December 5, 2011
We are here in Canada. It's strange though since it's almost like home but it isn't. We can see Safeway and Sears from our window and of course there is Mc Donald's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Wall Mart and even Home Depot. Road signs are the same but everything is in metric. It's a pain to go to the store and try to compare. Although I now know that 1 Kilogram is 2.2 pounds. Also everything is double labeled one side in English and the other in French. The people in general are very friendly. Their license plate does say friendly Manitoba. It took us several days to get settled and set up a Canadian checking account. Fortunately the American dollar was worth more than the Canadian dollar for the exchange.
We travel across town to our assigned area which takes us through downtown Winnipeg which is like any big city. Lots of busses, foot traffic, cars and bikes. The bicyclists ride in the buss lane, so far we have seen no carnage. Everyone wears black, maybe to attract the heat from the sun? Makes them hard to see at night. We travel mostly by GPS but have learned some main routes. One night on the way back we pushed the home button on the GPS supposing our apartment address was "home". Sarah our GPS voice led us astray. We had driven quite a long way when she said turn left and drive 72 miles South. I knew something was a muck. Donna checked and Sarah was sending back to the border perhaps to Oregon. I looked at a map after we got home and discovered we had driven about 25 extra miles around the perimeter highway that circles the city. It was truly the scenic route, too bad it was in the dark.
The Red and Assiniboine Rivers run through the city and join at a place the locals call The Forks. It's similar to Portland's water front area with lots of stuff going on at least in warm weather. The Red River is the only river that flows North from the States into Canada. The country side here is absolutely flat and the Red meanders allot setting up the potential every year for flooding. The rivers freeze over (they are frozen now) and as the ice breaks up in the spring the water can't get past the ice dams and the water begins to back up, ergo flooding.
Everything is very expensive especially groceries. Food from the market is not taxed but everything else is. They have a 12 percent sales tax, 7 percent goes to the Province and 5 percent to the federal government. The locals say if you bleed in Canada you are taxed. I suspect in part the heavy tax pays for their socialized medicine. I bought gas today for $1.05 per liter or $4.20 per gallon. Fortunately the tax is already figured into the gas price. Across the border in ND gas in $3.35 per gallon.
Canadians can enter the US and buy up to $400.00 in duty free goods every two weeks. They have to have receipts and they better not lie as the Canadian Govt. checks them closely. If you get caught you get put on a list and are restricted for a long period of time. I see why they cross over since tax here is so high. They travel to Grand Forks ND which must be 1 1/2 away. Grand Forks has all the attractive shopping things we are familiar with.
The weather is cold for us. The daytime highs have been in the mid 20's F and in the low teens at night. The wind is the killer. It blows a lot and you dress in layers according to the wind chill factor. It has only snowed once, about 5 cm. The city gets right after it with plows and a sand salt mixture. It does no good to wash your car as the sand salt gets on your car from the road spray and it looks like you have just come in from a Baja mud race. There are no do it yourself car washes. Too cold for that everything freezes pretty quick. You can pay between $8.00 and $60.00 for a drive through wash and air dry but with the road spray most folks let it go. We live on the 3rd floor of a 11 story apartment building and the road spray from a four lane boulevard reaches our balcony sliding glass door. Everyone tells us they are having a mild fall and early winter. They tell just wait and see. We are fine with the way it is but know it will get worse.
Since I started this letter (last week) the temps have dropped. Last night's low was -10 F and today's high will be about +15 F. The sun is out though. Before we left home I bought two pair of Cabela's silk long johns. Best buy I have made in a while. They keep the wind from going through you pants and freezing your legs.
A couple more things. When it snows it's here to stay at least on the lawns, roof tops, shaded areas and lots of residential shaded residential streets. I almost forgot no one has studded tires. You see lots of all season and traction tires but nary a stud. They may be outlawed. Something that stuck me funny is their two person traffic teams. These folks are on foot and wear the florescent green coats and hide behind phone poles, bushes etc. One has the radar gun and the other one pops out and waves you to the curb and gives you ticket. Of course they have the regular police officers in patrol cars too.
You need to know about "loonies" and "toonies". Since Canada has nothing smaller than a $5.00 bill they have a one dollar coin, a "loonie" because it has a Lune Bird on it and two dollar coin or "toonie" which is a tad bigger and is made up of two metals. The outer circle is silver and the inner circle looks like copper. They of course have quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. At some grocery stores to get a cart you put your "loonie" in a slot in the handle that unlocks a chain that locks one cart to another. After you use the cart if you want your dollar ("loonie") back you bring the cart all the way back into the store reattach the locking chain and out pops your "loonie". Most people have their own grocery bags made of cloth or heavy vinyl. If you use plastic as we do in the States they charge you a nickel per bag. Another Canadian custom is shoes off at the door. People take their shoes off so their house don't get all tracked up. Lots of winter sand from streets and sidewalks. Anyway makes for cleaner rugs and floors. The Canadians don't have post offices like we do. There in a corner of some drug stores. To post a letter inside Canada is $ .57 cents but to post one to the States it's $1.03 plus 12 percent tax. Ah the ever present tax.
There is Mission downtown Winnipeg where different churches work together volunteering to prepare and serve diner each night to about 330 people mostly men but a few women and kids. Donna and I participated one evening and were assigned lettuce; we unwrapped, cleaned and chopped up 72 heads. Also cut gallons of mushrooms while other grated carrots, sliced cucumbers, apples etc. Others cooked the spaghetti and a group of older high school kids served the meal. Quite an operation all supervised by some young fellow 22 years old. I must admit that while not minding kitchen work, going to and from the facility surrounded by a mass of homeless people made me uncomfortable. Looks like I have some things to work on eh!
Well that's all the news from Canada eh!. Take care and have a Merry Christmas.