admire the early explorers, fur traders and settlers as this country has great distances and many obstacles, including the weather, to overcome.

Family History Activities Included: 

Thomas Foster Mausoleum

This glorious building was built by Thomas Foster, as a mausoleum for his deceased wife…

We enjoyed a musical recital at ‘The Foster’ on a Friday evening as well as another look on the Saturday. This glorious building was built by Thomas Foster, as a mausoleum for his deceased wife and daughter following inspiration after a trip to the Middle East and to the Taj Mahal in India. It cost $250,000 to build in the 1930’s, so it is pretty special. In order to keep it maintained it is now used for community events such as summer recitals -seems strange but it works. It is worth looking up “Foster Memorial Toronto” or (if you are a Murdoch Mysteries fan) “Murdoch Mysteries at the foster”.  The building is located about half way between Leaskdale and Uxbridge. 

Thomas Foster appears to be the first born child in Canada in1852. Thomas’ father built a pub in a little hamlet called Leaskdale near Uxbridge (now about one hour east of Toronto) -the pub has been replaced by a petrol station and convenience store. Other family members farmed in the area but descendants moved on to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Thomas became a butcher in Queen Street, Toronto and invested in real estate. At 40 he sold his shop and spent the next 40 years as a city counsellor, alderman, Federal politician and Mayor of Toronto. When he died he left his considerable fortune to benefit Toronto. Old Thomas should also be remembered for his many unusual bequests including feeding Toronto’s birds in winter; providing an annual picnic for young children and leaving a considerable sum for planting street trees throughout Toronto. On the hot days we walked the city I would like to think that we stood under a Foster tree!

We also went off viewing places with family connections around Toronto. This took us to Oshawa and Whitby (very impressed by the Ontario Ladies College in Whitby where a family member was a ‘finishing’ student in the early 1890’s – it is still a prestigious private girls school today) and to Mississauga and Port Credit where I was born. The old family home in Mississauga has been replaced by a big modern house but I am not surprised as it sat on a very valuable piece of real estate on Gordon Drive, the most exclusive street in Mississauga. 

Family history also took us down to Lambton County in SW Ontario near the American border. En route we enjoyed a day with a distant relative I met via Ancestry who lives in London, Ontario. His family tree not only includes my great grandfather but also is related to a well to do family in Australia although I think he is still waiting for his Christmas card!

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

I hope our family members showed some empathy for these people as they themselves had come from difficult times in Ireland. 

There are several things I especially enjoyed learning about the family when they came to this area in the 1850’s – my great grandfather’s widowed mother and her three sons, the husband/father having died on the Quarantine Station at Grosse Ille in the St. Lawrence River in 1845 – firstly they were registered as living in an area called Dawn in Lambton County and this general area was involved in the Underground Railway movement. We went to a museum on this movement at Dresden to learn that Canada received about 40,000 runaway slaves between about 1835 and 1865. In Lambton County and nearby counties the community (both black and white) developed settlements, trade schools, churches etc for these people. The museum was at Dresden because the man (and his original log cabin), on which Harriet Beecher Stow’s book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was based, lived and died here. I hope our family members showed some empathy for these people as they themselves had come from difficult times in Ireland.  But who’s to know? 

Canadian Oil Museum in Oil Springs

I knew of two family members who went overseas as drillers and one died in Persia in 1917 and the other spent time in Venezuela.

Family members are next shown to be owners of land a bit further north of Dawn in an area now known as Oil Springs and Petrolia. Some land had “black gum” oozing from the land and this area became the first commercial oil field in the world.  Photos at the Canadian Oil Museum in Oil Springs show this area looking like photos of the gold rushes in Australia and California except people are drilling for oil. The archive records confirm that oil was being produced on the family farms. As this was a new industry (and about 30 years before motor cars were invented), the oil was refined for other uses and a new by-product developed -kerosene.  This completely changed modern living as no longer did you use candles or burn whale oil in lamps but had a relatively inexpensive and easily transported fuel to light you home, factory etc. As everything was new in the oil industry, everything had to be developed such as the drilling equipment,  jerker lines for moving liquids through pipelines, methods to cap gushing wells, underground storage etc. Oil drillers from this area were in demand and teams started working around the world. I knew of two family members who went overseas as drillers and one died in Persia in 1917 and the other spent time in Venezuela. The Oil Museum lists four possible family members as working overseas, so I’ll have some more research to do. Some farms still have oil and gas pumping equipment working and nearby city of Sarnia would be the oil and gas headquarters for much of Canada. There did not seem to be any farms still in the family.

The many tourist things we’ve done such as city tours, boat tours, a rail tour to Agawa Canyon (140 kms inland from Sault Ste Marie), visits to historic sites, museums and galleries and special events such a the Tall Ships regatta at Sarnia. The Bush Plane Heritage Centre and the history about the locks at Sault Ste Marie were both excellent. Also the unexpected finds like the ‘Bearly Used’ bookshop at Parry Sound -they reportedly hold 250,000 used books and as many come in each day as go out. It was orderly but filled to the rafters with books on any topic or any author. It was my idea of heaven! 

Some days later….

I said that we were in southern Manitoba but we are currently further west and are now in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I need to get this email off and gone.

Historic Mennonite Church

Religious freedoms were guaranteed by the Canadian government before they arrived as Canada was desperately seeking large numbers of settlers to farm the Prairies.

What strikes you after leaving the Province of Ontario and travelling westwards is how quickly the land flattens out and the trees and lakes disappear. Welcome to the Prairies!  Welcome also to the Prairie winds that make driving a challenge.  Ever onwards we must go and that took us to Steinbach, especially to see the Mennonite historical village – this area having been settled by Russian/Ukrainian Mennonites in the late 19th century. Religious freedoms were guaranteed by the Canadian government before they arrived as Canada was desperately seeking large numbers of settlers to farm the Prairies. The official language of the Mennonites regardless of where they live is German. This caused the Canadian government to change policy about First World war time and require Mennonite schools to be taught in English, even though Mennonites are peaceful peoples with exemption from military service.  Some Canadian Mennonite families disagreed with this change to schooling requirements and so moved on to countries like Mexico. Whilst at the museum some Mexican Mennonite tourists were visiting and the common language used was not English or Spanish but German. Even Richard could talk with these Mexican visitors. 

  • On our journey towards Winnepeg we stopped at the “longitudinal centre of Canada”.  We have been as far east and now dead centre in our travels.  At this point we have also travelled nearly 20,000 kms on our holiday!
  • Memorable in Winnepeg was a visit to the Museum of Human Rights. It is in an architecturally impressive building and was holding a special exhibition on Nelson Mandela’s life and achievements. I found the exhibits about Canada’s track record on human rights interesting as many issues parallel Australia. 

We are up to date visiting special fossil sites – our grandson should be impressed – have recently seen marine fossils and a T-rex which are reportedly the largest of their kind in the world.

  • Always up for a good museum we recently went to the WW2 Air Training Plan Museum in Brandon where thousands of trainees from Commonwealth countries learned to fly. The original hanger, a number of planes and wartime buildings are all part of the museum. The memorial wall lists over 18,000 of the young airmen from this base who died in the war. Evidently, this was one of many similar training centres across the country established at the same time as part of the ‘Plan’ but the only one left. An excellent museum was the RCMP Heritage Centre at their Depot in Regina. Since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were formed in the 1870’s, all police have trained at the place they called ‘the depot’ and we saw the latests recruits in their red serge uniforms getting prepared for their graduation parade on Monday. Unfortunately,  training for the Musical Ride takes place elsewhere.  Also went to learn about early farming on the Prairie but we did forego the museum dedicated to the potash industry.

As I said, we have now arrived in Moose Jaw but that may be included at a later time.

Hopefully, you have finished your coffee and so back to other things. Time is going quickly and we should be back in Mary borough on the 18th of September. 

Richard & Mary

To start your own excellent adventure, visit Arbutus RV online!


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