Forty minutes from the finish line of a convoy that, for him, started in Carnduff, Ken Mehler of Estevan was almost at a loss for works when describing the response the convoy experienced in northern Ontario.
If you know Ken Mehler, for him to be at a loss for words says a lot.
The United We Roll Convoy for Canada kicked off at first light in Red Deer, Alta. on Feb. 14. When it passed Virden, Man., it had approximately 57 units, according to what Pipeline News observed, including 15 semis, one bus, and a mix of light vehicles.
Ken and his cousin Guy Mehler departed in their pickup truck with four other pickups and five semis from the Fast Trucking Service yard in Carnduff at first light on Feb. 15. The Saskatchewan contingent of 10 units joined the main convoy at Virden.
The response along the long and arduous route became more heartwarming and enthusiastic as the long miles went on.
“It’s insane,” Ken said late on Feb. 18. He added there has been “an unbelievable amount of people along the highway.”
This could be verified by the numerous live streams on social media from convoy participants. Town after town, individuals and groups of people came out to wave the convoy on.
The original plan was for the whole trip to be made in three days, with one day’s grace. But once they reached northern Ontario, the plan was revised to use that extra day and spread it out.
Ken noted that, coming in on the home stretch, the pickup’s thermometer shows -13 C, and despite that cold, there were people and vehicles lined up in almost every community they passed through, cheering them on. “There’s 30 cars with flashing lights. It looks like a landing strip,” he said, then corrected himself after coming over a hill. “No, there’s probably 100 cars,” he said.
And that was on the outskirts of the town.
He wasn’t terribly impressed with the response in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but in the land of rocks, trees and water, Ken said, “Northern Ontario is absolutely in love with oil and gas.”
“Build the pipeline and get rid of Trudeau,” Ken said, reiterating a line he heard time and time again.
Ontario Provincial Police had guided the convoy through many towns. Mounties in Manitoba did the same.
“Not in my wildest imagination,” is how he described the response. “I didn’t think northern Ontario would come out this strong for our convoy. It is absolutely insane.”
“It almost makes you speechless, and that’s hard for me to do.”
One First Nation lit off fireworks when they passed through the night before. Two more communities did the same on Feb. 18. Department of highways trucks lined the route with their lights on. Firetrucks did the same. One fire truck in a small town provided an escort.
“We drove through a town the size of Bienfait. One guy phoned the convoy and we had to turn back. They gave us $1,000,” Ken said.
The convoy has seen over $100,000 raised in a GoFundMe campaign, and has provided some fuel for the participants and paid for some of the accommodations. But then there’s been the donations from people along the route.
“We were about 10 miles out of North Bay. There was a guy from London, Ontario, ice fishing there. I went in to pay for gas. This guy’s standing there. He said put your credit card away. He paid $40. I counted him pulling out $300 to pay for fuel, he was so impressed with the convoy,” Ken said.
“Another lady dug into her purse and gave $400 to the convoy.”
One pickup wore out its tires. Hearing this, a woman gave $1,000 towards new tires for him. The local Fountain Tire came out and replaced them for him, in the parking lot, and fixed a tire on a semi, too.
Another pickup broke its front drive shaft. “One guy said to bring it into his shop. He was there about 30 minutes. They ripped out his drive shaft and never charged him.”
Then there’s been the food. At Sault Ste. Marie, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, coffee, tea and pastries. Another town provided pizzas. And sandwiches. Then more sandwiches.
Along the way, semis and cars have joined for brief periods.
So was it worth it to go?
Ken thinks so.
“This is the first oil convoy in the history of Canada, going to Ottawa,” he said.
As they pulled into Arnprior, video posted on social media showed a parking lot full of cars and people who had come to greet the convoy.
The group, which Ken said had a little over 50 units at the end (mostly light vehicles), is expected to rally on Parliament Hill on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20. The convoy is expected to break up at that point, but Ken expects the Saskatchewan contingent to stick together for the trip home.
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