Fall Migration, Artistic Influences : Thessalon to Bruce Mines

Throughout the night we could hear the sound of a fog horn guiding vessels to safety out on the waters of Lake Huron. Its deep, soft, persistent voice woke us up to a morning shrouded in mist. Golden sunlight filtered through the trees, turning the water droplets on the pine needles and grass blades into sparkling jewels. The water droplets and larger puddles on the tarp and tent were also nicely highlighted, although somewhat less well appreciated.

As we crossed the road to the sandy beach we heard the high, piercing calls of a Bald Eagle somewhere in the trees behind the campground. A small group of ten Common Mergansers were fishing just off shore. It was entertaining to watch them simultaneously give a small burst of speed, dive forward beneath the surface with a quick flash of their hindquarters, and then randomly pop up like corks a few seconds later. Beyond them the lake was smooth and flat and reflected the soft pinks and blues of the morning sky.

As we headed back through town we caught the smell of bacon and eggs wafting on the wind. In the end it was impossible to resist stopping at the Sunset Beach Restaurant for a breakfast of veggies omelettes, homefries, toast, and coffee.

The food at this restaurant was absolutely delicious, but the best part was the wonderful lady who brought everyone their breakfasts. Her warmth, kindness, enthusiasm, and energy brought the place to life. She asked everyone where they were headed for the day, and this started a conversation among all the local patrons, who were trying to help a couple find the location of an old General Store in the area. We heard stories about the store, and people's memories of going to it. Another diner remembered tales of a man his grandfather used to drive home from the pub when he was drunk and no one else wanted anything to do with him. It was lovely to hear how these people were brought together to share their connections with the place. We also learned that Diane Whelan stopped at this restaurant, and the friendly server remembered her and still follows her journey. How cool is that?

We were also struck by how small the world is in some ways. When people began asking us about our hike, they very soon began sharing their own stories of visiting Newfoundland, or other places we've been. If only it were easier to find this common ground, and share our experiences more freely, I think the world would be a much better place.

After leaving Thessalon the Great Trail spent the day following concessions  through beautiful rolling countryside. For a while we walked beside the quiet, winding Thessalon River, and then we began heading west over rolling hills.

Once again, there was a lot of bird activity, but the Eastern Kingbird was probably the most abundant. Over the course of the day we saw hundreds of kingbirds in the shrubs and bushes at the roadsides, including many juveniles. Dozens of Cedar Waxwings were also feeding on the bright red and dark purple berries along the roadside as well. Fall migration is certainly in full swing.

There were other signs of autumn's imminent arrival as well. Golden, red, and light green apples were ripening on the roadside trees. The goldenrod, purple, and white asters were in full bloom, along with the delicate Queen Anna's lace. It seemed like there were more wasps than bees hanging around. The leaves on a few trees were just beginning to turn. Every year there is a day when you know without a doubt that fall has arrived. It hasn't happened yet, but it feels like that day is coming.


As the day progressed we passed several fields of beautiful brown, black, and cinnamon coloured cows. Many had calves that were still nursing. Although cows are curious, they seem to be less analytical than horses. Nonetheless, the cart seemed to freak out one of the cow herds, nearly causing a stampede to the relative safety of the far edge of the field.


When we reached Bruce Mines we first passed the old jail, which was a very small wooden building perched atop a piece of exposed shield. It was in operation during the 1800's when the Bruce Mine was in operation. After the mine's closure it served as a schoolhouse and scout meeting hall.

The first mining claim in Bruce Mines was filed in 1846 by James Cuthbertson, and it was acquired the following year by the Montreal Mining Company. The mine became the first commercially successful copper mine in Canada when production began in 1848, and it was only the second copper mine in North America. Two more mines, the Wellington and Copper Bay were opened in the area in the 1850's. Despite the fact that the Bruce Mines were among the most productive on the continent, declining profits, floods, and cave-ins forced their closure in 1876. The mines, and the town, were named after James Bruce, the Earl of Elgin and Governor General of Canada in 1846.

There were several other mines in this area, including the Taylor, Micheal, Ferrier, Meredith, and Moffat Mines, as well as others. A 1 km walking trail through the area gives a tour of the locations these mini-mines occupied.

After passing the jail house we made our way to the Bruce Mines Township Campground and RV Park. This is a small, forested campground with nice treed sites that are occupied on a first-come first-served basis. It was about half full when we arrived at 3 pm. We set up the tent, dried everything off in the hot afternoon sun, and set out to explore the town.

Our first stop was the Bruce Mines Museum. Although it was closed when we visited, the building itself was constructed in 1894 as a Presbyterian Church, which was known as the 'Church on the Rock.' Over the years the building has served as the post office, scout hall, a church for various denominations, a public school, and the public library. Today it serves as a museum, displaying local artifacts.


As we walked the main street it seemed almost possible to imagine a mining town from the 1800's. Many of the buildings were tall and narrow, sporting old fashioned signs and false fronts that hid the roof line behind. There was a large and very stylized Bavarian Motel and Restaurant at the centre of town. Some of the buildings were stone and barn board, with interesting messages on the side.


We stopped for an ice cream, and then made our way down to the municipal marina. It was a beautiful green space located at the edge of a very large harbour. Only about one third of the boat slips were full, likely further evidence that American tourists are sorely missed by local economies this year. We made our way out to the farthest point, and found another Group of Seven waypoint.


Tom Thompson painted Bruce Mines when he was here in 1912 with William Broadhead. The two painters spent nearly two months paddling the Mississagi River, but ended up overturning their canoe at Forty Mile Rapids. They lost their canoe, most of their gear, and most of the paintings they'd done. They took a hay ride to Bruce Mines, where Tom Thompson painted the town in the hopes of having something to return to Owen Sound with.

As we left the marina we found one of the coolest pieces of rock art we've encountered so far. A feather!

After exploring the marina we made our way back to the campground to make our dinner of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and beans, and to catch up on work. As we fall asleep we can hear the sounds of other people's campfires crackling and smell wood smoke on the air. We can also see the headlights and hear the sounds of other campers arriving and backing their RVs into available sites in the dark. This is a task that would definitely require skill.

See you on the trail!

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  1. Beautiful pictures. And if I may add: I love the descriptions you give of the people, the places, and the history.


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