Coast to coast: the end of a Canadian epic

Part 2: To the heart of Eastern Canada–Brandon, Man. to Antigonish, N.S.

The grand tour route–from one end of the country to another.
The grand tour route–from one end of the country to another.
The shores of Antigonish: perfect for swims and Coronas.
The shores of Antigonish: perfect for swims and Coronas.

Day 6: Brandon, Man. to Thunder Bay, Ont.

A quick stop at Winnipeg (and a cup of organic coffee) made me become fond of that city, with its sturdy trees and aged houses. Winnipeg also offered us many variations of bear statues, part of CancerCare Manitoba Foundation’s Bears on Broadway project. “Bling Bling Bear” with many chains and sluggish pose, and “Biker Bear” with cool shades and its uni-wheel bike were especially memorable.

On the other hand, I was fully ready to hate the drive through northern Ontario more than any other part of this trip. But the rugged forests and the sparkling lakes made me feel as though I were driving somewhere in B.C. again—a humbling experience for a self-proclaimed West Coast snob.

Another part of the humbling lesson was that Ontario is much, much bigger than I ever imagined it to be, with goofy town names like Wawa, which boasts having a statue of the “biggest Canada goose.” We experienced a true “I’m-no-longer-in-the-city” moment when we stopped by a diner and asked for “something with coffee that is cold”. The waitress became wide-eyed and repeated, with wonder, “coffee that is ... cold?” After asking their Jerry-Springer-watching customers, she confirmed that there was nothing cold that had coffee in it. What were we served instead? Coffee in Styrofoam cups - now that is real class, my friends.

Day 7: Thunder Bay, Ont. to North Bay, Ont.

Our original final stop was Sudbury, but we decided to push ourselves a little further due to its awful rep for its lack of green scenery and abundance of industrial junk.

However, North Bay wins the award for being the most unattractive town we stopped in for a night. While pulling into a motel, we were pulled over by a police officer who informed us of a fight inside the motel’s bar and advised us to “stay right out of this one”– which placed us at the local Days Inn, where we paid a whopping $100 for a room with no air conditioning and no ventilation.

Day 8: North Bay, Ont. to Toronto, Ont.

Glad to get out of North Bay alive, we scrambled down south to the T-dot. We noticed one disheartening symptom as we made our way down: the closer we got to Toronto, the worse the drivers became. Unfortunately, the same has to be said for my map-reading skills. We wasted about two hours lost in the outskirts of Toronto, which was about as long as it took us to drive there from Huntsville, Ont. What’s more, the opportune timing of our drive to Toronto coincided with the flooding of Finch and Steele, which made us even more frustrated with the city. Toronto also meant a short break between us, in order to stop by our university towns to sort out our houses, sleep in a foreign place known as our real beds, and clean our crinkled clothes that stank of road trip. Our reunion spot? The wonderfully alive and French city of Montreal, Quebec.

Days 9 and 10: Montreal, Que. to Halifax, N.S.

We hopped onto the eastbound VIA train, expecting railway intrigue, stylish ladies and charming butlers. Unfortunately, we received instead: rude workers who wouldn’t let us make reservations to the dining car, hyperactive kids on coffee, and a five-hour delay. Glad to get out in one piece, (or three pieces, in our case), we stumbled into the beautiful city of Halifax and fell in love within 15 minutes.

Being on the East Coast, we felt compelled to indulge in local cuisine as well, which meant fish and chips–with a side of beer of course. Even Julia, who has been a staunch vegetarian since the age of three, ordered herself some deep-fried, beer-battered fish and loved it. As we enjoyed the fresh night breeze and the fiddlers playing outside by the patio, it dawned on me: man, I love this country.

Day 11: Halifax, N.S. to Antigonish, N.S.

Luckily for us, Aaron had family friends in tiny Antigonish, with whom we could stay. Possibly the friendliest intellectuals around, Chris and Anne greeted us warmly at the bus station and brought us to their lovely beach house with the Atlantic Ocean just a few steps down the staircase.

We swam until sunset, read the likes of Chuck Palahniuk and James Joyce while sipping tea, and had the best shower of our lives using the house’s outdoor shower booth. So this is how it feels to be youthful and carefree. What luxury!

Day 12: Antigonish, N.S.

With one main street that extends for about two blocks and a population close to 20,000, Antigonish officially wins the prize as the town with the most number of Tim Hortons per capita: a grand total of three.

We paid a visit to a farmhouse on the other side of town–where there were blueberry fields, two goats (one with a uni-horn), apple orchards and chickens. I got so comfortable in black rubber boots, it felt almost abnormal to wear clean shoes again.

As I started to feel sad at the realization that it was my last night of this grand journey, my friends felt compelled to open Coronas at midnight, while sitting on the steps overlooking the ocean. I had never felt so close to beauty as I did that night, with dew in the air, the Milky Way in the brilliant night sky, and the lighthouse flickering on the horizon.

Day 13: Antigonish, N.S. to Kingston, Ont.

As much as I was thrilled to see what dear Kingston had been up to, I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous and sad to be leaving the beautiful beach house and the apple orchard. Two hours in a van to Halifax, three hours on the plane, two hours of waiting in airports and four hours on the bus to Kingston made for a long traveling day.

Finally, at the sight of my house, all I could feel was relief, and all I could do was collapse on my bed and close my eyes for a good long time. It was finished–my first epic discovery of Canada, my first step as a real traveler.

And boy, was I proud of myself.

Rosel Kim misses idle hours by the beach, Coronas at midnight and outdoor showers.

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