If you have kept up with our travels, or read my second book Living With Wanda 2, you know that we were not able to cross into Canada when we visited Niagara Falls, NY or Lubec, ME, the northeastern most city in the US. On that trip in 2022 we had planned to enter Canada at both of those locations but we were missing one important thing—our passports.
We had discussed the need for our passports six weeks before we left home for that trip but we weren’t going to put them in the van that long before our departure. In the end, we were several days into the trip before realizing they were still in the safe at home. On our next big trip north, to the Great Lakes, we were determined to rectify that and cross the border. We did not have a destination, or even a border crossing location, in mind. We considered Sault Ste. Marie, MI or International Falls, MN.
Ultimately, it worked best to visit Canada from Grand Portage, MN located on the North Shore of Lake Superior above Duluth, MN. A conversation with a fellow traveler somewhere in the Porcupine Mountains of western Michigan covered a lot of topics but one was his previous travels in an RV. He was now nearing 80 years-old by my estimation but in his younger retirement days he and his wife had traveled extensively. He said we really needed to see Kakabeka Falls in Ontario, Canada. (I acted like I knew what and where he was talking about.) That night I googled where Kakabeka was and discovered it wasn’t very far from the Minnesota border so we decided to cross the border in Grand Portage when we reached that area.
Three days later we camped in an open field about forty-five minutes from the Minnesota/Canadian border. We got an early start that next morning but wanted to drop a bag of trash before reaching the border. I think Grand Portage, MN had two gas stations. It was not the “grand” town I had imagined. I pulled into the first station to buy some gas and put my trash in the dumpster. The pumps were out of the lowest octane so I bought ONE GALLON of medium octane for $4.99 per gallon. I thought that was a fair trade for my refuse.
From there it took five minutes to reach the border crossing. The Canadian agent was super friendly—but aren’t all Canadians? First he greeted me in French and I gave him my best French “uhhhh” response. Then he said “Welcome to Canada!” in English. He asked where we were going so it was nice to be able to reply with a purpose and say ‘Kakabeka Falls’ rather than suggest that we were just going to wander his country aimlessly. He confirmed we were only doing a day trip and not spending the night. He didn’t even mention Annie who was sleeping on the armrest next to Jenni but he did ask if we had any alcohol. When I said yes and he asked how much, I held up my hands to indicate a six-inch bottle and said it was a pre-mixed margarita. He smiled and was about to wave us through when he stopped and asked what it said on our matching T-shirts. We were wearing our “All Who Wander Are Not Lost” shirts. He told us to have a great day. It was a very pleasant experience for our first border crossing in Wanda.
The Canadian countryside was beautiful—big barns, ripe wheat, green corn, cut alfalfa in the fields. We never saw a city over 1,000 in population. Just outside the small town of Kakabeka Falls was the provincial park of the same name. The ranger on duty there looked about 18 years-old and was, of course, very friendly. We could pay by the hour to visit, so I took the option for two hours at 6.50 CAD (or about $4.75 USD), and pulled into a parking space beyond the building. The falls were maybe fifty yards away.
The waterfall was stunning—not as large as Niagara but almost as beautiful and less than a dozen other tourists. It split in two around a rock formation just after the river flowed under a bridge before dropping 130 ft. We enjoyed it from both sides of the bank with the far side being the best. I even drove Wanda over the bridge so Jenni could get some video.
We went back to Wanda to get Annie out for a walk, and even took her to one of the overlooks for a selfie. She seemed a bit nervous as I approached the railing which Jenni totally identified with.
We took a slightly different route back to the US.
Along the way, I was fascinated by their road signs. They didn’t use words much--just pictures. I enjoy petroglyphs but I was having trouble discerning one particular yellow sign that had a jagged black image that looked like three tents pushed together with a black arrow pointing up. I started to ask Jenni what she thought it could mean.
About that time I hit a very large bump and then I understood the sign!
We were back at the US border by noon—in one of the countries. That part of Canada was on Eastern Time while Minnesota was on Central Time. The US agent was not nearly as friendly as her Canadian counterpart. First I had to stop at a machine that was more intimidating to me than a fast-food drive-up window. I surmised I was supposed to scan our passports there but nothing happened. Eventually a woman leaned out of a window and waved me forward. I asked if I did something wrong at the scanner but she ignored my question. I handed her our passports showing we were US citizens. She still asked where we were going and did we have a reservation for tonight? (I’m thinking: ‘I’m an American, does it really matter where I’m going?’ but of course did my best to come up with the name of a state park we were going to camp in that night.) Then she curtly asked ‘was this a camper with a bed and was anyone sleeping in the back?’ I replied it was just the two of us. I was not about to let her know there was a passenger with Chihuahua Mexican-heritage, without a passport, snoring on the floorboard between our seats! Annie may have lived on the streets for a while, but she could not have survived serving time in a border holding cell at this point in her privileged life. This whole exchange was done without any smiles or congeniality on the part of the border agent—not even a “welcome home” or "we've been expecting you". After promising again that no one was in the bed, she waved us through.
A few hundred yards later we pulled into the Grand Portage State Park and Visitor Center. We ate sandwiches in the parking lot, fed Annie her kibble, and then hiked a mile (round trip) to see High Falls. Had we not just visited Kakabeka we would have been highly impressed.
Before leaving Grand Portage we spent some time at a national monument that taught us about the fur trade that existed in the area with the Chippewa or Ojibjy peoples. I'm not normally a big museum fan, but this one had interesting Chippewa artifacts, jewelry, utensils, and history. Due to time constraints, we only scratched the surface of the indoor exhibits. Outside was a replica village near the lake with wigwams made of birch bark and a trading post within the stockade walls of a fort but we probably most enjoyed the warehouse where a man showed us boats once used to transport supplies and the hand tools used to make them. The largest boat, suspended from the ceiling, was 38’ x 6’ and held four tons and sixteen men. This national monument was a stop we hadn’t even planned on making, yet, it was one we could have stayed at for a couple more hours.
That night in camp we had chili with pancake-style cornbread, margaritas, and hot showers. We were now a merry van of international travelers!
(Oops! I miscalculated the number of margaritas we were carrying into Canada! Glad they didn't search us!)