Why Winter Is The Best Time For A Cross Canada Road Trip

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 What a great way to check out the landscape of the provinces.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at flights to Edmonton from Toronto and checking dates with my friend Deb who I planned to visit when she mentioned that her husband Joel would be driving across Canada to transport a canoe that had been left behind by removalists on a recent cross country move. Being the opportunist that I am, and having recently moved to Canada, I jumped at the invitation to share the driving and tag along for the road trip.

What better way to spend a few days of one’s birthday week than to check out the landscape of the provinces in a small SUV with a large fibreglass boat (emulating a sail) on the roof.

I knew I would likely be in for a very long ride and I’d been warned the prairies are ass-numbingly boring, but as someone who likes to learn things the hard way it took all of 3 seconds to make the decision.

So a few weeks later in the middle of Friday afternoon, we set off from Toronto, dodging weekend traffic and the occasional snow flurry on the way through Barrie. We stopped on the outskirts of Sudbury to meet Joel’s sister for a pleasant meal in a wholly deserted but authentic Japanese restaurant. She talked about the Canadian landscape and said she’d never quite got that excited about mountains and beaches, but trees, lakes and rocks, she could never get her fill of. Maybe on this trip, I’d find out why.

We pushed through to Sault Ste Marie for our first overnight, as I reminisced about the one live Hockey game I have been to between the US-based team of that name and the Sarnia Sting in the OHL (one of the most violently impressive encounters I have witnessed).

After a midnight check-in at a motel, we got a solid 6 hours of sleep in comfy beds awaking to see light snow showers out our window. We consumed the standard inclusive breakfast replete with plastic pancakes and set off in good spirits planning a full day of driving through Ontario. Heading north on Hwy 17 – the Trans Canada Highway the temperature hovered just above freezing and the trees glistened with frost. The sun came out as we reached lake Superior and we couldn’t resist a stop on the shores of Old Woman Bay to stretch the legs and admire views of Michipicoten Island. The undulating two-lane road heading north rolls on being occasionally interrupted by small towns with charming names like Marathon, Wabigon, Nipigon, and Opasatika.

While most Canadians would probably prefer the long days of summer for this road trip, there is something charming about discovering the landscape covered in snow and frozen lakes. The white dusting on the trees and layered rock, reflecting the soft glow of the early winter sun.

Driving into Thunder Bay with the sun setting over the Sibley Peninsula and Edward Island put us in the mood for a dinner stop and through a series of poor choices and internet research we found ourselves in the cozy but perhaps aptly named Madhouse. The fare was cheap and cheerless, but I immediately felt at home reading the Kerouac quote on the wall above the kitchen.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time…

Jack Kerouac (on the road)

After re-connecting to the umbilical internet for a bit and spamming Facebook and Instagram with photos from the days travel, we decided it was time to get back on the road with a goal of one day making it out of Ontario. Prior to this road trip, I had little appreciation for how large the province is. After 24 hours of driving and 36 hours on the road, we’re still in Ontario. If we had taken the slightly faster southern US route for this trip, in that time we would’ve covered 5 US states. Maybe the highways are faster down there and there’s more radio, but I honestly don’t think I would swap those for the magical experience of driving through snow-covered pines and the Canadian Shield, listening to Cape Breton Celtic music and spotting deer and moose as we wind our way endlessly through the night telling road trip stories. That and I wouldn’t have finally gotten to the bottom of what the Naughty By Nature O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) song was about.

Michael McMahon


Michael is a tech nomad, raised in Asia, seasoned in Australia and now based in North America. He is Inspired by outdoor adventures and meeting new people.

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