Sunday, October 30, 2016

THE MASSASAGA PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO—CAMPING AND CANOEING, JUNE 26-JULY 09, 2016




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:

THE SINKING OF THE WAUBUNO 1879

“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!

BEAR-PROOF CONTAINERS

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!



No comments:

Post a Comment