I am now in Collingwood, on the southern shore of Georgian Bay, a couple of hours north of Toronto. This town suffered a fate worse than death in 1963: a 17-year-old boy burned down the library, a Carnegie Library no less, in order to conceal his break-in and theft of $10. I have had an interesting first week in Canada.
The ferry ride from Sandusky, OH, to Pelee Island is quite beautiful. As the sun sets one leaves the dockside in downtown Sandusky, whose aging factories show hopeful signs of a rebirth as classy condos, and glides by the world’s largest collection of giant rollercoasters – skeletal constructions which cast, to me, the same kind of spell as a museum hall full of reconstructions of massive dinosaurs – groups of gargantuan arches and catenaries gathered in silent community. In the gathering dusk one passes the islands of Lake Erie, one of which is dominated by the thrid of America’s giant “constructed obelisks” – the memorial to Commodore Perry and Monument to International Peace (or something like that). An hour later one arrives in Canada, where one is greeted by two very young female customs officers who are somewhat non-plussed by the idea that one might be staying for several months.
Pelee Island is one of those communities that attracts plants, animals and people who are odd and far out of place. The woods on Fish Point, the southernost point of Canada, are dominated by hackberry, a tree that I associate with Texas. There are giant and very black box turtles, and a Blue racer snake that is unique to Pelee. Then there are at least two organic farming endeavours on the island, at one of which there is also a large solar generator and a small wind farm. The swimming is delightful at Pelee.
I met a young lady there who was half Irish and half Italian from Ronda in the Mugello, a place well- known to Ingrid and I, and who had grown up in Bermuda. She was there for the organic farming. Then there was the crew of Educators from Windsor University who were there for a retreat: two Welshmen, a Dorsetman, a Nigerian and two West Indians, a Nova Scotiaman and a couple of good average Canadians. And the group of truckdrivers, regulars to the island, with their frightening tales of driving from the lower Rio Grande Valley through to Toronto in 30 hours straight, so as to have fresh veggies at the market at opening time on Sunday. Three sets of logbooks. Someone asked the truckdrivers “How was the fishing?” The answer was “Oh, we were having such a good time we forgot to launch the boat, eh!” They’d only been there for 4 days.
After a day (Monday, June 7th) of R&R on Pelee, I found that a spoke in my rear wheel had gone – a predicted occurrence. Also, I had a flat in the front tire as a result of the island’s gravel roads. So on Tuesday morning I fixed the flat and cycled off to the other end of the island to get the fast boat to mainland canada. This turned out to be a Volkhov hydrofoil built for high-speed travel on Russian rivers. Long and narrow, with the inside very bus-like.
It was beautiful weather, but I soon found that the wind was against me, which gave me time to admire all the perfectly groomed unimaginably green and varied in their shades of green-ness yards along the road between Kingsville, where I landed, and Leamington, site of the nearest bike shop. There were also dozens of stalls where local people were selling strawberries and asparagus.
I got the spoke fixed in Leamington, and also a link taken out of the chain, which had grown too long with use. Then set off along the north shore of Lake Erie into the teeth of a rather hard nor’easter. Just as in the US, there is little access to the lake in Canada: although no-one can own the foreshore, they CAN own all the land behind it, and there seems to be little idea of the right of public access. In any case, the north shore of this part of Lake Erie is mainly cliffs developed in soft and shaly lacustrine sediments which are, where visible from the road, eroded into weird and wonderful pillars and spires. These cliffs are obviously quite dangerous.
As the sun set I was a long way from anywhere to stay, and so turned off the main road to go into the town of Erieau (pron. Eeree-oh) which, being on a spit, seemed likely to be a tourist place. On the way in, the road was lined by hundreds of summer cottages, whole blocks of which would have German names on their mailboxes, then Dutch, then French, etc. Behind the road were reclaimed marshes, whose drainage ditches were lined on both sides by masses of blooming phlox – solid walls of purple. I finally got into Eriau, to find that the owners of the first two motels had closed the office and gone out of town So I ended up both eating and dstaying at “Molly & OJ’s” – a little expensive but a great meal of fish and chips and a nice room. Went for a swim in the morning (Wednesday, June 7), but the onshore wind had made the water murky and blown in paper cups and other human flotsam and jetsam.
After my swim, and after having been given a Canadian frlag from his garden by OJ, the owner, I set off to cross the peninsula to the shores of Lake Huron. I really wanted to see the huge Greta Lakes freighters steaming up and down the St. Clair River, but the adverse wind ruled that out, thankfully, because Moorestown, ONT, on the river, was hit by a tornado at about the time I would have been there. I was actually about 20 miles east of where the tornado hit, and the storm there was interesting enough: the day turned from muggy and Houstonly hot to dark and sullen, and then the wind got up from the west in violent gusts which lifted tons of yellow soil from the fields and turned the whole sky yellow. At this point I found shelter under the eaves of the nearest house, just south of the little vilage of Shetland. The trees around me were being bent over horizontally, and dust was everywhere. The family at the house turned out to be Mennonites or Amish, and the adult women were obviously ill-at- ease speaking to me, though the kids were all excited to see a stranger. They invited me in, but I elected to remain outside, and placed a tarp over the bike.
After the storm was over I cycled off into the rain: on the south side of Shetland a whole line of huge ?cottonwoods had been blown over and lay parallel on the ground. The Library was open, whereas those in all the larger towns of the are were cloed. As I went in to enquire about getting on the internet, the lady said “Oh, it’s no use, I was just leaving, the Hydro’s out, eh!” i.e the power was gone. As I rode north for the next 40 miles, getting wetter and wetter, I realized that the only electric devices working were the traffic lights. I stopped to eat in one little town, but none of the restaurants were open because they had no power. There were no Motels in sight, and I was beginning to get worried about where I would stay, and then realized that I was better off than the natives, because I didn’t need electricity. Therefore, I stopped at a Supermarket that was open because it had an emergency generator, and bought some food. So, eventually, I came to Kettle Point on the shores of Lake Huron, pitched my tent, and had quite a decent meal of Ramen noodles, sardines, and bread. Even managed a shower. When I fell asleep at about 10.00 p.m. the power was still off.
On Thursday morning the rain started in earnest just as I got all my stuff packed – I managed this by carting it into the Campground’s Laundry building. Stupidly I decided to cycle up to see Lake Huron at the end of the street – this was into a strong headwind and resulted in everything in my panniers getting wet again. I dried myself out by eating breakfast at the local restaurant, which was apparently owned and run by the local band of Ojibways, with a bilingual menu, English-Ojibway. Had an interesting conversation with an Indian about my age who had spent 20 years in the US army. I asked him “Why not the Canadian army?” “I thought I’d see more of the world with the US forces.”