20th August, 1999: Arrival
Even tho' the actual flying time turned out to be just over two hours, the time from the Lexington, Kentucky, airport until I arrived at Toronto airport was seven hours - most of which was spent at Chicago airport. At least this time the departure gate was in a different terminal so I got to stare at a different part of the airport for over four hours. Strangely, the plane actually left the gate at Chicago on time .. but then spent 1/2 hour on the tarmac .. yet still managed to arrive in Toronto on time. I guess the time on the tarmac was already factored into the flight times. Got some nice views on the Chicago-Toronto leg of the flight - I'd requested a window seat. Lake Michigan, Detroit, Lake Huron and then Lake Ontario (which covers three of the five great lakes). Toronto was blanketed by thick cloud, so didn't see anything there until just before landing. Passed thru' customs and immigrations like a breeze.
Met up with my friend, Caroline, the same one I'd visited in England. She picked up someone else and we all then headed off north to stay at her family's cottage. Rain and heavy traffic for the first half, but both cleared well before we arrived at the cottage. Stopped at "Webers", a burger restaurant on the highway heading north from Toronto. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "fast food". The cooks and servers worked at a lightning pace and while there was a lot of customers, the queue wasn't long. But the food was good and they are very well known. Dining is in a couple of old railway cars.
Finally arrived at the cottage about 11.5 hours after leaving Frankfort, Kentucky - I was latter told that it's an eight hour trip by car!!! And flying is s'posed to be the quickest way to travel! The cottage itself is on the shore of Cheer Lake, one of a *lot* of lakes in an area officially known as the Almaguin Highlands (tho' I prefer to think of it as the Land of Lakes), in the Ontario "Near North" region, sandwiched between Lake Superior and Algonquin Provincial Park, which is one of the largest parks in Canada (Canada has Provinces, not States). The area is heavily forested and packed with lakes, ranging from tiny ponds to respectable sized lakes - Lake Bernard is said to be the biggest lake in the world that does not have an island (about 40 square km's). Hmm.. could be true, after all, there is a lake that is just that somewhere. The region is packed with holiday cottages .. a favourite getaway region for the people of the crowded south of Canada. The closest town is Sundridge, a tiny town of less than 1000. The town was originally called Sunny Ridge, but when the name was registered with the post office in the late 1800's a mistake was made! From Sundridge, one leaves the highway and travels along dirt roads to reach the cottage.
21st August, 1999: Magnetawan
Spent the day on or near Ahmic Lake. Nice drive to get there, the first half along dirt roads, thru' a mix of thick forests of pine and maple, small farms ... one even had a small cemetery, and heath. A very lush green with a hint of autumn colours here and there. Lots of ponds, creeks and marshes. Part of the drive was along the original 19th century north-south road. Lots of wildflowers .. yellows, reds, whites, violets and blues. The area is quite hilly, which means in quite a few places the ride is like a roller coaster. Outcrops of volcanic rock all over the area. Mosses, ferns etc.
Stopped at Magnetawan, a small country town on the banks of the Magnetawan River, founded in 1866 on the then newly developed TransCanada Trail. Today a 78km stretch of the Trail remains in the area and Magnetawan is the only trail-town that survives today. Had a browse thru' a quaint country store. Put the boat in there and then travelled down the lake to where it joins up with Ahmic Lake. The river is a quiet, narrow and still body of water, lots of lovely reflections in the water, boat sheds and cottages scattered down the length of the lake. Lots of birds and fish (the boat had an electronic fish finder). Pleasantly cool dark water, deep green forests and a delicate light blue sky, changing from a very pale blue in the east to a deep, light blue in the west with a few fluffy white clouds. Islands scattered throughout the lake, some just a rock sticking above the water's surface, other's quite sizeable and supporting a forest of their own.
Boated to the western end of the lake and stopped for lunch at the "Harbour Tavern", in the tiny town of Ahmic lake. Then back to Magnetawan. The town was founded in the 1880's when a lock was built on the Magnetawan River. The lock was built in 1883-1886 and replaced in 1911 and again in 1998. The original was built of wood and stone, was 112 by 28ft and lowered the river level by up to 10ft. At its peak, there was an average of 705 steamship passages thru' the lock each year, the last in 1934. The current lock caters for pleasure craft and fishing boats so is a tad smaller than the previous two. Off to the side (below the lock) there's a small creek flowing into the river and a neat waterfall where the river level has dropped from the lock.
Magnetawan has a small historical museum in the old powerhouse. Originally a power mill in the 1880's (Purdy's Mill), it was latter converted into a small hydro-electric plant to harness the power of the water falling over the lock, which was used until the 1960's. The museum contains the original water-powered turbines, which are still in working order and are put into operation several times a week .. along with a collection of old power tools and equipment that's hooked up. Also a collection of local artefacts: tools, household utensils, spinning wheels and the like. Displays on the history of the lock, another on the steamboats of the Magnetawan River. Old money, cameras, china and even two small coffins (c.1900) for children .. presumably never used. Behind the powerhouse there's an old log cabin full of 19th century stuff .. furniture, chests, an iron wood-burning stove, a wicker bird cage, wooden school desk and the like. Finished the day off with a swim in Cheer Lake - something that was an almost daily activity during the time I was at the cottage. St. George the Martyr is a neat looking wooden church, built in 1880 .. alas didn't get the chance to see it while we were there.
22nd August, 1999: Cheer Lake
Magic in the morning standing at the lakeshore as the sun dawns. The south end of the lake shrouded in mist. A slight breeze .. just enuf to gently ruffle some of the water's surface and blow fragments of fog to the northern half of the lake - most of the fog there already dissipated. Columns of fog steadily moving north in the breeze, like an army of wraith's silently marching. Along the shores and covers where the wind didn't reach, the water is totally still, perfectly reflecting the forest and sky above. The sun slowly creeping above the hills to the east. But it wasn't all ghostly ... there was life too. Small fish darting in the water beneath the dock, larger ones jumping out of the water further out into the lake and splashing back in. Insects skittering along the water's surface. Chipmunks in the forest and on the rocks at the shoreline. Bird calls of many varieties echoing and repeating around the lake, with the occasional glimpse of one flying thru' the trees. I guess there's nothing unique about the lake ... the area is full of such isolated and quiet lakes. But that doesn't detract from the magic of this lake, as seen in the dawn light.
Of course sunset's also a beautiful time as the sun sets behind the hills to the west, lighting up the water a golden colour and the sky first gold and then ever deepening shades of red. Or during the day in the warmth of the sun, the sunlight reflecting of countless tiny waves, the gentle breeze. The wildlife. The chill water. Nightime, with the moonlight shining on the lake, the mist rising from the surface. The total absence of civilisation's "noise".
Went for a paddle on a paddle boat (self powered). Paddles to the opposite end of the lake. A pleasant hour or two and a good workout as well. Stopped to have a look at Gull Island, bare rock and marsh, home to lots of seagulls. Nearby is Cookout Island, so named by locals since it's a favourite spot for BBQ's. After lunch went to Lake Bernard for some tubing followed by another swim in Cheer Lake.
23rd August, 1999: Toronto -
Down to Toronto for the day. The first half of the trip south was pretty sparsely populated. Mostly forested. Hilly. Lots of lakes and streams. The region depends mostly on tourism and timber. The southern half is a lot flatter, dryer and much more heavily populated. Mostly farmland, towns and cities. Scattered along the road were those giant "igloos" I saw lots of in northern USA, tho' while in the USA they use salt on the roads, in Canada they use sand and dirt - it causes less damage and is more effective in the colder Canadian winters.
Toronto is a *big* city. Actually it's several cities that have grown together. Spent most of the day in Mississauga, one of the "cities" that makes up "Toronto" on a world map .. tho' Mississauga is not officially part of Toronto and any native of Mississauga would be at least a tad upset to hear that claim. The two are distinct cities tho' they are contiguous, that is, as you drive from one to the other and as you pass from one city block into the next you go from Mississauga to Toronto. The problem here is one of definition .. by North American definition, the two are distinct cities, but Aussie definitions are different and what would technically be called "the Hamiliton-Mississauga-Toronto-etc city corridor", I've just called Toronto, after the biggest and most well known part - it's a lot shorter! This difference in definition caused no end of confusion when I was in the USA and Canada. *g* Even something as obvious as "suburb" means a totally different thing .. here in Oz suburbs are the subdivisions of the "city", both in the city centre and the outer areas. But in north america, "suburb" means the outlying areas of a city. Sending a letter to someone in, say, Atlanta, you'd address to letter to Atlanta no matter where in the city or metropolitan area they lived, but in Oz you'd only use Sydney if they lived in a small area in the city centre, just a few blocks .. in fact I don't think anyone lives there, it's all office blocks.
Did some shopping and we met up with someone else for lunch at "Jack Astor's". The food wasn't all that great but the decor was different. Funny and colourful chalk drawings all over the walls with messages such as "Sure, we serve kids. Please allow 45 minutes for preparation." along with a drawing of a waiter holding a covered serving plate, "Please ensure that children are adequately restrained in the high chairs." over a picture of a child chained to the high chair. Another had the rather self explanatory message "If you think our decor is tacky, you should feel under the table." The tables were covered with brown paper and crayons were provided for the customers to draw or otherwise amuse themselves. Unusual place name of the trip: Penetanguishene.
24th August, 1999: Canada - Land
of Maple Sugar
Today was fairly typical of most of the days spent at the cottage. Quiet, reflective .. well as much as can be expected with two kids and five other people packed into the cottage. On the other hand, I turned into an early riser, quite a few hours before anyone else, so admit the crowd, I found plenty of times for solitude and peace. The day was spent playing cards, playing in the lake, chatting and, of course, vegging out. After all, people go to places like this to get away from the pressures of life and just relax. Did do one trip today ... went into Sundridge and visited the Maple Sugar House. It has a petting farm for the kiddies and a number of old log cabins, dating to the late 1800's when the area was first settled. Several of them were full of period antiques and were open for inspection. There was a display on the making of maple sugar .. rather simple actually, they tap maple trees and collect heaps of sap which they then boil it down to 1/10th the original volume. A process they still follow today, even with the commercial commercial manufacturers. And real maple syrup tastes nothing like the artificial stuff one buys elsewhere.
25th August, 1999: Christmas
Christmas Day. What??! Yes, Christmas Day. By now a group of 8 had settled in at the cottage and someone came up with the idea to celebrate Christmas. Cheap presents, Christmas decorations, carols, turkey dinner and all the usual stuff aside from cold and snow. But in summer, which was a different experience for Canadian's. As for me, it was actually cooler that those back in Australia. *grin* Went for a walk up Cheer Lake Road. Found a nice little glade near the end which was full of moss. Pretty thick in spots .. felt like walking on sponge. After dark had a campfire outside with toasted marshmallows.
26th August, 1999: Sudbury
We all went to Sudbury for the day. Headed north from Sundridge thru' pine forests and heaths where all the trees have been cut down by logging companies. Colourful with wildflowers and ferns everywhere, especially along the side of the road, tho' many of the ferns were dead or dying as the brief winter of the far north comes to an end. Small towns scattered along the highway, once all timber towns but many now also catering to tourism. Lots of granite outcrops of many different colours. Very hilly land - poor land for farming, tho' there were some farms in the lower, more fertile areas - but even then, they were mostly livestock. Lots of sawmills. North Bay .. a city of around 56,000 people, north of which is, well, nothing. A handful of small, isolated settlements and the north pole. Winter up here is long and harsh. Lots of signs in French here .. the city is fairly close to Quebec. Of course, Canada is officially bilingual and street signs are in both English and French. Saw some uneasy neighbours in North Bay .. on the south side there was an "adult entertainment store" next door to a Christian bookshop. On the other side of the city there was another porn store opposite a church. One has to wonder about the city's planning regulations! North Bay's other dubious claim to fame is that it was here that the Dionne quins were born and subsequently made into a media circus (actually it was in nearby Corbeil, but close 'nuff). Then on past Lake Nipissing .. not one of the Great Lakes, but sizeable enuf that you can't see the other shore. Then past the location of the day: Wahnapitae.
The Sudbury area is pretty bare looking .. hardly any trees above 2 metres and lots of areas where there are no trees at all. Sudbury is home to the Big Nickel Mine and Science North, a science centre. The mine is an underground one, tunnelled thru' a black rock with lots of water seeping thru'. The guide was rather hard to understand ... she had a strong accent (not Canadian) and spoke really fast. Mind you, she didn't say all that much about the mine anyway .. it was mostly about mining in general and even then, she pitched her presentation towards kids which wasn't really reasonable seeing there were only four kids on the tour of 31 people. Heard about the explosives used in the mine, drilling (with diamond bits), the trains that carried the ore - remote controlled from above ground - and also about the ceiling supports. The old style wooden supports are no longer used .. these days they use a combination of fencing wire bolted to the rock with *big* bolts and and everything sprayed with a thick coat of concrete.
Fires are a big hazard in mines ... but there's no fire alarm as such ... when there's a fire, a strong smelling chemical is released into the ventilation system. When the miners smell it, they run to the nearest safety shelter. Which makes sense since with all the noise of the mining, the blasting, drilling and the like, the miners would prolly not hear an alarm. The shelters are strongly reinforced and sealed. In case of a fire, air is pumped down into the shelter.
Upstairs there's an exhibit on mining and geology. Rocks and minerals from the area as well as a small selection from further afield. Several displays on the reforestation efforts in the area. The Big Nickel Mine is just one of many mines in the area - nickel was discovered in the area in 1883 and mining began soon after. Because of the demand for wood for supports in the mines an as fuel for the smelters, by the early 1900's the whole area had been turned into a moonscape, totally denuded of trees and all the topsoil stripped away by erosion. Reforestation efforts only began in the 1980's. There's the control centre for the underground trains which carried the ore from the mineface .. tho' the mine now has only about 50ft of usable track. Displays and hands-on exhibits on the mining and processing of nickel. The mine was made famous in 1951 when a commemorative 5c coin was minted celebrating the 200th anniversary of the discovery of nickel. The coin was named after the mine and there's a 9m model of the coin made of steel and wood, erected in 1963 at the top of the hill which is above the mine.
Then to the Science Centre, a neat looking glass and steel structure that kinda looks like half a top. The building is right on the shore of a lake and the lower floors are carved into the bedrock. One enters the display area by passing thru' an "artificial" mine ... well, ok, so all mines are artificial, but I'm sure people get the idea. There's a floor with waterworks (for the kiddies) and a swap shop where people can bring stuff in to swap .. fossils, rocks, insects and stuff like that. The next floor is devoted to ecosystems. Tanks of fish, bees, a porcupine looking frightened out of its wits .. all it did was sit and quiver, but it was pretty old, lots of snakes and a bird viewing - under construction. Frogs, tarantulas, turtles, salamanders, scorpions, a giant millipede, a lonely vole and a tank of mud puppies - look a lot like axolotls (Mexican walking fish), which I used to have as a kid. There was a turtle skeleton ... the backbone is part of the shell, so the idea of a shell-less turtle is rather ridiculous. A collection of skulls and antlers, fossils and a whale skeleton. Another floor was full of interactive hands-on stuff, tho' mostly aimed at kids.
There was a demonstration-lecture on liquid nitrogen .. aimed at the kiddies .. they skipped out on the more "entertaining" possible demonstrations, then again, not all of them are particularly safe. Another lecture was on neutrino's. There's a $C65 million neutrino observatory that's just been built in Sudbury - 2km below the surface. It's in an active nickel mine, yet the observatory is an "ultra clean" environment, and is in the largest cavity at that depth, 10 story's high, filled with $C300 million of heavy water! The mining company that operates the mine, the Creighton mine, donated both the underground "space" and also the mining expertise needed to construct the observatory - a contribution worth $C150 million.
The Centre also has an imax theatre and a "virtual voyages" theatre .. that's the the where the seats rock back and forwards while you watch the movie.
29th August, 1999: Eagle Lake
Went for a drive in the country along lonely roads (mostly dirt) thru' the forest with the occasional farm or heath. Drove around Deer Lake and then along Eagle Lake Road which was originally called Poor Man's Road. Ended up at Eagle Lake ... only 1-2 km wide, but over 9km long and divided in two by a narrow strait. There was a strong wind blowing and on the northern side the lake surface was quite choppy and the air full of water spray, yet on the south side the lake was comparatively calm and the water crystal clear. Saw several families of ducks on the lake. Walked for bit along a beach which was on the sheltered southern side of the ismuth that made the strait. Had a look at an old church, St. John's, built in 1888 but sadly has been renovated with no intent on preserving it's original appearance.
30th August, 1999: Ottawa - Day
Went on a two day trip to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, about a five hour drive each way. First headed north to North Bay and then east, passing to the north of the Algonquin Provincial Park. Stopped for a short break at Mattawa, a small town over an hour's drive from anywhere else. The scenery for the first three hours or so was much the same as in the Sundridge area. More mountainous, fewer lakes (but still quite a few), less people, but a similar mix of mostly old and new growth forests (new growth means it's been logged in the past), along with heaths, bogs, volcanic rock outcrops (a lot of pink stone) and the occasional small farm; with ferns, mosses and wildflowers abounding. Lots of birds - I've never seen so many ravens in my life. The mountains are covered with a blue haze in the distance .. something that appears to go with mountains whether they are covered with eucalyptus forests, pine forests or whatever and whether it's in a hot climate or a cool one.
After about two hours, came across the Ottawa river, which is born in the Algonquin highlands. The highway pretty much follows the river all the way to Ottawa, which funnily enuf, is also on the shore of the river. The river has a pretty big dam (used for hydroelectric power generation), so for quite a stretch in the mountains it's actually a pretty sizeable lake. Also in the mountains is the Canadian Defense Forces Base. It's pretty big, tho' one can't see much of the base from the highway since there's a line of forest alongside of the road. But there was the occasional glimpses. Thru' one gap I saw a sandy area with several tanks and the like parked.
Leaving the mountains, one comes to Pembroke, pretty much at the head of the Ottawa Valley. The valley is flat with lots of farmland, only the occasional smallish stand of forest. At Ross there was a shop built looking like Noah's Ark, complete with animal heads poking out from the deck. Quite sizeable too.
One very noticeable difference that I've observed between country USA and country Canada - at least the parts that I've seen - is that in Canada there's little or no sign of decay and abandonment. No abandoned, boarded up or falling down shops littering the town centres ... a sight that is ubiquitous in rural USA, even in the larger towns. Even Frankfort, which is a state capital but only an oversized town, has lots of empty shops and one on Main St. actually collapsed while I was there.
After five hours, we arrived in downtown Ottawa. Picked up tickets for the Parliament Building tour (free!), met up with a friend of my Canadian host, had lunch, went for a walk thru' the Market's and ended up at the Major Hill Park. The park is on the east side of the mouth of the Rideau Canal. On the opposite side is Parliament Hill and the parliament buildings - of which one gets a great view from the park. From the same spot one can also see downtown Hull, which despite the English name is actually in the French speaking province, Quebec. Ottawa (which sounds like it should instead be the French city) and Hull are separated only by the Ottawa River and the respective downtown areas are almost just a stone throw's from each other .. only a few minutes drive, traffic permitting, of course.
The Rideau Canal was built in 1826 to link the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario and to so provide a quick way for the British to get troops and supplies to its garrisons in the Lake Ontario area in case of a USA attack. Not longer before the canal was built, the British (ie: Canada) and the USA had fought a border war (the 1812 war). The canal system is about 200km long, tho' the Rideau Canal is only a small part leading from the Ottawa River and, with its series of locks, raised the water level from that of the Ottawa River to the higher level of Lake Ontario. The town of Ottawa was born as the construction camp for the canal builders. By 1855 it had grown to a small city and change it's name to Ottawa. In 1857 it was chosen by Queen Victoria as the capital for the Province of Canada (now Ontario & Quebec) - a long way to come in just 31 years. In 1867 the colonies of British North America "confederated", forming the Dominion of Canada and Ottawa remained the capital. At the time there were four provinces, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The Parliament Buildings consist of three large neo-gothic buildings, unimaginatively named the East, Centre and West Buildings. Surrounding these buildings are lots of other, nondescript government buildings and embassies. The new USA embassy is being built nearby and is described by locals as being an "eyesore". The Centre Building contains both houses of parliament and also the parliament library, which is semi-detached from the main building. There's a clock tower in the Centre Building that rings the bells on the half-hour and also plays for an hour every 2pm, first the national anthem and then other songs. Toured the Centre Building.
Inside, the building style is also neo-gothic. Mostly built of white stone (limestone I think). Once past security, the tour starts in a corridor with the names of the people in all the governments since the birth of Canada. Then moves onto an open, two story foyer, lit thru' a glass ceiling containing lots of frames depicting each of the different ministries as of 1900 .. of course, the list is different today. Lots of carved stone. There's 10 arches with coats of arms above them, representing the 10 Canadian provinces (states). The House of Commons is entered from the foyer thru' thick, 10ft tall wooden doors. The ceiling is some 50-60ft high. Stained glass windows around the upper level balcony and yet more stone carvings on the walls, representing the different provinces. The chamber is split into two, with the governing party on one side and the opposition parties sitting on the other. In between, and to one end, is the Speaker's Chair. The distance between the government and opposition seats is such that someone standing on each side, with an arm stretched out and holding a sword would have a gap of one foot between the two sword tips. No doubt to stop rowdy politicians from killing each other - tho' I suspect this is a tradition that came from England since by the time Canada became a nation, swords were no longer worn.
The tour then passes thru' a corridor containing paintings of all of the Speakers of the House .. painted so that their eyes seem to follow you as you walk down the corridor. Mayhaps done that way so to remind politicians, as they walk down the corridor with mischief on their minds, that they are always under the eyes of the Speaker? Then enters the library, which is built of wood and stone - unlike the rest which is built just of stone. The difference in materials is because the library, built in 1876, was the only part of the building that wasn't destroyed by fire in 1916. There are more carvings in the library, representing the various provinces .. tho' since it predates the formation of a number of them, not all provinces are represented. There's three floors of books in elaborately carved wooden bookshelves. The books are along the walls (well wall, since the library is round .. technically it has 16 sides), with alcoves sticking out towards the centre of the library, like spokes on a wheel missing its centre. The upper two levels of books are on balconies with iron railings. Above the level of the books there's a large dome with glass windows. In the centre of the library there's a large white marble statue of Queen Victoria. All in all, the library was very beautiful and certainly the most impressive chamber in the building.
The senate chamber is much more elaborate that the House of Commons chamber. There's eight big paintings on the wall, below which is carved wooden panelling. Elaborate stone carvings between the paintings depicting scenes from Canadian history. A gold painted ceiling, arches and coloured glass windows. The Queen is still the head of state and is represented by the Governor General. The House of Commons has a green colour scheme .. symbolic of the fact that back in the early days of the House in England, the members sat outside on the grass. The senate, on the other hand, has a red colour scheme, representing the royal colour - while the House represented the "common man", the senate was appointed by the Queen (or King) and represented the monarch's interests. A similar system to what exists in Australia with the difference that the members of the Canadian senate are not elected but rather appointed by the Governor General and nominated by the prime minister (as is the case also in England, tho' there the members of the House of Lords are .. or were .. appointed by the Queen). Since the Canadian senators are nominated by the PM, only representatives of the two major parties have members sitting in the senate since they are not about to nominate people from another party.
Leaving the senate chamber, the tour enters the foyer to the senate. Almost the twin, architecturally, to the House of Commons foyer. This one also has a backlighted ceiling, this time covered with coats of arms. Also had ten Gothic arches, carvings (faces, coats of arms etc) and paintings of English monarchs on the walls. There was a talk by an actor portraying the first woman senator. Women got the right to vote in Canada in 1929 and she was appointed to the senate in 1930 where she served for 30 years.
By law, no building in Ottawa can be higher than the Parliament Buildings, which makes for a pretty low skyline. Of course, since the Parliament Buildings are on the top of a hill, they are not the tallest buildings. No such restriction exists in Hull, across the river in Quebec.
Had a peek in the Chateau Laurier, the most expensive hotel in the city. Lots of wood panelling, plaster motifs and a marble floor. A night's stay there in a "broom closet" costs a mere $150 plus taxes (another 15% or so) .. parking is extra. Still, the restaurant prices were about the same as those in the Hard Cafe where we had dinner earlier on. The decor in the Hard Rock was, well, mixed and "interesting" .. and I'll leave it at that! Walked thru' the Market's again and had a Beaver Tail, a local delicacy. No, not made from the tails of helpless beavers .. it's pastry fried in oil and coated with sugar, cinnamon dust, lemon juice, chocolate or whatever topping one desires.
Went on a 70min barge tour of the Rideau Canal (Paul's Boat Lines). The tour covers 8km each way and starts in downtown Ottawa and ends at Dow's Lake. The canal depth ranges from 5ft to 20ft .. the latter is the lake. The guide gave a rundown on some of the buildings and other features along the route ... and with a rather corny sense of humour. The original canal workers worked 16 hours a day for 6 or 7 days a week and were paid just 16 cents a day. At several points the canal widens where the builders encountered swamps, which they dredged and built the walls of the canal around. Outside the downtown area the canal is bordered by a long, narrow park, a favourite haunt of joggers and roller bladers. In winter the temps get down to -20C and sometimes down to -40C. The canal freezes down to the the bottom. In order to stop the ice rupturing the canal walls, they drain all but the last two feet of water. When it freezes, the canal becomes the longest ice skating rink in the world. Dow's Lake was originally Dow's Creek Swamp before it was turned into a lake by the canal builders. Named after the guy who owned the swamp .. which proves, I guess, that buying swamp land is not always a bad idea. Along the shores of Dow's Lake is the city arboretum.
31st August, 1999: Ottawa, Day
2, and Hull, Quebec
First stop for the day was Hog's Back Falls on the Rideau River. The falls and a nearby dam form part of the Rideau Canal water control system. The dam was first built in 1827. Initially made of stone, subsequent replacements have been of stone, wood and concrete, the latest being built in the 1970's. The falls themselves are actually natural, tho' they were a lot more spectacular before the dam was built, with a sizeable volume of water and all surrounded by a dense forest. Today most of the water flows down the dam sluice gates and bypasses the falls. Originally there was also three sets of rapids as well as the falls. Today only only one of them remains, tho' there is a new set of rapids below the dam. Lots of birds at the falls. The falls consist of four separate waterfalls, with one of them being a three-teir waterfall with a pond between two of the tiers. The remaining two falls fed the remaining original set of rapids. The total drop, from the surface of the dam to the base of the falls, was about 150-200ft. In the midst of all the chaos of the falls and rapids there were also a few calm pools of water .. for the most part full of ducks. One of the falls was surrounded by a cloud of spray. A little bit of wilderness in the heart of the city.
Driving thru' Ottawa on the way to Hull, passed an empty field that is used in winter as a dump for snow, which by the end of winter has formed a huge mound which sometimes takes until July to completely melt - the middle of summer. Then across the Ottawa River and into Quebec. While street signs etc in Ontario and many other provinces are bilingual (French and english), in Quebec by law they can only be in French. Like their francophile cousins in France, the french-speaking people of Quebec jealously and fanatically try to preserve their French heritage.
In Hull we visited the Museum of Civilisation. Not actually called that, since that's the english translation of the name. Civilisation in this case being Canadian. The ground floor was devoted to the Indians of pre-European Canada, especially those of British Columbia. The first display was on the Xiue Nal Mewx indians .. a collection of artefacts and displays on the people, their heritage and crafts. Masks, religious items, sculptures and carvings. A wooden house built by native craftspeople in the traditional style. A collection of ceremonial masks from another tribe.. there was a mosquito mask and a lot of bird masks, tho' many of the latter looked more like dragons! Along the main corridor there was a collection of totem poles, which were all made from a single piece of wood and some reached a pretty impressive height - several were over 60ft tall! Many of the totem poles dated to the 1800's.
There was a reproduction of an Indian chief's house, Chief Wakas. The original stood in Alert Bay, British Columbia. Built in the late 1800's it stood until 1930. Colourful paintings on the front and heaps of wood carvings. The house is a mix of traditional Indian and early 1900's European-Canadian. A totem pole stands next to an old radio. There was a movie on Indian culture, their collision with European people and their attempts to survive - by totally rejecting all European ways, fully embracing them and abandoning their own or by seeking a synthesis of the two cultures. There was a collection of masks from the Nuxalk people. Some were comical, some gruesome, some tragic, others obviously meant to be frightening. There was a collection of household stuff from the Nisga'a people .. also more masks, clothing, ceremonial stuff and stone carvings.
There was a model of a complete coastal Indian village ... every house had its own collection of totem poles which were erected before the house was built. Next was a display looking at the different areas of Indian life in British Columbia: religion, trade, warriors and weapons (there was even a figure wearing a suit of armour made of leather and beaten metal), jewellery, fishing, farming, home life, craft tools and hunting. Was also a recreated archaeological dig of an abandoned Indian village. Outside there were two big canoes, one at least 40ft long, colourfully painted.
The second exhibit was a collection of 20th century artwork from the people of the Canadian Far North - the Eskimos or Inuit. Lots of carvings and statues from the various Inuit people - the Kivallia, Qukiqtaatuk (Baffin Island) and Nunavik. The latter was made into a Canadian Province earlier this year. The next room had displays on the history of the Inuit, who settled in northern Canada c.1000AD - originally coming from Alaska. The displays in this area are trilingual, French, english and Inuit.
While Vikings did reach the Canadian Far North before 1000AD, the first, far-reaching advent of Europeans in the region was in 1576 when a British expedition reached the area while attempting to find a polar route to China. The British expedition landed on Baffin Island. They encountered the local Inuit, but apparently the contact was fairly friendly. That phase of the story would have probably ended there except for a black rock that a sailor found and gave to the captain. He dismissed it as a novelty, but upon returning to England, the rock was assayed and said to be high grade gold ore. Another expedition was promptly arranged and a company floated to mine the rock. The Queen even ordered that a colony be set up. Fortunately for the colonists, the ship carrying building supplies sun enroute and the colonisation attempt was abandoned. Fortunately? On returning to England with several ship loads of the the black rock, the ore was reassayed and found to contain no gold at all - it was the first Canadian gold hoax ... but certainly not the last. The second English expedition did achieve one thing, the land was claimed in the name of England. While the "gold" mine was forgotten for 100's of years, the English gradually moved into the area that is now Canada. It wasn't until 1861 that another expedition reached that site and it was an American team. They were led there by tales of the 1576 and 1578 expeditions that were preserved by the local Inuits.
The third main exhibit was "Canada Hall" and was a history of European Canada. It was laid out like a town, but one that evolved along the route of the tour from the early primitive days to the early 20th century. The ceiling of the hall was curved, painted white and lit with blue lights .. giving the effect that it was a real sky or at least a lot higher up than it actually was. There were a few moving clouds and a sunset (or sunrise) at one end of the hall.
The Hall starts off with section on "Journeys to Canada". The first Europeans were the Vikings who settled in Newfoundland around 1000AD. The settlement died out. Why is still hotly debated. The next European exploration was was John Cabot in 1497 when Newfoundland was "rediscovered". By the early 1600's much of coastal eastern Canada had been explored. In the 1580's French fishing ships travelled to the coasts of Newfoundland (or Newfie as the locals call it) to fish the rich schools of fish there .. but they never landed. There's a recreation of the early ship life of these fishermen .. they spent most of their lives at sea. Soon other natural resources were discovered and then exploited - whales, ivory, furs, bird feathers (down) and the like. Hunters and explorers had spread out. There were displays on the whaling stations that were built along the coast. Both life on the ships and life at the stations.
Then came the farmers, first in tents and then log cabins. Both French and English. Towns of stone, wood and brick. The original French settlement was known as New France or Acadia. In this section there's an inn, a cobbler's home and shop, a cobbled square, a town gate, a room with a collection of period French furniture, silverware, kitchenware etc, a hospital and apothecary which was maintained by a religious order .. hospitals back then were places people went to die, not to be healed. There was the Beauport Bell, made in 1666.
European territory dramatically expanded in the late 1700's and early 1800's thanks to trappers and traders who traded trinkets, jewellery and tools with the Indians for furs etc. Out of this mix of Indians and trappers & traders was born the Metis Nation, a merging of both culture and blood. The timber trade was the next "gold" which provided the drive for the next wave of expansion. After the US Revolutionary War, there was an influx of refugees into Canada .. those who were on the English side and those who feared the new regime in the USA. There was an exhibit on the British military in Canada, focusing on the time around 1800. Weapons, uniforms, the sport of curling which was brought to Canada by Scottish soldiers and became the modern sport of ice hockey (basketball is also said to be another Canadian "invention").
Shipbuilding in Canada. The rise of Canada's cities in the mid 1800's ... urbanisation of Canada had begun. Shops selling furniture, china, dry goods, a telegraph and railway station and a merchant's home characterise this period .. the mid to late 1800's. The merchant's home had a parlour, dining room and study. All furnished with period pieces (or possibly reproductions).
The tour then moved into the early 20th century. Several cars, another railway station with a section of a train carriage, artefacts and displays on the people and their lives, both at home and at work. Farming. A bank, a printer's shop and a church. Both the church and its contents are original. The discovery of oil, the next Canadian "gold". Then went upstairs to a viewing level where one could look down on the Canada Hall, often from the second floor of the buildings in the exhibit. There were also displays on wedding dresses, iron stoves and glass making in Canada. Also a collection of early maps and Canadian souvenirs.
Before leaving the Ottawa area stopped for lunch and tried out poutine, a local French-Canadian delicacy. Chips and cheese curds covered with gravy. Actually a lot tastier than it sounds.
Of course there's a lot more to be seen in the Ottawa area. One could go on an after dark ghost tour of the city (the D'Arcy McGee tour) and visit the darker side of Ottawa .. murders, hangings and ghosts. There's the Canadian Mint, the National Museum of Science and Technology, the Aviation Museum, the Nature Museum, Rideau Hall which is the Governor General's residence, steam train rides, the Cathedral-Basilica Notre Dame (being renovated), cruises on the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers and far too many more art galleries, exhibitions, museums and the like to list.
Then the long drive back to Sundridge. Kiosk is the rather misleading name of a town just off the highway in the mountains.
Spent a few more days at Cheer Lake and then onto Toronto for the rest of the trip.
4th September, 1999: Toronto
- CN Tower and Casa Loma
Caught the subway into downtown Toronto. Much like the London subway - no fixed schedules, the trains run "frequently". Even looks much the same. Unlike London, the Toronto subway is a lot smaller, just two lines (well technically three, but the 3rd is just an extension), one running north-south, the other east-west. Like every other transport system, their PA announcements are next to incomprehensible ... I'm sure there's an international conspiracy out there! Another pleasant difference from the London subway, the Toronto trains are air conditioned. Yay! No matter how many stations you travel, it's the same price. One station or all of them. Just $2 (or as they say in Canada, a "toonie").
First stop for the day was the CN Tower. There was a really long queue for it, but I guess that's no surprise since there can only be one "tallest structure in the world" at a time. Not the tallest building (that's in Chicago), but definitely the tallest structure - it's a tower, not a building. People from all over the world were there. I spotted or heard African's, Europeans, Latin Americans, Asians and plenty from North America .. not to mention at least one Aussie. A regular UN it was. Along the route of the queue there were a number of displays on the tower and it's construction, tho' very simple stuff. There was a screen that showed, of all things, a simulated bungee jump off the top of the tower, as seen by the suicidal jumper ... the last I saw of that as the queue carried me on was "DANGER" in big red letters flashing up on the screen. Then into a movie theatre for a 5 minute promo on the tower. Just video and music, nothing spoken. I'm told they sent everyone thru' there on really busy days so as to reduce the "traffic jam" at the elevators. The shots of the tower at different times of the day and in different weather were pretty neat .. especially the storm with all the lightning playing around the tower. Cool!
The tower itself is a telecom tower with a big antenna at the top. Apart from the shops etc at the base, there's nothing else apart from two viewing decks, one about 1/2 way up, the other half as high again. There's a restaurant on the lower deck. Even the lower platform is higher than anything else in Toronto, above even the radio masts on the highest buildings. Naturally enuf, the best views were from inside the restaurant, which I'm sure charged a sizeable fortune for the view.
The lower viewing platform actually has two floors, the equivalent of the 113th and 114th floors if the tower was a building .. the latter at a height of 346 metres. The upper floor (where the restaurant is) is a crowded, glassed in area. The lower floor has an open viewing balcony .. all that stands in between you and a long drop is a wire mesh. Despite the mesh, the view there is heaps better and you can feel the wind blowing strongly around the tower .. there's no escaping it. Despite the crowds in the glassed in area, the open area was practically deserted .. at times there was no-one else in sight. Inside on the 113th floor there's a section of the floor made of glass. Not much of a view thru' there, all you can see is the side of the tower stretching down to the ground .. but it was neat watching the many different reactions of the visitors, from the girl who screamed and bolted when her boyfriend tried to get her to stand on the glass to the guy in army boots who kept jumping up and down on one of the panels. No surprise that no-one else wanted to stand on _that_ panel!
In the south is Lake Ontario with a large island just offshore with lots of marinas and a small airport, planes continually landing and taking off. Immediately below the tower are the docks and hi-rise motels. To the west an industrial area and then suburbs stretching to the horizon. To the north is the business district, with blocks of hi-rises stretching to the north from the tower, tall buildings of concrete, steel and glass - of many different shades, green, gold, black, blue and more. Some of them quite colourful and with an unusual architecture. An English-style sandstone church and the city hall are visible but dwarfed by the giants surrounding them. Reflections on some of the buildings, especially the one with gold coloured glass. To the east is Union station .. from the ground a large Victorian style railway and subway station, but from the platform it could have been no more than a painting on the ground. In the south west there were some military jets doing acrobatics - below the level of the viewing platform!
Second stop for the day was Casa Loma which means "house on the hill". But it's no mere house, it's a castle. Unlike many of the other "fake" castles that are scattered across North America, this isn't a kitschy or Disney style structure but instead it's a realistic recreation. Built 1911-1914 by Sir Henry Pellatt at a cost of 3.5 million dollars (that's in 1910's money), it was the family home for nine years. The castle was modelled on a Scottish moor's castle and reaches a height of over 130 feet with has foundations that go 45 feet down.
Entering the castle you find yourself in the Great Hall, a large entrance foyer with wood panelling and carvings, Tudor-style architecture and a big pipe organ. Suits of armour and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, 60 feet above. There's also an upstairs balcony on several sides. The Library has a plaster ceiling with the Pellatt family crest as a motif, wood panelled walls and originally had Louis 16th furnishings, tho' they no longer remain. Two walls full of 6ft high bookshelves with glass doors ... the books are all fakes tho'. One strange bit of trivia is that the floor was built strong enuf to take the weight of a steam locomotive, tho' how they would have gotten one in I have no idea.
The Dining Room has dark wooden panelling with round and square wood columns. There's a corner nook in an alcove for family meals. The alcoves has original furnishings: a dining table and chairs carved out of some dark wood with red velvet seats, orange marble fireplace, paintings, a tapestry and a chest with a glass front with china and silverware. The Conservatory is entered from the Dining Room via a pair of large glass and bronze doors, each costing $10,000 to make. Here the family entertained their guests. There's a black and pink Italian marble floor. Along the glassed walls there are flower beds containing buried steam pipes to keep the beds warm during winter. Above there's an Italian stained glass dome costing $12,000 which is backlit by 600 light bulbs. One then passes into a long, dimly lit wood panelled corridor with an arched plaster ceiling some 15ft high and paintings along the walls. Named the Peacock Gallery, it was modelled after it's namesake in Windsor Castle (which I toured in July). The hall contains the first elevator built in Canada, named "Otis 1". The Serving Room was used both as a serving room for the formal dining room and also for intimate family meals. Some of the furnishings in the Serving Room are original. The kitchen is behind, tho' since Casa Loma hosts wedding receptions etc, the kitchen has been modernised. The original was large enuf that the cooks could have cooked three full grown ox at one time.
The study is a rather small office. Pellatt had a copy of Napoleons desk made, tho' it's no longer there. Despite the small size of the shop and it's rather simple appearance, by 1901 Pellatt was the chairman of 21 companies. As fitting any castle, Casa Loma has a secret passageway. Nothing mysterious tho', it just leads upstairs to the bedroom level. The second floor has another corridor similar in appearance to the Peacock gallery .. in fact it's directly above. Suits of armour line the walls. Henry Pellatt's suite is quite opulent. Wood panelled walls, marble fireplace, decorated plaster ceiling, carved chests and chairs, a carved 4-poster bed, a phoenix bed lamp (original), desk and china vases. A big glass door leads to a balcony which overlooks the Great Hall. The bathroom is all marble but has all "modern" fittings .. for the 1910's anyway. Lady Mary's bedroom and Sitting Room were decorated in a pink and pastels colour scheme, with a cream and gold bed and pink and ivory chairs. Despite being an invalid, she did a lot of entertaining in the Sitting Room and Solarium and was very active in the Canadian Girl Guides - she was the first commissioner. There's an exhibit on the guides outside the sitting room.
The guest suite is less ornate than the family bedrooms, with a bed, chest, secretary, chairs etc. A staircase takes one up to the third floor which is much less ornate yet again, with plain plaster walls and no carved wood panelling. Here there were exhibits on the Canadian "Queen's Own Rifle Regiment", the second oldest volunteer Canadian regiment, formed in 1860 and served until after WWII. Pellatt was a military man and devoted much of his life to the regiment, which he eventually came to command. His was a staunch royalist and for his work with the regiment he was knighted. The collection contains historical displays, weapons, uniforms, medals, photographs and the like.
A comparatively crude and plain wooded staircase then leads to the fourth level. Here there's no paintwork, nothing fancy. Just the ground floors for the castle's two towers, the Scottish Tower and the Norman Tower. The latter tower is open at the top - an additional two story's up via a very narrow, spiral cast iron stairwell. The view from the top of the Norman Tower is simply spectacular. It was not without foresight that Pellatt chose as the site for his castle the tallest hill in Toronto. From the top of the tower one gets a wonderful 360 degree panoramic view of Toronto. While one can see more of Toronto from the CN Tower, one gets a close-up view from the Norman Tower. Its twin, the Scottish Tower, is enclosed with glass windows and has a conical red tile roof.
The Servant's Room - where they lived and slept. Naturally enuf much simpler than the part of the castle where family and their guests stayed. The upper level is kept as it was before it was restored ... bare and full of graffiti. The Windsor Room with its gold and white colour scheme, is another guest suite containing some original furnishings. So named because Pellatt had hopes that royalty might one day stay there (they never did). The room has a phone in it - one of 59 originally in the house. During the 1910's and 1920's the castle had its own switchboard and supposedly more phones that the rest of Toronto! The Round Room actually is round, with lots of big windows and elaborate furnishings. There's the Smoking Room and Billiards Room. The last room on the tour was the Oak Room, so named for its oak panelling. Lots of Louis 16th furniture, dresses, a plaster ceiling and grand piano's ... originally called the Napoleon Drawing Room. The oak panelling took three years to make.
Outside the castle looks like a typical British castle of the 16th-18th century .. that is, after gunpowder changed the purpose of castles from defensive to being purely the homes of nobility. A water fountain and extensive gardens full of trees and secluded shaded walking trails full of sculptures. There's a wall at the rear of the castle, some 12-15ft high.
Didn't get a chance to see the basement of the castle, the "dungeons" if you like. For the most part Pellatt never completed his plans for this part of his castle. There was to be a shooting range, bowling alley, exercise room and a swimming pool surrounded by cloisters, marble arches and statues. What was completed was the wine cellar which was kept cool by brine and ammonia filled pipes. There's a "secret" passage connecting Pellatt's study with the wine cellar. Leading out from the basement is a tunnel which leads to the base of the hill and the stables and carriage room, containing a collection of old carriages.
Pellatt made most of his money in land speculation in the interior - land that was being opened up by the railways. With the nationalisation of electricity generation in the 1920's, Pellatt lost his main asset. He returned to land speculation where he'd originally made his fortune but did not enjoy the same success. His bank went bankrupt trying to carry his debt and shortly afterwards he was declared bankrupt himself and the contents of his "castle" were liquidated at a forced auction. The auction didn't come near covering his bills ... a Wurlitzer Organ which Pellatt had ordered, costing $24,000, arrived just before the auction and went for the grand sum of $40. Just to add salt to the wound, the city decided the castle wasn't a residence and so levied a commercial property tax rate - some $50,000 a year in today's prices. In 1924 the family was forced to leave the castle, moving to their country farm. The strain of the move proved too much for Lady Pellatt and she died soon after. After they left there were several attempts at using the castle as a hotel but they all failed. In 1934 the city took possession of the castle in order to cover unpaid taxes. After several proposals were made, the Toronto Kiwanis Club was chosen to restore the castle, furnish it and open it to the public. The club still operates the castle today, under licence from the city. Pellatt even returned to the castle afterwards and was reportedly pleased with what they'd done. Pellatt had, after all, built the castle not merely as a home but also as a landmark for the people of Toronto.
For a change of scenery, had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. An unusual decor - done out as an artificial rainforest, tho' with more than a few anachronisms. *grin* The walls and ceilings covered with lots of plastic plants. A giant 12ft high mushroom. "Animals" scattered thru'out the place - some of which were robotic. There's a stream into which they dump dry ice and water resulting in mist. There's even rain (over the stream) and simulated storms with thunder and "lightning". There's also a waterfall and pond and a night sky scene. As I said, unusual.
5th September, 1999: Niagara
Niagara Falls. If there's only one waterfall seen in a lifetime, then it just has to be Niagara Falls. Sure, there are bigger falls, but for the combination of easy access, history and sheer impressiveness, you can't beat Niagara. Niagara is, after all, almost synonymous with "waterfall". In terms of drop, Niagara Falls isn't all that much .. there are falls with drops of more than 20 times as high .. but in terms of volume (212,200 cubic feet per SECOND), it's the second largest in the world .. in fact all but one of the 8 biggest falls in terms of volume have relatively short drops. Headed south from Toronto along the Queen Elizabeth Way which goes all the way to the Falls and which travels thru' what is probably the most densely populated part of Canada. While Canada is the second largest country in the world, around 1/4 of its population is crammed into a tiny strip of land stretching from Toronto south to Niagara Falls. That makes for a lot of people, a lot of crowding and a lot of smog. Reaching Lake Ontario, we took a detour and drove along the coast via Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is in the heart of Canada's wine region. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist trap, full of expensive looking boutique shops and crowded with cars and tourists.
The falls also have many other claims to fame: the site of the first museum in North America, the first railway suspension bridge in the world, the first hydro-electric power development in the world and the world's first public park that wasn't previously crown land (1885). The island which splits the American and Horseshoe Falls was also once considered as the site of the UN headquarters. Talk about a view! The Niagara River itself, although only 56 km long, is probably the world's greatest single source of hydro-electric power - almost 5,000 megawatts.
Leaving the town one then drives south on the Niagara Parkway which runs alongside the Niagara River, with pretty neat scenery. Lots of parkland, cycleways and the like. On the west side of the road there's lots of expensive looking mansions. Riverside Chapel is a tiny wooden chapel that looks to be big enuf for just a few people. Near Niagara-on-the-Lake the river is fairly placid and gently empties into Lake Ontario, but as one heads south the rivers nature rapidly changes. It narrows and becomes a lot rougher and buries itself in a gorge - the northern end of the river empties into Lake Ontario while the southern end joins up with Lake Erie .. there's a drop of 100's of feet between the two lakes ... about 1/3rd the way south from Lake Ontario one encounters an escarpment and the river enters the gorge. At the top of the escarpment is a huge column with a statue on top, at least 100ft high. It's in Queenstown park, tho' whom the statue is of, I have no idea, tho' it's called Brock's Monument. Also at Queenstown is the Niagara Floral Clock (unimpressive compared to the one in Frankfort, Kentucky) and an old hydro-electric power station at the mouth of the river gorge. The station house is covered with ivy. The entire length of the gorge is lined with hydro plants, active and abandoned, many dating to the 19th century. Queenstown is also home to the Niagara Botanical Gardens and Butterfly House.
Stopped for a peek at Niagara Glen. A decent sized park with lots of walking trails and spectacular views of the river gorge. The river at this point is coloured a deep blue-green, apart from where it's the white of rapids. The gorge itself has a pretty steep drop at this point. There's a cable car crossing at the top of the gorge and white water raft rides down in the gorge itself. Then onto Niagara Falls, the town and the waterfall. Actually there are two towns by that name, one on each side of the border, and two waterfalls. Oh, and *lots* of people .. it is one of the top tourist destinations in North America, after all.
Drove past Niagara Falls looking for a parking spot .. despite lots of parking lots, empty spaces are at a premium. An eyeball estimate put the number of spots in the 100,000's, yet it took us 45mins to find an empty one The Falls are actually two separate falls, the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls - the latter also known as the Canadian Falls. Naturally enuf, the Horseshoe Falls actually does have a horseshoe shape and is on the Canadian side of the border and the American Falls is on the USA side. They are both, well, massive. Horseshoe Falls so much so that most of the falls is actually shrouded in mist from the water thundering down and crashing into the gorge below. The mist is so thick that downwind from the falls it rains non-stop. There are viewing platforms, buildings, power stations and the like on both sides of the falls dating back to Victorian times.
Upstream from the falls the Niagara River splits into two, forming the two separate falls. Separating the two falls is a stretch of sheer cliff. The lesser of the two falls, the American Falls, is on the side branch of the river and about 250 metres downstream from the Horseshoe Falls. The former is along a fairly straight part of the gorge wall and has a drop of 182ft. The water crashes down onto a big pile of rocks at the foot of the falls, presumably formed ages ago when the rock face partially collapsed. Waterfalls are, after all, constantly eroding away the rock they flow over. The more water flowing over, the faster the erosion. From what I've heard, the American Falls will eventually erode itself into oblivion .. attempts were even made to stabilise the falls, diverting the water to do "repairs" to the rock face .. but the attempt failed and the water was allowed to again follow its natural path. About 100 ft upstream from the American Falls is a third "tiny" waterfall which looks to have about the same volume of Cumberland Falls, the second highest volume falls in the USA. Tiny only in comparison to the American Falls, maybe 5% of its flow. At the base of the American Falls there's a viewing platform where people can go, dressed in raincoats, to really experience the falls. Also saw a neat looking rainbow in front of the American Falls. Just south of the falls there's a gantry stretching out from the side of the gorge on the US side which would give, I'm sure, a great view of the falls. Both of them actually.
The Horseshoe Falls, upstream from the American Falls, has a slightly shorter drop, "just" 173ft, but it encompasses at least twice the width as the American Falls. Whether there's a pile of rocks at the base of this waterfall is impossible to tell .. most of the falls is obscured by the mist. Like the smaller falls, there's also a viewing platform near the base of the falls .. in this case reached by taking a lift down into the wall of the gorge and then out to a glass-lined viewing area and another open area.
Where the water isn't white, it's a deep blue-green. Travelling past the American Falls and into the mist at the base of the Horseshoe Falls are a number of tourboats, the most famous being the "Maid of the Mist".. Niagara Falls isn't just a visual experience. In addition to the sight of the falls, one cannot escape the loud roar of the water crashing into the gorge below, a roar that can be heard a long way away. Then there's also the smell, the smell of the mist in the air. Stronger near the falls, but even away from the falls it's still noticeable. And downwind of the Horseshoe Falls there's the "rain" .. the mist is so thick that it's continually raining .. one gets more than just damp walking thru' the "rain zone". Near the head of the Horseshoe Falls one can also feel the vibration in the rock from the falls. About the only sense that one doesn't use is taste .. and given what I've heard about the "quality" of the water in the Great Lakes, I wasn't about to try that! The earliest recorded description of the falls was Louis Hennepin in his 1683 book "Description de la Louisiane". Louisiana was an early name for North America. Above the falls are the Niagara Rapids, impressive in their own right. There's even a barge grounded on one of the many small islands above the falls.
There are lots of other things to do in the area. As well as the tourboat rides and the viewing platforms at the bases and behind the falls that I'd already mentioned, one can go on a steamship ride on the lower part of the Niagara River on the S.S. Pumper .. originally from the USA, it was confiscated by the Canadian coast guard from "running the line" once too often. One can get a taste of what it'd be like to ride over the falls .. tho' while the brochure suggests you actually ride over the falls, that's not quite the case since that's illegal these days. There's the Whirlpool Rapids, between Niagara Glen and the Falls, and which well and truly lives up to its name. There's a skycar that travels across the gorge above the Whirlpool. There's the Butterfly Conservatory, heaps of gardens, some with spectacular views of the falls, light shows each nite as coloured lights light up the falls .. over 5 BILLION candlepower's worth of light. That's a *lot* of light. There's also a lot of historic sites in the area. Fort Erie, which has been restored as an 1812 British Garrison, complete with re-enactments. McFarland House, built in 1800, is a Georgian-style mansion restored to its 1840's appearance. The Laura Secord Homestead was the home of a Canadian hero of the 1812 war (a pleasant change from hearing only of the US hero's while I was "south of the border") .. she walked 32 km across the US lines to warn the British forces of an impending attack, which they were able to beat back thanks to the warning. The homestead is restored to its 1812 appearance.
Heading back to Toronto we were treated to a pretty spectacular sunset. All of a sudden a blood red sun peeked thru' a gap in the clouds just above the horizon. The whole sky was lit up, from a deep purple in the east to a brilliant reddish-pink in the west, with oranges, yellows, golds and reds in between. Sudden bursts of colour as the light from the setting sun reflecting off the bases of low lying clouds. While it was beautiful, the colourful sunset was sadly the result of the heavy smog.
6th September, 1999: Toronto
- Royal Ontario Museum
While Canada's Museum of Civilisation was just about Canadian history, Toronto's "Royal Ontario Museum" or ROM for short was more what one would expect of a museum, with sections on several of the sciences and displays and artefacts from many past cultures and civilisations, worldwide. Too much to see in just one day, so just saw a few of the exhibitions. The entrance foyer was pretty neat, built in Byzantinium style with a dome, arches along the sides and gold-coloured mosaics all over.
The second level is devoted to the life sciences - biology, ecology and palaeontology .. after all, a museum such as this has to have a few dinosaurs. *grin* The central exhibit on this floor is the Maiasaur Project. A reconstruction of the skeleton and life of a Canadian dinosaur. There's a skeleton of the critter itself as well as a movie on its life (at least what the palaeontologists think) and fossils of some of its contemporaries.
Then checked out the Bat Cave - a partial reconstruction of St. Clair Cave in Jamaica. Some interesting titbits about bats for those who may be interested. Despite popular myth, they ain't blind - some bats can see as well as people .. better than some such as myself for that matter .. without my glasses I'm *blinder* than a bat. In China bats are believed to be bringers of good luck, while in Europe they have the opposite association .. evil, death and bad luck. In Mexico it was once believed that bats were the adult forms of mice and rats (they grew wings as they got older), hence they were called "old mice". Sadly there were no live bats in the bat cave. In fact virtually all the animals were stuffed and mounted. The sole exceptions were in the insect section where they had beasties including some giant stick insects (from Australia, no less) and some humungous cockroaches, looking as if they were wearing medieval armour. There was a section on birds, naturally enuf with a video by David Attenborough. A wetlands display which seemingly captured birds mid-flight. The birds were obviously not levitating, but it was impossible to tell how some of them were staying up. No sign of strings. One *was* connected to a thin reed by just it's wing tip - this was a sizeable duck-like bird. maybe it was full of helium, I dunno. Anyway, it was a neat effect the way they were captured in mid flight. There was a collection of big cats, tho' I'm not entirely sure all of them were real .. ie: stuffed as distinct from being a construction. Maybe I'm doing them an injustice .. dunno. The mammal section was closed .. a sign of an impending mass extinction perhaps? Snakes, lizards, turtles, crocs and other slithery and scaled critters. The King Cobra reaches a length of over 5 1/2 metres .. tiny when compared to the Anaconda which reaches a length of 11 metres. *gulp*
Then it was time for the palaeontology section .. somewhat misleadingly labelled the dinosaur section on the map, tho' the sign outside the gallery was the correct one. Misleading because dino's were not the only critters on display. There was a display on the types of fossils that are found (how they were preserved) and models of some dino's in their natural habitats .. or at least what the experts think their habitats looked like. A collection of giant mammal skeletons .. bear, elephant and elk .. along with a giant turtle which was huge even if it wasn't a mammal. A series of displays on pre-humans including skulls and tools. The evolution of the horse. The Rancho la Brea tar pits and a small collection of cretaceous sea "monsters" - baby Loch Ness monsters. More than half of the section was on dinosaurs tho', the dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands - a rich fossil hunting ground. There were three displays here, each devoted to a different time period, the Mesozoic, cretaceous and Jurassic times. Each with a bunch of skeletons of critters of the time period free-standing in a stimulated habitat. The Mesozoic display also had several fossil skeletons still embedded in rock along the walls. The Jurassic is the best known of the dinosaur periods and was also the last. It had the largest and arguably the most impressive of all the dinosaurs .. stegosaurus, allosaurus etc.
Level three was devoted to Europe and the Mediterranean world. The European Gallery had a collection of silverware and china and a big exhibit on the evolution or weapons and armour, both their nature and also decorative styles. There was an amusing display case containing some modern armour - outfits for a bike rider and an ice hockey player. The connection with the medieval armour around it was obvious. Guns, swords, crossbows etc. There were reconstructions of home life during the various periods of the past few centuries. Late medieval, Tudor, the 17th and 18th centuries with a collection of personal hygiene relics and also the lighter side of life: games, gambling, sport and drinking, for high society there were several tea sets. A Victorian parlour, fancy and colourful. There was a collection of metal, ceramic, glass and wooden craftwork .. works of art, tools for the home, jewellery, religious items such as reliquary's, cups and crosses, sculptures, an altar of wood, ivory, gold and marble.
A collection of furniture form the various periods. The elaborately carved and decorated renaissance work, baroque, chinoiserce with it's typical black wood and ivory, rococo style, neo-classical, simple yet elegant, and the Victorian era. Each of these displays had a collection of furniture typical of the period as well as the stuff that fills any home .. "dust collectors" and the like. ornaments, if one wants to be fancy.
The Muslim section had china, urns, metal bowls, jewellery, a marble mosaic fountain (no water tho'), a tomb of some religious leader (presumably sans corpse), old copies of the Koran and other old books. Christian Coptic Egypt was represented by ceramics, a collection of combs, toys, crosses, sculptures and cooking utensils. A collection of Byzantine craftwork (330-1453AD): jewellery, crosses, reliquaries, icons, glassware, mosaics, coins, seals, brass scales, lamps and pottery. The Levant (Israel) .. pottery, jewellery, coins, glassware, bronzeware and pottery. Monotheism and Judaism and Christianity. Old copies of the Torah. Pre-Roman pottery. The invention of the alphabet, some 3700 years ago (by the Cananites).
Rome, imperial Rome. Statues, busts, wall paintings, sarcophagi (empty), architectural tools and fragments of mosaics from Pompeii. Burial goods, coins, jewellery, relics from the arenas - gladiators etc. Roman Britain .. more coins, jewellery, urns and daggers. A collection of stuff from a Roman villa at Folkestone in Kent .. pottery, needles, knives, glassware, stone and metal carvings and statues, a cremation urn (until the Christian era, few societies buried their dead, most cremated 'em). Roman Egypt - terracotta statues, coins, masks, bone carvings, glassware, bronze kitchenware. The Etruscan's, those mysterious and ancient neighbours of the Romans who had a civilisation when Rome was just a collection of hovels .. a fairly static civilisation that was soon absorbed by the growing empire of Rome, to then vanish but for a few traces in Roman customs and fashions .. and a horde of buried relics. Pottery and ceramics, "buccheroware" (650-450BC), funerary customs, urns, grave goods, bronzewares, jewellery and weapons.
The Classical Age, the Hellenistic Greeks. Glassware, statues, carvings, bronzeware, lamps, several gold wreaths, coins, gold jewellery and *LOTS* of pottery. I suspect that the ROM's collection of Greek pottery is its most comprehensive collection and certainly its pride and joy. It's bigger than all the above Mediterranean exhibits combined. A myriad of different styles, both in construction and also in the decoration. vases, urns, lamps, bowls, cups, religious stuff, artwork, perfume bottles, wine jugs and much more. There was a collection of statuettes and masks from Greek theatre as well as a collection of marble statues .. men, women, children, gods and goddesses - including Dionysus, Herakles and several of Aphrodite. Some more anatomically detailed than others (use your own imagination). Some were complete, other's partial, some life size, some larger or smaller. There were terracotta figurines, a model of the Acropolis and several wall frescos. A collection of rings, gems and seals from Minoa, Greece, Egypt and Rome. The spread of Greek influence throughout the Mediterranean .. unlike the Romans, the Greek influence spread via trade and knowledge, not by the sword. But for all that, the Greek's were people of their time: militaristic. There was a collection of bronze weapons .. helmets, axes, swords and also bronze brooches.
Continental Europe .. the land of the Celts. Weapons of iron, bronze, copper, obsidian and flint. From the neolithic to the copper, bronze and iron ages. A clay bowl dating to around 3500BC, jewellery, torcs (kinda like necklaces, but solid) including a gold Irish torc, axes, swords, helmets, daggers, armlets, razors, grave goods, farm tools, a shield.
Minoan civilisation. There was surprisingly little here for such a mysterious and advanced people who invented air conditioning, plumbing, the flush toilet and much more. There was a gold and ivory statuette dated to around 1600BC and titled "Our Lady of Sports". Nubia: Glassware, coins, iron tools, pottery, a clay toilet lid (c.800-1200AD) covered with protective symbols to ward away demons, baskets, jewellery, leatherwork and bronzeware. Christian Nubia (550-1312AD) with more pottery, iron fragments of nails etc. Kush: statuettes and stone carvings.
Egypt, the height of African civilisation. Many different time periods were covered, tho' naturally enuf I started at the wrong end and headed back in time. There was a wall from the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Lots of stone carvings, statues, scarabs, glasswork, cups, jewellery, statuettes. Several items made from "faience", the oldest artificial material, a paste of ground sand, water and adhesive which is shaped and then fired. It predates clay-based pottery. Household furnishings, wood and ivory. Clothing, linen and other woven fabrics. More scarabs and seals. Cosmetics and jewellery .. both sexes wore eye makeup, both removed body hair, generally with tweezers and razors. Religious relics from temples .. lamps, tools and carvings, representations of deities and fragments from the "Book of the Dead". Mummies and sarcophagi (naturally enuf), amulets, animal mummies, a funerary bed, the reconstructed tomb of Kittens, a minor functionary in the Egyptian court dating to the 2nd century AD. Weapons, pottery, building tools, writing, stone vessels - vases, cups and bottles, the making of which is a very slow process but which yields a beautiful product. A list of the achievements of Egyptian civilisation: the 24 hour day, the 365 year calendar, medical diagnosis based on observing symptoms, paper (well papyrus), the first nation-state (does that mean they invented politicians and bureaucrats?), the first census, legal equality of the sexes (many "Pharaohs" were women), the discovery of pi (and to a pretty accurate value), dentistry, optometry and veterinary medicine, just to name a few achievements.
Mesopotamia was the last exhibit in this section. Many different cultures arose in this cradle of civilisation. There was a collection of pottery, tomb furnishings, a model grave, bronze work, coins, jewellery, cuneiform tablets, ivory carvings, statuettes, seals, farming tools. A wall plaque made of glazed tiles of a lion made for King Nebuchadnezzar (of Biblical infamy) around 600BC.
Then it was back down to the ground floor for the Asian art exhibits. The first gallery was devoted to Chinese art and was broken up by the various dynasties. Ancient or pre-dynastic China was represented by jades, bronzes, urns, jewellery, stuff on burial customs, weapons, household stuff, figurines, a collection of oracle bones, tomb guardian bells and bone carvings. From the Han dynasty there were more jades and bronzework, mirrors, lamps, ceramics, urns, pottery, figurines, coins, seals and jewellery. The Tang dynasty exhibit had a collection of terracotta figurines, jewellery, mirrors, statuettes of people, horses, spirits and even camels, gold and bronze Buddha, ceramic and metal cups, jugs and vases. The Song and Yuan dynasties were times of Mongol rule in China and that foreign rule is reflected in the styles of the artefacts on display. Ceramics, vases, jars etc. Ceramic pillows which were regularly given as gifts - they were believed to be comfortable! Tiny figurines, bowls. trade with the Muslim world which began about this time. The Ming and Qing dynasties display had ceramics, clothing, furniture and a recreated house of someone from the gentry class (or a scholar, which was generally the same thing). there was a bronze mask and a collection of glass, metal and ceramic snuff bottles (the Chinese of this period went crazy about using snuff, something one doesn't normally associate with the Chinese). There was also a recreated Ming dynasty tomb of some nobleman. Plaques describing the symbolism and what features were allowed in a persons tomb, depending on his social class. One passed thru' an arch of marble and sandstone which was covered with carvings of mythological animals and spirits, then between two statues of camels and then of people before passing thru' another arch, the twin of the first one. Past the arch is the altar and beyond that the tomb, covered with a stone dome. Everything was lined up.
The ROM also has a geology exhibit and a floor devoted to Canadian history, both indigenous and European.
Finished the day off with a walk along Church Street. As the name would suggest, there're heaps of churches all along the street. The first was St. James Cathedral. The first building was erected in 1803-1807 and replaced in 1831. The replacement burnt down a few years latter in 1839. The first cathedral was then built on the site, but it too soon burnt down in 1849. The next building was somewhat luckier .. built between 1850-1875, it still stands today. Built of brick in the neo-gothic style with flying buttresses, gargoyles, stained glass windows and a tall and steep spire out the front with a green copper pinnacle and a cross at the top. All along the street, in fact all thru' the area, run the Toronto streetcars. Also had a look at the Metropolitan United Church, sited in a nice shaded park full of pigeons and "people of the streets".
8th September, 1999: Mississauga
Had a peek at St. Peter's Erindale (Anglican), which is in Mississauga, one of the satellite cities which has merged with Toronto. The church was founded in 1825 and the current building erected in 1887. As far as I know there's nothing overly significant or historical about the place, it's just a lovely looking church.
The church sits on the top of a hill and is built of grey river stone (shale), an unusual construction material, taken from the Credit River, which flows past the foot of the church's hill. Despite being in the centre of Mississauga-Toronto, walking around the church one feels in a different world. Even tho' the base of the hill is surrounded by roads carrying heavy traffic, thanks to the elevation of the hill top and that the sides of the hill are covered in trees, one sees nothing of the city and hears only a faint murmur from the traffic. In fact the predominant sound is that of the wind in the trees. A peaceful haven in the midst of the chaos of the city. 'Tis a very English looking church, complete with ivy-covered walls and an ivy-covered bell tower with a green copper spire at the top. It also has stained glass windows - real ones, not the painted "stained glass" that one finds in the USA. Behind the church is a graveyard with graves dating back to the early 1800's, even one or two predating the founding of the church. The graveyard is full of trees and the ground covered with the leaves of "fall" (ie autumn). Out the front are colourful gardens.
At the base of the hill runs the Credit River, which runs thru' Mississauga-Toronto. For much of it's length thru' the city, the land to the sides of the river has been turned into one long park with walking and cycling trails. One can even fish in the river, tho' myself I'd be leery of eating a fish caught in the middle of a city as polluted as Toronto! Anyways, we stopped in the park to have lunch.
Latter on in the day went to another park in Mississauga on the shores of Lake Ontario. The deep-green water was quite choppy in the breeze and there were sailboats scattered across the lake. There was a nearby marina which had a freighter docked .. tho' I suspect the ship was abandoned, it had that look. maybe it was being used as a breakwater? The opposite shores of the lake were lost beyond the horizon. To the north, the ghostly outline of downtown Toronto was barely visible thru' the haze and smog thru' the forest of masts at the marina, sometimes faintly materialising, other times completely vanishing, almost as if it was in a different reality (a common sight, I'm told). Actually, with the peacefulness of the park, totally surrounded by the sounds and sights of nature, one could easily think that the city was indeed in another reality. Sitting on the rocks at the shoreline, one can smell the scent of water spray in the air, the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks, the wind blowing thru' the bushes and trees, the distant noise of some kids playing in the water, the sounds of insects and birds. One does not completely escape the sounds of the city, but they are muted into the distance. Quite peaceful actually. Fishermen on the rocks, colourful butterflies, birds doing acrobatics in the wind or just drying themselves on the rocks. Autumn colours everywhere, wild flowers - whites, yellows, reds, purples, lavenders. Just in from the shore, protected somewhat from the wind, was a small lake with a fountain and full of ducks and Canada geese. The park wasn't anything fancy .. didn't even have a name as far as I could tell .. but it did have a touch of magic in it's atmosphere, there for the observant visitor to find.
9th September, 1999: The end
As the saying goes, all good things eventually come to an end and alas came to an end to my visit to Canada. It was a truly wonderful time, a time of reflection, a time of getting away from all the hassles and worries of life, a time where I could start to recover from the hurts of the past year. But it was also a chance to see yet another country, to do some more sightseeing .. Ottawa, Niagara Falls, the ROM in Toronto and all the little peaceful spots in between. The past three weeks was not only wonderful, it was a time of healing.
Of course there's always a thorn in the rose flowers and yet again I ran into troble with an immigrations officer. I dunno, there must be a conspracy or something against me. And no, I'm not paranoid. And no, I'm not a drug smuggler or ever thought of illegally entering another country. Sighhh.... Another interview, another missed connection .. and after all that, they forgot to stamp my passport.
With my return back to Frankfort, Kentucky, I had two weeks to finish packing all my stuff up and then arranging to have shipped back what I couldn't take with me on the flight back home to Australia. This would be my last trip to the USA. I've certainly seen a lot of the country - more than most people who've spent their lives there have seen. Met a lot of people, done a lot of things. had lots of interesting experiences. And some not so interesting ones. Well that's life for you. And after having spent most of the past 4 years travelling, I can honestly say the best place on Earth is ... Australia. As they say, you can't know how much your homeland means to you until you've travelled elsewhere.
8th, September, 1999; Mississauga, Canada
25th April, 2000; Sydney, Australia
Ó David Powell, 2000. Reproduction for financial gain is strictly prohibited. I also do not guarantee any of the historical or geographical information given above.
Some web links of interest: The following is a list of web pages that have some connection with the above sites and activities. I've not checked most of them, so I can't guarantee that they'll all work or be current. For the most part they have been taken from tourist brochures etc connected with the above sites I've visited. Links are listed in the order that the attractions appear above.
Science North, Sudbury http://sciencenorth.on.ca
Eagle Lake Narrows Country Store, South River: email - email@example.com
Northern Edge, Algonquin Provincial Park http://www.algonquincanada.com
Magnetawan Area Association http://www.onlink.net/~village/magnet.htm
Magnetawan's Woodland Trails http://www.onlink.net/~woodland/trail.htm
Caswell Resort, Sundridge http://www.caswellresort.com
Webers Restaurants http://www.webersrestaurants.com
Almaguin-Nipissing Travel Association http://www.ontariosnearnorth.on.ca
Burke's Fall's Tourism http://www.onlink.net/~bfcofc
The "Wooden Roo", a touch of Australia far from home, Burke's Falls http://www.home.ican.net/~920891
Timber Train, Mattawa http://www.canadian-ecology.com/train.htm
Parry Sound Area Tourism http://www.parrysound.com
Almaguin Highlands Information Centre email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Capital Infocentre, Ottawa http://www.capcan.ca
Parliament Hill, Ottawa http://www.parl.gc.ca
Musee Canadien des Civilisations, Hull, Quebec http://www.civilization.ca
Musee Canadien des Civilisations: Virtual Museum of New France http://www.vmnf.civilization.ca
Ghost Tour of Ottawa email: email@example.com
The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto http://www.rom.on.ca
St. Catharine, Niagara Falls http://www.st.catharines.com
Maid of the Mist boat rides, Niagara Falls http://www.maidofthemist.com
Niagara Steamship - cruise the river, Niagara-on-the-Lake http://www.niagarasteamship.com
Niagara Falls Tourism http://www.tourismniagara.com/nfcvcb
Niagara Falls tours http://www.fallstour.com
Niagara Parks Commission, Niagara Falls http://www.niagaraparks.com
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