Monday, August 17, 2020

The Water is Rising : Serpent River to Blind River

As the keen observer will notice we have taken a day off The Great Trail!  To celebrate Sean's aging - which is his second birthday on this trek across Canada!
 
Yesterday we luxuriated in our cabin along the Serpent River, walked the rails, took in the cool breeze, repaired our gear, and had a camp fire!  Luxury without trekking to it!

(Sean also cheated in being able to use a camera by being asked to calibrate a lens on camper's new Nikon Z series camera)

 
 
 


 



Today when we stepped out of our cozy log cabin into the chilly morning air we were met with one of those breathtakingly beautiful mornings that Northern Ontario is known for. Golden sunlight set the swirling mist aglow as it silently moved across the mirror-like surface of the Serpent River like a living breathing creature.





We took our steaming mugs of tea and coffee down to the dock and enjoyed the cool, still, morning air. Last night we heard the repeated calls of an Eastern Whip-poor-will across the water. This morning we heard the dry, resonating calls of a Belted Kingfisher. A Pileated Woodpecker drummed on the utility poll behind us. A small group of American Goldfinches foraged among the raspberry bushes and grasses at the water's edge. We couldn't have wished for a more peaceful morning.

 
 


As we set off to cover the next 13 km of Trans Canada Highway walking, we were disappointed to discover that Annette's Diner had not opened for breakfast. We had hoped for a belated b-day treat, but it was not to be. Such is life sometimes.

Almost right away we passed a billboard for the Subway Restaurant located in Blind River, which is the town we hoped to reach today. We've noticed that billboards along the highway often give distances in minutes. The sign claimed the Subway was just 15 minutes ahead on the right. It was 29 km away, and Google suggested that it was 6 hours ahead for those travelling on foot. In so many ways hiking the Trans Canada Highway has been an exercise in alternative perspectives.

We were grateful to have an uneventful hike along the paved shoulder of the highway as far as highway 538. It was a cooler morning than we've had in ages, which made the walking easier. Relatively speaking, the traffic wasn't too bad either. We were also intrigued to see an older gentleman on a bike pass us with loaded panniers and a tent tied to his cycle. He gave us a cheerful wave but didn't stop to share his own journey.

For much of the morning the train tracks ran parallel to the highway. As we trekked along we saw a whole fleet of pickup trucks and small engines towing various machinery driving along the tracks to make repairs. Many of the drivers waved to us as they passed. In some ways it was like watching a life-sized Playmobil set in action. Lot's of fun!

When we diverted down highway 538 we met two other people walking and two cyclists. It is pretty unusual to see other people on sections of "trail" that are on roads, but this was a pleasant, winding, tree-lined road. We passed many curving gravel drives leading off into the trees, undoubtedly to cottages and homes on the shore of Lake Huron.





A cool breeze blew in off the lake, although we couldn't yet see the water. There is a particular smell that clean, clear freshwater lakes have, that let you know when you're close by. It is very difficult to describe, but instantly recognizable when you smell it, and it seems to draw you towards the water for a swim, a paddle, or to relax on the beach.

Eventually we rounded a curve in the road and caught a glimpse of the sparkling blue water of Lake Huron through the trees that bordered the shore. We made our way through a gap in the trees, down to the red sandy beach. The shallow, crystal clear water was calm, gently lapping the shoreline. Many smaller, treed islands sat off-shore, and behind them the outline of Manitoulin rose out of the shimmering haze.

 

As we continued down the road a cool breeze rustled the white pines, sugar maples, and white birches on either side of the road, and caused the shadows to dance on the pavement ahead. A female Mallard took off from the shore, complaining loudly for quite some time as she settled down farther out in the lake. Two Common Mergansers paddled side-by-side out in a small bay. A set of three Common Loons flew overhead, giving their haunting calls from the sky above. American Redstarts, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-eyed Vireos, and Yellow-rumped Warblers foraged busily among the leaves.

 

As we approached Algoma Mills we began passing more cottages and small homes. At the edge of town we came to the Algoma Mills public boat launch and causeway, which had a wooden train carriage replica to commemorate the town's historical ties to the railway. In 1882, the Canadian Pacific Railway bought 200 acres of land in Algoma Mills which they intended to turn into a major transportation hub, with shipping ports, grain elevators, train yards, and freight sheds. CP Rail planned to run a passenger service to promote tourism in the area, and drew up plans to build a grand hotel. Construction of the hotel's foundation began the next year, but a political decision in 1884 to extend the rail line to Lakehead stopped the entire project. In the end, the hotel was built in Banff Spings Alberta instead. Talk about getting hoofed by history.

Instead the town's history turned on lumber mills, which were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's along Lauzon Creek. They produced white pine, white and yellow birch lumber, as well as cedar plugs for the railway, and hemlock bark used for tanning.


In the 1950's uranium deposits were discovered in the area, which led to the development of the Pronto Mine. Between 1955 and 1960 2.1 million tonnes of uranium was extracted, and the mill was converted to process copper. So, Algoma Mills had a checkered history, closely tied to natural resource extraction.

 
 

When we reached the far edge of Algoma Mills we discovered we were in for a real treat - a trail!! From Algoma Mills to the edge of Blind River we followed a wide, flat, stone dust trail. The first part took us through a beautiful mixed forest of white birch, sugar maple, and hemlock. It was shaded and heavenly. The second part ran beside the highway and was less shaded, but it was still a trail! We felt positively spoiled, and truly grateful to have a break from the highway for a bit.

 
 

Our trail ended and we made our way down a paved backroad, through a well to-do subdivision and on to another trail! At the trailhead we passed a sign warning that we were in bear country. It seemed like a well-used trail, complete with some artistically executed rock art.

This trail wound up and down through a forest of spruce, hemlock, and maple. Tall lush ferns covered the forest floor. Mushrooms dotted the edge of the path. It was cool, quiet, and peaceful. What a treat.

 
 
 

As we reached the end of this trail and emerged into a neighborhood again the sky began to darken and the wind picked up. We stopped to chat with a man who was spreading peat moss on his lawn. He wished us well and we set off again, just as the first drops of rain began to fall. We took shelter under a tree during that first gentle shower, and stayed mostly dry.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 

We passed a large welcome sign for Blind River, and stopped at Tim Hortons for an iced coffee, which we enjoyed at the picnic area beside the Welcome Center. As we sat under a pine tree, enjoying the break, a unique and inexplicable lady wandered slowly past, seemingly appearing out of thin air. She was probably in her 60's, had round pink tinted glasses that continually slipped down nose, two short silver blond braids, yellow pants, and a large beach bag. She asked if we'd been to the beach yet, and recommended we give it a try. She asked what we were doing and where we were from. When we said London, since it is the last place we lived, she remarked that it was quite a boring place, unlike up here, although it was close to Stratford. She then gave us advice on the coming trail sections, warning us that in Iron Bridge everyone's brother was their father, and their sister was their mother. She wished us well, and wandered off, disappearing as mysteriously as she'd appeared. What a character!

 

As she left the skies opened up, and it rained in earnest. We took shelter under the picnic area roof, happy to be in a dry spot. It rained for about 15 minutes, and then we ventured over to the Logging Museum and Logger's Memorial.


There we found an historical plaque informing us that we were standing on the Murray Fault, which is the same fault we crossed while visiting Science North in Sudbury. We hadn't realized it was so long!

A sign outside the Logging Museum described the historical importance of logging to the Blind River economy. In the 1950's the McFadden Mill on Blind River was the largest sawmill east of the Rockies, and the biggest producer of white pine lumber in the world. Outside the logging museum some of the machinery used to cut the logs, send them down the Blind and Mississagi Rivers , and load them onto ships was on display.

 




















Also outside the visitors was the Northern Ontario Logger's Memorial. The tall bronze statue showing two loggers clearing a log jam beside several stylized trees was erected in 2007.

As we made our way through the small community of Blind River we spotted several colourful and beautiful murals. There seemed to be a large community project in Blind River where members of the Mississauga First Nation created beautiful murals for the community. I don't know if the works we saw were part of this project or not, but they were certainly beautiful.

 

At first glance Blind River seems to have a lot of cultural development. It has museums, a theater, local art installations, and it hosts concerts in the park. It offers world class sailing, fishing, golfing, and many other recreational opportunities. It is located right on the shores of Lake Huron. Underneath, it is still possible to see and feel the rougher edges of the logging, mining, and railway history.

 
 

As we made our way down to the shoreline, we saw further evidence of the rise in lake levels. The municipal harbor and docks were partially sunk, and a tree appeared to be growing out of the lake. Sometimes you feel like you're treading water, just keeping your head up, and sometimes you feel like you're going under. Tonight we can sympathize with the tree.

1 comment:

  1. Belated Happy Birthday, Sean. You seem to be managing without your camera. I am glad we get to see your beautiful pictures!

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