Sunday, October 30, 2016






Camping with black bears and canoeing on the French River, Ontario, Campsite #609, July 27-August 3, 2015:


Canoeing and camping on Franklin Island, Ontario, June, 2015


Camping in Long Point Provincial Park and driving/bike riding in nearby areas, Ontario, May 18-23, 2015


One week at the Club Amigo, Guardalavaca, Cuba and a trip to Banes—January, 2015:


Trips to Santa Lucia, Cuba: two weeks at the hotel Club Amigo, trip to La Boca and three days in Camagüey, October/November, 2014:


The Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario: canoeing trip and an encounter with the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, September, 2014

Temagami, Ontario: Camping in Finlayson Point Provincial Park and Canoeing on Lady Evelyn Lake-August, 2014

Camping on a River, Next to a Bear Crossing-Bayfield Inlet, Ontario-July/August, 2014:

Camping on and Canoeing Around Franklin Island, Ontario, July 13-19, 2014:

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario—Canoeing & Camping on Carlyle & Terry Lake, June 26-July 03, 2014 

Cayo Largo, Cuba—One Week at the Hotel Pelicano, January, 2014

Camagüey, Cuba: At the Hotel Club Amigo Caracol in Santa Lucia, Villages of Tararaco & La Boca and a Trip to the City of Camagüey, November 22-December 06, 2013





The Massasauga Park, Ontario: Camping and Canoeing at Blackstone Harbour and Wreck Island. August, 2013

Canoeing and camping at Chutes, Matinenda, Missisagi and Oasster Lake Provincial Parks & Manitoulin Island, Ontario.  July 15-25, 2013 :

Canoeing and Camping in Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, on Carlyle Lake--June 25-July 02, 2013

Algonquin Provincial Park—Bartlett Lake, May 2013.  Defeated By Black Flies! 

Canoeing on Georgian Bay, South of Philip Edward Island, Ontario--August, 2012:

Canoeing on the Key River and Georgian Bay, Ontario, August, 2012:

Canoeing on Anima Nipissing Lake and Lake Temagami, Camping in Finlayson Point Provincial Park, Ontario—July, 2012:

Canoeing in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and Camping in Silent Lake Provincial Park, Ontario—June, 2012:

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

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

Emily Provincial Park and Kawathra Lakes, Ontario, September 2011:

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

Canoeing south of Philip Edward Island and the Foxes, July 31-August 6, 2011:

Canoeing in the Massasauga Park, Ontario, July 15-22, 2011:

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, July 03-08, 2011:

Camping in Six Mile Lake Provincial Park and Canoeing on Various Lakes in Muskoka, Ontario, June 18-24, 2011:


Canoeing around Philip Edward Island, Ontario, August 11-20, 2010:

Canoeing on the Pickerel River in Ontario, July 28-August 03, 2010:

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario--Carlyle Lake.  June, 25-July, 02, 2013:

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, around Okikendawt Island (Dokis Indian Reserve), July 14-22, 2010:

The Massasauga Provincial Park, June-July, 2010:

Canoeing in the Massasauga Park and Sharing it with Black Bears, July 07-14, 2009 and September 25-28, 2009:

Canoeing in Killarney Provincial Park, August 12-16, 2009:

French River Canoeing Trip, Ontario, Canada, August 19-22, 2008:


Sometime in March, 2016 I had reserved two campsites in the Massasauga Provincial Park on Blackstone Harbour—one on the south side of the channel leading to Woods Bay and the other one on the north of the channel. They were quite nice and not far from the park’s parking lot at Pete’s Place Access Point, so even novice canoeists should not find it difficult to get there (although in windy weather that may challenging). We had also invited several of our friends to stay with us over the Canada Day long weekend—eventually Ian & Sue spent a few days with us.
Jack, Catherine, Ian, Sue and Miro the dog
We were planning to depart from Toronto at 10:00 a.m., but finally left at 2:00 p.m. The weather was hot and sunny and after 2 hours we arrived at MacTier, where we quickly went to the supermarket as well as purchased cold beer. Just before 6:00 p.m. we reached Pete’s Place Access Point.

The park office was closed, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a self-serve registration & fee station—our names already appeared on the list. We paid the remaining camping fee by credit card and proceeded to the put-in area. Nobody else was around and we did not have to hurry. When our canoe was packed and we were ready to paddle to our campsite, a sizable water snake suddenly slithered from the rock above and jumped into the water, missing our canoe by a hair’s breadth and causing Catherine to utter a very piercing scream which certainly reverberated across the whole bay. Well, we almost ended up with an unexpected (and unwelcomed) guest!
Dying evergreen trees
We noticed that the water level was the highest in many years. Indeed, most of rocks that we used to walk on in the past now were under the water, as well as we saw plenty of rust-colored and seemingly dying evergreen pine trees along the shores of the bay. Upon a closer examination, we realized that lower part of their trunks (and, of course, their roots) were submerged, which probably was causing them to slowly die—after all, they were not tolerant of growing in water.
Our first campsite...

Our campsite, although adjacent to the channel, was relatively private and quiet due to a rocky ridge between it and the channel; besides, we quickly got accustomed to passing jet skis & motorboats (noisy!), yet it was something we had expected—after all, it was my seventh visit in this park. Every day we saw many packed canoes and kayaks; some were heading towards Georgian Bay, others back to Pete’s Place. Almost every evening we reveled in sitting on the rocky ridge, under a small, bowed tree, observing passing boats, admiring the setting sun and sipping wine and cold beer. Sometimes we could see campers on the other two campsites, usually boisterous and having plenty of fun!
... and the view from the campsite!

There were plenty of water snakes along the shores of the campsite and they were often attracted to our walking or swimming. Once I saw a big snapping turtle, floating near the shore, but once I came near the water edge, it swiftly vanished. One morning I found a tiny red-bellied snake in the tent’s vestibule—at first I thought it was a big, thick dew worm. There was also a beaver lodge nearby and once I spotted a snake sun-tanning there, but when it saw me, it fled with an astonishing speed and I was not even able to take a good look to identify it. Every day we saw a number of beavers swimming around the tip of peninsula our campsite was located on, from one beaver lodge to the other. They must have been quite active at night, as we often heard loud slapping the water with their broad tails. A small skink was living around the fire pit and from time to time we saw it sun tanning on the rocks. Occasionally a majestic blue heron landed nearby, waded for some time trying to catch fish and later flew off. In the evening and at night we were often serenaded by loons and frogs. In the morning we were awaken by a pileated woodpecker doggedly pecking at nearby trees. A few chipmunks ran here and there, but they did not seek any interaction with us—unlike those at some other parks, where it was next to impossible to get rid of the company of those sociable critters! We also had a resident seagull who hung around the fire pit looking for leftover tidbits—fruitlessly, I might add. And there was also an American Bullfrog, the largest frog in North America, patiently waiting in the shallow water for any prey. As I later found out, they have voracious, indiscriminate appetite and will eat virtually any animal they can swallow, including insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and even other bullfrogs.
Water snake

I spent considerable time observing spider wasps, which were relentlessly digging holes in sandy soil. Later they dragged a spider (which they had paralyzed with a venomous stinger) to the nest. The unlucky spider was to become a host for feeding their larvae—the wasp would lay an egg on the abdomen of the spider and would close the nest. When the wasp larva hatches, it begins to feed on the still-living spider. After devouring the spider’s edible parts, the larva makes a silk cocoon and pupates. Interestingly, some wasps spent a lot of time burrowing potential nests in sandy soil, but suddenly changed their mind and ended up dragging a paralyzed spider for many meters on the ground and finally climbed up a tree where, I presume, they created the proper nest.
Bull frog

During our whole stay the weather was almost perfect—very hot & dry, mostly sunny and even though the fire ban was in effect in the Parry Sound area, the park still allowed campfires. Unfortunately, our final day was stormy and we had to pack up and paddle in the pouring rain, but since it was still very warm, we did not complain much—after all, the area certainly needed rain. Perhaps because of the lack of rain, mosquitoes were not very bad at all—usually they appeared around 9 p.m. and disappeared one hour later.
Our favorite spot, where we enjoyed watching sunsets, observed passing boats and read books

The evening before Canada Day we canoed to Moon River Marina for a few supplies. Catherine was surprised to discover that the store and the LCBO outlet had just closed at 6 pm (somehow I anticipated that). She did manage to talk the sales person into a quick beer sale. On our way back we spotted a building with a lit neon sign ‘OPEN’; it was West View Resort—indeed, the small store carried cream which Catherine was desperately craving for her morning coffee. The resort owner, a very chatty gentleman, happened to sit in front of the store and we started talking to him. I noticed a book called “My Life on the Moon River” by Peter (Pete) Grisdale (who passed away in 2014, aged 94 years). I immediately pointed this out to Catherine, saying that the author used to have a house in the location where the parks office & parking lot were now located—“Pete’s Place Access Point” was named after him.

“This was my brother”, the owner said.

Wow! Indeed, his name was George Grisdale (and the resort was located on Grisdale’s Road!) and he briefly talked about his late brother. When I mentioned Calhoun Lodge (which we had visited several times in the past), Mr. Grisdale grabbed the park’s brochure, “Calhoun Lodge and the Baker Homestead”, opened it on page 5 and pointing to a photo depicting two men working near the fireplace, said,

“Although my name does not appear under the photo, the lad on the right—it’s me!”

Of course, I bought the (autographed!) book, which contains plenty of stories about the author’s war years spent in Europe as well as fascinating tales of local people and events that had taken place in this area.
Canoeing around our campsite

We enjoyed paddling on Blackstone Harbour, especially at night. One day we paddled to Pete’s Place and drove to Parry Sound (and caught sight of a medium-size black bear running across Healey Lake Road). An evening storm, accompanied with lighting, thunders and pouring rain, significantly delayed us from canoeing back to the campsite and for over one hour we sat in the car, waiting for the storm to pass. When it did, it became exceptionally calm and quiet, as though the storm had been just a bad dream. At 10:30 pm, in total darkness, we began heading to the campsite. There was no wind and nobody else was on the water; from time to time we saw distant lighting in the sky, but did not hear any thunders. It was a magical feeling! When we finally approached the shore, I was able to try out my new flashlight, which provided ample illumination at a fraction of its maximum output of 1,000 lumens.

Storm is coming!

While in Parry Sound, we went to No Frills and the Hart Store at the Parry Sound Mall and later drove to the Sequin River where we had traditionally our lunch under the railway trestle, which was constructed in 1907. The trestle is 517 m long and 32 m high, the longest rail trestle east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1914 Tom Thomson, one of the most famous Canadian painters, was travelling by canoe on the Sequin River. He stopped near the trestle and painted the bridge and the former Parry Sound Lumber Company. A sign, depicting the painting, marks the location.
Trestle at Parry Sound, 1914

Later we went for a stroll in Parry Sound and ‘discovered’ an awesome second-hand bookstore, “Bearly Used Books”. I was pleasantly surprised not only by the store’s size and number of books it carried, but also by the diversity of categories and titles! I especially enjoyed the section about local authors/history—I immediately spotted a poster advertising “My Life on the Moon River” by Peter (Pete) Grisdale! After browsing for over 30 minutes, I picked several really good and mostly out-of-print books which I would have never found in Chapters!
An old steel logging ring at our campsite

I had just finished reading “City of Thieves” by David Benioff—an awesome book, set during the siege of Leningrad and most likely loosely based on a real story, as told to the author by his grandfather—and I immediately started reading “The Gates of Hell” by Harrison E. Salisbury, which I found in the bookstore. This excellent novel was also about the Soviet Union—although a work of fiction, I quickly realized that the main character closely resembled the famous Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Thus, it was based on many factual events and realistically showed the intricacies of the brutal Soviet system, from the time of the October Revolution to the 1970s. Incidentally, Harrison E. Salisbury was also the author of “The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad” and David Benioff used it extensively while writing his novel.

We also visited the Charles W. Stockey Center for the Performing Arts, which stages plenty of excellent performances. Situated on the shores of Georgian Bay, it makes an excellent location to observe sunsets. We also spotted a new monument that had been unveiled just two weeks before—a life-sized bronze monument of Francis Pegahmagabow, a First World War hero and the most highly-decorated First Nations soldier of WW I.
Francis Pegahmagabow's Monument

Later we leisurely walked on the Rotary and Algonquin Fitness Trail and reached the Waubuno Beach. There was a sizable anchor and a historical plaque:


“This anchor, recovered in 1959, belonged to the steamer "Waubuno", a wooden sidewheeler of some 180 tonnes which was built at Port Robinson in 1865. She carried freight and passengers in the shipping trade which flourished on Lake Huron during the nineteenth century. Commanded by Captain J. Burkett, she sailed from Collingwood on November 22, 1879, bound for Parry Sound. The "Waubuno" encountered a violent gale later that day and sank in Georgian Bay some 32 km south of here. All on board perished, and although some wreckage was later discovered, the bodies of the 24 victims were never found. The specific cause of this disaster has never been determined.”

Incidentally, several years ago we had been camping on Wreck Island (also in the Massasauga Park) where the wreck of the “Waubuno” was located. We had paddled there and seen it in the shallow water, between Bradden Island and Wreck Island.
Our second campsite

As our campsite had already been reserved on Thursday, for the last two days we managed to book campsite #507, located on the north side of the channel, just a stone’s throw away from campsite #508. On Thursday afternoon we made three short trips to the new campsite, transporting our (too) numerous pieces of equipment. The new campsite was quite nice and scenic, we set up the tent on a tent pad near a big rock, farthest from the fire pit. Unlike our previous campsite, this one did not have any rocky ridge between the channel, so we could see (and especially hear) all the passing motorboats—yes, it was noisy! Besides, we were not able to admire sunsets.
Beaver Lodge

The first morning on the new site we heard clatter; as Catherine got out of the tent, she saw a black bear hanging around the bear box. Upon seeing her, it hastily ran away and vanished in the forest. Fifteen minutes later we heard some commotion and yells on the campsite located on the other side of the channel—“there is a bear, there is a bear!” Apparently, the bear decided to check out that campsite and must have swam across the channel.

The following night we again heard some suspicious noises around the tent, as if something were slowly plodding nearby, but whatever was there, disappeared before I had a chance to get out of the tent and shine my powerful flashlight all over the campsite.
Wasp with its victim, a paralyzed spider

On Friday, our last full day at the park, was hot and humid, but in the afternoon there was that distinct calm before the storm, even the air smelled peculiar. We decided to start the campfire at 7:00 pm, a couple of hours earlier than usually. It was a great idea—we just managed to grill our steaks as black clouds appeared, accompanied by lighting and thunder—in no time it was pouring rain! I grabbed the meat from the grill and we had it while sitting under the tarps. Eventually we made a run to the tent. It was raining for some time and we had soon fallen asleep, hoping to get up early morning next day

Unfortunately, it was still raining the whole morning and even afternoon, so at noon, taking advantage of intermittent rain-less periods, we packed up and carried everything to the canoe. As we were ready to depart, dark clouds slowly moved over our location and it was drenching rain! I covered the canoe with our big tarp—it was a great idea! At least it was warm and even being a little wet did not bother us that much. Thirty minutes later, exactly at 2:00 p.m. (the ‘official’ check out time) we started paddling to Pete’s Place, reaching it in less than 30 minutes. From afar we saw a throng of people standing on the docks and in the loading/unloading area—several dozen of girls from a nearby camp were departing for their wilderness camping experience for the next four nights! Besides, there were plenty of other tourists—some were waiting to start their trips, others were just packing up after several days on the water.
Rainbow over Kempenfelt Bay

On our way to Toronto we stopped in Barrie, in a park on the shores of Kempenfelt Bay (Lake Simcoe) where we had lunch—and observed a wonderful, double rainbow! Later we drove to Minet’s Point, where Catherine’s father parents had a cottage and where he had spent his childhood and teen years in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The cottage was still there (209 Southview Road)—as well as the park where he used to go to all the time!


The big sign at Pete’s Place Access Point said, “You are in bear country”, which was true: we had seen bears in this park before and heard plenty of stories of hapless and often petrified campers, losing not only their food and coolers, but also ending up with damaged tents. So, it was always part of our routine to religiously hang food up in the trees so that bears could not reach it. Not that we were looking forward to doing so—each time before leaving the campsite we had to secure the food and hoist it; each time we wanted to get anything to eat, we had to lower the food container and coolers—and hoist them back up. It was often a strenuous activity, especially for Catherine, who, as I said before, was responsible for the kitchen & food supplies.
Bear-proof bin

This year we were for a huge treat—there was a food storage locker (a.k.a. the bear box/bear proof bin) installed on our campsite (and, as we found out later, on a number of other campsites too, especially those most frequented by bears). It was undoubtedly an EXCELLENT idea and I would like to extend my genuine gratitude and appreciation to the Park for installing them—THANK YOU!

However… I hate to rain on the park’s parade and be negative of this otherwise wonderful piece of equipment, yet after using the box just once both of us immediately noticed a number of issues with its design.

For one thing, the bear box’s opening was on top and it took some effort, sometimes considerable, to lift the lid—especially Catherine, who was in charge of the kitchen & food supplies, found it challenging to open (and close) the box and a few times she bumped her head against the lid (you should hear her thunderous swearing then!). Also while closing the lid, we had to exert some force, invariably causing a loud clamor. There were two rather awkward hinges inside the box—I thought they made it more difficult to open/close the box and were prone to break.

When we arrived at the campsite, the box was closed, yet there was some water inside (and a big dew worm!); since there was no opening in the bottom to let the water out, we had to manually remove the water (with a coffee cup) and later used plenty of paper towels to clean and dry its floor. After it rained, some water accumulated inside the box, even though the box remained closed—meaning that it was not totally waterproof.

We also found the locking mechanism somehow unpractical. There were hasps and staples on each side of the box and two carabiners, attached to the box with a thin steel line. I could immediately tell that sooner or later (probably sooner) the steel lines would break or unravel and the carabiners would become detached, they were simply too fragile to withstand continuous usage by throngs of campers, let alone occasional vandals—or a pesky and dexterous bear.

After relocating to our second campsite, as Catherine was about to put our food inside the bear container on the new site, she found it impossible to open it. It took both of us a lot of effort to finally lift the lid—it turned out that one of the hinges had gotten twisted & almost detached on one side, thus blocking the lid from opening. In addition, one carabiner was missing, the other one was already disconnected from the box. We could not believe that our predictions came true so soon! Furthermore, the box was on such uneven ground that it kept tipping backwards when the lid was lifted.

Last year we had spent several weeks camping at various parks in the USA (Yellowstone) and all of them had had bear boxes installed (due to Grizzly bear activity), so we could compare the boxes in the Massasauga to the ones in the USA.

The bear boxes in the U.S. parks were standard cupboard-style, with two front doors, very practical—the top area could be conveniently used as a ‘table’ for temporarily placing various items and it was much easier to put heavy items inside. The closing/opening mechanism was simple and quiet (no awkward hinges) and the latch/lock was ‘built-in’ and did not require fiddling with carabiners (i.e., less parts to break or get missing). The boxes were also permanently attached to the ground. I do not remember any water accumulating inside—and it was so easy to clean them.
Our campsite is behind

Notwithstanding the above observations, we were still very grateful to the park for installing such bear-proof containers!

To sum up, even though we did not paddle a lot, we had a wonderful time in the park and we are looking forward to visiting it again!


The second half of May is a perfect time to commence the camping season—the bugs have not arrived yet, children are still in school and the weather is quite nice, at least during the day. As I mentioned in my other blog, in 2013 we went camping to Algonquin Park at the end of May and had to cut our trip short due to swarms of black flies (and mosquitoes). Thus, in order to avoid those horrible insects, we decided to go South, not North, in May—where black flies were not present.
Long Point
It was our second visit in this Park in as many years and we even managed to stay on the same campsite we had bivouacked the previous year (Monarch Campground). We left on Sunday, May 15, 2016, one week before the Victoria Day long weekend. The first two days were cold (probably below freezing at night), windy and rainy (well, the day we left Toronto, it was actually… snowing!), but we still had a wonderful time—our 4 sleeping bags certainly came in very handy. Besides, soon the weather improved and it was almost hot the day we were leaving.

In fact, the first evening it was so cold, windy and cloudy, that Catherine, afraid it might rain, decided to skip cooking at the campfire and headed to the Boathouse Restaurant in Port Rowan. In front of the restaurant I took numerous photos of the row of —what else?—boat houses—it was a picture-perfect view! The meal of fish & chips and bread pudding also hit the spot at this delightful eatery.
Our campsite in Long Point Provincial Park

The campsite, located in a sandy hollow close to the shores of Lake Erie, was very nice and private—and the site across was vacant. There were plenty of poison ivy around the campsite, so we had to exercise caution, especially at night. There were some RVs at the park, most of them on Firefly Campground (which was very open, with little shade) and on bigger campsites farther from the lake and closer to the road. The beach was quite wide and long. The park’s occupancy rate was quite low, but according to the online Park Reservation System, there was not going to be a single vacant campsite over the upcoming long weekend! We hardly saw any mosquitos—but after sun tanning in the dunes Catherine realized there were plenty of ticks all over her and one had to be removed with a tweezers. Since ticks are carried of Lyme disease, from then on we were very careful to avoid any areas where ticks could be present. We spotted a lot of various birds at our campsite; one of them, a very friendly and inquisitive red winged blackbird, hung around our site all the time—it had a very distinct shiny silver band on one of its legs, no doubt a souvenir of his involuntary stopover at the nearby Bird Observatory! At night we could see from the campsite city lights on the other side of Lake Erie, in the USA—as well as from time to time I could spot a big freighter traversing the lake.
It was cold!

We also rode our bikes to the ‘old’ section of the park, Cottonwood Campground (which was still closed), and it had a number of first-come, first-served campsites. Some sites at Cottonwood were nice, but too close to the road and not as cozy at the ones at Monarch. The separate day use area had huge dues and picnic areas.

Although we were quite busy with our activities, I still managed to finish reading one book, “The Courtyard”. Its author, Arkady Lvov, smuggled it from the Soviet Union in a shoe-shine kit. The book dealt with the lives of the residents of an apartment building in Odessa from 1936 to 1953. Readers had an opportunity to closely observe their everyday struggle under communism and their dealing with the absurdities of communal living and daily repressions, albeit some trivial, of the Stalinist system. Although almost 700 pages long and at times somehow boring, overall I enjoyed this epic work as it gave me a unique and humorous insight into the lives of individuals representing various sections of Soviet society, who shared the same apartment building.
Poison Ivy at campsites

Long Point is the world’s longest freshwater sand spit, about 40 km long and about 1 km across at its widest point. The Point’s sand dune system is constantly shifting. It is also home to various wildlife and plants. Several hundred years ago there was a portage here and a historical plaque located just before the entrance summarized its history:

Long Point Portage

This portage, which crossed the isthmus joining Long Point to the mainland, was used by travelers in small craft following the north shore of Lake Erie in order to avoid the open waters and the length of the journey around the Point. Although used earlier by the Indians, the portage was first recorded in 1670 by two Sulpician missionaries, Dollier de Casson and René de Bréhant de Galinée. For about 150 years traffic increased over the carrying place, first as a result of the French expansion to the southwest, including the founding of Detroit in 1701, and, after 1783, because of the movement of settlers into this region. The portage was abandoned in 1833 when a storm broke a navigable channel through the isthmus.

The shallow waters and shifting shorelines around Long Point claimed a lot of victims in the early 1800s, and wrecks were frequent. In 1828 deliberations on a proposed channel at the base of Long Point to create a safer route for the ship traffic. In November, 1833 a big storm washed a cut 400 meters wide and 4 meters deep across the base of the Point and the government of Canada kept maintaining it. Storms changed the channels’ characteristics over the years from the width of a ship and 1.5 meters deep to nearly a kilometer width and 7 m deep. In 1879 a wooden lighthouse was built to guide ships to the tricky channel. Some storms closed one cut and opened another, so ships, seeking shelter from open lake storms, often had a hard time finding their way. No wonder that many ships ran aground around Long Point. Furthermore, during the mid 19th century, that area became a center for land-based piracy, called ‘blackbirding’. Local residents, called ‘blackbirders’, erected fake lighthouses during times of low visibility. Ships trying to enter the old cut would run aground. When the crew abandoned ship, the blackbirders would loot the ship of cargo and other valuables.
The Old Cut Lighthouse

Fortunately, not all locals were so callous. Abigail Becker (1830–1905), also known as the Angel of Long Point, saved the lives of numerous sailors caught in storms along the shores of Long Point. In November, 1854, she spotted an overturned rowboat and immediately realized there must have been a shipwreck nearby. Six sailors managed to reach the Old Cut lighthouse (the lighthouse keeper already gone for the winter) and they were nursed back to health by Abigail. Not long afterwards, on November 23rd, 1854, the schooner “Conductor” was caught in blinding snow squalls and captain Henry Hackett decided to change the course and head towards the safety of Old Cut. Unfortunately, finding the cut in such a weather was almost impossible and soon the schooner ran aground. As it was stuck in a shallow sandbar, 200 meters from shore, it was mercilessly pounded by the waves and torn apart as 8 men clinging to the rigging. After spotting the wreck, Abigail got her children and rushed to beach opposite the wreck, where she started a huge fire, thus encouraging the men to swim to the shore—the only viable chance they had to survive. And so they did, with her help, reach the shore—she waded into the water to drag the men to the shore, where the blessed fire and hot tea that was waiting for them! There is a historical plaque in Port Rowan dedicated to Abigail Becker:

The Heroine of Long Point

In November, 1854, the schooner "Conductor" was wrecked off this shore during one of Lake Erie's many violent storms. Jeremiah Becker, who resided nearby, was away on the mainland but his courageous wife, Abigail, risked her life by repeatedly entering the water while assisting the exhausted seamen to reach land. The eight sailors were housed and fed in her cabin until they recovered from their ordeal. In recognition of her heroism she received a letter of commendation from Queen Victoria, several financial awards, and a gold medal from the Life Saving Benevolent Association of New York.

The “Old Cut” channel remained navigable until 1906, when it was filled in by storms, thus ending Long Point’s brief history as an island. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1916. Its refurbished likeness on the original foundation is a remainder of Long Point’s fascinating human and natural history—as well as for those not familiar with Long Point’s history, it looks out of place. (Sources: Bird Studies’ information plate, “Wikipedia” and “Lake Erie Stories: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean” by Chad Fraser).
Relaxing in the dunes

Long Point is very well-known for its bird migration and one day we visited (for the second time) the Bird Observatory/Field Station, located on Old Cut Blvd. It was just fascinating to watch the staff (partially made up of volunteers) catch, identify, measure, weight, band and release various birds. It was also a great opportunity to learn about birds, as the staff are very knowledgeable and willing to share their knowledge with visitors.

We found out that some birds were persistently hanging out around the observatory (certainly feeders full of seeds were one of the main reasons) and not only had they been caught numerous times, but sometimes more than once in one day! A small store sells books and other ornithological materials. Several informative plates along the nearby trail tell the story of Long Point and bird migration. Just be careful and do not get caught in the fine nets designed to trap birds, or you might end up being banded (or perhaps handcuffed), too! Although I was not interested in birds that much, each visit to this field station turned out to be a very inspiring, delightful and thrilling experience.
Twins' Ice Cream Parlour

We went to the nearby town of Port Rowan several times and of course, each time had excellent ice cream at Twins’ Ice Cream Parlour, as well as spent a few hours browsing in the Thrift Shop and a well-stocked dollar store—a lifesaver for campers forgetting needed items or a getaway on a rainy day. Like last year, we brought bikes and were looking forward to riding on numerous biking trails near Waterford, Simcoe and Delhi.

Port Rowan and Long Point are in Norfolk County—a well-known agricultural area, which has been the center of the Ontario tobacco belt. Because of the decrease in the tobacco consumption, many farmers have switched to other crops, like ginseng and asparagus. There were still plenty of almost historical kilns (curing barns, where tobacco leaves were undergoing a curing/drying process), often heated by coal—some, semi-abandoned, sat empty, others transformed into storage.

Many farmers have decided to switch to farming ginseng, yet it requires a large investment of capital and it takes at least three years before the first harvest. Since ginseng is native to the floor of the mixed hardwood forests, it requires little sunlight. Thus, fields where ginseng is cultivated must have been modified to resemble its natural preferences by erecting shade that can filter most of the sunlight.
Old kilns

We also visited several farms growing asparagus—it is said that one sure sign of the spring season is asparagus appearing in local stores—or on farms, from which we could directly purchase it. We bought a couple of very fresh bundles and at the campsite we added some butter, wrapped them in aluminum foil and grilled over the fire. They were soft and delicious!
Ginseng plantation

After planting asparagus, it takes several years before the first harvest, but amazingly, it is a perennial vegetable and can be productive for 20 to 30 years if given proper care. If the stalks are not picked they will grow into tall fern like with small red seeds. There were a number of workers employed on the farm—some harvesting, others sorting and washing asparagus. Many of them were seasonal workers were from Mexico and Caribbean countries, they annually come to Canada to work on farms, since not too many Canadians are interested in such work—they much prefer living comfortably in cities, often in subsidized housing units and collecting social assistance (i.e., welfare) which the Liberal governments in Ottawa and Ontario generously bestow on them, almost no questions asked. O, Canada… I feel like crying…
Morden Cemetery

While driving from the park, several times we passed by the Morden Cemetery, located at Concession Road East and East Quarter Line. It was an ‘abandoned’ cemetery, operated by Norfolk County (which has one hundred and eleven documented burial sites/cemeteries). Such cemeteries are quite common in Ontario. Unfortunately, many headstones got lost, vandalized, broken and unreadable and local authorities decided to just collect them and erect them in one place, not necessarily at their original locations. Most of the burials occurred at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Many of the graves are children’s.


Although it was very windy, we drove to Delhi and found the beginning of the Delhi Rail Trail (which runs almost 14 km from Delhi to Simcoe) on Fertilizer Road, near the Co-op Fertilizer Plant. Surprisingly, there were semi-abandoned tracks on the other side of the road and they actually ran parallel to the Delhi trail for about one hundred meters. They were part of Trillium Railway, also known as the St. Thomas & Eastern Railway, operating between Delhi and St. Thomas, which carried fertilizer, grain, salt, ethanol, forest products and other goods. The line ceased local operations at the end of 2013. The rail lines were established by the Great Western Railway in 1873 and the Simcoe-Delhi line must have been abandoned several decades ago.
Delhi Rail Trail

There was a small parking near Fertilizer Road and several informative plaques. The trail passed through fields and forests, sometimes very close to farmers’ buildings and crossed several roads. We saw some other people also using the trail-cyclists, joggers and hikers. The shoulders of the trail had plenty of poison ivy. Because it was very windy, we decided to turn back a few kilometers before reaching Simcoe. Overall, it was a very easy, flat and scenic trial, perfect for beginners.


Old Waterford Train Station

The Waterford Heritage Trail is almost 20 km long and passes through forests, wetlands, fields and grasslands. It follows the right of way of the Lake Erie and Northern Railway (LEN), which commenced operation from Galt to Port Dover in 1915, transporting passengers and freight. It made stops in Galt, Brantford, Waterford, Simcoe, Port Dover and other places in between. The passenger service was discontinued in 1955. The line between Waterford to Simcoe was abandoned in the early 1990s.
The Black Bridge

The most prominent—and still existing—feature of the LEN is the imposing Black Bridge that carried it across the Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (THB) and Canada Southern (CASO). In the past Waterford was an important railway hub. Passengers could go by train not only to New York, but also to Detroit and even Chicago. The passenger service on the THB line ended in the 1960s and freight service in the late 1980s, when the route was abandoned. Remarkably, up to 120 trains per day used to pass through Waterford!

We departed from Simcoe at Lion’s Park (on Davis Street East), which had ample parking. According to the information plaques along the route, this trail is part of what is known as “Brock’s Route”—it is for the most part aligned with the route that Major General Isaac Brock took between Hamilton and Port Dover through Brantford in the war of 1812-1814.
View from the Black Bridge towards another old rail bridge

After riding for 9 kilometers, we arrived in the town of Waterford. On our right (at the end of Nichol Street W) stood big silos, now apparently abandoned—their side draws, designed to unload their content directly to railways cars, were still in place. The empty site across from the silos is where the LEN station once stood.
Brock's Route

We continued for about a hundred meters and reached the impressive Black Bridge (which just celebrated its centenary), now modified for the new trail users. From the bridge we could admire Waterford Ponds and the town of Waterford. There was also a small pedestrian bridge—I think that once it had connected the LEN and THB.

As we did not have the time to continue on the trail towards Brantford, we retraced our route for approximately 600 meters, where the trail split—I guess it had been another junction connecting the LEN and the THB. We took the other sloping paved trail, turned right under the Black Bridge and ended up riding on the THB and Canada Southern right of way. A few minutes later we arrived at the old railway station of the Canada Southern Railway Company at the west end of Alice Street ( its sign still proclaiming, “Waterford. Pop. 2700. Elev. 820”). This modest station, built in 1871, resembles train stations in the USA. Fortunately, not only has it been preserved, but also thoroughly renovated and now it is the home of “Quilt Junction”.
The Waterford Heritage Trail

After enjoying two slices of pizza at a local pizzeria and cycling on several streets in town for a while, we got back to the trail via Nichol Street and returned to Simcoe.

Altogether it was an easy and very pleasant excursion which also allowed us to learn so much about local history. Kudos to the organizations and individuals that maintain this trail!


We drove to Port Dover en route home to Toronto just a week after the Friday the 13th celebrations, when thousands of motorbikes descended on this small town. In fact it was the Friday eve of the May long weekend and very busy once again. We walked to the lighthouse, then bought a pizza at Harbour Pizza and had it while sitting near the Port Dover museum, on the Lynn River. We got chatting with a local lady. Catherine asked her about a newly opened Bed & Breakfast on the former Clonmel Castle Estate property and got directions to visit. It was still a beautiful stone-fenced property that looked straight out on an Irish movie set, but had been subdivided and had a new subdivision of upscale homes just meters from the entrance. There were a number of very informative plaques along the Lynn River with photos and interesting facts pertaining to Port Dover’s history and I took liberty in reproducing some of that text below.
Pizza delivery in Port Dover!

In the 1840s the mouth of the Lynn River was dredged and the first piers and lighthouse were built. Soon commercial wharves and warehouses sprang up along the banks of the Lynn River. They were essential for loading and unloading the trading schooners, which made regular stops here, bringing manufactured goods and other merchandise and taking away farm products, lumber and tanned hides. With the coming of the railways in the late 1800s, schooner trade fell off and the harbor and creek sides became the domain of commercial fishing boats.
Port Dover

In the twentieth century Port Dover was the heart of Canada’s freshwater fishing industry. The stretch of the Lynn River was once lined on both sides with net shanties, docks and processing plants associated with these fisheries. By the 1970s Port Dover was home to the world’s largest freshwater fishing fleet. Well, I only spotted one old shanty on the other side of the river.

There were several photographs on the plaque, depicting the banks of the Lynn River in the late 1890s and early 1900s—and red dots indicated the exact spot where we were standing now. Indeed, it was just unbelievable to look at all the structures that dotted the shores then—almost all of them now gone! It remained me of the ghost town of French River in the mouth of the French River: old photographs showed numerous buildings standing on the rocky shores—when I visited that place in 2008, I could only see the lighthouse and the ruins of a once very tall chimney. Time marches on…
Port Dover, an old shanty

When the prohibition was introduced in the United States in 1920, commercial fishermen on Lake Erie were experiencing one of their industry’s cyclical downturn—what a wonderful coincidence! Soon boxcars full of whisky were appearing on railway sidings and their contents were shipped across the lake aboard a variety of craft, and then transferred to American vessels. Thousands of cases of Canadian whisky and beer made their way to American speakeasies. With the end of the prohibition in 1933, this colorful era was brought to an end as well.
The story of my life

Near Port Dover we briefly stopped at Canada’s First Forestry Station and Interpretative Center and drove around for a while. This station was established by the Ontario government in 1908, on 40 ha of wind-eroded sandy land. There was a huge tree trunk on display, its growth rings clearly visible. The information plaque, “The Story of My Life”, was explaining the history of this 277 year old tree—in its own words!

“I grew from an acorn in 1723 along the bank of the Lynn River, when there were only native people in this region … When I was 25, in 1750, I could start seeing what was going on around me … I saw horse-drawn carriages travelling along Norfolk Street … In 1795 the popular governor John Graves Simcoe came to visit our county and camped close by …In 1812 war broke out with the United States and I could see the militia practice all around me … In 1914 there was war again and many soldiers practiced where I could see them before they went off to fight in Europe … The farmers had cut down too many trees and the good soil was blowing away. In 1908 a few people at St. Williams had started a nursery to try to stop the dust storms by replanting the trees … In about 1980 my end was coming near: new insects from foreign lands attacked my leaves … Then disease struck my bark and I passed away in the year 2000. I had to be cut down and people made many beautiful things from me.”

While driving near Simcoe, we spotted a small distillery in a tiny community of Green’s Corners, which for the last 6 years had been producing rice-based Silver Lake Vodka. It was possible to buy (or sample) the product at the distillery, but it was already closed.
McQueen Cemetery

On our way home I noticed a historical plaque in Port Dover—there was a small McQueen Cemetery-United Empire Loyalists Burial Ground. The United Empire Loyalists were those who had been settled in the thirteen colonies at the outbreak of the American Revolution, who remained loyal to and took up the Royal Standard, and who settled in what is now Canada at the end of the war. Apparently the McQueen cemetery is on the original McQueen farm in Port Dover. One of the oldest, and most prominent graves, was that of Alexander McQueen, who died in 1804. The inscription days the following:
Alexander McQueen's grave

In memory of Alexander McQueen
Died 10th July 1804
Aged 93 years
As a highland soldier under the valiant Wolfe,
He helped to capture Quebec and
Win Canada for Britain.

This memorial is erected by one of
His great, great grandsons
Mr. Justice Teetzel

We wished we could have stayed in Long Point Provincial Park for the long weekend, but as I mentioned before, all campsites had been booked. It was our first camping trip of 2016 and we enjoyed it a lot!