What would you do if you found yourself in our shoes? Would you sit back and say I can’t do it? Go on welfare? Would you have the nerve to go for it as we did?
Once we had decided to do it our move to the Yukon demanded plenty of work. We arrived home in Portree with a lot of work to do.
I called the local real estate agent, the day we arrived home and told him to list our house. He was in bad physical condition. He wore a colostomy on his hip that fed him iron when his body needed it. Apparently it caused a lot of pain and he looked terrible. This of course was his payment for a lifetime of alcohol abuse. He still was a very nice man who went into the hospital the next day and sadly died a few days later.
We had 3 major things to work on.
We needed money to make the trip. How much we needed was an unknown.
We needed to be able to make a living when we arrived and at this point we had no idea what we would do to achieve that.
We needed transportation for our belongings we would take with us.
First thing we did was we went to the library and found some entrepreneur magazines. We went through these as thoroughly as possible looking for something we could focus on. There were tons of business ideas for us to consider.
For some reason we never thought of trying to find jobs. All we wanted was some way for us to make a living with our own abilities.
A few days later we found an ad for a machine that would be used to clean ceilings and walls. It seemed to make sense to us. They were made in Germany and had a national dealer set up in Ottawa. The machine cost $5,000.
We continued to check more magazines but we kept returning to the cleaning machine. Finally we made up our minds and wrote to the distributor for information. This may be just what we needed for our move to the Yukon for a means to make a living.
While visiting with Harold and Anna Babin in Arichat I heard of an old van that was for sale. We had a look. The windshield had a huge hole in it. The owner had used it for his carpet business and accidentally caused the hole while loading a roll of flooring. I bought it for $500.
I decided to drive it home while Irma drove the car. When I got it out of the yard and onto the highway it shot across the road. I pulled on the wheel and it shot across to the other side. It was almost uncontrollable. I managed to get it to Harold’s and he determined that there was something in the steering system that was either broken or worn out.
I had no alternative but to try to drive it back to Margaree in this condition. It was all over the road but I slowly got the hang of it. As soon as it would go straight, I would touch the wheel to try to catch it before it took off for the other ditch. What a challenge. We did make it back home in one piece though.
Turns out that a thick rubber part in the steering was worn out. Replaced and it worked perfectly. I found a guy near Inverness who had a windshield and put it in for me for $20. So here we were with the rig we needed to go.
We needed money.
We decided to rent out our home and move into Mike’s cottage at Conrad Lake near Dartmouth. Mike kindly offered this to us rent free which was fantastic and much appreciated.
We figured that with the rent money and what we could save from the Unemployment insurance, we could save enough money to get the move done.
We moved to Dartmouth and into the cottage and settled in for the winter. Early in the spring we went down to a print shop and bought some vinyl sheeting for the design signs we would put on the van. We knew we had to hit the streets of Whitehorse running when we got there as we would have very little money left from our trip and machine purchase.
We applied and were granted a new phone number from Northwest Tel and put it on the van. We bought magnetic sheet and had some business cards made up. Used 2 way tape to stick the cards to the magnets. Now we had fridge magnets with our info on them. As far as I know this was the first calling card fridge magnet ever.
Unfortunately our renters in Margaree were worse than animals and we had to dump them. We cleaned up the mess and closed it up and put it for sale.
We saved every penny we could. We bought lumber and built a roof rack 17 feet long, 8 feet wide and three feet high.
Finally everything was ready for our move to the Yukon. We piled our furniture inside and on top of the van, we even took the Maytag washer that Irma would not part with.
We took the 4 inch foam pads from an old travel trailer for sleeping on along with the tent, sleeping bags, blankets, stove and cooler.
Saying goodbye to Mike and Cindy was tough. We had really bonded with them during our stay. They were more than fantastic to us. They couldn’t do enough for us.
Finally we hit the road on May 22, 1993.
We drove to Ottawa, stayed in a fleabag motel overnight and awoke to an inch of water on the floor. It was raining and the window leaked to no end.
We located the company for the cleaning machine, attended classes on how to use it and left the next day. They would ship it to us as we didn’t have room for anything inside the van.
We stopped in a little tiny town called WAWA on Lake Superior in Ontario. They must get many visits by Canada Geese as sculptures of this magnificent bird were everywhere including this one which stood over 20 feet high.
The sheer size of Ontario was an eye opener. It was huge. We drove a steady 55 miles an hour but the poor old van really struggled up the many hills we encountered. It wasn’t long when it was a chore to get the speed up over 45 miles per hour.
We drove from 8 am until about 5 or 6 pm and set ourselves up in RV parks. The tent was really comfortable and we slept like babies on those foam pads.
Soon we were in Winnipeg. We stopped at a Canadian Tire Store and had them check the engine to see what might be wrong. We were informed that we had a burnt valve and were operating on only 7 cylinders. We didn’t have any extra money. Our only problem was that we knew nothing about the Alaska Highway that stretched 840 miles from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse. Would we encounter a mountain we could not climb on our move to the Yukon?
We decided to chance it and left for the highway. We crossed the rest of Manitoba and Saskatchewan marveling at this amazing country. We stopped at a little village called Mozart Saskatchewan and tried to send a postcard to Mike as he is an expert on Mozart and his music and life.
As Irma and I were both from the Maritimes, we had never seen an oil rig pumping oil from deep within the earth. In places there were dozens of these little money makers simply pumping the black gold 24/7. They began to appear once we hit Manitoba.
This is the college at Grand Prairie Alberta. The architecture is really unique. The walls are all curved and look like folds in a drape. Leo MacNeil of Howie Center near Sydney is our cousin. He has only the use of one eye but is an amazing woodworker. He builds the most beautiful coffee tables with mahogany. His designs are all flowing like the walls of this college. He told me it is because he does not have depth to his vision. He could have been the architect here.
We finally arrived in Alberta and routed around Edmonton. Soon we passed by Grand Prairie with the amazing architecture on the University and headed for Dawson and the start of the Alaska Highway. In this little town they have a signpost marking the beginning of this highway.
Canada is so huge.
What looks like a short distance on the maps turns out to many hours of driving time. We passed Fort St. John and headed north to Fort Nelson. The biggest industry here is the manufacture of chopsticks. That’s right, chopsticks. We couldn’t believe it either but there was the huge mill sitting on the highway.
The Alaska highway is very remote. It is a good highway but services are few and far between. When you do find a stop there is not much there but a small lodge and gas. We had been on the go for quite a few days and were dying for a shower. One rest stop had showers available for $1.00 so we managed to get ourselves cleaned up. We had to gas up and the attendant apologized for having to charge us 84 cents per liter as the only gas he had was for aircraft. At this time we had been paying 58 or 60 cents as the going rate.
The highway is really good and passes through mountain passes and follows wildly flowing rivers and streams. It began to rain as we headed towards a beautiful lake called Muncho. Although it was the first of June it was very cold. We arrived at the Lake late in the evening in the pouring rain. Pitched the tent, ate a quick hot dog and, although the neighbors told us the attendant would be by shortly, we were so tired we just went to bed. In a few moments the attendant arrived and we paid the $5.00 and went to sleep.
In the morning we continued on our move to the Yukon. The rain had stopped but the lake was frozen over with a half inch of ice. The campsite was without running water so we had to have a very quick wash using the lake water. Wow what an awakening that was.
We were on the road early and set out for Watson Lake. We had taken a street sign from Conrad Settlement in Nova Scotia along with us and intended to nail it to a sign post here. We arrived at noon hour. The temperature was 30 C and the mosquitoes were out in droves. We, along with about 50 others, were there with signs. We found an old shaky ladder and nailed our sign up as high as we could reach. There were thousands of signs on hundreds of poles. Amazing.
We bought two steaks and devoured them at a rest stop. We hit the road again and headed for our final destination, Whitehorse. Early that evening we pulled up in front of our girls apartment building to be greeted with wonderful hugs and kisses.
We had driven 8,400 km over 11 days. It was a trip to remember.
We had one flat tire. It was caused by a defective valve so we had a garage replace it for $10.00. It was our only cost.
Our cleaning business got off to an immediate start. A week or so later we were asked to clean a mark on the living room ceiling of a house that was otherwise clean. We did it and bartered with the owner who was an auto mechanic to replace the head on our engine. We got it fixed. Our $500. Chevy Van got us through with the burnt valve and all. Our move to the Yukon was completed.