Day 04: Nature to City, with Change Inbetween

We woke up and got ready to go have breakfast this morning, but as we left the room we were met by Ontario Provincial Police officers in the hallway.  At first we thought a crime had been committed, albeit a very quiet, polite Canadian one, as we’d not heard any kerfuffles, but it turns out the officers had been staying there and were going to breakfast, too.  This was a bit awkward for me, as I had set my sights on taking a blueberry jelly packet to use in a sandwich later in the day, but now with all the police around I just sat there eating breakfast and feeling guilty as sin.

An industrious beaver built this lodge (on the right)

An industrious beaver built this lodge (on the right)

Once fortified, we packed up and were on the road by 9:15am to start our odyssey westbound.  In no time at all we were leaving Ontario and entering Manitoba, and the drive was Pretty with a capital P.  Just like yesterday, there were unspoiled, undeveloped lakes, beaver lodges, and colorful forests to our left and right.  We elected to take a detour off of Trans-Canada Hwy #1 (herein known as TC#1) and drove north on Hwy 44 through Whiteshell Provincial Park.  Here we found more lakes, bogs, forests, and Precambrian Shield giant rocks, which is apparently the oldest geological formation in the world.  Like Jimmy said, “if those rocks could talk…”

Eventually we made it to the Alfred Hole Goose Sanctuary, where there were geese as far as the eye could see.  The sign out front indicated the latest goose count was 862, and many of them were likely passer-by-ers on their way down south for winter.  By the way, I think up here they are just called Geese, as saying Canada Geese would be redundant.  But the sanctuary was alive with a rousing chorus of goose calls and the denizens appeared to be engaged in lively conversation.  There were even a couple of mallard ducks who managed to get a word in every so often.

Is this heaven? Close to it.

Is this heaven? Close to it.

Jimmy had to tear me away from the geese so we could keep on heading to Winnipeg, our final destination of the day.  The route we took was via back country roads with signs that kept saying Be Bear Smart.  We’re not quite sure what that means, which leads us to believe that we’re not.

West of Whiteshell the land turned very, very flat and rural with lots of farmland, and sporadic clumps of homes that increased as we neared the big city of Winnipeg (population:  about 664,000).  There were also fields of sunflowers that were past their prime (but must have been a cheery sight in season).  All of the sunflowers were facing due east, officially giving them a better sense of direction than I have.

The Royal Canadian Mint

The Royal Canadian Mint

We reached Winnipeg and our first stop was to suss out the Royal Canadian Mint.  Now, I realize the business of creating money needs to be a secretive operation, but the Mint website takes it one step further to make their tour times a closely guarded secret, too.  They post that they have tours but don’t post when they might actually take place and every time I called to inquire the call would go into voicemail, saying they were busy helping other customers.  So we arrived at 12:45pm under an aura of mystery – would there be a tour?  Is this the right place?  Do they actually make money here?

It turns out the answer was yes to the universe’s questions and the next tour would commence at 1:30pm (CAD$6/ea).  Success.  By the way, I tried pinning down the Mint lady for when the other tours were so I could disseminate that information to the 3 readers of this blog, but she immediately got cagey, mumbled something about lunch and whatnot, and said enjoy the tour.  It turns out they embrace all kinds of change here and can’t be confined by the boundaries of time.

The tour lasted about 45 minutes and was led by a short-in-stature but big-on-militarism woman.  She ran a tight ship and if you so much as spoke out of turn you would get an earful.  She would also explain a part of the process, ask if anyone had any questions, and then if anyone actually had questions they would be curtly told that would be covered later, so pipe down and let’s move on.  I admired her law and order and how she could undoubtedly quell an uprising with a single eyebrow raise.

No photos allowed in The Mint of the process, so instead you get Jim and a RMCP

No photos allowed in The Mint of the process, so instead you get Jim and a RMCP (Royal Moose Canadian Police)

She led us past big windows overlooking the coin-making plant floor, and we learned things like the Royal Canadian Mint makes (or has made) coins for over 75 countries.  In fact, 60% of their production is for other countries.  She also was tickled pink to point out that the United States is also a customer, as they purchase blanks that can then be stamped in the US under their own shroud of secrecy. She showed us the entire coin-making process, from large sheet of steel to jangling change, and it was all very interesting.

After the tour we headed downtown to check in to the Humphry Inn & Suites before setting about on a 2 hour walking tour of Winnipeg.  It felt good to stretch our legs given we’d been cooped up in the car for three days.  The first stop was to The Forks, an indoor market filled with food and vendor stalls.  As soon as we walked in we were met with delicious aromas and it didn’t take long before we were beguiled by a pan of fresh cinnamon buns coming out of a baker’s oven.  One split cinnamon bun and several happy mouthfuls later we were wandering up the Riverwalk for several blocks before turning inland to put eyes on the Manitoba Legislative Building.  As expected, it was a sight of grandeur.  We were tempted to go inside but since we didn’t have any current legislating to manage, we moved on.

All lined up for a boat tour

All lined up for a boat tour

Next we meandered across the bustling downtown to the Exchange District, a 20-block area full of historic buildings that is also known as Chicago of the North.  While I’m not sure I’d go that far, only because it was kind of a ghost town at 5pm, it had a nice vibe to it.  In fact, Winnipeg in general has a nice vibe.

As an aside, I read somewhere that people from Winnipeg are known as Peggers, but I’m not 100% certain that’s the case.  I so want it to be true, however.  Also, in the early 1900s there was a Canadian military man who for some reason had a (real) pet bear he named Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg.  Well, he ended up having to go to London and brought the bear but had to leave her behind at the London Zoo.  Among the people who loved visiting her there was A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin and thus Winnie the Pooh was born.  I’m still not sure where “the Pooh” comes from, but we’ve already established on Day 1 of this trip that everybody poos.

Anyway, after our walkabout we went back to the hotel for a brief rest before going to the East India Company for dinner.  Afterward it was time to relax and look ahead to tomorrow’s business.

On a final note for today, last night we watched a hysterically funny documentary titled Being Canadian.  It went about trying to explain some uniquely Canadian behaviors, like the tendency to apologize for everything and why Canadians are so darn polite.  During our handful of trips to Canada we’ve always been struck by how helpful and fun-loving so many Canadians appear to be, but having just watched the documentary (well, mockumentary was more like it), we were especially on the lookout for those tendencies.  And yes, they are alive and well in Winnipeg.

Even the garbage is polite and civilized

Even the garbage is polite and civilized

Not sure why the bus is apologizing, but hope it thinks long and hard about what went wrong

Not sure why the bus is apologizing, but hope it thinks long and hard about what went wrong

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