Friday, August 7, 2020
It was already a hot, sunny morning when we set out to tackle the 12 km of Trans Canada Highway we had to cover on our approach to Sudbury. Mentally we were fighting the fact that while it was 18 km to Sudbury it would take us almost 30 km of trekking to get to downtown and our destination for the night.
Although it wasn't an enjoyable walk per se, there were some small blessings to be found. The first was finding road construction that closed one lane, giving us a wider buffer from the traffic, and somewhat flatter shoulders than yesterday.
One of the highlights was passing through the small community of Wahnapitae, which was located on a beautiful river. The word Wahnapitae has several meanings in the languages spoken by the Ojibwa of the Anishinaabek First Nation, including "a place to cross the river", "wrinkled by the wind", and "a place where people gather beside the water". All of these seem like fitting descriptions for the beauty of the area.
Originally Wahnapitae was supposed to be the major population center of the region, not Sudbury. When logging was the major industry in the area the Wanapitei River was used to send logs to Southern Ontario, several lumber mills were located on the river, and the Central Pacific Railway went through town. When industry in the region shifted from logging to mining the booming town lost its momentum and the population centre shifted to Sudbury. As always we are amazed to think of how small twists in history and events transform how we think about the present. How economic decisions, a change of the political climate, or random decisions can shift the history of a region so fundamentally - transforming one community from obscurity to centrality in the span of a few years.
As we passed through the town, the church, with its red roof and white steeple was reflected almost perfectly in the river. Many of the homes along the water had docks with boats, which were also perfectly mirrored in the still surface of the river. There was a small footpath along its banks where several people were walking their dogs. A trading post, public school, and community center all suggested this was still a lively community.
Our next break came when we diverted off the highway into the town formerly known as Coniston and Nickel Center, which apparently has been amalgamated into the Greater Sudbury area. As we came into town on Government Rd we discovered that the pedestrian footbridge on the trail we were meant to follow was out, requiring us to find a detour. Construction - the seemingly permanent Canadian season - altered our route once again. We continued into town down street one with small houses, where we passed a large sports arena and then came to a beautiful central park.
The Coniston Centennial Park, which was beautifully maintained by the Lions Club, included a unique memorial to the fallen soldiers of WWI and WWII, a gazebo, a playground, and a large and lush community garden. The well-tended garden had many raised vegetable beds, as well as a border of bright yellow sunflowers. We enjoyed a break on a bench in the shade of one of the tall trees, enjoying the peaceful setting. The sunflowers were a strong reminder of the Caminos in Spain and France, where pilgrims often create smiling faces on the sunflowers that line the trail.
We wove our way through town, eventually following a smaller highway out the other side. We walked past a neighborhood of small houses, and then walked parallel to the train tracks. In the background we could see the smoke stacks of the nearby mine, which give this region its distinctive skyline.
At this point we began to notice a real change in the landscape surrounding Sudbury compared to what it looked like fifteen years ago. The terrain is very hilly, composed of large patches of exposed Sheild, deep blue lakes, and rolling forested hills. Fifteen years ago the rocks were much more exposed, and everything was covered in black soot from the smelters and mines. A regeneration project had been initiated in the 1970's involving millions of white birches being planted on the decimated landscape. Today, the hills were covered in lush green birches and spruce, and the lakes looked healthy. Visually at least it looks like a phenomenal example of environmental restoration!
As we walked highway 67, once again being guided by Great Trail signs for the first time since leaving the Trans Canada Highway, we were passed by a surprising number of cars and a few cyclists, many of whom gave us a friendly wave as they passed us. Eventually we turned down Moonlight Beach Rd, which brought us to Moonlight Beach on the shores of Ramsey Lake. Originally, the lake was known to the local Ojibwe population as Bitimagamasing, or "water that lies on the side of the hill". This is a fitting description.
The sandy beach was very busy when we arrived on this hot, sunny, Friday afternoon. We were excited to reach this point in our hike, because it marked the beginning (or officially the end) of the Sudbury Camino! As Camino enthusiasts who have hiked across Spain on the Camino Frances, across France on the Via Podiensis, and the length of Portugal on the Camino Portuguese, we were thrilled to find a Canadian Camino that follows the Great Trail!
Observant followers will have noted that since the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland Mile Zero in St. John's we have had our Canadian Camino Pilgrim patches as well as our Camino shells on our backpacks. Each as been carried from Saint Jean Pied Port to Santiago, from Le Puy to Saint Jean Pied Port, and from Lisbon to Finisterre! Now from Cape Spear Newfoundland to Sudbury Ontario! Once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim!
We were also happy to learn that if we register with the Rainbow Routes Association and complete this Camino, or do certain segments of it during the month of August, we can earn a certificate of completion. This practice follows the tradition of the Compostela bestowed upon pilgrims who walk at least 100 km to reach the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In normal years, participants of the Sudbury Camino can obtain stamps along the way which are collected in a passport, similar to the practice used by pilgrims on the Spanish Camino de Santiago, but due to covid 19 this year we simply have to submit photos of certain landmarks along the way to obtain a digital certificate.
As we left Moonlight Beach behind we found ourselves on a crushed stone dust trail through a beautiful white birch, trembling aspen, white pine, and spruce forest. We could hear Black-capped Chickadees in the trees around us. A female American Redstart was collecting insects from the understory at the side of the trail. A Downy Woodpecker was searching for insects along the trunk of a white birch. A large Garter Snake slithered off into the shrubs. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by nature once again!
As we walked around the edge of Lake Ramsey we passed the entrance to Camp Sudaca. This camp is run by a non-profit organization that offers recreational and educational day programming for 5 to 14 year olds, and for first-time campers between the ages of 5 and 6. It offers activities ranging from games, swimming, canoeing, sailing, nature crafts, campfires, overnights, mountain biking, and wall climbing to camping skills. As we walked past we could see some of the creative, colourful, and nature centered artwork done by previous campers.
Camp Sudaca is also located in the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area. This conservation area is a large wilderness park which has been offering educational and recreational programs to school groups for over 40 years. It consists of 2,415 acres of protected green space, which offer opportunities to experience a natural wilderness setting with lakes, wetlands, marshes, forest, and Canadian Shield. Visitors can take self-guided nature hikes on paths of varying difficulty levels, and go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on a network of trails. The variety of different habitats in this protected area makes it a fantastic spot to go bird watching as well, with over 120 species of birds reported on eBird in the Conservation Area.
We enjoyed walking the beautiful, forested trails of the conservation area so much that we ended up spending a lot of time admiring the views of Ramsey Lake, enjoying the strong rusty reds of the exposed shield, and being thoroughly immersed in nature. As we crossed a long wooden boardwalk between two lakes we spotted a female Ring-necked Duck and her two little ducklings swimming and diving along the shore. On the other side, a Solitary Sandpiper was walking among the mud at the edge of a patch of reeds and cattails.
The fluffy white clouds in the bright blue sky were reflected almost perfectly on the beautiful, smooth lakes. A small footpath wound around the edge of the lake, enticing us to explore the forested shoreline. A Black-capped Chickadee hopped about beside a bird feeder at the edge of the trail, loudly pointing out that it was empty and we should do something about that. Butterflies landed on the gravel pathway, fanning their wings. It was like a small piece of heaven and we spent a long time on the edge of the lake, soaking it up!
As we reluctantly continued along we found ourselves walking among the tall, straight trunks of a pine plantation, inhaling the strong tangy scent of pine in the hot afternoon.
When we briefly emerged onto South Bay Rd we paused to take a photo of Bioski Cottage, one of the landmarks we needed to photograph as proof of completion of the Sudbury Camino. As we arrived at the spot we passed a group of four other hikers with day packs and walking sticks who were also taking a photo. A group of fellow 'pilgrims'!
The next section of trail took us through a grassy meadow. There is an extensive network of trails in this area, which are all very well signed. We had to smile as we passed posts full of colourful arrows all pointing one way down enticing looking trails, and then found ourselves walking in the opposite direction.
We followed a lovely little boardwalk, which was just 2 inches wider than the cart's wheels, through a forested, marshy and shrubby area. Along the way we spotted two Green Snakes, and enjoyed the cheerful song of an American Robin. The damp shady environment also supported some truly huge mushrooms that looked like they could provide shelter or a meal for a whole village of field mice.
This trail led us out to the Nature Center, where we found information plaques describing the flora and fauna of the region, a collection of lakeside picnic tables, and some beautiful artwork by young naturalists.
After this point our path became much narrower and more rugged as we began to climb up the steep slope of the shield. It was hot work pulling the cart over the rocky, uneven terrain in the afternoon sun, but the views out over Sudbury were stunning. Many portions of the winding footpath were lined with wiry, scrubby, wild blueberry bushes, which provided some tasty treats along the way.
We climbed up and up until we came to an exposed, rocky, plateau that provided a nearly 360° degree view of the surrounding landscape of forests and deep blue lakes. Then we began to descend quickly into forest once again.
By this point we had lingered so long in the beautiful landscape that it was 5:30 pm, and we were both hungry and beginning to worry we'd run out of light before making it the last 10 km. Nevertheless, on our way down the forested slope we found ourselves pausing on last time to enjoy and photograph a young Broad-winged Hawk. It originally took flight from its perch in the canopy as we approached down the trail, but then remained stationary on a nearby branch, watching with curiosity as Sean photographed it.
We picked up our speed a little as we walked through the Laurentian University campus, which seems to have expanded considerably over the past decade, and then made our way around the edge of Ramsey Lake on the paved cycling route that follows the busy Ramsey Lake Rd.
When we reached downtown we found ourselves walking along a boardwalk on the shoreline. As we passed Science North and made our way towards Bell Park there were lots of people out walking, cycling, picnicking in the park, and swimming in the lake. Many power boats, seadoos, kayaks, and SUPs were out on the water. There was even a lady out on a stand-up paddleboard with two husky dogs riding on the front!
As we paused for a break in the shade on the rocks beside a small beach a very friendly lady stopped and asked us where we were hiking. She saw the Camino patches on the side of our backpacks and said she had walked part of the Camino Frances as well, and had loved the experience. As she continued her walk she bid us a cheerful 'Welcome to Sudbury!'
We continued into downtown, dropped our bags off in the motel where we will be spending the next few days, had a hasty shower, and headed into town for a late dinner. We stopped at one of the first places we came to that was open - Oscar's Grill - and ended up having a wonderful meal of grilled veggie pitas, cheesecake, and in true Camino fashion, Sangria. It was a wonderful way to end a long but beautiful day.