We made the decision early on that we wanted to see different sides of Canada during our limited time there. That was the motivation behind going to both Toronto and Montréal. But to see both, you need to get from one to the other, and the time spent driving through the Greater Toronto Area (shout-out to Hamilton and Mississauga), with its congestion and massive trucks/lorries, had us beginning to rethink out plan.
Luckily, my best friend Google let me experiment with different routes and even check for other’s recommendations, and that is how we ended up on a road slightly less traveled and off of all our maps…
instead of staying on the 401 the entire time, we got off at Belleville and the entire journey changed. Fewer cars, more trees, more to see. It was a bit slower, but we were stuck in traffic leaving Toronto for almost an hour, and I will pick moving to idling any day.
The first scheduled stop was the Tim Hortons in Tweed, winner of several recommendations on the forums I checked to make sure this was actually a viable route to take and not a trip down dirt paths in a Toyota Camery (been there, done that, saw the broken covered bridge and back-tracked). It was a small-town Timmy’s with an old-school sign, fresh coffee and even fresher Timbits.
A few kilometres down the road and we turned onto the Trans-Canada Highway towards Ottawa, Canada’s capital. I love the idea of roads stretching unbroken across continents, so to be traveling even a small part of our trip on one that goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific was just awesome.
After seeing several stands selling blueberries on the side of the road, we made the decision to stop at the next one. Of course, that meant that we didn’t see another one, which served as a nice reminder to ALWAYS SEIZE THE MOMENT! We also crossed over the Mississippi Rover during our trip (not that Mississippi River, but still…) and eventually we arrived in Ottawa.
Ottawa is kind of like Brasília (hear me out), in that it was pretty much created to be the capitol, roughly half-way between anglophone Toronto and francophone Montréal. We decided to stop because it seemed like a wast to drive so close to the nation’s capitol and not at least see something. So we went to the Canadian Museum of History, right across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Québec.
I am so glad we stopped, too, because the museum is fantastic! Great exhibits about the First Nations on the ground floor, rotating exhibitions on the next (we learned about Snow and the Empress of Ireland, which has been called Canada’s Titanic) and the top floor is a journey through the history of Canada. You walk through different exhibits starting with prehistory and ending with modern Canada. Very well done, nicely interactive and super informative (and we didn’t even go to the Children’s Museum or the IMAX).
The outside of the museum has some gardens and gives you an amazing view of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. It might also be the only nice park in the area because we saw no less than 8 wedding parties there taking pictures…
Leaving Gatineau, we decided to stay in francophone Québec and take Autoroute 50 to Montréal. It was amazing how immediately things switched over French, from the Tim Hortons (goodbye “Drive Thru” and “Dark Roast”, bonjour “Service au Volant” et “Torréfaction Foncée”).
As we learned later, Autoroute 50 used to only exist in 2 unconnected sections, so our GPS kept trying to telling to get off and go back around through Ontario. We made the terrifying decision to cast off our dependence on our technical overlords and just follow the signs to Montréal, and we made it eventually, despite being, according to our 2007 technology, entirely off the grid.
We enden up being on the road for almost 12 hours, but it still sticks out as one of the most relaxing and enjoyable parts or our trip. We had a rough plan, a flexible time-schedule, so we took our time, talked, listened to the radio, and just enjoyed the experience of traveling.