Search This Blog

Friday, July 31, 2015

Voyageur Trail: Silver Falls to Magpie Scenic High Falls

Today was rainy with a high of only 54F, cloudy the whole day.  We had hoped to go out on a hike this morning, but the rains stymied that plan.  So we stayed in and knocked off some repair items on our "to do" list.

Once we finished lunch, the forecast was for a break in the showers until about 4:00 pm, so we decided to make a dash out to do an afternoon hike along the Voyageur Trail, from Silver Falls in the First Nation Village of Michipicoten, up to Magpie Scenic High Falls, along the Magpie River, which happens to run past our campground.

The Magpie River empties into Lake Superior here, and the view down the river from where we started our hike, as the river spilled over Mission Falls, was beautiful:

Looking upstream, we could see the elegant Silver Falls.  We would be hiking up past it to the right in this photo:

Here, Kathy examines the dilapidated remains of the trailhead sign, which simply reads, "Voyageur Trail."  We wonder that a little more care for the basics of the trails isn't taken by local hiking clubs.

Having said that, the trail itself was generally clear and in very good condition.  Fresh work had clearly been done to cut fallen trees and clear the path.

From time to time we got tempting views of Magpie River, in this case looking downstream back toward Silver Falls:

About halfway up the trail, we crossed a large power line easement.  Walking out to the edge of the cliff, we got a panoramic view of the River.  Here, some islands peek up through the flowing waters:

The trail was moderately difficult, with many ups and downs.  It was made treacherous by incessant wet (i.e., slippery) tree roots.  In one case (see photo below), we had to ford a drainage.  David is demonstrating how deep we had to climb down, and then back up:

On toward Magpie Scenic High Falls, we were treated to another panorama of the river, again looking downstream:

Here, Kathy demonstrates the proper "straddling" method for clambering over a fallen tree when it is too high or large to simply step over:

As we arrived at the viewing point for Magpie Scenic High Falls, we happened on a memorial to Glenn Gould, who was a Canadian pianist who became one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century. He was particularly renowned as an interpreter of the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach. His playing was distinguished by remarkable technical proficiency and capacity to articulate the polyphonic texture of Bach's music.  This memorial describes Mr. Gould's love of the Algoma Highlands and the Wawa region.  It quotes him in part as saying, "Something very strange happened to me the first time I was up here [in Wawa]....I did I think the best writing of my entire life at that time and I decided that it was the sort of therapy that I needed, and I've been coming back for more of the same ever since...."

Glenn Gould is memorialized at the Falls in more ways than one.  Two painted Muskoka (Adirondack) Chairs have been painted in "piano" themes and sit next to the Glenn Gould memorial. Here, Kathy shows one of them:

The painted chairs were a project of a local Catholic elementary school shop class.  The entire community embraced the project.  The students acquired and primed the chairs, and then turned them over to local artists to finish based on various Wawa themes.  We particularly liked the piano keys and pianist hands on the chair above.

We decided to climb up to get a better view of the Falls.  Here, Kathy is leading the way across a bridge up the hill:

This was our first view of the Magpie Scenic High Falls, as the ribbons of white foam spread over the huge granite cliff:

As the water spilled down into the river basin, it continued downstream and disappeared through a stone arch under which our trail ran, in the far distance in this photo:

We finished our hike quite satisfied with our discoveries, and we beat the showers back to our RV by only a few minutes.  Kathy had put on a crockpot meal of spiced boneless leg of lamb, marinated in beer and chicken stock, with potatoes, onions and carrots.  We feasted on this supper and warmed our feet in front of the fire, looking out on our green, rainy wonderland, thinking that it doesn't get much better than this:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Famous Goose of Wawa

The town of Wawa, Ontario, is said to have been named after the Ojibwe word for "snow goose," wewe, or perhaps after wewegonk, the Ojibwe for "place of clear water," but as far as the residents of Wawa are concerned, "Wawa" means "wild goose," just as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow creatively opined in his epic poem, "The Song of Hiawatha":

Should you ask me, whence these stories? 
Whence these legends and traditions, 
With the odors of the forest 
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
  I should answer, I should tell you,
"From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer."
  Should you ask where Nawadaha
Found these songs so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
"In the bird's-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
  "All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!"

Whatever the actual origin, in 1960, when Canada finally completed the first road to Wawa, west from Sault Ste. Marie (presently Highway 17, the Trans-Canada Highway), the local residents celebrated by dedicating a statue of a wild goose as the symbol of their town.  The goose was constructed of chicken wire and hand-mixed plaster, was 27 feet high, 23 feet long, and weighed 150,000 pounds!

The poor goose quickly submitted to the elements, and was replaced by a new, steel goose, which still stands today at the visitor center which is the entrance to the town just off Highway 17:

Don't feel too wistful for the old goose, though, because she (we know it is a "she" because Stompin' Tom Connors told us so - see below) was saved and can presently be enjoyed sitting next to Young's General Store as you drive into town:

Not to be outdone, however, other townsfolk have attempted to represent the town mascot in various art forms. The only other goose statue in town is just a bit further down the road and graces the front of the Wawa Motor Inn:

So, you can see that the residents of Wawa take their geese very seriously and treat them kindly. Why, a well-known Canadian singer, Stompin' Tom Connors, even wrote a ballad about this goose (hear it performed here), "Little Wawa":

Little Wawa was a wild goose 
Who from the southland flew
In a v shaped flock of wild geese
With her lover Gander Goo
Her lover Gander Goo

They flew across North Michigan
To see the sights below
Cause they were on their honeymoon
To North Ontario
To North Ontario

Honk Honk said Little Wawa
Honk Honk my Gander Goo
In geese talk that means I love you
And I always will be true
I always will be true

Little Wawa
Little Wawa

The night was fast approaching
A dreadful hissing sound
Cause an arrow from an Indian boy
And Gander goose shot down
Gander goose fell down

The wild geese kept flying
But Wawa would not go
She stayed to find her lover
In the bush land far below
In the bush land far below

Honk Honk said Little Wawa
Honk Honk my Gander Goo
In goose talk that means I love you
And I always will be true
I always will be true

Little Wawa
Little Wawa

A goose that died of heartbreak
A legend she became
But now she’ll live forever
In a town that bears her name
A town that bears her name

If you should see her statue
On highway 17
You’ll know that you’re in Wawa
And her love song you will sing
Her love song you will sing

Honk Honk said Little Wawa
Honk Honk my Gander Goo
In goose talk that means I love you
And I always will be true
I always will be true

Little Wawa
Little Wawa

Eddie & George Wake Up in Wawa...Ontario!

The boys finally got to Wawa, Ontario.  They'd been hearing so much for so long about Wawa from Uncle Tom, that they figured it must be heaven-on-earth.

They were right:

The campground even provides free camp chairs for campers:

The boys also met Gitchee Goomee, a totem figure carved by a local Michipicoten First Nation artist, Shane (Spike) Mills, variants of which appear all over the Wawa community:

"Gitchee goomee" is said to mean "all-powerful waters" in the Ojibwe dialect.  It was also memorialized in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, "The Song of Hiawatha":

On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
Of the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood Nokomis, the old woman,
Pointing with her finger westward,
O'er the water pointing westward,
To the purple clouds of sunset.

Longfellow set "The Song of Hiawatha" at Pictured Rocks, along the south shore of Lake Superior. The town of Wawa, Ontario is on the north shore.  But the boys think it's just all right for Gichee Goomee to hang out in Wawa if the local First Nations people think it is.

Walking Around Wawa

Hi Blog! Friday, July 30, 2015, was our first full day in Wawa, Ontario! For those of you not from the east coast of the United States, Wawa is an institution. It is the go-to place for coffee, sandwiches and gas for folks from Pennsylvania to Virginia and now even in Florida. Everyone has their favorite Wawa convenience store. My brother-in-law even works for Wawa. We felt we had to make a special stop in Wawa to get as many Wawa souvenirs as we could. Let the shopping begin!

Wawa, Ontario, just like Wawa, Pennsylvania, was named for the Ojibwe word for wild goose. However, the similarities end there. Wawa, PA was a farming and dairy town, while Wawa, ON was all about mining iron and gold. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and learned of the various mining operations. Here is one of the ore cars that ran along the underground tracks.

The town of Wawa, ON grew as the mining operations grew, but there were no roads in or out. To get anywhere you had to go by train to Lake Superior and then by boat. To draw national attention to their plight, four Wawa residents walked the long, arduous and roadless section of coastline on the east shore of Lake Superior to where the highway construction had stalled because they said it was too rough to go any further. The local residents set out to prove that if they could walk the final 60 miles of shoreline, then surely a construction crew could build a road. The highway was finally completed on September 17, 1960. Here is an artists rendition of the four men of operation Michipicoten.

As we drove into town, Kathy saw a moose and had to stop and have her picture taken. We also did a little "Wawa" shopping.

A trip to Wawa would not be complete without a stroll along the shores of Wawa Lake. In 1899, Wawa was surveyed and plotted as a town and registered as Wawa City. In the latter half of the 1950s, the town's name was temporarily changed to Jamestown in honour of Sir James Hamet Dunn, but it was later returned to Wawa at the request of the community's residents. In Wawa, PA, the old town was subdivided into two townships, but the old residents still continued to address their mail Wawa, PA. You just can't keep a good Wawa down.

We continued our stroll along the lakeshore until we reached Lion Beach Park. Throughout the 1990s, Wawa and the Algoma Ore Division continued to be challenged by international market problems that plagued both the gold and iron mining industries. In December 1997, Algoma Steel announced that it could no longer support the high cost of extracting low-grade iron at Algoma Ore Division. Although Wawa's mountain of iron ore had more to give, operations were shut down in June 1998, one hundred years after iron was first discovered in this remote corner of northern Algoma. This drill rig was salvaged from the mine and brought down to the Lion Beach Park so folks could learn about the mining history of Wawa.

Last week, when we ran into Dennis and his dog, Buddy, he told us that Wawa had declined after the mine was shut down. Many of the mine employees were transferred from Wawa to Sault Ste. Marie to work in the steel mill. Somehow, after talking to Dennis, we expected Wawa to be a lot more run down. What we saw was folks making the best of it. Yes, there were a number of vacant store fronts, but the folks with properties were keeping them neat and fixed up. Dennis also mentioned to us that when we are in Wawa we should climb the hill and pick blueberries. We weren't exactly sure which hill we was referring to, but with all the blueberry bushes on every hill, it probably didn't much matter. We decided to hike in Mr. Vallee Park.

The park was started in the early 80’s by Mr. Arsene Vallee. After creating a staircase up the bluff, he continued to create a path to Anderson Lake. In order to do this he drained the swampy land by digging a drainage ditch 1,000 feet long, 3 feet wide and 5 feet deep. This veteran did this day after day, all by hand! At the end of the trail is Anderson Lake where he built a large picnic table and a fishing dock. We started our trek through Vallee Park by crossing over, you guessed it, the Wawa Creek.

It wasn't long before we found what we were looking for - blueberries! Unfortunately, at the same time as we were feasting on blueberries, the local mosquitoes were feasting on us!

We soon found ourselves at the end of the trail - Anderson Lake.

Time and weather conditions have not been kind to the park. The dock no longer exists and some of the stairs are in desperate need of repair. However, this did nothing to diminish the amazing views of Anderson Lake.

On the way back down, we took in the view of Wawa spread out before us.

Before long, our circular tour of Wawa was complete. We certainly enjoyed getting to know the "other" Wawa.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cycling the Hub Trail in Sault Ste. Marie

Today is our last day in Sault Ste. Marie, and we wanted to spend it cycling around the city.  Sault Ste. Marie has established the John Roswell HUB bike and hiking trail, which is a 25 km multi-use non-motorized trail system that connects many significant points of interest including the waterfront walkway, Bellevue Park, Algoma University, Sault College, the new hospital and Fort Creek Conservation Area, which we hiked yesterday.

This trail system provides access to all areas of the City and links together key cultural, historical, and natural areas of the community. In addition, community residents can use the trail as an alternative, environmentally friendly mode of transportation, decreasing auto-dependency within the City.  The Trail provides increased recreational opportunities for residents and visitors to Sault Ste. Marie and attracts many trail-using tourists such as us to the City. As well, the trail serves to promote local, provincial and national cross-country running and cycling trials and competitions.

In 2005, the City commissioned a private organization to prepare a plan for a continuous non-motorized trail around the city linking neighbourhoods and major recreational areas and connecting the existing boardwalk to other walking and cycling trails within the community. The project was a cooperative effort between the City and the Sault Trails Advocacy Committee (STAC), a Sault Citizens’ committee dedicated to the development of a coordinated non-motorized public trail system.

We started our ride at Fort Creek Conservation Area, where we had hiked yesterday.  Here we are setting out on the adventure:

The Trail passes through seven distinct areas or neighborhoods.  The first we encountered was the Fort Creek section.  We had hiked this and it was familiar.  Once we completed the initial section, we pedaled the Northern Corridor, which eventually took us past Velorution Bike Shop, one of the commercial supporters of the Trail.  Kathy thought this would be a cool bike to ride as we finished the circuit:

Further along in the Northern Corridor, we encountered the ubiquitous Sault Ste. Marie Water Tower, which has now been acquired by a hotel and conference center, but is a landmark in the city:

Further along, we cycled by Sault College --

-- which appears to maintain a demonstration project in wind energy:

Soon after Sault College, we entered the Finn Hill section of the City and the Trail.  This is marked by natural wooded landscapes and hiking trails.  Here is a view down the bike path:

Transitioning into the East Neighborhood, we passed Holy Cows Ice Cream Parlour, which boasts some pretty amazing cows:

We got a little lost in the East Neighbourhood section of the HUB Trail, partly because the trail markers seemed to disappear.  But a little map-and-GPS work got us back on track and we wound our way down to the Historic District, where we could see across the St. Mary's River to Michigan:

Near here, we passed through Bondar Square and Bondar Park.  These public spaces, and a sculpture in the area, are tributes to local Canadian hero Dr. Roberta Bondar.  Fulflling her childhood dream to be an astronaut, she was the first Canadian woman and the world’s first neurologist in space. She studied how living things respond when exposed to zero-gravity environments.  Roberta is also an accomplished scientist, physician, photographer, pilot and author. You can see her photography at the Art Gallery of Algoma and learn about her space travel at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.

We spotted this moose sculpture, which is a memorial --

-- a plaque near the moose states:

"This moose is dedicated to the memory of
four Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
employees who gave their lives in the service
of our province on January 21, 2003 while
conducting aerial moose surveys"

Soon we passed the Bushplane Museum, which we had visited yesterday:

And we cycled closer to a cargo vessel, the "Yankcanuck," which has been docked here since 2010.  Built in 1963, it sees only occasional service:

Eventually, we found Mile 0 of the HUB Trail, down on the waterfront.  Here, David poses in front of the marker:

Having reached the waterfront, we searched out the second of two restaurants we wanted to try.  This one is called "Low and Slow."  While it boasts Southern-style BBQ cuisine, we were surprised at its connections with Pennsylvania:  not only was their daily special a Philly Cheese Steak, but their one beer on tap was good old Rolling Rock beer from Latrobe, Pennsylvania!  We caught a photo of their sign and triangle dinner bell over the chef's station:

Having quaffed and feasted to our hearts' content, we bicycled on the remaining two miles to our point of beginning.  Along the way, we passed the newly reopened Essar Steel Algoma steel mill.  Essar Group is an Indian multinational conglomerate with investments in the sectors of steel, energy (oil & gas and power), infrastructure (ports, projects & concessions) and services (shipping, telecom, realty and outsourcing and technology solutions). With operations in more than 25 countries across five continents, Essar employs over 73,000 people and has revenues of $39 billion.  Essar began as a construction company in 1969 and diversified into manufacturing, services and retail.  The name Essar is derived by combining the first letter of the Chairman's and Vice-Chairman's first names – Shashi Ruia and Ravi Ruia:  S plus R sounds like "Essar."  The company has been responsible for revitalizing the steel plant in Sault Ste. Marie and restoring many jobs to the area.  Most of the local people we met have, in one way or another, been affected by the steel plant and its employment.

We're going to miss Sault Ste. Marie.  It is a more industrial city than we anticipated, and it has a further way to go economically than we guessed would be the case.  But it has much to interest tourists and its history is the history of this region of the Great Lakes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hikes & History in Sault Ste. Marie

Hi Blog! Today is Monday, July 27, 2015. We are experiencing a little heat wave up here in Canada. Folks around here say it is the warmest it has ever been this time of year. Because of the heat, we decided we would take it easy and just do a short walk in the woods, followed by lunch in Sault Ste. Marie. After lunch, we'll take in a couple of air conditioned museums.

Not far from our campground is the Fort Creek Conservation Area. This area was purchased to address flood control concerns experienced by businesses and residents living downstream. The Fort Creek Dam was constructed between 1968 and 1971 creating an 8 acres reservoir. Here is our first look at the reservoir.

For the first part of our walk in the woods, we would be following part of the John Rowswell HUB Trail along the south side of reservoir. This 22.5 km bike and walking trail provides access to all areas of the City of Sault Ste. Marie. The trail circles the whole city and boasts several large bridges like this one.

There were still small sections of the original trail on this side of the reservoir. Here Kathy climbs a series of log steps on her way to the top of the plateau.

Dave found a field of flowers to frolic in.

We soon found ourselves back on the HUB trail as it crossed over Fort Creek on another impressive bridge. This one wasn't as long as the other, but the views up and down the Fort Creek Valley were spectacular!

We left the paved HUB Trail to make our way back to the parking area by hiking the red and yellow trails on the north side of the reservoir. No sooner did we enter in to the woods than we had to stop and apply bug spay. The skeeters were out in force. As we were finishing our application of bug dope, a friendly fellow and his dog caught up to us. He was from the area, so we got to chatting about life in Sault Ste. Marie. Since he hikes these trails all the time, he knew there were two active beaver lodges nearby. He took us on a couple secret side trails. We could see the evidence of the beavers' handiwork all around us. Those are three inch long wood chips made by the beaver biting into the tree.

The lodges were a little harder to see. We did look about for the furry little fellows, but were unable to spy any activity. Beavers like to do most of their work at night, so it was probably too sunny and hot for them to be out and about.

Our impromptu tour guide, Dennis, just happened to be from Wawa, Ontario - the next stop on our RV adventure. We had a lovely discussion about the history of the town, the iron mines and the steel industry. The mine in Wawa is now closed and many of the workers were transferred to Sault Ste. Marie's relatively recently reopened steel mill, which was under common ownership with the mine. Dennis reported that the town of Wawa is slowly dying as a consequence of the loss of those jobs.  That said, the blueberry fields are still there and so are the mountain hikes and the Lake Superior beaches. It should still be an interesting stop - made more so, by learning first hand what it was like living and working in the area. Here is Kathy with Dennis and his trusty sidekick, Buddy.  Buddy has some herding instinct in him, because, as we hiked the trail, Buddy took the rear and made sure that each of us kept up with Dennis.

After bidding our new friends a fond farewell, we drove downtown to have lunch at Embers Grill & Smokehouse. This restaurant was highly recommended by the Visitors Center and did not disappoint. As with most of our dining experiences, there was beer involved. Two thumbs up for Union Jack California Common!

Having sated our hunger and quenched our thirst, it was on to the museums.

First stop was the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site. The brand new Historic Discover Center houses the reception area, gift shop, exhibit hall and movie theater. After watching a 20 minute film on the early history of Sault Ste. Marie, we were greeted by a young college student working as a tour guide. He offered to take us on a guided tour and we eagerly accepted. Here are Kathy and our tour guide leading us to the "Old Stone House."

The Ermatinger Old Stone House has been fully restored to depict the domestic and professional life of Charles Oakes Ermatinger, one of the first settlers of Sault Ste. Marie, a prodigious entrepreneur, and one of the few Loyalists who was successful at scamming the Yanks that he played no part in the raid on Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812 (which, in fact, he organized and led).  After he retired to Montreal, other respected residents lived in the House between 1808 and 1896.

The home was built with local red fieldstone and the exterior walls range from 30” to 36” thick. The house was filled with lots of cool historic relic from the early 1800s. It was great having the tour guide with us because he could explain what everything was and how it was used.  For example, we learned that the wings at face height that are on colonial armchairs were designed to protect the beeswax makeup of ladies (and gentlemen) from melting in the heat of the fireplaces of the time.  Never knew that!

After the Old Stone House, we walked over to the Clergue Blockhouse. Francis Hector Clergue arrived in Sault Ste, Marie in 1894 when he went to work for a group of Philadelphia financiers and investors.   Clergue recognized the potential that the areas natural resources possessed and capitalized on it developing multiple industries in Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area that have left a lasting impact on the community. Despite the fact that Clergue’s outlook was both modern and forward-looking, he chose to restore and expand the Blockhouse, the last remnant of the Hudson Bay Company Post, rather than build or purchase a modern home. Here is Kathy and our guide in front of the Blockhouse.

The lower stone story of the Blockhouse dates back to 1819, making it the second oldest stone building northwest of Toronto - second only to the Ermatinger stone house we had just toured. The bottom stone portion of the Blockhouse was originally a powder magazine built in 1819 by the Northwest Company. Clergue added the finishing touches.  He built a wall in the middle of the room to divide the magazine into two parts.  The back room was used as a kitchen and the front was used for a reception area.  Clergue pierced the walls and put windows in to allow natural light to enter the building. The upper story is comprised of solid cedar logs that are of a thickness great enough to support the living quarters of a cantilevered architectural style.  This style was chosen by Clergue and represented a style of the Indian War forts (circa 1760s).  The over hanging portion allowed for larger living arrangements, which Francis used to his advantage.  The Blockhouse during the Clergue years had a washroom, two bedrooms and a large living space on the upper-middle section. On the upper level there is a small, secret, private office concealed in a third story. Clergue completed construction in 1895 and used it as his home for himself and, at times, his brother Bertrand from 1895 to 1902.

Right across the street from the Historic Discover Center, is Canadian Bushplane Heritage Center. The CBHC preserves and tells the story of Canada’s bushplane and forest fire protection heritage and
how it has shaped life in northern and remote parts of Canada.  Much of the story concerns the Forestry Branch of the Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS), which was based here, and we infer that the museum was established here as a consequence.

We started our visit off by watching a couple of short films. The first one was a 3D movie on putting out forest fires with large tanker planes. The second film was a cute little video about the history of bush pilots - complete with video host. (Can you spy him in the pilot seat of the bushplane to the left in this photo?)

After learning about the different bushplanes, it was fun getting a chance to actually climb into them. We have visited a number of museums across the country and most of the exhibits elsewhere are "DO NOT TOUCH." Here we got to climb aboard and look about.

Dave even took a turn in the pilot's seat of the Saunders ST-27. This plane could haul 23 passengers and was suited for use on gravel and dirt airstrips in remove areas of northern Canada.

Kathy preferred to try her hand flying something a little more her speed.

We love finding these little museums and learning about the places we travel through. Tomorrow will be our last day in Sault Ste. Marie. It has been a great stop.