Sunday, April 12, 2009

Around the Sound

Last week, we decided we could take it no more. My wife Amy and I had been holding up rather well without our beloved Georgian Bay for much of the winter. But the forecast called for clear skies north of Toronto this Easter weekend, and we sensed that this was our chance. So early Friday morning we loaded the car, strapped the bikes to the roof, and pretended it was July.

Visiting small communities like Parry Sound in the off-season is one of my favourite ways to pass Ontario’s long, often frustratingly slow springs. The hordes of campers and cottagers haven’t arrived yet, so these places remain largely shrouded in silence. But you’ll always find a warm welcome, as the locals, looking forward to the boost the warm weather will soon bring, start to get ready for what will soon be upon them.

Still, there were times this weekend when we felt like we had the whole area all to ourselves.

The first stop was Killbear Provincial Park, one of the most stunning in the province’s system. It also has one of the longest average stays. This means, quite simply, that people come here and set up for weeks, if not months, which makes it pretty tough to get a campsite unless you want to take a stab at making a reservation in early February. Once, a few years ago, we managed to snag a spot here and marvelled at the site next door, where the occupants had erected a fully functional workshop, complete with a workbench, roof, and power tools.

Today, however, other than a few deer gingerly picking their way along the main road, Killbear was ghostly quiet. The park was actually gated shut, but we were able to make our way around on our bikes and then dodge the fallen trees, snowdrifts, and other remnants of winter that blocked the main road and many of the side trails. Still, at this spot near the park’s new visitors’ centre, the Bay sparkled like it does at high summer (if you ignore the snow that still blankets the opposite shore, of course).

Parry Sound got its start as a lumber town in the mid-nineteenth century. The railway followed soon after, and remains a major part of the town’s identity. The old trestle bridge that spans the Seguin River here was built in 1908 and is the longest in the province. If you sit on the town dock and watch a train pass, like Amy is about to do here, it looks almost like it’s flying right over the centre of town (this is especially true at night, when only the trains’ lights are visible).

It was striking to sit here yesterday, feeling the biting wind blow off the still partially frozen harbour, and think that in a few short weeks, the Bay will be abuzz with pleasure boats, tour boats, and even floatplanes. Back onshore, the bars, now quiet and dark, will be packed. The energy will be palpable.

And then, all too soon, the cycle will begin again, and the area will be returned to the locals – and the deer.

For more on Parry Sound, click here.

For more on Killbear Provincial Park, click here.

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