An Arsenal fans adventures in Northern Ontario.
Here are some key facts about Ontario: In summer, temperatures can soar above 30°C (86°F), while in winter they can
drop below -40°C (-40°F) Ontario is Canada’s second largest province, covering more than 1 million square
kilometres (415,000 square miles) – an area larger than France and Spain
combined. Ontario is bounded by Quebec to the east, Manitoba to the west,
Hudson Bay and James Bay to the north, and the St. Lawrence River and the
Great Lakes to the south. Ontario is home to 2 time zones: the boundary line between the Central Time
Zone and Eastern Time Zone is just west of Thunder Bay, running north from the
United States border to Hudson Bay. Ontario’s more than 250,000 lakes contain about one-fifth of the world’s fresh
water. The Great Lakes include Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake
Erie and Lake Ontario. The combined shoreline of the Great Lakes is equal to about 45% of the earth’s
circumference. The 5 Great Lakes are the world’s biggest continuous body of fresh water. The Great Lakes Basin covers an area of 750,000 square kilometres – this basin
includes 8 US states, most of southern Ontario and extends into northern Ontario. Ontario’s varied climate and geography support habitat for more than 3,600
species of plants, 154 species of fish, 50 species of amphibians and reptiles, 483
species of birds, and more than 81 species of mammals. In Ontario’s southernmost
regions, you will find prickly pear cactus and sassafras trees, while polar bears
roam our northern tundra. Common fish in Ontario include yellow perch, bluegill, northern pike, salmon,
walleye, brook trout, brown trout, speckled trout, lake trout and rainbow trout.
The mammals that call Ontario home include beavers, black bears, muskrats, gray
wolves, white-tailed deer and walrus. Familiar birds include blue jays, northern
cardinals, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and pileated
woodpeckers. Look carefully and you might see some reptiles and amphibians,
including eastern garter snakes, northern leopard frogs, eastern massasauga
rattlesnakes, midland painted turtles or one of 11 types of salamanders and newts.
Leaving England behind to move to Canada was not an easy choice but leaving
my beloved Arsenal was far worse; but that’s another story. My wife and I docked in
Quebec City on the first day of June after 8 glorious and somewhat riotous days abroad
the Empress of Canada (yet another story). We had arranged to temporarily stay in
Toronto with my sister Gloria and her husband Barry. Ontario’s 250,000 lakes and
100,000 miles of rivers created endless opportunities for Barry who was an avid
outdoorsman and he was passionate about fresh water fishing while I’d never cast a line
in my life – after all there weren’t too many fishing spots to find in Highbury.
A few weeks after our arrival Barry mentioned that he had saved up some vacation time
and wanted to go on a canoe trip in Northern Ontario, he asked if I would like to
accompany him on the trip and assured me that he was an experienced canoeist. I was
somewhat worried as I was a poor swimmer but he showed me the maps of the planned
route and assured me that he had selected calm rivers that had no rapids or stretches of
white water – so I reluctantly agreed to go. Over the next few weeks we put together the
equipment and supplies that we would need for my first outdoors adventure.
Our only means of transport was Barry’s MG Coupe, the canoe was strapped onto the
roof and our backpacks and minimal supplies were stuffed into the rear of the car which
completely blocked the view out of the rear window. On our 1,000 kilometre journey up
Route 101 to Groundhog River we got many strange sideways glances from other drivers.
Arriving at our destination we simply drove the MG into the bushes and covered it with
foliage – we were out in the middle of nowhere so it did not seem that illogical to Barry.
We had to make several reconnoitring trips back and forth to find the best route down to
the river and spot to launch from but finally we made our decision got all of our gear
down to the river; once the canoe was loaded we set off on our journey into parts
It was now late afternoon and even though we were tired from the last part of our road
journey we had made up our minds to camp on a certain loop in the river. An hour or so
later we were approaching the spot where we had planned on camping when the sound of
rushing water caught our attention, as we turned the next bend we were confronted by a
very long stretch of fast moving white water. We made a valiant attempt to negotiate our
way around the rocks but to our dismay the canoe tipped; we were in the water and our
supplies were bobbing off down the river. Not being a strong swimmer I feared the worst
but you can imagine my relief when I discovered that the water was only thigh deep.
Even though Barry had misjudged the “calmness” of the river he had been smart enough
to insist on packing all of our supplies and provisions in air tight plastic bags – so we
hoped that we would be able to recover them once we got ourselves together, however
our birch-bark canoe was wedged between two very large rocks and it had a sizeable hole
in the side. Barry’s outdoors knowledge now came in very handy, he cut a strip of bark
from a Balsam fir tree which he whittled into shape then used that plus the tree’s natural
sap to patch up the hole; we then propped the canoe up get a good air flow and simply
waited for the sap to harden and seal the hole.
I stayed with the canoe and lit a fire for our overnight camp while Barry who was big,
strong and swam like a fish, set off down the river looking for our missing gear. He
returned about an hour later with the oar we were missing and one bag of supplies which
he found snagged up at the side of the river. Fortunately the bag contained our fishing
gear so we were able to catch some Pickerel (Walleye) which we cleaned and then
cooked by skewering them on sticks and grilling them over our camp fire – they tasted
absolutely delicious! The night was uneventful, other than the sound of wolves howlingno supplies we ate more fish for breakfast, it was to become our
in the distance. Having no supplies we ate more fish for breakfast, it was to become our main food source.
The “Barry” patch had completely dried, no water was leaking into the canoe and it lasted
for the entire trip. We didn’t want to risk the rapids again so we portaged around them
and set off again once the river calmed down; it was to turn out to be a beautiful early
morning row along a very calm river – we had no idea of the time as we had neglected to
bring along a watch. Later in the day we found our other two bags of gear, snagged up at
the riverside, so all was going well – until we saw moose grazing in the shallows just
down the river, they are huge animals and a bull moose can stand 7 feet tall and weigh
900 lbs, so we made the only sensible choice we could and stopped right where we were
until they had eaten their fill. We found a clearing and set up camp for the night, our
“tent” was simply our canoe turned upside down and propped up with some sticks, Barry
slept with his head at one end and GN5 at the other end, we had each purchased a US
army surplus mummy type sleeping bag, which proved to be a very wise buy.
With our recovered bags we now had some provisions for a “slap up” meal – fresh
walleye and dried veggies; we had taken along two small tin saucepans, one frying pan,
and two knives and forks. Having no oil or grease we filled the frying pan with river
water and poached the fish, we boiled the dried vegetables in a saucepan and in the
second one we boiled water for our coffee. This was our diet until we ran out of
vegetables and from then on we just ate whatever species of fish we caught – so we had
to catch fish or go hungry!
Day 3 started off wet and windy which made for some very difficult canoeing; we passed
under a railway bridge; the only means of transportation for hundreds of square miles was
by rail, river or lake, there were no roads, we had noted on our maps that there was an
abandoned gold mine near the bridge – so we decided to see if we could locate the mine.
We could not get up to ground level on the mine side of the river as it was a sheer rock
face while the other side was an earth embankment. As we had canoed up we had heard a
train so we felt safe in walking across the trestle bridge but to our horror when we were
on the bridge we heard another train in the distance and had to get over to the other side
in a real hurry, we stood at the side as the train passed and incredibly it slowed down and
stopped. Shortly afterwards the engineer walked back, he had seen us and thought we
were waiting for a ride, he explained that it was normal for them to pick up random
people along the route. He inquired about our well being (most likely worried about our
sanity); this was to be typical of the friendly, concerned manner of the Northern Ontario
people that we met on the trip.
The train went on its way, we took a compass setting and trekked off in the direction of
the Joburg mine, we found an old overgrown trail which could only have been created by
the constant flow of people between the railway line and the mine so off we went down
the trail. Reality and fear crept in when we saw bear paw prints in the muddy trail and
then moose prints so we quickly turned tail and headed back to the bridge as our Bowie
knives would have been no defence at all. Our choices left us in a real quandary – bears
and moose behind or the bridge ahead, obviously we choose the bridge and lived to tell that take dozens, maybe hundreds, of times.
This is only up to day 3 of a 30 plus day trip – but for now I’ll stop right there and test
your interest for more tales.
Barry Stuart Harvey passed away December17th 2014 but his stories will live on……
RIP MY GOOD FRIEND.