Vannessa awoke in a field of flowers and wild strawberries somewhere near Kenora, in the Canadian Shield off an abandoned quarry road. She had never looked so majestic, fearlessly taking on long stretch of road heading east over Lake Superior and towards Toronto.
I got to run along the road for a few kms before Kirk set out after me to pick me up and continue on our way. It’s a ridiculously long drive across the western part of Ontario, with only the occasional small town amidst miles of lakes and trees. Unlike the prairies, it is not even farmable land. Its just wilderness. Luckily, we had no problem breaking up the trip to take advantage of all that wildness had to offer. Stops were frequent at Kakabeka Falls, digging for Amethysts near Thunder Bay and Agawa Pictographs where we were rewarded with a short, cliff side hike to find ancient drawings of mythical creatures and (equally terrifying) moose.
On another detour to Ouimet Canyon, we found sheer drop-off rock faces in a glacial carved canyon we of course had to scream into to hear the echo. Thankfully the only other people out there were good sports and were happy to be a part of our ridiculous sound experiment.
Of course, we had to pause in Thunder Bay to make my pilgrimage to the Terry Fox monument. Learning about what he did had a huge impact on me, even as a young kid. I just love that he decided to do something no one else was doing back then, and to do it for a good cause. He really paved the way for runners all across Canada to re-think what the human body is capable of, and helped lay the foundation for where the sport of ultra running is today. I admit, I got a little choked up.
Onwards for a night in Neys Provincial Park where we really lucked out and scored a campsite right on the beach of Lake Superior, catching a sunset over the unusually calm waters.
Before the trip, we asked the kids what their top bucket list item was. Levi said he wanted to swim in every Great Lake and I accepted the challenge for myself too. And you probably know that I am not a fan of water, so agreeing to his wish was definitely one of those things you do for your kids and not for yourself! After an early morning run, we did a polar plunge in Lake Superior to kick off the Great Lake Swim challenge, and I must admit, it felt pretty amazing.
The kids searched for egg shaped rocks at Stone Beach in Marathon while Kirk shared his memory of spending a day in the town while his dad fixed their van back in ’95. Kirk has been constantly monitoring Vannessa to make sure she is still doing ok with all these miles, adjusting a vacuum hose on the carburetor is about all that she has needed so far. No reliving that childhood memory, not today.
We popped north to hit up Sudbury to relive one of my fond childhood memories of going to the Nickel mine and getting kitchy pictures with the giant nickel. Unfortunately, the tour into the mine only had four spaces left so Kirk and the kids went, but I was quite happy to fill my time with a sunny run along Ramsey Lake, making it back in time for a said picture.
My mom sent me the picture of my brother and I at the Nickel in ’94, and I was struck how memory shifts and changes with time. For some reason, I remember Sudbury, yet I don’t recall going on the boat under Niagara Falls. When Kirk went to Niagara, they did not go on the boat, rather they opted to walk behind the falls instead, an omission that has stuck in his memory for 27 years. Makes me wonder what our kids will remember about Ontario and this trip. Will they recall the expensive trip up the CN Tower at night or will they remember the absurd panorama pictures we took at the lookout near Agawa that had us laughing hysterically? Will their recollections of the drive be about looking out the window alternating between boredom and awe or has Youtube and their devices robbed them of the way we experienced road trips before the Internet?
From Sudbury we re-routed south again on the recommendation from a friend that the ferry to Manitoulin Island was well worth the trip. I concur.
Oddly, with the price of fuel, we likely saved money by choosing ferry fees over driving, and it gave us a nice change of pace to cruise over Lake Huron hanging off the ferry railings to feel the breeze instead of bouncing along in Vannessa and struggling with both hands to crank the window open if you want to feel the breeze.
All we knew about Bruce Peninsula was that there was some Grotto we needed to find, so after navigating a Parks Canada reservation nightmare that secured us a parking spot in a nearly empty parking lot (seriously, what was that all about?) we hiked down a trail following signs to ‘Grotto’ and hoping the effort paid off. Yep. It did. Turquoise waters, cliff jumping and swimming into caves for a couple hours had us all pretty elated with our choice. Tegan and Levi showed bravery they definitely get from Kirk and not me, by jumping off cliffs into the cold water below. I was happy enough to watch and climb the cliffs above.
Darkness chased us out of the park to a deserted town with no food options and we were starving and low on groceries. We found a vending machine that cooks and serves pizza in under three minutes that was both wildly delicious and entertaining. What a time to be alive.
While on a run the next morning, I found a snake on the road that was strangely still in the cool morning air. I REALLY wanted to poke him to see if he was alive. A quick google search rewarded my pre-frontal cortex override as I realized I had the privilege of stumbling upon the rare Mississauga Rattle snake, Ontario’s only venomous snake.
Look at me, dodging death yet again.
While the kids still slept in the back, we continued on to Sauble Beach to find warmer waters of Lake Huron for our next Great Lakes swim. Katie woke, all bleary eyed in the kind of adorable beach town she has only seen in cheaply made coming-of-age movies and asked if she was in a fever-dream because it was all so perfect. I assured her she was very much in reality and sang Hamilton to her to remind her how lucky she is to be alive right now. Sensing a theme?
Our day ended with the required touristy visit to Niagara falls where we fulfilled Kirk’s missed childhood opportunity and took the boat right into the heart of Horseshoe falls to get soaked by the spray. We spend a lot of time chasing waterfalls on our many travel adventures and Niagara falls is definitely one of the most impressive I’ve seen, and yes the fancy promenades, gaudy Clifton Street and the dramatic light and firework show at night were cool, but we were feeling a little overwhelmed with the crowds. We got some great pictures, and then got ourselves out of there.
The next day, we back tracked to Port Dover to hit up another cute beach town, this time to swim Lake Erie. It was a hot weekend, and the beach had a party vibe going on which was fun while it lasted, but then it was time for boutique thrift store shopping and ice cream which was a page right out of Katie’s beach life fantasy.
We had booked tickets to go up the CN tower that evening and have given ourselves plenty of time to get there, which is a good thing because the 401 into Toronto is exactly as bad as reputation has it. Vannessa was brave, and Kirk is a phenomenal driver and together they navigated us to the heart of Toronto. The next adventure was finding a place to park, and our scheduled ticket time was quickly approaching. Vannessa circled, holding her own against the rude Toronto drivers, bumping high rise scaffolding with her wide mirrors until we found a lot that would take us…for a small fortune. But this was not the time to negotiate rates. The sun was going down and our elevator ride was ready to take us up. Our timing was impeccable, and we caught a gorgeous clear sky sunset and watched the lights of the city come out, staying until nearly everyone else left so we could enjoy the views without the crowds. Sure, the Toronto skyline is cool, but our favourite was when we spotted Vannessa tucked into her downtown lot, waiting patiently for us to return.
Another perfect night. Lucky us.
But we certainly couldn’t stay in the heart of Toronto overnight, so Vannessa (and Kirk) hauled our tired kids out of downtown and to the closest Walmart for a parking lot sleep. We ended up using parking lots instead of finding campgrounds or crown land quite a bit in Southern Ontario which worked out really well, again affirming we made the right choice by going with our darling Vannessa instead of camping. We put up with her furnace cover that falls off when we hit a bump and her fender that disintegrated when Kirk tried to screw it back on. We love her not despite her flaws, but because of them.
One more lake to go on this section of our trip, so we stopped in Kingston to visit the Gord Downie Memorial Pier, swim in Lake Ontario and throw a football around on the beach.
Ontario ended with an iconic visit to Parliament hill in Ottawa on a perfectly warm summer evening. Thankfully, no freedom convoy blocking our way, just some construction. We wandered around the grounds as the sun set and laughed as the kids tried to remember all they had learned in social about the government.
Turns out, not much.
However, every summer evening there is a light show projected on the Parliament building that does a great job covering some highlights of Canadian history. It was the perfect mix of entertaining and educational and had us all in goosebumps when the anthem played at the end. I was especially impressed with the attention paid to Indigenous groups, and the acknowledgment of genocide against them, with hope for reconciliation moving forward. It was a nice reminder that Canada is certainly not perfect, but there is still so much to love despite the many imperfections.
Kinda like Vannessa. Kinda like our family.
We wandered the locks of the Rideau Canal in the dark while the sounds of Alanis Morisette preforming at the Ottawa Blues Fest drifted through the summer air before setting our sights on La Belle Province ahead.
Pretty lucky to be alive right now, right?
Photo Dump ahead