Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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Posts Tagged ‘Georgian Bay

Things I Learned from Knowing Nothing

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Observations and Impressions Gathered During The Huron Fringe Birding Festival.

  • Everybody is really happy to be here.
  • Everybody is friendly.
  • All Birders carry binoculars. Obviously. Some are slung with intricate harnesses that look like straight jackets
  • Most Birders wear vests. Most Birders carry backpacks or fanny packs.
  • Carabineers are a popular piece of equipment.
  • Everybody carries water in eco-friendly containers.
  • Tilley Hats have not gone out of style yet.
  • Identifying birds by sound/song/call is a skill all Birders aspire to.
  • Nature photography is more fun than birding.
  • Serious hobby photographers have serious stuff.
  • The most serious have scary lenses and tripods of various shapes and sizes.
  • All serious hobby photographers think they’re pros.
  • All serious hobby photographers see something in your shot that you never saw.
  • Every serious hobby photographer’s idea of the perfect shot is different from every other serious hobby photographer.
  • All serious hobby photographers think they are creating “art”.
  • Real professional nature photographers will to anything to get the perfect shot.
  • Doug Pedwell, Kerry Jarvis, Carol Edwards and Ethan Meleg are passionate professional Nature Photographers and great teachers.
  • I need to study my camera manual more.
  • I know nothing about Nature Photography.

Week one is over. The wonderful weather repeated itself. Except for the last day, which started hot and humid. We were up at Cabot Head on the North Bruce when thunder boomed somewhere in the distance over Georgian Bay. First came the wind and waves. Then clouds turned gunmetal grey and it rained. But not for long.

Back at MacGregor Point Park seated on a gray driftwood log a few metres from the shore I watch as a light breeze raises a slight chop on the lake. White crested surf breaks on shore. Its repetition creates a white noise that can lull you to sleep if you let yourself relax.

I thought about what I learned. I thought about the impressions left by people who were not only great shooters, but also individuals who knew the Latin names of the birds, plants and flowers that were their subjects as well as the habitat, history, geography and landscape that is their inspiring natural studio.

And the best thing about it was – they genuinely wanted to share their knowledge.


"Dragonfly" patterned leaves on the surface of Turtle Pond

Rock formation found off Dyer's Bay Road

Ram's Head Orchid in Singing Sands National Park, North Bruce

Split Rock on shoreline of Huron, MacGregor Point

Cancer Root in Singing Sands Park. Very small. Needed macro lens.

Pitcher Plant - not mature. Singing Sands Park

Wild Rose - Singing Sands ParkWaterfall on the road to Cabot Head

Waterfall on the road to Cabot Head Lighthouse.


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Snow geese

Early on a November Sunday.

The sun had melted the frost that came by night and the remaining moisture hung in a haze over the Sound. The grass was still green. A few leaves, drained of colour remained on the trees. The day started out warm and comfortable. It was a typical ‘British Morning’. So says Peter, our guide for the day.

I am here looking out over Owen Sound with Birders from the Owen Sound Field Naturalists. Now, I am not a birder. Far from it. But, I am outside, under an unbelievable blue sky, in the company of people who find staring at waterfowl from a distance, fascinating. They come armed with books; binoculars and spotting scopes, which make birding, look like a very expensive hobby.

As the day, progresses, and we scoot from location to location, literally circling the Sound from one shore to another searching for different species of ducks, geese and biggest genus of sea gull in the world…I am impressed. I am impressed with the fine points of difference between ducks and greater and lesser geese recently arrived, thanks to the shift in jet stream, from different parts of Canada’s north.

And there were firsts for me as well. I saw pure white Snow Geese for the first time. I had never seen Snow Buntings before. They’re big. And their winter plumage gives them hawk-like colouring. Across from the grain elevators on the foreshore just in front of the weeds a Great Blue Herron stood silent as a sentry.

Its regal head turned slowly as if watching me watching it through the binoculars. It too, is big.

I learned that is it OK to talk, but softly, as you approach birds sitting close to shore. You won’t spook them this way. They know you’re not a threat if they hear and see you. Why? Because predators move swiftly and silently.

I learned that birders never stop birding. A prime example of this happened on Grey Road One as we drove past Cobble Beach. Peter, from the open window in the lead vehicle, frantically waving and pointing skyward, suddenly pulled off the road. We scrambled to follow suit without a long rear-ender. He jumped out and ran from car to car. There up in the sky, just above us, a Bald Eagle was gracefully riding the wind off Georgian Bay in lazy circles. It must have been a crazy sight to the motorists that zipped by us…14 people with binoculars trained on a dark, white-headed bird who couldn’t care less.

Birders know what to look for and where. They love nature. They love the land. They know what they’re doing. And I would follow them again just to be amazed at a world most of us tend to ignore.

Peter discovered this epitaph on a grave in Suffolk. The author was not recorded but the date was 1560:

The wonders of this world,

The beauty and the power,

The shapes of things,

Their colours, lights and shades:

These I saw.

Look ye also, while life lasts

Good advice.


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EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR BUSINESS…at least they think they do.

One of the idiosyncrasies of small town Ontario that I’ve yet to get use to is the one the lets you think you can live anonymously in your community. If you come from away, you immediately forfeit your privacy. Any unfamiliar face on the street suffers intense scrutiny. Your identity must be made known. The townies will not rest until your past and your present is revealed or, at best, subject to some subtle investigation.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Most new-kids-in-town expect some scrutiny. They’ve taken up a new life, in a new place by choice. Making new friends is part and parcel of fitting in. The prying of new neighbours is, at first blush, kind of fun. Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?

What is kind of unnerving though, is when they look at you and say,

“Oh, you’re the ones who bought the old such & such place,” and then fall silent, and look at you sideways, watching you try to figure what they really mean.

Case in point. Not long ago my son bought 42 acres of untouched meadow next to a site protected by the Grey/Bruce Conservation Authority. It was an old farm, long abandoned close to Big Bay. It had a sawmill, at one time. The original house, barn and out buildings were removed after the Niagara Escarpment people ordered an Environmental Assessment. (It passed.)

Eventually he will build his family a home there. But right now it sports, a fire pit, a woodshed and a trailer – nothing else. It is his escape from the city.


The other weekend we enjoyed a picnic and some bird watching there. Afterwards we drove to Keppel Croft Gardens to wander their nature trail. My daughter-in-law was chatting with Dawn the owner. She mentioned that they were up visiting their property. Dawn innocently asked where it was. When told, she immediately responded, “Oh, you’re the ones who bought that old farm…lots of mosquitoes on that property. And you’ve put a caravan there. How long will you be living in it?”

My daughter-in-law destroyed their assumption that they were living in the trailer.  But she did plant the idea that an architecturally different home would soon be built on the land…just to give them something else to talk about.

Now Dawn will be telling everyone that a lovely young couple have taken the old storied farm that stood vacant for so long, under their wing.

Word sure gets around, doesn’t it? Well, at least now, they have a clearer picture. The owners of the old farm are no longer anonymous.


Circumnavigating Georgian Bay

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It was not our initial intention to drive all the way around Georgian Bay. Originally our plan was an out and back route. That is, drive to Tobermory. Take the Chi Cheemaun across the bay to South Beymouth – drive through Manitoulin (the world’s largest fresh water island) – head down to Killarney – then take the same route back home. But, things change and you go where the road takes you

This first day of fall was cool and clear. A half moon was still visible in the full blue sky. The drive up to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula was quick on an empty Highway 6.

Whitecaps on the water and high winds off the bay had forced the glass bottom boats to cancel their tours. N. wondered if this was some kind of an omen. But the Chi Cheemaun is so big and heavy with a full load of cars, trucks and trailers, semis, campers, motorcycles, fuel and passengers, it’s not likely to be grounded under the current conditions,

Standing in the wind facing the loading dock one can’t help being impressed watching this craft come in. Even before it settles into its mooring, the bow opens like some giant sperm whale about to devour krill, raising up almost to the bridge to reveal its vehicle deck.  As soon as it come to a stop it spews out vehicle after vehicle, two-wheel, four wheel, eighteen wheel. Talk about a carbon footprint. It empties and reloads in less than 30 minutes then sets sail again.

We climb to the top deck and a magnificent view. The cold wind and whitecaps are more pronounced but the ship is steady. On one side of us is the vast expanse of Lake Huron stretching to the horizon, sparking in the sun. On the other, the islands of Georgian Bay dot the waterscape. It gives you a safe feeling knowing land is close by.

Without clouds to hold back its heat, the sun beats down reflecting off the steel deck. There is warmth in the air behind the stacks in the stern and people stretch out and doze off on the benches. There is still a bit of wind though and those in shorts and sandals take refuge inside. Those of us who stay will be well wind-burned and sunburned in no time.

After two hours we dock and drive out of the belly of the boat into a packed dock. Vehicles for the return trip are lined up and waiting. This is a busy ferry. The conjestion of cars forbids us to dally. We will have been driving and sailing for seven hours by the time we reach Espanola. That’s as far as we’re going today.


The sun rises above the Domtar stacks – 5 of them – spewing white smoke and steam into the skies over the small town of Espanola. All night long, you hear this white-noise drone and when you realize it is the sound of the stack blowing their residue 24/7 you just shake your head. Sleep was fitful because of this and the sound or 18-wheelers loaded with lumber, rolling up and down Highway 6.

The Mill House B&B ( is on Sheppard Street just off the highway but not far enough off to dull down the noise. ‘Jewel’ is the innkeeper. Her husband has worked at ‘the Mill’ for over 30 years. Her two boys work there in the summer. Most everybody in town works at “the Mill.” Another example of a one-industry town living under the fear that if Domtar’s market share fails and their stock goes down – layoffs sit on the horizon.

Interesting thing is ‘The Mill’ has been around for 104 years. Espanola has only been incorporated as a town for 50 years. From 1943 to 1946 Espanola was home to German Prisoner of War Camp #21. The captured soldiers built the road from Espanola to Manitoulin Island. They even tried to build an escape tunnel. But, they were caught in the act.

 We are in the Mercedes room – the only one with an en  suite. It is quaintly decorated with a canopy bed – wicker  chairs – lots of old photos in antiques frames on loan from  the town museum. There are ‘historical’ knick-knacks all  over the place. It is a comfortable room – charming is how    N. describes it. But, it is not quiet.

 Nonetheless, the sound of smooth jazz filters up the  staircase. As we come down to breakfast I noticed the  speakers hidden behind an antique hutch. In the parlor, a  fire (gas) burned in the white painted brick fireplace. The ambiance gives you a cozy feeling. In the dining room the old oak table featured two full place settings, a full coffee pot, sunflowers in a vase, two glasses of juice and on the white dinner ware two orange yogurt parfaits and a flowery card with a hand written message wishing us a “great day.” This wasn’t your typical ‘serve yourself’ B&B breakfast.

‘Jewel’ appeared and served us each a Brie Omelet dusted with shaved almonds, sausage wontons and toasted 7-grain bread. She followed with fresh baked scones and homemade strawberry preserves. All of this was included in the price of the room – $90.00 for the two of us. If you ever have to spend a night in Espanola I highly recommend you stay at The Mill Bed and Breakfast.


Out of Espanola you pick up The Trans Canada to Highway 69. Drive for a couple of hours then turn down Secondary Highway 637 for a 63 km drive through the fall foliage and granite outcrops to the North Shore of Georgian Bay, past Killarney Provincial park, to Killarney Mountain Lodge.

Originally it was a wilderness hideaway for the Fruehauf family. They make 18-wheelers. They used it as a corporate retreat until the IRS in the U.S. got suspicious. The Feds wondered how the company could write the place off as a manufacturing center when there was no road in and the only way you could get there was by water or air.

True. Until 1962 there was no direct road in to the small fishing town of Killarney. It was founded – way back – as a fur trading post by the Voyageurs. The town survived on its isolation and independence. Today it is still small with a population of 250. The grade school only has 9 students. A lengthy inlet provides safe harbour for all manner of crafts, but it appears that there is only one active fishing boat these days.

The lodge is rustic (read old). It will soon need renovation. Still it sits on a landscape of spectacular vistas of rock, water and sky. They say it is “the quintessential Canadian experience on Georgian bay,” and they are right.

We walked through the tiny village. The harbour docks are the main street. A older woman in an SUV was coming out of a small store with a painful look on her face. She was looking for vinegar. She was putting something down for the winter and had run out. Seems there wasn’t a bottle anywhere in town. The only place she could get what she needed was in Sudbury – two hours away – a four hour round trip. That’s what happens in small towns. 

Killarney inflates with tourists and boaters in the summer. Right now is is quiet.  Silent. Absolutely no traffic sound. Just the sound of water, wind, the call of migrating geese and the odd boat moving up the inlet. I thought Southampton was peaceful. Killarney outclasses it for quietude.

Next day we climbed the Park’s Granite Ridge Trail. It took us up steep, exposed granite rock faces. Gave us sweeping views of Georgian Bay and the white La Cloche Mountains. They say these quartzite hills are 2.1 billion years old and the basis of a mountain range that once pushed up higher than the Rockies. They have aged beautifully.

 That afternoon we got a different view of things. We sailed    through the channel into Killarney Bay. The  shoreline, rock  formations and islands were just as breathtaking. But we  were shocked to see one of the  big islands decapitated by  strip mining. Not what you would expect out here. We also  saw large summer  estates on the shore. Americans owned  them all. You can form your own opinion.


 On our homeward leg we were booked to sail back to  Tobermorey at 3:50 PM. That meant retracing our route and killing a whole day driving and waiting – not getting home until well after 7:00 PM. Our GPS told us we could be home by 3:00 PM if we just followed the shoreline south. We did, going full circle around Georgian Bay and getting back to Southampton well before the ferry even sailed from South Beymouth.

The scenery changed after a while. Four-lane highways are like that. But the serenity of where we were stayed with us. It was a six-hour drive. A round trip of 856 km and two hours of sailing later we were home with impressions of Killarney in the fall still on our minds.







Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 27, 2008 at 9:19 PM