finlandia

I continue westwards across Ontario, through a countryside of lakes, trees, and rock. Once, alongside the road, I see a moose cow and calf. I stop to take a photo, but by the time I get out of my van, the moose is vanishing into the forest.

I stop in Thunder Bay for lunch. On a tip from a gas station attendant (“It’s world famous!”), I find Thunder Bay’s Hoito Ravintola (“Care Restaurant”). The restaurant is in the basement of the Finlandia club, and has all of the ambiance of a soup kitchen, except that Hoito offers table service. I wait in line at the bottom of the steps for a half hour with other hungry visitors. We watch folks eat and wish them a happy but quick meal. Finally a table becomes available, and I sit down.

Hoito was founded long ago by Finnish timber workers. When they came into Thunder Bay on their days off, they weren’t able to find good Finnish food, so they opened Hoito. Initially the restaurant served everything for the same price, about $1 per meal.

My waitress is a tall blond woman, strong and weathered. She walks up to the table and asks “Do you need a menu?” I nod and she brings one. After considering the liver and the fried Finnish sausages, I order the ‘salt fish and onions’.

“Oh, that’s just salmon that is preserved with salt” Helga says. “You can’t eat that.”

I assure her I can.

“No, perhaps you would like the roast beef sandwich” she asks.

I like salmon, I insist, and the salmon with onions sounds great.

“It’s very salty.”

I like salty.

“It’s not cooked, you know. Not even smoked.”

Sounds great. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Though not convinced that I will enjoy my salt fish and onions, she finall agrees to bring me some. It’s delicious, like thick-cut lox with a generous heap of raw white and green onions on top. The plate also includes rye bread, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and corn.

“Hmmmph. I guess you like salt fish after all” she says, approvingly eyeing my empty plate. “Would you like some pie?”

After considering blueberry (“It’s from a can!” she whispered), I ordered a slice of rhubarb pie. It was delicious, warm and mushy and tart.

The entire meal, including a bowl of soup to start, cost me $10 CDN. Not bad, and the salt fish was the most expensive item on the menu.

Heading out of town, I pass the Motel 8, which is featuring “Wazooz” in their lounge, “An Ozzy Tribute Band!” It seems strange to have a tribute band to someone who is still walking around performing himself.

I intend to stop for the night in Kenora, on the north end of Lake of the Woods, but the entire town is booked solid for a convention of French-Indians. I continue on, and on, driving into Manitoba. I finally stop at a truck stop on the far side of Winnipeg, parking amongst the trucks and eating dinner at midnight. I’m tired, homesick, and depressed.

Tonight I’m in Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It’s a small town on the Trans-Canadian, just inside the province. I’m still tired and homesick, but less depressed. Tonight I’ll get lots of sleep.

Coyote

What do you think?