Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hidden history

My recent shift in focus from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, her smaller, chillier neighbour, has reinvigorated my interest in some of the places I often take for granted. One of these is Brighton Bay, which borders on Presqu'ile Provincial Park. A late-summer paddle there recently reminded me of the many hidden gems, both historical and natural, that dot this part of Lake Ontario's north shore.

One of these is the presence of numerous hidden coves and anchorages, far more than on Lake Erie, whose sandy shorelines are almost unbroken in their symmetry. This lovely dock, a great (and free) place to launch kayaks from, is in a tiny park just off Harbour Street in Brighton.

The simple beauty of the kayak, photographed just off the pebbly beach of Calf Pasture Point, Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Just across the bay from the put-in, Calf Pasture, now a quiet little dent in the coastline that is mainly used for bird watching, was an important British supply depot during the War of 1812 (the Americans once burned a schooner on the stocks here). You should be careful -- if you come on the wrong weekend, you could be beset by re-enactors, who have been known to pop out of the woods and recreate historic and fictional battles alike.

This range light, near the mouth of the bay, is an important navigational marker. Nearby, the Presqu'ile Point lighthouse, one of the oldest in the area, continues to attract tourists. (You can read more about this historic light here.) This spot also holds historical significance. In 1804, HMS Speedy, which was sailing to Presqu'ile for an important murder trial, went down here in a blinding snowstorm, taking a number of prominent Upper Canadians to the bottom with it. Their loss was a severe blow to the colony's development, and the loss of the ship convinced the government that the area was unsafe for navigation, preventing the founding of a planned town on Presqu'ile.

On this day, however, the range light marked only where the waves of Lake Ontario started to rise higher as they rolled over the shallow rocky ledges that jut out from the point. Being, in essence, a ten-year-old boy, I attempted to surf the whitecaps, which resulted in two dramatic broaches that threw me from the cockpit. On the upside, Amy got an excellent opportunity to practice her rescues.

Back on the town side of the bay, Brighton presents a rather tumbledown facade that doesn't look like it's changed much since the 1960s. This also goes for some of the boats; a couple summers back, we darted around the wreck of a sailboat, just off the marina, that appeared to have slipped her moorings and capsized. Today, fortunately, all the boats, including our own, looked very buoyant.

All of this, of course, only whetted my appetite. Unlike many of my friends, who bemoan the brevity of this rather sub-par summer, I find myself welcoming the coolness of fall, and with it several guilt-free hours at the computer.

There are, after all, new projects to ponder.

For more on Presqu'ile Provincial Park, click here.

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