Georgian Bay Drift: the Bruce Peninsula

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Day-Tripping Flowerpot Island, the Bruce Trail, The Grotto, and Overhanging Point on southern Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula

The Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario separates the cooler waters of Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron’s “sweetwater sea,” and makes of the Bay an unofficial, sixth Great Lake. It’s the kind of iconic Canadian landscape that drove artists such as Arthur Lismer and the other Group of Seven painters wild.

The rugged, 100-kilometre finger of pine-studded shale and limestone, set amidst the granite and precambrian rock of Shield country, points northward from the rolling hills of southwest Ontario’s farm country, all head-high corn and sulphur-bright canola, through Boreal Shield country and towns with names like Kapuskaping. North north north, to Moosonee and the wetland plains of Hudson Bay and, somewhere way up there, the beluga-backed Arctic Ocean…

Leastways, that’s how it seemed to me some 25 years ago, when my buddy D. and I spent a week on the Bruce Trail, from Tobermory to Lion’s Head. During the day, we hiked the little-used trail, looking down from the rocky limestone escarpment through cold clear water which faded from yellow and emerald to the deep, dark blue of open water. At night we slept wild, pitching our tent in ruts and gullys off-trail, never an open fire and always breaking camp by dawn. Not that there were many people to stumble upon us. We had the rocky beaches and scenic overlooks such as Overhanging Point and the Grotto almost to ourselves. We starved on the thin gruel of freeze-dried “mountain stew.” D. froze at night, wrapped only in a blanket, and stepped on a massasauga rattlesnake.

It was, is, one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

I’ve returned to Georgian Bay over the years, mostly in canoe and kayak.

Each time, I love the blue depth of sky and water, the seal-smooth rocky islets, those solitary pines, and the squalls that blow along the horizon.

But things have changed. Overhanging Point and the Grotto are still there, of course, but the trickle of visitors from nearby Cyprus Lake Provincial Park has turned into a flood of families and weekend partiers, city kids blasting their boomboxes on the trail from the camp to the water. Two new national parks, Fathom Five and Bruce Peninsula, have brought improved access and facilities, which in turn has lured a new breed of visitor to the area. Visitors from China and India and the rest of Canada arrive in honeymoon couples, in triads, in nuclear and extended families.

And the natives are restless, though for different reasons. When R. and I visited this summer, “For Sale” signs flagged a gas station, a bakery, and a waterfront home. “This might be a paradise for you,” one local, a student from nearby Owen Sound, told me, but winters are really long. “Things… happen,” she said. Fair enough. As Jim and Doug, owner/operators of Bear Cove B&B explained, a severe winter storm can leave the people around the town of Tobermory, and the peninsula’s tip, snowbound, completely cut off, for a week at a time.

Fair enough. “Been there, wouldn’t want to live there,” as they say.

Still, the Bruce Peninsula a scenic, rugged piece of landscape, as you can tell from the pictures below. But Canada wild and woolly it ain’t, not really. Debriefing back in Tokyo, R. tells me she enjoyed driving the “endless” countryside of southern Ontario on the way to the Peninsula, but wouldn’t put the landscape along the west shore of Georgian Bay in the same category as the Rocky Mountains, say. As for me, I’d love to do some more kayaking, or perhaps sailing, among the pine-studded islets of this sweetwater sea, but as for the Peninsula section of the Bruce Trail, that trip best works as a memory of a younger, fitter, more ambitious iteration of me, still at the start of my adventures.

It’s still a scenic, rugged piece of landscape, as you can tell from the pictures below. But Canada wild and woolly it ain’t, not really. Debriefing back in Tokyo, R. tells me she enjoyed driving the “endless” rolling countryside of southern Ontario on the way to the Peninsula, but wouldn’t put the landscape along the west shore of Georgian Bay in the same category as the Rocky Mountains, say. As for me, I’d love to do some more kayaking, or perhaps sailing, among the pine-studded islets of this sweetwater sea, but as for the Peninsula section of the Bruce Trail, that trip best works as a memory of a younger, fitter, more ambitious iteration of me, still at the start of my adventures.

Lake Huron

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Lake Huron Shoreline
Lake Huron Shoreline

Flowerpot Island

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Bruce Trail: The Grotto and Overhanging Point

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