Miles, our trusty mascot, settled himself once again on the dash of our van to guide us east toward the Niagara Escarpment. We would end up staying in various places along the escarpment over the next week.
After saying goodbye to our lovely and hospitable family in London, our laundry done, our fridge restocked, oil changed, minor repairs looked after, our gas and propane tanks full, we travelled east through farmland…fields of tobacco, strawberries, corn and all other grains and vegetable crops. Even with no rain in the past few weeks, the crops looked good.
We stopped in Ingersoll first. Ingersoll was known for its production of soft cheeses until the cheese factory was bought out by a big corporation and eventually closed down. The museum there highlighted the difficulties and achievements experienced by the agricultural industry during the war. Farmers were needed to feed the troops on one hand and scorned for not enlisting on the other hand!
Another noteworthy fact about the town is that in 1937 a young man named Douglas Carr set out to journey around the world by bicycle, travelling for thirty months. This impresses me in two ways; first because my brother Richard and his wife Barbara attempted a similar journey but for a shorter time and secondly because we find there is so much to see in a four month journey by car in only one country! What he must have experienced!
We travelled through Amish country; Tillsonburg, Delhi and Simcoe until we stopped at a little campsite at Cayuga on the Grand River. Another pretty spot to stay where people fishing in the river were pulling up perch, pickerel and bass. We enjoyed the sunset and hit the sack after a full day of travel.
We were up and gone fairly early the next morning, stopping for breakfast at a park in Dunnville, a pretty little town not far from the southern beaches. We’re missing our grandsons so it was fun to watch a family with similarly aged children play in the park. In our distorted minds we saw Carlo and Lewis on the swings!
Port Colbourne, at the south end of the Welland Canal was an interesting stop. We watched as the lift bridge across the canal rose for a ship entering the last lock, making its way to Lake Erie.
We visited the museum where we learned about the Fenian Raid on Fort Erie in 1866. Irish Americans thought they could conquer Canada by invading the fort but they were stopped by a quickly assembled battalion of volunteers in the night. Many were honoured for their bravery and offered land or cash for their efforts. Some actually chose the $50 cash reward!
Port Colbourne also served as a means of transportation for smuggling liquor into Canada from Buffalo during the years of prohibition. Apparently, the liquor would be lowered into the water with salt blocks to keep it down and would then be dragged along the bottom by boat. The salt would eventually dissolve on the other side of the border and the loot would float to the top and be gathered up by the Canadians!
On to Fort Erie where the Peace Bridge spans Lake Erie, accessing Buffalo, NY. It celebrates the longest continuous peaceful border between nations. We walked along the lake, under the bridge and into town where we sat in the sun enjoying a cold drink and a hot lunch!
From there, we followed the Niagara Parkway passing massive estate homes facing the Niagara River. Lack of money is obviously not a problem for the residents of this part of the country. Being the scenic highway it is, motorcyclists also use the road. At one point we pulled over for a group of about 100 of them to pass!
Later in the afternoon we arrived at Niagara Falls. Jim had been there before but I hadn’t. The first indication of the falls was a mist off in the distance…I was pretty pumped! We got into town, drove along the river so I could really see them before we booked into a campsite. Wall to wall people and bumper to bumper traffic reinforced the fact that we would bus in to town from the campsite!
After settling in to the campsite at an exorbitantly high price of $59 a night… a plot measuring about 12’x24’with water and electricity where the neighbors could undoubtably hear us snore… we had a quick supper and then hopped on the WeGo bus back into town to see the falls at night. Because the temperature was dropping, the mist was like rain. We bought ponchos to stay dry and snapped a million photos of both the American Angel Falls and the more impressive Canadian Horseshoe Falls with the rainbow coloured lights projected on them. Horse and buggies carried tourists along the promenade and as the lights came on in the various restaurants, towers, hotels and parks, it felt like we were in Vegas! We caught the last bus back to the campsite at midnight and fell quickly asleep with aching feet from the miles we had walked today.
Early the next day we packed up and moved the van to a shopping centre where we could leave it while we spent the day in town. We had booked three activities. First was Journey Behind the Falls. We were transported by elevator down to tunnels that took us to a lookout beside the falls and behind the falls. The power of the water was incredible!
Next, we were ushered into a round room where we watched a 4D movie about the formation of the falls over time. With the surround screen, we experienced the fury of the falls from the ice age to now, the fourth dimension being touch. We were hit with snow, rain, wind and mist from the falls. It was a spectacular experience!
Finally, the Hornblower Cruise, formerly named the Maid of the Mist. We boarded an open double deck boat and sailed right out to the falls. The perspective from water level was unbelievable! And the wind and mist created by the never ending rush of tumbling water soaked us. Fifteen million litres of water spill over those falls every minute! What an amazing force of nature!
We stopped at St. Catherine’s, the entrance to the Welland Canal from Lake Ontario. We watched the complete locking procedure. Because Lake Ontario sits at a much lower elevation than Lake Erie, boats go through a series of 8 locks to lower them. This being lock 3 meant they were nearing the end.
First the gates at each end were closed, then the canal lock filled with water until it was level with the south end of the river. A horn blew and the bridge in the distance rose to allow a yacht from Toronto with 50 foot masts enter the lock.
After that interesting diversion, we headed to the outskirts of Hamilton where we had dinner out and took advantage of the free accomodation at Walmart! The weather turned extremely humid and calm. We popped into the store for a couple of supplies and came out to a torrential downpour! Thankfully the wind blew as well so the van cooled nicely for sleeping.
Hamilton is known as the city of steel with Stelco being one of its biggest employers. After the hoards of people at Niagara, we didn’t feel like city exploring so we headed down through the city to Burlington Bay, the largest freshwater bay in North America, where we took a cruise to learn about the harbour city. This harbour was at one time so polluted that even the birds avoided it. Since the 1970’s when industries became more conscious of the environmental effects of their production, the bay has slowly returned to a viable habitat for fish and waterfowl alike. The shunned dirty neighbourhood of the north of Hamilton has seen a transformation with old historic homes facing the water being remodelled and new luxury homes being built. Plans of new hotels and condos along the waterfront are part of the city’s plan for revitalizing the downtown area.
The city is known also for its Royal Canadian Yacht Club as well as a working mans yacht club with a waiting list of ten years! The existing marina houses about 700 yachts with plans of tripling its size in the next few years.
By afternoon we were fighting traffic to get out of the Hamilton and greater Toronto area. This is the point where all highways lead to the infamous 401 and we wanted no part of it! At the advise of some locals we met at the bay, we headed west through Dundas and Guelph and stopped for a couple nights of camping downtime at Elora Gorge campground, a part of the Niagara Escarpment again.
The Elora Gorge is on the Grand River. The gorge itself has 22 meter high cliffs bordered by dense forest of spruce and maple. The campground we were in is popular for tubing and kayaking with designated spots for putting in and getting out of the gorge with minor rapids along the way. We didn’t tube or kayak but we walked the full length of the gorge, watching a family of tubers far below.
After two nights at the campground relaxing and playing numerous rounds of Yahtzee, we were on the road into the towns of Elora and Fergus. The Elora Falls in Victoria Park feed into the gorge we had camped beside.
These two communities are the oldest towns in southwestern Ontario, settled originally by a Scot named Ferguson. Today, they maintain the look and feel of Scotland and hold the annual Highland Games every August. The old limestone quarry is now a hertage site used for swimming.
Our general destination was northeast but we realized we had missed stopping in Brantford. Being an avid Oiler fan, Jim couldn’t miss seeing the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre! Filled with memorabilia and facts about The Great One, we were happy to see that it also recognized many other athletes from the Brant area. The centre housed hockey rinks, swimming pools, weight rooms, etc. and is surrounded by ball, soccer and football fields. It was worth the trip south again.
While in Brantford, we also visited the Bell Homestead. It was at this location that at the age of 23 Alexander Graham Bell perfected his idea of transporting voice through wire with a rudimentary telephone. The first long distance call from Brantford to Paris, Ontario, utilizing the existing telegraph lines happened at this residence. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine life without a telephone. Even more so since I am presently using mine to publish this blog!
North again, skirting Burlington and Brampton and stopping in Orangeville to pick up a few groceries. Orangeville has amazing wood sculptures lining the streets, all carved by different artists. Such talent!
A short drive further north and we arrived at Earl Rowe Provincial Park, checking in for two nights. This is the one and only Nudist Provincial Park in Ontario. The weather cooperated by offering hot sun during the day with cool nights. We caught up on laundry and blog posts and cooked yummy meals on the barbecue. We were entertained by lightening bugs in the trees while we sat by our campfire in the evening. I haven’t seen lightening bugs since I was a kid!
Now I know what you’re thinking….a NUDE campground? Haha! Our friendly neighbor suggested I write something like that to find out who is really following the blog! I couldn’t resist!
So that brings us to the end of June. We will head to Barrie for Canada Day. One more Ontario instalment to come so stay tuned. Thank you for all your encouraging comments. We miss you all and we’re happy to keep in touch this way. Happy Canada Day!