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Canada #33 Wendake

Huron-Wendat people, traditional owners of the territory they call Nionwentsïo, have lived on the banks of the Akiawenrahk River for centuries. Also known as the Saint-Charles River, it teems with brook trout, eel and Atlantic salmon; in the Wyandot language of the First Nations people the river’s name means trout.

The river flows through the Huron-Wendat reserve of Wendake, home to more than 1,000 residents. But it’s not only the people who gather on the tree-lined banks of the river. The rushing water, cascading in a series of rapids and waterfalls known as Kabir Kouba or Silver Serpent, divides two ancient geological zones which meet here.

From the viewing platform above the river both formations are clearly visible. On the far side of the river above the falls is the Canadian Shield. The granite gneiss, formed more than one billion years ago, is hard and impervious to the erosive force of the water. Below the falls the sedimentary limestone of the Saint Lawrence Lowland, laid down 455 million years ago, has been worn away by the water, relentlessly carving deep gullies and polishing the riverbank’s stony surface.

With abundant animal and plant life and the beauty of the river, it’s easy to see why Huron-Wendat people made this area their home.

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A Different View

Canada #32 Montmorency Falls 

The splendour of Montmorency Falls can be seen from many vantage points, each one crowded with visitors to the highest waterfall in Québec.

A wide suspension bridge over the Montmorency River passes above the water just where it tumbles over the cliff edge. From the bridge, a panoramic vista extends beyond the river’s junction with the Saint Lawrence River to downtown Québec City 12 kilometres away.

Platforms and staircases on both sides look out over the 84 metre high falls. To the right, the viewing decks are enveloped by dense forest while, on the left, 487 steps lead down the steep gravelled slope to the base of the falls.

At the bottom of the staircase is another platform where a cloud of mist envelopes everything. Raincoats and ponchos are no barrier to the power of the water.

A path at the bottom of the staircase goes along the river bank to a footbridge which leads to the visitor centre. Inside the centre is the lower terminal for the Funitel, an aerial tram rising above the river and forest-covered slopes to Montmorency Manor.

For those with a sense of adventure, a ride on a 300 metre zipline goes closest of all to the cascading water.

We find two more ways to view the Montmorency River and, unlike the crowded viewing platforms and staircases, we share them with just a few other people.

From the side of the suspension bridge an unmarked path leads upstream through the forest, taking us away from the falls.

The path ends where Avenue Royale crosses over the river; the calm water flowing under the bridge gives no indication of what lies a little further downstream.

Later, near the visitor centre, we spy another path beyond the train tracks. This one, lined by water meadows filled with wildflowers, takes us to the opposite side of the river and almost to the base of the falls.

A fallen log makes the perfect picnic seat and we linger after our lunch is eaten. We have the best view of Montmorency Falls – almost to ourselves.

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Island Life

Canada #31 Toronto Island Park

In the summer months, crowded ferries travel back and forth all day long from their terminal in downtown Toronto to Toronto Island Park. The curving beaches, wide flat cycle paths and walking tracks on the islands are busy, and the amusement park and children’s farm are popular attractions.

Even though the 15 islands which make up the park cover an area of just 330 hectares, it’s not difficult to leave the crowds behind and spend time in more peaceful surroundings. There are 262 private homes and more than 600 permanent residents on the islands, and a guided walking tour is the perfect way to learn about their relaxed island lifestyle.

On a warm summer’s day we join long term residents Susan and Linda for a 90 minute exploration of the residential communities on Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island. We learn that the islands were not always islands; they were once joined to the shore of Lake Ontario by a sandbank. Wild storms in 1852 and 1858 washed away the sand, creating a wide channel linking Toronto’s inner harbour and Lake Ontario.

No cars are allowed on the islands and most people travel on foot or by bicycle. Six bridges connect the islands and shaded footpaths meander through the quiet neighbourhoods.

With warm humid weather in summer, most homes are surrounded by lush green gardens overflowing with flowers. We pause often to admire the  beautiful gardens and the wildlife they attract. Houses on the city side of the island also have enviable views across the water to Toronto’s CBD.

When our walk with Susan and Linda is finished, we say farewell and continue along a broad timber boardwalk. Beginning at Ward’s Island Beach, it follows the curves of the shoreline to the pier at Centreville.

On this sunny day the calm water of Lake Ontario gently laps the sandy shores of the island beaches. Watersports enthusiasts as well as the local wildlife take advantage of the glorious conditions.

As we come closer to Centreville, we hear once more the sounds of daytrippers enjoying themselves. It might only be a 13 minute ferry ride from the city, but they must all feel like they’re on an island holiday.

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By Day and By Night

Canada #24 Niagara Falls

The mighty Niagara River flows for just 58 kilometres, between Lake Erie in the south northwards to Lake Ontario. In that short distance it moves at an average rate of 2,400 cubic metres per second. Several islands interrupt the course of the river while churning rapids and whirlpools are visible evidence of the water’s power.

Forming part of the international border between Canada and the United States of America, the Niagara River is visited each year by more than 30 million people. They all come to see its world famous falls.

Niagara Falls, at the southern end of the Niagara Gorge, consists of three waterfalls – the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Water moving at a speed of up to 65 kilometres an hour flows over the falls at a rate of 168,000 cubic metres per minute. A veil of mist constantly shrouds the falls and on sunny days brilliant rainbows enhance the spectacle.

Getting up close to the falls means getting wet. At the Journey Behind the Falls, yellow ponchos are handed out before visitors descend 150 metres in an elevator to a tunnel at the base of Horseshoe Falls.

Two portals are located directly behind the falls; the water roars as it rushes by on its downward course.

At two more observation platforms right at the base of the falls, the thundering water crashes down before continuing on its way through the gorge.

Tourist boats dwarfed by the massive gorge sail in a circuit past all three falls, sometimes almost hidden in the spray. From the American side comes the Maid of the Mist, her passengers bedecked in blue ponchos, while on the Canadian side passengers on the Hornblower catamarans wear red.

Even with ponchos on everyone is damp, but no one minds as exhilaration and excitement overtake all other feelings.

When daylight fades, the falls take on a different personality. Illuminated in a parade of colours, the water glows in an intensity which deepens as the sky darkens.

Later in the night fireworks play over the falls in celebration of this masterpiece of nature. The brilliant bursts of light are the perfect finale to a day spent visiting the Niagara River.

Flying Over Canada

Canada #20 Vancouver to Toronto

After trekking across Canada on the Canadian Trail, we took to the skies in a virtual flight across the country at Flyover Canada.

Strapped into our seats in a darkened room, we soared above the land in an eight minute video journey from east to west through the four seasons. With snow-covered mountains and never-ending prairies, deep blue lakes and tumbling waterfalls, the scenery was spectacular and the special effects almost convinced us we’d flown cross country.

A few days later we did exactly that in the opposite direction, on a five hour flight from Vancouver to Toronto. From our window seat, our bird’s eye view of Canada rivalled that tourist ride  in Canada Place.

We said goodbye to beautiful Vancouver with one last glimpse of the city, the water and those stunning coastal mountains beyond. We could see places we’d become familiar with – the white sails of Canada Place and the cleared green area at the top of Grouse Mountain.

We flew over more mountains, sometimes separated by shimmering blue lakes or narrow winding roads.

Later the mountains became more rugged and wild – could these be the famous Rockies we’d read so much about?

Soon the mountains were gone, replaced by broad flat farmland stretching to the horizon. From above the fields looked like giant geometrical puzzles, with different shapes neatly fitted together. We were intrigued by the circles and, although we asked later, no one could explain their purpose.

At one stage, we flew again over water and decided it must be one of the great lakes. The deep blue, dotted with tiny islands, contrasted with the green of the land, densely forested and jagged along the water’s edge.

Then came more farmland, this time worked in neat grid patterns edged with dark green stands of trees. The fields were split by long straight roads; we could even see cars heading in both directions.

Eventually Toronto came into view. It seemed to go forever; a vast sprawl of homes, shopping centres and rows of high rise towers with wide green spaces in between.

The city centre, defined by a long strip of skyscrapers, was dominated by CN Tower, a building we would come to know well. Beyond the cluster of towers we could see more blue – Lake Ontario, so large it merged with the blue sky on the horizon.

The next part of our Canadian adventure was about to begin.

Knowledge Gained

Canada #18 Grouse Mountain

Part Five

We made the most of our day on Grouse Mountain by taking part in every activity. As well as Breakfast with the Bears, we went to an Owl Interpretative Session, a Birds in Motion demonstration and a guided eco-walk.

Each time we discovered something new and, at the end of the day, we left with more than we came with. This is what we learned:

In the still of the night, a barn owl can hear the heartbeat of a frightened mouse as it tries to avoid detection.

A bald eagle reaches speeds of up to 160 km per hour when diving to snatch up its prey.

A turkey vulture uses its keen sense of smell to detect carrion more than a kilometre away.

Tiger swallowtails love to feast on the pretty purple flowers of the mustard plant.

Native azaleas and rhododendrons are much smaller and more delicate than their hybrid cousins.

Salamanders can live for up to 55 years in the still waters of Blue Grouse Lake.

Phil, our eco-walk guide, explained how the coastal First Nations peoples lived as one with nature. They brewed the bark and needles of the amabilis fir trees to make medicinal drinks.

Made from cedar, the traditional híwus Feasthouse on the shores of Blue Grouse Lake was a meeting place for family celebrations, gatherings and story telling through dance and music.

All of these new facts are fascinating, but what was the most important thing I learned?

I came away from Grouse Mountain knowing I never want to come face to face with a bear!

Patience Rewarded

Canada #17 Grouse Mountain

Part Four

We waited for a very long time before seeing hummingbirds on Grouse Mountain.

At an elevation of 1,100 metres, the hummingbird monitoring station on the mountain is the highest in British Columbia. In a program designed to gather scientific data on hummingbird populations in western North America, the birds are banded, released and observed in their natural habitat.

We gained a new appreciation for the work done by members of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network after standing near the hummingbird feeders for what seemed like hours.

Eventually our patience was rewarded when two birds arrived. They darted to and fro, constantly flying to the feeder and then taking refuge in the surrounding trees before returning to the feeder again.

Even with our cameras on fast motion settings, it was difficult to get clear images of these tiny birds. With careful timing and plenty of good luck, we managed to capture a few nice photographs.

It was worth the wait to see hummingbirds on Grouse Mountain.

See more December Squares with Becky #timesquare