Day Four: North of Superior
It’s about a five hour drive from the Sault to Manitouwadge, but we were in no big hurry. We packed up in the morning and headed out. Hwy 17 north of the Sault goes through Lake Superior Provincial Park, which is absolutely beautiful. There were lots of hiking trails and beaches, and one place where you could walk out onto a ledge under a cliff where several-hundred-year-old native-drawn pictographs are visible. (Aside: on the ledge, there is a plaque dedicated to a Canadian author and artist named Selwyn Dewdney, who studied and wrote about native pictographs for many years. One of his sons, Kee Dewdney is a professor at Western, where I did my Masters.)
On the drive, John was leading the way, and for whatever reason, didn’t want to stop anywhere along the way, so we passed by a number of photo opportunities on the way up. Gail was a little disappointed, but we figured we were coming back the same way anyway, so we’d get the pictures then. Unfortunately, when we did come back, it was very foggy, so some of the pictures we missed on the way up were impossible on the way down. We stopped at Wawa for the obligatory picture with the big goose, and also to grab lunch and fill up. A couple of hours later, we were in Manitouwadge, enjoying a beer on the back patio in the sweltering heat. Since it was Canada Day, we wandered down to the beach, where the town was having a BBQ, and there was some entertainment for the kids. On our walk back to Rolly’s place, he pointed out a barely-visible footprint in some dust, casually mentioning that it was from a bear. Bears are a big problem in this area. Rolly has seen some bear footprints in his back yard, and the town dump is no longer open to the public because of the number of bears that hang around there. If you have a load of stuff you want to take there, you have to contact the town who will arrange an escort for you, and the basic rule is “get in, dump your stuff, and get the hell out”. Anyway, a little while later, the black flies and no-see-ums came out, and we went inside.
One thing I found interesting about being that far north was that it stays lighter later. Around here during the summer, sunset is about 9:00, but up there, sunset didn’t happen until almost 10:00. Rolly was saying that it never really gets fully dark during the summer; even in the middle of the night, there’s still a bit of a glow on the horizon. In the winter, it’s the other way around — sunrise doesn’t happen until 8:30, sunset is shortly after 5:00, and the middle of the night is pitch black.
Something I was hoping for on this trip was a glimpse of the Northern Lights, but they are more common during the winter, and we never managed to see any. Rolly wants us to come up during the winter sometime, so maybe then.
Day Five: Manitouwadge
Monday was our first full day in Manitouwadge. In the morning, we went over to the police station. When you visit a police officer, it’s almost required that he give you a tour of the police station and put you in a jail cell. He put the boys in a cell and closed the door, and they had lots of fun trying to get out. After a while, he simply pulled the door open again, and we all had a good laugh at the fact that he never actually locked it, it was just heavy.
Rolly has a little sailboat that he keeps behind the police station, so after our tour he took the boys (and me) out for some spins around the lake. I’ve never been on a sailboat (other than a big-ass catamaran in Jamaica), so I never think about sailboats as being able to turn suddenly, but this one was small enough that one yank on the rudder and we’d turn 90° on a dime. It was very cool, and the boys loved it as well.
The rest of the day was spent kicking the soccer ball around, riding bikes (I took Nicky’s training wheels off and did the whole running-alongside-the-bike thing for a little while until he got tired of it), and watching the boys splash around in the little pool that Rolly had filled up for them. Once again (and I think this is pretty standard up north), the outside part of the day ended when the bugs came out.
Day Six: Moving Day
Rolly lives with his girlfriend Candyce, who grew up in Manitouwadge. Her mother was moving from a house in town to an apartment on Tuesday, and John, Jackie, and I offered to help with the move while Gail hung out with the boys. The move took part of the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon, since there wasn’t all that much stuff. It was overcast all morning, but luckily the rain held off until after we were done. Once the rain started, we hung out in the house playing cards, and the boys drew pictures. They also decided (entirely on their own) to write thank-you cards to Rolly and Candyce for inviting us to stay, and Nicky even wrote one to Gail and I for bringing him to Manitouwadge. We also borrowed Rolly’s computer and internet connection (high speed, thank goodness, I don’t know if I could handle a modem connection again) to book a trip on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train for Thursday, a trip we were really looking forward to, but as fate would have it, we would not be making.
Day Seven: Some Endings Come Too Soon
Wednesday we left Manitouwadge for Sault Ste. Marie, where we were going to camp for two nights. Shortly before we left in the morning, Gail realized that we had never retrieved the email that the Agawa canyon people had sent us with our confirmation number, so she asked me to go and get it. I logged onto Gail’s webmail account to get the number, and saw an email from Gail’s aunt Jeanne with the subject line “Sad news”. Gail’s aunt Barbie had passed away on Sunday, and was found by her daughter on Monday. At the young age of only 57, she had suffered a heart attack. The funeral was going to be in London (Ontario) on Friday. I broke the news to Gail, and we decided to cancel the train trip and simply head home. We figured we should be able to make it to (or near) Sudbury that day, and then it was about five hours home from there on the Thursday, giving us lots of time to get to London on Friday.
The drive to the Sault was broken up by a couple of photo-stops (though we did have to skip a few, as I mentioned before, because of the fogginess). We stopped at Old Woman’s Bay, and all four of us had a great time climbing around on the huge rocks on the beach. We also stopped to see the aforementioned pictographs, which was also very cool. We decided at that point that Lake Superior Provincial Park would be a great place to go camping for a week. We had a picnic lunch at the pictograph place before continuing on to Sault Ste. Marie. John and Jackie set up their trailer and we grabbed the rest of our stuff from them, and continued on our way. The drive to Sudbury was uneventful, other than the torrential rain that we hit just outside of Sudbury. We stopped at a hotel just off the highway around 9:00, went for a quick swim to relax (very nice after sitting in the van for most of the past 12 hours), and went to bed.
Thursday we drove home from Sudbury, arriving home shortly after lunch. Gail immediately packed yet another bag, and was picked up by her mother and aunt on their way to London. I arranged for a sitter for the boys for Friday, and drove out to London on Friday for the funeral.
This was one of my favourite family vacations ever, though it obviously could have used a different ending. I love visiting new places, and the scenery through Lake Superior Provincial Park was some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, rivalling the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and the mountain vistas of Whistler and Jasper. (It’s hard to call the rocky desert landscape of the Grand Canyon “beautiful”, though it was certainly awe-inspiring.)
Gail turns the big four-oh next year, and decided a few years ago that she wanted to go to Paris for her 40th, so that’s in the plans for next summer. I turn forty the year after that, and I’m still trying to decide where I want to go then. After paying for Paris, I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford Hawaii or Australia the next year (two places I really want to go), and up until a couple of weeks ago, the thought of spending two weeks camping in Northern Ontario would not have appealed to me in the least, but after last week, maybe….