20-years-ago today I was in Upsala, Ontario, 142 kilometres west of Thunder Bay. Upsala, which came into being in 1882 is another of those little towns that was an important fuel and water stop for trains travelling the newly constructed Canadian Pacific Railway system. The town was named after Uppsala, Sweden, reflecting the Scandinavian and Nordic background of many area immigrants. Until 1937, all travel to the town was by rail. Then a section of the Trans-Canada Highway was built on the site of a wagon trail in the town, connecting it to the twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur (now one city, Thunder Bay).
In 1998, October 4th was a Sunday and it was a very cold and frosty morning. Most mornings I checked The Weather Network, for their weather and especially for their highway graphics to see what kind of road conditions we would be facing. I also checked the local forecast on CBC television, and perhaps the most accurate indicator – I looked out the window. (The other little tip was to check the length of the jet trails in the sky at the end of the day. Short jet trails usually meant a good ‘tomorrow’ as there was very little moisture in the air.)
When I headed out to the motorhome, I was glad to have a hot bowl of Ed’s Newfoundland porridge with raisins. The mornings were definitely getting colder.
When I stepped out onto the Trans-Canada Highway traffic was starting to pick up when the sun melted the morning frost. There were a surprising number of people who pulled to the shoulder of the road to donate, to shake hands and to sometimes take a picture.
It may sound strange, but you really get to know a highway when you’re on the edge of that pavement for 33 kilometres a day – and you gain a respect for transport truck drivers and the job they face each day. They have their own code of conduct on the road. Most days their routine operated smoothly. But even at the best of times – things didn’t always work out.
Our OPP escort told us that on a big curve that was coming up on the Trans-Canada there had been a fatal crash a couple of days earlier. Two transport trucks carrying pulp chips had collided head-on in the early morning fog. Both drivers were killed.
When we reached that big curve, the wreckage had all been removed. From the side of the road to the woods there was a section of ground about half the size of a football field, covered in the pulp chips the trucks had been carrying. The entire area had been neatly smoothed and graded with care. Close to the woods there were two small white crosses.
Back on board the motor home at the end of the day when Ed Coxworthy was working my legs, he told me that earlier in the day when our OPP escort came aboard the motor home, Ed told him that the accident had happened at 8:45 in the morning. The officer looked amazed and when he asked Ed how in the world he knew that, Ed told him he found a watch among the woodchips. The face of the watch was shattered, and time had stopped at 8:45.
It stopped for two men who were just doing their job. I never did learn if they were fathers, or husbands, or someone’s brother. They were somebody’s son. And they weren’t ever coming home.
Ed took the watch across the road, through the wood chips to the edge of the forest. He taped it to one of the crosses. He said he just felt it belonged there.
It wasn’t a day for taking pictures.
We were coming up to Thanksgiving and I thanked my lucky stars that we had made it this far and no one had been injured. I had a pretty strong feeling that someone was watching over us.
Who is watching over you? Who do you give thanks for?
And so it went on Day 180.
Stay tuned, the journey continues……