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Thunder Bay a sane asylum — with Duluth as the portal

By John Freivalds

Published November 11th, 2017

The Twin Cities media are full of advertising for Duluth tourism: Lake Superior, ocean-going vessels, Canal Park, and more. However, recent trips made by my friends and me to Canada, through Duluth, revealed a new market positioning: Duluth as a gateway to the sane asylum of Canada.

Let's face it, America is embroiled in a civil war on what direction this country should take. Everything is in play: health care, the environment, race relations, immigration, North Korea, NATO, Russian meddling, white supremacy, gun control, freedom of the press, nepotism — you name it and it's in play.

And each issue is accompanied by violent words and anger, deadly shootings, and marches. It's really demoralizing on a daily basis. It's like having a constant migraine headache. You can't even turn all your attention to sports, for even that, excuse the pun, has become political football.

Some friends of mine couldn't stand the rhetoric anymore and drove up to Thunder Bay with a stopover in Duluth. And they had a normal, sane time. Just like we used to have here in Minnesota in the old days. So I did the same thing and drove 400 miles up to Thunder Bay — and enjoyed every moment just being normal.

Thunder Bay is a working-class town with no Disney World, no beaches (not really), and no exotic adventures. Just sanity. Its setting is beautiful for a city, but there's nothing out of the ordinary to rattle your brain.

Well, the Canadian dollar is worth 75 cents, so shopping is cool, and hotel rooms cost $100 less than in Duluth. And I pigged out buying books at Chapters, a huge bookstore, its mere existence proving that reading is still alive.

All the issues that consume America today have been dealt with already in Canada: health care, the cost of prescription drugs, trade policies, environmental protection, climate change, Native rights, and more. Sure, Canadians still argue about all these things but with a degree of civility that is getting harder to find in our country.

Not even the North Shore is spared from the nasty diatribe. For as I drove through Grand Marais, I noticed that an outfit called the Faith and Freedom Coalition had nailed posters to telephone poles with the most awesome claim that President Donald Trump saved the American people $3 trillion over the next 10 years by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. There was no mention that I saw of how much Syria is saving, the only other country not part of the accord.

At the border crossing, the customs agent was only concerned if I had guns or pepper spray. Once across the border, the first thing noticeable is that speeds are slower and that it is illegal to talk on cellphones while driving.

Canadians are believers in global warming: They've had four years of record harvests. Clearly, the growing season is getting longer. And pelicans and groundhogs have now appeared in Thunder Bay for the first times ever.

I loved the little innovations I noticed in Thunder Bay, like speed bumps in parking lots and a superstore advertising that on weekends all register lines would be open — guaranteed! You hearing that, U.S. Targets and Wal-Marts?

In the U.S., the front page of the sports section far too often deals as much with who kneeled during the national anthem as who scored. What filled the sports page in Thunder Bay when I was there (besides hockey news, of course)? It was the world curling championships in Switzerland. Yup, shuffleboard on ice. On the front of the sports section.

And that was it. Boring and sane. But isn't that really all there is?

John Freivalds

John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minn., is a writer and the author of six books. His latest, "Ramblin' Man," is scheduled for publication this month. His website is