Driving Across Canada

Canada is approximately 7255 km (or 4508 miles) from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. One long, and often-times, lonely, highway, the Trans-Canada, serves the main route of car travel. The Trans-Canada weaves through coastal lowlands, along rocky bluffs and sandy beaches, through rich farmlands and dark forests, between towering cliffs and across vast flat plains to awesome mountains and sub-tropical rainforests. Often there is no civilization for hundreds of miles, no cell receptiona and not even FM radio stations. I've driven it 3 times.

The last (and, God-willing, final) time was a month ago when Katya and I relocated from Alberta to Ontario. Believe it or not, but we were having a hell of a time finding jobs in Edmonton! It's a great place for a ticketed tradesperson such as a pipefitter or welder, but for white-collar folks like us, it sucked. Add the unaffordable housing prices, the expensive groceries and the terrible state of the infrastructure which the Alberta government neglects, and it was time for us to mosey on. 

We packed up our car and drove east. 

The first day we left at 7:30 am with Winnipeg, Manitoba as our destination. The 14-hour drive through the prairies was draining, to say the least. At first we were wowed with the weird beauty of fields of canola and wheat disappearing over the horizon, and the shadows of clouds moving over gently rolling grasslands, but after five or six hours we grew bored. Thankfully I had my ipod loaded up with music and stand-up comedy and we were able to pass the first day.

The boring nothingness of the Canadian prairies.

Somewhere in Saskatchewan...

We stopped in the middle of Saskatchewan for a rest and some lunch, at some little off-the-road field with an old wooden shack in it. It was tranquil with insects and birds flying around, the sound of the highway lost behind a treeline, and the prairie sun shining down on us. I grabbed a 20-minute catnap in the driver's seat, and woke up surprisingly refreshed and re-energized! 

The roads in Alberta and Saskatchewan just outright suck (Alberta in particular). We cut through Saskatoon and beelined for the Manitoba border. Manitoba's roads are well-maintained and quite nice to drive on; however, gas stations are few and far between in the eastern-most prairie province and we drove a long while with the gas light on before finding somewhere to fill up in some small Manitoba farming town. 

Then a 4-mile long train blocked us at a rail crossing for nearly 45 minutes. We stopped for supper at a Wendy's somewhere and made it our hotel in Winnipeg around midnight. Day 1 finished! 

Somewhere in Saskatchewan...

Welcome to Manitoba!

The geography in Manitoba starts to become more hilly and wooded.

End of Day 1
The next day we popped over to the nearby Tim Horton's for breakfast and then got on to the ring road that circles Winnipeg. We got back on to the Trans-Canada just east of the city and we were off to Ontario, only a couple of hours away. The sun was shining and the music was nice and we were in good spirits.

The last we saw of Manitoba

Because it was high tourist season, we had a hard time finding a room in northern Ontario in advance. Thunder Bay was just a bit too close to Manitoba (although in hindsight we should have booked a room there). The last time I drove across the country, on my way from Toronto to Victoria, my ex and I found that Wawa was the perfect stopping point. However, everything in Wawa was fully booked. Knowing it would be difficult, but not realizing how difficult, we booked a room in Sault Ste-Marie for the second night. Winnipeg to Sault Ste-Marie. That's 1,360 km in one go!

We didn't realize what was in store for us when we crossed into Ontario. We were excited at stopped to take pictures of the big "Welcome to Ontario" sign. The highway immediately became perfectly groomed and the scenery changed suddenly from broken prairies to lush green forests and brilliant blue lakes. 

We stopped for lunch in beautiful Kenora, Ontario and then drove out towards Thunder Bay. The drive was so much nicer than the day before, on a twisting road through the northern Ontario forests and the Canadian Shield. Finally, at sundown, we reached Thunder Bay and the stunning, breathtaking shores of Lake Superior. 

The official Manitoba-Ontario border

The Ontario Visitors Center right across the border

The beauty of Northern Ontario

Sunset over Lake Superior at Thunder Bay, Ontario

While we were amazed at how beautiful Lake Superior is, I was starting to get a little stressed about the fact that it was sunset and the sign in Thunder Bay said "Sault Ste-Marie  706 km" The very next sign read "Night Danger: Moose on the road. Next 700 km" 

For those who don't know, a train was once derailed in northern Ontario after hitting a moose, and the 2-ton animals are the second leading cause of traffic fatalities in northern Ontario (the first being alcohol). 

On top of the threat of moose, darkness and 8 hours of tired driving, it began to rain and a heavy fog bank rolled in from the Great Lake. I spent our second night leaning over the steering wheel (just to stay awake), peering into foggy darkness while Katya kept hollering out "I saw eyes at the side of the road! There!" every few seconds. Around 3 am we crawled into Wawa and filled up the car with gas and my veins with caffeine at the 24-hour Tim Horton's. Then we got back on the road and pulled in to Sault Ste-Marie at 5 am, as the sun was rising. 

I don't have any photos of that night drive (for obvious reasons) but I can tell you that it sucked a lot!!!

The next day's drive was relatively easy. Sault Ste-Marie is only a 7 or 8 hour drive from Toronto, so we checked out of our room by 11 (with only 5 hours of sleep), hit a McDonald's for breakfast and were on the road again, this time not as enthusiastically as the past two mornings. 

By mid-afternoon we were in dirty Sudbury for a fill-up, and then we had supper at a Wendy's in Barrie, Ontario, just an hour north of Toronto. 

As we entered the GTA (Greater Toronto Area; population 5.5 million) a massive fully-arched rainbow greeted us. Katya was ecstatic and took at least a hundred photos and some video. It was a good omen and a nice welcome home for me. I grew up in the GTA..sort of...and to see this rainbow arched over the suburbs of Vaughan and Etobicoke, and my favourite playground Canada's Wonderland, filled me with a hope I haven't felt in years.

Sudbury, Ontario

The Canadian Shield

Welcome to southern Ontario!

We pulled in to Kitchener, Ontario just after the sun had set, our incredible 3 1/2 day journey at an end. After the hellish drive the night before, I fell asleep an hour after arriving, not even finishing an entire bottle beer...


  1. Oh my god, the "threat of moose" and Katya saying "I saw eyes at the side of the road! There!" cracked me up! Sounds like an awful drive... the only thing that would make it worse would be having an infant along with you!


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