Canada rocks!

I’ve just returned from one of the world’s great treasures, Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada. I have very little skepticism to offer—sure, I could talk about Park management, the Master Plan, logging, First Nations, etc. but then I’d lose an opportunity to share some of the natural beauty and some of the medical highlights.

The Park is about the size of Connecticut and occupies a huge chunk of Ontario as it bends around Lake Huron. (Remember that Ontario’s southernmost leg is rather far south, with the city of Windsor being directly south of Detroit. It widens toward the northeast, and then opens up north and westward, forming a sort of reverse “c” around Michigan.)

Now, for my fellow Americans, let me just reiterate: Canada is a country, not a state. Not only that, but their dollar is now worth about the same as ours, although many of those dollars come in odd coins called “loonies” and “twonies”. They are also fond of some odd foods, such as poutine (not to be confused with “poutaine“), a dish which ruins perfectly good french fries by covering them with cheese curds and gravy.

But all that aside, Canada has done a great job of guarding its natural resources, and the Park is an example. Its Master Plan creates zones of utilization, setting aside the bulk of the Park for recreation and conservation, and creating smaller areas for logging, development, and other purposes.

The Park lies at the southernmost extend of the Canadian Shield, so in most places, you can scrape a bit of soil away with your shoe and find solid rock. I’m no geologist, but it’s pretty cool rest your hand on a hunk of granite and say to yourself, “this is the Earth’s crust…not topsoil, not sand, but the actual bedrock of my planet. Very cool.

This leaves areas perfect for white pine, red pine, and hemlock. The hills and highlands have the usual hardwoods like maple, and give way to conifers as the soil gives way to rock near lake shores.

I could probably go on all day about the fragrant wintergreen-scent of a fresh cut yellow birch twig, wild blueberries, etc., but really, the pines hanging onto rocky shorelines and the fall colors of the hardwood highlands are what many people remember from the Park. Group of Seven painter Tom Thompson (who is a much better Canadian product than poutine) captured the many moods of the Park in paintings such as “West Wind” and “Autumn Foliage”.

I keep trying to get down to business, and I keep getting sidetracked by the Park’s natural beauty. You really have to get there before you die. Really. It’s probably the best (accessible) canoeing on the planet (this is me and my kiddo, and, yes, the canoe is supposed to be leaning like that)

Anyway, it was a bit early in the season to be heading up there, unless you like black flies. I don’t. Neither does my wife. I had described them a bit to her, but when she actually stepped out of the car and was surrounded by a cloud of them, well, there’s nothing like direct experience, now, is there? Some folks were kind enough to let me take some pictures of their “war wounds”. Black flies, which are only a few millimeters in length, land around your hairline, painlessly scrape away some skin, and lap up the blood. This leaves the victim with a neck and scalp covered in small bumps and scabs and, after enough bites, swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Thankfully the season is short. The mosquitoes last most of the spring and summer, and they represent a significant annoyance, especially at dusk. This time of year, deer flies also make their earliest appearance, to be followed later by horse flies, a truly vicious beast that is remarkably resistant to blunt force delivered by a canoe paddle.

None of that should discourage a visit to the Park, albeit with at least 30 percent DEET solution. For a real treat, go in the late summer/early fall, when the air is cool, the bugs are quiet, and the leaves are turning.

And by the way, a quick note to my friends up north—I know we’ve always called them “click beetles”, but really, they are white-spotted sawyers and, no, they cannot cut off your hair, and they don’t bite. Stop stepping on them.

Comments

  1. #1 Excluded Layman
    June 30, 2008

    None of that should discourage a visit to the Park, albeit with at least 30 percent DEET solution. For a real treat, go in the late summer/early fall, when the air is cool, the bugs are quiet, and the leaves are turning.

    Good advice for almost all wilderness activities. It makes the experience better by at least an order of magnitude being free from the distraction of biting insects.

    PS: My personal favourite for natural beauty in this part of the country is Bruce Peninsula National Park (http://images.google.com/images?q=bruce%20peninsula%20national%20park&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi).

  2. #2 Bob O'H
    June 30, 2008

    How was your mobile phone connection? I’m only asking because your description makes it sound like you were in Finland.

  3. #3 M2
    June 30, 2008

    Dude. You appear to be wearing scrubs on vacation. Am I wrong?

  4. #4 Vagueofgodalming
    June 30, 2008

    Glad you had a good time.

    let me just reiterate: Canada is a country, not a state.

    But don’t American exceptionalists see the world as made up of countries, of which 50 have had the sense to see that the Constitution is the correct and final mode of government, and of which the rest are only held back from joining by their oppressive and imperialist governments, as evidenced by the incontrovertible fact that all the people of those countries have no higher ambition than to emigrate to the USA?

  5. #5 brook
    June 30, 2008

    nice boat but where’s your pfd?

    We paddled in the 1000 islands region of the St Lawrence in mid-May, which meant wet suits for everybody. The registrar at the local ER (nothing like a little medical disaster to spice up a vacation) looked at us in all our neoprene splendor and asked “A bit early for canoeing isn’t it?”

    My dh didn’t miss a beat “Gotta get here before the black flies.”

    The registrar nodded “That makes very good sense.”

    Algonquin is a great place.

  6. #6 Dianne
    June 30, 2008

    Put on your life jacket! What good do you think it’s going to do sitting on the canoe seat? Plus your kid will eventually catch on to the hypocrisy and refuse to put hers on.

    Beautiful pictures.

  7. #7 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 30, 2008

    The Park is about the size of Connecticut and occupies a huge chunk of Ontario as it bends around Lake Huron.

    Make up your mind. Is it the size of Connecticut, or is it huge?

  8. #8 katie
    June 30, 2008

    Did ya see any moose yet? They’re the best part!

    I have a very lovely memory of tipping a canoe in one of those very deep lakes… Yeah, everything got soaked. But damn it was fun.

  9. #9 PalMD
    June 30, 2008

    Always wear you PDF. That being said, when I’m in the little canoe bay, I don’t wear it. When I’m out in the lake, I do.

    No moose on this trip—lots of scat and tracks though.

    Yes, scrubs make good camping shirts. Also, I was acting as camp doctor, so a little bit (very little) was involved.

  10. #10 Jim Baerg
    June 30, 2008

    “this is the Earth’s crust…not topsoil, not sand, but the actual bedrock of my planet. Very cool.”

    In a way it’s even cooler to do that a bit farther north.
    The Grenville Front is the boundary (roughly a line parallel to the St. Lawrence River running through Sudbury) between rock that is the eroded roots of merely 1 billion year old mountains to the SE & rock that is the eroded roots of 2 to 2.5 billion year old mountains to the NW.

  11. #11 Adrian
    June 30, 2008

    The very existence of horse flies is strong proof against the existence of a god. Those little buggers are diabolical.

    Algonquin is an amazing place, but it’s hard to pay attention to its beauty while the back of your head is being dive-bombed by massive flies.

  12. #12 David Amulet
    June 30, 2008

    Canada is the least respected state … er, I mean “country.”

    This reminds me a great t-shirt I saw recently: “Canada: America’s Hat.”

  13. #13 Deech56
    June 30, 2008

    Algonquin! Ah, the memories of hiking and canoe trips back in the late ’70s – early ’80s. I did see moose twice, and lots of loons – the bird, not the coin. I’ve mostly gone there in late summer, after the bugs, and once in April (May?) before the bugs. I tried Ole Time Woodsman once, but my travel pals didn’t take too kindly to it, and learned that a three-mile portage builds character (at least that’s what the outfitter claimed).

  14. #14 arby
    June 30, 2008

    Good point T.B., FCD. My home county was bigger than Connecticut. It was huge… for a county.
    NPR happened to do a piece on the smallest and largest US National Parks tonight. The smallest was .02 acres, if I recall correctly. Essentially a small room where a Polish Revolutionary War hero lived for seven months while trying to get his back pay from the Congress. rb

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    June 30, 2008

    Have you tried poutine? It terrified me until I tasted some. With decent gravy, it’s pretty good. Weird, but good.

    Now I’m itching for a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

  16. #16 HCN
    July 1, 2008

    Canada is a big country. All the times I have been to British Columbia I have never seen poutine! But have seen Nanaimo Bars, oh, yummy yummy!

    See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanaimo_bar

  17. #17 Dianne
    July 1, 2008

    The very existence of horse flies is strong proof against the existence of a god. Those little buggers are diabolical.

    Ermm…doesn’t it actually make them evidence FOR the existence of a god if they’re diabolical?

  18. #18 Graculus
    July 1, 2008

    This reminds me a great t-shirt I saw recently: “Canada: America’s Hat.”

    I prefer this one

  19. #19 HCN
    July 2, 2008

    I forgot to mention, my hubby is from Vancouver Island (that is in Canada, by the way… he is from a town a bit west of Nanaimo). I asked him about poutine. He said he had heard of french fries with cheese curds and gravy, but never called “poutine”, and only after he moved down here when he was 13 years old. He thought it was something they did on the East Coast in the USA.

    Oh, by the way… most of the times I have been to British Columbia was to visit relatives. We did sneak up to Victoria once without alerting his mother who would notified every relative in the province! (who live in Victoria, Tofino, Pt. Alberni, Nanaimo, Grand Forks, Courtney, Comox, Prince Rupert, Penticton and Nelson… pretty much the entire province!)

    I love going. Him, not so much.

    He keeps wanting go to Hawaii. To just go to an island and relax by the sea. I just told him there were these nice resorts on sandy beaches with warm water on the Straights of Georgia in Parksville. He was not pleased with that option (the last time we went was at a family reunion there!).

    I actually like his relatives! And he likes mine (who live far inland in places like Colorado and Arizona, yuck!).

  20. #20 katie
    July 2, 2008

    “The very existence of horse flies is strong proof against the existence of a god. Those little buggers are diabolical.”

    I spent a couple of summers doing horse fly diversity surveys. It wasn’t the actual existence of the horse flies that I considered proof against god…it was that there are 40+ different species in the province of Nova Scotia.

    I mean…isn’t that a little overkill!!??! *shakes fist at sky*

  21. #21 Winter Toad
    July 2, 2008

    Well, living in Ottawa, I went downtown for Canada Day yesterday, and I did order a poutine to go with my lunch. I have a different opinion of the french fries / poutine issue. Frying makes raw potatoes edible, but gravy and cheese make fried potatoes palatable. I’d actually rather leave fries on the plate than eat them unadorned.

    I first saw poutine when attending CEGEP in Montreal, around 1984. I went to graduate school in Toronto in 1988, and they’d never heard of poutine there, but by the time I finished several years later, you could buy poutine in the KFCs in Toronto, so I guess it’s spreading, at least toward the west.

    And, contrary to the slander of a Hollywood movie from several years ago, we do not put mayonnaise on our french fries up here. That’s a belgian thing, I understand.

  22. #22 stewart
    July 6, 2008

    I’ll encourage you to watch/listen to ‘The Black Fly Song’, by Wade Hemsworth, written after a bad experience in northern Ontario.
    http://www.nfb.ca/animation/objanim/en/films/film.php?sort=cc&id=25968
    It’s how we keep the north our own, and don’t have to worry about invasion.

  23. #23 henrylow
    January 28, 2010

    There’s a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.

    http://www.onlineuniversalwork.com

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