The Great Canadian Chicken Chowdown

Some years back, we packed our camping gear and drove up to fetch culture to the folks of Ontario, a province that occupies a considerable part of unoccupied Canada. We had big success, and we - spouse, daughter-Backfish, and Daddy-O - came home to Maine with some choice memories, including those of the big chicken barbecue and the No-Camping Campsite.

After driving long Ontario miles all afternoon to reach a camping site clearly marked on the maps, I thought it unkind of Canada to have a sign at the entrance that said, "No Camping." The Royal Boy (provincial policeman) laughed a happy laugh and said, "Go ahead and camp." To which I made response in this manner: "Who's to arrest me if you don't?"

He handed me his card that indicated he guided for bird hunting on James Bay and could be reached in Cochrane for details on all-expense accommodations.

We then had a rousing rainstorm that swelled the streams, and as we drove west on the King's Highway, we anticipated getting soaked before we got our tent up. At the next campsite, the No-Camping sign was surrounded by a swirling torrent. We did come fairly soon to a motel, and the man said we'd be dry, but he had no dining room. We, however, had our camping equipment, and we moved in and set up our propane grill on the bureau.

It continued to rain, and as we bided we were told the King's Highway had washed out in several places.

The Trans-Canada highway had not been built, and the King's Highway was Canada's only east-west route. The only way to get past a washout was to detour down into the United States and then go back. So we bided, and then came to a town named Kapuscasing. We needed groceries and some ice for our cooler. Kapuscasing didn't have any ice available to wayfaring strangers, but one helpful storekeeper said, "If you want some ice, come up here in the winter."

And another said we might get some at the Canadian National Railroad station. "When they air-condition the Halifax train, they sometimes have ice left over," he said. They iced on Tuesdays.

Then we were befriended by Kapuscasing. We had already seen several of the highway signs that say all waters beyond this point flow into the Arctic Ocean. That close and no ice.

But now I came to the Dominion Store and stepped in to find a pyramid of chipped ice that started at my feet and rose to the ceiling, completely obscuring the meat department beyond. A young man in a butcher's cap was there, and I spoke forsooth: "Mr. Eaton," I said, "I wonder if I might have some ice for my picnic cooler?" His name may well have been Eaton, for he didn't hesitate. He said, "Help yourself!"

I had to step out to the parking lot to get my cooler, and when I came back I asked for an explanation. Mr. Eaton said he sent his usual weekly order to headquarters in Toronto, including the three cases of chicken parts for the usual Kapuscasing weekend trade, and by some infernal mistake he had received 30 cases of chicken, well-iced and just off the train. I said, "Then I can ice up!"

He nodded, and I said, "And I presume we are having a big sale on chicken?"

Mr. Eaton said, "Make me an offer."

We stocked up on groceries and laid ice generously over the chicken parts we packed into our cooler. With a warm feeling for Kapuscasing, we drove along, glad the rain had ended and glad to find no washouts requiring a detour.

Along about 3 o'clock that afternoon, we found our campsite for the night and turned off the King's Highway to find the place full of people. There were several trailers, recreational vehicles, with Canadians and a lot of people who seemed to be hikers with packsacks. We backed up to a campsite fireplace and were home for the night. If I could find dry wood we'd have a campfire, and if not I'd set up our gas grill.

The lake behind the campsite wasn't large, but it had a log boom across the cove, and our sandy beach couldn't be used because of stored pulpwood, so this time there was no sign about No Camping for us to ignore. When things were ready for evening and night, I walked about the campsite to meet our neighbors. There isn't so much of Canada's bilingualism in Ontario, so I was unready for the greeting I got from the folks with packsacks.

They had picked their places to sleep on the ground (no tents) and were sitting to wait for dark. And as I came along, each rose (men, women, and a few children) and said, "Ungar!" The closest I could come to that was saying Happy Easter in Slovak. But a Canadian told me Canada had relaxed immigration rules to entice Europeans to come and raise grain on the prairies, and many Hungarians had responded. Hiking, they had taken over this large campsite until the rain stopped and the road was repaired. They had no papers to let them detour through the US.

Evidently, chicken is a perfectly good Hungarian word for chicken, as my invitation to take supper was unanimously accepted. We fed the whole bunch, including the Canadians.

And that evening after the chickens were gone, those Ungars got out their balalaikas, one of which was the size of the spanker sail on an extreme Baltimore clipper, and it was 4:30 a.m. before anybody slept. Another good thing to know is why an Ungar lugs a balalaika when he walks across Canada!

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