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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fenelon Falls to Orillia

Fenelon Falls to Orillia

Something that had puzzled us since we arrived in Canada was the frequent reference to ‘loonies’. We imagined that they were some sort of token, as there would be notices saying ‘loonies only’ in places like laundromats. A lady in the laundromat at Fenelon Falls enlightened us. Loonies are dollar coins, with the Queen on the front and a loon, an aquatic diving bird, on the back.

‘Of course, we have toonies too,’ she told us. ‘The two-dollar coin. They have a bear on the back, so we say they have the Queen on the front, with a bear behind.’

It was our first sample of Canadian humour and it felt just very slightly disloyal, to be laughing at our monarch’s expense.

We had breakfast at a restaurant overlooking the lock, recommended by the woman in the next boat who had saved the crew’s face the previous day. It was a sort of peace-offering, from the Captain.

We had been wondering what peameal, which seems to feature on all breakfast menus in Canada, might be. I had had a best-forgotten experience with grits in Charleston, and suspected that peameal might be something similar. But it turned out to be lean Canadian bacon, thick-cut like gammon, and delicious.

The channel at Fenelon Falls

The channel at Fenelon Falls

The channel which leads away from the lock at Fenelon Falls is very narrow, with rocks lurking just below the surface on either side, and it was a relief to be out into the open waters of Cameron Lake.

Cameron Lake

Cameron Lake

Looking back to the beach at Fenelon Falls

Looking back to the beach at Fenelon Falls

The day alternated between beautiful sparkling lakes and stretches of the Trent Canal, some very narrow. At Rosedale Lock, the lock-keeper warned us that after Balsam Lake, we would have to call on the radio to make sure that there weren’t any boats on the canal coming in the opposite direction, because the channel wasn’t wide enough to allow two boats to pass each other. There was a small incident of potential canal rage when one boater felt he had been unfairly kept waiting to go through, but it didn’t involve us.

The Trent Canal at the top of Balsam Lake

The Trent Canal at the top of Balsam Lake

Trent Canal, top of Balsam Lake

Trent Canal, top of Balsam Lake

 

Mitchell Lake

Mitchell Lake

The stretch of the Trent Canal beyond Mitchell Lake contained the Kirkfield Lift Lock, and  was the highest point on the waterway. The lock was built to the same design as the Peterborough Lift Lock, but the height is only 49′. It was still quite awe-inspiring though, to see the land, and our westward journey, stretching away from us as we waited for the lock to descend.

At the top of Kirkfield Lift Lock

At the top of Kirkfield Lift Lock

In the lift lock, going down

In the lift lock, going down

The next big thing was Lake Simcoe, a few miles further down the straight stretch of the Trent Canal. Although not as large as Lake Ontario, Simcoe is subject to capricious weather patterns and comes with a serious health warning. So we had to wait for a suitable weather window to present itself, keeping one eye on the fact that we needed to be across the lake and in Orillia in time to pick up a hire car to meet Liz and Nick in Toronto the following Tuesday night.

By now, the weather was sweltering. It was being described on the radio as a ‘heat event’ for the Kawartha Lakes area. Strong winds and thunderstorms were forecast and we tied up at Lock 39 to sit it out. There was no power available on the lock wall, which meant that we couldn’t have the air-con on inside the boat, without running the generator. There were some other boats tied up too and we didn’t like to disturb them. So a hot, sticky night passed rather uncomfortably. The next day the winds and heat persisted but the thunderstorms didn’t materialise until the middle of the night, when we woke to the sound of heavy rain and a welcome drop in temperature.

Although it was grey and raining, the winds weren’t too bad the next day, so we took a calculated risk and set off. The area around Portage Lock was agricultural and the scene not unlike many wet mornings on English canals.

Portage Lock 39 in the rain

Portage Lock 39 in the rain

It was a good move. The 15-mile crossing of Lake Simcoe took only 2 hours as the wind was behind us. We were able to skirt round the northern shore,  passing through the Atherley Narrows before tying up at Bridgeport Marina, feeling rather guilty at the sight of the dockhands getting drenched as they helped us moor the boat.

We celebrated our safe arrival with bacon and pancakes with maple syrup, and were just tucking in when there was a knock on the door, a visit from some fellow Loopers, Susannah and Tim, who had passed us at Fenelon Falls, and who kindly invited us to their boat for a drink later on. It’s always good to meet people and compare experiences.

Evening at Bridgeport Marina

Evening at Bridgeport Marina

We moved round the corner to the town dock in Orillia the next day.

Some other Loopers at Bridgeport were spending the week there, having their props repaired after  a contretemps with some rocks just outside Orillia Harbour. We listened to their cautionary tale and took their advice ‘on board’.