Going to the Cabin

September 2nd–Today was the trip through the peaceful, bucolic, rolling Canadian countryside to Linda’s cabin on Johnson Lake (Lac Johnson, on Google maps). The morning was spent packing and getting organized. Linda travels with a big cooler, which was currently quite full with goodies we’d be working on for the next few days.  Water at the cabin is pumped from the lake, but Linda bought a big refillable bottle of drinking water.


The cabin has been in Linda’s family since the 60s, and she, her brothers, their children and grandchildren always enjoy visiting and relaxing there. It’s close enough to their home, and to the big city, Ottawa, for frequent trips. Many of the other residents on the lake are also part-timers, and most of the houses are WIP’s (works in progress) as owners always have projects going to improve the premises.

These were two of my favorite curio objects in the cabin. Both were presents from Linda to her husband, Bruce, and they require no further explanation.



There’s no internet service, which makes for a peaceful visit. During our travels, we would often end up at a Tim Horton, tea for Linda, latte for me, and internet for both. And several times we parked in front of the public library in Ladysmith, which was closed, but had a sign outside displaying the internet password for the library’s server.

The night we arrived we had been invited to a dinner at a neighbor’s. We were late, but brought a bag of apricots to contribute, which were much appreciated. We were fed a delicious dinner of stuffed cabbage leaves, and even had homemade pie for dessert. But the best part was that there was a “hootenanny” going on! One of the guys (there were three couples) had an acoustic guitar, somehow hooked up to an amp. There were a couple of harmonicas, a tambourine, and a pair of bongo drums around that other, er, musicians, would play. Everybody who knew the words would shout them out. It was totally delightful. I asked for anything by Gordon Lightfoot, and he responded by playing “Did She Mention My Name?” which I had forgotten and was fabulous.

Then, a short walk down a dark street, with just nature sounds around us. I had my own room in the cabin with a heater and a soft bed. Just perfect. Good night.

A neighbor stopped by the next morning to give Linda information about the Mosaicanada, which is discussed in another post.


Cousin Ray

September 5

This morning’s highlight was a visit to my cousin (exact connection unknown, but I’m claiming him) Ray Drouin. Ray is retired Canadian Military, and we became buddies during the Drouin Reunion Tour of 2007. Considering his military background, Ray is very liberal, politically, and he told me about Obama before I’d even heard of him. We’d kept in touch by email over the years, and I was eager to see him again. He lives in a suburb of Ottawa, and Linda was able to find his house without any problem.

Ray was just as friendly and charming as ever. He served us tea and showed us his wife’s art studio and some photos of his family.  We picked his mind for information about the Drouins, and he showed us this coat of arms.

Ray isn’t traveling much these days, so he won’t be going to the reunion. He had been stationed in West Germany in the early 80s, just before Linda spent four years at the same base teaching in the school for the children of Canadians stationed there. They had some great stories to tell, including something awful about eating a raw egg through a sock. Enough said. A final hug from Ray, and we were off to downtown Ottawa.

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Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and the heart of the city is filled with huge old medieval-looking Gothic buildings that were constructed in the 1880s to house Parliament and various federal offices. Some were in the process of a major cleaning, and it improved the appearance immensely.

There was a large War Memorial, that, unfortunately had to be expanded as Canada was involved in more wars.  I think things were also added in an effort to make it more multicultural.P1020705

We hoped to get into the Parliament building (the session hasn’t yet begun) but due to some violent incident a few years ago, visitors were allowed in the building only if they had tickets. And by the time we got there, all the tickets were gone. Darn. So instead, we were able to cruise around the Supreme Court building. (Originally there were just six justices. I wonder how they dealt with ties.) Currently, five of the nine justices are women, including the Chief Justice. We have quite a ways to catch up with them.

Then off to lunch at a bistro in Ottawa’s bustling downtown.  We were able to eat outside, and I shared some of my sandwich bun with some resident sparrows. And I got this photo:P1020710

And here’s some other photos I took, including some from the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral:


Then off to the National Gallery of Canada. It’s just huge, and Linda told me how her father, a plumber, had worked on it while it was being built. But then when it was finally open, he could only walk as far as a bench in the main entrance, and waited there for the rest of the family to look around.  I didn’t take photos. Sorry. But I wanted to absorb the vibe, unfiltered. The exhibits we visited were mostly 20th Century art. I’m sure we missed a lot, but we concentrated on work by Canadian artists—photographs, paintings, sculpture and mixed media.  ( I loved the photo of Glenn Gould, still wearing his hat and overcoat, sitting in a folding chair while playing the piano,)  Each of the photographers discussed their work, and I was impressed how very articulate and focused they were—not my random snaps of anything that catches my eye. But my favorite was the display of wonderful First Nations sculptures. I had seen some before in other venues, and these were just as astounding. The materials were local—ivory, antlers, stone, wood, and the subjects were the local life and inhabitants—fish, wild animals, daily life. But there was such a vibrancy, an emerging sense of glee in the sculptures that delighted me. Linda’s favorite in the museum was a huge flying dinosaur constructed entirely of plastic lawn chairs, and it wasn’t apparent until you looked carefully.

Another wonderful, exhausting day, and then back to the cabin. Here’s a photo I took one morning there, and a guide at the nature preserve agreed that it was probably a little porcupine. Good night.P1020718


September 4

This morning’s treat was a visit to Kingswood, the country home of Prime Minister Mackenzie King (whose childhood home was discussed in an earlier post).  But before that, Linda took me on a tour of the Gatineau National Park, a huge wonderful wild space quite close to Ottawa. The park itself has 63 lakes, and they’re all beautiful. Linda stopped at Pink Lake (I know, sounds odd; it was named for a family in the area) which has some amazing features. It looks pretty normal from the photo,


but read about it:


It was Sunday of the Labour Day weekend, so there was a lot of traffic. There also were lots of bicycles, in their silks and high-end bikes, dealing admirable with the hills.

Kingwood was near enough to Ottawa for Mackenzie King to visit there during the weekends, and he lived there in retirement. He started in his 20s, buying a little cabin on a lake, and gradually expanding it.P1020665

As he became a more important politician, he built a bigger house to accommodate his growing social group.

He also built a farmhouse and a garage with apartments for servants. Then he began assembling various ruins that were placed strategically about the grounds.

He continued working on the grounds, making paths, planting, working the farm.

Finally, in his will, he left the entire estate to the people of Canada. The estate is conveniently part of Gatineau Park, which he had worked to be named a national park. In fact, he spearheaded the whole national park movement in Canada.

After our tour of the ruins, we headed back to the main house, and the tea shop. It’s changed quite a bit since Linda’s last visit. The tea shop used to be a more casual affair, folks could just buy a cup of coffee. But now there’s a stand that just sell drinks in another part of the grounds, and this is now a fancy restaurant and tea parlor.  So that’s what we had. After much discussion with our waiter (who really appreciated my Oregon Eclipse t-shirt) Linda ordered Assam tea, and I had Earl Grey, and we shared a  three-tiered tray of tiny crustless sandwiches, scones with delicious clotted cream and raspberry jam, and delicate little layered cakes. As you can see from the photo, it was adorable.

It was also quite filling, and despite being a late lunch, we each saved a scone for later. There was a trio on the porch playing Baroque music, which added beautifully to the ambience. After a final look at the horses pulling folks around on a tour of the estate, off we went.


Linda lived in an area of Ottawa called Overbrook until college, and she gave me the grand tour. She showed me the house she’d lived in, where she’d wandered around as a child, shops and schools she knew. It was very working class, very French Canadian and very vibrant. We even stopped for a quick visit with a cousin of hers, Jeannine, who had been her babysitter when she was little. Jeannine and her partner were working on a play in a local theater group, and Linda was eager to buy tickets and attend.

Then off to the final adventure of the day, the Mosaicanada 150 Exhibit, a component of the year-long celebration going on all over the country. A woman at the dinner party the night of our arrival at the cabin had stopped by the next morning to give Linda directions to it. And we’re so glad she did. Look at the photos. Everything you see is a plant. Everything. They’re grown around supporting frames and accessorized as you see them.  It began raining towards the end of our tour, so we were fortunate to see most of them in dry weather. And the show was very much appreciated by the huge crowd that was there, all photographing everything, all exclaiming with delight and wonder. What a wonderful way for a city to celebrate.

The photo above gives you an idea of the size of the sculptures. I was told that an army of gardeners shows up every morning to remove dying or bolting plants, and replacing them with fresh specimens. It’s been open since May, and will be open until late in October, so it’s required an enormous amount of upkeep.

We had some horrendous downpours while driving back to the cabin, but it was quiet by the time we got home. We stopped once, at a Tim Hortons, for something to drink and to catch up on our email. Then, a careful drive home and early bed. We’ll be meeting Cousin Ray Drouin tomorrow and visiting some museums in Ottawa.

Woodside and the Butterfly Conservancy

September 1st. More unusual treats today! Linda took me to the William Lyon Mackenzie King House in Windsor.  MK served as the 10th Prime Minister of Canada for three terms during the 30’s and 40’s.  He was Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister, and is generally credited for helping steer Canada in its current direction. It was during his years of service that unemployment insurance was introduced as well as the Canadian equivalent of Social Security and a family allowance.

So we drove up to the lovely house. It had been in the countryside when Mackenzie King lived there as a teen with his family, but the city had gradually grown around it, and now it was a lovely secluded estate in town.P1020585

No cars in the parking lot, no signs of activities. No “Open” sign. Uh-oh. We looked around on the porch, and I peeked through the slats of a door, and saw a dog. I reported that to Linda, and we were standing there, by the door, frustrated and confused, when the door opened. We’re still trying to remember his name, but he was a middle-aged park ranger. He explained to us that due to lack of government funds, the site was closed. It would be open from October to mid-December (I think primarily for school visits) but he was just there collecting his things. Then, amazingly, he invited us in, showed us around, and gave us a personal tour of both floors of the house. We saw it all.


I especially would have loved trying out the piano in the parlor.


Mackenzie King had lived here for about eight years, and elsewhere as an adult (he never married.) This was very much a family home, with toys and books for the children, a very impressive library/study (his father was an attorney) and all the domestic necessities of a prosperous late 19th Century existence.

We did find out the ranger’s dog’s name. He’s apparently a Brittany Spaniel, not common in Ontario, and originally came from Pennsylvania. His name is “Idéfix” apparently from the Asterix cartoons, and mostly he’s called “Ed.”  He was also an excellent host.



For the second treat of the day, Linda took me to Butterfly Heaven.

She’s been there often with her grandchildren, and all the kids we saw there today were having a wonderful time. There’re lots of on-site rangers, very welcoming and informative. In addition to butterflies in all their stages of existence, there were truly gargantuan bugs (a favorite with kids), some adorable little birds, a parrot Linda saw but I didn’t, a turtle, goldfish, and snails. They keep the place very warm and humid, year round, so it would be a great place to visit in the winter to thaw out.  The most interesting factoid I heard was about the one that, when it evolves from the chrysalis to a butterfly, emerges without a mouth. So the poor thing has to accomplish all life’s tasks before he starves to death. So he only lives a few days as a butterfly.

Here’re some photos. I took lots more photos, and looked more than I photographed, and it was just splendid.


The folks at the conservatory are also concerned about the plight of bees, and I attended a talk at the Pollinator Garden, located at the front of the facility. The ranger was a hoot—he said he thought he’d have to quit his job after his mom pulled up all her milkweed, the favorite of Monarch butterflies.  He convinced me we should try growing some Russian Sage, but I’m not sure about milkweed. It’s poisonous to everything but Monarch butterflies, which is why they’re poisonous. Our first attempts to grow it were an abysmal failure. He suggested we try again, and it’s very easy once established.  I mentioned the oregano that is taking over one part of the garden, and he agreed that bees just love it. It was all very informal and informative, and people wandered away, came back, asked good questions, and we all learned a lot.P1020636

Linda skipped the garden lecture, and went shopping at Costco. Her granddaughter was celebrating her 4th birthday at Linda’s house in the evening, and the whole family was gathering for dinner and birthday cake. We made a couple more stops, went home, did a little decorating, the family started showing up, and the Fun Began! I met Linda’s children and their partners. They were all very intelligent, gracious, funny and excellent company. I forgot I was one of the seniors, and started hanging out with them. The three kids were having a grand time, and the birthday girl got some seriously nice presents. And we ate almost all the cake. A very fine time was had by all, but I think we were all beyond exhausted by bedtime that evening.  So, off to sleep, with more fine adventures planned for tomorrow.


When Linda and I began planning my visit, she produced a sensible list of activities for each day I was here, culminating in the annual reunion of l’Association Drouin, this year to be held in Boucherville, a city in Quebec that is celebrating its own 350th anniversary this year. I submitted a rambling, vague, multi-page list of every museum, historic site, animal refuge in Ontario or Quebec, including anything listed in the guide book that looked even remotely interesting. Linda is heroically merging the lists.

So today’s activity is in Niagara! I had warned Linda that I have no sense of direction. She and Bruce arranged a picturesque route east to Niagara, but I fear we became quite lost several times, and I was hopeless at following the maps. So we ended up on the more direct route. But Canada is gorgeous and interesting, however one sees it. We passed many prosperous vineyards and wineries and more fields of corn than I could count. We eventually ended up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, an utterly delightful tourist town a few miles above the falls. To say it’s picturesque doesn’t even begin to catalog its appeal.


Linda had packed a lunch for us, which we enjoyed on the banks of the Niagara River.  Across the river we could see some of the historic old Fort Niagara, originally built in the 1600s as Fort Conti by the French to protect their interests in New France. It passed eventually to the English and then the Americans. We didn’t have a chance to visit it ourselves, but I bet it’d be worth your time if you could get there.  After lunch, we crossed through an old graveyard, which always provides interesting reading, and headed off to enjoy the delightful downtown.

Here’s a couple photos that show the town off. It was interesting that the tourists were from all over–we heard many languages, saw varied styles of dress and appearance. And everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time.

This plaque marked the oldest building I saw. It was beautifully preserved, and I guess the town itself is quite a bit older than St Jacobs, which we visited yesterday.


Of course we had our obligatory ice cream. Mine was called something like Conestoga Canoe, which doesn’t describe it much but the canoes were chocolate. The other flavors were maple and caramel. yum. Linda wished she’d chosen that flavor, too.

I find I’m falling in love with Canada, just being here. The scenery, and people, the vibes are utterly appealing, and somehow, comforting. I found this t-shirt in a gift shop, and though I couldn’t justify buying yet another t-shirt, I wanted to remember its message.


After we made another scenic trip through the graveyard, we packed up and headed off to Niagara Falls. One side of Niagara Falls in the American side, so tourists there have to climb down the hillside to watch the water falling. On the Canadian side, we watched the waters from across the gorge. These photos will help situate it all.

The large one on the left is American Falls, and the littler one to the right of it is Bridal Veil Falls. Horseshoe Falls is the Canadian one, and the largest.P1020558

You can see the concave shape, and the mists rising from the falls drift all the way across the gorge to cool off the tourists. There are boats, from both the American and Canadian sides, that take tourists, well-clad in matching raincoats and rain hats, right through the waters, and a zip line has been installed on the Canadian side. Linda would like to do that; I’ll give it a pass.

Linda told me an old legend that in ages past, the original residents, Native Americans, would sacrifice young women over the falls, and if you see a rainbow, you should make a wish for one of the river maidens to grant. A little research, and I found the Iroquois tribe did launch young women over the falls, and it was considered a great honor. The last sacrifice was in the late 17th Century. Linda is an inveterate teacher, and was delighted when she found this chart showing the depths and connections of the Great Lakes. We’ve been learning a lot about the Great Lakes recently, so this is most interesting.

Of course it’s a total tourist mecca with no possible indulgence left uncatered. Here’s a few photos of the fun, and some more of the falls. You just can’t see too much of that water.

Tired but happy, we drove home to delicious seafood lasagna. Bruce returned from pickleball, and I went to bed early after checking my email. My day was utterly complete.

Arriving and St. Jacobs

Good morning! This is a trip I’ve been trying to arrange for ten years. During my trip to Normandy with l’Association Drouin in 2007, I bonded with a number of distant cousins, including Linda Drouin, a retired school principal from Ontario. We found so many similarities in our lives that we decided we’d been separated at birth. We’ve been trying to get together again since then, and have finally managed it.

I took the red-eye from Eugene, slightly delayed, and after connecting in San Francisco, landed in Toronto, hardly rested and very excited. After being cleared by the border agents, I began looking for Linda, who promised to pick me up. I was wearing my rose pink “pussyhat” for her to spot. I soon found a middle-aged woman, alone, quickly checking out all the new arrivals, and contact! We had a big hug, and then began looking for her car, which was our first adventure. Linda brought me to her home in Waterloo and suggested I might need a nap. I decided instead to crash early tonight, and we set off on our day.

Our goal that day was St. Jacobs, a delightful combination of country farm town and sophisticated tourist venue.


Many Mennonites had settled in the area and were operating some of the shops in the delightful downtown. I noticed quite a few shops had a sign forbidding photographs of the goods for sale. I talked to Linda about this, and she said there was concern about theft of intellectual property. Before I saw the sign, I did get this wonderful photo. It’s a broom shop, and Mennonite craftsmen make marvelous, very serious brooms using local materials. And they also make decorative brooms that Harry Potter would enjoy.P1020528This wonderful old building also caught my eye:


We wandered in many of the shops, and managed to avoid buying anything, except for starting a delightful tradition–enjoy an ice cream cone wherever we were. There were lots of tourists about, and shops were doing a brisk business. We didn’t visit here, but I loved the sign: P1020529 My fatigue was beginning to catch up with me. Linda, a francophone, used the expression “cogner des clous”, which roughly translates to “pounding nails” because I kept nodding off. During the drive, while I was admiring the gorgeous countryside and prosperous-looking farms, Linda taught me to observe the electrical power lines, to see if they connected to the farmhouse, or just to the barn, and didn’t go near the farm at all. It was a way to determine if Old Order Mennonites lived and worked there.

We also managed a visit to an Mennonite information center, which was very interesting, and a maple syrup museum. Both welcomed photographers, but I didn’t take any. The maple syrup museum had the actual vats and barrels used in the production of the syrup. So do take photos if you’re there.

Then home to meet Bruce, Linda’s husband, and have a very nice dinner. I was sent to bed early. Bonne idee! Good night.