August 31, 2015

Manitoba Adventures

By: Rob Lowe

Featured Picture

Driving through southwestern Manitoba, we noticed signs for the Souris Swinging Bridge which is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Canada at 184m or 604 feet. We decided to leave the TransCanada Highway and check it out.

The current bridge, (shown in Slide 1), opened on August 17, 2013 and is the fourth such bridge to be suspended over the Souris River since the first in 1904. The previous bridge was cut loose in flood waters in 2011, sacrificing the bridge to save the banks of the river. Slide 2 shows one of the plaques placed at each entrance after the second last bridge was opened. Slide 3 shows a picture from the bridge while Slide 4 shows a remnant of the last bridge that was cut away. The new bridge was engineered and constructed 1.7m (5.6 feet) higher than the last and is significantly more robust. The bridge is supported by four high strength steel cables fabricated from 125km (77.7 miles) of wire. (These are the two top cables and the two lower ones holding the floor structure shown in the photo in Slide 3 which look like long pipe sections in the photo).  Interestingly, it is designed so that a single person can ‘swing’ the bridge as I was able to prove when I walked across it. I am sure the young Mom walking her baby in a carriage wondered what I was up to, as I jumped on the bridge while she was crossing. It definitely began to swing as I jumped up and down.

We travelled along the backroads and came to the town of Holland with a large windmill and yellow letters spelling the word. We were duped into thinking these were there to honor some Dutch citizens or settlers. All such thoughts were erased by the plaque located at the base of the windmill shown in Slide 5. Apparently the constructors of the windmill and sign did not get the message. More likely, they knew tourists (especially those of Dutch descent) would stop to check these out. (Slides 6-8) We did and enjoyed our lunch in the shadow of the windmill while Cassi watched at the gopher holes on the large well-kept grounds.

Slide 9 was taken while we were driving again and tries to capture the horizon to horizon view of the various grain fields along the route. While there were a good variety of crops, the wheat and barley fields dominated. One other sight that kept recurring along our route were these wind turbines. A roadside sign informed us that this wind farm is known as the St. Joseph Wind Farm and we learned it is spread across 125 square kilometres (48.3 square miles). There are 60 turbines generating 2.3MW, which is enough to power 50,000 homes. We have seen similar farms in Alberta, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and even our home province of Ontario. With all the wind crossing the vast prairies (which gives Chicago its nickname of the ‘windy city’) it makes sense [and cents!] to capture this energy and produce electric power.

We drove to Winkler, a small city about 100 km (60 miles) south of Winnipeg and just north of the US border. We knew that a RV maker of van style motorhomes (Leisure Travel) had a plant there and we thought we would take a plant tour while in the area. We went to the municipal-park which is a wonderful facility with a small treed area, an aquatic center, an indoor arena/rink, outdoor amphitheatre, volleyball court and a large well-kept open park, in addition to the campground.  We stayed there and saw many families taking advantage of the large outdoor swimming pool (and two hot tubs). There was lots to do in that park. One evening a local credit union offered a free movie in the amphitheatre. There were large, air-filled play toys for younger children and lots of other activities. Families streamed in for two hours before the event. The movie was still playing as we went to bed. The next morning before breakfast, everything was cleared away and all garbage and recycle items were ready for removal in appropriate bags. You could not tell that there had been an event there 12 hours earlier. 

Winkler is one of the nicest towns we have visited. It seems to be very well laid out with many facilities being within walking or biking distance of each other and there are bike/walking paths to allow people to move around safely away from traffic. The homes and business facilities are all very well maintained. The newer subdivisions had bungalow and two storey homes on 15 to 18m (50 to 60 foot) lots with space between the homes. All had full concrete driveways and most had an additional concrete parking area for a boat or RV. Some had an additional garage for this RV/boat either attached to the house or in the back yard with the driveway extended back to it. It was obvious that this was part of the development planning and shows that with proper planning, recreational activities and equipment can be planned into community life. 

The plant we visited (Triple E RV) was within a few blocks of where we were staying and had we wanted to, we could have easily walked the distance. The tour was informative, the company is privately held, employs about 300 people and the work force is almost evenly split gender wise. They build about 10-12 vehicles per week and work only one shift and no weekends. The stated reason was that they value their workers and want them to enjoy time with their families. At the present time everything they produce is already sold and they have a large order backlog. We learned that many prospective customers tour the plant to see a model up close since what arrives on dealer’s lots is already sold. The design and quality are exceptional and innovation is encouraged which is evidenced in various ways through the assembly process and products. Fortunately, they have a number of well-produced, informative video presentations online to show their product line to prospective buyers. The company celebrated being in business for 50 years during July, 2015 with a large celebration in town. The tour which stretched out for two hours was an informative and worthwhile stop on our trip.    

Crossing the Canada-US border is always an experience. Crossing from Manitoba to North Dakota proved to be different. As is always the case, we are asked what foods we have on board and we go through the list of what we have. The border agent then makes a decision about whether an inspection is necessary. This time we underwent an Agricultural Inspection, primarily of the contents of our refrigerator. The agent, while friendlier than some, was all business. He removed a sealed box of frozen turkey burgers and a partial box of frozen chicken breasts allegedly because they could contain the avian virus because they were from Ontario. The packages of the President’s Choice branded food state: "Packaged for Loblaw’s Inc. (one of the largest Canadian food store operators), Toronto, ON.” The fact that we bought them in Strathmore, Alberta cut no slack with this agent. Then to add insult to injury "because your tomatoes are not labeled, we cannot determine where they come from” he removed the tomatoes. He then opened a number of cabinet doors throughout the coach, found nothing and went on his merry way to the next RV. We did notice that every RV was being inspected. We were the second in a group to cross, and the trailer behind us was also pulled over as they crossed. I hope the agents enjoyed some perfectly good turkey and chicken, topped with some (likely) Canadian or Mexican tomatoes for dinner!  During our inspection he asked if we have ever had an agricultural inspection before. When we said: ‘Yes, about five years ago’, he replied: ‘Well, you’re overdue for an inspection’. Lesson learned, don’t bring across meat; all veggies must be labelled with the country of origin on them. It’s a wonder that the lettuce, celery and green onions survived the border crossing!           

We’re travelling through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan to get home. On this leg of the trip, the purpose is primarily to get close to home. We won’t be sightseeing, simply counting the miles down to home. Our next message will likely contain a few thoughts and few pictures. We’ll connect as time permits.


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