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.