Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Great Pumpkin of Roland and the $1.50 Bolt

Yesterday’s journey to the International Peace Gardens that straddles the border between the United States of America and the Socialist People’s Republic of Manitoba began bright and early with a bus trip downtown to the pickup point at the Holiday Inn turned Red River Hotel turned back to Holiday Inn.

Of course, I was early, as was our bus, so I got on as Roswitha, our tour guide once again, went into the hotel. While waiting, one of the other passengers got on and, unsure of where to sit, took her place next to me and asked if I worked for the tour company. I’ve been with them so often that I probably could do the job if called upon, but I politely answered that I was a fellow customer.

After the last pickup point at Salisbury House on Pembina Highway, with all 37 passengers aboard, we set out for the Peace Gardens, a place I had not visited since I was a young child.

On our way, we passed through Brunkild:

… then through Carman:

When in Carman, you can pick up your winter “brochers” from this travel company:

I suggest asking what a “brocher” is first.

Rather than taking us to a sizable population center for our morning stop, we were instead escorted a mile down a country gravel road, Road 22W to be precise, for a visit to the Roland Golf Club.

While sitting outside, I listened as a few of the golfers were chatting about the unusual presence of the tour bus in their midst. “I don’t know how they found us,” asked one of them. That’s a very good question that I wouldn’t mind an answer to.

In any event, I wasn’t the only person who noticed one of the male golfers teeing up while wearing a red dress.

I would have expected such a thing in Winnipeg, but to each his own.

After departing the Roland Golf Club, still contemplating how the tour company found this place, or why they would make such effort to do so, Harold, our bus driver, took us for a tour of the nearby town of Roland. Of particular note was the town icon, a giant pumpkin:

Having seen the Great Pumpkin of Roland, we headed west along PTH 23 only to have a red light pop up on the dashboard moments later. After an investigation, a bolt had broken off that was somehow connected to the cooling system. Harold had his own tools with him and knew how to fix the problem, but the only thing he was missing was a spare bolt. He called the bus company in Winnipeg and he was told that a mechanic would have to come out with a new bolt.

There we were in the middle of nowhere while I kept recalling Jesse Ventura’s line from Predator, “If you lose it here, you’re in a world of hurt.”

We were in a world of hurt.

After doing her best to entertain her passengers and passengerettes, Roswitha went out and flagged down a passing motorist who was kind enough to take Harold to nearby Miami and back, bringing with them a shiny, new bolt that cost the princely sum of $1.50. It wasn’t the time to make a joke that Orlando might have been closer.

Before the motorist who took Harold to Miami left, someone from our tour who was outside thanked him and gave him some money for his trouble. I hope that the bus company does likewise. It was very nice of him to stop and spend the time and effort to help us, and I would also like to thank him for his generosity.

It didn’t take long for Harold to put in the new bolt and in short order, after being on the side of the highway for an hour and a half, we were again heading west.

They decided to take PTH 23 since it was a more scenic route and one of the most noteworthy sights was the wind farm near St. Leon.

Sadly, however, PTH 23 turned out to be another one of Manitoba’s highways that are badly in need of repair or “renewal”, as the propaganda signs from the government say when they do road work.

Contrary to popular belief, Manitoba is not completely flat:

We passed through Baldur (not von Schirach - some former colleagues will appreciate that reference), home of the late Tom Johnson, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The sign at right proudly informs visitors of that fact.

The highway didn’t get any better once we passed Baldur.

This is the approach to Ninette, easily the most scenic spot on this route. In the background is Pelican Lake.

We eventually reached PTH 10, the highway that would take us directly to the Peace Gardens. Unfortunately, the highway conditions failed to improve, despite being on one of Manitoba’s most well-travelled and important routes.

I’m guessing that shots like this don’t make it into any Manitoba travel brochures. It’s not exactly an inviting welcome for American tourists coming from North Dakota, only 10 miles south of where this shot was taken.

Minutes later, we reached the entrance to the Peace Gardens. Ahead is the U.S. Customs office.

Our first stop was the pavilion for an overdue lunch, consisting of some sort of vegetable soup, stale buns, and cold cuts.

We were sharing the pavilion with a group from the Canadian Cancer Society and their Relay for Life event.

I dispensed with the lunch quickly and went out and took some pictures of the fountain and surrounding gardens.

I went to the entrance and took a couple of more shots.

We got back on the bus, then we were given a guided tour that included a visit to the new 9/11 memorial.

Nothing like some distasteful government self-promotion to tarnish a poignant display. As a side note, this might also be the only such Canadian and Manitoba signage on U.S. soil.

The 9/11 Memorial, a collection of steel girders recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

En route to the Peace Chapel, I took some more shots.

The bell tower:

The peace tower:

Looking back at Lake Udall, on the American side, which is named for a Canadian. Lake Stormon, on the Canadian side, is named for an American.

The Peace Chapel. Our guide told us that they had to get special permission from both governments to build it on the border, since the treaty that defines the border expressly forbids it.

A cairn marking the Treaty of 1908 at the foot of the peace tower. On the left is the Socialist People’s Republic of Manitoba and on the right is the United States of America.

After the guided tour, we were given a few minutes on our own and I got a few more shots in. The floral clock near the entrance:

The peace poles:

With the hour growing late, we had to be back on the bus. I wanted to spend a little more time around the gardens and I felt rushed during the time I did have, but it was a nice experience.

I would come back often if I lived nearby, but for an all-day event like this, I’m not sure that it’s worth a return trip any time soon.

After leaving the Peace Gardens, we had to go back through customs.

Wouldn’t Jack Layton and his troupe of leftists be proud of those “no guns” signs?

A border guard came out to meet the bus and, to my shock, he appeared to be over the age of 18. He asked a couple of questions and sent us on our way without asking to see passports.

The Socialist People’s Republic of Manitoba welcomes you.

Radar detectors aren’t just illegal in Manitoba, they’re ILLEGAL. Then again, with law enforcement in Manitoba being rather, well, lax, one has to wonder why they bother with the sign. The honor system isn’t exactly working in this part of the world.

We took PTH 10 north and soon came to Boissevain, or rather, as the sign says, “BOISSEVAIN”.

While passing through BOISSEVAIN, we saw the town icon, Tommy the Turtle.

Crossing the Souris River north of BOISSEVAIN.

We had not seen the last of bad highways.

We continued north along PTH 10, then turned to go east at PTH 2, travelling on a route I last saw a year ago when I visited Souris on a day tour. The afternoon/evening stop was Treherne, perhaps the most inappropriately named town in Manitoba. Since the town is on highway number two, not “tree”, the name “Twoherne” might be a better choice.

The L & J Drive-In where we stopped.

If you have some dirty change in your pocket and need it cleaned, the Esso station in Treherne might be able to help you.

Winding up a long and adventurous day, we returned back to the degenerate capital of the Socialist People’s Republic of Manitoba, where I disembarked at my dropoff point downtown. The punks and weirdos were just starting to emerge from the cracks and crevasses and I suspect that in another hour, I would have been in the middle of a real-life scene from Escape from New York. Fortunately, I got home on a Transit bus without incident, but not without delay as, once again, a city resident got on a bus asking the driver if the bus goes to a particular address. With all the information on the city and the transit system so readily available at your fingertips, it continues to astound me why some people use buses as mobile tourist information booths rather than doing a little work themselves. If the city is going to put all the information out there for you, the least you can do is go look for it.

My thanks to Harold, for a job well done, not just in bringing us there and back safely, but for his repair work in the middle of nowhere. For a while there, it was beginning to look like the only peace garden we were going to see yesterday was the tranquil field were parked alongside of. The fact that we saw the real peace gardens was also due in no small measure to the motorist from Morden who pulled over and answered our call of distress, and to him go my thanks as well. Finally, another round of thanks for Roswitha, whom I’ve had as a tour guide for the fifth time in as many weeks.

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