Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks.Radio Observatory. Black Bear's Visit on Our Campsite. Ontario, October 04-11, 2011

Blog in Polish/Blog po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/10/w-parkach-bon-echo-i-algonquin-ontario.html

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157629402966057/



The previous year’s weather in September & October, 2010 had been very rainy. However, this year autumn was warm, and the weather forecast promised pure sunshine itself, nor a drop of rain, and even relatively high temperatures during the day (at night frosts were expected, but this was not a problem due to us having several warm sleeping bags). The plan was as follows: First, spend a few days in a tent in Bon Echo Park, then go to Algonquin Park, where we had reservations (along with other group members) at a radio observatory facility, and finally, depending on the weather, a plan to canoe to Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, the site of a black bear attack 20 years ago and spend one night on that very campsite… if we dared!

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks, Ontario, Canada, October 2011

Bon Echo Park ... how much I could write about this magnificent Ontario park, my favourite park, which I have visited over 20 times since 1991, sometimes alone, often with a few friends, twice with a MeetUp group and I always loved going there.

This is one of the larger provincial parks (about 55 square km), its main attraction is a magnificent 30-meter high rock, emerging majestically from the lake, which has one of the largest collections of Indian rock drawings (pictographs), apparently created several hundred years ago. At the beginning of the twentieth century, long before this place was turned into a park, there was a well-known and exclusive hotel, run by Flora MacDonald Denison. She hosted well-off tourists wishing to enjoy a true Canadian wilderness. Ernest Hemingway was one of the guests—at that time he was working for a Toronto newspaper, as well as a group of Walt Whitman lovers (who in 1919 forged a rock engraving still visible today with verses from a collection of poems Whitman, “Leaves of Grass”) frequented this unique place. After the death of Flora MacDonald Denison, her son, Merrill Denison (1893-1975), a Canadian writer, donated the property to the government of Ontario to establish the park (and all of us should be forever grateful to him for that; otherwise, it would probably have become somebody’s big cottage, off-limits to the public).

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

The park has over 600 camping sites (often all of them are occupied), the majority located near Lake Mazinaw, but in my opinion the best campsites are in the middle of the park (5-6 km from the main gate), at Hardwood Hill. Most of them are completely sheltered and private, you cannot hear the road traffic as well as that area is much quieter because usually families with young children prefer to camp closer to the lake, where the campsites are much more ‘open’, yet closer to the museum, showers, canoe rental place and the amphitheatre. Unfortunately, the campsites at Hardwood Hill closed on the Monday after the September Labour Day weekend, so we had to settle for the campground closer to the lake (the park remains open until the Thanksgiving Weekend in October). Although they did not offer too much privacy, it was not a problem because the park was almost empty. After perusing the area, we chose site no. 16. It was located at the bottom of a rocky hill and we were surrounded by trees with falling leaves of different colors which created a beautiful, picturesque leafy carpet! Despite the fact that our site was generally open and bordered with other campsites, it was not a problem as no one else arrived to camp around us, except for a giant school bus whose driver was totally lost en route picking up school aged campers.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

This time we did not bring our canoe and decided to rent one, hoping for cheap rates. Indeed, the canoe rental place, operated in the park for over 20 years by the same gentleman was open and offered a great deal—for just $ 30.00 we could use a canoe for 4 days on Lake Mazinaw (where the canoe rental hut was located) and on Joeperry Lake, located in the middle of the park, where several canoes were already waiting for us! I had never canoed on Joeperry Lake due to a one-kilometre portage from the parking lot.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

We paddled twice on Lake Mazinaw, canoeing along the Bon Echo Rock, admiring Indian pictographs, impressive rock formations, cedars growing on almost bare rocks (some more than 1000 years old, thus forming one of the oldest forests in North America) and the inscription on the rock, containing a few verses from the poetry of Walt Whitman. We were lucky to paddle near the Rock at the sunset, when the setting sun’s rays illuminated the rock; this is certainly a very exceptional phenomenon, when the whole rock becomes bathed in sun and turns orange. In the summer a lot of tourists show up at the beach, watching this amazing show. At the beginning of the twentieth century Flora MacDonald, the proprietress of this place, published a publication called “Sunset of Bon Echo”—although the term “Sunset” was derived from the name of a local Indian Chief, it was the most appropriate name indeed! The day when we were canoeing, when the rock was almost shimmering with astonishing orange colours, it was also very windy and the lake was quite rough; even though Catherine bravely paddled, I could hardly take photos, as I had to grab the paddle and position canoe so that the waves would not tip it over.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

We also managed to climb to the top of that massive rock. There are two ways of ascending it—one is climbing on the sheer wall of the rock, reserved only for the courageous members of the mountaineering club; the other—which we had chosen—is a walking trail, used by the remaining 99.99% of tourists. The trail is not difficult, in some places metal stairs were installed (as well as the remains of the old stairs can be seen, which were used in the early twentieth century). It took us less than one hour to reach the summit of the rock. From there, a beautiful view of Upper and Lower Lake Mazinaw unfolded—two parts of the lake separated by the so-called ‘Narrows’, a strait. There are unconfirmed legends about the battle fought by Indian tribes at the top of this rock, where defeated warriors threw themselves (or were pushed) into the depths of Lake Mazinaw… It is also believed that the tribe who controlled the top of the rock wielded power over the canoe routes in the area. Somewhere at the top of the rock supposedly was a bunch of stones, arranged in a specific way by Indians, but I could never find them. In any case, this impressive rock was certainly a very special, sacred place for the Native People and the existing hundreds of pictographs attest to the exceptionality of this place.

At the beginning of the twentieth century a hotel was built there and prospered for many years (Bon Echo Inn, burned down in the thirties of the twentieth century); a bridge was also built over the Narrows, allowing tourists to get to the other side and climb to the top of rock. Currently, a small boat frequently operates from the park, carrying tourists to the opposite shore. A lot of well-known photographers and painters visited Bon Echo and produced beautiful images of the rock (among them were members of the famous Canadian “Group of Seven” and Malak, the photographer whose photo of the tulips in front of the Parliament Building in Ottawa for many years had graced one side of the one dollar bill—and on the other side of the bill was the photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, taken by his brother Karsh). In 2007, during one of my meetings at my naturalist club, I talked with an older gentleman, who recalled how in the 1960s he and his wife chose to swim naked in the evening in the lake near the ‘Narrows’ at Bon Echo! He also mentioned a writer whom he met and who was at that time living at the park; of course, it was Merrill Denison, who had the right to live in his home until his death (currently his home is a museum and gift shop). When I went to the club’s first meeting in the fall of 2011, it turned out that he had recently passes away. I will always remember his stories about Bon Echo Park!

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

Of course, we also went paddling on Joeperry Lake. Indeed, the lake was located quite far from the parking lot and neither I nor Catherine would have been willing to carry even a light canoe to the lake (and back), so we were very happy to use one of the rental canoes, already placed on the shore of the lake. Joperry Lake turned out to be very picturesque and we were surrounded by brilliant autumn colors. A number of interior campsites dotted its shores, yet only one was apparently occupied. We wanted to paddle around a big island, but the narrow passage was too shallow even for a canoe, so we simply paddled all over the lake, admiring the spectacular autumn colours and came ashore at sunset, as it had already darkened. Using flashlights, we walked to the car and in complete darkness we drove the 8 km. to our campsite.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

At one point I stopped and showed Catherine a very interesting rock near the road: probably due to the weather conditions, it had broken in two and in the middle of this chasm grew a beautiful tree! I had spotted the rock for the first time in the early 1990s and have been observing it since!

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

Every night a bunch of racoons visited our campsite and even our cooler, wedged under the picnic table, was a fair game for them and they tried to open it. Besides, they always barked loudly and fought among themselves, waking us in the middle of the night. Catherine did not sleep as soundly as me and several times flew out of the tent at night to shoo them away; it was practically a nightly ritual.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

On October 7, 2011, after paddling for a few hours on Lake Mazinaw for a few hours, we left the park and took road number 41 north up to Algonquin Park, to the Radio Observatory. On our way we stopped in the town of Pembroke where I decided to try MacDonald’s coffee; unfortunately, it was so bad that I returned it and later drove to Tim Horton’s, for a cup of delicious coffee!

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

We arrived at our destination at dusk. Somehow Catherine had thought the trip commenced on the Friday evening, as was the usual OCEY (The Outing Club of East York) club scenario. However, we were told that we were a day early! We considered putting up our tent nearby, but Caroline, a most gracious host, happily put us up for the night in a small room which reminded Catherine of her 1960s teenaged flower power bedroom (hot green with modern furniture). Unfortunately, the 140.00/night room rate did not reflect the 1960's economy! By the way, the building we stayed in formerly served as a hotel and canteen for scientists who worked there.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

The site consisted of the huge radio telescope, built in the 1960s, can be used for observation of distant astronomical objects using radio waves plus a 1960’s style house with 10 plus guest rooms, unisex bathrooms, dining area and lounge. The radio telescope was built in the sixties and has 46-year-meter parabolic antenna. For some time it was not used and even there were rumours of its demolition, but it eventually it was taken over by a private company, Thoth Technology, Inc., which hopes to restore it back to its ‘former glory’ (http://www.arocanada.com/) and incidentally to earn a little bit on this project. The CEO and the director are a married couple, Canadian and British; they both met while studying at Oxford. He has a PhD in astrophysics and is a professor at York University; his wife holds a doctorate in English and also teaches at York University.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

This trip was organized by the Outing Club of East York of Toronto and altogether almost 20 people arrived; I had met some of them during past camping and canoeing events. The observatory was situated in the heart of Algonquin Park, on Lake Travers. Right next to our building, on a small peninsula, were fairly well-preserved ruins of five fireplaces. These were the remnants of “The Booth Turtle Club”, built in 1933 by the JR Booth family. The club was built in the shape of a turtle and the 5 fireplaces were the legs and tail of a turtle. Rudolphus John Booth (1827-1925) was a multimillionaire, ‘Lumber Baron’, which bought the logging rights in this area. At that time there were so many trees, so much wood, that it was said it would last for hundreds of years; alas, in the beginning of the twentieth century all the trees were gone! JR Booth also built the railway line leading from the town of Parry Sound on Georgian Bay to Ottawa. The line passed through Algonquin Park as well as through the town of Wilno, the first Polish settlement in Canada, and at that time was mainly used for transporting timber. At one time it was the busiest railway line in Canada—every 20 minutes a train passed on its tracks. In 1933, because of a washed bridge, rail traffic was significantly reduced and eventually the line was abandoned in 1959. In Algonquin Park its right of way was converted into a pedestrian trail; a rail bridge still remains in Wilno; a train station and a water tower can be still seen in Barry’s Bay. In Algonquin Park there was once a very picturesque hotel, the Highland Inn, located just meters from the rail platform where thousands of tourists visiting the park disembarked from the train. Today one can see several meters of the tracks and original little platform in front of the small hill where the hotel used to stand.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

The most interesting point on the agenda was a visit to the observatory; our guide was, of course, Ben. After driving for a few minutes, we arrived and saw the huge dish, it looked really impressive! First, we went to the ‘control center’ from which the canopy of the telescope can be operated. The control panel, as well as most of the instruments came from the sixties and looked at least slightly outdated in 2011! From the building we went down to an underground tunnel leading to the base of the telescope. Everywhere there was a lot of the old measurement equipment from the fifties and sixties; at that time all the equipment was considered to be extremely advanced; today it was more fitting to belong to a museum. For me, it was for me a great place to take pictures! The Observatory also had a huge atomic clock, locked in a special room with controlled temperature and additional power supply in the form of batteries, in case of power supply interruption. Then we visited the rooms located around the base of the telescope and then climbed on the terrace around the telescope, from where a marvellous view of Algonquin Park unfolded! We learned many interesting things about this telescope and I hope that this undertaking will be successful.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

We took advantage of the available canoes and on Saturday we paddled on Lake Travers, reaching a number of campsites. Some of them had beautiful sandy beaches; considering that the temperature during the day reached +25 C (in October!), we almost thought we were in Cuba. After paddling for a while, we reached the end of the lake, where it narrowed and turned into a river (Petawawa River). The next day, on Sunday, we decided to paddle up that river as far as possible. Incidentally, the Petawawa River, after leaving Algonquin Park, runs through the town of Petawawa and the Petawawa military base. From this base a lot of Canadian soldiers depart on their missions to Afghanistan; sadly, some never return… Eventually we reached rocky rapids and it was not possible to proceed any farther without portaging the canoe.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

Nearby we saw the remains of ‘log chutes’, special shafts used to transport logs over water in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This year Thanksgiving Day in Canada fell on Monday, October 11, yet a traditional turkey dinner was to be held on Sunday since everyone was leaving on Monday morning. It was quite late and we were still about 10 km. from our ‘hotel’ and did not want to be late for this traditional meal.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks, Ontario, Canada, October 2011

On the way back Catherine and I paddled very hard, without taking any breaks; it was quite exhausting, but we did arrive on time and soon sat down with the others at the dinner table. According to my GPS, we paddled on the way back with an average speed of 6 km per hour, not bad! After the meal we all watched an Australian movie “The Dish”. It was about a radio observatory in Australia during the first US moon landing in the 1960s. The ‘dish’ portrayed in the movie was very similar to the one in Algonquin Park. It was a good movie, partially based on true events.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

After breakfast on Monday morning we said goodbye to our hosts and the other participants and set out on the third leg of our journey, to Lake Opeongo, located also in Algonquin Park, but in its southern part, near highway 60 (in a straight line it was just 40 kilometres from us, but the park does not have many roads and thus we had to take a very circular route). We stopped briefly at Barron’s Canyon where Catherine walked to the spectacular cliffs as well as visited the Archway Campground. The park’s interior campsites are open for the whole year, but on this very day all drive-in campgrounds, except for Mew Lake, were closing, so there was plenty of activity at Archway, with families packing and leaving the park. Once the Canadian National Railway, built in 1915 and dismantled in 1995, crisscrossed Algonquin Park and ran through the Archway Campground; now its rail bed is used as a hiking and cycling path. We also visited a small, old wooden house which once housed park wardens who worked in the park. One of the wardens who occupied this building was Tom Thomson, the famous Canadian painter, whose paintings nowadays sell at auctions for record-breaking prices. Tom Thomson is always associated with the famous Canadian group of painters, “Group of Seven”, as well as with Algonquin Park, where he worked, canoed, painted his famed paintings and where he mysteriously drowned in Canoe Lake. Although my GPS supposedly calculated the fastest route, some of the roads it selected were quite rough; one of them initially seemed to be quite nice and picturesque, but after driving for several kilometres, it became too rugged for my car and we had to turn back, deciding to stick to main roads instead. Eventually we reached highway 60, drove through Wilno and Barry’s Bay and after a few hours we arrived at Lake Opeongo…

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

Our intention was to rent a canoe and paddle to Bates Island on Lake Opeongo and spend one night at a very specific site. Well, exactly to the day, 20 years ago (11 October 1991), a couple camped on Bates Island on that campsite and probably on that very first day they were attacked by a black bear. They both died and only after 5 days did anyone realize what had happened. When the park staff arrived at the island, the bear still was at their campsite, guarding their bodies... It was the last fatal black bear attack in the park since then.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks, Ontario, Canada, October 2011

As it turned out, canoe rental was more expensive than we expected; even though we were going to rent a canoe for less than 24 hours, we were required to pay for two full days. It was also widely advertised that a rental was only $14.95 if you were staying in the park campground, but it turned out that interior camping did not count as a park site so the price immediately started at the regular rate of $20.99 for an aluminum canoe. All told we calculated our 18 hour rental would have been close to $60.00—what a rip off! It was not really about money, we simply felt this deal was not fair, especially considering it was the last day of the seasons and the prices should reflect that. After talking with the manager, who insisted that we pay the full price and did not want to give us any discount, we decided to opt out of paddling to the interior site on Bates Island and instead camp at some drive-in campsite in the park.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

It is interesting, but over the past 15 or so years I have encountered many similar situations in Ontario. For example, 13 years ago, in late September/early October, we wanted to rent a cottage (and due to the bad weather, at least 90% of all the cottages were vacant). The owner graciously said that she would give us a 10% discount... off the full price of $800 per week... Another owner got visibly upset and unpleasant when we presented her a flier (which she must have created, approved and distributed), advertising a special fall rate of ‘$350 per cottage per week for 2 people’ (by the way, during our stay all the other cottages remained vacant). Or when 12 years ago we wanted to rent a fishing boat, again at the end of September, the price was firm $100 plus gas—and we also had to be back by 5 pm. Or when we tried to rent a cottage relatively close to Toronto, again in early October—even though we had all the linens, the owner quoted a ridiculously high price, which I would have probably been reluctant to pay in the peak season; when I asked him for a discount, he said, „I don’t make money by giving discounts”. Well, he certainly did not make ANY money then! I could certainly throw in many other similar examples. On the other hand, while travelling in the USA, I was so surprised at how it was possible to negotiate prices of motels or rentals. Apparently, the attitude towards business in the USA is... well, more business-like and customer-oriented! Considering that in Ontario most of the tourists are gone after the long Labour Day weekend in September, it would be only natural to see substantial discounts offered then.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

We went to the park office adjacent to the store to inquire about campsite availability, yet the park employee gave us completely wrong information: she said that several other campgrounds were still open and (supposedly!) called one of them, confirming it was open. When we arrived there, it was closed and after unnecessarily driving to and fro, we eventually discovered that all campgrounds but Mew Lake were closed for the season. So, we finally reached Mew Lake, which is open all year (some people live there in RVs throughout the winter and Catherine spent the previous winter weekend in one of the yurts). We got campsite no. 68; its location was below-average: it was very close the campground’s roads, we could also see (and hear) the traffic on highway 60, it was exposed and there were a few other campers around us. But we did not care that much, we were supposed to spend only one night there and it was to be the last camping night of the season. We pitched the tent under an interesting tree with plenty of branches, started a campfire and sat around it for a long time as it was quite warm at night, about +14C. In general we were extremely lucky with the weather: for 8 days, every day was sunny, there was not one drop of rain and daily temperatures were reaching +25C (after arriving in Toronto the next the day, it began to pour!). Before midnight we went to the tent and turned in. Practically, we had no food left and we did not even bother putting away our stuff into the car; we even forgot that there was a coffee cream in the cooler (which Catherine bought today for the morning coffee).
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Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

”Jack, there is a bear at our campsite!”

At 2:15 in the morning I woke up and heard Catherine getting out of the tent, as well I pick up some noises coming from outside—same noises as we heard nightly in Bon Echo.

Raccoons again, I thought, half-consciously turning on the other side and heard Catherine chasing them away and shouting, “shoo, shoo”. But in a few seconds she came back to the tent.

“Jack, there is a bear at our campsite”, she said calmly.

Immediately I woke, grabbed my glasses and reached for the flashlight.

“A bear? Are you sure”, I asked. “Maybe it’s just a big raccoon?”

Some raccoons are so adept in stealing food from tourists at campsites that they become obese and look like little bears, especially in the dark. In the 1990s a park warden in Bon Echo park told me that many times he had been contacted by frighten tourists who reported seeing a bear at their campsite; once he arrived to investigate, it turned out that this ‘bear’ was just an overfed, fat raccoon.

“No, it’s a bear”, she said.

I scrambled out of the tent, without even putting on the shoes. It was full moon; my car and the park bench were fairly well lit—they were about 8 meters from us. From the other side of the car, where I could see the white bottom of the cooler, came a crackling sound, but I did not see its source, everything was drowning in darkness, hidden in the shadow of the car.

I decided to see the perpetrator of this noise and quietly walked to the cooler. Indeed, I saw a black object near the cooler which looked like a bear, but it did not appear too big or scary. I quickly walked back to Catherine.

“Maybe it’s a small bear”?

“No, it’s not a small bear, it’s a big bear”, she firmly said.

Big one. Admittedly it was a clear sky, full moon and Catherine is not given to wild imagination or hysterics unless it involves crawling bugs in the bed.

We did not know what to do. The bear ostensibly relished the coffee cream, as it was the only thing in the cooler. I had a bear banger with me, but did not feel that I had to use it. However, the bear spray, which would be the most appropriate device to drive away the bear in case of further problems and which I ALWAYS kept in the tent, this time—and probably for the first time—was locked somewhere in the car, because we had not even thought about the possibility of having to use it here! So, while we stood helplessly around the tent, staring at the bear, he leisurely drank the coffee cream. We were patiently waiting until he would finish it.

Indeed, after a few minutes we heard a different kind of noise… and suddenly a huge, black hulk appeared from behind the car. Undoubtedly, a black bear! He went over to the park bench where more of our equipment was all over the table and standing up on his hind legs, he started to nose through our stuff. We could see him perfectly now. It was definitely a BIG bear. He certainly was aware of our presence—after all, when Catherine initially approached it, thinking it was a bunch of raccoons, she was no more than 2 meters from it and he must have seen and heard her—but he was totally not interested in us. His front paws rested on the table and he was checking the content of our plastic box, where we usually kept our kitchen equipment and other similar implements. Although we did not keep any food in the box, for some reasons a bag of dried prunes was there, which of course he found. Nevertheless I have to admit that the bear was a gentleman—after all, he could have dumped the whole box on the ground and gone over everything then, picking what he needed, but he did not do so, instead sniffing all over the box on the table. It lasted for maybe two minutes.

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

“Perhaps we should climb the tree?”, Catherine suggested, “and observe the bear from there?”

She had never been close to a bear before except at a dumpsite and relished the idea of spying on him from 10 feet away

The tree under which we set up our tent had ideal branches for climbing and we could have done it very easily. I’m glad we did not, though; I have read that the bear, seeing something moving up the tree, might become curious and climb the tree himself to further investigate. I began to regret that I did not have my camera handy, yet I do not think it would be possible to take photos without flash. Once the bear found the bag of prunes, it grabbed it with his teeth and walked to the same place as before, i.e., the other side of my car. Soon we heard the rustling noise of the aluminium bag and loud munching.

Interestingly, I was not afraid, even though the whole spectacle was a bit surreal. Generally, black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare and if they do take place, then the culprit usually is so-called ‘predatory bear’, mostly a solitary male, who had been watching and following his intended victim for some time and then silently approaches and attacks the hapless individual when he least expects it. This bear, on the other hand, was a typical ‘campsite bear’, accustomed to people, cars, campfires, tents, coolers—he simply was searching for food, left by irresponsible tourists who did not hide it in the car or who did not hang it on the tree… The campers themselves, in the culinary sense, were not of any interest to the bear.

“What happens when he finishes eating the prunes”, I loudly asked myself. “Are there any other food items in the box?”

We were not sure; sometimes a bag of powdered soup could have gotten mixed up with the other stuff and we did not remember about it, as we totally forgot about the bag of prunes.

“You know, we should go to the car”, I said.

Quickly I ran to the tent, grabbed the car keys and slowly we headed towards the car’s front passenger door (just near the driver’s door, on the other side of the car, the bear was having his snack) and quietly got inside the car.

From the side window I had a perfect view of the big bear. He was sitting maybe a meter from the car, almost touching it. He was utterly disinterested in our presence (he must have heard the slamming of the car’s door) and kept devouring the prunes. We decided to stay in the car and simply wait for his next move.

After a few minutes he finished the bag of prunes and headed back toward the bench, climbed onto the table and sniffed the box. This time we saw him very clearly in the moonlight. He was pitch-black and once again we could admire his grandeur. Apparently he did not find anything else that was edible; as though not knowing what to do next, he looked left, right, at the car… and slowly headed in the direction of our tent, whose door was unzipped and wide open. Of course, we did not keep any food inside the tent—but after all, the bear could not know that! Who knows, maybe he would want to make a tent ‘inspection’, after which, besides holes in the mattresses, the tent would gain several extra doors, windows and even a permanent sunroof?

“Hey, buddy, the last thing we need it to have our new tent destroyed”, I said, started the car and slowly drove back.

The bear immediately vanished in the darkness; we did not even see which direction it ran. I switched off the car’s engine, opened the windows and we were listening for any clatter, but there was complete silence. In a tent at the adjacent campsite a few people were sleeping, not realizing what had just taken place just a few meters from them.

We stayed in the car for a few additional minutes and then went to the tent. The bear made a small hole in my cooler with his teeth—well, a great memento of this event—and a warning for the future! In spite of this highly unusual and remarkable experience, we quickly fell asleep and nothing bothered us anymore this night.
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Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

The next day morning Catherine went (alone!) for a walk along a hiking trail, located in the old railway bed (‘right of way’) of the JR. Booth Rail, relatively close to our campsite. Along the way she saw several bear poop. She met a couple who had camped at the Mew Lake Campground for decades and told them about the bear encounter. They were extremely surprised, as they had never seen a bear at this campsite! We were really lucky!

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks & Radio Observatory--Ontario, October 2011

From my modest experience I can say that in the vast majority of cases, bears avoid contact with humans. Very often I see their fresh poop, but I hardly ever see bears—yet I am sure that they do see and observe us! For example, two years ago we were camping in the Massasauga Park and when we were away from our campsite for several hours, it turned out that a small black bear was wandering all over our site (a warden, who was in his boat nearby, saw it). Since all of our food was hung on a tree, the bear did not do any damage, did not take anything and had we not had the conversation with the warden, we would have never suspected that we had this furry visitor! While camping on Philip Edward Island, one night I heard crackling noises, as if somebody were breaking tree branches. I was sure it was a bear; when in the morning we left the campsite, we saw a bear standing on the shore. Bears do not seek any contact with people and when they sense their presence, they hide and at the most, watch them from afar, themselves remaining invisible and might visit their campsites in search of food at night or when campers are gone. At garbage dumps in Ontario one can sometimes see over 20 bears, rummaging everywhere and they totally ignore people coming there, engrossed in their food-finding mission. However, there have been cases when hikers startled bears or, even worse, mother bear with cubs (that is why it is suggested that lone hikers should loudly talk, sing or wear special bear bells) During such unexpected encounters bears might start puffing, snorting or stand on their hind legs and even make bluff attacks. In fact, such behaviour means that the bear does not want to harm us, but just wants us to go away—if they really wanted to attack us, they would have done it immediately.

Considering our aborted plans to canoe to and camp on Bates Island, the 20th anniversary of the tragic bear attack on the island and the fact that it was our last camping of the year, it was a very exciting conclusion of our camping and canoeing season! We were also taught a very good lesson to keep our food either in the car or hang it on the tree and keep all our foodstuff in one place.

Blog in Polish/Blog po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/10/w-parkach-bon-echo-i-algonquin-ontario.html

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157629402966057/

Friday, September 30, 2011

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 15-21, 2011

Blog in Polish/Blog po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/09/restoule-provincial-park-on.html
More photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157628606261077



Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

In the past I had visited Restoule Provincial Park twice—in September 1999 and 2000, also with Christopher, with whom I went there this year. Our both trips were not very successful—in 1999, on the second day after our arrival, the temperature plummeted in the morning to below 0C and soon it started raining—after two miserable nights we rented a cottage on Lake Commanda where we spent the next ten days. It turned out to be a great decision since it would rain very often and once a power storm, with lighting and thunder, kept us awake for hours—but at least we were not roughing it in a tent! In 2000 our trip was nicer, but because we did not have a boat or canoe, we had to rely on renting them which was not an easy task: plenty of resorts had already been closed, those that rented boats were quite expensive and we had to travel far from the park, even to Lake Nipissing, to rent fishing boats—and frequently we were not satisfied with them. This year, however, we brought with us a canoe, so at least we knew we would be able to spend a lot of time on the water and do some fishing.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

When we left Toronto on September 15, 2011, it was so windy that I was somehow reluctant to drive on the highway (400) with the canoe attached to the roof. In fact, strong gusts of wind were whipping the canoe and twice we had to stop on the highway's shoulder to adjust the canoe—on one occasion 1/3 of the canoe shifted from the roof. Just before reaching Barrie, we got off the 400 and driving on side roads, arrived at the MEC Store (Mountain Equipment Co-Op), one of the best outdoor stores in Ontario. We talked to the store staff and one salesperson even took a look at the canoe and suggested we buy additional, higher canoe blocks. Maybe they helped a little, but we did not feel too confident to continue driving on the highway for the next 200 km. So, we decided to go to Six Mile Provincial Park instead (which we had visited many times for the past 20 years). I took a number of country roads and tried to drive just at the speed limit, yet at one point, when we were on the top of a hill, the wind again caused the canoe to shift a little, forcing us to stop and adjust it. In the town of Port Severn we bought a bag of firewood and after 10 minutes arrived at the park. As we expected, there were very few campers in the park and we could pick any site we wanted (not that we cared that much—after all, we were going to stay there for just one night). We picked site number 68, set up the tent, started the campfire and for the next few hours sat around the fire, drinking beer, grilling sausage and enjoying its warmth as it was quite chilly. Nobody drove nor walked by our campsite nor did we hear any other people. I also realized that I had not brought a mattress and had to quickly make an improvised 'pad', using various pieces of clothing and my life jacket.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

On September 16, 2011, we were up before 7:00 am, quickly packed up the tent and in less than one hour were back on highway 400, heading north. We passed plenty of lakes and admired the morning mist rising off the water. Once we reached the town of Parry Town, we had breakfast at Tim Horton's, then I went to a Canadian Tire store, bought a mattress (which proved to be defective and kept loosing most of its air every night—I returned it after our trip). Before noon we arrived at Restoule Provincial Park.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

The park's campsites are quite good, yet the privacy level, so to say, is so-so, usually you can see several other campsites and there is not that much vegetation between the campsites. Of course, in September the park was nearly empty, so we were enjoying total privacy and did not see any other campers around. On the campgrounds without electricity (where we stayed) perhaps only 10 campsites were occupied and all of them were near the water, far away from us; the electrical campsites did have quite a few campers, mainly living in trailers. We spent an hour driving on the park's roads, checking out campsites; eventually we decided to choose campsite number 214. It was a good camping site and there were not even distant neighbours during our stay. We were surrounded by beautiful autumn colours, the whole place was covered by fallen leaves which created a 'leaf carpet'. We pitched our tents, spread the tarp over the park bench (just in case of rain) and started a fire. It was a chilly night, so we were sitting close to the fire, enjoying beer, red wine and grilling steaks.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

The next day, September 17, 2011 (72nd anniversary of the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland) was sunny, so after breakfast we drove to Restoule Lake, put the canoe on the water, unpacked our fishing rods and paddled all over the lake, stopping from time to time to cast. The lake was quite big and there were plenty of houses on its shores; from time to time a motor boat passed by. After five hours we turned back to the dock, without catching one lousy fish! I went for a 20 minute swim—the water was very cold, but I did not mind and after a few minutes I hardly noticed how cold it was; in fact, I felt very refreshed! While driving to the campsite, we were listening to the CBC news and found out that there was a plane crash in Reno, Nevada, resulting in numerous casualties. Again, we had a nice fire and had delicious grilled steaks.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

On September 18 and 20, 2011, we canoed on the other lake, located north of the park—Stormy Lake. It was much nicer than Lake Restoule, there were very few cottages and once we departed from the dock, we saw a huge rocky escarpment with a fire tower located on its top. In the old days fire towers were a common sight all over Ontario; a guard would sit there and observe the area—in case of fire, he notified local firefighters. Now planes or helicopters are performing such duties and fire towers have become tourist attractions. We also found out that Restoule Park had a number of interior campsites, accessible only by water. It was a pity we were not aware of them—we could have stayed on an interior campsite! When we were leaving the park dock, a motor boat, driven by a lone woman and laden with camping equipment just docked. Apparently, she just returned from an interior camping trip; she told me she had stayed on crown land, where everyone could camp for free, but she also mentioned the park's interior campsites. Indeed, about 15 minutes from the dock and nearby the rocky escarpment, we found an interior camping site; about 50 meters behind that site was Hazel Lake. Since an angler told us it was a good lake to catch a pike, we decided to try our luck there. There used to be a short channel connecting Hazel Lake to Stormy Lake years ago, but now a big beaver dam was erected between the two lakes. Chris bravely carried the canoe to Hazel Lake. It was a small, yet very picturesque lake! There were a lot of beaver lodges all over the lake and soon we spotted a few beavers swimming in the water. We paddled to the end of the lake and back, casting and trolling all the time, yet did not catch anything. Chris again portaged the canoe to Stormy Lake and we tried our fishing luck on that lake again—to no avail! Then we paddled to the north and reached Clear Lake. It was probably in that area that we could camp on crown land, as we did not see any cottages and it did not belong to the park either. We met one fellow who had a motorboat and from the number of fishing equipment we could infer he took his fishing hobby very seriously! He said he had been fishing in this area for 40 years and also complained about poor fishing (i.e., he did not catch anything either—he said fish had disappeared since August). He told us a story about coming across a wreck of a military plane that had crashed in the dense wood in the 1950s. We also spoke to other fishermen—most of them had motor boats, sophisticated fish finders and about 20 fishing rods—and they had not caught anything either. So, at least we were in a good company!

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

Once day, when the weather appeared to be uncertainly, we drove to the town of Powassan and had lunch in “The Hawk & Fox Restaurant”. It was a typical local restaurant, where everyone knew everyone and most customers were regulars. I noticed a photo of a young girl displayed inside—her name was Amber Lynn Booth, she used to work in the restaurant not long ago (as well as she had worked in Restoule Park). On June 5, 2011, she died in a car accident shortly after getting her driving licence, she was only 20 years old. Another tragedy that happens every day... After lunch we drove around town—in 2000 we had gone to a nice coffee shop called, if my memory serves me well, “Cobbler's Corner” and talked to its owner, but now the restaurant was gone. We also drove on many back roads between Powassan and Restoule Park. We passed a very impressive Catholic Church in Alsace, located almost in the middle on nowhere (more about this church: http://www.toeppner.ca/Alsace_Cemetery_Project/history.html). We also drove on “Rousseau-Nipissing Colonization Road”, built in 1866—one of many colonization roads that the Canadian government built to encourage pioneers to settle in the north. We stopped at the old store, “Commanda Store”, a beautiful Victorian building from 1855, strategically located near the colonization road. For many decades it was an important trading place for passing travellers. Its owner, James Arthurs, was a Member of Parliament and Senator for almost 30 years, representing in Ottawa the local constituency.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

The town of Restoule has changed since our last visit. There are more stores and it was even possible to buy beer and alcoholic beverages there (previously we had to drive to Powassan). We also went to the local landfill to see bears, but we did not see any, yet we saw bear poop everywhere. We visited an apiary and then went to a farmer on the other side of the road to get campfire wood. He talked about the town of Restoule, when it was so isolated, and the hardships faced by the early pioneers. He pointed to an old gentleman sitting nearby, who was about 80 years old, and said he still remembered the original pioneers. I asked him about farming in the area, as I had seen several farms here and there (Restoule is located on the Canadian Shield, where the soil is very poor and rocks are scattered all over). He said farmers had it very hard, some tried to cultivate wheat and cereals but they could not even break even. He mentioned that often you could see, in the middle of the forest, remains of abandoned farm buildings—in fact, I have also run into such remnants. In the nineteen century, many immigrants, encouraged by the government promise of free farmland (and by the colonization roads, which were supposed to take them there), kept coming and settling in the area, along the colonization roads. Of course, they realized that there were rocks everywhere, but they also saw huge, hundred years old trees that were growing on those rocks, so they figured out that if this thin layer of soil could support such dense forest, it would certainly be suitable for farming and agriculture. Unfortunately, they were wrong! At the beginning, where there was a thriving logging industry, it was possible for them to supplement income by trading with loggers and selling their modest agricultural products to them as well as obtain some logging work. Once the land was cleared of trees, erosion set in and very quickly the already poor soil was being washed away and became unsuitable for any crops. Soon, all the trees were cut down and loggers moved out of the area, causing the farmers to lose an important source of income and many customers. Transporting their products to towns on terrible, rugged and often impassable roads was totally uneconomical. Thus, most of the settlers simply abandoned their farms and moved on to better lands and only those stayed who were lucky to get a farm with a thicker layer of soil that could sustain some agriculture and cow & pig farming. Abandoned houses, some over 100 years old, have been almost completely absorbed by the forest, but often one can see a mound of stones in the middle of a forest—a sign that someone had tried to fight with the forest, tried to farm there and cleared the land of rocks, often with his bare hands—yet lost his battle, leaving such ghostly signs of his brief presence.

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 2011

On September 22, 2011 we packed up and again drove to Powassan to the “Hawk & Fox Restaurant” where we had breakfast and several hours later reached Toronto.

Blog in Polish/Blog po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/09/restoule-provincial-park-on.html
More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157628606261077

Emily Provincial Park and Kawathra Lakes, Ontario, September 2011

More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157628471174703/

Blog in Polish/po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/09/emily-provincial-park-on.html

Emily Provincial Park is located in the Kawathra Lakes, an area of hundreds of beautiful lakes in the south-central part of Ontario. The name is derived from an Indian word „Ka-wa-tae-gum-maug”, coined in 1895 by aboriginal Martha Whetung of the Curve lake First Nations. We used the park as our camping base and it made a perfect launching pad for our canoeing trips on nearby lakes.

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

On our way from Toronto to the park, we stopped in a small private zoo south of Peterborough, “The Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park” (www.junglecatworld.com ), where we could see lions, tigers, goats, monkeys, birds, otters, lamas and many other interesting animals—as well as play with some of them (what a wonderful treat for kids!). Our timing was perfect—it was the feeding time and the zoo staff was on hand, providing information on the animals and answering visitors’ questions. Nearby there was a large animal (pet) cemetery—judging upon the number of grave tombs, it must have been very popular. Many inscriptions were extremely poignant, extolling virtues of the buried animals and the irreparable loss caused by their passing. You rarely see such heartbreaking inscriptions at ‘human’ cemeteries—and the ones at the pet cemetery were entirely coming from their owners’ heart—not because of an obligation or tradition, as it often happens after people die... When I read long obituaries in newspapers, almost each and every recently deceased individual appears to have been such a wonderful, generous, kind and fantastic person that I am always sorry I did not meet him while he was alive!
Because I spotted a Canadian and German flags at the zoo’s main building, I inferred that the owner must be from Germany. “I’m curious if he is from East or West Germany”, I joked. Several minutes later I had an opportunity to meet him—the first thing I noticed was a small pin he was wearing—it was the flag of East Germany! Indeed, he did come from East Germany; after immigrating to Canada, he founded this zoo and has been running it since then. Later we met his wife and son and I promised to mail them a very good movie about East Germany, “Good Bye, Lenin” as I was sure he would enjoy watching it.

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

Emily Provincial Park is, in my opinion, an average park. However, since we arrived on September 05, 2011, on Monday (it was the Labour Day weekend, which traditionally is the last long weekend of the summer and the next day school starts), the park was almost vacant. Even though the site we were staying on (# 38) was quite exposed and adjacent to many other campsites, we had plenty of privacy as nobody else was camping around. That is why we try to visit more remote areas or parks in July and August, at the peak season—they are hardly ever full and no reservations are required; before and after those months we visit all the other parks, which are very popular and crowded in the summer, but in other months are quiet and mostly empty.

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

We were regularly visited by chipmunks, they loved peanuts and were very eager to get as many of them as possible. Soon, however, they had a rival--a rather brave Blue Jay (a popular bird with very characteristic blue feathers). It sat on a nearby tree while the chipmunk was stuffing his pouches with the peanuts and once they became full, it also grabbed a peanut or two in his mouth and was heading to his burrow. Then the Blue Jay commenced his attack, trying to snatch the peanut from the chipmunk! Besides, a squirrel with an impressive, bushy tail, would visit the campsite a few times, but it was much more timid than the usually very friendly and persistent chipmunk. At night we saw raccoons and one skunk; in fact, I am more afraid of skunks than of bears, yet I know that skunks never attack (by releasing their foul smelling liquid) unprovoked, so we were observing it for some time until it vanished in the darkness.

Emily Park, Ontario, September 2011

Emily Park, Ontario, September 2011

Emily Park, Ontario, September 2011

During our stay at the park we went canoeing on three lakes: Pigeon Lake, Lovesick Lake and Clear Lake, as well as we paddled to Wolf Island. The island is part of Wolf Lake Provincial Park and we saw several vacant campsites with recently-used fire pits. Later we found out that camping was not allowed at this park—what a pity! The island, with adjoining headland, makes a natural ‘dam’ between Lovesick Lake and Lower Buckhorn Lake. Because the famous Trent-Severn Waterway (that runs between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario) criss-crosses these lakes, there are a few dams and locks between those lakes—well, the whole waterway is dotted with locks!

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

The three lakes were quite sizable and we had to watch the waves. Plenty of cottages were built along their shores, yet there were not any rocks—the Canadian Shield starts just a few kilometres to the north of the lakes—in comparison to the ‘northern’ lakes, the difference was striking! Of course, I much prefer the northern lakes, dotted with rocks, rocky island, inlets, channels and shores!

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

In addition to canoeing, we also drove a lot in the area, visiting a few very picturesque towns—Lakefield, Bobcaygeon, Burleight Falls, young’s Point, Buckhorn, Omemee.

Whetung Ojibwa Crafts and Art Gallery, Curve Lake, Ontario

Yet the most memorable was the stop at the Curve Lake Indian Reserve. We visited an amazing store/gallery “Whetung Ojibwa Crafts and Art Gallery” (http://www.whetung.com ) and spent at least 2 hours there (and that was why we did not have the time to go canoeing that day).

Whetung Ojibwa Crafts and Art Gallery, Curve Lake, Ontario

It had incredibly original Indian craft—paintings, carvings, masks, photographs, china, necklaces, jewellery and many other very unique works of art. I bought over 10 postcards with native motives, but I wish I had bought a few paintings that I liked very much! Well, maybe next time!

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

One day we visited a very charming and remarkable town of Lakefield. In the 1830s two sisters, Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill along with their husbands arrived from England in the Lakefield area and in the middle of dense forest, on the shores of Katchewanooka Lake, began their pioneer settlement (of course, the town of Lakefield did not exist at that time—it was their brother, Samuel Strickland, who was founded Lakefield and who also had a farm in that area). Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill were exceptional women, who even before coming to Canada had written several books back in England (their sister, Agnes Strickland, who resided in England, was also a writer). They were very intelligent, perceptive, observant and were able to accurately describe their new pioneer life which was full of hardships and totally unlike the one they led in England. Their books—among others, “The Backwoods of Canada” and “Roughing it in the Bush”—to this day are Canadian classics and constitute an important source of information on pioneer life in Canada. There is a commemorative plaque at the site of Susanna Moodie’s farm (which was so beautifully described in her books), one can see a house in which Catherine Parr Traill lived later in her life as well as their brother Samuel’s imposing mansion still remains. In the 1970s Margaret Laurence, a very well-known Canadian author moved to Lakefield and it was in her house in Lakefield where he committed suicide in 1987. The house still stands and there is a plaque dedicated to her. Lakefield is also the home of the renowned private school, “Lakefield College School”, on the shores of Katchewanooka Lake—Prince Andrew, son of Queen Elizabeth II attended it in 1977. Many years ago Lakefield could be reached from Peterborough by train; nowadays the tracks are gone, but fortunately the train station survives, turned into a quaint second-hand bookshop.

Emily Park, Ontario, Canada

Before leaving for Toronto, we drove to a small town of Omemee, close to Emily Park, where we got a delicious pizza, walked to the river and had a picnic near the Pigeon River near the dam (in the native language “Omemee” means “Pigeon”; the name of one of Toronto’s district, Mimico, is also derived from the same word and means “plentiful in pigeons’). Overall, it was a very nice trip, as we were able to paddle on new lakes.


Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157628471174703/

Blog in Polish
: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/09/emily-provincial-park-on.html

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay) and in Killarney Park, Ontario, August 21-29, 2011

Blog in Polish/blog po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/08/wosley-bay-and-killarney.html

Więcej zdjęć:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157627955123754/


Over the past 4 years I have visited the French River several times. Since it is a relatively long river, consisting of numerous bays, legs and peninsulas and dotted with a myriad of rocky islands and rocks, it would take months to explore the whole river and EXPERIENCE its incomparable beauty. Thus, almost each time I canoe on the French, I travel on a different part of the river (please see my other blogs). This time, it was river's Wolseley Bay that I was going to paddle on!

August 21, 2011, Sunday

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

Our trips to the French River area have almost become a routine: a pleasant drive of 300 km. up north on highway 400, de rigueur stop in the Hungry Bear Restaurant for lunch—and then a quick jaunt to a small town of Noelville, where most of its inhabitants speak French, albeit they have sometimes problems understanding French-speaking people from Quebec. After doing some last-minute shopping in Noelville, we drove to Wolseley Bay Lodge located at the end of road no. 528, loaded the canoe, parked the car at Wolseley Bay Lodge for $6.00 per day fee and began paddling towards south-east.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

There were some cottages and lodges, notably Totem Lodge with its colourful totem pole mascot guarding the point along the shores of the bay; the weather was just perfect, a nice sunny day and we leisurely reached North Channel—a popular canoe route for those paddling around Eighteen Mile Island. Most of the land around us belonged to the park, yet there were some swaths of privately-owned land, usually with cottages.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

Three campsites were located in that area—one on the shores of very big Eighteen Mile Island (no. 323), one on a small island nearby (no. 322), which actually looked quite nice—and another on the northern tip of an island (no. 321)--which we immediately liked and decided to stay on! The island had a boomerang-like shape, was rocky and heavily forested. The campsite was located on a more-less flat rock, there was another massive rock that at one point formed a level, stage-like field (perfect for impromptu performances!) and the fire pit was close to the rock's vertical wall.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

In addition, there was a washroom (the thunder box, as it is called) and park bench. We did not see any other campsites from our site; there were plenty of wood some 200-300 meters in the forest. When we set up the tent, two canoeists paddled by and apparently were planning to stay on this site—well, too late!--but fortunately, there were plenty of other campsites available. While the sun was still up, I cleaned a pike I had caught while paddling on Wolseley Bay and later grilled in over the campfire.

August 22, 2011, Monday

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

We were up at 11 am. Usually I keep my radio in the tent and try to listen to the news before leaving the tent. When I turned on the radio, I was shocked to learn that Jack Layton, the head of the New Democratic Party, who just in the May, 2011 federal elections in Canada had lead the party to an unprecedented victory and become the Leader of the Opposition, died this morning at 5:00 o'clock. Not long ago he successfully beat prostate cancer; later, he underwent a hip surgery and while campaigning, he was still using his cane—which, by the way, later became one of the symbols of his election triumph, as he was waving it on the election night. Less than one month ago Jack Layton had appeared on TV, quite haggard, and speaking with visible difficulty, he announced he had just been diagnosed with a different kind of cancer and thus was temporary stepping down as the party's leader. He was only 61 years old. Although I had never been a supporter of this left-wing party (NDP) and its socialist ideology, I was, as most of Canadians, quite affected by his rapid and untimely demise. Another news item was about Libya, where the fighters overtook the capital of Tripoli and were looking for Qaddafi.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

It was windy, cloudy and only +21 C. We went into the forest to get some wood. It was a very nice area, rocky, with plenty of felled trees, apparently by storms. In the evening we paddled to the Little Pine Rapids, located between Eighteen Mile Island and Commanda Island; the picturesque rapids formed a mouth of another of the French River's channels, the Main Channel, circling Eighteen Mile Island from the south and eventually merging with the North Channel.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

Vis-à-vis the rapids was the Lochaven Wilderness Lodge. Live guitar music wafted out from the deck where diners enjoyed their American Plan "all you can eat "fish fry. We pulled up to their dock where . Catherine made a phone call on a good old Bell land-line (the cell coverage was extremely spotty and unreliable) and we talked to a nice young fellow, whose family had apparently owned the lodge for many years.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

We departed towards our campsite when it was already dark, but had no problems finding the way; besides, we had left a flashing light attached to a tree which helped us locate our campsite. Soon it started raining; using a tarp, tree sticks and rocks, Catherine built a VERY decent shelter—which we did not have to use that night as it stopped raining. Despite my efforts, I did not catch any fish, so we enjoyed grilled chicken.

August 23, 2011, Tuesday

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

Sunny, but windy—our plans to paddle to the Chaudiere Dam (and the other end of the Chaudiere Portage—yes, the same portage which we had paddled to during our French River “Dokis” trip in July, 2011—see blog http://ontario-nature.blogspot.com/2011/07/french-river-dokis.html ) were dashed.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

In the evening we paddled east, with the wind, reaching campsite no. 316 on an island, but it was too windy to paddled further and we paddled back to the campsite, this time against the wind: it turned out to be a rather difficult task, at some points we hardly moved—it was so disappointing. Once we reached the campsite, we had a nice fire—and Catherine's shelter came really handy: not only did it protect us from the storm and rain, but it also covered the fire pit, thus allowing us to enjoy the campfire!

August 24, 2011, Wednesday

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

The weather forecast was really bad and indeed, it was windy, chilly, wavy and raining; on top of that, we had a storm with thunder and lighting. In spite of this weather, a number of people paddled in their canoes by our campsite and eventually camped in the area of campsites nos. 313 and 314. Then Environment Canada weather forecast issued a number of weather warnings, even calling for tornadoes and white squalls. Needless to say, we stayed put, under the tarp. Catherine did develop a touch of campground fever in late afternoon and talked me into a paddle, but as soon as we got ready to push off, a dark cloud and rain appeared and we easily changed our minds

August 25, 2011, Thursday

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

It was our last day on the French River, so we packed and paddled to the Wolseley Lodge where the car was. It was disappointing as we had not done 3/4 of what we'd planned but hey... there is always next year! We had lunch on the terrace of the lodge. The view was awesome! And the food was good too. According to photos at the restaurant, a lot of people had caught huge muskies and pikes (and I mean HUGE!), but from my own experiences and a number of conversations with experienced fishermen over the past years, I am sure that it is becoming more and more difficult to catch fish—after all, I was trolling for hours and then casting and most of the time did not even catch ONE decent fish for dinner—and many others, who had from 10 to 20 fishing rods, expensive fish finders, motor boats and plenty of experience, either did not catch anything or just one or two fish. Well, I am not after that big pike or Muskie—I just want to catch one or two fish that I can later grill over the campfire!

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

After lunch we stopped in Noelville, went to the LCBO store and the supermarket to replenish our food supplies, as well as visited a small dollar store next to the Beer Store where I bought a pair of nice clogs. We asked the saleslady where we could get water—she incredulously advised us to drive to her house and get water from her garden hose as her well was very deep and had much better water than in other places. Believe it or not, we had some problems finding her house and asked local people—they were very friendly and in no time literally led us to her residence—as well as told us a few things about the town.

Canoeing on  in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Having left Noelville, we drove to Killarney Park (St. George Office), picked up our permits (but wished they were available to print off online), bought a map and drove on Bell Lake Road (9 km) and reached Bell Lake, where we unloaded and parked the car. Unfortunately, it was impossible to drive to the lake—there was a 100 m. 'portage' from the parking lot to Bell Lake (it was not indicated on the map), so we drove to the private area of Blue Mountain Lodge and departed from there, thus avoiding that annoying portage. We had some explaining to do to the 20 year old park guy' who immediately showed up in a motor boat to tell us it was verboten to use the launch site and checking to see if we were on his permit list. There was a number of campsites on the lake, all on the 'first come first serve basis'.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

It was getting a little late and we did not have much time to look for a campsite, yet as we kept paddling north on the lake, we saw campsites on its west and east shores—all were occupied!

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Finally we reached a small bay—one campsite on its outer shores (no. 86) was quite nice, but it was occupied; another one inside the bay (no. 87) was vacant, yet it was somehow dark because it faced the east and then we proceeded to another campsite no. 88—it was located on a rocky hill, near a very small bay with a narrow, sandy beach.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

We knew that it would require dragging our stuff up the steep rocky wall... but otherwise it was excellent and we decided to camp there. The adjacent campsite (no. 89) was on an island; it was also quite nice, but was occupied by a family with children. I brought the tent up the hill and was setting it up as Catherine carried all the rest of the equipment up the hill (she is in great shape!) and later pulled the canoe on the sandy beach in the small bay and flipped it. Soon we were sitting on the top of the rock, just meters from the tent, facing the west and admiring beautiful sunset! Once it became dark, we saw several campfires along the shores of Bell Lake; in fact, during the day we saw the put-in point (where the car was parked), located over 2 km from our campsite. The campsite had a thunder box (i.e., washroom) and there was plenty of wood in the forest, so we enjoyed a wonderful campfire!

August 26, 2011, Friday

Canoeing on  in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

We were up at 10:00 am. The weather was nice, but a little windy. We swam, read a little, relaxed and about 4:00 pm went paddling, but due to the wind we only paddled to campsite number 86—the previous campers had left and it was now vacant. It was a very nice campsite, with a great view and plenty of wood everywhere. The family on the island (no. 89) left too, but another family with one kid arrived and now was camping there. We paddled around 'our' bay, picked up some wood along the shores (in fact, the park encourages campers to pick up wood while canoeing and not around the campsite—in addition, we brought one bag of wood, just in case). We paddled inside a very small bay near campsite no. 87 (which was occupied—it was the campsite that we had considered taking yesterday, but found it to be too dark), Catherine got out of the canoe and brought plenty of wood.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

We were back at our campsite before 6:00 pm, unloaded the wood and later sat on the rock, enjoying a glass of red wine and watching the sunset. The 08:00 o'clock news was about the life of Jack Layton and the events in Libya. Once it got dark, we started the fire and with my headlight on, for the next few hours I was absorbed in reading “The Economist”--an absolutely first-class magazine!

August 27, 2011, Saturday

Canoeing on  in Killarney Park (Bell Lake & Balsam Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

The weather was nice, so we were up in the morning and paddled to Balsam Lake—where we had paddled for the first time in August, 2008. There was a beaver dam between Bell and Balsam Lakes, so a portage was required. For many years there had been the 'famous' Bell Lake Tramway—run by Blue Mountain Lodge—consisting of a cart with wheels moving along built-in tracks.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

It was possible to place even a motorboat on the cart—we successfully used the cart in 2008. Unfortunately, for some time the cart has been gone as the lodge no longer wanted to maintain it. Yet Catherine happily carried the canoe and I carried the rest of our equipment and after several minutes we were paddling on Balsam Lake.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Most campsites on Balsam Lake were occupied—no wonder, it was a very nice lake, had plenty of beaver lodges, swamps, lily pads, lily flowers and fascinating stumps sticking out of the water. It was a very pleasant paddle, but after reaching campsites #117 and #118, we had to turn back.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

While paddling near campsite no. 116, we saw a small black bear on the shore, but it was quite timid and did not want to pose for photos. At the Bell Lake portage we encountered a group of girls, part of the Tim Horton Children's Foundation which organizes camps for kids. They helped us out, without even us asking them, carrying the canoe and some of our equipment—thanks! Catherine was surprised they could travel so lightly; turns out they used dehydrated food. We showed them which few campsites on balsam lake were available. Arriving at our campsite just before the sunset, we could again observe this interesting phenomenon which so many people take for granted and never even think of.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

We also spoke to the family camping on the adjacent island (no. 89), they also had gone hiking to the Crack and saw a bear. Then I started the fire, read another engrossing issue of “The Economist” and listened to the news—in the morning some of the radio and TV stations broadcast live Jack Layton's funeral and we could listen to some of its highlights. We went to bed at 1:00 am.

August 28, 2011, Sunday

Canoeing in the Killarney Channel, Ontario, August, 2011

We were up at 11:00 am and paddled to the put-in point, i.e., the Bell Lake parking. Near campsite no. 86 we saw a family (2 canoes and 1 kayak) asking us if campsite no. 88 (i.e., ours) was empty. We told them this one and the other one on the islands were not available, but pointed to campsite no. 86, just 100 m. from where they were (which they had just passed by), that was very nice and empty—they apparently had no map and had not noticed that campsite's tiny sign. We kept on paddling; it was becoming quite windy and as we approached the put in area, the waves made it quite difficult to paddle—and we were paddling WITH the wind, reaching speeds of up to 9 km/h. In fact, some people, who were about to start their trip, were standing on the shore, unsure whether or not they should go on water. We (that is, Catherine, who by now had mastered the art of portaging and did not want to pass any opportunity to practice it) carried the canoe to the parking lot and put it on the car.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

We then drove to the town of Killarney where we went to the Herbert Fish and Chips Restaurant, bought excellent French Fries, then got beer at the LCBO store and drove to a small park in Killarney (Nancy Pitfield Memorial Park) where we unloaded the car, dragged the canoe and our stuff to the shore, chatted with a kayaking club from Sudbury who warned us it was rough seas ahead, parked the car and started paddling in the Killarney Channel.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

This channel formed between the town of Killarney and George Island, which for centuries has offered a safe passage and excellent docking place (for more information of this area, please see my blog: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.com/2010/08/canoeing-around-philip-edward-island.html ). It was windy, but the channel was quite calm and sheltered us from the wind. We paddled towards south-east and soon left the channel, paddling on more-less open waters of Georgian Bay, towards the lighthouse. The waves suddenly became quite high and we had to paddle very carefully to keep the canoe in the right position. A big yacht entered the channel and its wake almost overturned our canoe. Far away we saw a number of somehow familiar looking islands—of course, they were the Fox Islands which we had visited just a month ago; especially the round and hilly Centre Fox Island was clearly visible.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Some canoeists do paddle to the Fox Islands from Killarney, but it requires a lot of paddling on open waters. We reached the unmanned lighthouse, located on amazing pinkish rock formation (we had visited the lighthouse and explored the rock with the MeetUp group “TOADS”, later known as “GET OUT”, in August, 2008) and then paddled back into the channel.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Plenty of motorboats, yachts and sailboats were moored along its shores. We saw a “Lady of Lourdes” cave on St. George Island, with the Lady's figure. We paddled to the other end of the channel and once we left it, we immediately experienced very high and rough waves, propelled by the strong wind.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Again, we had to be very careful to keep the canoe from capsizing, keeping it perpendicular to the waves. We saw the white La Cloche Mountains in front of us. Soon, we turned back as it was becoming a little too risky (even though we were less than 50 meters from the much calmer mouth of the channel). Catherine visited the Sportsman Inn, I observed impressive yachts moored in front of the Inn (I was wondering, how much do they cost? how much gas do they use? how far do they go? and I was sooooo glad I did not own such a boat!).

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

We got back to the Nancy Pitfield Memorial Park where the car was parked and put the canoe on the roof of the car. I read a very interesting inscription on a plaque attached to a boulder in the park:

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Nancy Solomon Pitfield, October 21, 1885—August 11, 1965. For nearly half a century, "Aunt" Nancy Pitfield was Killarney's angel of mercy. Born in this community, she studied nursing in Winnipeg and Montreal, where she graduated from Hotel Dieu Hospital. She returned to this then isolated village and married George Pitfield in 1919. She dealt with grave illnesses and accidents without the aid of a doctor, sometimes reaching outlying patients by dogsled or snowshoes. She expertly set dislocated hips and knees, delivered 512 babies, and once performed an emergency appendectomy, always with an encouraging word and a smile. Remembered always for her dedication and love for people.

Indeed, I can only imagine how difficult life must have been in the past, when there was no road and the town was accessible only by air or water. I found more information on that special individual on this site: http://www.killarneyhistory.com . I find it really fascinating, as it also shows Killarney's history:

Aunt Nancy", as she was known to all of the younger folks, was born here on October 21st, 1887, one of ten children of William and Catherine Solomon. After training as a nurse, Aunt Nancy returned to Killarney shortly after the death of her father in 1913. With no road access to the village, she became our lifeline, serving as nurse, dentist, doctor, surgeon, midwife, and undertaker. She travelled on foot, by boat, horse and sleigh, dog team, and on snowshoes to provide medical care to anyone needing help.
In March 1915, she attended at the birth of three infants in one day --delivering Basil Roque in the morning and the Jackman twins, Catherine and Mary, that afternoon.
One winter a logger from the nearby mills at Collins Inlet had his hand blown off by an accidental dynamite blast. He was brought to Aunt Nancy, who trimmed away the shredded flesh, cleaned the wound, and sewed up the stump of his arm.

CCanoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

In an interview with Bruce West, of the Hamilton Spectator, Aunt Nancy remembered the time she was called to attend a Native woman in labour at Beaverstone Bay. She and Father Paquin, the Jesuit missionary serving Killarney, travelled there by dog team. They broke through the ice near the woman's cabin, and were pulled from the water by a man who had been watching for their arrival.
After entering the cabin, she made Father Paquin strip off his clothes and get into bed. She explained to the family, who didn't speak English, that Father Paquin needed dry clothes. A girl named Big Agnes finally gave him a set of her bloomers. "We put these on poor Father Paquin," said Aunt Nancy, "they were as big as a tent, but Father Paquin didn't get pneumonia and the baby arrived just fine".
After years of dealing with a wide range of human experiences, she was well prepared to deal effectively with situations even she could not have anticipated.
In the late 1930s, Aunt Nancy had prepared for burial the body of an elderly man living on George Island, across the Killarney channel. A wake was always held in the home of a family member (as it often is today), for three days and nights of ritual prayer. Several people remained with the deceased throughout each night.
This time, on the last night of the wake, the family went to bed and Aunt Nancy went home, leaving a small group of teenagers to stay the night. The young folks, craving that era's version of junk food, decided to make pull taffy.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Warm taffy is elastic and very sticky -- pulling it apart as it cools makes it firmer; easier to eat. One teenager was too close to the casket during the process, and a large glob of taffy dropped down onto the old man, becoming entangled in the great thick beard he had worn most of his life. The teenagers tried to pull it off, scrape it off, and wash it off, but it wouldn't budge. Finally, in panic and desperation, they shaved it off. But they didn't remove just the taffy-filled section of the beard. They shaved the deceased clean.
Hoping no one would notice anything wrong, the teenagers said nothing when Aunt Nancy returned early in the morning. Following tradition, she immediately knelt at the casket to pray, and of course saw that the beard was gone.
Fortunately, the family was still in bed. After listening to the group's explanation, Aunt Nancy sent them home, with strict instructions to say nothing about the incident.
It is not known exactly what Aunt Nancy told the family—one of the teenagers thought she closed the casket, and told the family that the body had deteriorated too much to leave it open. In any case, the feelings of the family were spared and the old gentleman was buried with dignity.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

For decades, Aunt Nancy faced dangerous waters, storms, and perilous ice conditions to give us the gift of good health. Until 1951, when electricity came to the village, she travelled to night calls with only the soft glow of coal-oil lamps to light her way and illuminate her work.
In 1965, three years after Killarney became accessible by road, Aunt Nancy died at the age of 80. She had served her people for over fifty years, sharing with us her expertise, her good humour, and her compassion. We have nothing to give her in return but our gratitude and the promise that she will never be forgotten.

We also went to Pitfield's and bought sausages, got a block of ice and excellent smoked fish from Herbert's Fisheries and drove to Killarney Park where we had a quick shower. We left the park at 6:20 pm and drove back to the Bell Lake parking lot. As we were driving on Bell Lake road, we saw a black bear just standing in the middle of the road and looking at us; I wanted to take a better photo of the bear and slowly drove towards it, but then it started running and for a while it looked liked I was chasing the bear with the car, but soon it ran off the road and disappeared in the forest.

Canoeing in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

At 07:05 pm we were on the water, paddling very hard (up to 8 km/h) and reached the campsite at 07:28 pm, unloaded the canoe, got the cold beer, went up on the rock and drinking beer, observed the sunset. The other campsites (nos. 86 and 87) were also occupied. We talked to two fishermen who were fishing close by; they said they always stayed on our campsite when it was available. They also caught some bass and said fishing was good in this lake. We had a nice fire and had the sausages.

August 29, 2011, Monday

Canoeing on  in Killarney Park (Bell Lake), Ontario, August, 2011

Last day of our trip... we dragged our stuff down the hill—we wished we could have just thrown it into the water—and paddled towards the parking lot. On our way back we paddled around the Blue Mountain Lodge which had some nice cottages. This time we did not use the Lodge's parking lot, so Catherine carried the canoe as no one offered to help and then we carried the rest of our stuff which required several trips—even such an easy and short portage was quite arduous as we had to carry many pieces of our belongings step-by-step.

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay), Ontario, August, 2011

We drove to the Hungry Bear Restaurant for dinner, then shopped in the adjacent Trading Post (some of the products were really original) and drove to Toronto. Just past Port Severn we stopped to get gas in Waubaushene and also went to an avant-garde store selling a variety of funny items and candies. Arrived in Toronto before midnight. It was another great, safe and pleasant trip, although the windy weather prevented us from paddling on some days

Blog in Polish/blog po polsku: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.com/2011/08/wosley-bay-and-killarney.html

Więcej zdjęć: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jack_1962/sets/72157627955123754/