Are you crazy or what?
Last year‘s challenge was to drive as far as one can drive in Northern Ontario which was more than 240 km north of Pickle Lake, the summer solstice day helped extend the almost three days, two time zones; we drove 46 hours and 14 minutes in the car, 3,074 km; that was kind of epic.
It all started a few weeks back when we (with Brian) again revisited the Centre of Ontario. The centre is just a few kilometres north northeast of Hornpayne on Hwy. #631 which is located north of White River on Highway 17 and south of Hearst on Highway 11.
The new idea is to visit the four surveyed boundaries/extremities of the province – the north-south and east-west furthest points.
We started this soft adventure on Friday, May 6, at 5 31 a.m. at the Canadian Ecology Centre (CEC) near Mattawa. The sunrise was just in the offing. The road trip was about to begin.
We have to follow Highway 17 to Ottawa and beyond taking 417 then south on Highway 138 to Cornwall and east on the 401. Interchange 825 veers us off of the 401 to Country Rd #2 just east of the Village of Bainswille, South Glengarry County.
It is approaching five hours now, 447 km and we approach our first destination, the Hyundai Palisade’s onboard GPS says we are less than one kilometre away.
We arrive on the Ontario side of the provincial boundary, under the green and civic address system - 22256. It is 10:37 a.m. we stretch our legs and start to size up photo shots to capture the marker and the Quebec sign, there is no Ontario sign facing west, we wonder why?
It was what was known as Loyalist country, farmland with a diversified tree cover of non-indigenous species like the emerging green of the drooping willows all along the roadway. The 2011 marker is a white-like granite, obelisk-shaped, about 1-metre high, separating two friendly provincial neighbours.
Of course, there is a commemorative photo. There are also two small lakeside houses neat and tidy, most likely seasonal.
There is some elation to be here but the cool wind off of the St. Lawrence makes us don our windbreakers. I should have worn pants.
We are standing at the furthest point east in Ontario, you can’t get any more east than out on the water, where the water boundary is located between Quebec and Ontario. The St. Lawrence Seaway is a stone’s throw away there is a small boat flotilla congregated for the opening of pickerel fishing.
Looking beyond the fishers to the southeast the land is another part of Quebec, not the USA. The Seaway was opened on June 26, 1959, by the Queen. On the map, the widening here is a result of the massive flooding back then. On the map, it is known as Lake St. Francis.
On the Quebec side of the driveway, the county road changes to Ch. Frontiere (Chemin). Just about 100 m to the east is the bar and grill known as Chez Bob. Rivière-Beaudette is the next village to the east.
There is no champagne popping, we have to get going back to the continual, incessant hum of tires on the nearby 401, you can hear it.
Go West to the South
We have to retrace our steps a bit – now headed west across the province and along two of the Great Lakes, towards Windsor, – Point Pelee being the day’s destination.
We drive by the compressed layers of limestone characteristic of southern Ontario sedimentary rock so different than the granite of the Canadian Shield.
We pass the 1,000 Islands KOA sign near Kingston, Toronto is still 254 km away. There is an endless train of vehicles in the distance.
The monotony of the 401 is the green dividing strip between the four lanes and the almost never-ending line of rigs on the right. They are giving away gas here at $1.94 per litre. It may have been Brian’s driving or just the ongoing 401 interchanges and the ONroute service plazas, the timing blur is initiated. We are driving almost the entire length of the 401.
Past Port Hope, we enter the Greenbelt and for a moment we think about the 905 ridings and upcoming provincial election. We pass the CN Tower way over on the lakeshore, we are within the traffic sewer and then the GPS reroutes us to Highway 403, much quicker than the 401. We cross the Bruce Trail on the Niagara Escarpment as we leave Hamilton. Near Brantford, there is an exit sign directing drivers to the Urban Tactical Shooting Range. Look it up and watch the video.
We rejoin the 401 and there’s nothing but farmland with plenty of mature stands of trees for windbreaks in sight on both sides of this busy highway corridor. At Woodstock we see an expansive field of hundreds of new cars, waiting for a computer chip or any other car part, this might be because of supply chain problems, we think. Then we pass London, now Chatham. Here we see windmills in all directions. One power company has 124 turbines – Ontario has 2663 turbines in total. We look for the turnoff to Leamington where Heinz Ketchup was once made. Now it's made in Iowa and Ohio.
For good measure we head out to Point Pelee National Park, it’s on the mainland and there is a couple of hours before sunset.
The park’s gate attendant says they open at 5 a.m. as there is a lineup to enter this birding Mecca at this time.
The Festival of Birds is from April 3 to May 23, and birders are everywhere.
They are a different breed alright festooned with cameras and spotting scopes hanging around their necks. The first thing we notice when we get out of the car is the cacophony of bird songs. I know enough to hear the warblers, vireos, tanagers and orioles more so many in one concentrated place.
Point Pelee is part of a peninsula located at the crossroads of two major migration routes. It is one of the first points of land spring migrants reach in the pre-dawn hours when crossing Lake Erie at night.
The shape of the enormous sand spit park acts as a funnel for daytime migrants concentrating them at the tip making it a birder's paradise. Here we walk 2.5 km out to the Park’s protruding sand spit, this location is the most southern point in contiguous Ontario. That evening it was a rollicking high wind with big rollers, I got a soaker.
At the end of the first day we had travelled approximately 14 hours and 1,300 km. But that’s only the warm-up.
We head for the hotel reserved en route, the last room standing. At the Super 8 Hotel, the check-in clerk said, “they’re crazy,” meaning the birders are up before sunrise and arrive back after dark.
“We are glad to have them; they spend a great deal of time and money in the Leamington area because of the birds,” the clerk said.
We tell them our story, the clerk thinks we’re the same.
The next day it is the 90-minute ferry ride aboard the Point Pelee Ferry MV Pelee Islander II (built in Chile, 2018) to Pelee Island, it is the sister to the MS Chi-Cheemaun, South Baymouth, Manitoulin Island. Masks are required, here. We’re not there yet.
Upon arrival we know we are in a unique place. It seems maritime, like there’s the quaintness and the history of the place. It is an inhabited island, with a school and vineyards and it is the most southern permanently inhabited place in Canada with 300 permanent residents. It is about 12 km in length, and 5 km wide.
We eventually make our way to the 110-hectare Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve Park which is as far as people can walk south in Canada.
It is not organized at all like the national park of last evening. The 1.6km trail meanders through one-sixth of the province’s entire diversity, flora-wise. Its near-virgin, southern deciduous forest harbours several provincially rare plants, including the prickly pear cactus, and the hop tree.
Rare animals include the fox snake, Lake Erie watersnake, and the giant swallowtail butterfly. Brian does not like snakes.
The super white trilliums carpet the floor as we make our way through the very mature oak forest. The east side of the elongated sand spit was not navigable with the amount of blowdown from winter storms. But we walk out to the protruding sand spit. There is one small island off-shore but access is not permitted as it is a bird sanctuary.
It is May 7, not so warm, and there is a weather wind warning. We don our open-toed shoes and wade out. The water is frigid. There’s a sense of accomplishment. Today is one of high winds, high water and gusty conditions at the tip.
Brian records the moment but this time the rollers get his boots wet. With water shoes I venture out into the water to lengthen the path to the USA/Canadian border that is off in the distance, to the west is Toledo, Ohio. We can see an industrial plume on the horizon. The sand spit has breakers on both sides, there’s a riptide side, not a swimming day. The wind gusts make us hang on to our hats. We made it to the South Pole of our province. Brian then sees a snake – it is a small one though.
There is not much time, as there is only one ferry this day. We made stops on the island including the winery. Alyssa Dremian was a formidable host representing the Pelee Island Winery, and “just a sip away,” well enough known at the L.C.B.O., they have been making wine there for 170 years.
The vineyards are scattered between the grid of irrigation canals throughout the island’s 42 square km. Ended up purchasing some Christmas gift bottles offerings only sold at this retail pavilion. The ferry is able to operate from March through December. Then they rely on air service to Windsor, there is no longer a winter road because of climate change.
We stop at the post office and the most southern school in Canada. There’s a zone of no hunting near the school, that’s because there is a pheasant hunting season, the birds proliferate there. The next thing you know we are back on the ferry then the 401, homeward bound. Co adventurer Brian Emblin of Timmins said, “Damn it was a long way to go but there is so many extremes in habitation and geography within our province.”
The return loop is complete I am back at the CEC at having travelled 2021 Km in 40 hours and 39 minutes with about a seven hour nap. “Asphalt lag,” well a little.
The next challenge will be the furthest western point in Ontario that encompasses the USA/Manitoba-Ontario border west of Kenora and Lake of the Woods. We have to drive into Manitoba, then south into the USA to reach this location, through the most northern point in the continental U.S., Angle Inlet, Minnesota. It was a special place during COVID. Two down and two to go, here is a map of the trip
Ontario is a vast and magnificent land. Still, “right of mind,” just more determined, on the back roads.