Vancouver. And it’s raining.
The rain patters on the roof, slides down the windows, sluices down the drains. Today’s forecast? Rain. Tomorrow? Rain. Three days, five days, ten days? Rain every day.
We must be in Vancouver. And we are.
When I wrote my last blog post we were in Thunder Bay, in late October. Thunder Bay was warm, gritty and fun; like Sydney, NS, it’s the capital city of a little province that doesn’t actually exist. Northwestern Ontario is so far from what Canadians think of as “Ontario” that it really might as well be a separate province.
Thunder Bay has one of the largest Finnish communities outside Finland, so we opened our day there with Finnish pancakes at the Hoito co-op restaurant in the basement of the Finnish Labour Temple, courtesy of social work professor and food activist Connie Nelson. We ended the day with a Green Rights screening upstairs hosted by scholar/filmmaker Ron Harpelle. In between, Marjorie signed books at Chapters, while I spoke with one of Connie’s classes about Bhutan and the Bhutanese commitment to Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product. We kicked it off by viewing my TEDx talk on Bhutan, which you can see here.
The screening in the Labour Temple was beautiful, technically the best I’ve yet seen. The hall has a huge new screen and a crisp, clean sound system, which really showed the film to advantage. It was a pleasure to watch, and the audience included Bruce Hyer, the former MP and deputy leader of the Green Party, someone I’ve been looking forward to meeting.
We had been staying in Wal-Mart parking lots, using our own water and power – many thanks, Wal-Mart – and on our second night our onboard power supply failed. Happily, a few phone calls brought us to Woody’s Trailer World, who diagnosed the problem: dying “house” batteries, the ones that provide 12-volt electricity for the camper, not the ones that start the engine. Two hours later we were on our way, grateful to Woody’s.
It’s a long day’s drive from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, even with a delicious lunch stop at Kokom’s Bannock Shack in Dryden for their unique Bannock Burgers. The next evening, at the University of Manitoba, I was honoured to have the film introduced by Rt. Hon. Ed Schreyer, former Governor-General, former High Commissioner to Australia.
As the first NDP premier of Manitoba, in 1970, Ed — who had read Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner — created the first government department in Canada responsible for the environment. He also hired Farley Mowat as his environmental adviser. Earlier in October, when I was visiting Farley’s home in Port Hope, I had seen the framed cheque for $1.00 from the Government of Manitoba, never cashed, which was his total compensation for the assignment.
The next day I delivered a Distinguished Visitor’s Lecture at the University of Manitoba Law School, after which we drove to Brandon for a family visit. The next day we drove all the way to Medicine Hat, stopping briefly in Regina to provide copies of Warrior Lawyers to Larry Kowalchuk, whose interview is included in it. In Medicine Hat, my son Mark and his wife Andi took us to the amazing badlands of the little-known Dinosaur Provincial Park, where the dogs gratefully went off-leash for the first time in many days.
We reached Calgary on Sunday, October 30, in time for Marjorie’s book signing at Chapters Shawnessy – where she sold out the store’s entire stock of Year of the Horse. That evening at the Unitarian Church in Calgary saw our final screening of Green Rights, followed by a fine discussion.
A trip like this in a 17-year-old motor home will have its challenges, and just west of Calgary the bus abruptly slowed down as its electrical system went crazy. We pulled over and called the Canadian Automobile Association, who assigned Big Hill Towing to send a huge tow truck from nearby Cochrane. The problem turned out to be a defunct alternator, but Dalas, the mechanic, also saw that the front air bags in the suspension system were completely worn out, which could have meant the loss of our air brakes. So we replaced those, too. Big Hill did a great job, and 24 hours later we were on our way to visit family in Canmore.
And next day, the Rockies – the day I had been fretting about all the way from Nova Scotia. Merlin handled the steep hills and twisting curves admirably, but just beyond Field, BC, the “Check Engine” light came on and our speed dropped to a crawl. I phoned Randy Pace, the manager of Big Hill in Cochrane.
Randy explained that when any sensor transmits a signal to the Check Engine light, the vehicle automatically goes into a “limping home” mode, slowing right down and preserving its basic functions, rather like a hypothermic body shutting down all but its core operations. The usual problem – and the simplest – would be that one of the fluids was low: the engine oil, transmission fluid or engine coolant. Check those first. Make sure they’re all up to the mark.
The coolant was low, and I had a couple of litres, so I poured them in. Rock ‘n’ roll! The light went out and the bus rolled on. up and down the mountain passes. And then, in Revelstoke, the light came on again, right in front of a gas station. I bought another jug of antifreeze, and topped up the coolant completely. Out went the light, and onward we sailed.
And then, in Salmon Arm, the light came on again.
I called Randy, and he made some calls to Salmon Arm. Meanwhile Google told me about a local outfit called Van Deursen Diesel – which turned out to be Randy’s recommendation too. It was a good choice: Van Deursen had a service truck out to us in 45 minutes, diagnosed the problem as a faulty “crank sensor” and booked us into their shop in the morning. Another night at the Wal-Mart, and by noon Van Deursen had sourced the part and installed it, and we were on our way. The Check Engine light never came on again.
On to Kamloops, and then a long climb and a steep descent into Merritt, where I threatened to feed the dogs to the bears. Another long climb and steep descent brought us to Hope at nightfall. A good sleep, and by the middle of the next day we were at the campsite on the Brunette River in Burnaby where we had reserved a long-term site many weeks before. It was five weeks to the day since we left Nova Scotia, and we had driven 6743 kilometers. In the 43 days between September 17 and October 30, we had done 38 events – book signings, lectures and film screenings — not counting media interviews. It had been by far the most memorable promotion tour of my life.
A bouquet of roses and chrysanthemums awaited us at check-in – a gift of welcome from my brother Ken and his lady. Merlin rumbled over to his new home. We hooked up the power and water, enjoyed a meal, and tumbled into bed.
The rain was pattering on the roof. A week later, it hasn’t really stopped.
And the forecast is for rain.