Home Again (Saskatoon, La Ronge, and our Roadtrip to Vancouver)

Well, I’ve been back in London for over a month now, and it’s went by so fast! But this post isn’t about my time back in London… right now, I’m going to share about my time back in Canada. My trip back to Canada was quite long.. my flight didn’t leave until 9:20 that morning, but I still had to get to the airport by 6:45. I had booked a bus ticket to the airport, but I still had to get to the bus stop with my two suitcases so I decided to take an Uber for the first time ever. It was actually quite simple! I got up around 4:30 and called an Uber at 5, which got me to the bus stop with enough time to catch my bus at 5:30. However, once I got there, it said that because of road construction, the bus stop would be cancelled all day. Of course something like this would happen on my way home – does it EVER go smoothly?! I tried calling the number that was listed, which was out of service and then I started freaking out along with the other people who showed up at the stop. Luckily, a bus ended up coming! The bus driver said that it didn’t come into effect until 6am (even though the sign didn’t state that), so we lucked out! I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and I bought the newest Harry Potter book that was just issued at midnight. The first part of my flight was to St. John’s, Newfoundland. I then had two hours to find my luggage, take it through customs, and get food before boarding the next plane. There were two things that completely shocked me upon arriving in the Newfoundland airport. The first thing was that the people were a lot bigger – not huge, but a noticeable amount that I hadn’t been used to seeing in Europe. The second thing was how much water was in the toilets. This took about two weeks for me to get used to, and there were quite a few times when I’d start freaking out because I thought the toilet was going to overflow when I flushed it. Coming from Europe, where there’s about half a cup to a cup of water in a toilet (next to nothing), I was shocked when I saw the toilet bowl half full in Canada! Anyway, I got on my next flight, which was to Toronto but it ended up being a four hour flight. This was because there was a stop in Halifax, where I had to sit and wait for everyone to get off the plane and for everyone else to get on. I had started and finished my Harry Potter book during this flight.. I had another two hour layover in Toronto, and then my final part was the trip to Saskatoon. I got there at 8pm (3am London time), where my sister and Stephanie were there to greet me at the airport (my parents were at the cabin, waiting), and the three of us went back to the house to visit and unpack my stuff. By that time, I had hardly eaten because I was shocked at the $8-13 sandwiches

Beef tartare!

at the airpot and refused to buy one. I had the shakes and was extremely jetlagged, but I somehow managed to stay up until at least midnight. The next day, my sister and I packed up my car and headed to La Ronge! We had a nice family week there, where we went on a family boat day (dog and cat included), did some puzzling, hung out by the fire, and just had a relaxing time. It was quite easy for me to feel at home again, and it felt like I had only been gone for a month or so, not a whole year! It was also a great way for me to get over my jetlag, but it took me at least a week to finally be able to sleep through the entire night. Once the weekend came, I was “allowed” to go into town to see my friends (the week was reserved for family time), and do my rounds at the Co-op. Not much had changed, except for all of the kids who seemed to have changed so much after a year!

I headed back to Saskatoon on Sunday evening, and then my mom, Lauren and I started our road trip on Monday morning. We stopped to visit my Grandma for an hour or so, and things had changed quite a bit in that area as well. During my year away, she had been moved to a care home and her memory has slowly been going, so she didn’t actually know who I was when I came in. My mom had to introduce me to her, reminding her of who I was. It was quite difficult to see how much she had changed since the last time I saw her, but it was nice to see her again. We then decided to take the long way to Calgary, heading down to Swift Current and stopping to visit my Godparents in Medicine Hat. We arrived in Calgary later that night, just in time to have dinner with our family friends, the Hounjets and Randles. On Tuesday, Robyn, Lauren and I did a bit of wandering around and went out for lunch. We went to a fancy French bistro, where we decided to order three dishes and split them. Robyn order the beef tartare, which Lauren and I were both quite hesitant about, as I don’t think I’ve ever eaten raw red meat in my life, but it actually ended up being delicious! We did a bit of shopping, and later that evening we had a nice dinner, complete with boardgames and lots of visiting. 
Windermere Lake
We left for Windermere on Wednesday morning, stopping for lunch in Banff. We settled for McDonald’s after seeing how expensive the Banff restaurants were, and then checked out a few of the shops while we were there. We got to Windermere that afternoon, and stayed at my Auntie Joyce and Uncle David’s cabin. The next day, we spent a good amount of time boating on the lake. It was so weird to me – to be able to have mountains on both sides of you when boating through the lake, but it was so nice and relaxing! This is where I finally was able to have a good night’s sleep after being jet lagged all week – it was amazing! We went out to a delicious restaurant for pizza that evening, and ended the night with a campfire.
On Friday morning, we made the long trek to Kelowna. We stayed with my cousins and their kids, and my Auntie Rose and Uncle Bob were also in town to visit! We had an amazing Ukrainian dinner that evening (which I would never turn away, with the lack of Ukrainian food in London!), which was so good! The next day, we spent the afternoon at the beach, and we also got to see where my aunt and uncle would be moving. It was a great visit! That evening, we spent hours on the deck watching the lightning storm, and stargazing.
Kelowna
On Sunday morning, we headed to Vancouver. The traffic was insane upon our arrival, and we ended up taking about 1.5 to 2 hours just to get IN to Vancouver, as the highway was backed up. We finally got through and stopped at the ferry terminal to pick up my cousin, Nikayla, who came to meet us from Victoria. Lucky for us, some family friends had a 2-bedroom apartment available that was on UBC campus. However, it was completely empty. And by completely, I mean no beds, no couch, no dishes, etc. We ended up “camping” on the bedroom floors, which was an experience in itself. That evening, we did a shopping trip to get our necessities and we went out for a nice dinner on campus. The next day, we went to Granville Island and I met up with my friend, Jeff (who I met at Bamfield), for lunch. Later that afternoon, we went to Lynn Canyon Park and did a bit of hiking before heading back to the apartment and having a sushi picnic on the living room floor. We also met up with Curtis and his girlfriend for a visit that night. 
Lynn Canyon Park
On Tuesday morning, we started our long trek home. We dropped Nikayla back off at the ferry terminal, made a stop in Abbotsford to visit some family friends, and this time headed north towards Jasper. We didn’t have a plan of where we would stop that evening, and decided to keep driving until my dad (who was back in Saskatoon on his iPad) found us a room in Clearwater. This was the first evening that my mom, sister and I had to ourselves, and it was nice to finally get to spend some time just with each other. We went to an AMAZING restaurant called Hop “N” Hog, where we sat outside and had a meat platter and a vegetable platter of delicious barbecued food. We left the next morning and made it to Edmonton that night, and then did the last part of the trip back to Saskatoon on Thursday. I ended up putting 7000km on my car during my month back in Canada, putting a year’s worth of driving in 30 days! 
That evening, I met up with my good friend Crystal for dinner at Spicy Garden and had a nice visit catching up. Friday was my first full day back in Saskatoon (even though I had already been in Canada for 18 days), and if I’m completely honest, it was the first time I felt truly lonely. Maybe it was the fact that the last two and half weeks were so filled up, I didn’t think about it before, or maybe that’s just how I actually felt in my hometown, but I sat there thinking about how a year had went by and everyone had continued on with their lives for the past year without me, so was there even any place for me anymore? Where did I still belong? DID I still belong? And I was bored! I didn’t feel like I could just find something cool to do, like it was so easily done in London. I felt truly lost. I didn’t have too much time to dwell on it because that afternoon, I spent quite a bit of time with family. 
The next day, I met up with most of my high school friends at Stephanie’s

Mount Robson

house for a barbecue. It was nice seeing and catching up with everyone, and again, it didn’t feel like I had been gone for a whole year. After dinner, we got a ride to Confederation Mall and started our Folkfesting experience. We went to the German pavilion for a while, and then made our way to Prairieland Park, where we stayed for the rest of the night. People kept wandering off or going home throughout the night, which was really tough on me because I knew that I likely wouldn’t be seeing them again before I headed back to London, and I didn’t get to say bye to any of them. However, there were seven of us left at the end of the night and we decided to take the bus to the north end and then go to Original Joe’s. We caught the bus at about 11:45pm and then about ten minutes later, the bus randomly stopped and bus driver said that another bus was coming, and it would be going directly downtown. Therefore, half of the people on the bus got off (including us) and we waited for the next bus. And waited… And waited… After another ten minutes of it not coming, everyone climbed back onto the other bus (which hadn’t left), and we started the long journey back downtown, through all of the other neighbourhoods. By the time we finally got downtown, we had JUST missed the last bus to take us to the northend and we were therefore stranded at the bus mall. I was livid. I had gotten used to 24-hour bus services, and I couldn’t believe that we didn’t have a way home at 12:30 in the morning. My drunken self promised my friends that I would be writing a letter to the city to complain (which seems to be what I do best). Luckily, Steph got a hold of her mom to pick up the people who lived on the west side and I was able to wake up my sister to pick up the northend people. Anyway, I DID end up writing a letter when I returned back to London, which I’ll explain more of at the end of my post.

The next day (Sunday), my loneliness came back again. That afternoon, I went to my Auntie Rose and Uncle Bob’s to visit with them and my cousins, and then they invited me for dinner. It was a really great visit, and time seemed to fly by, as the conversations kept

going and going. I left at 9pm after realizing the time, and I met up with my friend Alyssa to have a visit over coffee. It’s those short visits with friends and family that really make me feel whole and complete again 🙂 On Monday, I met up with Steph and Laura for all-you-can-eat sushi lunch before I made the trip back to La Ronge. That week, I usually spent the day with family and then went into town for the evening. On Wednesday, Sherri had a birthday party for Nevaidah, who turned four this year! I remember hating when people would see me as a kid and exclaim how fast I was growing up, and now I’ve realized that I’ve become one of those people. It blows my mind that Nevaidah was born four years ago, back when I was doing my Eurotrip in Italy. It was a great week, being able to spend time with friends and see how much the kids had changed! Zipper and I even got a nice afternoon to relax on the lake!

I drove back to Saskatoon on Sunday night and then on Monday, my mom, Lauren and I did a day trip to Rosetown. We spent the afternoon with my grandma, who was much better that day! We also went to visit my aunt and uncle working on the farm, and then went for dinner at my cousin’s. That evening, we made a couple more stops visiting cousins before heading back home. It was a busy day, but it was so nice to see everyone before I left! On Tuesday, I met with Jono and his family for lunch, and I got to see how much his little one grew in the past year! Then on Wednesday, I met up with the Herbel’s for lunch, and had an awesome visit with them as well! That evening, I did all of my packing and had a visit from

Land of the Living Skies 🙂

Steph and Bobby. Then, at 3:30 in the morning, I had to get up in order to catch my 5:30 flight back to London. The trip back was much like the trip there, except I had longer layovers. I had a six-hour layover in Toronto, and then a two-hour layover in St. John’s, and I made it back to London at 8am (1am Saskatoon time). The line to get through passport control was absolutely ridiculous, and I ended up having to wait 1.5-2 hours to finally get through. I then caught the bus back, and I think I arrived back at my flat at around 2pm (7am Saskatoon time), and I was absolutely exhausted! But I suppose I’ll save all that for another blog, as this is getting quite long and I still have to write about my government letters!

I ended up sending the letters during my second week back in London. It somewhat pained me to have to address the letters to “His Worship Don Atchison” and “The Honourable Brad Wall,” but I did what had to be done for the possibility of my letters being read. I’ve added a copy of my letter below:
To The Honourable Brad Wall,
 
Please understand that I have also sent a letter to His Worship Donald Atchison, but as this is also a Saskatchewan issue, I would like to bring this to your attention as well.
 
I’m a 26-year-old Canadian woman and I’ve spent most of my life living in Saskatchewan, but I have currently been living in London, England for the past year. I came back for a month this August to visit family and friends, and I was shocked and annoyed when the only night that I went out in Saskatoon, my friends and I were stranded downtown with no way of getting home. My friends and I went folkfesting on the Saturday night and left Prairieland Park at about ten to midnight. We all got on the bus and the bus drove for awhile and then the bus driver said that if anyone wanted to go straight downtown, there’s another bus coming in a minute. Half the people got off the bus and we must have waited for at least ten minutes, but no bus came. Luckily, the other bus hadn’t left so we all got on and took the long trip back to downtown. By the time we finally got downtown, the only buses there said “not in service,” and we found out that there were no more buses going to the north end of the city. Now, I understand that I’m coming from a large city where the population is far greater than Saskatoon’s population, but even before I moved to London, I had a major problem with the public transportation that was offered to Saskatoon citizens. I believe that it’s the city’s responsibility to get everyone home in a safe manner, ESPECIALLY when the city is putting on a major event. Saskatoon doesn’t have a nightbus, and it doesn’t have Uber. I understand that we can’t get Uber, but a taxi fare is way too expensive for the average person to pay for. According to taxifarefinder.com, a taxi ride for me to get from downtown to my house would cost $25, while a taxi ride from Prairieland Park to my house would cost $36. That’s absolutely ridiculous when minimum wage in Saskatchewan is $10.50. I doubt the average person is working 2.5 to 3.5 hours (aka over one quarter of a workday) thinking that this amount is going towards their ride home when they go out that weekend. I’ve never spent money on a taxi to go home after a night out, nor do I ever plan to. I would rather walk an hour to get home than spend money on a taxi, but even that wouldn’t secure my safety when there might be drunk drivers out on the road. I have to admit (and I’m sure I’m not the only person) that I’m scared to go out driving or walking on crazy nights, such as Folkfest weekend or New Year’s Eve, because I know that there are drunk drivers out there, and I don’t want to risk getting in an accident. And I believe that the lack of public transportation that’s offered is directly related to the amount of people driving under the influence. Many people would rather drive under the influence than pay for a taxi, and therefore they put their life and many other peoples’ lives in danger.
 
I remember watching those commercials as a child – those ones that basically taught me that having one or two drinks before driving was fine. We’ve all grown up with the idea that as long as we don’t go past that .08 limit, we can drink as much as we want before driving. Some people are so good at convincing themselves and others that they’re sober, and they’ll still get in the vehicle AFTER the .08 limit. Shouldn’t all amounts of alcohol be the limit though? The fact that I’ve grown up and I’ve known as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult that having one or two drinks before driving is “okay” – that’s a problem! I look at that and I think that it’s somewhat messed up that kids grow up with this idea instilled in their brains. There’s something wrong when most likely every Saskatchewan person has heard this at least once: “No, I probably shouldn’t have ANOTHER drink. I’m driving today.” The .08 limit says nothing. I have friends who could have 4 or 5 beer in a row and can still act completely normal, and I have friends who could have half a can of beer and already be tipsy. Does this mean that the .08 limit has only reached the latter friend? Likely not. Impaired driving is still the number one killer on the roads in Saskatchewan, and something has to be done about it. When my sister sent me an article titled, “Sask doesn’t see drunk driving as a problem ‘until someone actually dies,’” I KNEW I had to write this letter. Not only do you have to change the way you’re educating the citizens of this province, but you have to start offering affordable public transportation for everyone so that people aren’t tempted to drink and drive. If you can’t offer 24-hour buses, you should at least be offering bus services from downtown to each area of every major city until an hour after bars close – until 3am. Have a bus go back and forth to Lawson Heights Mall, have a bus go back and forth to Confederation Mall, and so on and so forth. That way, at least people can get closer to home, and THEN they can take a taxi or walk. 
 
I know it’s a long shot to send this letter and hope something will be done about it, but I sincerely hope that you take it into consideration. Families should never be scared to drive around their own city because they’re worried about drunk drivers. This is a serious topic and it’s always been a serious topic, but throughout my first 25 years of living in Saskatoon, I’ve seen nothing done about it. Do something. 
 
Sincerely,
Janelle Achtemichuk
Again, I sent these letters to Don Atchison (and the city council) and Brad Wall. I wasn’t really expecting a reply from either of them, but was hoping they’d at least be read at a council meeting or SOMETHING. I was hoping to get through to them in any way possible. To my surprise, the next day, Brad Wall had posted a lengthy Facebook post about drunk driving, which was also in response to a fatal drunk driving accident that had occurred that day. I have no idea if this had anything to do with my letter, but I was still pleased to see that something was being posted. The link to his post is here: http://regina.ctvnews.ca/we-have-a-serious-problem-premier-brad-wall-on-sask-drinking-and-driving-1.3066856 . Then again to my surprise, I actually received a response from Brad Wall five days later and he CC’d the Minister of Government Relations and the Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance. I’m not going to copy his letter for respect of privacy, but it was short response basically repeating what I had talked about, and agreeing that drunk driving was a problem. The good thing that came out of it was he recommended that I write my City Councillor, who happens to be Randy Donauer. I sent the letter to him as well and nearly two and a half weeks later (long after I had already forgotten about it), I received a really well-written response. He was extremely thankful for my letter and he was glad that I contacted him, and said that the Premier just gave orders to his cabinet to start a war on drinking and driving, and demanded they come up with solutions within the next few months. He also said that they’ve just completed a study of the transit system and have highlighted areas where it needs to improve, such as after-hours services, and service to remote areas. He said they’ll be introducing Bus Rapid Transit lines, with a new transit route system over the coming years. He also said he’d be forwarding my comments to the Manager of Transit, so that he can incorporate them into his consultation and planning. Not surprisingly, I haven’t heard anything from Don Atchison, nor do I expect to. I almost want to print the letter out, send it by post, and say that I’ve received replies from Brad Wall and Randy Donauer, and was just making sure he received my letter (as it doesn’t actually go straight to him, but has to go through other people), but I’m not sure if I should. The good news is that it’s making a difference, and I actually got two replies! I guess it goes to show that a drunken night complaining about it won’t solve the problem, but if you make your voice heard, some people might actually listen! I do have to say that I’m proud, and I’m hoping it will result in something good!

 

My time back in Canada flew by so fast! However, I feel like it was just enough time to enjoy myself, and recharge for another year in London. I do have to say how surprised I was, as so many people that I visited talked about how they’ve read all of my blog posts. And it was always the last people who I’d expect to keep up with my life in London! But it made me feel special, and I love knowing how many people have been devoting their time to read my stories – I appreciate it so much! It’s encouraging me to continue posting blogs, no matter how late they might be.. I hope everyone is enjoying the fall (but mostly winter) weather! Miss you all tons! Love always
 
Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka