O Canada!

Continuing the story of our vacation, part II:

After leaving Cheboygan behind, we pressed on North. US23 comes in to Mackinaw City from the East, a route I have not taken in years, if ever. Chris has only been here once, during a long ago family trip in the RV. As we approached town, he noticed a sign for a Wild West show and wondered if it was the same one he’d seen as a kid. Not 2 miles down the road, we passed the RV park where they had stayed- same sign after 20 years, he recognized it instantly.

Can’t say the same for the rest of Mackinaw City. Despite being a native to this state and having visited here more times than I can count, even I was shocked by the amount of development in the downtown area. On my last work-related UP trip, I noticed a Bass Pro Shop had opened up so we decided to venture in the land of retail and tourist traps. I needed, desperately, a hat. I wanted a fishing-style hat with a brim and a drawstring for keeping it on my head. Really, I wanted a Tilley hat but they were so pricey I had decided to look from something from Columbia or the like. I had found a lot of “perfect” hats on the websites for sporting goods stores (including Dicks, MC Sports, etc) but not one of these stores had the hats IN the store. I have an embarrassingly large head for someone of my height (no comments please, family members!) so I knew I would have trouble ordering on-line.

We parked and headed towards the place we’d last seen the sign for the pro shop. Our path led in to a large outdoor mall filled with knick-knack shops, Mackinaw/Michigan branded clothing boutiques, fudge stores and even a small amphitheatre for live music performances. Eventually, we figured out that the pro shop was all the way to the back. There we found a salesperson who said they don’t really carry fishing hats anymore since everyone seems to favor the ball cap style. She did suggest we try Top Hats, another store in the mall. So we did. And they had Tilley hats and I bowed to the inevitable and just bought one- at $69 (including tax). On the plus side, the hat is guaranteed for life and even insured against loss for 2 years (if I lose it, I can buy a replacement for 1/2 price). I walked out wearing it, sized to my big ole’ 24 inch skull (circumference). During the course of our trip, it got daily use but since we had such lovely weather (post Alpena), I never did have a chance to test out its water resistance.

Following a short detour in to Kilwins for fudge (all Chris) and the discovery of a Canada “store” offering free info and maps (we loaded up), we got back on the road and crossed the Mighty Mac a few minutes later.

Mackinac Bridge at night
Mackinac Bridge at night

Our original plan was to stay overnight in Sault Ste Marie and cross in to Canada in the morning, partly because I’ve never seen the Soo Locks and partly because we wanted to double check the rules about importing alcohol and food in to Canada. However, after the flat tire and rained out air show, we decided it would better to press on. Our border check was absurdly easy- the Canadian agent never even looked at our IDs! Chris was disappointed. The agent was hot and he was hoping for a strip search, I think.
We decided to drive to Thessalon, Ontario, about 1 hour 20 minutes down the Trans-Canada Highway. Thessalon is where my great-grandparents were married and I hoped to find the church or at least take a few pics. Despite website claims of “a wide variety of accommodations” we arrived at 10:30 pm and could only find ONE motel with a posted rate of $160 per night (before taxes!). The next town on my “list” was Blind River, approximately 40 more minutes at the posted speed limits of 45-50 mph. We drove on, noting a Bavarian Inn (no vacancy) and a small motel with cottages place before coming to Blind River. Knowing this was a larger town, I was sure we’d find something. And we did find a large RV park and two apparently closed for the night or closed forever motels. After a quick survey of the map, we turned back to the motel we’d noticed in Iron Bridge, about 20 minutes back up the road. At this point its midnight and we are exhausted. The sign in the motel office said Open but the only soul in the place was a sleepy cat. I rang the bell a few times and the owner with his very heavy Canadian accent finally appeared, along with another kitty. By the grace of something, he had one spot left. It was a twin size bed but we just wanted to sleep. I have no idea the normal rate but he offered us the room for $20, cash and he even took American. We said yes and then discovered our room was actually a small cottage with a small kitchenette. In the morning, we found that our little cottage door opened on to a lovely view of the Mississagi River.



Too bad we didn’t have more time to enjoy it. But it was time to hit the road again, pressing on towards Killarney.

First order of business was breakfast. We drove a little ways and came in to the town of Spanish, so named because it sits at the mouth of the Spanish River.  The city’s website tells a store of a beautiful Spanish woman taken by Indians during a raid; a woman who later married an Indian chief and I guess her reward was the right to name the area (circa 1750)

We drove along the main highway and noted the various places serving breakfast then decided to stop at Dixie Lee’s because Tim Horton’s was really crowded.  First I thought Dixie Lee was a local place but it turns out its part of a chain.  However, this place served breakfast items seemingly separate from the main menu of fried chicken and such.  I ordered a BLT bagel with home fries while Chris had an omelet and toast (plus home fries).  And he ordered a Coke- in a can. His first taste of Canadian Coca Cola.  I knew that Canadian sodas were different and I generally remembered that they tend to have less carbonation than the American versions.  In the case of Coca-Cola, the Canadian formula also uses real sugar in combination with HFCS. Breakfast was good and filling but we still had some driving to do- back on the road.  We did a quick tour of Spanish and found this old wreck of a building down by the marina (the marina had a nice fancy new building with gym and laundry). 

St. Joseph School for Girls
St. Joseph School for Girls

The website tells me this was a residential school for “Native” Girls.  There was a boy’s school nearby but its been torn down. Notice the pretty flowers?  Someone lives in a small home right in front of the building.

One of our original ideas was to camp on Manitoulin Island.  Based on time, we decided to concentrate our stay in Killarney but we did take a quick dash down the road towards Manitoulin Island, turning around  in Little Current, the gateway to the main Island.  We stopped periodically, took a few pictures. climbed some rocks and checked out a waterfall then Chris scammed his way in to a free ice cream cone.

Whitefish Falls
Whitefish Falls


The Mountains of Manitoulin- Granite and Quartzite
The Mountains of Manitoulin- Granite and Quartzite



Wooden Swing Bridge to Little Current
Wooden Swing Bridge to Little Current


Finally, we made it to Killarney Provincial Park and got ourselves a campsite.  We bought firewood and set up camp.  Before leaving Michigan, we had chopped up some meat and tossed it in Mojito sauce to marinate.  I cut up some veggies and cooked that with some instant mashed potatoes for dinner.


A roadside park just before entering Killarney Provincial Park Lands
A roadside park just before entering Killarney Provincial Park Lands

It was while making dinner and setting up camp that we welcomed our new “friend.”  Although the park warns of bears, especially in the backcountry, we weren’t expecting any bold visitors to our site in the heart of the car camping areas.  I heard a noise, I turned toward the car and I see these 2 little glowing eyes looking at me.  Sitting atop the roof, with his head insidethe car (open side door) was one of the fattest racoons I’ve ever seen.  I made some noise and he jumped off the other side of the car but I could still hear him in the brush.  We closed up the car and were much more careful.  Later that night, we heard him sniffing around but we’d locked up anything remotely food-like.  He returned to visit later.


To be continued in Part III where we really get up close and personal with the racoon, go on two boat rides and eat “the best Eggs Benedict ever” (Chris’s statement).

Today, I discovered that the motel, McCoy’s has a website. They also proudly proclaimed the availabilty of wi-fi in their cottages.


One thought on “O Canada!

  1. US 23 into Mackinaw City-long time ago. Remember the Detroit to Mackinaw run to raise funds for the Michigan Olympic team? That is how long ago. I lost my film canister on the way from there to Traverse City as dad was doing something or other there and we tagged along

    That run was never done again. It was insane! I did Flint to Clio leg and it was 90F and getting ready to storm. I don’t even have the shirt anymore.

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