Shortly after Covid-19 shut down the world, the last thing I expected to happen, happened. I had just finished my degree and moved home to spend time with family while we were on lockdown. I was feeling down because I wasn’t able to celebrate my achievements as I’d expected to and the future was looking grim. But, then I got a job interview. And that interview turned into an offer of full-time employment in my field… on the other side of the country. Mack and I decided pretty quickly that moving was the right choice for us. Although leaving NL and our loved ones was hard, it felt right. At the end of May, we packed both of our cars to the brim and set off for Alberta.
The first leg of our 6-day, 8-province journey was driving across Newfoundland. We drove from our hometown to Corner Brook, where we stopped for lunch and gas. We soaked up some of our last gorgeous Atlantic views. Then we headed down along the Codroy Valley to Port-Aux-Basques where we caught the ferry. This part of the drive was incredibly beautiful.
We took the ferry overnight from Port-Aux-Basques to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. Luckily, it was an incredibly smooth crossing. I was so happy to have one of my best friends with us on this part of the journey as well. We had a fun night and it made saying goodbye to her so much easier. On the ferry, we were required to wear masks in the hallways and were not allowed to leave our cabins until we were escorted out in the morning. They provided a snack bag and we brought on some beer to make the 12-hour ride a little more exciting.
When we drove off the ferry in Nova Scotia, my friend stuck with us until Truro, where we went our separate ways. She headed down to Halifax and Mack and I made our way up to the New Brunswick border. The drive through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was absolutely breathtaking. We stopped by Magnetic Hill in Moncton, NB, which was super fun. We made sure to really soak up all of our final moments in Atlantic Canada by spending time driving near the water. We ended that second day in Edmunston, NB, which is a small town on the border of Quebec, and stayed at Days Inn where we enjoyed a bottle of wine and Boston Pizza we had delivered to our room.
On the third day, we drove long-haul through Quebec and into Ontario. We stopped for gas in Ottawa where we picked up supper and drove to the small town where Linds was riding out the pandemic. We had a much needed (socially-distanced) visit. I was so grateful to be able to see her on our way across Canada. It was too short of a visit, but worth it nonetheless. We had so much fun catching up that we even forgot to take a picture. After our visit, Mack and I got back on the road for another two hours where we finally made it to North Bay, Ontario.
We rested up in the Super 8 in North Bay and our room had an East Coast vibe that seemed like it was just trying to make us homesick. We had to get a good night’s sleep because we had to make the most monotonous part of the drive the next day.
The drive through Ontario is infamous for being incredibly long. I truly never realized how big the province of Ontario is! In normal times, we could have cut this part of the trip short by driving through Toronto and Sarnia into the US, but of course, during Covid-19 the border is closed. So, we had two options to get to Thunder Bay: drive through Northern Ontario, or keep south along the Great Lakes and through Sault-Ste-Marie. We chose the southern route as the drive along the lakes sounded more appealing. I think we made the right choice.
The folks we chatted with about the drive were right: driving through Ontario feels like it takes forever. But, it wasn’t as monotonous as we’d expected. The town of Bruce Mines, pictured above, was so cute and quaint– as were many of the small towns. We saw a lot of Amish families in their horse-drawn buggies, which is something we don’t see in NL. It was so interesting to observe another way of life in our own country that is so different than our own lifestyle. After we turned north in Sault-Ste-Marie, the highway starts to climb and drop and twist and turn. I did not expect the coast of the Great Lakes to be so striking. There were steep cliffs and sea stacks, just like home. The only difference was the lack of salt in the water.
We finally made it to Thunder Bay after 13 long hours of driving. We crashed in the Econolodge where we ordered in Montana’s and slept like rocks. The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast and coffee with a view. I had such a negative preconception of Thunder Bay. I don’t know why, but I expected it to be run down and dirty. I was proven entirely wrong. Thunder Bay is absolutely beautiful! Aside from the pleasant view, we had the humbling realization that we had driven as far as Terry Fox ran during his Marathon of Hope. Right away, we checked our attitude and stopped complaining about how long the trip was taking. We had our health and our cars and each other. We had nothing to complain about.
On our way out of Thunder Bay, we stopped at Kakabeka Falls. It was so beautiful and really inspired us to have a great day of driving. Little did we know, this would also be our last exciting landscape feature for quite some time as we were headed straight for the prairies.
That day, our fifth day of driving, we drove through the remainder of Ontario and into Manitoba. We made it to Brandon, MB, where we had sushi delivered to our Comfort Inn hotel room.
On our sixth and final day, we drove straight straight straight. And it was flat flat flat. The prairies are relentless and plain. It was interesting for about five minutes. Sorry to our friends and readers who grew up in and love the prairies, I’m sure there is lots to love, and I’m open to being convinced.
After 11 hours of prairie driving, we finally made it to our new home in Athabasca, about an hour and a half north of Edmonton. We were able to stay with my grandparents who live nearby, and it was such a pleasure to get to spend time with them. Athabasca had our hearts right away. It’s so quaint and pretty. It has a small town feel but with more than enough amenities. It has charm. We’re so excited to see what Alberta has to offer.
In normal times, we would have loved to have taken more time to see what each province had to offer. We would have stopped to take more pictures and try new things. But, because of the covid-19 pandemic, this was not a safe option. We didn’t want to risk infecting ourselves or others, or risk getting stuck in a random province if the situation worsened. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to make the cross-country trek again during a time when we can make the most out of it.
Here is a little more information about the precautions we had to take:
I had prepared a huge stack of documentation for each provincial border-crossing to prove that we were travelling for an essential purpose. It included my offer of employment letter, photocopies of our IDs, a certified letter proving we had an address to stay at in Alberta, a certified letter proving Mack and I are common-law partners, and our last two lease agreements to prove we live together, since we were travelling in two separate vehicles. Although I was glad to be well-prepared, we actually only ended up needing to show documentation when entering New Brunswick.
We protected ourselves and others by avoiding public areas as much as possible on our trip. We paid at the pump when we gassed up, brought lots of snacks and meals to eat on the side of the road, and peed in the woods as much as we could! When we had to enter public spaces, such as hotels, we always wore our masks.
That said, I am so proud of us for doing it. We got to see so much of our incredible country. Canada is a really phenomenal place and we should not forget that. We have salty coastal communities, safe highways, mountainous regions, prairie regions, many languages, many cultures, and many kind people.
Have you driven across Canada before? What was it like? What was your favourite part of the drive? Preparing for the drive yourself and have questions? I’m happy to help. Leave us a comment, send an email, or reach out on social media. We’d love to hear from you.