Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sunfire to the Sea

A Christmas holiday car trip from Toronto, Ontario, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and back, by the numbers:

Kilometres clocked on aforementioned Sunfire: 3,680

Total driving time: Over 40 hours

Number of coffees consumed by three travellers: 14

Number of hours waiting to get onto the Champlain Bridge in Montreal: 2.5

Number of misunderstood French road signs: roughly 7

Total number of tears shed: 12 (all in Montreal)

Number of different weather conditions encountered: 10 -- sunny, foggy, drizzle, heavy downpour, flurries, white-out conditions, blowing snow, blowing rain (my personal favourite), extreme cold (-25C at Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec), unseasonably mild (+9C in Stillwater Lake, Nova Scotia)

Number of accidents encountered: 4 (all in the Toronto area; draw your own conclusions)

Number of anxious sighs heard from Amy: 61

Number of bored sighs heard from Luke the dog: 61

Total number of days away: 7

Total number of days Grammar the cat spent ignoring the catsitter: 7

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kayak sweep roll

The sweep roll took me an entire summer to learn. The process mainly involved a lot of falling out of the boat, pumping it out, cursing, getting back in and trying again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Escape to Alcatraz

I spent much of last weekend wandering the streets of San Francisco. While I was there, I had the opportunity to cruise San Francisco Bay in an old wooden fishing boat, and sail around the notorious federal prison on Alcatraz Island. Here are the photographic highlights:

The prison, which held some of America's most notorious criminals (including Al Capone) opened in 1934, and was closed in 1963, mainly due to the high cost of keeping inmates there.

You can feel the isolation of the place as you approach. Only a handful of prisoners are known to have escaped. According to the guide, most escapees were shot before they made it to the fence, and the few who did make it were likely swept out to sea by the strong current in San Francisco Bay.

Not all of Alcatraz's buildings were used for prison purposes. According to the guide, this old ruin was once a storehouse during the California gold rush in the mid-19th century.

The guards were very worried about escape attempts by boat, so they fired warning shots if any vessel got within 200 yards of the island. I suppose this sign was considered fair warning:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Point Pelee in winter

One of the things I love to do is visit national and provincial parks in the off-season. When the leaves fall and the gates close, the wildlife reclaims these areas. When you visit in the dead of winter, like we did at Point Pelee National Park a couple weeks back, you'd never know that many of these places were flooded with campers and tourists just a few months ago, and will be again a few short months from now.

That was certainly the case at the tip of Point Pelee, which was the very definition of desolation when we walked out a couple weeks ago. Feared in the summer for its treacherous currents, the point is eerily silent in the winter. On this windless day, all we could hear was the cracking of the ice.

Amy spies a flock of waterfowl in the far distance off the east side of the tip, and briefly considers skating after them across Lake Erie's marble-like surface.

The tip itself could easily be confused for Baffin Island or some other Arctic locale. In the far distance, a small group of people scramble over the crumpled shore ice. Swimming near this same spot, where the currents are at their worst in the summer, is a recipe for disaster. But today it's a good place to have a little fun, and be distracted from the monotony of another long Ontario winter.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wind farm blowback

If you've been following the debate over SouthPoint Wind's wrongheaded (in my opinion) proposal to build a wind development in Pigeon Bay on Lake Erie, you really should read Globe and Mail writer Adam Radwanski's article on the situation. It was published in the paper earlier this week.

If you missed it, click here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The heart of the Bay

Taking an airplane tour of one of your favourite places is one of those things you say you'll do at some point, but never quite get around to. In recent months, I've been working hard at taking on some of those things (I've also recently taken up the guitar).

That's why I decided to get Amy (and by extension myself) a floatplane tour of the 30,000 Islands area of Georgian Bay, where we do the majority of our sea kayaking, from Georgian Bay Airways as a gift.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Killbear Park looks lush and green from above, thanks to a rainy late spring. Killbear is one of the crown jewels of Ontario's provincial park system. From up here, it's not hard to see why.

The windswept outer islands give you a sense of the power of the bay's prevailing westerly winds. Yet life still clings to these isolated patches of rock. From above, you can also see the rocks lurking just below the surface, just waiting to snag wayward boaters (or sea kayakers).

The cottages disappear when you fly out over Massassauga Provincial Park. Its dozens of isolated lakes are only accessible by foot or paddle power.

Parry Sound's iconic railway bridge marks the beginning and the end of the flight. Thanks to the good folks at Georgian Bay Airways for a memorable experience. A super kickoff to yet another paddling season on the bay.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wrong place for a wind farm

Here's the text of a letter I sent to John Gerretsen, Ontario's environment minister:

Dear Minister Gerretsen,

I'm writing with regard to a proposal by SouthPoint Wind of Leamington to build 715 wind turbines in Lakes Erie and St. Clair. A large number of these turbines would be installed in Pigeon Bay, on Lake Erie.

Many concerns have been raised about this proposal. Among them are fears that the construction will threaten drinking water by stirring up toxic chemicals in the lakebed. Others include the project's close proximity to Point Pelee National Park, which is already under considerable environmental stress, as well as concerns about bird and butterfly migration routes.

These are all important concerns that merit the very closest of scrutiny.

However, I would like to draw your attention to something I fear is being lost in the debate over SouthPoint's wrongheaded idea: the cultural ramifications of letting this project go ahead.

I grew up in Essex County and have spent a good part of my life studying the human history of Lake Erie. From the earliest human habitation to the present day, the lake has played a vital role in the lives of Essex County's residents. Aside from their drinking water, they count on it for their livelihoods and for recreation. It has been and remains a vital part of their identity.

Allowing an industrial-sized wind farm to be built on Pigeon Bay not only disrespects our past, but will only further sever future generations of Essex County citizens from their history. Put simply, they will not be able to gaze out over Pigeon Bay and feel the same appreciation for the important parts of their backgrounds that have played out there -- the struggles of the sailors and fishermen who have toiled on the lake for centuries, to name just one example.

Tourists, too, will lose a vital part of the human experience in Essex County. This could have severe financial implications for this important industry.

Those who favour this project are casting those who reject it as opposed to renewable power, NIMBYists who cannot handle change or worse. I ask you to look beyond this and focus on what is really at stake in this debate.

In my view, the current strong emotion that surrounds SouthPoint's proposal is not about whether one supports or opposes renewable power (I think you would be hard-pressed to find many citizens who oppose it). Rather, it is about whether it is appropriate to build an industrial facility on a shallow, highly volatile, and culturally and environmentally sensitive part of Lake Erie.

I believe your government has much to lose -- and much to gain -- in how it chooses to answer this question. Local citizens will either remember it for standing up to private interests and protecting an important natural and human resource, or they will remember it as the government that sacrificed all of this on the altar of private profit and opportunism.

I hope you will choose the former.

Chad Fraser
Author, Lake Erie Stories: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crossing borders

It's not always easy for a Canadian author to get publicity in the United States. It is, after all, the world's largest media market. And there's lots of American writerly talent to satisfy the need.

That's why I was thrilled to get a note from Cleveland's Lake Erie Living magazine a few weeks back. They'd come across the book, and were interested in including some information on it in an upcoming issue.

It was also satisfying on another level: even though Lake Erie Stories is a Canadian title, I felt I really couldn't tell the lake's story properly without including stories from the lake's American shores. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York all border on Lake Erie, and the lake's American coastline is heavily populated. I was thrilled that the book seemed to be gaining traction there.

Anyway, Lake Erie Living published its take on Lake Erie Stories this week. You can read it on the magazine's web site by clicking here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter on the bay

Although you'd never know it in Toronto, it's very much winter in much of the rest of the province. Right now, for example, the Parry Sound area of Georgian Bay, just a couple hundred kilometres north of the city, is wrapped in a blanket of white. We decided to spend the weekend in this winter wonderland, which, regardless of the season, is one of our favourite places.

I've written before about the sheer delight of visiting rural Ontario's provincial parks and other summertime destinations in the off season. Killbear Park, for example, is bustling in the summer. To get a site, you really have to book mid-winter, or you'll be out of luck.

But Killbear's winter personality is the direct opposite of its summer self. The hundreds of campsites that dot the park, each one complete with a fire pit and a picnic table, stand lonely, forgotten, and mostly covered in a good foot of snow.

When we ventured out to Killbear on Saturday morning, rented snowshoes in hand, the only tracks we could see belonged to the wide variety of small creatures who call the park home (and don't hibernate in the winter).

We only spotted one of the park's winter inhabitants: while we were trudging along the frozen surface of the bay, what appeared to be a small otter popped up on the bank of a still unfrozen stream, his dark form stark against the expanse of snow. After a couple of minutes of fumbling about, he noticed us and disappeared beneath the surface.

After so many years of living in the city, I'd kind of forgotten the simple joy of walking on a frozen lake in winter. When I was growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, I distinctly remember venturing out on the lake's frozen surface with my dad to go ice fishing. We even drove out a few times. It's an understatement to call that a terrifying prospect today. And we were far from the only ones.

The shallow stretch of Georgian Bay near the park's gates freezes thick enough to easily support the weight of a couple of hikers. And back in Parry Sound, the harbour is frozen so solid that small communities of ice-fishing huts dot the horizon like makeshift villages. Closer to shore, there is a good selection of large, perfectly cleared ice rinks to choose from, and the locals seem to fully embrace the season.

It's somehow comforting to know that this kind of winter still very much exists. But it doesn't last long. In another few weeks, the ice-fishing huts will give way to charter boats, and it will be hard to believe that, just a few weeks before, we walked on the bay's frozen surface, and wondered if summer would ever come.

For more on Parry Sound, click here.

For more on Killbear Provincial Park, click here.