Photo: The North Shore, Lake Superior.
We left Winnipeg in a heavy downpour but it cleared as we approached Kenora, Ontario. It was the Canada Day long weekend and the campgrounds were mostly full, so we called Lisa, the sister of our friends Janice (Tweetie) and Art, from Langley, BC. We had never met Lisa but she immediately invited us to dinner at her place in Keewatin, the sister city to Kenora, and we readily accepted.
We entered Ontario from Manitoba, driving east.
Photo: An uptight OPP officer has me assume the position after I lipped him off at a Canada Day celebration in Kenora. He was taking offense to my rendition of ‘Oh Cannabis’ and when he asked me for ID, I refused, and… OK, I’m kidding. We got him to pose with me so that my buddy Bill wouldn’t get too bored with what he describes as the ‘milk and cookies’ aspect of the blog.
As we pulled out of the Canada Day celebration in Kenora we employed our GPS, Susan, to find our way to Keewatin. That town is an attractive, historic little place, but the streets are particularly narrow and, in many cases, steep. We ran smack into a Canada Day Parade and had to do a little steep uphill reversing with the unit. Eventually we scouted out a good place to leave the rig, under some big trees, next to the elementary school. It was on a slight uphill incline but we figured it would be good enough later when we were tired.
We walked the four blocks to Lisa’s place, arriving at what is one of the most spectacular properties I’ve seen in a long time. Built in 1889, it’s a very tastefully and authentically decorated, fully restored, period home that graces the waterfront at Keewatin, on Lake of the Woods. The grounds, true to the original landscaping, have the effect of taking one back in time, as columns, trellises and grand staircases lead the visitor off the enormous deck, down several grassy levels, to the wharf.
Photos: Lisa and Gerry’s place at Keewatin.
Lisa and her husband, Gerry, are unabashed and, in some capacities, official, ambassadors for the area. On top of cooking us a very memorable gourmet meal, they were also in the position to provide all the straight goods for the region. It’s always interesting to get some of the inside stories from the locals. Later, we enjoyed the Canada Day fireworks from their deck. I guess Lisa and Gerry must have liked us well enough too because they invited us to their brother’s-in-law 60th birthday party the next day on an island off Kenora.
Photo: Fireworks at Keewatin.
We walked back to the unit after the fire works but there was still quite a bit of Canada Day partying going on so Janice decided we were going to head for the Walmart instead. By the time we got there it was midnight. There were several other over-nighters already on the lot, but, when we bedded down, we noticed that there was annoyingly loud music issuing from the store’s garden centre. It never did go away and kept us awake half the night. We might as well have stayed where we were.
In the morning we drove to the Acinabe Campgrounds at Kenora where, due to the holiday weekend, we were relegated to an overflow site. That was OK, it was a nice place, and we swam at the beach before Gerry and Lisa picked us up. We all boated to the island where we spent a brilliantly sunny summer day in another fantastic setting, with a lot of friendly and interesting people.
Our friend, Art, has six sisters and they were all there that day. The two-acre island has two cabins, a house and a dock. We hung out, swimming, boating, barbequing and sharing a few drinks with the family. Gerry and Lisa toured us around some more of the lake on our way home.
Photo: The gathering at the island on Lake of the Woods.
Photo: We celebrated Linda’s husband, Aerie’s, 60th B-Day. He’s the one in the middle.
It was hot and humid when we got back to camp so Janice and I went swimming again about ten o’clock and then sat around in wet bathing suits until bedtime.
Kenora is an amazing resort town in a wonderful setting – we had no idea.Lake of the Woods has more than 14,000 islands, most of them located on the northern half of the lake. Now, having seen the place that Art and Tweetie built together and lived in thirty-odd-years ago, it will be with newfound interest that we listen to stories of their tales of their past in Kenora.
A friend I had recently worked with, Bruce, has an island at Lake of the Woods. Unfortunately, on this trip, we were a few days early to hook up with him. We knew he had been diagnosed with cancer a couple of months earlier but understood that he was doing well. As we were in Kenora already, I called to see if he was in town. He said they were just leaving BC so it would be three or four days before he arrived in Kenora. He invited us to stay on the island with him and his family. We decided against it for several reasons: 1 – We were ready to move on. 2 – We’d have to leave our rig on the mainland. 3 – We didn’t have a tent and, as his whole family would be there, a tent was pretty well the only option. Bruce was very positive and upbeat when we talked to him, looking forward to his vacation. Upon his return home though, due to complications from the cancer treatment, he died suddenly! Bruce was just 51 years old and had been the picture of health and vibrancy just a few months earlier. His death was very unsettling and was on my mind for days…
In the morning, while I did my blogging, Janice went to drop off her Vietnamese Coriander plant for Lisa, in return for her hospitality. She figured that the gourmet cook in Lisa would probably use the coriander a lot.
We lucked into outstanding weather for our couple of days in Kenora but we set back out on the Trans Canada under heavy rain, and most of the day was spent battling another monstrous thunder and lightning storm. We followed the storms to Dryden, Ontario, where the weather cleared a little but, disappointingly, the damp air was still dank with the noxious, sulfurous stench of the pulp mill.
We had planned to get an oil change in Dryden, but had to wait until the next day, so we drove out of town a short way to Thunder Lake at Aaron Provincial Park, where we got thoroughly drenched. It was so wet that we had our own private lake at our campsite. Deciding to go for a walk anyway, Janice discovered that her rain jacket was a sieve. We were still trying to dry out last night when another storm rolled over us, taking out the power and ripping the neighbour’s awning from its’ moorings.
On Sunday morning it had cleared a little when we headed for Thunder Bay, stopping in Ignace for lunch.
The province of Ontario wants a lot for a stay at their provincial parks: $48.00 yesterday at Kakabeka Falls, for electricity only. Lucky us. We found Happy Land RV Park just a kilometer up the road with a pool, hot tub, wifi, full hook-ups, nice showers and washrooms, all for $38.00. Yes, Happy Land!
We went for a delightful swim in the first heated outdoor pool of our excursion so far. After dinner we sat around a campfire admiring the brilliance of the stars. It was made even more memorable by our first-ever experience with fireflies, amazing little creatures that we don’t have out west. Due to it still being early in the season we were among just a handful of RVers there.
Photo: Janice contemplates yet another death defying act, poolside, at Happy Land.
Photo: The beach at Happy Land.
Photo: A blurry but happy Janice, or could it be the photographer? I took my glasses off for this shot and then, after they’d found their way to the ground, Janice stepped on them. We had to go to Sears Optical in Thunder Bay the next day to get them re-aligned.
The north shore of Lake Superior, according to all accounts, is an area we should spend some time exploring so, as it was a glorious sunny day, we re-booked our space at Happy Land and spent the day exploring Thunder Bay. We walked all around the bricks and mortar downtown, stopped for a forgettable donair sandwich at a side street café and then resumed our foot tour of Marina Park on the mostly industrialized waterfront.
It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit so, back at camp, the pool was a welcome respite. We even used the A/C in the trailer for the first time on the trip. After dinner we Skyped with my mom and then with JR, whom I’ve played with in several bands over the years. Later, around the campfire, we listened to our neighbour, a very subdued but masterful guitarist, playing a classical sort of style.
We continued eastward the next day along the lakeshore but it was foggy, and we couldn’t get much of a view of the famed Sleeping Giant. We stopped at the Terry Fox monument where his Run for Life was terminated. The dreary weather was fitting.
By the time we got to Ouimett Canyon Park the sun had come out. There were signs warning not to take any vehicle more than twenty-five feet in length up the extremely steep, curving road to the summit and the trailheads. We decided we didn’t want to unhook so we put our bikes together instead. By the time we’d had lunch in the parking lot it was downright hot, the sun beating straight down.
The signs were correct regarding the incredible incline. It was very hot as we dug deep in order to climb the steep, hot asphalt. Halfway up the hill Janice stopped. This never happens. She was a little pasty looking and said she was feeling faint. We gave it a rest for a few minutes before completing our ascent. Man was it an arduous climb! It’s the first time in thirty years I’ve seen Janice admit to being gassed. We figured later that she was probably dehydrated – we never thought to bring water because it was only 3.5 kilometers to the top. We got some bottled water at the concession, locked our bikes, went for a shaded hike to Ouimett Falls and then had a fast ride back downhill to the unit.
Photo: Janice at at the lookout at Quimett Canyon, following the hottest bike ride ever and an hour or so before her first dip in Lake Superior. Note the huge stalagmite below her.
Later we stopped at a cool little town called Red Rock where we tried to convince the gatekeeper at a private marina to let us camp there for the night. He wasn’t buying it. We carried on to Rainbow Falls Campground, a rustic little beach right on Lake Superior.
Along the way I became wholly dumbstruck. I mean, blow me down, I’m freakin’ gob-smacked at the magnificence of the Great Lakes! Having lived in BC for 59 of my 61 years, I guess I’ve become rather smug about BC possessing the best of Canada’s natural beauty — blissful in my western, provincial ignorance as it turns out.
I’ve always imagined the Great Lakes to be polluted, grey and rather featureless, surrounded by smoke-spewing industry. So, I could hardly believe the clarity of the water, the greens and blues, the immensity of Lake Superior. I knew beforehand that it was the largest freshwater lake in the world but I had no idea of the impact it would have on me when I encountered it. Incredulous I was – couldn’t have had a more profound sense of discovery.
Photo: Tim, gob-smacked, at his first glimpse of Lake Superior.
We camped right on the beach at Rainbow Provincial Park, very near the tiny town of Rossport. Still hot from the bike ride, and against everybody’s best advice, we went for a swim. Did I mention that Lake Superior is one of the coldest bodies of water you’ll ever find anywhere? The average temperature is forty-five degrees Fahrenheit, year-round or, seven-point-two Celsius for the Canucks and Europeans among us.
Lake Superior is three or four hundred feet deep in many areas and is at the top of the food chain, flowing into Lake Michigan, which flows into Lake Huron, then Lake Eerie and finally into Lake Ontario. They all flush out through the St. Lawrence Seaway. Remind you at all of fourth grade geography?
Photo: Janice takes her first dip in Lake Superior.
Photo: Our campsite at Rainbow Provincial Park at Rossport, Lake Superior.
Photo: Tim gazes over Lake Superior at Rossport.
Photo: The fog lifts in the morning at Rainbow Beach.
It was a beautiful evening, with fog visible far off on the lake. We did some laundry and talked with a crazy military woman who likes to camp on her own; the female version of G.I. Joe. Luckily, she didn’t stick around too long – something about how she had to ‘get to bed so she could be up with the sun’. Freak! We sat around the campfire until the mist off the lake felt like light rain.
It was still hazy in the morning but cleared to a sunny day by about 10:30. We stopped for lunch at White Sand Lake and took a hike to where we could see the lake from above. Carrying on through another couple of little towns we settled in at Neys Provincial Park, again right on the water, where we walked the beach and rode our bikes. We also bought our first campfire wood there for $6 a bundle. I vowed to keep my eyes open for firewood from then on.
Photo: The beach at Neys Provincial Park – pronounced Naze.
We awoke to a beautiful morning and took a hike to the lookout before hooking up and heading out for White Sand Lake Provincial Park. We had thought we might overnight there but we weren’t too impressed with it so we continued on to Obatanga Provincial Park. Again, we didn’t really care for the sites or for the minimalist facilities, so we went to the day use area for a swim and then carried on to a Good Sam Park at Wawa. The fog rolled in heavily off the lake at sundown so we went inside and watched the first of ten movies I had picked up along the way, all for $10.
Photo: White Sand Lake.
We had planned to stay at Pancake Bay the next night but their only remaining site was too small for our rig so we stayed at Batchawana, near popular Pancake Bay Provincial Park. The beaches are white sand and the water is shallow, therefore causing the water to be a little warmer. What a place. I could have stayed all summer. A retiree from Sault Ste Marie, (The Soo to locals) commented, “If you climb to the top of those rocks over there you can see where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, back in 1975.”
Photo: The beach at our campsite at Batchawana.
Photo: The lookout at Batchawana.
While driving south along the shoreline of Lake Superior today we were reminded of Hawaii: beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
Photo: The crytal clear waters of Lake Superior.
Photo: One of the beaches along the way that reminded us of Hawaii.
Since posting this blog I’ve had a few people comment that I was perhaps waxing too poetic about the Great Lakes, too many superlatives. As my buddy Peter Gilmour said, “Ya, the Great Lakes, wonderful in the summertime.”
Not thinking ahead, we had decided to head into the States via Sault Ste Marie, on a Saturday. First we stopped at a mall on the Canadian side to pick up a few items we thought we might not be able to get on the sparsely inhabited western shore of Lake Huron.
Photo: The crystalline water beneath the bridge that joins Lake Huron with Lake Michigan. The ship locks are at right.
We crossed the border into the US without incident, save for the red pepper the customs officer made us forfeit. The rules seem to change at every border crossing.