If you read my previous blog, Part One, you know that we parted ways with our friends and headed south after leaving Sault Ste. Marie. Miles, our mascot, figured we needed to see some beaches!
Driving south from Espanola, we stopped at the little town of Whitefish Falls for a scramble over the rocks to view the falls under the bridge at the Bay of Islands. We travelled from one little island to another until we reached Manitoulin Island.
Manitoulin Island is the ultimate destination for people living on the north channel of Lake Huron. It is the world’s largest freshwater island and has more than 100 lakes in it. The largest lake, Lake Manitou, is actually the largest lake within a lake…so Manitoulin Island sits in Lake Huron and Lake Manitou sits in Manitoulin Island…hard to wrap your head around at first! We only spent one night on the island but we had two full days of exploring before heading south to the mainland.
Our first stop was Little Current, a very pretty little town that served us a cold beer and a fresh shrimp appetizer on the patio of a big old hotel with magnificent flowers in front. As we strolled along the dock we discovered that the town’s sole source of transportation was by ship until the railway was built in 1913. Eventually, the bridge from the mainland was built and recreation became a major industry on the island. Boat tours are offered along the North Channel but we didn’t take one.
Kagawong, an Ojibway word meaning “where mists rise from the falling waters”, was our next stop. We ran down 78 steps to the base of Bridal Veil Falls where, if wearing appropriate footwear and clothing, you could hike in behind the falls. We had neither but many families with young children had stopped for that reason. Logging would have been the main industry in this area years ago but tourism…kayak and canoe rentals…have long since taken over. I can tell you we did not run up the 78 steps when we had finished dipping our feet in the cool water below the falls!
Gore Bay was our next island stop. Situated in the northwest part of the island, it provided a lookout area where we could see the town below and far out into the North Channel of Lake Huron. We had hoped to visit the museum there, which is housed in the old jail, but got there just at closing time.
We headed instead to the centre of the island and camped at Stanley Park on the shore of Lake Mindemoya. People in kayaks, canoes, sea-doos and motor boats shared the lake with ducks, geese and other water birds. Bugs were virtually nonexistent. Our site was beautiful…we could lie in our bed with the back door of the van open and watch the sun set over the lake! Life is good!
Our next day took us to the south end of the island through meadows covered with blue, yellow and white flowers. As Jim would say, “‘Tis the season for construction”. Most of the roads on the island are under repair and many of them are being upgraded to make cycling on the island safer. Gravel shoulders, a norm in much of Ontario, are slowly getting paved. The interior of the island is mainly pasture with a few small farms. The perimeter, however, is mainly beaches, summer cottages and beautiful beach homes. We arrived at Providence Bay where we walked along the boardwalk beside Lake Huron and then back again through the sandy water of the beach itself. A picnic lunch and a date with our books made for a wonderful afternoon at the beach!
Then off to South Baymouth where we boarded the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry to south Ontario. Passing through large farmlands, both cattle and grains, we started to notice that nearly all the homes are built of brick or limestone and they are all massive homes! Hay was being cut already…it seemed we had stepped into a completely different temperate zone!
We had heard that Owen Sound has free entertainment on Sundays throughout the summer and that tonight was featuring a blues artist. With both of us being big fans of the blues, it seemed a fitting end to Father’s Day. Morgan Davis entertained us for close to an hour on the stage outside the old train station which has been turned into a visitor centre. We sat in lawn chairs along the railway track with large oaks and maples behind us.
Beyond the trees was the Owen Sound Harbour where a huge freighter, the Algoma Olympic, was docked. The port of Owen Sound used to be the eastern terminus for the CPR steamship line. Thousands of immigrants and millions of bushels of grain would be transported through this “gateway to the west” until the CPR pulled out. A night stroll along this pretty harbour would make a perfect end to a special day.
Having stayed in the Walmart parking lot, we were on the road early and heading south along the west shores of Ontario with Lake Huron almost always in view to our right. It was hot with a west wind blowing inland. We visited three different beaches throughout the day and each was different.
At Sauble Beach, we walked for miles along the sand watching and speaking with windsurfers. It was a perfect day for their sport and the beach was nearly deserted being a week day in June.
Further south, after travelling through Southampton and Port Elgin with their many wind turbines…we thought we were in Pincher Creek!…we stopped at Kincardine Beach. A lighthouse stands beside a huge pier and canal which extends out into the lake with waves crashing into a rocky beach on the north side of the pier and waves crashing into a sandy beach on the south side. The sand and the air were hot, the wind was blowing about 60kph. We had a picnic lunch, sat at the beach for a bit and then moved on.
Goderich was our next beach stop, known as “Canada’s prettiest town” and the location of the first lighthouse erected on the Canadian side of Lake Huron in 1847. It has stately homes and a thriving salt mine industry, established in the 1950’s. We learned from one of the miners there that they drill down 1700 feet through the rock into the salt bed and at this point are mining two to three miles horizontally out under Lake Huron. He even gave us a sample of a chunk of salt!
We were worn out with the wind. It made driving difficult and being outside difficult. Our plan had been to camp one more night before moving on to London but we called Jim’s sister, Shirley Ann, to see if she would mind if we arrived early. Of course she did not! We ended up visiting late into the evening and spent the next four nights in an air conditioned house instead of our little van.
Shirley Ann and her family treated us to the perfect mix of down time with family and sight-seeing in the area. We spent an afternoon in Stratford, famous for its quaint beauty and its vibrant theatre scene. Like most of Canada, the depression of the 30’s hit hard. In 1950, Tom Patterson, a native of the city, had dreams of revitalizing the community after the Second World War with the establishment of a world renowned Shakespearean Festival and by 1953 the dream was realized, opening with a production of Richard III. Theatre soon became an integral part of the city and famous actors, such as Chritopher Plumber, have played on its stage.
Beside the theatre, the city has the beautiful Thames River running through it with lovely parkland on each side of it. We watched as a dragon boat team practised for upcoming competitions and families of swans floated gracefully back and forth. A visit to the renowned Rheo Thompson Chocolate store finished off our visit!
The next day, Jim had the pleasure of golfing with his nephew Allen at the The Oaks Golf and Country Club, of which Allen is a member. I toured London with Shirley Ann, visiting Western University, all built of limestone, as well as Brescia College which at one time was for women only. Big, beautiful homes adorned with ivy and oak forests sharing space with ancient grape vines that likely arrived with Phoenicians from Egypt long ago make London a beautiful city.
Port Stanley, on the south coast was our destination the next day. This would be our first visit to Lake Erie. A visit to the beach, fish and chips for lunch and a stroll through the little shops with a stop for ice cream. We came across a very unique house which the owner explained to us started with the main house dating back to the early 1900’s. He has since added up and out with a little bridge to the forest behind, a sun room facing the lake and an old fisherman’s kiln in its original spot on the front street. Because cork was hard to come by at the turn of the century, the fishermen dried out cuts of cedar, varnished it over and over and cured it in the kiln to use as floats on their boats. Jim was most impressed with the 1971 Mercedes Benz 550 SEL red convertible sitting in the driveway…Shirley Ann was most impressed with the owner!
On our way back to London we stopped at St. Thomas to see the life size statue of Jumbo, the circus elephant that had escaped from a Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1885 and killed by a Grand Trunk locomotive. It was erected in his honor 100 years after the event and was apparently brought by truck all the way from New Brunswick through the centre of town to its destination at this spot overlooking the highway.
We finished off our day with dinner by the pool at Allen and Karen’s house where we met their kids and 10 month old grandson. Jim went for a swim, then a visit around the fire and it was time to say goodbye. We would be leaving in the morning.