As the kids say, ‘It’s been a hot minute.’ It’s been so long that they probably no longer use that phrase. So, after a year of injections, tests, a bone marrow biopsy, lots of chemo, stem cell collection, two stem cell transplants, too many blood tests to count and waiting, so much waiting, drrrrrrrrrrrrrrum-roll, Christian has finally achieved remission! Before hearing the good news, we had preemptively decided to hit the road immediately following the July 18th doctor’s appointment. A quick investigation of weather forecasts determined the course of our road trip. We agreed on Eastern Canada because it offered the coolest temperatures. We also believed we’d have about four weeks before we had to be back in Toronto.
Once a direction was decided, we set our sights on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick since we had never been. We quickly discovered an available campsite and booked a ferry, allowing ourselves five travel days to reach our destination. The rest was left to chance and desire. As soon as we arrived on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, we began receiving phone calls from Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Wires were crossed, and the doctor apparently didn’t know that we intended to fly the coup, get out of Dodge and had decided (without telling us) that Christian should begin maintenance therapy right away rather than three months post-transplant. We promised to return to Toronto in two weeks, being the easygoing patient and caregiver we are. Ultimately, we think our decision to wander before the subsequent treatment began was right. We both needed these three weeks near the ocean, surrounded by nature. Christian needed time to recover, gain strength, and focus on anything other than cancer and cancer treatments.
Stopping at Riviere-Ouelle and Kamouraska in Québec has become a tradition as we head east. We love this part of the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, the landscape, the familiar tidal and shoreline scents, the architecture and the vistas of the north side. It is like meeting up with an old friend. And Kamouraska is where we stock our pantry with fresh baked sourdough bread, biscuits, smoked fish, and cheeses. Our good fortune was that our arrival coincided with the weekly farmer’s market, so we stocked up on wonderful locally-grown vegetables. Before leaving town, we enjoyed a delicious alfresco lunch overlooking the river at Côte Est. We also stopped for a quick contemporary art fix at the Centre d’art de Kamouraska in an old courthouse.
2023 has been the year of visiting islands, an unconscious theme. In fact, we only just realized that this road trip and the last have islands in common. And this trip included as many ferries as possible, nine. Discovering we’d have to return to Toronto sooner than planned, we decided to concentrate our explorations on the southeast corner of New Brunswick, specifically islands in the Bay of Fundy. So, in addition to Grand Manan, we spent time on Deer Island and Campobello Island, plus New River Beach, Oak Bay, and the three Saints, Andrews, George and Stephen. We threw in two islands in Québec at the end for good measure.
Blacks Harbour was engulfed in fog the day we travelled to Grand Manan, but the closer we got to the island, the more blue sky emerged. The dolphin escort to and from made the ninety-minute crossing feel more like thirty. We spent most of each ferry crossing, pointing and exclaiming, there, and there, and there. There were just that many of them. Apparently, Old Thom, the famous Orca Whale, made a surprise appearance at the south end of Grand Manan while we were there. Sadly, we didn’t see the old fella due to either dense fog or imperfect timing, though we visited the cliffs at the island’s south end twice. We also watched seals a few times at the island’s north end. Our most notable wildlife encounters involved bunnies, white, brown, black, gray and calico bunnies. They were everywhere! Aside from the Big Apple near Brighton, Ontario, we have never seen so many bunnies in one place.
We knew almost nothing about the island before our arrival, so between the ferry dock and Anchorage Provincial Park, we stopped at the Tourist Office to pick up a map of the island and any available information about hiking trails, museums and places to eat or buy local food. That evening, we loosely planned our movements for the following day. Our first stop was Southwest Head Lightstation. As we approached Hay Point along the cliffside trail, the fog quickly moved in. Many of the paths on Grand Manan skirt the edges of the cliffs, offering, though precarious at times, breathtaking views. So, after following a desire path to the cliff’s edge, we were unprepared for the staggering beauty below. It was one of those times when the result of not knowing what was coming was unadulterated joy. The journey to Grand Manan and back was worth it for this moment alone. Of course, the island tour of beauty did not end there. Another highlight was the hike to the Hole in the Wall, a giant natural rock arch. By paying $5 per person to Kay at the privately owned Hole in the Wall Campground, we could explore the complete trifecta of natural beauty, including the HITW, Fish Head and Bull’s Eddy. We heard from a local that camping was once allowed on these overlooks. Primo location with mucho mosquitoes.
Other highlights included visiting the Grand Manan Museum, which has a most impressive collection of taxidermied birds and fowl, plus everything else one might wish to learn about the island’s history. We were partial to the Iced Coffee, Affogato and Seal Cove Fog at Newton’s Mercantile and Cafe. We devoured the wood-fired steamed lobster, fish and chips and lobster rolls from Sunrise Seafood. Not all in one sitting! We walked and picnicked at Castalia Marsh at low tide, explored and relaxed on the beach at Long Pond, and enjoyed a van lunch overlooking Whale Cove, followed by a chance meeting with a tin-type photographer from New York in Dark Harbour. We met and got to know some wonderful folks from Maine and Chibougamau, Québec. We’re looking forward to meeting up with our new friends Grace and Mark from Maine at Presqu’ile Provincial Park in a few weeks. Aside from missing out on trekking down to the Swallowtail Lighthouse due to the restoration project, which is underway, we felt we were able to pretty fully explore the island in five days.
Before and after Grand Manan, we spent time at New River Beach, St. George and St. Andrews. We did some housekeeping while camping for two nights in Oak Bay, which included laundry, coffee and ice cream in St. Andrews, stocking the pantry in St. Stephen and Oak Bay, and a promised visit to a 150-year-old candy factory in St. Stephen for a neighbour originally from NS with a devotion to chocolate filled hard cinnamon candy called Chicken Bones.
From here, we ferried to Campobello Island via Deer Island. The ferry to Deer Island, or as locals call it, Vigilante Island, is free. Regarding the renaming of the island, it is so-called Vigilante Island because a group of residents decided to burn down the compound of a well-known thief and drug dealer. Authorities, after all, weren’t doing anything to stop him. Vigilantes aside, this island is most notably known for the Old Sow Tidal Whirlpool at the island’s south end. If you time it right, you will be able to see the Old Sow herself and her piglets (tiny whirlpools). Apparently, the Old Sow is most active 3 hours before high tide. We’re unsure how close we were to high tide, but she and the piglets seemed extremely active during our visit. In fact, the ocean was mighty choppy that day.
There are two ways to get to Campobello Island. The two-ferry method via Deer/ Vigilante Island is the all-Canadian route. The second way is through Maine. There is a bridge between Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, New Brunswick. The locals who live on Campobello have what they refer to as Lubello accents. To our ears, they sound more American than Canadian. There seems to be confusion about why President Roosevelt chose to have a ‘cottage’ on a Canadian island. If you were wondering, the Roosevelt Campobello International Park is the island’s main (only) attraction. The story is that FDR’s parents started summering on Campobello when he was a boy because Cape Cod was too busy. As a married adult, he would eventually decide to build a massive summer home on the island that held his fondest childhood memories. A festival called Fogfest started on our second evening on the island. We walked down to the cove to listen to an aging cover band play live music with a backdrop of herring weirs. The Head Harbour Lightstation is located on a tidal island. If you time it right, you could get there and back before being stranded on the island. Our timing only allowed for a look from the stairs leading to the ocean floor.
Our trip east included stays at three Harvest Hosts, all of which we had stayed at previously and loved. We camped at Michel Jodoin on the first night in Rougemont, Québec. We love watching the sunrise beyond the valley below; their ciders are among the best we’ve had, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We met our friends John and Chantal from Montréal in Ste. Hyacinthe the following morning for a great visit, which included coffee and croissants and a quick shop at the beautiful market, before joining the rest of the province on Autoroute 20 on day one of the annual two-week Construction Holiday.
The second Host was Big Axe Brewing in Nackawic, New Brunswick, home of, you guessed it, the World’s Largest Axe. We last camped here back in 2019 with MacDuff. Then, we met a young server named Jennica, with whom we’ve kept in touch. She met us for dinner accompanied by very delicious non-alcoholic beer. We caught up and met her boyfriend Alex and her parents Diana and Joss, each as lovely as the next. There must have been 15 rigs camping at Big Axe that night, the most we have ever seen at any Harvest Host. We are often the only campers! The staff were ultra accommodating, squeezing in even those without reservations.
The third Host was Domaine Acer in Auclair, Québec, a maple producer high in the maple forested hills of Temiscouata. We stocked up at this economusée on top-notch maple products and a peaceful slumber before returning to the mighty and beautiful St. Lawrence River.
After a day in Trois Pistoles exploring our favourite cheesy Basque enclave, we ferried to the north side of the river to visit our friends, the Campbell sisters, at Cap à L’Aigle outside of La Malbaie.
We spent three rainy days catching up, picking wild blueberries and chanterelle mushrooms while swatting mosquitoes, eating tomato sandwiches, visiting the Riopelle exhibit at the Charlevoix Museum, ferrying to and fro Île aux Coudres over a stormy river, walking the beach at Les Éboulements at low tide and eating locally made ice cream, raspberry and maple sugar pies between excursions. Once sustained and rested on the north shore, we continued to Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville south of Montreal to fit in one more island on this road trip. We recovered from the gruelling drive the best way we know by walking around the island trails, communing with deer and a fox before the heavens opened, and we retreated to the comfort of our home on wheels for the remainder of the evening.
We ended the trip with one night in an Ontario Provincial Park, Ferris, where we camped atop a drumlin overlooking the valley below just so we could walk on a suspension bridge over the Trent Severn Waterway. The Farmer’s Market in Campbellford and the sweet town of Warkworth the next day were the icing on the cake before returning to the Big Smoke, Toronto, and a new drug protocol meant to keep Christian in remission for as long as possible. It looks promising that within the month, we will have the all-clear to travel in 2-3 month stints! Imagine the places we can wander with that kind of time! Just yesterday, Dr. Stewart’s last words as we parted were, ‘Don’t worry. You’ve done the hard part. Now go, live your life!’ We don’t need to be told twice!
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