Making our way West, we found beauty, inspiration and warm welcomes in sometimes unexpected places.
Places we've parked for the night:
14 - Centennial Park
15 - Owen Sound
16 - Penetanguishene
17 - Big Lake
18 - Killarney
19 - Sheguiandah Bay
20,21 - Gore Bay
22 - Bruce Mines
Points of Interest
Owen Sound Grain Elevator: Technically called the Great Lakes Elevator Company, located at the mouths of the Pottawatomi and Sydenham Rivers on an inlet of Georgian Bay, this scary looking building watched over us one night as we slept in its shadow. Finding a nice place to sleep for the night proved to be a little difficult in Owen Sound but when we found a small gravel parking lot at the end of the Government Pier next to this dystopian looking building it just seemed too cool not to stay. While we tried to get some sleep we did not know what to expect; it looked like a place where high school kids would come to smoke dope or maybe where the mafia would dump their victims. Either way we stayed with no incident and left with several very cool pics.
Rotary Club Parks: As we travelled through the Georgian Bay area, one thing that stood out to us in nearly every community was the number and quality of the municipal parks found there, all of which, it seemed, were sponsored by the Rotary Club. These parks featured beautifully manicured and landscaped lawns, expansive playgrounds for children, clean public bathrooms, gazebos with picnic tables (and electrical outlets for boiling water!), and in many places workout equipment for the "big kids". Always, these parks had quiet places to park, and although they often said "No Overnight Parking", we were never bothered. In the morning, we were able to make use of the bathrooms, the picnic tables and the workout equipment (or failing that, the jungle gyms would suffice). Kudos to the Rotary Club who commit themselves to "making a difference in [our] backyards and around the world."
YMCAs in Owen Sound, Sudbury and the Sault: As travellers who find themselves at the mercy of public washrooms and bathing facilities in our attempts to keep clean, we are grateful for our affordable YMCA membership which allows us to exercise and groom in relative luxury at regular intervals. The YMCAs we've visited so far vary in their facilities, but all have been clean and comfortable with friendly staff, to boot. Without the Y, it is hard to say how long we might have gone without a really good sweat session and a proper shower. Next time, we will have to take advantage of the saunas that can be found in most YMCA change rooms or pool decks.
Split Rail Brewery, Gore Bay: Split Rail Brewing Company was located on the waterfront in Gore Bay, the second largest community on Manitoulin Island. They first opened their doors in the summer of 2015 and opened them again, and after hours, for us upon our arrival in Gore Bay. Lucky for us, since the brewery happened to be closed over the next two days. The gents working at the brewery were talking NHL expansion draft when we walked in, and Braden was right at home; happy, I'm sure to have an opportunity to talk sports at long last. We bellied up to the bar and each enjoyed a pint of their Copper Lager - a tasty, slightly malty, not too hopped beer that reminded me a lot of Kichessippi's Heller Highwater - with additional on-the-house samples of each of their brews. After downing our pints, we were given a private tour of the brewery itself; small, but immaculate. The boys were outgoing and exceptionally friendly, and we decided to purchase a growler to take with us and enjoy over dinner with our new found friend, Jean. If you ever find yourself in Gore Bay, check these guys out. It's well worth your time and (admittedly too much of your) money.
Cup and Saucer Hiking Trail, Manitoulin Island: When we arrived in Manitoulin Island neither of us had any idea what to expect or what to see. Soon after our arrival on the island, we met a group of four bikers who make annual trips to Manitoulin. They suggested some must see spots on the island and this was one of the best. A short hike up to the highest point on Manitoulin Island provided some epic views of Lake Manitou (the largest lake on an island in a lake in the world), and Georgian Bay.
Killarney Mountain Lodge, Killarney: A fancy hotel located in the sleepy little town of Killarney at the end of HWY 637 provided refuge from the rain and a couple cold pints at the Carousel Bar! Seemingly modelled after Chateau Montebello this hotel sprang out of nowhere, an oasis in the vast wilderness of Northern Ontario. Highway 637 is a 68 km dead end road off the TransCanada with nothing but a little fishing village and a nice hotel at its end. Turning West onto HWY 637 there was nothing worth noting but Killarney Provincial Park followed by the small town of Killarney; this hotel was a stark contrast to the area. It was aptly described as "luxury in the middle of the woods" by the owner of Hartley Bay Marina, about an hour's drive inland.
Favourite Spots to Lay our Heads:
Lyndsay's - Gore Bay, Manitoulin Island: Our stay at Gore Bay was by far the best on this stretch of the trip. We knew we were welcome when we pulled into the harbour front and saw a big sign proclaiming "Free Overnight RV Parking"! Thank you Gore Bay! Across the road from our little lot was Gore Bay's relatively new microbrewery, Split Rail. The gentlemen working there were super friendly, pouring us pints and growlers, even though the sign on their door said Closed. We chatted with them about the area, and met another traveller, Jean Jacques Chicoine, who happened to be parked right beside us. He and his lovely lady Darlene were travelling around the Great Lakes until September. With them, we shared beer, dinner, rum, and good stories. Gore Bay also had great public bathrooms, which were individual bathrooms - not stalls - where the door could be locked and incognito bathing could ensue! We were also not far from Bridal Veil Falls, a main attraction on Manitoulin Island, where the water was warm but clean, rushing over the edge of a 35 foot drop. We swam and played in the pool at the bottom of the falls, and stood under the rushing water that beat against us with far more fury than we expected. All in all, a great stay with warm and friendly welcomes for travellers of all kinds.
Braden's - Killarney I was expecting a tourist trap but found a small fishing village that appeared to be plucked out of eastern Canada. Killarney has a small main street along Georgian Bay lined with fishing and sail boats with cottages across the channel on George Island. It was rainy during our entire visit but that only seemed to exaggerate the east coast or Irish feel here, as it was named after the town in Ireland. We still regret not buying fish and chips from Herbet Fisheries which operates a small restaurant fed by their very own trawler.
Best Beach: Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island: Ok, so this is technically not a beach, but as far as a swimming hole goes, this was by far the best one on this leg of the trip. The water was refreshingly cool, but far from the icy waters of Georgian Bay. The water was clear and clean, and the falls featured a rock wall to stand on behind the rushing water, and from which you could jump back into the deep waters under the falls themselves. Fantastic and fun. It's a wonder that more people weren't revelling in the fun to be had there.
Coolest Vandweller We've Met So Far: Jean and Darlene!
We first met Jean in the Split Rail Brewery in Gore Bay, each of us picking up a pint and a growler from the relatively new microbrewery on the island. As it turned out, Jean was the owner of the RV parked next to our van in the Free Overnight RV Parking (!) area that Gore Bay designated right by the water. His was a mighty twenty-five footer, big enough for a three burner propane stove and oven, a fridge and freezer, a kitchen table, and a small bathroom which cost him twice the gas mileage our beauty got, but also at least twice the luxury. We sat together and cooked our meal, Jean's lovely lady, Darlene, coming to introduce herself shortly thereafter. We spent the night chatting and getting to know each other over our Split Rail brews.
The next morning was rainy and cold. Braden and I hunkered down in our van, making coffee and eating fruit and (for Braden) fried eggs when all of a sudden there were a few quick raps on the door. Low and behold, Jean had brought us a plate with a homemade spelt crepe with fresh, slightly cooked and very juicy blueberries, smothered in real maple syrup. Darlene had cooked breakfast, and they wanted to share. That evening, after dinner we brought over our bottle of rum and asked Jean if he liked doing shots of terrible hard liquor. "Well, yes!" he said, and invited us in. We sat in the candlelight of their RV sipping the rum (which wasn't so terrible after all, or maybe just after a few), Jean regailing us with stories of his adventures as a young man (including one in which he was thrown in jail in New Orleans for not having proper registration stickers for the van he was living in at the time), and his strategies for finding spots to sleep for the night (for free of course) in his large RV. Unbelievably, he parked in Toronto near Darlene's apartment for two weeks without paying. When the rum was finished, Jean brought out a very large bottle of Partager white wine (a fairly sweet white, clearly made for casual drinking) and filled our glasses several times. Before we knew it, it was midnight, and we were all yawning, tired from the hiking, fresh air, and of course, the booze.
Jean and Darlene were an inspiration for me. Jean was a 69 year old man from Montreal who has the energy, physicality and zest for life of a man a third his age. He bought his RV when it was new back in 2010 and uses it to travel every summer, and also as a means to bring his products to clients and meet new ones along the way. Jean's company, Direction Vert, provides customized clothing and promotional items for other small companies (think about your favourite beer t-shirt or logo'd yoga tote and you get the idea). This is the first summer he has travelled with Darlene, who he met about a year ago at The Beaches in Toronto. She was admiring his RV, thinking about how she'd like one of her own, when he walked up behind her and said "hello". The rest, I suppose, is history.
Braden and I continue to be amazed by the generosity of complete strangers. The human capacity for kindness, positivity, and trust is often forgotten and overlooked as we sit at home and listen to horror stories we are fed on the evening news. While we are still selective of the places we stay, and careful to lock our doors at night and while we are away from our little home, we are coming to realize that the world is full of kind, loving people who face the world with positivity and open hearts. They are not the exception to the rule, they set the standard for human interaction. When we are taken out of our comfort zones and explore the world around us, at it's mercy, we become new, kinder, gentler and more patient people, relying also on the kindness and patience of others. As it turns out, the monsters are the exception.
Nicest Drive: Ontario Highway 6, to Manitoulin Island
Much of this area has drives that, to me, are unspectacular. This area of the Canadian shield offers lots of trees and rocky outcroppings that the road cuts through. This was much the case until we got to HWY 6 leading to Manitoulin Island. Running through the 3.5 billion year old La Cloche Mountains, near Whitefish falls this route provided a beautiful drive leading south to Manitoulin Island. Hills of white quartzite took our Golden Van high into the sky before plunging us down to little blue lakes. The one drawback of this drive is that it took us to the single lane Little Current Swing Bridge, which was broken at the time. Cars were lined up as far as the eye could see, and for those at the front of the line, their trip was brought to a halt for over an hour while a crew repaired the swing mechanism on the bridge. According to one local, this happened to be a somewhat regular occurance. Island life ain't all that easy, I suppose.