If you are driving east from Manitoba, you’ll know immediately when you have entered Ontario. The ground rules for travel in this province are laid down tout de suite ( in both official languages). Signs for every misdemeanour from drinking and driving, distracted driving, speeding in construction zones, speeding (and the fines and demerit points assigned) are posted within 10 minutes of crossing the border. These are followed by entreaties to “take a break – fatigue kills”, which makes sense since the stretch of highway from Thunder Bay east across Lake Superior while stunningly scenic, is notoriously long. One’s boredom is mitigated by magnificent scenery and hopeful glimpses of animals, prompted by frequent postings of “night danger”. We did see two moose and one bear, but all three times were unable to pull over safely as we had cars right behind us.
We spent one night in Thunder Bay, with plans to hike in Sleeping Giant Park the next day, but the weather gods were still uncooperative, so we switched to Plan B and headed to Wawa. We stopped just east of town to see the Terry Fox Memorial that is situated high on a hill overlooking Lake Superior. Thunder Bay and Terry Fox will forever be connected, as it is very close to this location that Terry was forced to stop his cross-Canada run for cancer. It is impossible to imagine the character and strength of this young man, who ran a marathon a day for 143 days under the conditions he did. Not for one moment to compare myself to Terry Fox, but it doesn’t take much to realize I have a long way to go when a 10-km. hike can bring on the whining.
A beautiful setting and appropriate memorial for a true hero.
About an hour east, we pulled off the highway to check out the Ouimet Canyon. It is a massive gorge, 150 metres across and 100 metres deep – with a unique ecosystem at the bottom that supports arctic plants normally found just 1000 km. north. We had to take their word for it, because looking over the side bought on intense vertigo and besides – 100 m. is too far down to see much of anything. A 2-km. boardwalk led to the lookouts, which are well buttressed.
The view looking back into the canyon.
On the way back to the car, we passed by a massive deposit of moose poop (I Google’d later), which was a thrilling reminder of how close we might have been to an up-close sighting.
You’ve all either seen or heard about the famous goose at Wawa. It commemorates the final link of the Trans-Canada Highway to Sault Ste. Marie and Western Canada. Since the new highway bypassed and ultimately threatened the livelihood of downtown businesses, the giant goose was erected to attract drivers and direct traffic into town.
In recent years, the poor goose has deteriorated – as you can see from the photo, the body is pretty rusty. A brand-new goose has been built and will be unveiled on Canada Day, but we bring you a final glimpse of one of the most photographed monuments in Canada.
The miles rolled by and so did the vistas – forests, water and Canadian Shield.
And construction. Always construction – but we never waited for very long.
We stopped at Timmy’s for a quick break and met two enterprising German girls who had bought this car in Vancouver (already outfitted with platform), and were spending a couple of months travelling across the country. They were cooking up a lunch of pasta and sauce right in the parking lot. And yes, it was as cold as it looks.
Finally, we reached Manitoulin Island – the largest freshwater island in the world and a place with a very special place in our hearts. We went there for two or three summers when our boys were young. It was perfect for little kids – rustic and easy and they were still at an age when going for ice cream was a big treat. We rented a cabin and we ate hot dogs, built campfires, swam in the lake and picked leeches off our legs. We were keen to see how the island survived our rosy memories.
Almost symbolically, we left our stormy weather behind as we drove onto the island.
Still quite chilly for camping, so we rented a trailer at South Bay Resort – an intro to trailer living for us… and we are sold. Cozy, comfy with a bathroom, tiny kitchen and protection from the elements, but the outdoors is right there – fire pit, picnic table and view of the lake.
The resort is set on a large lake, with swimming, boating, fishing, all available, and a good mix of tents, cabins and trailers. Many people (the seasonal) leave their trailers here year-round for the very reasonable fee of $1400 a year. This becomes their summer home, and many of the guests here are French from Sudbury (including the young owners) – we are surrounded by great humour and joie de vivre.
The path to the main lodge
We wanted to check out Bass Creek Resort ( the place we visited with the kids) and had a bit of difficulty finding it at first, as there are no signs on the road. Finally, we turned into the familiar old driveway, only to find it all locked up. The owners we knew had sold it after 60 years (it is over 100 years old), and the new owners had a sign up saying they would not be open until July. So, we decided to trespass (with good intentions), and see how it measured up to our memories. It looked pretty rough, but it hasn’t had a winter cleanup and spruce up for the season yet. Still…what was rustic 25 years ago appears not to have changed a bit. The dock looked rotten, and the cabins looked saggy, but I saw little ghosts…
Manitoulin is filled with small resorts like this – tired old cabins with mismatched tables and chairs and perhaps the odd mouse or two. I’m sure there are luxurious resorts on the island, but the island is a no-frills place and that is exactly why we love it. Our host at South Bay confessed it was hard going to keep their resort in the black, but after seven years, they’ve turned a corner.
Not the same can be said for every business. We drove by many buildings that looked just like this one. A lady walking by told us this business has been closed for years – the sign still remains to re-direct potential business.
Manitoulin is filled with prosperous, thriving farms and enough herds of beef cattle to merit having their own abattoir.
But there are plenty of old farmhouses just like this one – left to the elements after years of sitting empty – no-one willing to take on such a risky venture.
Manitoulin Island has so much to offer, including incredibly, a lack of bugs – almost no mosquitoes, no black flies. This may be due in part to being surrounded by water and a steady light breeze, but that would be enough to lure me here for an Ontario summer.
There are fantastic hiking trails, including the famous Cup and Saucer trail (closed while improvements to the trails are being made), but we did check out Bridal Veil Falls.
Apparently that pool is a popular swimming spot in the summer, but we just followed the 2-km.trail along by the creek.
And then we came upon a sign that took me back to my Girl Guide days – “leaves of three, let it be”. I know poison ivy exists out west, but for some reason it reminds me of Ontario.
Our trail ended here – where the creek spills out to the North Channel.
Much of Manitoulin is First Nations land, including parts like Wikwemikong that are unceded, as their chiefs refused to accept the treaties being offered at the time. The island is policed by both O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) and a native police force. Without any insider knowledge, the two cultures appear to co-exist without too much trouble. Summertime is non-stop with crossover events such as festivals, fairs, marathons, pow wows, fishing derbies, etc.
Manitoulin specializes in “summer food” – barbecued meats, ice cream, shortcake, and fried foods. While there are any number of spots to indulge, locals and tourists come from all over the island to Mum’s in Mindemoya. They serve killer breakfasts and dinner-plate sandwiches, but they bring in the crowds for their baking, in particular for their cinnamon rolls – about 5″ x 5″ of sticky deliciousness. They are on the counter at 11:00 am, and in the summer, they are gone by 11:30. We decided to split one. “Do you want butter with that?” (which apparently is considered a legitimate question).
“Home cooking” is the way of the road here and sugar, fat and salt are restaurant mainstays – a cardiologist’s nightmare. We popped down the road to Carol and Earl’s for a perch dinner, which began with a generous salad (or soup), followed by: a dinner plate piled with hand-cut fries, and topped with five pieces of battered perch and a cup of creamy coleslaw. Earl looked a bit crestfallen that we weren’t having pie.
Stephen couldn’t leave without at least diving in the water. It was 15 degrees out and I was wearing a hoodie, watching from the sidelines. Clark Bay swimmers – we’re throwing down the gauntlet!