Thursday, November 8, 2007

Where the boys aren't

Think Port Dover and you likely think of only one thing -- choppers. Dover, you see, is beset by thousands of large, hairy men on their shiny, crackling steeds every time a Friday falls on the 13th of the month. Summer, fall, even winter -- no matter what. The only thing the weather dictates is how hardcore those who show up really are. It's a curious tradition that sets this little tourism- and fishing-centred hamlet apart from any other Lake Erie community.

So, if you're like me, there is only one weekend that you should avoid Dover in 2008: the one that starts on June 13.

But in November, you'll find only fishermen (Dover is one of the hubs of the Lake Erie commercial fishing fleet) a few locals putting in time behind the counters of the little restaurants and gift shops that line the main drag, and the retired, many of whom, last Sunday, were taking advantage of a bit of mild weather to do a little fishing of their own off the pier.

I was in Dover last weekend to visit its impressive museum as part of my research for the Lake Erie book. The Port Dover Harbour Museum is large for a community museum, and very well kept by curator Ian Bell and his staff. Part of it occupies an old fisherman's net shanty. In that section, you'll find a raft of fishing paraphernalia -- from nets to seventies-era radars and fish finders -- and volumes of stories about the men who, for as long as there have been people on Lake Erie, have made a perilous, often bare-subsistence living fishing the lake's often tricky waters. Oddly, it's about the only place with such a complete fishing exhibit anywhere around the lake. Trust me, I've looked.

When I was done there, I did a bit of wandering. Here are a couple fall snaps of Dover and her environs:

The refuse of summer in the form of the Al's Fresh-Cut Fries & Things trailer in Hagersville, on the way in to Dover. I leave the "& Things" bit to your imagination.

The so-called Lake Erie Cross, placed up on a hill overlooking the harbour at Dover by Parks Canada in 1922. The monument commemorates French missionaries Francois Dollier de Casson and Rene de Brehant de Galinee, who were the first Europeans to winter on Lake Erie in 1669-70. It was part of an amazing year-long ordeal in which the pair, with a small party, paddled and hiked all the way from Montreal, across Lakes Erie and Ontario, up Lake Huron as far as the Straits of Mackinac before making their way back via the Ottawa River. When Galinee was here, he wrote of the Dover area in his journal as "the earthly paradise of Canada."

A view of the Lynn River from the site where Dollier and Galinee spent the winter of 1669-70 tucked away in two small buildings they constructed. Amazingly, you can still make out the outlines of the buildings, and the remnants of the earthworks, on the site.

A barn in the nearby whistlestop of Jarvis celebrates the annual Corn Fest all year long. Unfortunately, I was too late to take the actual event in this time. Perhaps next fall. The Harleys should be cleared out by then.

For the Port Dover Harbour Museum, click here.

For the Port Dover official site, click here.

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