Day 6 – Winnipeg to Kenora (244km)

Goodbye Manitoba and hello Ontario. We drove a total of 244km from Winnipeg to Kenora. We had a very busy day beginning with our visit to the Ronald McDonald House Charities Manitoba chapter (RMHC MB) followed by some sightseeing.

Our day started off at the Ronald McDonald House in Winnipeg where we received such an amazing welcome, as if the red carpet was being rolled out for us, from the staff, volunteers, and families. It is truly remarkable how much love and dedication is put into this home for the families. The House was built in 1984 with 14 rooms and still exists in its original form today, serving about 700 families a year, but has to turn away about 400. We hope that RMHC MB will be approved for an expansion soon as the need is high relative to available capacity.

(Top row left to right: Eden, Wendy W., Jan, Jena)

(Bottom row left to right: Pat, Mark, Alex, Wendy G., Britta)

The first portion of our tour was led by Wendy G., a really thoughtful and kind person, who took us down to the kitchen and introduced us to some of the families staying at the House. We met a couple, expecting a premature baby, who were so grateful to have been taken in because it meant that they could be together. Then there was a mother who has had a long-time relationship with the House because several of her kids required medical treatment at the nearby children’s hospital. We even met a family whose relatives flew in from overseas to be close with them. As you can see below, we had a blast playing some fun games with the kids and Global News and CTV News were around to film it. Thank you Eden for your part in having them cover our story along with QX104FM.

CTV News Winnipeg clip is at 14:42.

http://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1192903&binId=1.1206963&playlistPageNum=1

QX104FM live radio interview.

The second portion of our tour continued with the warm and friendly Pat. In the reception area, families are offered a selection of games that they may wish to take when staying at the House as well as a quilt that had been donated. The living room doubles as a studio for massages and other activities that help rejuvenate the parents. We were lucky enough to see one of the 14 bedrooms followed by the fitness room, patio, playground, and community garden. Thank you Pat for making sure that we were fed before leaving the House!

The final part of our tour was at the Ronald McDonald Family Room in Winnipeg just two blocks away. Many thanks to the ever so caring Jena for ushering us as we undoubtedly would have gotten lost. There we were introduced to Kashia whose organizational skills are through the roof on top of being very personable. She explained to us that the 3,500 square foot Family Room is the largest in Canada and second largest in the world, featuring a full kitchen, a laundry room, a full bathroom, a living room, a children’s play area, a napping lounge, a computer station, and three sleeping rooms. Because the Family Room is primarily operated by volunteers, it was impressive to see the collection of name tags of active volunteers. Outstanding work RMHC MB!

 

Being that it was our first time in Winnipeg, we decided to do some exploring during the afternoon. We went to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, the fourth on our list across the ten provinces. Then we went to the Forks for a brief walk before making a quick pit stop for an oil change. Afterwards, we dropped by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights where we had only 90 minutes, but enjoyed every minute of it and wished we had more time before it closed for the day. Finally we went to see Fort Gibraltar which was beautifully recreated and transports you back in time. The staff did an amazing job of role playing and explaining its historical significance during the fur trade. We then capped off the day by driving to Kenora.

Next stops are Ignace, Thunder Bay, and Jack Fish.

Day 5 – Saskatoon to Regina, Virden, Winnipeg (839km)

Goodbye Saskatchewan and hello Manitoba. We drove a total of 839km from Saskatoon to Regina, Virden, and Winnipeg. As you can tell, most of the day was spent on the roads.

We had a bit of extra time in the morning so we decided to go back to the Saskatoon House to say hi to those we did not meet the other night and to say thank you one more time. Although brief, it was a pleasure to meet regular House volunteers Nettie and Emma.

(left to right: Landon, Faye, Alex, Mark, Lynn, Nettie, Marg, Emma, Jo)

Many thanks to John at CTV Saskatoon for inviting us for a studio recording and to Kim for lining this up for us. Special thanks to Tammy for being around for the support.

The CTV clip is titled Tour of Ronald McDonald House:

http://saskatoon.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1194156

Our next stop was in Regina where we stopped at the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, the third on our list across the ten provinces. Mark managed to capture some nice shots of the building and its garden. Then we were off to Manitoba with a gas pit stop in Virden before spending the night in Winnipeg.

Next stops are the Ronald McDonald House in Winnipeg, the Ronald McDonald Family Room in Winnipeg, and Kenora.

Day 4 –Edmonton to Lloydminster, Prince Albert, Saskatoon (738km)

Goodbye Alberta and hello Saskatchewan. We drove a total of 738km from Edmonton to Lloydminster, Prince Albert, and Saskatoon. This was a very eventful day as we approached the one-quarter mark of our Drive. The support continues to pour in beyond expectations and it continues to be a very humbling experience for us.

We have thus far traveled about 2,400km and had a bit of a close call on the roads and it was not even from another driver. Out of nowhere, a crop duster plane flew in front of us which made our hearts race a bit. Mark caught a great picture of this as we were about just two seconds away from its path. Later on in the day, we even had to pass a truck on the shoulder lane since it was transporting an entire house! Once our nerves had calmed down a bit, we stopped to check out a wheat field which was just about waist high.

Our first stop on this day was at the Ronald McDonald Family Room in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. We met the affable Nadia, who explained that the Room opened in September 2016 and has served over 600 unique families with close to 8,000 visits to date. A lot of the families coming in are from rural communities with 85% being First Nation families. The 1,300 square foot Room features a kids play area, kitchen equipped for baking, living room, laundry services, nap areas, private bathroom and shower.

Thank you Nadia for the great tour, awesome shirts, and for your dedication to helping out others.

Our last stop for the day was to the Ronald McDonald House in Saskatoon (RMHSK). Upon arrival, we saw the CTV news crew stationed in front of the House getting prepped up for a “live hit.” We were greeted so warmly by the staff, led by Tammy, who gave us part one of our House tour.

The Saskatoon House originally opened in 1985 and had undergone an expansion in 2014 to now feature 34 rooms for families to stay in. We absolutely loved how homely it feels with the hundreds of pieces of hand-crafted artwork that were all generously donated and the subtle recognition given to the House’s sponsors. No big plaques, just simple black text accents that blend in well. However, one thing that did stand out as odd was the rear-end of a beaver in the wall near the front foyer (more about this later). Tammy took us to one of several sitting rooms and we could not help but notice how meticulously tidy the House has been kept. The collection of animated characters were neatly assembled in a cabinet and the kitchen was spotless.

The Home for Dinner program holds a special place in my heart because this was how I was first introduced to RMHC back in 2013 when I was invited with colleagues to prepare dinner at the old Vancouver House. On this night, a major accounting firm made an excellent three course meal featuring delicious pulled pork sandwiches.

Continuing our part one tour, Tammy showed us the basement where there was plenty of space for the kids to run around. There was a Quilt Room, Fitness Room, and Games Room, but my favourite was the Fun Forest Room. Remember that beaver on the main floor foyer? He’s trying to make his was down into the Fun Forest where his friends are. Seeing all the toys in this room just makes me want to be a kid all over again.

Then it was time to take in a bunch of deep breaths for the CTV “live hit” interview with Matt. You know that feeling of being nervous and worried that you just might embarrass yourself in front of so many people? Well that did not happen because I could feel an entire community supporting me which made it much easier to share our story and RMHC’s mission. Special thanks Matt for the opportunity to tell our story and to Kim for making this even possible. Kim did an outstanding job communicating with me in advance of our visit and managed to line up a printed story, “live hit” broadcast, and taped TV interview (more about this on Day 5).

CTV News at Six Saskatoon for Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Clip begins at 26:40. Please note that you will have to fast forward a lot if viewing from a mobile device.

http://saskatoon.ctvnews.ca/mobile/video?clipId=1193655&binId=1.1165960&playlistPageNum=1

Part two of the tour resumed on the upper floors with Marcelline who is so passionate about the Saskatoon House. You can tell that she is a terrific mother as she brought her lovely daughter to the House that day and you could sense positive values being instilled in her. Marcelline gave us a peak into a few bedrooms and the common denominator was that they are all five-star caliber. We liked that some rooms have open showers for easy wheelchair access. There was so much wonderful artwork on display and one mural of Saskatchewan really stood out. Marcelline had so many remarkable stories to share including one generous family that paid for the design of an entire room. My favourite story was about the group of grade 11 students from Eastend School who wanted to raise $30,000 in order to Adopt A Room at the House. Basically they auctioned off anything and everything they could get their hands on. They ended up raising over $65,000 and Adopted two rooms! Much respect to those dedicated students of Eastend School on making such a meaningful contribution!

 

It is always a pleasure connecting with other volunteers and we met Melissa who had been doing laundry and folding clothes for the families. It is inspiring to see wonderful people such as herself giving generously of her time to help out others. She even made a donation to our fundraiser in memory of her Mom & Dad. Thank you Melissa! We also got to meet Cathy and Anita whose baking are the talk of the House! Both of them left us with bags of baked goodies which makes you want to go back for more. Thank you Cathy and Anita!

There are not enough words to express how incredibly kind the staff and volunteers of the Ronald McDonald House Saskatchewan chapter were to us. They treated us so well with a warm reception and gave us so many wonderful gifts which included the “Built by Love in Saskatchewan” shirts, delicious baked goods, hand-written notes, mugs, and memories that touched our hearts. Thank you again for welcoming us into your community.

1st picture (Left to right: Mark, Kim, Anita, Dorianne, Cathy, Marcelline, Deanne, Alex)

2nd picture (Left to right: Mark, Kim, Anita, Dorianne, Cathy, Marcelline, Melissa, Alex)

Next stops are Regina, Virden, and Winnipeg.

On this day we went to visit two more Ronald McDonald Houses in Alberta. We drove a total of 317km km from Calgary to Red Deer, and Edmonton. We had a very warm welcoming at both houses as you will see below.

At the Red Deer House, we were greeted by Rhanda, Cassandra, and Sue who were tremendous ambassadors. It was a fantastic tour that we had with Rhanda who explained that this House was built in 2012 and can host up to 11 families at a time – 2 of which are fully wheelchair accessible. Several guests that attend have been through the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) where specialized care of ill or premature newborn infants is provided at the Red Deer Regional Hospital. Something that is quite striking at the Red Deer House is how clean and spotless it is, including the children’s arts & crafts room. We loved the open concept architecture where the sunlight just radiates into the living room, kitchen, and children’s play area just to name a few places. Our photos don’t quite do the House enough justice because it could really make for a nice wedding venue.

Rhanda was really proud of the House’s inclusivity as Red Deer is a very diverse community. In fact, they have even taken in international families from as far as France! Continuing the tour down into the basement, there is a small fitness facility as well as a games rooms which is well equipped for kids to have a good time. Being that Red Deer has a strong farming community and heritage, it is only fitting that the House’s Magic Room features several cute barn animals in them along with a lot of donated toys. There is so much to be proud about here. Thank you so much Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta for allowing us into your Red Deer House!

 

(Left to right: Cassandra, Sue, Alex, Mark, Rhanda)

Many thanks to Elyssa, our communications teammate back in Vancouver, who was able to connect us with Josh from rdnewsNOW who wrote an excellent article on our fundraiser after his visit.

http://rdnewsnow.com/article/549374/vancouver-brothers-visit-ronald-mcdonald-house-cross-canada-fundraiser

Our next visit was to the Edmonton House which was built in 1985 and can accommodate up to 32 families at a time. One of the first volunteers to welcome us was Gil who devotes many of his retirement hours to provide shuttle services for the families to Stollery Children’s Hospital. We then met with Suzanne and Kayla who brought us outside for some pre-tour photos. When we came back into the House, we were surprised to see all the staff surrounding us with a warm welcome. Although brief, it was such an honour to meet many of the folks who operate Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta.

We were blown away by the several programs offered at the Edmonton House so we will just highlight a few special ones. As part of its Rejuvenate Program, parents are able to take time for themselves and enjoy a message, manicure, or even a haircut. This is a great way for parents to relax and get relief from an otherwise challenging period in their lives. The Shuttle Program has provided thousands of trips for families and recently surpassed a milestone of 100,000km. This is another way the House makes it easier for them to get around. The Edmonton House through its Education Program can provide all kids, grades 1-12, staying at the House with lesson plans from an onsite teacher in order to keep them up to speed when they are away from school.

There were so many nice touches to the Edmonton House, in fact, too many to capture. We loved all of the amazing colours in the Quilt Room and the cute stuffed animals in the aquatic themed Magic Room. The children’s backyard playground is huge and we saw a couple of kids really having a good time there. The kitchen was very large and fully stocked with food. It was also impressive to see a mural of families, staff, volunteers, and donors which captures a House block party. There is even a 3D printer available to make Lego molds of yourself!

We had a fantastic time at the Edmonton House and wanted to say many thanks again Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta!

(Back row: Anna, Brooklyn, Patricia, Sarah, Suzanne, Leslie, Tyler, Christie, Ashley, Angela)
(Front row: Makayla, Alex, Mark, Leah) (missing to take the photo: Kayla)

To cap off the day, we went to do some sight-seeing in Edmonton. We checked out the Fringe festival which featured several street performing artists and then visited the Alberta Legislature, the second on our list across the ten provinces.

Next stops are Lloydminster, the Ronald McDonald Family Room in Prince Albert, and the Ronald McDonald House in Saskatoon.

Goodbye British Columbia and hello Alberta! We drove a total of 659km from Kamloops to Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, and Calgary.The drive going into and through the Rocky Mountains was absolutely gorgeous. It was incredible to see the naturally carved landscapes created over the past centuries.

Mark and I stopped at the tourist packed Lake Louise to have a look at it ourselves. The water in the Lake looked so pristine and it was refreshing to dip my feet in it. Then we drove into Banff which was bustling with so many people. Apparently telephone booths still exist in Canada!

In Calgary, we met Sarah who greeted us into the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary. With a new bedroom suite opened recently, the Calgary House can now accommodate 24 families, however the demand is very high as about 100 families are currently on the wait list. To my surprise, the House has incredible community support in that groups providing dinner meals are fully booked all the way into December. Way to go Southern Alberta!

We were introduced to one of the House guests, Timo, whose near two-years-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. While holding his newborn child, he was so gracious to speak with us about his story. Timo and his family came to the House from Fort McMurray so that his daughter could undergo treatment at Alberta Children’s Hospital. Despite all the obstacles he had and continues to face, he maintains such amazing positivity. Wishing all the best for you and your family Timo!

There were so many nice surprises that we enjoyed about the Calgary House. I loved the Games Room in the basement which included video games, table games, an arcade, pinball machines, and a jukebox! Coming out of the elevator on the upper floor, we were stunned to see Sully and Mike who both look so cool!

Saving the best for last, Sarah brought us into their top secret Magic Room. For those of you who are unaware, this room is meant to provide joy for the children whenever a milestone is achieved, such as being sent home after great news, or even as a pick-me-up when they are feeling down and need it most. The children get to experience the room’s charm and then are allowed to pick one of the several donated toys as a gift. Although we cannot show you what is inside this Magic Room, what we can tell you is that one kid by the name of Jesse is honoured in it. Jesse had been granted a wish by the Make-a-Wish Foundation and instead of wishing for something for himself, he paid his wish forward for the benefit of the other kids at the House. What an outstanding boy!

Thank you so much Sarah for taking us for the Calgary House tour and sharing such wonderful stories with us! We hope that the House will be approved and fully financed for an expansion in the near future.

Next stops are the Ronald McDonald Houses in Red Deer and Edmonton.

We had a truly amazing Day 1 on our Drive and I could not ask for a better start to our journey. We ended up traveling 573km (504.8km by car) from Victoria to Kamloops. To begin, our sweet BnB host in Victoria gave us a great recommendation to eat at a nearby cafe which was where we enjoyed delicious BLT sandwiches for breakfast.

 

We then visited Mile ‘0’, the official starting point of our Drive, and posed with the inspirational Terry Fox. To commemorate the start, we filled two jars with sand which will later be scattered in St. John’s at the end of the trip.

Moving along, our next stop was Downtown Victoria where we enjoyed some of the very best landmarks in British Columbia; The Legislative Assembly of BC, Victoria Harbour, and the Fairmont Empress. Afterwards, we passed through Nanaimo and caught the Departure Bay ferry to Horseshoe Bay on our way to the Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver.

Little did I know, what an incredible surprise kick off party awaited us! I was so touched to meet Brooke’s mother, Rochelle, for the first time and she had some very kind words to say. Admittedly, I was trying to hold back the tears! Thank you so much Rochelle for your support! For those of you who don’t know, Brooke was a friend of mine who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. She was such a positive person with a huge heart. Brooke believed in something greater than herself which propelled her to devote time as an advocate for childhood cancer research, despite having to go through her own cancer battle, because that’s how much she cared about others. Brooke was a huge inspiration to many people and she would want everyone to go out and “live your dash”. I am now living mine because of her.

Thank you to the families, volunteers, and friends of the House who took time out of their day to greet us. It was a privilege connecting with you and it feels great to be surrounded by such good people. Also, much appreciation to the kids who made the banner for us!

It was also sweet to see my lovely fiancée and parents in attendance. Thank you all for being there.

Last but not least, a very big THANK YOU to Shonna and Shannon for all their work to date and for organizing the kick off party. So much has been going on in the background and many thanks has to go to Shonna for making this journey even possible for us. It has been a pleasure collaborating with you both.

(Left to right: Shannon, Alex, Rochelle, Shonna)

Our final visit for the day was to the Ronald McDonald Family Room in Surrey Memorial Hospital where we were greeted by the super friendly Manbit. She took us for a tour of the Family Room and I was impressed by how it feels like a home away from home, but in a hospital.

Later on we met two incredible volunteers, Jasmine and Tisha, who both have a passion for helping others. They both have been best of friends since grade 2 and despite being busy with post-secondary school, they decided to volunteer for Ronald McDonald House, not just for experience, but to be together and stay in touch. What a terrific win-win-win outcome.

Next stops are Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Banff, and the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary.

 

Wow! I cannot believe how quickly this day came. Today we traveled a mere 113km (63.3km by car) from Vancouver to Victoria. I suppose you can call this a re-positioning drive for the big kickoff to Day 1. As you can see in the photos, we both decided to wear blue polo shirts. Trust me, this was merely a crazy coincidence since it’s hard enough for the two of to coordinate with each other! Case in point, Mark snuck off to take some nice shots from the ferry and 30 minutes later, the announcement came for drivers to return to their vehicles, but I couldn’t find him and the phone reception was out. I ended up going to the Chieftain cabin to track him down! Fortunately, I did manage to call him once we were docked and thankfully didn’t have to keep anyone waiting. A bit of drama already and we are not even through Day 1, let alone another 22 more days!

Packing Day…

Only one more day left before my lil’ bro, Mark, and I embark on our Drive. Here is a photo of the car that we are renting for the trek.

(Alex feeling great in a 2017 Ford Taurus Limited)

Although not in the pic above, we will be capturing some footage from the roads with a dash cam. Below is a screenshot from the other day when testing it out at night.

(Dash cam shot taken at 8:30pm)

Thank you for your viewership and taking the time to support us as we drive off to visit all the Ronald McDonald House chapters across Canada while raising funds to help keep families close.

The Ronald McDonald House Drive Across Canada Starts in 4 Months

Our journey across Canada on her 150th anniversary will span over 23 days, beginning in Victoria, British Columbia on August 18, 2017, and concluding in St. John’s, Newfoundland on September 9, 2017. We will be driving about 10,000 kilometres (6,214 miles) from coast-to-coast, visiting all 15 Ronald McDonald Houses and 16 Ronald McDonald Family Rooms, to raise funds for the benefit of families supporting sick children at Ronald McDonald House.

I am making a personal pledge to donate $1 for every kilometre traveled during this journey. You are invited to follow us on our blog where we will share updates and stories on each day of our drive. Please consider making a donation by clicking on the image below which will take you to our fundraiser page and tax receipts are eligible for donations over $15. Thank you for your kind support.