Posts tagged canada

Mainland Nova Scotia

Basking in white sand beaches on Nova Scotia’s south shore in Hubbards and Chester before exploring the beautiful historic town of Lunenburg. We also watched the sunset over Peggy’s Cove and spent a night in Antigonish before hitting the Canso Causeway in mainland Nova Scotia.

After departing PEI, we were on a new mission to collect a very special antique from a family member in southern Nova Scotia. It was a 150+ year old spinning wheel used by Justin’s grandmother and great-grandmother for years to make yarn. We made our way down to Hubbards to see it, but not before grabbing a bite of donair on the outer rings of Halifax. If you’re American, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about but Halifax donairs are pretty famous and boast a wrap-sandwich-thing like no other – especially in the realm of drunk food. The secret is in the sauce, which has condensed milk in it, giving it a sweet taste as opposed to the usual heavy garlic of a shawarma or gyro. If you’re in Halifax, it’s practically your duty to at least try one. That being said, they’re not my favourite (womp womp woooomp) but at least I did my due diligence as a tourist. Also, do yourself a favour and tie up your hair before eating one – sauce in the hair is inevitable, no matter how proper you are.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Antique Spinning Wheel
This spinning wheel was used for over 100 years in Justin’s family to make yarn

Saucy hair in tow, we made our way down to Hubbards, about half an hour outside of Halifax to meet up with Justin’s first cousin once removed (we spent way too long studying cousin charts to learn that that’s what your dad’s first cousin is to you to not use the term). We drove by some pretty gorgeous sandy beaches like Queensland Beach that made us question if we were in Nova Scotia or Florida. Seriously, these beaches were very different than the usual rugged and rocky coastal beaches. Another interesting thing is that although these are ocean beaches, most have a freshwater lake beside them. Pretty cool. Once we got to Hubbards, we disassembled the spinning wheels and realized just how big it was; the wheel itself was about the size of our bed. Luckily we didn’t have to transport it all that far.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Hubbards Beach
Soft sandy beaches in Nova Scotia?! The south shore was a real treat. This is Hubbards Beach

The East Coast hospitality continued as we spent the evening drinking beers on a private beach while the sun was setting and enjoying the last couple weeks of summer. We woke up the next day and checked out Hubbards’ farmers market that was filled with an interesting mix of people of all ages. Although not a place we had ever even heard of, we totally understood why Justin’s first cousin once removed (sorry, had to) has spent 20 years there. A small enough town for everyone to know your name but still with unique events going on all the time.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Hubbards Farmers Market
Lots of folks hanging out at the Hubbards Farmers Market

After leaving the market, we drove through more beautiful seaside towns like Chester and Mahone Bay that made us lust over south shore Nova Scotia. Sid, Justin’s dad’s cousin, took us to Lunenburg, which is a town out of a postcard. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and played a big role in Nova Scotia’s history. It’s now the home to the Bluenose II schooner that was unfortunately out at sea the day we were on the wharf. The town is full of colourful buildings and amazing boats from all over, really similar to the coastal towns of Scandinavia in Sweden and Denmark. We walked around all the hills, popping in and out of cute little shops and eventually having a bowl of chowder while overlooking the ocean. Does life get any better than this?!

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Lunenburg Dory
A couple of yellow dories in the Lunenburg Harbour

After another open-ended goodbye, we set out to Peggy’s Cove to see one of Nova Scotia’s most iconic sites. Driving along more of the south shore was absolutely breathtaking and made for some pretty spectacular scenery. The views didn’t stop when we got up to the lighthouse where the rocks turn into smooth almost white boulders and the land opens up to beautiful, open coastline.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Antique Peggys Cove
Post card Nova Scotia at Peggy’s Cove

As the sun started to set, we did our best to avoid moose on the road by boogying through Truro and New Glasgow to a gravel pit not far from Antigonish. Here we were close to the causeway to cross onto Cape Breton Island the next morning and do the Cabot Trail. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit downtown Halifax but seeing how much we enjoyed the south shore, I’m sure we’ll be back again.

Lobster Land, PEI

Crossing one very long bridge to get to the land of lobster and potatoes that is PEI. We got spoiled with fresh oysters on red sand beaches in Tyne Valley before hitting the big city in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

There’s no better way to be welcomed onto PEI than by having two fresh lobsters on your plate within minutes of arriving. After crossing the Confederation Bridge, we headed through Summerside toward Tyne Valley where Justin’s friend had recently moved and was living with some top-notch PEI’ers. People talk about Southern hospitality but East Coast hospitality is where it’s at. Along with fresh lobsters, we were also spoiled with the freshest oysters out there: hand-picked from a private lease of ocean just minutes from home. From living in Toronto so long, we know that PEI oysters are the crème-de-la-crème and come with a crème-de-la-crème price tag to match. At the last bar that I worked at, we charged $18 for a half-dozen raw oysters – that’s $3 per oyster. Out on the fishing boats, our friend’s dad sells a case of 400 for $100 – $0.25 a piece! They were flabbergasted to hear that PEI oysters, specifically Malpeques, were seen as such a delicacy and were equally grossed out to hear that we enjoyed eating them raw. On the mainland, we always think that people on the east coast practically eat raw oysters for breakfast but we soon learned that most of the locals wouldn’t even give you a thank you for a platter of them.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Lobster Supper
Now that’s a welcome dinner

As plentiful as the seafood was, the only thing that was even more abundant was the obscene amount of mosquitoes. After being deep in the woods in Northern Ontario and around plenty of ponds and bogs in other places, PEI easily took the crown for the most bugs. While shooing away hoards of skeeters, we went to a quintessential red sand beach and enjoyed PEI’s beautiful, undeveloped coastline. I had heard that Cavendish is a cool spot to visit but was quickly corrected that it’s really no different than any other beach on the island aside from the fact that it’s littered with shops and food stands, AKA it’s a tourist trap. We were so grateful to get the inside scoop from locals and be taken around to some much more authentic places.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Red Sand Beach
Embracing the red sand at a classic PEI beach

After the beach, we went to the wharf to watch the lobster boats come in and unload the fruits of their labour. It’s funny to see how different people’s daily lives are and see your own job from a different perspective; Justin and I are sat behind computers all day building websites and making graphics while others are out battling the sea. Anyway, we had some local grub called “fries with the works”, which is like a PEI poutine: fries with gravy, green peas and ground beef. That might not sound all that appetizing but it was actually super tasty and filled our bellies before a boat ride out in the ocean. We went for a cruise and even got to collect oysters and bar clams in the shallow waters. We indulged in a spectrum of bar clams by eating them raw, bottled and steamed – all delicious but I think steamed was my favourite.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Boats Wharf
Lobster boats calling it a day

After leaving the Tyne Valley area, we drove the loop of the island, which barely took a couple hours. It’s a beautiful place and is filled with prosperous farms and exceptionally well-manicured lawns; you can tell that the folks take great pride in their farms and it’s nice to see. We popped into Charlottetown for a little while and drove around the island’s capital city. It’s definitely the most densely occupied area of the province but still maintains a small town vibe with a lot of character and charm. We were originally going to take the ferry from Wood Islands to Nova Scotia but decided to stick with the bridge to save a bit of time. If you didn’t know (I didn’t), it’s free to get to PEI whether you take the bridge or the ferry, but leaving the island comes at a price. Driving across the bridge into New Brunswick costs $47 and the ferry to Caribou, Nova Scotia is $78. Just a word to the wise so you don’t go blowing all your money on lobster and potatoes and end up having to live on the island since you don’t have the 50 bucks to get off.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Wharf
Can you spot Clemie?

With Atlantic province #2 off of our list, we were Nova Scotia bound and ready to keep exploring. This would be Clemie’s second last province to conquer and my last while Justin had practically rode in with the Bluenose. Onward!

Crazy Tides in New Brunswick

Walking on the sea floor at Hopewell Rocks while the Bay of Fundy’s tide rolled (more like sped) in and out in Alma, New Brunswick.

With Québec in the rearview mirror, we crossed into the Atlantic time zone and our first province of the Maritimes: New Brunswick. We were on a mission to get to the Bay of Fundy so only a brief pit stop was made in Edmunston to top up the gas and admire how lovely-ly the landscape was changing from central Canada. Things started to get really hilly and lush since we were still fairly inland from the coast. Driving through NB, you’ll notice two things: first, all the signs are completely bilingual. Personally, we think that all of Canada should be like that since it helps people from all over the country feel unified and you might even pick up a few things on your daily drives. To clarify, NB is the only officially bilingual province so they’re required to have all signage in English and French by law while other provinces aren’t required to do so. Anyway, the second thing we noticed is that there were a lot of road signs with claims about being the potato capital. Ok, those are some pretty great awards and titles to have but we all know that despite McCain‘s prominence in the potato world, PEI holds that crown. “Potato country”, “French fry capital” and “world famous potatoes” were all proclamations made on roadside signs that contributed to this potato propaganda. Although I’d need to see the official documentation to back these statements up to truly believe them, all the talk about potatoes and fries made us realize that we were going to feel right at home in New Brunswick.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Alma Boats
A fish boat out of water in Alma, New Brunswick

After zooming through Fredericton and making an unsuccessful attempt at getting some Sussex Ginger Ale in Sussex, we settled into a forest road campsite just outside of Fundy National Park for the night. It was a beautifully treed area that had this mystical sort of haze floating around that made it look pretty magical. Our goal was to get to the Hopewell Rocks for low tide bright and early the following day so it was the perfect spot to get a good night’s sleep before having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Fundy Campsite
Our magical looking campsite outside of Fundy National Park

On the way to Hopewell, we went through Alma, which is a cool little seaside town where we got our first view of just how crazy the tide really is. Huge fishing boats were completely out of the water and you could walk out at least 100’ beyond them. Once we got to the park, we could see people exploring the exposed sea floor way out beyond the steps to go down. We climbed down and checked out all the seaweed and flowerpot rocks that make the place so famous. The flowerpot rocks are also really good indicators of how much the tide changes – at 9AM we were walking at their bases and by 1PM, they were starting to get submerged.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks Low Tide
Low tide at Hopewell Rocks

We walked out about 1km/0.6mi and the sand started to turn into quicksand-like mud. I wanted to feel just how sticky it was so I crossed into some and almost lost a shoe. It’s clear that those areas are where the tide line usually hangs out since it’s so much wetter than the sand closer to the cliffs. I found it really interesting how little sea life there was other than seaweed but I suppose with a tide that aggressive, it would be hard for little creatures to survive. It’s very different than a lot of west coast beaches where you dodge crabs and mussels as you walk out.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks Seafloor
Walking on the sea floor of the Bay of Fundy
Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Muddy Shoes
The aftermath of the mud quite visible on my shoes

We stayed until an hour before high tide and the fluctuation was drastic. People were no longer allowed on the beach simply because there’s nowhere to walk; the beach completely disappears and gets filled in with water. Apparently a lot of ignorant people have gotten stuck from walking too far and not being able to find enough dry land to get back. The unique thing about the Bay of Fundy is that with the tide changing so quickly, it transforms the look of all the towns that it touches in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia alike. People can even rent kayaks at high tide to explore the rocks that they were just walking alongside on the formerly dry sand.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks High Tide
One hour before high tide at Hopewell Rocks. Note the kayaks

I’m going to refrain from subjecting any of you to the fun/Fundy jokes and just say that we had a wicked time in New Brunswick and that the Hopewell Rocks…rocked! Ouch, sorry. After leaving the park, we booted through Moncton to head toward the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island and hit up our first island in a while and take Clemie further and further east.

Living le Vanlife in Québec

Cruising along the St. Lawrence River in Canada’s Frenchest province through Beauharnois and the gorgeous countryside of Kamouraska, Québec.

You often forget just how big Ontario is and how long it takes to even cut across the bottom to get to Québec. I remember many $15 Megabus trips to Montréal to take advantage of the 18-year-old drinking age and late night bars where the drive seemed to fly by but in this case, it felt like more of a crawl (am I ageing myself?). A big part of how draining it felt stemmed from the days getting noticeable shorter. It’s starting to get dark earlier and earlier and autumn will definitely be upon us soon. Let’s just hope this year we will actually get to experience an autumn and Mother Nature doesn’t just slam the winter button way too early again. Anyway, after a long day, we decided to skip Montréal and settle into the small riverside town of Beauharnois for the night.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Beauharnois
Camping fleuve-side in Beauharnois, Québec

Beauharnois is home to a pretty massive hydroelectric dam with an adjacent gravel lot fit for a nice overnight stay. It seemed to be a pretty popular spot for people to stay the night, as there were more than a dozen vehicles already parked along the river when we arrived. Some folks even had their fishing rods out and were trying their luck with some poissons in the river. After climbing out of some not-so-obvious potholes, we crashed pretty quickly and had some much-needed rest after a long day on the road. We also had the free entertainment of locals bringing their Jeeps and minivans alike to do some awful-sounding donuts in the parking lot. In the morning, most people had cleared out but a man in a van not so different from Clemie came over to chat with us and welcome us to the area. It’s always super nice to get a chance to talk with locals and not feel like you’re seen as vagrant bums, especially when you’re just doing a quick overnight.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Beauharnois Night Shot
Werewolves not pictured in this full moon Beauharnois photo

We decided to pass on reliving our school year trips to Québec City and bypass the gorgeous historic city since we still had a fair amount of ground to cover in order to make our ferry to Newfoundland. Following the St. Lawrence, we drove through the countryside and got a taste for what the rest of our drive was going to be like. Small mountains were starting to pop up and water views were never far away. We had a few Québec vanners tell us that Kamouraska is where we want to be when it comes to travelling through the province so that’s where we headed. We stayed at a beach where the river felt like an ocean and there was nothing but peaceful, rolling hills in the distance. In the middle of all this painting-like scenery is a microbrewery all on its own called Tête d’Allumette where we popped in to grab a couple beers to enjoy on the beach as the tide rolled out.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Kamouraska Beach
The beautiful beach in Kamouraska on the St. Lawrence River

Kamouraska gave us a definite East Coast teaser and made us all that more excited to travel through Atlantic Canada. After leaving the beach, we made a stop in Rivière-du-Loup to get some much-needed rations: cheap beer and canned maple syrup. Did you even go to Québec if you didn’t bring back the tastiest maple syrup there is?! French goods in tow, we headed into the Atlantic time zone where we’d be embarking on the last leg of our voyage across Canada.

Bringing our New Home to our Old Home in Southern Ontario

Walking alongside the rapids of Niagara Falls before returning to our former home of Toronto, Ontario. All while squeezing in some TLC time for Clemie amid camping trips in Port Elgin and Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.

After border crossing #487354, we were home, sweet home and ready to catch up with friends and family all around southern Ontario (whoever’s keeping the border crossing tally might be a tad hyperbolic). We were stoked to spend some time with friends in Niagara Falls before heading to Toronto and were lucky enough to have a hookup with Niagara Parks for all kinds of complimentary passes to the good, non-cheesy attractions (shoutout to Brandon and Bev 😉). We spent a day being tourists doing the cable car over the whirlpool, walking behind the falls and indulging in some kids entertainment at The Fury.

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Niagara Gorge
View from the cable car going over the Niagara Gorge

The next day, we did the White Water Walk and got splashed by the most dangerous rapids in the world. That’s right, these are Class 6 rapids and are completely off-limits to rafters or paddlers because they’re that nuts. The limestone in the rocks give the water a beautiful, ultra-saturated teal colour that looks like a sea of cotton candy. If you find yourself in Niagara Falls, skip the wax museums of Clifton Hill and walk over to the gorge – in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the whole area. We didn’t bother with the Hornblower (the bigger, badder and crazier version of the Maid of the Mist, which is now the New York side’s attraction) because it was hot as hell out, the line was way too long and we had our share of plastic poncho-wearing for the day already.

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Niagara Falls Rapids
Getting up close and personal with Class 6 rapids

It had been 10 months since we left Toronto to move to Alberta and it felt a little surreal to be back – mainly because we brought our entire house with us. As always, it was great to spend time with friends and family and catch up on some work and van maintenance. We managed to cross quite a bit off of our list including rerouting our sink drainage, making a new table and sealing a couple chips in the windshield. It was nice to be parked at my parents’ house where tools and running water are plentiful. And of course, parents love to feed ya! With full bellies, we headed to MacGregor Point, an Ontario Provincial Park on Lake Huron, for a camping trip at our second paid campsite in 6 months. Yup, ever since we installed our solar system, we’ve only paid for two campsites since March. One in Tofino because we pretty much had no choice and this group camping trip that was planned months ago. How many people can say they’ve only paid one hundred and fifty odd bucks in rent in 6 months?? Fees aside, it was a really nice campground that felt like we were alone in the woods, which is generally preferable when camping as opposed to the all too common sardine can campgrounds where kids wake up super early and just scream all day. On our way out, we checked out the beach in Port Elgin where the crystal clear waters of Lake Huron make you feel like you’re somewhere tropical and do such a great job at making you forget just how damn cold it gets in the winter.

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The best part of our MacGregor Point camping trip was getting to spend time with this handsome devil (sorry human friends)

Not long after we returned to the city to get back to work, we were headed off on another camping trip. This time, we headed east about 2 hours north of Peterborough to do some boondocking on some of Ontario’s mythical Crown Land (public land). If you’ve ever tried to locate Crown Land in Ontario (namely southern), you’ll know exactly what I mean. Sure, the government website provides a map but it’s complicated and not very user-friendly. Truthfully, I think that that’s their intention since it’s unclear whether many of the spots are even accessible – especially with a vehicle. Anyway, deciphering maps and finding camping spots has become a regular part of our daily lives so we were game to give it a whirl. We found an amazing spot called Cashel Lake where a few other campers had already set up shop to enjoy the peaceful woods and pristine lake. We spent the majority of the weekend floating in the water with friends while soaking in as much of the non-city air as we could before heading back to Toronto. I even dug out my childhood fishing rods that became our new favourite tools and even helped to catch us dinner one night. Not bad for city folk!

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Cashel Lake Fishing
Nothing like fishing from an inflatable pink donut
Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Cashel Lake Shanty Town
And then eating the fish at our little shanty town

After returning home and tying up some loose ends with van repairs, we were ready to get back into “routine” and hit the road again. Saying goodbye is always bittersweet but our goodbyes are always more “until next times” than anything else. Leaving the city this time around was so much more relaxed than last time when we were about to fly across the country to move into our house that we hadn’t even seen before. We’re geared up and ready to hit the East Coast and can’t wait to cross some more provinces off our list!

Top 5 FREE Camping Spots in Canada

In no particular order, here are our top 5 favourite FREE camping spots in Canada (so far…)

ARDEN CREEK – Port Alberni, British Columbia

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Canada

Secluded waterside camping at its finest. A 40-minute drive from Port Alberni on a well maintained logging road gets you to the Alberni Inlet where you can tent or vehicle camp in a beautifully wooded area with picnic tables and a vault toilet.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/arden-creek/

ALEXANDER BAY – Glovertown, Newfoundland

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Canada

With gravel pits aplenty in Newfoundland, finding one with a view is just an added bonus. Just off of the Trans-Canada on a dirt road is the former settlement of Alexander Bay; now a lovely gravel clearing on Boatswain’s (First) Pond.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/alexander-bay/

HARTLEY LAKE – Fernie, British Columbia

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Best Free Camping Spots in Canada

Nestled in the mountains just 30 minutes outside of Fernie, Hartley Lake is a beautiful emerald-coloured lake surrounded by spruce trees. There are a couple gravel clearings for vehicles and many hiking and ATV trails around in an otherwise perfectly remote setting.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/hartley-lake/

CASHEL LAKE – Gilmour, Ontario

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Free Camping Spots in Canada

Grassy crown land on a crystal clear lake. Pick a spot on the grass or in the woods and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this nicely maintained area perfect for swimming, boating and fishing.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/cashel-lake/

NAHMINT LAKE – Port Alberni, British Columbia

Generic Van Life - Top 5 Free Camping Spots in Canada

It’s a rough road to get in, but totally worth the trek. Camp beneath old growth hemlock trees in BC’s rainforest. You’re also steps away from a rocky beach on a quiet freshwater lake.

Everything you need to know here: http://www.genericvan.life/full-camping-directory/listing/nahmint-lake/

Canada is HUGE and full of gorgeous, unobstructed nature waiting to be uncovered (and respected 🤓). Be sure to let us know if you check out any of these spots and shed some light on your favourite free spots too by leaving a comment below. Happy trails!

Fishing our Way Through Northern Ontario

Entering the land of trees and lakes in Kenora, Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The drive across Manitoba changes its landscape quite a bit as you approach the provincial line. Falcon Lake just set the tone for the rest of the rocky, tree and water-filled drive that was ahead. We crossed into Ontario and the Canadian Shield was real. For those that don’t know what that is, just picture lots of rock walls (aka the earth’s crust) that have been blown out for the road to go through. The Minnesota license plate boasts 10 000 Lakes but Northern Ontario has more than 250 000 so I’m sure you can imagine that there is no shortage of lovely views. We found a boat ramp on a quiet lake where we stayed the night with a few other Ontario vanners looking to catch some shut-eye. Ontario never really felt unique for me since it was all I knew as a child, but after spending so much time elsewhere in Canada, being back reminded me that it really is beautiful.

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Gotta love waterfront crown land. Our camping spot on Royal Lake.

The next morning, we were headed to a remote fishing camp near Sioux Lookout. On our way, we drove through Kenora, which was somewhere I truthfully didn’t even know existed but was absolutely gorgeous. The town was bustling with shops and restaurants in old buildings full of character and charm, while boats rolled into the marina and people walked about. In fact, it was so full of tourists that we had our first taste of bumper-to-bumper traffic in a while and it felt like we were in a much bigger city. We had a grocery run to do so we stopped in at No Frills, which was an absolutely madhouse – they were even out of bread. Out of bread!! It seems that more and more people are catching onto how beautiful Kenora is and are making it their summer destination and consequently, clearing the shelves of the soft, delicious goodness that we call bread. Anyway, we were lucky that Dryden, another town along the way, was more prepared for these circumstances and had plenty of loaves and hot dog buns alike.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Kenora
This photo doesn’t do Kenora justice but you can see it’s a pretty little waterfront town with plenty of boats, shops and restaurants

We made it to Sioux Lookout where we caught a boat in to portage over to Ghost River Lodges, a fishing camp on Marchington Lake run by Justin’s aunt and uncle. Many of the camps in the area are fly-in only so it was nice to enjoy a couple boat rides and get a feel for the surroundings. There are 15 lakes all accessible by rivers or small portages full of fishies and other wildlife. We stayed for a week and fished every day, eating awesome lunches and dinners of the freshest fish around. We even got a cabin with a flushing toilet AND a shower – luxury! Although we had major separation anxiety from the van, it was nice to get away for a while and live a different – equally challenging – lifestyle. We spent our last night hanging out with friends and family, drinking wine and eating homemade fish & chips. We even scored a whole bunch of home-dubbed cassettes that are pretty rad.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Ghost River Justin Perch
Here’s Justin with a feisty little perch
Cooking up a shore lunch on a remote island. Talk about livin’ off the land!

The morning portage out was a little slow and fuzzy from all the wine the night before but we were anxious to be reunited with Clementine and get back on the road. Our next destination was Thunder Bay, where Justin has more family. We paid some visits and spent a few days relaxing and watching Mrs. Brown’s Boys with Justin’s grandma before seeing “the sights” that Thunder Bay has to offer. Ok, if you’ve been to TBay before then you know that calling them “the sights” might be a bit of a stretch. Basically, you’ve got a lovely view of the Sleeping Giant from Hillcrest Park and a stroll around the waterfront and marina. It seems that the city is slowly trying to put efforts into revamping the town to attract tourists and make it a little prettier. They’ve done a great job with the marina and hopefully that same love will creep up into the rest of the city but for the most part, it’s pretty dirty and not very exciting. Without hesitation, we both agree that TBay has been our least favourite place so far. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from going there but let’s just say (family visits aside), we were very anxious to leave.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Thunder Bay Sleeping Giant
The Sleeping Giant from Hillcrest Park

Our foray into Northern Ontario marked our fifth province and the nearing of completing our even fuller circle by returning to Toronto. Although we’ve been so happy to be back in Canada and uncover all kinds of cool new places, the beckoning of cheap gas and groceries was calling. We decided to cross back into the states to get around the Great Lakes as opposed to driving through Ontario. If that confuses you, take a look at a map of Canada and see how huge Ontario is – we’ll cross 8 states in the time it would take to get down through Ontario. Luckily Thunder Bay is barely an hour away from the US border where gas drops by over $0.60/L and chicken breasts aren’t 5 bucks each…ah, what a magical place.

Generic Van Life - Northern Ontario Ghost River Full Stringer
BONUS PHOTO: Here’s me with a full stringer, pretending I single handedly caught them all

The Rest Area Tour of Saskatchewan

Took the north route through Kindersley and Saskatoon before spending the day in Canada’s Dead Sea in Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan.

We’ve finally gotten to the part of the map where every Canadian has flashbacks to elementary school learning about Saskatchewan, its endless wheat fields and…that’s about it. The prairies get a bad wrap in the scheme of cross-country road trips and are often the zones people devote to full day drives in a hurry to get to Alberta or Ontario because they’re summarized in one word: boring. Well, we were on a mission to give Saskatchewan and Manitoba a fighting chance at stealing our hearts by giving ourselves two weeks to drive across them. To put that into perspective, it only takes about 11 hours to get from the edge of Alberta to the edge of Ontario so we were really going to be taking our time.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Window View
These endless skies surely weren’t boring

Coming from our last campsite in Sunnynook, Alberta (necessary side note: this is very close to Hanna, AB – proud home of everyone’s favourite band, Nickelback), we immediately felt the difference after crossing the provincial line when the road turned into a pothole-ridden nightmare. In any case, we were ready to do some trail blazing in hopes of uncovering a sweet camping spot on some of Saskatchewan’s plentiful Crown Land. As we’ve mentioned before, when it comes to free camping spots, Canada as a whole is way under discovered in comparison to the plethora that is BLM land and National Forests listed in the States. With our government land maps in tow, we set out to find somewhere to camp for the night where we could watch the big sky light up with stars in the evening. After making a pit stop in Kindersley, we headed north to a small lake surrounded by federally owned land that seemed promising. Unfortunately, the only way to access it would be to drive through a farm field filled with waist-high canola crops. Bummer. Our next possibility brought us to a muddy lot that had been inhabited by a sea of pump jacks, which was certainly not what we had in mind. As much as we were still hopeful that there was a hidden gem of a spot somewhere in the area, there was an angry storm brewing in the distance so we swallowed our pride, headed back to the main road and made our way to a rest stop near a town called Harris.

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HUGE skies just outside of Harris, SK

Now, a rest area is not really what we had foreseen for our cool campsite discovery but when we arrived, we realized that rest areas in Saskatchewan are not like rest areas anywhere else. In the US, they’re generally paved parking lots with vending machines and air conditioned bathroom buildings while in Canada, they’re often small roadside turnouts with an outhouse or two. In Sask, they’re pretty much campgrounds. Huge grassy areas with outhouses, fire pits and picnic tables and even clearings within the trees for little private campsites. At this point, we were asking ourselves why we didn’t just come here sooner. We even found a few small prickly pear cactuses in the bush that made us question if we were really in the prairies or had somehow been transported to a secret realm in Arizona. We had a super peaceful night’s sleep and even got to admire that big, colourful sky that we knew was waiting for us.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Prickly Pear
Say what? Who woulda thunk there’d be cactuses in the prairies

The next morning, we hopped on the highway and hit the big city, Saskatoon (using the term “big city” rather lightly). Justin had driven around Saskatchewan many times but being my first time, we opted to go through Saskatoon instead of the capital city of Regina because quite simply, it’s nicer. We settled into a café in the Riversdale neighbourhood to get some work done before taking a stroll around and seeing what the city is all about. This neighbourhood is definitely in the eye of its gentrification and has opened up to a bunch of cool shops and restaurants on its short stretch of street. Scattered amongst older, grittier buildings and storefronts, it’s close to the Central Business District and the Saskatchewan River. We grabbed a bite at Picaro, because everyone knows Saskatoon is known for its tacos… Jokes aside, they were actually really tasty and the space felt like it could belong in a much bigger city.

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♥ how cute, Saskatoon ♥

With our bellies full, we ventured over to the Broadway area across the river, which to our dismay, seems to close down around 5PM. Definitely a drag but it seemed like another cool spot to check out if we pass through again. Overall, Saskatoon is far from a bustling city but surely has some interesting pockets to explore amid their adorable street signs decorated with bright red hearts. Based on our experience at the rest area the previous night, we opted to check out the next rest area along the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway instead of finding a stealthy spot in the city. About half an hour east of town near Elstow, we arrived at another grassy field that was again, more of a campground than a rest area. Score!

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Can’t complain about calling this home for the night!

With all that city life the previous day, we switched gears and set out for the beach. The beach is certainly not the first thing I think of when it comes to a day in Saskatchewan but with Little Manitou Lake in the distance, it turned out to be a really cool surprise. The lake is considered to be Canada’s Dead Sea, as it’s 3 times saltier than the ocean and half the salinity of the actual Dead Sea. Basically what that means is that it’s extra gross when you get water in your mouth BUT it’s super easy to float. Turns out that there’s a whole little beach town around this lake that’s got a burger joint, beach bar and a bunch of lakeside cabins. It’s far from soft white sand but it was a great place to spend a 25°C/77°F day and the best part about it was that the bathroom building had hot showers so we left cleaner than we came. Any vanlifer knows that you take full advantage of these opportunities because they’re often few and far between.

Generic Van Life - Saskatchewan Manitou Beach
Manitou Beach was an awesome surprise – definitely worth the stop if you’re passing through

Continuing on our rest area tour of Saskatchewan, we found another spot near Lanigan that continued to perpetuate our finding that rest areas are where it’s at when travelling through the province. Unfortunately, I seemed to develop a not so nice case of hay fever and the amount of grass we’d been around was not agreeing with my newfound allergies. We decided to stay at this spot for a couple days and following WebMd’s orders, I stayed inside and got up close and personal with allergy pills and eye drops – fun!

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Again, how is this a rest area?!

For our last day in S-K, we were really looking forward to spending the day at Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park on what Maclean’s Magazine calls one of Canada’s best beaches (feel like I need a citation there but the article is no longer up on their website) but mother nature changed our plans by pissing rain so we headed into Yorkton and had a boring work day courtesy of A&W wifi instead. All in all, we had a nice time in Saskatchewan even though it didn’t end up being the Magellan-like experience we had ambitiously anticipated. On our venture back west, we’ll take the Highway 1 across and spend some time exploring the underground tunnels in Moose Jaw as we cruise along with endless trains filled with potash.

Coming Full Circle in Alberta

Returning to where we started our van journey in and around Calgary, Alberta.

Alberta is where the van magic started; our van is from here, we renovated it here (in the dead of winter I might add) and we started our 6-month long drive (and counting) from here. As cool as it was coming back into Canada through BC, entering Alberta was a pretty big milestone for us. We’ve done and seen A LOT of stuff since we’ve been away and it’s pretty great to know that we, and Clementine, have made it successfully without being dead broke or, just dead.

Generic Van Life - Alberta Crowsnest Pass
The Rockies never seem to get old. Even though they’re like really, really old.

You’d be hard pressed to find a boring or dull route into Alberta from BC since you’ve got some pretty special mountains to pass through. As mentioned in our last post, we took the Crowsnest Highway the whole way through BC until we reached the crazy gorgeous Crowsnest Pass in Alberta. Crystal clear lakes and snow capped mountains surround you as you drive and try to feverishly take it all in since in a matter of minutes, the landscape changes to the good ol’ prairies – yawn. Anyway, not far from the border is the town of Frank, which is a pretty interesting place to stop. Basically, hundreds of years ago, a crazy rockslide completely buried this little town and it was left as a field of rubble. They say there’s gold and all kinds of things under those rocks since the slide destroyed banks and other important buildings but I think the no-digging policy is pretty firm. Bummer.

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Turtle Mountain: the culprit of the rockslide that buried a town in 1903

After catching up with some friends and family, we made the voyage to middle-of-nowhere-ville, Alberta for a music and van festival. Yes, I said van festival. It’s called Vantopia and is where people from Western Canada and elsewhere bring their crazy souped up vintage vans to hangout and party. I think we could easily say we were some of the only ones that actually live in our van because most of these other ones definitely stay in the garage for most of the year and only come out to be shown off. We’re talking full white polar bear interiors, custom wooden rims and even fully operational bars, all in 70s and 80s vans in the most pristine condition. It was a farmer’s field full of vanners and it was wicked. We set up our matching awnings with our friends’ van and made a giant van complex but were too busy getting wasted to take a photo of it – oops!

Generic Van Life - Alberta Vantopia
One of the only surviving photos (…and it sucks. Sorry.) of when we just arrived and barely anyone was there

We spent the next couple weeks hanging out with family, eating good food and catching up on some repairs and maintenance. We were so stoked to borrow a timing gun from a friend and fix our ongoing engine issue in minutes. We can now go up hills without having to go logging truck pace and all just in time for us to embark on the flattest part of our journey through the prairies– perfect timing! Ha. As great of a time as we had with the humans we hadn’t seen in months, the highlight of our time in Calgary was definitely meeting Justin’s brother’s new puppy, Banjo. This is totally unrelated to anything travel or van related but he’s just too damn cute not to acknowledge. He’s a little border collie and is an absolute wildman. But you can’t stay mad at him because he’s just SO CUTE!! (Photo evidence below)

Generic Van Life - Alberta Banjo
GAHH!!! Don’t you just want to squeeze him?!

Just as we were getting ready to leave Calgary, we noticed that our fridge had decided to stop cooling. We had propane, it was getting a steady flow of power and we always make sure to keep it level so this became a real headache. Long story short, we ended up being able to replace what was causing the problem with a $7 part from an electronics store and were back in business. This was really frustrating and stressful and delayed our departure by a few aggravating days but all in all, we got it sorted and were finally able to buy groceries again, yay! RV fridges are really expensive and finicky so I wrote a very detailed post about what happened to our fridge and how to troubleshoot if you’re experiencing issues with yours. All that and more here.

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Repeatedly turning the fridge upside down was one of the many methods we messed with

With a cold fridge full of overpriced Canadian beer, we were ready to hit the road again and keep truckin’ east. We made a stop not far from the Saskatchewan border in Sunnynook, Alberta at a lovely free campground on a dam reservoir. It was all fine and dandy with the exception of the playground that’s so rusty that it makes horror movie-level sounds as children play on it. Swings that sound like creaky shrieks and children’s laughter just don’t go all that well together when you don’t want to have nightmares. Aside from that, we enjoyed our last peaceful night in Alberta before exploring some new ground (for me) in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Our next commitment is to be in Northern Ontario for the beginning of July so we have about two weeks to drive 19 hours, which is more than manageable and will give us plenty of time to get lost in all those canola fields. Oh yeah, we borrowed a camera from Justin’s mom so we’ll be stepping up our photo game on our blogs and camping directory. Be sure to follow along as we uncover new spots all the time!

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Peaceful prairie camping in Sunnynook, Alberta

Following the Crowsnest through Interior BC

Snaking around hairpin turns in Osoyoos before venturing into the mountains on the Crowsnest Highway through Castlegar, Creston and Fernie, British Columbia. 

The time had come for us to veer away from the gorgeous Pacific coast that we had spent the last two months conquering and head into the interior, bidding farewell to the ocean for a while until we reach the Atlantic. From Princeton, we started on the Crowsnest Highway, which we’d be taking the whole way through to Alberta. Most people opt for the other route through Golden, BC to Banff, AB but that’s precisely why we didn’t – it gets crazy packed with tourists all summer and luckily, we’ve both done it before. The Crowsnest Highway is also incredibly beautiful and far less busy, which is great for us since Clemmie doesn’t exactly love going up hills. Anyway, we settled into another camping spot along the Similkameen River not far from Hedley and took cover as massive swarms of baby mosquitoes tried to gobble us up. I didn’t mind having to stay inside because after spending a week in the city, I got sick. Interestingly enough, neither of us have been sick at all since we’ve hit the road (even in the winter) and have been spending so much time outside but after a week of close quarters with lots of humans, it got me good.     

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Similkameen River
It’s hard to find bad views in the mountains. This was our spot on the Similkameen River, between Hedley and Keremeos.

We carried on into picturesque wine country where it was 30°C/86°F and everything was in full bloom. If you’ve never been to Osoyoos before, do yourself a favour and go. It’s a magical valley within the Okanagan area that seems like it could be the setting of a Disney movie with lush greenery amongst a background of snow-capped mountains. There’s a killer lookout point as you leave town that gives a view of the whole valley and the switchbacks you just drove up to get there. This led us toward Anarchist Mountain (great name), where we camped a night at yet another one of BC’s awesome recreation areas called Jolly Creek. We had our share of struggles in the winter when it was so cold that we’d wake up with frost on our phone screens and our dish soap would be frozen but now that summer was coming into full swing, a whole new set of challenges were arising. We’ve got a small fan but with no airflow, it kinda just pushes the warm air around. The only cure for that is to sit outside in the heat and remember the times we nearly froze when running out of propane in the middle of the night in -30° and stop complaining.

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Could Osoyoos get any prettier?

The van didn’t want to start up the next morning which further solidified our inkling that the ignition timing was out of sync and the drive through the mountains would be a slow crawl until we could fix it in Calgary. With most of our day spent fiddling with spark plugs, we made a brief stop in Grand Forks before hunkering down for the night at a spot called Mud Lake. Because of the elevation, there was still snow on the ground even though it was over 30°C/86°F and sunny; for the first time ever, we had a snowball fight in shorts and sandals and it was something out of every Canadian child’s dreams.

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Sunshine and snow at Mud Lake

The next morning had me waking up dead sick but luckily we were on our way to Creston where we’d be visiting some family for some much-needed TLC and home cookin’. We stopped in Castlegar to trade in my oregano oil for extra strength Buckley’s before making the trek through the Kootenays via Salmo Pass. This was really hard on Clementine because it was the longest and probably the tallest mountain we’d climbed so far. Alongside the logging trucks, we slowly creeped up to the snowy summit where we had to stop for roadwork. Turns out there was a massive mud slide just a week prior where a couple from Saskatchewan got pushed off the cliff and had to find their way out of the mud and get airlifted out…YIKES. Anyway, we eventually made it to Creston (mud-free) where we spent a few days relaxing and chowing down on lots of fresh, local asparagus (asparagus tourism, anyone?).

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Salmo Pass
No shortage of bad views on the Kootenay Pass from Salmo to Creston

With some rest and lots of cold medicine, I was feeling alive again and ready to keep truckin’. We made a stop in Cranbrook to get some groceries and got caught in a vicious mountain thunderstorm that actually made the power go out at Walmart. You know it’s intense when even Walmart is down. Once it passed and order was restored in the universe, we made our way toward Fernie for our last couple nights in British Columbia. By this time, we’d been on the road for six months and had barely seen any wildlife aside from the usual suspects of deer and possums. Not far out of Cranbrook near Joffre, we had our first bear sighting. Unfortunately, it was dead on the side of the road with its tongue hanging out and was not at all pleasant to look at…neither was the smashed up car that hit it. We passed the scene of the crime and spent the night at Wapiti Lake where we camped lakeside to the soundtrack of elk mating calls. When we were exploring the forest a bit, we found a bag of deer legs dumped on the ground. This was pretty weird and creepy so we retreated back to the van and tried not to let our minds wander.

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When a lovely lakeside camping spot turns into…
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A creepy deer massacre!!

Fernie is a wicked little mountain town not far from the Alberta border. It’s a hotspot in the winter for skiing and snowboarding but is equally beautiful in the summer where sidewalk patios give way to a view of the snowy Lizard Range Mountains. The Three Sisters are a heavily photographed mountain chain that you can see clearly, right from downtown. After putting in some work hours at a café, we grabbed some Fernie brews and headed up Mount Hosmer where we’d spend our last night in BC. Hartley Lake is a small emerald green lake nestled among the mountain tops that made for an awesome camping spot. You really can’t beat mountain-fed lakes and the peacefulness that surrounds them. We spotted two beavers swimming around but when we walked around to get a closer look, the one we gathered was the male protecting the pregnant female started jumping out of the water to make some major splashes to scare us off. Ok beaver, it worked. We’ll keep to our side and you can keep to yours.

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Hartley Lake
Beautiful Hartley Lake on Mt. Hosmer, about 20 minutes away from Fernie

After a quiet night’s rest, we gathered our things to make our way toward Calgary, where we started our journey six months ago. Of course, Clementine didn’t want to go home and decided yet again, she didn’t want to start. She eventually got going after the usual fiddling so we were anxious to get to Calgary to catch up on the overdue repairs and tuning. Returning to Alberta was coming full circle from where we bought and renovated the van and it felt great to know we’ve made it such a long way. We’re stoked to keep heading east through Canada and check out tons of cool spots along the way. Keep checking our camping directory as we add new spots all the time!

Generic Van Life - Crowsnest Highway Sparwood Truck
Bonus! Check out “The World’s Largest Truck” in Sparwood on your way out of BC. It’s definitely not small…