Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Wonderful Magic of Northern Ontario

We paused at Winnipeg to see Steven and Elizabeth. Jan’s elder son plays fullback on his Manitoba Major Soccer League Division 1 side. I went to see his Sunday evening match and was impressed with Steve’s athleticism and knowledge of the game. The lads took a 1-0 lead into the last few minutes before surrendering a late goal on a penalty kick and had to settle for a draw. C’est la vie.

Still awaiting fulfillment is my grail quest to discern with my own eyes the ineffable charms of Northern Ontario. We have traversed this part of our broad land many times now but I am a slow student: I still don’t get it. The government park brochures display pictures of happy adventurers contemplating fabulous vistas, basking in sunshine under clear blue skies. Never in these photos do you see people shivering in freezing rain wearing a living balaclava of ravenous blackflies.

The truck’s windshield wipers flapped semi-constantly. The sun hid for days at a stretch. We camped at Kakabeka provincial park where the rain let up enough to permit a misty morning walk. We resumed acquaintance with an assortment of eastern warblers fattening up on fresh mosquito hatches. Never having seen The Sleeping Giant park we made a diversion there. The weather forecast promised a 30 per cent chance of showers, enticing enough odds to get us imagining we might brave the 22.4 km round-trip hike to The Giant summit. The forecast proved a hoax. Rain beat on the camper much of the night; morning brought no relief. The gunmetal socked-in sky insinuated that hope for a dry hike was extreme folly. We moved on. The Giant will have to await another lifetime.

I have heard people assert that if it’s boring roadscapes you’re after, try the prairies of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Nonsense. The prairies let you see forever; every pond and pothole brims with birdlife. Here along Canada 1 the roadside views are stopped by impenetrable walls of black spruce, jack pine and aspen only beginning to leaf; the countless little roadside lakes are entirely birdless.

With no birds to see from our rolling blind we sometimes make do with impromptu peoplewatching. At Terrace Bay on Superior’s north shore we fled the highway to escape a mad trucker and to seek out sustenance. Drifter’s Roadhouse called out to us. Inside was a full house of oversized diners tucking into big cheeseburger platters and great heaping mounds of poutine. I drool with the best of them at the sight of a big batch of poutine but a good angel, sounding a lot like Bob Nagel, sits on my right shoulder. ‘You don’t wait ‘til you’re 70 to start looking after yourself,’ the angel said. We settled for a cup of the soup-of-the-day and split a splendid Greek salad. I felt an exultation of virtuous self-satisfaction.

Amazingly, just east of Wawa, a ray of sunshine burst over Leo’s bow for the first time since we crossed the BC-Alberta line. Euphoric, I reached for the sunglasses but they’ve been ignored so long they had gone for a walk. The sunshine endured maybe 50 km, long enough to make Lake Superior Park look just about as fetching as it does in the glossy brochures. Maybe the lesson of our Northern Ontario travels lo these many years is biblical: the glories of the Canadian Shield reveal themselves to those who have the patience of Job.



Mary Sanseverino said...

Just outside of Wawa is where the sun found us too -- but we had lots of sunshine in Sask and Manitoba. No rain for us (or at least no downpours) in Northern Ontario -- but some very overcast days from Kakabecka to Wawa. Then it was glorious for several days in a row.

I wish I was back on the road again!

dhensby said...

wow, hearing of Kakabeka Falls brought me back to my endless holidays with the parents to visit grandfolks in Timinis. Us young ones would struggle to wake up on the endless northern Ontario drives to demand a stop at the Falls. You are truly blessed with the weather, leading the crappy stuff across the land. Cheers, enjoy in spite of the wet