Northern Ontario vacation – Part 3: Pancake Bay and home


This is part 3 (the thrilling conclusion) in the continuing saga of our 2012 family vacation to Northern Ontario. Part one: Ivanhoe Lake and Thunder Bay. Part two: Manitouwadge. Part three: Pancake Bay and then home.

August 15

We only had a few hours to drive on this day (between 3 and 4, compared with the 8 or 9 we’d done on previous days), so we didn’t make a point of getting up early. But after breakfast, we started packing up, then thanked Rolly and Candyce for their generosity and hospitality, and headed out. We stopped in White River for an early lunch, and were in Pancake Bay by mid-afternoon. We got set up quickly and once again, out came the cribbage board. Both boys knew how to play crib before we left, but by the end of this vacation, Ryan was getting very good, and Nicky still had a few troubles with strategy (“Why can’t I lead a five?”) but was certainly making progress. After dinner, John made a fire (he’s a better fire-maker than I am, but it also helps to have dry wood), and the boys roasted marshmallows. Both boys have way more patience with this than I ever did – my strategy was always to set the marshmallow on fire, quickly blow it out, and then eat the burnt part, leaving a second smaller marshmallow to roast burn. This continued until there was nothing left. But both my boys can patiently put the marshmallow over the coals and slowly turn it until it’s just like me with a tan: golden brown on all sides and soft and mushy in the middle.

August 16

This was the least active day of our vacation, but still not terrible. It started raining shortly after breakfast, but we were playing cards in the dining tent so we didn’t really pay much attention. Then the rain started getting heavier, so we threw the big tarp over the dining tent and kept going. Pretty soon the rain started running under the dining tent (there’s no floor) and pooling. It was also getting very loud with the rain hitting the tarp, so we decided to go inside the trailer where we had more room. This was a good decision, as the rain quickly became torrential. We played some cards inside and read for a while, as the rain continued to pound outside. It was the heaviest rain I can remember in years – every time you thought it couldn’t possibly rain any harder, it did. After lunch, Gail grabbed her laptop and the DVDs we brought from the van, and the boys finished off the Star Wars series with Return of the Jedi (they had watched episodes I through V on various days of driving) while we played cards and read. In the late afternoon the rain finally let up, and we drove down to the “trading post” down the road, which consisted of a small grocery store ($8.99 for a 12-pack of Diet Coke! Ouch) and a couple of fairly big country stores which sold everything from bumper stickers and fridge magnets to animal skins and huge wooden carvings. We spent maybe an hour walking around there and it rained on and off that whole time, but by the time we left, it had stopped. When we got back to the campground, we were thankful that John had had the presence of mind to cover the firewood with a tarp before the rain started, and we had a fire going in no time.

In the early evening, Gail and I took a romantic twilight stroll down to the garbage shack. This led to one of the more amusing things we saw at Pancake Bay. When camping in the north, storing garbage in your tent or trailer or even your car is dangerous because of bears. They can smell food miles away (and they are less particular about what they call “food” than we are), and when they smell it they’ll stop at nothing to get it. Bears have been known to rip doors off of cars because of half a chocolate bar in the glove compartment. So we laughed at the door to the garbage shack:

Bear proof

That teeny little chunk of wood they call a “lock” would keep a bear out? Or the flimsy chicken wire? Not a chance. But wait – there’s a sign on the door:

Please ensure you place all garbage in a garbage bag
Ensure the door is locked when you leave
Please, no scavenging
Thank you, Park staff

Now that the bears know that there’s no scavenging allowed, they’ll obviously go somewhere else.

August 17

I don’t remember if it was raining when we woke up, but if it wasn’t, it definitely did overnight. As a result, the tents and tarps and everything that was outside was very wet. After a quick breakfast, we packed almost everything into the van, and then stuffed the dining tent and the tarp covering it into garbage bags, with the intention of opening them up once we were home to let them dry off before packing them away. We drove with John and Jackie almost to the Sault, where they went east towards home while we continued south. After a stop at Tim Horton’s, we crossed the bridge to Sault Michigan and then waited in the customs line. The lines didn’t seem all that long, but it was the better part of an hour before we were through and into the good ol’ US of A. We drove over the very cool Mackinac Bridge, and then straight down through the middle of Michigan towards Flint, where we hung a left towards Port Huron. We stopped once for lunch (around Gaylord, I believe), and then again shortly before crossing the border again to fill up on (cheap American) gas. There was virtually no lineup at Port Huron, so after one of the quickest customs stops ever, we were in Sarnia and about 2½ hours later, we were home.


I had reset the trip odometer just before we pulled out for St. Catharine’s the previous Friday, so once we were back in the driveway I took a picture:

3608.1 km

I made a Google map of the trip which shows the driving we did. As you can see, the total was 3608 km, which is roughly equivalent to driving from Toronto to San Francisco, or from New York City to Las Vegas. The boys are really good travellers, at least when they have a DVD player, Nintendo DS’es, and iPods to keep them occupied. They did look up to see the awesome views whenever Gail and I gasped, and they didn’t complain once about our “no iPods or DS’es when not driving” rule. I did hear “how much longer?” a couple of times, but it was always in the vein of “Do we have time to finish this movie” or something similar, and never whiny. I can’t say that I did all the driving, since Gail drove around Manitouwadge a little. But that was probably less than 10 km total, so I can say I did almost all the driving. That is not a complaint at all since I love to drive, and our van (a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country) is very comfortable on long trips.

After adding up the camping costs, gas, restaurant and grocery store bills and such, I think this entire vacation cost us less than $1000, compared to the $7-10 thousand our France and UK trips cost. Of course, camping is very cheap compared to even the most inexpensive hotels, and gas (as expensive as it was up north – ~$1.40-$1.45/L compared to ~$1.28 at home) is way cheaper than four flights anywhere. Staying with family for four days really helped as well. We’re already thinking of a camping trip out east (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI) next summer. That’s not to say we’ll never stay in a hotel or travel to Europe again; we’ve already decided that our next major overseas trip will be to Italy, though we have no idea if that will be in two years or fifteen.

Most importantly, we had a great time. In the first few days after we got home, all four of us commented on how much we enjoyed this trip. We went places we’d never been before, saw things we’d never seen before, and did things we’d never done before. The boys are old enough that they can be given a lot more freedom and independence than before, but young enough that they still sometimes see things in a way that only children can.

Once again, thanks to Rolly and Candyce for their hospitality during our stay, and to John and Jackie for not only being great travelling companions but roommates as well!

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