Mid-Atlantic Misfit

Mid-Atlantic Misfit

Life between cultures

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Canada days 5-6 – Mine to discover

11 October 2013 , , , , , , , ,

I set an early alarm, but the drive from the previous day caught up with me and instead of getting out for sunset shots, I spent the first couple hours working on photos from St. Joseph Island and writing the previous blog entry.  The slow start was definitely needed.  Including the drive around the island, I drove about 6 hours on Tuesday.  It’s just as well that I really enjoy long drives.  I put the music on and just go.

When I did get out, I went down to the St. Mary’s River boardwalk.  It follows the riverside from City Hall to the Sault Ste. Marie canal and was opened in 1991, a couple years after I left home for good.  In my opinion, it’s the best money the city has ever spent.  There are other new attractions such as the very empty Roberta Bondar Pavilion, but the city’s best asset has to be it’s riverfront and views of the rapids, International bridge and the US side.  Roberta Bondar was Canada’s first female astronaut and a Saultite. I went to high school with her niece, Alannah.  

I’m always drawn to water.  It doesn’t matter where I am, I never feel so relaxed or at home as when I’m by water.  It’s true in the case of the previous day at Gawas Bay, true of the riverfront in the Sault and try too back in London, where I live on an island formed by the Grand Union Canal and River Brent.  I also always enjoy being down near The Thames.  The designer of the boardwalk is to be congratulated because it makes the walk along the St. Mary’s so pleasant and they also had the foresight to build some platforms out onto the river as well. 

You continue onward and reach the Ontario Hydro power station.  The St. Mary’s Rapids, with drop of 23 feet from the level of Lake Superior to Lake Huron, cause the water to flow very swiftly and this is one of the reasons the city is where it is.  It was also a spot where first nations had to portage and a crossing point, which in turn made it a natural meeting point.  In fact the Ojibwa word for the area is ‘Bawahting’, which means meeting place.  It’s true today as well, with the city being a natural stopover point for people travelling along the Trans-Canada highway.  It’s also a popular tourist destination, especially for those who enjoy fishing, camping and outdoor activities as well as those wanting to take the Agawa Canyon tour train.

Past the power station, you then reach the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario canal and lock.  It was the longest and most modern lock of its kind when it opened in 1895.  It’s since been superceded by the larger American ‘Soo’ locks (a set of 4), where the lake freighters carrying mainly iron ore, pass through the St. Mary’s River.  The Canadian lock is now use primarily for pleasure craft.

You walk over the western lock and and reach Whitefish Island, which is once again owned by the Batchewana Tribe.  They’ve clearly started investing in this amazing location as they’ve built a wonderful boardwalk of their own, with several lookout points onto the St. Mary’s River, overlooking the International Bridge.  I lived in Sault Ste. Marie for 20 years and I can’t believe I never visited this place.  It’s just breathtaking.  It rivals my time at Gawas Bay in terms of feeling connected and peaceful and I was the only person there.   I will definitely come back again in another season.  If you ever visit the area, I strongly recommend you make the effort to walk here from downtown.  So worth it!

Then I started back on the approximately 2 mile walk.  The weather was again just stunning.  Sunny with the temperature reaching a balmy 22 Celsius (72 Fahrenheit).  I stopped off in Station Mall for a quick bite and a great fresh juice blend, before jumping back in the Explorer and driving north along highway 17 to Pancake Bay Provincial Park.  It’s about an hour north and the character of the highway here is very different to that of 17 east.  It’s much more rugged and hilly, with many rock cutouts.  Pancake Bay and nearby Batchewana Bay were places we’d often come when I was young.  The beaches are very clean, with narrow, pale golden sand beaches fringed with grasses and a mixture of white pine and maple trees.  You’d need to be brave to have a dip, though as the water rarely gets much above 60 Fahrenheit (16 Celsius).

Again there wasn’t a soul here and I thoroughly enjoyed walking up and down the beach, hearing the waves break on the gentle shores of the lake they call Gitchigumi (Superior).  There’s always a lot of interesting driftwood here.  In fact you can buy sanded versions of it in local tourist shops, but it’s there for the taking on the beach and if you have the patience and skill you can turn it into a great keepsake.  It was so incredibly relaxing here and bizarrely for October, hot enough to sunbathe!

I set off back south to Sault Ste. Marie in time to reach the waterfront once again to catch sunset.  Much of the year the sun sets behind the International Bridge and there’s something about the geography of the area, which often results in some amazing sky art.  I wasn’t disappointed tonight.

After that it was time for a bite to eat and then back to the hotel room to let this amazing day soak in and to work on the many photos I’d been lucky enough to capture.

The following morning, I made an earlier start, checked out and drove to the East End, to check out places I remember from my time here.  The first stop was my high school, Sir James Dunn.  It’s no derelict.  They closed it a couple years back and knocked down Bawaiting High School to build the sparkling new Superior Heights High School.  It looked amazing from the outside, but it’s sad to think your high school sits empty, ready to be knocked down.   Of course the night before I found my Public School had met a similar fate.  Piece by piece it felt as if my past was being dismantled.  As they say, the only constant is change, but it just adds to the feeling I don’t have a foundation on which to draw from.  

Then I drove to Bowker Street, which is where I spent the bulk of my time here. It’s a small 3-bedroom bungalow.  I lived here from age 7-15.  The front garden was very overgrown.  The other bizarre thing is that all of the trees are much bigger than you remember.  It’s a surreal experience!

By this time, I was quite hungry and so I wanted to go to Barsanti’s Small Fry, which was the best diner in town.  It was full of charm, had lots of booths with small juke boxes in each and a long bar.  It’s exactly what you think of when you think of a diner here.  Sadly, it was again a case of another piece of my past having slipped into history.  It was gone.  So instead, I had to the city limits and stopped at the Husky Truck Stop.  Husky are a big chain (though shrinking) chain of truck stops across Canada.  We’d occasionally come here as kids.  My waitress, a friendly woman I’d guess in here 60s, quickly took my order and a very shot time later served up a big plate with 3 maple sausages, 2 rashers of bacon, home fries, scrambled eggs and brown toast.  The sausages were great, but the rest wasn’t.

Unfortunately it repeated on me all the way down 17 east on my return drive to North Bay.  Again the new 4-lane section behind Echo Bay whisked me east.  I drove past the turning for St. Joseph Island and then reached Bruce Mines.  I turned onto Taylor Street and looked for my uncle’s house, but couldn’t find it.  More sadness.

This added to my very mixed feelings about the visit.  It’s fascinating to see how such a familiar place has changed and reconnect with it.  However, knowing my family are still there and I’m totally estranged from them, re-enforces the feeling of loneliness and being cut off.  As you’ve read, many places are gone or not as I remember them also and the city overall, especially downtown, has a rundown and quiet feel.  But I did manage to explore and rediscover some amazing places and overall I’m very glad I made the 5-hour trek west.

What do you think?

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I’m really enjoying reading about your trip.

The Husky Truck Stop sounds great (if only for the sausages!)


11 October 2013

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