Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Gateway to the North : Callander to North Bay

It was a blissfully cool morning as we set off once again down the Kate Pace Way this morning. We passed quite a few people out jogging and cycling on the winding, paved bicycle trail as it made it's way through beautifully forested areas, neighborhoods, and an industrial park. As we passed a golf course a couple called out to us, asking about our hike, and many people gave us a friendly wave on the way by.

At the edge of North Bay the trail brought us to Lee Park or Veteran's Fields. At the edge was a veterans memorial park, dedicated to all those who served in WWII, and just beyond that was a complex of soccer fields which was full of tiny Timbit players out practising. Their energy and enthusiasm were a joy to watch.


As we crossed Main St we passed the Bombarc Missile Heritage Site. From 1961 to 1972, 28 nuclear armed, American built and supplied Bombarc missiles were stored at a site just outside North Bay. They were a key component of North America's defence system against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They were linked to various controversies in Canadian history, including our government's decision to use nuclear weapons, Canada's increasing dependence on the US for our national defence, and the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project. The Bombarc missiles were removed from North Bay in 1970 after the introduction of the intercontinental ballistic missiles rendered them obsolete.


In addition to commemorating the military history of North Bay, the park also featured an historical plaque dedicated to the French explorer Jean Nicolet. He was born in France in 1598, and came to Canada in 1618. Under orders from Samuel de Champlain he spent two years with the Algonquin people of Allumette Island, and then lived among the Nipissing people for another eight years to learn their languages, cultures, and strengthen ties with them. Jean Nicolet is generally credited with the European discovery of Lake Michigan.


In this same park is the iconic archway for the City of North Bay, which proclaims it to be the Gateway of the North. For us this marks the beginning of a new phase of our hike across Canada.


At the far end of the park we came to a Great Trail Pavilion that celebrated the history of trails in the North Bay area. First Nations people were the first to develop trail systems and trade routes through this area. They then lead early explorers and fur traders such as Samuel de Champlain, Jean Nicolet, Jacques Cartier, and Alexander Mackenzie along the route from Trout Lake to La Vase River, to Lake Nipissing on their way westward. In the 1880's the Canadian Pacific Railway passed through on it's way west, and in 1916 Highway 11 was built to connect the community to Toronto. We are following in the footsteps of many kinds of explorers.

From Lee Park the trail took us down to the sandy beaches of Lake Nipissing. The name of the lake means "little water" in the Algonquin language, and although it is the third largest lake in Ontario outside of the Great Lakes, when compared with the bodies of water navigated by the Nipissing, it is an appropriate name.


The Nipissing First Nation is a community of Nishnaabeg. They are part of the Anishinaabeg people, who speak the Algonquin languages, which include Odawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Algonquins. They have a diverse heritage, likely because they inhabited a geographical crossroads.

We then walked down a beautifully landscaped waterfront which featured beautiful flowerbeds and pollinator gardens. The waterfront is known as the Goulet Golden Mile, and is named after the Mayor who worked hard to retain the waterfront as a beautiful public space for the people of North Bay.

One of the highlights was finding an interestingly sculpted sundial along the way. It is designed to be a celebration of difference and diversity, and is described by the quote "Diversity is the essence of a minority and it is through this diversity that a minority can attain great heights." These are words to draw hope from.


As we walked around the waterfront park we had a beautiful view of a group of five treed islands about 10 km off the shore. These islands make up the Manitous - Newman, Rankin, Little Manitou, Great Manitou, and Calder. The islands are remnants of volcanic activity that pushed up 2.65 billion year old bedrock some 565 million years ago. They have been used for seasonal habitation and hunting grounds by Indigenous peoples for more than 2,000 years.

As we reached downtown we came to the Dionne Quintuplets Museum. The house where the famous quintuplets, Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, and Marie were born was moved from Corbeil, to a site in North Bay. The identical sisters were born two months premature on May 28th, 1934 and are the first quintuplets known to survive their infancy. Their births had an enormous impact on tourism in the region, apparently saving it from bankruptcy. At their peak, they represented a $500 million asset. North Bay and the surrounding region lived off this legacy into the 1960's.


We also passed the North Bay Museum, which is located in the Historic Canadian Pacific Railway station. Although we did not venture inside with all our gear, we understand it houses artifacts and exhibits showcasing local history.

Another highlight of downtown North Bay was the Pro-cathedral of the Assumption. The light grey limestone exterior was set aglow by the sun against an ominous, dark storm cloud. Originally built in 1904, it is a prominent landmark of the city.


Today we had a short walk, and spent the afternoon doing errands and resupplying. We are preparing for the coming trek, where resupplying will be more difficult, and where the walk will become exponentially more dangerous. The next 40 km are along the shoulder of the Trans Canada Highway. How this is considered a "trail" we don't know. We can only hope we remain safe throughout the day tomorrow.

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