August 12

August 12

This morning we awoke in time for showers and headed off to the Long Term Care home to attend Mass with Fr. Joe. We arrived at the same time as Fr. Joe and helped him set up the makeshift altar. Both Chris and I acted as sacristan. First time for Chris to be sure! Jeannine was to pour the water from the sink into the little vial then pour the sacramental wine into the little jug. The wine was poured from what looked like an empty but cleaned yogurt bottle labeled Mass Wine. Chris arranged seats and basically did what Fr. Joe asked. We all greeted the residents, some of whom had no idea who we were or what we were saying as some only spoke Dene or the local dialect Slavey. It was truly an honour to meet these elders of the community, and they seemed to appreciate our interaction with them. We were then joined by another couple, Karen and Nick Sibbeston, who were to provide the music for the Mass. Nick is currently a member of the Senate for the NWT and is due to retire in a couple of years. His interest is primarily in First Nations People and he speaks fluent Dene. He of course is First Nations himself and has lobbied extensively for First Nations as a member of the Legislative Assembly and now as a Senator. His music style is interesting as everything he played was in 4/4 time regardless of the time signature. Try to sing Hosea (Come Back To Me) in 4/4 time. At any rate he was a great addition to the mass along with his wife. They are a Marriage Encounter couple and brought ME to the NWT for many years.

So as a few more residents were wheeled in it was time to start Mass. Picture this: the altar is a very small square end table with white cloth, small crucifix, two battery powered candles, tiny credence table at the side. So Mass begins with the hymn On This Day O Beautiful Mother in 4/4 time. Try it… After the song things got very interesting and moving at the same time. Mass is in the common room. The medical and janitorial staff went about their business with no apparent sense of occasion, passing back and forth attending to their responsibilities and talking as needed. In another corner of the room the TV is on and ironically, an old John Wayne war movie is playing with the volume low but audible. (Have you ever noticed that even in the middle of a tropical jungle, John Wayne never sweats?)

But our attention remained with Fr. Joe and he started Mass by introducing us and asking one of us to stand and speak to the crowd, such as it was, about who we were and where we were from. Chris did the honours and spoke about 5 sentences. No sooner had we sat down when Nick turned to the residents and translated what Chris had said into Dene for the residents. It was just so wonderful to hear that language and see the residents nod their heads as they heard what had been said. Fr. Joe continued with the Mass and after two or three prayers Nick would turn to the people and translate. That continued for the entire Mass. The gospel reading was the only reading and again every two or three sentences was translated for the residents. Same with the homily which was quite good and thought provoking. Fr. then asked if anyone wanted to share their thoughts on the gospel and the homily and three of us did again with Nick translating. The Eucharistic Prayer was in Dene, The Lord’s Prayer was read in Dene and then said in English. It was truly a humbling experience to see this member of the Senate translate for these elders. During the kiss of peace we all greeted one another and all the residents present and Communion was brought by Fr. Joe to all the residents and one in a room off the common room. When Mass was done we helped put the room back in order as lunch was being served. It truly was an experience we will never forget.

After all was done Fr. Joe, Nick, Karen, Chris and Jeannine went to a local restaurant for lunch and to continue our discussions about aboriginal issues in the North etc. Something we found interesting came to light during the discussion: Nick pointed out that there are no native Reserves in the Northwest Territories, with the exception of one in Hay River. His observation was that, in his experience here, the Federal Government’s policy of integration, rather than separation, has worked very well, as it has more or less forced the differing cultures to work together to solve issues. We certainly found his comments food for thought. What a great day.

Later on we took some pictures of the Mackenzie River and of the location where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass under the giant TeePee pictured here.

Mackenzie River (largest and longest river system in Canada, second only to the Mississippi)

The Teepee housed the altar for John Paul II’s visit here in 1987.

Land of the People monument to John Paul’s planned visit here in 1984, which was cancelled due to fog preventing his plane from landing. He returned for a 5 hour visit in 1987 on his way to the U.S.

Tomorrow we leave for Fort Providence for one night, then on to Yellowknife, where we have booked the first two nights in a hotel for a little break from RV’ing. The next 3 nights will be spent at Fred Henne Territorial Park.


August 8-11

August 8 -11

We left for Sambaa Deh in late morning, after making sure our fuel was topped up, as there are no services between Hay River and Fort Simpson, including cell service. I think we both felt a bit nervous as we travelled the 280 kilometres of lonely gravel road with nothing but bush on either side, with the occasional turnout with garbage receptacles and the odd washroom. We went long stretches without seeing another vehicle. The only constant was ravens and dragonflies, both of which are plentiful up here.

Sambaa Deh Territorial Park is located beside the Trout River, with access to two sets of waterfalls, one upstream and one downstream from the park. On our first day, we took the 25 minute hike along a bush trail to Coral Falls:

We spent the afternoon relaxing at the campsite.

The next day we decided to hike downstream to the Sambaa Deh Falls:

The Trout River

After returning upstream, we were quite hot (the weather here has been in the mid to upper 30’s since we arrived two weeks ago, with only a couple of periods of rain.) It’s OK though; it’s a dry heat. The river is very fast-flowing and turbulent, so swimming in it was out of the question. However, there were a number of side pools out of the main current where the water was quite warm:

We spent a very pleasant couple of hours there. Since we had pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the area, we made the decision not to spend the planned third night there, but to push on to Fort Simpson, a couple of hours up the road. We left around 1:00 the next day, but not until we had returned to the river for a last soak:

Toranaga taking the waters. The geisha had just left to fetch more saki.

The last 150 kilometres to Fort Simpson went by quickly, helped by the fact that the last 100 kilometres is paved. Fort Simpson itself is built on an island at the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie rivers, so we took the Liard River Ferry across:

The Liard Ferry

The village itself is quite small and provides services to the oil, gas and mining industries. We stopped at the information centre (which doubles as the City Hall) and got the lay of the land, such as it is. We refueled, got a few groceries, then drove the short distance to the campgrounds. Although we were a day early, our reserved site was available. I tried to refill our fresh water tank at the potable water tap, but discovered quickly that it had a flow rate of about a gallon a day, so had to drive back out to the info centre to refill there. Once that was done, we discovered that we were right across the road from the IceBreaker Lounge/Panda Restaurant and took it as a sign from the camping gods. We were the only customers there (the big crowds must come in later). We had some very nice Chinese food and watched the Blue Jays game.

After returning to the campsite, we made the acquaintance of Father Joe, the local priest, who is camping in the park until his new church and rectory is finished in a few weeks. We sat and chatted with him for an hour (turns out he is a big Bishop Remi de Roo fan, for those who understand the reference). We told him of our encounter with “Brother John” in Fort Smith; he hadn’t heard of him, but is going to ask around about him. During our conversation, a Park Warden came by to warn us about a black bear that was roaming around; we actually caught sight of it a few hundred feet away. A mother bear and her two cubs have apparently been hanging around here for about two weeks.

Since have power here, we were able to turn on the air conditioner to cool the van down, so we slept quite comfortably.

The next morning, we got talking to a lady named Maryanne, who is travelling by herself, and gave us some useful information about Fort Providence and Yellowknife, our next two destinations. She mentioned that she had seen one of the bear cubs while walking her dog earlier in the morning, a lovely Labradoodle rescue, whose first act was to kill her cat. It then became a serial killer, dispatching the neighbour’s cat next. (I don’t know about y’all, but 30 seconds after the first catrocide, that psychopathic pooch would have been in the car for its last ride to that Big Kennel in the Sky.) Apparently it really likes other dogs, but some dogs don’t like him. Go figure.

Later in the evening, Father Joe dropped by for a while, and asked us if we would consider coming to a Mass that he celebrates at the Long Term Care home in town. We told him we would be happy to come, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

August 6-7

August 6-7

We decided to go to Mass in Fort Smith before returning to Hay River. It is actually a cathedral, indicating that Fort Smith is the seat of the Diocese, which at first seems odd, considering that Yellowknife is much bigger and the Territorial capital, but then we realized that Fort Smith was founded many years before Yellowknife. There were about 40 people in attendance, although the cathedral can probably accommodate 10 times that number. The Nigerian priest gave an enthusiastic homily, but we both felt that 45 minutes was a bit too long. “Mass is ended” – well, not quite. Since this was his 20th anniversary of Ordination, we were treated to a detailed summary of his calling, starting with his birth and ending with his current posting to Fort Smith, careful not to miss a detail along the way. When Mass finally ended, we were invited downstairs to a brunch.

On the road back to Hay River, we stopped to have a look at the Angus Sinkhole, some 60 feet deep, caused by the erosion and collapse of the overlying limestone into an underground river below. This kind of sinkhole occurs all over the park.

Angus Sinkhole

We were also treated to the sight of another bison standing in the middle of the road:

Why did the bison cross the road? Because he had the right of way.

After a quick stop in Hay River for a few groceries and a burger at the Doghouse Pub, we arrived at the campground at about 7:00 and checked in. When we arrived at the site, it was occupied by a tent. When we went back to the office, we found out that the occupants (who were not there), had apparently paid for Friday night, but had decided to stay on without paying. The Park Manager had left several phone messages, which went unanswered. While we were there, she left one more message saying that she was going to remove their stuff from the site. We followed her to the site and helped her throw everything (expensive tent, air mattress, hatchet, clothing and suitcases) into her truck. We were a little concerned that they might show up later and make a fuss, so I got a couple of emergency contact numbers from her. As it turned out, they eventually contacted her and weren’t happy, claiming they had only received one message and that some things had been damaged, but the Park Manager thinks that they were saving a bit of face because the grandmother had come along with them and had ripped a strip off them because of their stupid behaviour.

After cleaning up the van a bit and doing some laundry, we spent the rest of the afternoon down at the beach, enjoying a sunny but breezy day, capped off by a nice evening around a campfire, serenaded by an enthusiastic native drum circle from two campsites over. All part of the authentic Hay River experience, I guess.

We are headed for Saamba Deh Territorial Park tomorrow for 3 nights. Looking forward to seeing some new sights, including some waterfalls.

August 3- August 5

August 3- August 5, 2017   The ABC’s (Anniversary, Bison, Camping)

We left for Fort Smith/Wood Buffalo National Park in the late morning and arrived at Fort Smith in mid-afternoon after an uneventful 3 ½ hour drive on a combination chip-seal/gravel highway, which was in very good shape. We drove down to the Parks Canada information office and picked up all the to-do maps and brochures, booked a tour to the Salt Plains, then drove to Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park and settled in to the campsite. Who knew we would be spending our 43rd wedding anniversary here?

“43 years…some of them happy!”

The next day, we headed downtown and spent an hour or so in the very well done local museum. The following picture is of “Canus” (Canada/US”), a Whooping Crane with a fascinating history: follow the link below the picture, it’s well worth the read!

We then gathered with a couple from Oregon to take the Salt Plains tour with a couple of Parks Canada guides. The Salt Plains are actually formed over the bed of a sea that covered this area about 230 million years ago, and is now fed only by groundwater that comes to the surface and evaporates, leaving salt deposits behind, which attract the wood buffalo and their predators, the wolves. Here are a few pictures from our somewhat strenuous hike:

The Salt Plains, shrouded in smoke haze from some forest fires burning about 30 kilometers away

Bark rubbed off by buffalo

Funnel web spider. The surrounding red plants grow only in saline conditions; when chewed, they taste like salty Granny Smith apples!

Very recent buffalo hoof print

Wolf paw print

“The red chairs” (placed in every National Park)

When we returned to town, we were driven to the top of a trail down to the rapids; I went down (because I’m an idiot), but Jeannine wisely declined. This will give you some idea why:

Rapids of the Drowned –named in memory of sailors who drowned when given the wrong information as to when to approach the rapids safely – the white pelicans gather here to nest and feed on lamprey eels

We arrived here on the weekend of the “Paddlefest”, which is a celebration of anything that floats, particularly white water canoe and kayak paddling races. We decided to attend the Community Dinner, hosted by the local First Nations in the arena, where we feasted on fish and bannock. We shared our table with one of the local characters, named John.

John…quite a character. In the ‘50s he was an Oblate Brother who was given his walking papers because he didn’t quite get along with the Bishop at the time. While in the order he took his pilot’s license and was the only one who could fly the plane owned by the order. That meant that only he could make the decision whether to fly to outbound missions and the Bishop didn’t like that he had that much power so he axed him. Now John is what you might say a rather conservative Catholic. He announced that he didn’t go to mass because a “proper” Mass hadn’t been said for 60 years. The last “real” Pope was Pius X, Pope John 23rd ruined the Catholic Church, and there hasn’t been a “real” priest since. He was quite comfortable with his opinions and expressed them in such an amusing way that we just shook our heads. I said to him “I guess you are not a fan of Pope Francis” he just looked at me like I was crazy. Very pleasant, very engaging, we enjoyed ourselves immensely shook hands when we parted and I asked him if we would see him at the little cathedral on Sunday and that’s when he announced that mass hadn’t been said for 60 years. He was quite something and very pleasant. He wasn’t mad or anything just wanted to live in the 50s when the church was soooooo engaging. What a riot.

The next morning (August 5), we awoke to clearer skies and decided to drive to Pine Lake (actually in Alberta), which was highly recommended. It is actually formed from a series of 5 sinkholes that have collapsed into each other. (This whole area is karst/limestone topography, although it is right on the western edge of the Canadian Shield). We were not disappointed, as it turned out to be perhaps the highlight of our trip so far. It was about a 45 minute drive down a dusty but well-maintained gravel road to the Pine Lake Day Use area. Along the way, we were lucky enough to see these wood buffalo:

He appeared out of the undergrowth and ambled along beside us for a while, before crossing the road

Indulging in a dust bath to escape the horseflies

Once at the Day Use area, we were totally alone and spent a wonderful afternoon;

Lucy at Pine Lake

Jeannine swimming in Pine Lake

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

On the way back, the experience just got better, as we were stopped by a herd of 20 more buffalo.

Guess who has the right of way?

What are you looking at?

July 31-August 2

July 30 addendum

Here is Jeannine swimming in Lesser Slave Lake; as proof of how unexpectedly warm the water is, I also went in!


Swimming in Lesser Slave Lake

July 31-August 2

We were on the road by 7:00 AM, and after stops in Peace River and High Level Alberta for fuel and sustenance, we crossed into the Northwest Territories in late afternoon.


Checked off the bucket list

The drive up the Mackenzie Highway was long, but the road is in very good shape and there was little traffic, although we had several minor delays due to extensive repaving projects. Much of it was bordered by endless fields of canola in full bloom:


We arrived at the Territorial Park at about 6:30, and were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we did not feel as tired as 9 hours of driving should made us!


Crossing the Hay River

The campground is impressive, nicely treed with excellent facilities and (surprise!) very few bugs. Apparently August is the time to come here, as most of the bugs are gone by the end of July.  After hooking up, we took the short path to the beach:


The weather continues to be sunny and warm (mid-20’s), so after taking a tour around Hay River, a small but vibrant community, we visited their impressive little Museum. The young man running it was very knowledgeable, and gave me some interesting background on the Mackenzie River Bridge, completed a few years ago. It spans the Mackenzie River between Fort Providence and Yellowknife, and replaces the old ferry system. Like any government project, it was considerably  over-budget and delayed in its construction. The company that started it went bankrupt after installing several of the support piers, and the job was ultimately finished by two other companies, who worked from either end to the middle (can you sense where this is going?). As the two ends approached each other, everyone had an “Oh sh*t” moment as they realized that they weren’t lined up properly. Consequently, the bridge has a bit of a zig-zag in it. It gets better; the next unforeseen problem was that the local bison population found that the bridge beat the heck out of swimming. Apparently there was no money left in the budget to install proper Texas gates at either end, so someone had the brilliant idea to set up cardboard cutouts of wolves, complete with pots of wolf urine purchased from the Calgary Zoo. They were partly effective, but provided the locals with endless fodder for jokes. Texas gates have now been installed.

In the afternoon, visited a local public beach, where Jeannine checked off another bucket list item; swimming in Great Slave Lake.


Swimming in Great Slave Lake

Ironically, although it is the deepest lake in Canada, the water here is quite warm and very shallow; note how far out one has to go before being able to tread water! Like Lesser Slave Lake, sandy beaches and warm water were not even close to what we had envisioned.

We spent the afternoon and evening back at the campsite.


Quilting “en plein air”

Some of the local fauna dropped by:





We had a nice fire, and although it stays light enough outside to read until close to 11:00, we went to bed around 10:30.

We spent this morning doing some laundry and cleaning up the van a bit, then headed back to the public beach we were at yesterday, to indulge in a swim (both of us!) and an afternoon of reading and enjoying the very warm sunshine and a cooling breeze.


With the warm temperatures and sandy beach, it could just as easily have been a beach in Mexico (except for the logs). Hard to believe we are “north of 60”! We will have a last fire here tonight, then head for Fort Smith/Wood Buffalo National Park tomorrow, about a 3 ½ hour drive.

July 17-30

July 17 – July 29   Wedding Bells, Balsam Lake and Birthdays

Our two weeks in Ontario was jammed packed with family events, parties, day trips and chilling out. We arrived at the Toronto airport greeted by my sister Mickie and our chauffeur Brian (her husband). Back at the Horton home preparations for the wedding of Mickie and Brian’s son Marc were at a fever pitch. The following day was the rehearsal party which the Hortons were hosting. Mickie had lined up myself and our other sister Lorna to help out with the preparation of many dishes and food offerings the next morning. We were delighted to be part of these preparations and worked well into the late afternoon before the guests arrived, which they did in droves. I believe the last count was 32. It was a grand affair and Mickie was very pleased with the result.

The next day was spent patting ourselves on the back for such a successful event and a swim at niece Carolyn’s pool, and BBQ back at Mickie’s. All retired for a good night’s sleep and the main event was the next day. The following pictures describe the beautiful wedding better than any words. Suffice it to say it was a grand event.

Mickie (Mother of the Groom)

Horton grandchildren Lily and Nathan Flower Girl and ring bearer

Brian and Mickie

Alicia and Marc

Chris, Andy and Heather

Head table

Wedding Party

The next day was spent going over pictures and reliving the wonderful day before heading off to Lorna and John’s cottage on Balsam Lake. Unfortunately we can’t include any pictures at this time because we don’t have the required cables to take pictures off Chris’ cell phone but will try later on if we can find one at the Best Buy in Yellowknife. Yes Virginia, there is a Best Buy in Yellowknife. Who knew. We had a wonderful time with Lorna and John, eating, swimming, boating, Seadooing, laughing, and trips to Fenelon Falls. Mickie joined us for three days and she enjoyed the rest after a year of wedding events.

The following Saturday it was time to head further north to Gravenhurst to visit my brother Andy and his wife Heather. Yet another party as we were celebrating Andy’s 73rd birthday. Lorna and John drove us and stayed for the party and left to go back to their cottage where the next day they were hosting a refugee family and sponsors for a day at the lake. Lorna reported that all had a great time.

Aaron (Carolyn’s son), Carolyn, John, Lorna

Andy and Heather’s house in Gravenhurst

Chris and Andy

After the birthday party guests left we headed out with Andy and Heather to the Gravenhurst Marina where we went to their annual Rib Fest and chowed down on some ribs and enjoyed all the people doing the same. It was a lovely evening. The next day we went for a drive to Port Carling for some shopping and sightseeing, lunch at a dockside restaurant and back home again in time to go to their Anglican Church 150th anniversary service and dinner. It was great fun and lovely to have the service celebrant be a female bishop…oh to dream…enough said.

Chris and Andy

Cousins Marie, Laura and Colin

Table of plenty

Tim and Heather

Mickie, Anne (mother of the bride), Jeannine

Gravenhurst is a lovely community and we had a wonderful time with Andy. They drove us back to Mickie’s for our last few days. Mickie and Brian had us, plus Andy and Heather, Lorna and John for dinner and it was wonderful to have all my siblings there to share the evening. After some teary goodbyes to Andy, Heather, Lorna and John we caught up on the latest Trump silliness and headed for bed.

Next day was spent driving to Elora to see nephew Tim and Laura. Dinner was planned in their beautiful yard at a beautifully set table. We managed to enjoy that ambiance but rain forced us back inside. It was a wonderful way to spend our last night.

Thursday we spent packing and left for the airport early enough to take in the movie Dunkirk which was great by the way. Then onto the airport. Our flight was delayed 2 hours which was not great but finally after a rather long day fell into bed at the hotel in Calgary.

We are now at a campground in Lesser Slave Lake and the water is great as is the weather so far.

July 30

The last 2 days here have been lovely, with lots of sunshine and much warmer than we would have expected. We have become friends with the people in the next campsite, a middle-aged couple with a 7 year old girl for whom they are guardians. We have spent most of our time down on the beach. Although Lesser Slave Lake is quite large, you have to wade out quite a way before it becomes deep enough to swim, due to a number of sandbars, and apparently is only about 30 feet deep. It certainly is quite different than we had imagined it! We had quite a thunderstorm last night with lots of lightning, but by noon, the sun had returned, although the wind was brisk.

Tomorrow we head out on our longest driving day of the trip (about 10 hours), hoping to reach Hay River Territorial Park by evening. The plan is to stop in Peace River and post this blog entry. The weather is supposed to remain good for the next little while, so hopefully the drive will go smoothly.