Georgian Bay – Midland to Byng Inlet, and a few days in Toronto

Over the last ten days of the trip we travelled north-west towards Byng Inlet, hugging the shore of Georgian Bay, sometimes  passing through narrow rocky channels between the islands, and sometimes through stretches of the open waters of Lake Huron. The country was becoming wilder and more remote with very few towns or marinas, and  the weather could change quickly, so we had to be careful about planning the route and finding sheltered places to anchor.

Midland to Byng Inlet

Midland to Byng Inlet

Indian Harbour

Indian Harbour

Our first night after leaving Midland was a mooring in Indian Harbour.

McDonnell Channel

McDonnell Channel

McDonnell Channel, showing the lighthouse and the channel markers.

 

Starvation Bay

Starvation Bay

At Sans Souci is the famous Henry’s Restaurant on Fryingpan Island, open since 1925 and catering to transient boats and to the occupants of the many small summer homes known as cottages, which line the islands. It seemed to be one of those things that you couldn’t miss, but the anticipation and the ambience was perhaps a little better than the food itself. There were a few miles of open water which we had to cross just as the wind strength and wave height increased, but it wasn’t enough to spoil our appetites. We were welcomed by marina staff who helped us tie up. Everyone else had come by plane.

 

Henry's. Sans Souci

Henry’s. Sans Souci

At Henry's , Sans Souci

At Henry’s, Sans Souci

Our destination that night was another anchorage, at Echo Bay. When we got there, several boats had already established themselves and another was turning round, presumably having decided there was no space available. The Captain decided to try North Echo Bay instead, less popular because it involved negotiating an extremely narrow channel, with a rocky platform just under the water at either side. My job was to supplement the depth sounder by standing on the foredeck and alerting the Captain if we seemed to be getting too near the rocks, quite a worrying task as the refraction of light through the water made the rocks appear even closer to us than they really were. But we were rewarded with a night in a beautiful natural harbour, with no other boats or cottages in sight.

Daybreak at Echo Bay

Daybreak at North Echo Bay

North Echo Bay

North Echo Bay

We continued on to Big Sound Marina at Parry Sound, where we stayed for a couple of nights waiting for the weather to settle enough for us to cross the next big stretch of open water. After two days, the sun shone and it was worth waiting for the perfect day to make the trip.

Parry Sound

Parry Sound

Snug Harbour

Snug Harbour

Snug Harbour Lighthouse

Snug Harbour Lighthouse

Snug Harbour

Snug Harbour

Shebeshekong Channel

Shebeshekong Channel

Shebeshekong Channel

Shebeshekong Channel

Shebeshekong Channel

Shebeshekong Channel

The weather changed again after we anchored that night near Eureka Point. The next day the thunderstorms materialized just after breakfast and we sat in the cabin watching brilliant flashes of lightning and hearing thunder and heavy rain crashing round us. On a nearby island was the famous Ojibway Club and we had fancied taking the dinghy there for lunch. The storm seemed to have passed, but by the time we had got organised and lowered the dinghy from the back of the boat, the wind had swung round and threatening clouds were clearly heading our way. We decided to have lunch on the boat and perhaps venture out for afternoon tea instead. As the rain once again poured down, we congratulated ourselves on a sensible decision. The sky had cleared a little by 3 o’clock, so we set off in the dinghy for Ojibway Island. The route involved locating a very narrow channel between the rocks, and our second attempt was successful.

Entrance to the channel

Entrance to the channel

We did eventually find the Ojibway Club though – built as the Ojibway Hotel in 1906,  it catered for American and Canadian city dwellers who wanted to sample the outdoor life of their pioneer antecedents. It was taken over as a co-operative by cottage and boat owners in the Pointe au Baril area, and has a restaurant and grocery store which are open to visitors, organised activities for children and social events too. There was a definite end-of-season feel about the place – it was due to shut for the winter the following weekend – but the young man in the restaurant managed to find us some English Breakfast teabags, after we had declined  the decaffeinated Orange Pekoe, and various  herbal offerings. We also had some Canadian Butter Tarts, which have been described rather unkindly, but accurately, by a fellow blogger  as little pecan pies without the pecans.

Sunset at Eureka Point

Sunset at Eureka Point

Near the mooring at Eureka Point

Near the mooring at Eureka Point

Ian had settled on Wright’s Marina at Byng Inlet as a suitable place for Carina to stay over the winter. The course between there  and our mooring at Eureka Point involved a short foray  into open water, and then a longer one of about 8 miles, just before Byng Inlet. With the weather becoming increasingly changeable, it was a case of going when the opportunity presented itself. We ended up doing the whole stretch in one go, and arriving at Wright’s with a few days in hand.

Ojibway Club

Ojibway Club

Pointe au Baril Lighthouse

Pointe au Baril Lighthouse

Pointe au Baril refers to the early days of trade and exploration, when a barrel was placed placed on a rock with a light burning on it, as a navigation point. A barrel is still visible behind the lighthouse.

Near Hangdog Reef

Near Hangdog Reef

Near Big Burnt Island

Near Big Burnt Island

Alexander Passage

Alexander Passage

Gereaux Island lighthouse at the entrace to Byng Inlet

Gereaux Island lighthouse at the entrance to Byng Inlet

Carina at Wright's Marina, Byng Inlet

Carina at Wright’s Marina, Byng Inlet

Georgian Bay is unlike anywhere I have ever been. Its 30,000 islands along the north shore seem to go on for ever, set in the deep blue lake studded with pink granite and pine trees. Beyond Byng Inlet, it becomes largely wilderness and even more beautiful. But that will be for next year.

We spent two days at the marina, doing all the laundry and packing the boat up. At one point we went out for a bike ride and an ice-cream and came back to find we had missed some excitement. A bear had ambled through the marina in our absence.

Public transport in this part of Ontario is intermittent. Our only way of getting to Toronto, or anywhere else, was by bus. The bus ran once a day. It passed the Byng Inlet road end at 6pm, and arrived at Toronto 4 hours later.

Graham, the marina manager, very kindly took us to the road end, where we had to wait in the sun on the hard shoulder of the busy 4 -lane highway for the bus to stop. The bus arrived 15 minutes early, so it was just as well that in our anxiety not to miss it, we had insisted on arriving at the pick up point at 5.30.

We had four nights in Toronto and included a trip to Niagara Falls before flying back to Boston and on to Heathrow. Not least among the things that impressed us about Toronto was Billy Bishop Airport, where even economy class passengers can use the free wifi, sit in comfortable armchairs in clean, spacious surroundings, and enjoy complimentary coffee and snacks.

 

Ismaili Centre, Toronto

Ismaili Centre, Toronto

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

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Wall hanging by Aisha Khalid, Aga Khan Museum.

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Aga Khan Museum

Aga Khan Museum

Aga Khan Museum and Gardens

Aga Khan Museum and Gardens

Royal York Hotel, Front St

Royal York Hotel, Front St

The L-Tower from Front St East

The L-Tower from Front St East

Front St East

Front St East

Flatiron Building from Front St East

Flatiron Building from Front St East

The Distillery District

The Distillery District

Dominion Hotel

Dominion Hotel

Potluck Dispensary

Potluck Dispensary

Cannabis can be legally purchased in Ontario at registered dispensaries.

8 Elm Street, Toronto

8 Elm Street, Toronto

In downtown Toronto, there aren’t many old buildings left. This lovely building on Elm Street is scheduled to be replaced with an 80-storey tower.

We took the tram out to High Park on the west side of Toronto. The land was bequeathed in 1873 to the city for the use of its citizens by John Howard, who was an architect, engineer and land surveyor to the City of Toronto.

High Park

High Park

High Park

High Park

On our last day in Canada we hired a car and drove to Niagara Falls. It was crowded with people, but the souvenir shops and fast food outlets were well contained, the parkland bordering the ravine beautifully maintained, and nothing could take away the breathtaking splendour of the Falls.

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canadian Horseshoe Falls

Canna Lilies with the Falls in the background

Canna Lilies with the Falls in the background

The American Falls

The American Falls

 Floral Showhouse, Niagara Parks

Floral Showhouse, Niagara Parks

Floral Showhouse

Floral Showhouse

Floral Showhouse

Floral Showhouse

 

 

 

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Orillia to Midland, Georgian Bay

Despite worries about lurking rocks just below the surface of Couchiching Lake, we arrived unscathed at the Town Dock in Orillia, to find a party in full swing next to our slip. Several boats had got together, put their deck chairs on the dock, and were eating and drinking the afternoon away to various kinds of very loud music. Apparently it was an annual event.

The music started off with Latin/reggae, and progressed to heavy rock. By early evening the boaters were dancing as well, and at some risk of falling into the dock. Their friendliness did not extend to actually inviting us to join in, and we escaped to explore Orillia’s fine dining scene at the Era 67 restaurant.  They were still partying when we got back.

The playlist had now degenerated to ‘Cheesiest Songs of the 1970s’, to which they sang along with enthusiasm. We were sitting in bed reading our kindles, having already had the YMCA song, Sweet Caroline, and Tie a Yellow Ribbon round the Old Oak Tree, when the rude version of Living with Alice came on. There’s a link here for anyone unfamiliar, as we were, with this version and who may be curious. Suddenly, at 10.30, the music stopped and everything went quiet. The silence was almost as disconcerting as the music had been.

Orillia to Midland

Orillia to Penetanguishene & Beausoleil Island to Midland

We cycled a couple of miles down the lake shore to Old Brewery Bay to the Stephen Leacock Museum. Stephen Leacock came to Canada from Britain in 1875 at six years of age, and lived near Lake Simcoe. He became Professor of Economics and Political Science at McGill University, but he is best known for his fiction and humorous writings. He built the house at Old Brewery Bay in the style of the Arts and Crafts Movement and it was his summer retreat.

At the Stephen Leacock Museum

At the Stephen Leacock Museum

The day we picked up a hire car to do some shopping and to pick Liz and Nick up from Toronto airport was the wettest we’ve experienced since leaving Florida and reminiscent of the tropical storms in Hongkong. We got soaked just walking from the boat to the marina office, where Enterprise Car Hire were coming to pick us up.

The next day we had the whole gamut. It was cloudy as we left Orillia to travel north through  Couchiching Lake. By lunch time it was sunny, and by the time we anchored in Deep Bay at the north end of Sparrow Lake at about four o’clock, it was raining so heavily that Liz and I were trapped upstairs on the bridge, listening to the downpour and the thunder and watching the spikes of rain bounce off the lake.

IMG_0001On Couchiching lake leaving Orillia

Leaving Orillia with the new crew on board

Couchiching Lake

Couchiching Lake

The cormorants had stripped all the vegetation on this island.

 

Nick at the helm

Nick at the helm

By 7 o’clock it had cleared enough to use the barbecue – an item of equipment we had inherited from the previous owners and which we had never got round to trying out. Nick’s expertise proved invaluable when after half an hour the charcoal was showing no signs of igniting successfully. Piling it up into a heap did the trick.

Barbecueing on the boat

Barbecueing on the boat

Sunset at Deep Bay, Sparrow lake

Sunset at Deep Bay, Sparrow Lake

The next morning was misty and although it started to clear, the cloud persisted for most of the morning as we made our way to Big Chute, Lock 44.

Morning mist clearing at Deep Bay, Sparrow Lake

Morning mist clearing at Deep Bay, Sparrow Lake

Severn River beyond Sparrow Lake

Severn River beyond Sparrow Lake

Swift Rapids Lock 43

Swift Rapids Lock 43 and the hydroelectric station

Big Chute is the most awesome thing on the waterway, and eagerly anticipated. It is not technically a lock, but a railway which transports boats up and down the rapids of the Severn River. It was originally constructed as a temporary measure, pending a proper lock being built. Construction of the definitive lock was  abandoned because of cost. Another reason for not progressing the project was that a lock would allow lamprey to move upstream and jeopardise the fisheries of Lake Simcoe.

Despite the steepness of the descent, the boats are maintained in a horizontal position by a cunning two-rail system which means that the front of the boat is supported and moves down independently of the back.

We stayed at Big Chute Marina at the top of the railway the night before we went through, so had time to have a look round and see what we were letting ourselves in for.

This boat has come up and is almost at the top of the lift…..

Coming up Big Chute

Coming up Big Chute

And a few seconds later is released from the cradle and is about to be lowered into the Severn River above Big Chute.

Being lowered into the water at the top

Being lowered into the water at the top

The railway about to go down to pick up more boats.

Big Chute about to descend

Big Chute about to descend

Big Chute Marina

Big Chute Marina

The spillway parallel to the railway

The spillway at Big Chute

The spillway at Big Chute

View from Big Chute Marina

View from Big Chute Marina

The next day it was our turn, and naturally the Captain was mildly anxious. There were prominent notices about Parks Canada not being responsible for damage to boats,  but the experienced park staff told us exactly what to do and Carina was soon settled in the cradle. There were some slightly alarming bumps, whirrings and crunching noises as we descended, but all went well and we were surprisingly quickly out into the pool below the rapids.

Carina in the cradle about to descend Big Chute

Carina in the cradle about to descend Big Chute

About to go down Big Chute

About to go down Big Chute – note dual track

Leaving Big Chute, railway on the left and spillway on the right

Leaving Big Chute, railway on the left and spillway on the right

Immediately below Big Chute, we entered Little Chute Channel, a narrow, rocky pass with a strong current. The Captain had to call ahead on the VHF to advise upbound boats of our presence. Although as a downbound boat we had right of way, as the Waterway Guide put it, ‘Upbound boats may not know this, or act accordingly.’ But there weren’t any upbound boats and after the channel, we entered the lovely Gloucester Pool, with its many islands.

Little Chute Channel

Little Chute Channel

Gloucester Pool

Gloucester Pool

Gloucester Pool

Gloucester Pool

At the last lock, Port Severn, there was a great backlog of boats waiting to lock through. We had to hover about among lots of smaller craft, waiting for our turn to moor up on the lock wall to actually get in the queue. There was a man on the dock helping boaters with their lines.

‘I think you must be Jane.’

I agreed that I was.

‘And that’s Ian upstairs.’

I admitted this too.

‘And your surname is Ainsworth?’

This was beginning to feel spooky, so I decided to give him ‘the Look’.

‘I’m from the Canadian Secret Service,’ he informed me, which prompted me to ask who he really was.

He really was Barry Jones, who with his wife Alice meets and greets all the Looper boats going through Port Severn, and who had seen the blog in the early stages of our journey, and added very helpful comments about where we could store Carina in Canada over the winter. He had not only recognised Carina, but been alerted to our presence by the owners of the boat in front of us, whom we had met earlier. It was good to meet you Barry and Alice, if you are reading this!

 

Reaching Georgian Bay was another milestone. Occupying the northeastern part of Lake Huron, the bay is almost as big as Lake Ontario. The Georgian Bay Littoral, containing the 30,000 islands which festoon its northern shore, became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2004.  As well as its awe-inspiring beauty, the area is recognised as a tricky one to navigate and the weather can change very quickly, so we had to be prepared to accommodate this.

First view of Georgian Bay

First view of Georgian Bay

Georgian Bay

Georgian Bay

At this point the channel twisted and turned through the barely submerged rocks.

Georgian Bay, navigating the channel

Navigating the channel, Georgian Bay

Navigating the channel, Georgian Bay

The forecast for the weekend was for stormy weather so we headed for the safe haven of Penetanguishene Town Dock.

Approaching Penetanguishene

Approaching Penetanguishene

The day after our arrival, the winds were creating large waves in the harbour so we spent a couple of days sight-seeing.

Big waves in Penetanguishene Harbour

Big waves in Penetanguishene Harbour

The area around Penetanguishene was first settled by the Wyandot (Wendat) First Nation around 800AD. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1615 and the area became a base for the fur and timber trades.

In 1793 following the American Revolutionary Wars, John Simcoe, the British Governor of Upper Canada, proposed a naval establishment at Penetanguishene to aid Canada’s defence. During the war of 1812 this became a reality, and even though in 1814 the Treaty of Ghent ended the hostilities between Britain and America, there was still perceived to be a need for a naval base. The British warships HMS Tecumseth and HMS Newash were maintained at the base so they could be deployed if needed. Later, the naval base was closed, but a military base established and maintained  until 1856, when war with America had become far less likely. By this time Penetanguishene had other industries, and a sufficiently large civilian population to survive the loss of the military base.

Discovery Harbour is a reconstruction of the base on its actual site and contains a replica of HMS Tecumseth and HMS Bee, as well as the wreck of the original, which was recovered from Penetanguishene Harbour in 1953.

Replica of HMS Tecumseth, Discovery Harbour, Penetanguishene

Replica of HMS Tecumseth, Discovery Harbour, Penetanguishene

The Captain's Cabin, HMS Tecumseth

The Captain’s Cabin, HMS Tecumseth

Bayfield's Point, Discovery Harbour

Bayfield’s Point, Discovery Harbour

Henry Wolsey Bayfield was a British naval officer became Admiralty Surveyor, and surveyed  much of the Great Lakes area.

Wreck of HMS Tecumseth

Wreck of HMS Tecumseth

The Officers' Quarters

The Officers’ Quarters – the only remaining original building

The waterfront area next to the Town Dock was once once the hub of several industries, fur trading, timber and leather tanning. In the early 2000s the river levels receded to reveal lots of timber and other waste, relics of the industrial past. A project was started to remove the waste which was subsequently recycled into compost, and to restore the wetland ecology. The waterfront park, the Champlain-Wendat Rotary Park, aims to have one-third manicured lawn and flower borders, one -third wetland and one third wild flowers and vegetation. Sculptures and statues commemorate and honour the dual First Nation/French heritage of the town.

The Meeting

The Meeting

‘The Meeting’ was unveiled in 2015 to mark the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Huronia. It shows de Champlain with Aenon, a Huron-Wendat Chief.

ornamental border, Champlain Wendat Park

ornamental border, Champlain Wendat Park

John Graves Simcoe

John Graves Simcoe

Wetland, Champlain Wendat park

Wetland, Champlain-Wendat Park

The strong winds stopped us leaving Penetanguishene but it gave us an opportunity to sample the local top restaurant, Le Maitre D. The maitre made us welcome in a courtly, French way and the food certainly lived up to the restaurant’s reputation.

The next day we able to leave for a side trip to Beausoleil Island, a few miles to the north just off the shores of Georgian Bay. Accessible only by boat, the whole island is managed by Parks Canada, with a couple of camping centres, some cabins which can be rented, and several docks where boats can tie up. There are walking trails over the island and walkers are advised not to stray from them because of bears and snakes. There was even a reassurance on the rubbish bins that they were bear-proof. We saw no bears, but the Captain did spot a small bright green snake.

We had time for a walk that afternoon, and another one the following day before we left Beausoleil for Midland, where Liz and Nick were picking up a hire car to to go back to Toronto.

Approaching Beausoleil Island

Approaching Beausoleil Island

Ojibway, Beausoleil Island

Ojibway, Beausoleil Island

On Portage Trail, Beausoleil Island

On Portage Trail, Beausoleil Island

Rockview Trail, Beausoleil Island

Rockview Trail, Beausoleil Island

There were lots of outcrops of pink granite.

Rockview Trail, Beausoleil Island

Rockview Trail, Beausoleil Island

Fairy Lake, Beausoleil Island

Fairy Lake, Beausoleil Island

Goblin Bay, Beausoleil Island

Goblin Bay, Beausoleil Island

Honeymoon bay, Beausoleil Island

Honeymoon bay, Beausoleil Island

Massasauga Trail, Beausoleil Island

Massasauga Trail, Beausoleil Island

Massasauga means rattlesnake!

Massasauga Trail, Beausoleil Island

Massasauga Trail, Beausoleil Island

Massasauga Trail, Beausoleil Island

Massasauga Trail, Beausoleil Island

McCabe Rock, Beausoleil Island

McCabe Rock, Beausoleil Island

Carina at Ojibway

Carina at Ojibway

Ojibway

Ojibway