We left the Niagara Peninsula to the south and drove a bit along another lake that is part of the Great Lakes, namely Lake Erie. In Port Colborne we had a look at the Welland Canal, which connects the two big lakes Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Eight locks were built to allow for the large difference in elevation in a relatively short distance, and in fact the lock at Port Colborne is one of the longest in the world.
Southern, rural Ontario pleased us. So we headed for the region where most Mennonites had settled. On the way, we drove past London, Paris, Hanover, New Hamburg, Breslau and Cambridge. Dresden was also less than 100 kilometers away. The settlement history of this region can be seen well in these place names.
Catholic Mennonites believe that the church has moved away from the Bible and they maintain strict obligations. The strictest followers still travel by horse and buggy and are skeptical about modern technology. The big question is whether their way of life should become a tourist attraction. Nevertheless, we drove to St. Jacobs, where there is a farmers market three times a week that we wanted to visit. It is one of the largest markets in Ontario and was originally founded by the Mennonites who sold their goods here. Nowadays, an average of 20,000 people comes here every market day. We bought some local specialties like “summer-sausage” and Polish pierogi. On the way to the market, we actually saw a horse-drawn carriage driving on the side of the road.
We then paid a visit to the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. This small-scale park met our needs exactly. We could have a quiet breakfast, walked a small lap through the canyon, filled up water in our tank and took a hot shower.
As mentioned earlier, Canada is a land of immigrants from other parts of the world and was “discovered” by various seafarers from Europe. This does not mean that people did not live there before that. In Nova Scotia we got to know the Mi’kmaq, in the area between Georgian Bay and Toronto it was the Wendats or Hurons (as the Europeans called them) who lived here.
At Midland we visited the museum “Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons”. This is an open air museum, where it is explained in an interesting and good way how things went with the indigenous Wendat and the French Jesuits from Europe, who had founded this village in 1639 to spread their faith among the indigenous people. The village was impressive, 60 Europeans lived there, which was quite a lot at this time. Because of imported diseases and increased incidents with the Iroquois, the village existed only 10 years, in 1649 hundreds of Wendat as well as several of the Jesuits were massacred and Sainte-Marie was abandoned.
We had an interesting conversation there with an indigenous employee and she gave us more explanation of the life of the Wendat in those days and age but also insight into her own not always easy life as a Ojibwe in the last century.
From Midland it was no longer far to the Algonquin Provincial Park. This nature reserve is the fourth largest park in Ontario, named after the Algonquin Indians who once lived in the area. With the cities of Toronto and Quebec not too far away, it is well visited and not without reason. The park is home to a lot of wildlife like moose, wolves, bears & beavers and a large area consists of lakes which makes it extra attractive.
We stayed in the area for two days. On day one we rented a kayak just outside the park. Through Lake Oxtongue and a little upstream on the Oxtongue River we paddled to Ragged Falls. With a height difference of 40 meters one of the larger waterfalls in Ontario.
On the second day we drove into the Provincial Park. From the multitude of hiking trails we chose the Track & Tower Trail, a 7.5 km hike with a historical background. Starting in 1850, white loggers came to this area to cut the mighty pines and transport them by rafts on the Ottawa River all the way to Quebec. Then, at the end of the 19th century, the national park was established and logging was regulated. On this hiking tour you will find remains of an old railroad line, opened in 1896 and at the beginning of the 20th century one of the most frequented train lines in Canada (in the middle of the national park!) on which the wood was transported from the forest to Ottawa. From a nice viewpoint we had a beautiful view over the park.
After another hike around Peck Lake, where we encountered the largest spider in Canada (Dock Spider), it was time for us to leave Algonquin Park again.
On our way back to Lake Huron we slept another night in a Walmart parking lot in the town of Parry Sound. Today was July 1st and that is the day Canadians celebrate their national holiday – it’s Canada Day!
On July 1, 1867, Canada was formed with the merger of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia in the British North America Act; the other provinces joined in the following years. Only Newfoundland & Labrador did not join until 1949.
In Algonquin we hadn’t gotten much of a sense of this public holiday, but we suspected that in most places this day traditionally ends with fireworks. After dinner, we drove downtown to see if this 6,000-people town on Georgian Bay knows what fireworks are. All we had to do was follow the flow of people, everyone had shown up. Some were dressed in Canadian red and white or carrying the Canadian flag around their shoulders. So with the proud feeling of being Canadian it is all right here, only the native people of the First Nation may not really have a reason to celebrate this day. But that’s something we want to discuss in more detail at a later time. In any case, the fireworks were beautiful and a nice way to end the day.