SUMMER ON THE RIVER!
Our houseboating adventure on Ontario's
Following is Margaret's excellent description of the happy two weeks we spent cruising through the heart of rural Ontario. Brilliant and highly evocative as her writing is, if you'd like also to see the many photos we took, please follow the adventure on a
YouTube video by clicking here.
But be sure to come back!
Why choose a boating holiday? Because we thought it would be good to know more about the Trent-Severn waterway which links Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay (& so Lake Huron) in somewhat convoluted fashion. We thought to explore some of its rivers & lakes; its small towns and varied surrounding landscape; and especially so as we live on its Campbellford banks.
As the waterway is 386 km in length and has 36 conventional locks, two flight locks and a marine railway, it would have been impossible to cover the whole course and far too daunting an experience for a rental houseboat. The Egan houseboat rental yard near Omemee is kind of at the mid-point of the Kawartha Lakes. (See www.houseboat.on.ca) Which way should we plan to go? How far? Should we set goals and targets? No! We decided to travel westwards for a while, return and then go in the opposite direction. In consequence we covered only the Kawartha Lakes in relatively leisurely fashion - maybe 25% of the waterway's length, but certainly some of the most interesting and beautiful.
As Omemee is only about an hour and a half's drive north-west of us, we were able to reach the boat yard, install our belongings, watch the how-to-do-things video, be shown around the boat including how to operate the controls, and set off by noon. Our houseboat #441 is perhaps best described as being like a very well fitted R.V. (or camper van) for water. This inviting floating box, having an adequate fridge with freezer, good cooking facilities and very reasonable bathroom ones became our home for the next two weeks. Designed to accommodate four adults and maybe two children, we moved around easily, but any more would have made for a somewhat tighter fit.
We putt-putted through the water at approx. 5/6 m.p.h. and very soon learned to give fast moving boats a wide berth as we were a bit rocky when caught in another's wake. Of course there were many large, fast and beautiful craft at the locks and on the lakes whilst we, and a number like us, enjoyed being the little rental country cousins. In the main, the boating fraternity is very helpful as are the lock-keepers, but just occasionally and in common with the road, some of those with excessively high power are overly determined to have their way. (Let's face it - some of those boats cost as much as our house and again!)
Our chosen route took us first to Bobcaygeon, then Fenelon Falls, on to Rosedale Lock, around Balsam Lake and back, covering the same stages in reverse. Around the half way mark for time, we headed for a one night stay at Lindsay, followed by Buckhorn, Burleigh Falls, a trip around Stony Lake, and again stages of return to bring us to our grand finale and the Omemee boatyard. (For more details see the YouTube video or Google Earth). Once adjusted to our speed of travel, I came to think of these towns as being significantly distant from one another and was quite taken aback when chatting with the girl at a tourist office who told me she lived in the place we had just come from - and commuted daily, taking her about twenty minutes in the car!
Weather: Apart from one evening when it rained for about half an hour, we had the most glorious sunshine for the whole time. On land, the grass was drying up, air-conditioners were running hell-bent, Toronto was sweltering in the heat & humidity, and tempers were fraying, whilst we enjoyed the open water and lake breezes. It was quite wonderful and I acquired a tan not seen since a Costa Brava holiday in 1962, regrettably now fading.
The Lakes: I guess the atmosphere of each of the lakes was very similar despite their varying size, shape, open water or rocky parts. Always there was this wonderful feeling of freedom, fresh air, light breeze and that special light when the sun is reflected by water. Nearer the towns, the lakeshores were closely built with waterfront property ranging from small, old real summer, boathouses to large, superb, four season palaces, boasting beautiful gardens, together with anything and everything in between that one might possibly imagine. As the buildings tailed off, the lakeshores might be heavily treed, visibly rocky or maybe low lying and covered with reeds and bog grasses.
Wildlife: It became commonplace to see a pair of loons fishing on the lake or, when near a treed shore line, squirrels or chipmunks. We grew to expect the company of soaring osprey as they circled high above us looking for their next meal. When navigating through swampy wetlands, there were always blue heron standing a way out surveying their territory. At one point, in the distance, we saw a mysterious clutch of large dark birds perched on a dead tree protruding from the water; nearing them, we saw they were cormorants with their long, black, skinny, necks.
Towns: Most of those we visited have grown up by the lakeside from pioneer roots but are now more tourist oriented.
Bobcaygeon: owing to its central position is probably the busiest town within the Kawartha region, located at the meet of Pigeon and Sturgeon Lakes. Now a popular retirement area, it is a very attractive town in lovely surroundings also supporting an interesting museum and a settlers' historic village. Housed in an old stone bank building by the lock, Bigley's is the most wonderful shoe shop I have ever seen - thousands of pairs of quality shoes/sandals, and even some in my size! Next door, they also have a special swim & beachwear shop stocking everything anyone might want. I must go back in the autumn for winter shoes & boots. Chatting with local people, I was told that whilst the area is buzzing in summer, come the winter snows a large number of residents fly off to Florida, leaving an exceedingly quiet small town.
Fenelon Falls: situated at the junction of Sturgeon Lake and Cameron Lake, is proud to be known as 'The Jewel of the Kawarthas'. Here a deep lock is the boating alternative to the fast moving falls now powering a small generating station. Despite its efforts to be tourist oriented - and how pleasant it was on a hot July morning - its working past is evident, and trucks hauling gravel still command the road through the town. The once elegant main shopping street rising from the lock is in the process of change as are the 100+ year old large houses and churches further up the hill. As you step into the shadow, you can be touched by the cold, hard, feel of the North, not too far away.
Buckhorn: where the pinkish rock of the Canadian Shield slopes into the lake. Again a small tourist town around a lock, but also one with many lovely homes on the surrounding lakeshores. As many artists have made their homes in this beautiful neighbourhood, there is now a Gallery on the Lake having a big selection of original art for sale, and an Art Festival is held annually in late August. Chatting with local people, I was told of the town's community awareness - they needed a medical centre so they fundraised and got one built themselves. An attractive Good Buy shop makes money for the library next door; part of the large original church building is used for community projects. Life can be rough in outlying country areas so this town, on the rock, helps to support a family shelter.
Lindsay: on the Scugog River was the most southerly of the towns we visited and one we already knew. The approach took us from Sturgeon Lake through several miles of reeds and boggy wetlands to see a variety of wildlife, a number of small very old fishing shelters, and to be plagued by bugs. The town has undergone a big facelift recently, becoming an accessible and very desirable retirement area relatively near Toronto. Whilst on the river, we passed a big new condo development, a number of luxury homes to be, and saw further proposed sites being advertised. This one main street town, admittedly quite long, now has two newly enhanced pharmacies, as well as the theatre, a few inviting shops and eating places. The park area just below the lock, where we moored for the night, is extremely pleasant.
In conclusion: Let's be honest. Bob did almost all the driving and most of the navigating, guided by the superb book of charts provided with the boat. Me? I did very little apart from loving this holiday to remember. Now, I only wish I could find sufficiently expressive and colourful words to capture the magical feeling of being near, around and on the water, and all it means to me.