Sunday, 23 February 2014

On nieces in cold places, Part 1

For my professed love of winter as a proud Canadian, I live in a balmy part of the country. Montreal is pretty far South for Canada all things concerned. Thus, when I rented a car in Thunder Bay yesterday, I was taken aback when I saw there was an extension cord in back beside a snowbrush.  A quick look at the front of the car revealed the presence of a block heater!

I was on my way to Sioux Lookout to visit Alice, Mark, Anna and Maria also referred to as "Mia". I had flown in on Porter Airlines, which required a change at Toronto's Billy Bishop/Island Airport. This is slightly disconcerting as arrival involves flying very close to downtown Toronto. Next to the runway was a deHavilland Dash 7 in United Nations colours! Apparently, the Rob Ford saga has attracted the need for Peace Keepers! ;-)  Actually, there were two other Dash 7s were parked across the runway so I suspect that there is a company that operates them out of the airport.  The Western end of the runway extended into Lake Ontario where the strong Westerly wind was sending the waves crashing into in the rocks and up to ten feet up into the air.

When it came time to leave, my plane was pushed back by an electric tug, along with three other planes. I was assuming that my plane would follow the others East along the taxiway, before taking off into the Westerly wind. However, for some odd reason, we taxied to the Western end of the island where we waited for a few minutes, before taxiing to the Eastern end for take off. The only theory I have as to why, is that a fairly large orange helicopter needed to take off. It was marked "ORNGE", and was evidently a medical evacuation helicopter. I thought "ORNGE" was an acronym, but according to Wikipedia, the name of the company is simple "Ornge" as in "Orange" without the "a". This was done mostly for trademark reasons!
Thunder Bay is located in quite a dramatic location with several mesa-like hills near the airport. The snow and the trees made sedimentary layers very obvious.
After getting the keys from the rental company, I phoned my sister to discuss road conditions and her take on the weather. Sioux Lookout is more than four hours by car from Thunder Bay. We agreed that the conditions were good enough.  While, there was little weather to for me to deal with. However, I wish I had brought a yellow lens for my sunglasses as there was sun through thin low clouds. I was disconcerted to see about four or five transport trucks that had run off the road, including one that had ended up completely off the Trans-Canada even though it was perpendicular to the highway! It was also on its side.

It was disconcerting to see signs advertising hotels "only three hours ahead".  Equally odd were various signs designed to warn drivers against driving too long and/or too fast.  The last time I had seen such signs was in Australia on the highway to Adelaide.

The road to Sioux Lookout was snow-covered and as night was falling, driving was becoming a chore, and I was very glad to get to Alice and company's house. They were in the process of ending supper, which given the toddlers, was a somewhat chaotic process. I delivered my precious cargo of Chinese barbecue pork buns to Alice, before tucking into my supper.

Anna was happy to see me, but Maria wasn't too sure about me, even though she was obviously curious, looking at me, and then looking away.  The last time I saw the two of them was January 2013. Consequently, they have grown significantly. Maria especially. The little bundle is now cheerily toddling little thing with almost disproportionately large hands. I swear, they are almost the size of her big sister's!  Maria has yet to grow some her teeth, particularly the canine teeth, so when she makes a big smile, she shows an almost rodent-like set of teeth which combined with her fat cheeks, makes her look a bit like a happy hamster!  While she toddles very confidently, she has yet to start talking, but I get the feeling it won't be long.  Anna's hair has grown quite long. As well, she talks a lot and unlike some toddlers, very comprehensibly.  Mark and Alice seem well, though Alice does seem a bit tired and Mark is relatively hard for me to read.

Today, Alice, the girls and I went for a walk/toboggan ride outside as it was "only" -17 C and very sunny. Anna was quite determined not to wear her outer most pair of mitts. We walked up the road for a bit towing the bairns in a sled. We then turned onto a snowmobile track for a bit where Anna decided she wanted to pull the sled, but not with Maria in it! This caused a bit of an bicker. Afterwards, Alice took the girls and myself on a tour of Sioux Lookout and then went shopping for groceries with the assistance of Anna and myself.
After lunch, I drove back into town in order to inspect various sites of interest, most notably the Slate Falls Airways landing strip on the one of the lakes. They had number of planes in evidence of mixed origins. Only two seemed currently in use, namely a de Havilland Canada Otter whose radial engine had been replaced with a turboprop. Its landing gear consisted of a ski and wheel mix. The other operational plane was a small Cessna Stationair 6 II which surprised me by having oversized balloon or tundra tires rather than skis. However, the surface of that bit of the lake was being kept relatively clear of snow by Slate Falls Airways, so I guess it wasn't an issue.  The other planes at the site included two de Havilland Canada Beavers, one with original radial engine and the other with a turboprop.

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