Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Shrines, Marshes, and Steampunk Festivals: Midland to beyond Foxmeade

Our first glimpse of Georgian Bay this morning was where the trail crossed the Wye River. on the edge of Midland Ontario.  The water was as smooth as glass, providing perfect reflections of the clear blue sky, the Great Blue Heron perched on a grass tuft in mid stream, and the wooden ramparts of Sainte- Marie Among the Hurons. Behind us, in a forested park on a hill stood the towering double steeples of the Martyr's Shrine.

 
 

Sainte Marie Among the Hurons was the first European settlement in what is now Ontario, and was then the Land of the Wendat. It was founded in 1639 by Jesuit Fathers Jérôme Lalemant and Jean de Brébeuf. This National Historic Site of Canada was a fortified French Jesuit settlement which acted as a base of operations for missionaries in the area. Today the site operates as a living museum, where visitors can learn about the Wendat culture and way of life, as well as the life and work of the missionaries. When I was younger my class went on a 2 or 3 day field trip to Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons to experience life back then, and ended up getting snowed in by a blizzard for an extra day. It was an amazing experience.

Six of the missionaries and two lay persons who worked in Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons were martyred, and they are now known as the Canadian Martyrs. They were tortured and killed by the Iroquois during a series of conflicts between the Huron and Iroquois people in the mid 17th century. The martyrs were canonized in 1930.

 
 

The remains of three of these martyrs are housed in the Martyr's Shrine, which is a Roman Catholic Church that is located next to Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons. It was built in 1925 and consecrated to the memories of the Canadian Martyrs in 1926. Although the Martyr's Shrine is closed for the summer due to covid 19, we know from a past visit that the ceiling is shaped like an overturned canoe, and the coloured light from stained glass windows brings the space inside to life. Many people undertake a pilgrimage to this shrine, which is one of nine National Shrines in Canada.


After crossing the bridge over the Wye River, where these historically important sites are located, we picked up the Tay Shore Trail. This was a paved, two-lane cycling trail bordered by shrubs and early successional trees that we ended up following all day.

Less than a kilometer down the Tay Shore Trail we came to the Wye Marsh Wildlife Center. This 3,000 acre Provincially Significant Wetland is located just outside of Midland, on the shores of Georgian Bay at the mouth of the Wye River. The property offers 25 km of trails through wetland and woodland habitats that you can hike, cross-country ski, or snowshoe, and the waterways can be explored by kayak or canoe. There is an Interpretive Center featuring interactive nature displays and educational programming (closed this year), as well as pollinator gardens and bee houses.




















We arrived early in the morning and were met by Mak, who generously gave us some tips on where to look for Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers, as well as Least Bitterns on the property. We then set out to happily explore the floating boardwalks through marsh, the observation tower, and the waterfowl monitoring platform.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

We managed to see 31 species of birds during our short visit, including a Least Bittern. One of the highlights was watching a group of Trumpeter Swans paddling majestically around among the yellow and white blooming water lilies of the cattail marsh. This Important Bird Area supports one of the largest groups of Trumpeter Swans in Canada, largely as a result of the Trumpeter Swan Re-introduction Program that brought the species back from the brink of extinction. If you visit the Wye Marsh you can support the program by adopting a swan. The swans are tagged, and each one has been named.

 
 


After a wonderful few hours visiting Wye Marsh we continued down the paved Tay Shores Trail. There was a nice breeze coming in off the water, but little shade on the paved trail, and the scenery was mostly shrubs, trees, and wildflowers until we reached Victoria Harbour.
 
 
 
 

As the trail brought us back to the shoreline we found ourselves next to a large cattail marsh. A Belted Kingfisher was creating a raucous in a stand of snags at the water's edge, and a Double-crested Cormorant was diving for fish out in the open water. Down the shoreline we could see the tall white masts of a marina by the town.

 
 

As we approached the small community we passed a row of screen enclosures placed at the trail edges to protect turtle nests. A laminated card attached to one indicated this was part of the 'Kids for Turtles' program, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental education and promoting public awareness of wildlife habitats. Through this program you can also become a 'turtle guardian' by adopting a turtle with a $10 donation and receiving a pretty cool sounding adoption kit.
 


We stopped at a small waterfront park in Victoria Harbour and sat on a bench under a tall weeping willow to enjoy an iced tea. The park was full of people out picnicking, swimming, and enjoying the warm summer afternoon. As we sat there a couple with two kids stopped and asked about our cart and what we were doing. It turns out both parents travelled the world in their youth, and hope to do so again when their children are older.

 
 
 
 

The Tay Shore Trail continued around the bay to Waubaushene. There was a lot of cool rock art along the trail in this section, as well as murals celebrating some of Indigenous history of the region. We walked along the water in this stretch, sometimes separated from the shore by a row of cottages, and sometimes just by a thin band of cedars.




We were happy to see that a lot of the cottages were still smaller and older, and that not everything here had been replaced by huge mansions. A small group of people were sitting on the deck of one of these cottages and called out to us. They asked if we were walking across Canada, and said they had spoken with Julie and Simon of Jusi Adventures when they passed through here last year. It is always fun to meet people who have spoken to the hikers who have come before us, most of whom we've chatted to online but have never met ourselves.



As we began to turn inland again the trail continued to be busy with cyclists and joggers. One lady stopped and asked Sean what he was photographing along the way. She seemed to be interested in wildflowers, and described them as small, colourful firework displays.  Her excitement and interest in the world around her was contagious and beautiful.  It gave us a new way to think about the trailside flowers, especially the Queen Anne's lace, which does kind of look like a firework display.  We have always enjoyed meeting others who shift our perspective on the world.

 
 


When the trail crossed under the loud and extremely busy highway 400 we joined the Uhthoff Trail. This wide, flat rail trail had a crushed limestone dust bed, which was very bright in the sun, but easier to walk on than the pavement.


Almost immediately we found ourselves surrounded by a huge cattail marsh. It stretched as far as we could see out towards the bay. By this time in the afternoon it was very bright and hot, so there wasn't much activity except from dragonflies and butterflies, but we could imagine this would be a good place to bird in the spring and fall.
 


By late afternoon we reached the small and charming town of Coldwater. The main street was lined with brightly coloured flower baskets, and many of the shops had a strong Steampunk theme. There was one antique shop with a lot of Harry Potter themed items as well, which looked like an interesting spot to explore. It turns out the Village of Coldwater hosts one of the largest Steampunk festivals in Ontario every year. This year it is scheduled to run from Aug 6 to Sep 2, and it will feature artisans, workshops, entertainment, and contests under the theme 'Gaslamp Fantasy.'
 
 
 

After stopping for an ice cream and talking to a group of locals outside, we headed out of town and started looking for a place to camp. The landscape was a mixture of agricultural fields with crops, hay, or cows, and marsh. The satellite map showed a few forested sections as well, so we figured something would present itself.

 


We walked and walked. As the sun set and turned the sky to pink we saw a deer and her baby on the trail. They let us approach quite close before skittering off into a field. We were passed by cyclists, a man walking his dogs who warned us of a bear in the area, and a young woman on an ebike. Quite a few farmers were out in their fields, cutting hay, moving cows between pastures, or simply working on their farms. We walked and walked, but in the seemingly empty countryside every spot to potentially stop was either a marsh, a farm, or otherwise occupied.
 
 

By 9:30 pm, after unintentionally walking 40 km today, we finally found a spot to pitch our tent in a small patch of cedars. If you have made it this far in the blog, you are probably pretty tired of reading about this day.  Imagine how we felt living it, and now, at 1:30 am, still writing about it.  We are just over 10 km outside of Orillia, and very close to an active gravel pit. As we lay here listening to the sounds of traffic and heavy machinery, we are struck by the fact that for most of our hike in Ontario so far, we've constantly heard the sounds of traffic, cities, or people working. Today we walked beside highway 12 on and off, then we crossed highway 400. We heard people mowing their lawns, pressure washing their decks, doing construction, reorganizing junk yards, riding ATVs, or listening to music. Even in a seemingly empty landscape, we always heard the sounds of traffic in the distance. It is now dark and we can still hear ATVs in the field across the trail, a racetrack nearby which sounds like it has a demolition derby going on, and trucks slamming and reversing at the gravel pit. The machinery we rely on has made us a very noisy species.

1 comment:

  1. Not tired, ever, of reading your blog. But I can easily imagine your tiredness. What you say about the noise reminds me of two instances where I noticed a greater silence in town. The first time was at 911, when the flights were grounded. Everyone was riveted to their televisions, no air traffic, little road traffic. The second time was during the blackout of North America. People on their porches, not driving if at all possible. The noise of our society is a something we no longer notice until we find silence unexpectedly.

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