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Reports

Friday, 27 June 2003
Sault Ste. Marie --> Marathon, Ontario, Canada


With the ticket my hostess Beth Major bought for me yesterday, I got on the 12.45 pm bus to Marathon. As you can see on the map, I am travelling north along the big Lake Superior.

With a surface of only 82,000 square kilometres, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and one of the wildest. The shore at the east and the north of the lake is a windswept region formed by volcanoes, earthquakes and ice age-glaciers.

It was in 1872 when Reverend George Grant wrote about Superior: "It breeds storms and rain and fog, like a sea. It's cold, wild, masterful and dreaded."

For most parts Highway 17 (The Canadian Highway) sticks close to the shore of the Lake Superior between the Soo and Marathon. The distance to Marathon was only some 400 km and I wondered how long it would have taken me to get there if I was hitchhiking, because next to the Greyhound bus I was in, there was not much traffic out there.

Halfway the ride the bus made a stop in low-key Wawa, a small iron-mining town in the past. Wawa is the Ojibwa cry of the Canadian goose and therefore the people in town created the world's biggest goose and put it at the entrance. It was this model that made Wawa become a touristy bus-stopping point, which was just the idea. Smart Wawawans!

The next little stop took place in White River, I was almost there. There was absolutely no reason to stop in White River, except by dropping of a lost soul that probably has family living here. The entire bus felt his pain.

But worth to mention: White River is the spot in Canada where in 1935 the temperature dropped to a mind-boggling -72F, the lowest ever recorded in the whole of Canada (hence the whopping thermometer hanging by the highway).

White River is also the spot where Winnie the Pooh is sitting on a tree branch. Now you might start to thing that this is another bus-stopping trick, but it isn't. White River is the original home of the bear cub that ended to the London Zoo in 1914. Read this fascinating story on how this writer in England decided to write about this particular bear!

One hour after the stop in White River, I arrived in Marathon and my host there, Con Koevoet, and I shook hands at the bus stop.

Con (64) lives together with his wife Rachel (say it the French way) in a house in Marathon and when we drove through the town I noticed how small it was.

"This town was built because of the paper mill. Then when they found gold in the 1950s, more people moved to Marathon and hopped on the train to the gold mines every day. In these days Marathon was not connected with the highways yet, it was just a remote town on the Lake."

Con is an independent mail courier and tells me that he works some three hours a day lately. "I drive to White River and pick up the mail from the mail truck and then I take it to the post office here in Marathon. I also take the mail from Marathon to White River. And like tomorrow, I have to drive up to Thunder Bay to pick up the Saturday edition of the Chronicle-Journal and bring it to Marathon. You are lucky, because I can give you a lift to Thunder Bay then!"

Rachel is a nurse from the hospital and she takes care of sick people at home. "You know," she says excited, "I retire in three days!" Really? I congratulated her and asked her what she is going to do from then on. "I don't know yet. I will still be helping out at the hospital and maybe join Con on his mail rides, I guess."

With a tour through the house I see many frames on various walls with photos of their children and their grand children. Con and Rachel has five sons and nine grandchildren. "They spread all over Canada," Rachel explains. "But we haven't lived at one spot either."

Con is original Dutch, but calls himself a Canadian. When he was 18 years old he had to do his tour of duty in the Dutch army and he decided to skip it by emigrating to Canada. "I told it to my parents (in the small town of Vlaardingen near Rotterdam) I was leaving and they thought I'd be back in a few months. But I arrived in Montreal with $22 dollars in my pocket and caught the train to Edmonton (Alberta) to find a job there. I had all kinds of jobs, because I was never trained for a certain trade." And then followed a long list of odd little jobs, that long that I lost it already. But you can imagine he took any job to get some money going.

"When I could get a good job in another province," Con said, "the family moved there and tried it for a while. And if necessary, we would move again to another job spot."

"Maybe in the coming year we will travel around Canada and visit all our children and grandchildren. I haven't even been to nearby Thunder Bay in fifteen months and that's the closed next town from Marathon!"

After a healthy dinner with Con and Rachel this evening continued with a tour around Marathon ("It will be a 5-minute tour," Rachel said, "don't worry, you won't be overwhelmed") to see the paper mill, the beach with the pebbles, the beach with the flat rocks and all the residential houses that almost all looked the same.

Back home I got connected to their phone line and I settled myself in the kitchen. Con and Rachel were reading quietly in the living room. It was funny when I suddenly played some music on my laptop. They thought the neighbours had become crazy! "Where is that noise coming from?"

My hosts went to bed very early tonight. Rachel had to work a few hours tomorrow and Con and I could sleep in. When I went to bed at 1.30am this night, I was happy with that sleepin!

Good night Marathon,

Ramon