Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: From the Highs of Fergus to the Lows of Guelph

Air Canada, Trip Reports

Having made it to the Toronto Airport, I was ready to be done for the day. As the sun started to slowly sink into the sky, I pointed my little Hyundai Kona west and headed toward the outskirts of Fergus, a place small enough to not really have outskirts. After passing through the town, I got on progressively smaller roads until the roads themselves turned to dirt. Over two bridges and through the rolling hills of farmland, I came to paradise.

The Riverwood Retreat Centre and B&B had a beautiful garden in the front, a large grassy lawn in the back, and… Charlie.

My hosts Bert and Marilyn were just delightful. Marilyn welcomed me in and asked if I had eaten. I had not, and she offered to fix me up some cold cuts and salad. I figured I would just go back into town for food, but I couldn’t turn down that kind offer.

There were a few others guests there, and all were going to the big Scottish Festival in Fergus for one reason or another. It was a cheery group. In the house itself, the wifi worked, it was quiet, and I was thrilled to have found a place where I could stay for four nights before moving on.

The next morning was like something out of a Hallmark movie. We all gathered around the table for a feast of egg casserole, soda bread, and more. Bert said grace before we ate.

Since it was Sunday and I didn’t have to work, I decided to go check things out around town. I drove by the Scottish Festival and it was packed. The last thing I wanted was to be around hordes of people, so I wandered into the neighboring town of Elora with its bustling main street that gently sloped along a hillside.

I stopped into the local visitors office where I asked about good hikes/walks.

I ended up settling on the Elora Gorge Conservation Area which, shocker, surrounds the Elora Gorge. It was a nicely wooded area with views down into the river below.

I went for about a 4 mile walk/hike, and then I went back into town and had dinner at the local pub… which had surprisingly good Butter Chicken.

Happy and tired, I made my way back to the B&B, ready to rest up… but it wasn’t to be. I walked in and the remaining guest was sitting on the couch with her daughter. She asked if I had heard the news, and I had not. The news, it turns out, is that both Bert and Marilyn had tested positive for COVID. Bert was hacking away and didn’t sound good at all, but Marilyn apparently felt ok. She called me on the phone a minute or two later so as not to expose me any further and said she could make breakfast in the morning wearing a mask and gloves.

This made me very uncomfortable. She should have just been resting and recovering, not trying to run a business and over-exert herself. She was clearly not the kind of person to do that, and my being there wasn’t going to help. I also talked to my wife about it, and we decided it was best for me to leave since we were meeting up with her parents less than a week later and we wanted to make sure not to get them sick. Despite my love of this place, I knew it was best to move on.

I went outside and gave Charlie some belly rubs while I looked for a place to stay for the next 3 nights. There wasn’t anything I could find locally that looked decent and was sensibly priced. The bed and breakfasts I could find online all showed full.

I started expanding my net further, looking at a variety of options. It was all overwhelming. I just had to pack up and get out of there since the sun was setting and I needed a bed to lay my head soon. I found a surprisingly great travel agent rate of C$57 a night (which I believe is about 37 cents, US) at the Fairfield Inn in the linguistically challenged city of Guelph. (Make your mouth melt into mush and you’ll say it right… gwelf.)

I was only about a 40 minute drive away, so I packed up, said bye to Charlie, and reluctantly trudged through the garden before heading down those lonely dirt roads.


I have to start by saying that everyone who worked at the Fairfield was wonderful — they all deserve large raises — but my god, this place was the exact opposite of what I wanted. It sits next to a freeway, and my room had a lovely warehouse view across the patchy grass.

Had my room been on the other side, I would have had a view of a strip mall where the only restaurant went out of business, so I guess this was an upgrade.

Guelph is a university town, and it turns out there was a rugby tournament going on. The U20 national teams from both Zimbabwe and Chile were staying at this hotel, and they couldn’t have been more opposite.

The Chilean team was generally quiet, and I didn’t see much of them. They came and went, but I assume they were out practicing. I did notice they took over a conference room at the hotel as well. You would hardly know they were there.

The Zimbabweans were, well, not that. It seemed like they had no curfew at all, and they were up at all hours, spilling out into the hallways yelling and laughing. I went down for breakfast the first morning and the place looked like a bomb had gone off. There was almost no food left, and the Zimbabweans were standing around, hungrily waiting for more to come out. I looked back into the kitchen and could see a visibly-stressed crew trying to get more food out there… only to see it disappear instantly into the mouths of the team upon being put down.

I was able to sneak my way in and grab a cold bagel and a bowl of stale Raisin Bran. I couldn’t even make my way into using the toaster, so I took my food on to the sad little patio between the hotel and the warehouse and ate in silence.

I spent my days either working in the room, which was fine, or out trying to rectify some of the problems involved with extending a trip in a foreign country. For example, I had to find a way to refill my prescriptions. This was not easy… and now it’s tangent time….

My insurance and Teledoc were completely useless. Eventually, the kind pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart took pity on me and tried to help. She suggested a website where I could do a virtual consultation for C$45 with a Canadian doctor. I couldn’t get it done the same day, but by the next morning, I had my prescriptions.

When it was ready, the pharmacist said “so, will you just pay for this out of pocket?” I told her that yes, since I was American, I didn’t have another option. She then said that I might want to try to submit to my insurance to get it paid for. Her tone made me think it was going to be a billion dollars. But this is Canada. The two medications were a total of C$30.

I had also asked her for some COVID tests so I could clear myself after the B&B, and she gave me a box with 5 or 6 tests in it. I asked if I could pay her for those there as well or if I had to go up front, and she looked at me funny. Yeah, those are free in Canada. But I digress.

I did eventually find a nice part of Guelph. The college was beautiful, and there’s a river running through town. I can’t say the One Stop Laundry was very scenic when I was washing everything, but so be it. And at the end of each day, it was always back to the drab but bustling Fairfield which was depressing.

By the last day, I had figured out a strategy. I’d wake up really early to eat breakfast. With seemingly no curfew, the Zimbabwean team was not up then, so I feasted on sausage and undercooked waffles in relative quiet. It was a glorious victory, and I headed back to my room to do some work before heading out.

Soon after I flipped on my computer, the Zimbabweans had risen. They decided it was a good time to blast music, because… why not? It was a fitting end to my stay.

I could not have been happier to leave. I took my car back to the airport where I enjoyed the view of the airfield surrounded by menacing storms.

Then it was on to train and into the city. The Union Pearson Express is new, and it has really comfortable seating and plenty of room for luggage. It also has free wifi… which did not work consistently for me at all… and it’s not cheap at over C$12 a head just to get into town.

It was a quick ride followed by a short walk to the Marriott Toronto City Centre for my last night in Canada. I had found a really low travel agent rate of C$126 for a stay at the hotel that is attached to the baseball stadium. This was good, because I was going to check in, get my room, and then go see the afternoon game against the Orioles.

The room wasn’t ready, but they took my bags, and I walked about 25 feet away to get into the rather warm domed stadium.

Those menacing storms I mentioned were passing through, so they kept the roof closed. I wandered all around the park and enjoyed this corner view where I could see airplanes landing at Toronto/City Airport.

When I was done, I wandered around town a bit and then went back to the hotel where I had been given a two room suite. It’s too bad I would only be there for a few hours. It was time for an early bed so I could confront my next adventure the next morning… crossing the border.

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11 comments on “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: From the Highs of Fergus to the Lows of Guelph

  1. If you wanted to get out of Guelph for a while you could have taken a GO bus #29 to Mississauga, #33 or #48 to areas around Brampton.

    Speaking of Rogers center, the Yankees beat the Jays last night winning the division, but we are waiting for Aaron Judge to hit #61. Go Yankees!

    Hope the couple who owned the bed & breakfast recovered quickly from Covid.

  2. If you wanted to get out of Guelph for a while you could have taken a GO bus #29 to Mississauga, #33 or #48 to areas around Brampton.

    Speaking of Rogers center, the Yankees beat the Jays last night winning the division, but we are waiting for Aaron Judge to hit #61. Go Yankees!

    Hope the couple who owned the bed & breakfast recovered quickly from Covid. It’s just not fun.

  3. Covid tests are free in the US as well. Or at least covered 100% by your insurance. I really do like your blog Brett. I have been reading you for years. I only wish you weren’t so glaringly liberal!

    1. Mike – Please show me how you walk into a drug store, pick up a COVID test, and walk out without paying in the US. I’m aware of free tests through the post office or getting insurance to reimburse, but that’s not the point.
      This has nothing to do with liberal vs conservative. This is just a difference between countries that led to an awkward interaction.

    2. Inexpensive healthcare and free covid tests are neither liberal or conservative. It just happens to be a fact in Canada and most of the western world. I visited an ER in Germany once and even though I was an American citizen, it cost me €90 for a 4 hour visit. The issue isn’t one of politics; it’s that our health insurance system is tied to our employment (as you mention; that test is paid for by someone) versus being truly universal that we spend 30 cents of every dollar just to manage the thing. It’s an exercise in waste.

  4. I walked right in to CVS, handed them my insurance card and walked out with 5 tests. In addition you can get free tests through the US government. Here’s the link.

    To be clear, I did mention in my post that insurance in the US pays for covid tests, thereby they are ‘free’. You made it sound like Canada is great because they have free. Covid tests. We do too! But that’s just my perception.

    1. Congrats on having insurance!

      Now what about the 26 millions Americans that don’t have insurance? In Canada, they get free tests too; in America, they don’t.

      Those with addresses can get a very limited number of tests for free. What if they don’t have an address? What if they need more tests than the limited amount they get via USPS because they work in a high-risk job? What about other situations we haven’t thought of? What about those roadblocks?

      Or tests could be readily available to everyone without hurdles. Like in Canada.

  5. I have lived in both Fergus and Guelph. (I currently reside in Cambridge) The people that live there are wonderully welcoming, friendly and willing to help. The Scottish Festival is an amazing experience for all ages. Elora hosts Riverfest Music Festival annually. There is an absolutely amazing amount of artistic talent of all kinds to be found in this small area. The scenery, fall colours and walking trails are breathtaking.

    It is unfortunate that your experience in Guelph was sub par. It most certainly is a university town and thus has the usual issues that accompany that. Having said that there are many beautiful places to see such as the Arboretum and endless walking trails.

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