Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Baby named

Well, it's official. My book finally has a title. Wait for it ...

Lake Erie: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean

Whaddya think? I'm feeling pretty satisfied, actually, because it was on the shortlist of suggestions I submitted to the publisher (easily the most difficult list I've ever written, by the way).

The idea sprang out of a conversation my wife Amy and I had one hazy day as we were driving to Leamington from Toronto along highway #3, which runs along the north shore of Lake Erie. Amy, who spent a couple years living in Italy, gazed out the car window and said, "You know, many Europeans would look out there and swear they were looking at the ocean."

It got me thinking. Growing up on her shores, I, and most other North Americans, wouldn't even consider Erie as anything more than a lake. But massive bodies of fresh water such as the Great Lakes are a rarity in the rest of the world. In fact, when he first set eyes on Georgian Bay (which is technically a part of Lake Huron, but only by fluke of history is it not a Great Lake of its own), French explorer Samuel de Champlain referred to it as "le mer de douce" or "the sweetwater sea."

And why should Lake Erie be any different? She looks like an ocean, and when she's whipped up into a froth, she can certainly be as deadly as an ocean, so maybe it's time to give her her due.

Anyway, Lake Erie Stories is still on schedule to make her way into the world this May from Dundurn Press. So make sure you pop into your local bookstore and pick up a copy on your way up to the cottage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An accidental hoax

Well it turns out that the life preserver found on Lake Superior's Keeweenaw Peninsula isn't from the Edmund Fitzgerald after all. Nope, turns out the ring, found recently by a vacationing family, is actually from a nearby cottage. The owner, it seems, bought the lifesaving device at a yard sale twenty years ago and stencilled "Edmund Fitzgerald" on it as a salute to the lost freighter and her crew.

“He wasn’t trying to deceive anyone ... The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald was big news at the time, still is for that matter, and he thought a ring with the ship’s name on it was perfect for the cabin,” Dan Edwards told The Sault Star. Edwards' father in law is the owner of the cottage and the original owner/creator of the life ring.

Click here for the full Sault Star story.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"A trip into solitude"

Feeling a bit fatigued from a summer that's been rife with, let's say, peaks and valleys, my wife Amy and I came to the realization a couple weeks back that perhaps it was time for society and us to spend a little time apart. Georgian Bay beckoned, and when we read in one of our favourite paddling guidebooks, called simply Kayaking Georgian Bay (a highly recommended read, by the way), that a trip to the Churchill Islands was "generally a trip into solitude," we were sold.

The Churchills are a remote island chain south of the mouth of the French River near the Bay's eastern shore, about a twenty-kilometre paddle north from the nearest put-in, the town of Britt in Byng Inlet. There are few humans to be found on the Churchills, save for one of the Bay's last commercial fishermen (whose rickety boat I believe I spotted on day two of the trip), and they appear today, I'm sure, much the same way they did when French explorers Samuel de Champlain and Etienne Brule first visited the area almost four hundred years ago.

Here are some of the photographic highlights:

Night one got us to the southern tip of the Churchills, near Rogers Island. It was a long afternoon's paddle in the face of fairly heavy westerly winds that had blown the Bay up into a bit of a snit. But by evening, as you can see, things had levelled off nicely, making for some very deep outdoor sleeping.

One thing you can forget about up here is staking a tent in any way. In my experience, this is pretty much unheard of as soil of any real depth is virtually nonexistent. So you anchor to the boulders, baby, and pray. The upside: no dirt or sand gets into your sleeping bag or your clothes. After four days out, our little shelter is always clean as can be.

Evening, Henvey Inlet. In search of even more silence, Amy and I paddled up this inlet, which cuts into the Bay's eastern shore, and camped on a small island overnight. Both shores of the inlet belong to the Henvey Inlet Indian Reserve, which means no camping, and no cottagers. I think the photo says it all.

The Cunningham Islands lay about eight kilometres or so north of Britt, which makes them a great waypoint on your way back in. We camped a night here, and I saw perhaps the most clear night sky I think I've ever seen (shooting stars, satellites, you name it and it was up there). During the day, we paddled a number of beautiful little canals like this one. When the glaciers retreated across the Bay millions of years ago, they cut thousands of little passages like this one, which are perfect for exploring by sea kayak.

Amy and her new boat dance among the ripples of Byng Inlet on the way back to Britt. A safe journey, a safe return. But one last challenge remained: readjusting to the sound of other people's voices, traffic, and the general racket of society. That one took a few days.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Return of the Fitz

Last week brought news that the mother of all Great Lakes shipwrecks -- the Edmund Fitzgerald -- is perhaps once again reaching out from her watery grave at the bottom of Lake Superior.

Joe Rasch of Conklin, Michigan was out for a walk with his family when they spotted a life preserver on the ground below a fallen pine tree. When his children went to investigate, the ship’s name, “Edmund Fitzgerald,” was clearly visible, though faded, on the side of the old safety device. Excitedly, they brought the artifact back to their father, for or on the shores of Superior, even children know the story of the Fitz.

To their great credit, Rasch and his family then drove their find to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, where executive director Tom Farnquist examined it and could find no real reason to believe the ring was not the real deal, although there were a few small cosmetic differences between it and another ring from the Fitz in the Society’s collections.

The Edmund Fitzgerald, of course, went down in a vicious storm on November 10, 1975, taking its crew of 29 to Lake Superior’s icy bottom with it. The last freighter to be lost on the Great Lakes (hopefully forever), there are a number of theories circulating on what actually caused the sinking -- ranging from a stress fracture in the giant freighter’s hull to improperly closed hatches to a collision with a shoal -- but unfortunately none who saw the Fitz’s last moments survived to tell the tale.

In any case, the wreck was a violent one; with 26,000 tons of iron ore in her hold, the Fitz sank so quickly that no one had a chance to try to escape her (even if a lifeboat could have survived in such a terrible storm), or even radio for help. It would have essentially like being aboard a giant lead weight in the middle of the lake.

So is this life ring really from the Edmund Fitzgerald, or is it just a very clever ruse cooked up by a wayward shipwreck enthusiast with nothing better to do? The Shipwreck Historical Society is looking into it, and the rest of us will just have to wait and see.

Click here to read the full story on the Edmund Fitzgerald’s life preserver.

Click here for more Edmund Fitzgerald history.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Toronto the Good

Like many big-city condo/apartment dwellers, I tend to neglect my building's rooftop terrace. I don't know why this is, exactly. I guess it's because I feel that it's kind of a public space, like a park, and devoid of the privacy I would be able to enjoy if I had, say, my own backyard.

In any case, I decided to brave the rooftop last night to test the night-portrait setting on my digital camera. These are the results. They're a striking reminder of the urban beauty that surrounds me every day. Is it the same kind of beauty that you will find in, say, the wilds of northern Ontario? No, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

And green, in its own way. Along with a multitude of other Torontonians, I walk to work every day. And while big cities are certainly a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions and other noxious pollutants, individual Torontonians emit half as much of the earth-warming gas as the average Canadian. Why? Mainly because all of this population density means that services and businesses all tend to be within easy reach. Add in a (usually) functional mass-transit system and an ever-expanding network of bike trails and community gardens, and what you get is the kind of sustainable lifestyle that many in rural communities can only dream of.

But it's definitely not for everyone. Does it drive me nuts some days? Absolutely. I've never been one for crowds. But it is a place that has so much to offer, culturally, historically, and artistically, that right now I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

And best of all, when it starts to run me down and I just have to get out, it's only a short drive to the mystery and adventure of Georgian Bay, or the sun-drenched beaches of Lake Erie. And right here at my doorstep, Lake Ontario beckons, even though it's a well-kept secret that Toronto is one of the busiest port cities in Canada.

And the view's not too bad, either.