2008 Retrospective – Part II (Travels in Ontario)

This past year represented a new chapter in travels for me.  Indeed, being alone as much as I was caused me to reach into my creative side.  Over the years I have always loved to travel.  I have been blessed to see many places.  But, being in a place lie Woodstock, Ontario for over 8 months and traveling back and forth to Kentucky, sometimes every other week, led me to focus on what I am calling “micro-visits.”  We don’t have to travel far to see things of interest and to enjoy the many creations of both God and His children.

Along with my travels, I developed a more acute desire to document these travels and share them.  Obviously, if any of you have been to my website at http://www.sumoflam.biz , you will know that I have documented various trips through the years.  But, the Canada adventures were an opportunity to really focus on an area and bring it to the world, and this is what I attempted to do through trip journals and accompanying photographs.
There were basically two aspects of my adventures – continuous documentation of places and things in SW Ontario and then variation in my trips to and from Kentucky to see new places along the road.  Most of these trips have been well-documented on both my website (see http://www.sumoflam.biz/ontario.htm) and also here in my blog.  So, I will just note some of my favorite places and some of the things that really caught my eye.  As well, as the year progressed, I found myself focusing on various themes: Roadside Oddities (ala http://www.roadsideamerica.com), murals and community development, scenery, historic buildings, riverine scenes, unique things.
Visiting Ontario

Prior to February 2009, the furthest east I had ever been in Canada was in Steinbach, Manitoba, which I visited with Solomon on Aug. 30, 2007 (see http://www.sumoflam.biz/WashJournal2.htm).  I had never been to Ontario, which is the most populous of Canada’s provinces and second only to Quebec in land area.  According to Wikipedia, Ontario was home to over 38% of Canada’s total population after the 2006 census.

Flag of Ontario, Canada

Ontario has many natural borders with the United States and touches all but one of the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.  It is also borders the large Hudson Bay to the north.  Like Minnesota and Wisconsin in the U.S., Ontario has thousands of natural lakes and ponds and some spectacular rivers.  The Niagara Escarpment cuts across the Province making this area a waterfall seeker’s paradise, including the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls of Niagara Falls National Park.
The southwestern section of the province, where I was working, is spanned by the northern boundary of Carolinian Forest, which is dominated by an abundant variety of deciduous broad-leaf trees.  this forested area is considered to be one of Canada’s richest in terms of plant life and animal life.  Included in these trees are those maple trees that provide the Canadian Maple Leaf symbol.
Entering Ontario

Due its sheer size, there are many places to enter Ontario from the United States.  For us Kentucky folk, the most convenient locations include two ports of entry near Detroit that enter at Windsor, Ontario (Canada’s southernmost city) and one north of Detroit going into Sarnia, Ontario.  On the east side, near Buffalo, NY there are also three or four ports.  I later discovered a couple of smaller ports of entry along the St. Clair River north of Detroit, where one would take a ferry across the river and enter in small customs areas.
My first time I had to get my work visa for Canada, so I entered the port of entry at Windsor over the Ambassador Bridge.  There is also a tunnel from downtown Detroit.  
I really do not like the drive from Windsor to Woodstock.  the first time I drove a in the evening and it seemed like a long boring drive.  The freeways in southern Ontario (namely the 401, 402 and 403 and the QEW) are all very nice roads, but the 401 that runs from Windsor is a two hour stretch through agricultural and industrial areas, with very little scenery.  It is predominantly flat.    On top of that, Detroit is in the middle of a horrendous construction project on I-75 and just getting to the Ambassador Bridge or the tunnel is such a hassle, that on late trips, I was making efforts to find other ways to get in.
Woodstock, Ontario

My first arrival in Woodstock was pretty non-descript.  The small town of about 40,000 people is the county seat of Oxford County and is still about 128KM from Toronto (Canada’s largest city).  Surrounded by corn fields, wheat fields and cattle grazing land, it just seemed like it would not be too interesting of a place to spend 8 months.  But, I soon found it to be different.
The city has the nickname “The Friendly City”and I soon found it to be so.  I soon became friends with Oxford County Tourism Director Cathy Bingham, who provided me with guidance on many an adventure…close enough to do in a few hours, yet interesting enough to provide the wanderlust desires of an old lonely man away from his loving family. (I will have more on Cathy Bingham in Part IV of my 2008 Retrospective).
BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR  It is blasted cold!!

Having arrived at the beginning of February, I learned one thing very quickly about SW Ontario.  It is BLASTED cold!!!  If I have one truly negative thing to say about the region, it is that.  For one, SW Ontario is surrounded on three sides by Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.  This area is one of those “Lake Effect” areas in the winter:  Cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water and this provides energy and picks up water vaopr which freezes and is deposited in the area.  It can lay large amounts of snow on land areas in its paths. And I was able to experience these lake-effect snows and freezing cold temperatures first hand all through February and March, and even somewhat into April.  But, though the cold seemed dreary, on the clear days after a snowfall, there were beautiful expanses of snow-covered countryside glistening everywhere.
                                                                               A couple of snowy scenes taken near Woodstock
Paris, Ontario

After a while it was getting tiring living in a hotel, so I soon found a small little apartment to rent so I could have a “home away from home.’  This little place was nestled snug alongside the beautiful Grand River in the small town of Paris, Ontario. (see my writeup and photos of Paris at http://www.sumoflam.biz/ParisON.htm).  Even smaller than Woodstock, Paris is a beautiful little town and I will have many fond memories of this place, though I was only there for a few months.  The Grand River and Nith River cut through this town.  There are many old Victorian buildings.  The Paris Bakery and Camp 31 BBQ were two of my most favorite places to visit for goodies.
                                                             A couple of views of Paris, Ontario.  It truly was a nice place to live.
I left Paris at the end of May and it was kind of bittersweet.  But, during that time I enjoyed travels all around the area.  Indeed, we spend so much time speeding from place to place that we miss all of the little things….
Favorite Places in SW Ontario

SPARTA

I have traveled hundreds of miles on many of the backroads of SW Ontario – through farmland, small towns, Amish/Mennonite country, Maple bush and lake shores.  I visited Niagara Falls three times while working up in Ontario…once in the winter, once in the spring and once in the summer.  I have practically cirumnavigated Lake Ontario and have driven the shores of Lake Erie.  Perhaps my most favorite place to visit in SW Ontario is Sparta, a very small burg near St. Thomas.   Sparta has history, scenery, some great food and even a bit of whimsy.  The bakery and the Sparta House Tearoom and Restaurant are great places.  They each specialize in goodies that can’t be found anywhere else.  And the whimsical Winter Wheat and Anything Goes shops are just lots of fun.
                                                                          Winter Wheat is just a fun place to visit
SHAKESPEARE/STRATFORD

The small little town of Shakespeare and its neighboring town of Stratford are also very wonderful.  Shakespeare is about as small as Sparta and is dotted with little antique shops and speciality shops.  The architecture is unique.  Stratford has the feel of a small European village(as I would envision it — not been to Europe yet).

                                                  Stratford (L) and Shakespeare (R) make for a nice day trip

I love seeing the swans in the Avon River in Stratford.  They come right up to you and let you feed them. They have no real issues with us human types.

ELORA

I was struck by the spectacular beauty of the Elora Gorge–one of many areas of the Niagara Escarpement.  The small town is a bit touristy, but the views of the Grand River running through the chasms of the gorge are breathtaking. Unfortunately, this is one place I only visited once and it was for only a short time.  I would really like to spend a prolonged time there.
                                                                                                             A couple of views of Elora Gorge
DUNDAS

Yet another small burg, near the huge city of Hamilton, I love this place bacuse of its proximity to the Niagara Escaprment.  Though nothing beats the magnificent power of Niagara Falls, the more delicate and beautiful falls are found in this area.  It is claimed that there are over 100 waterfalls in and around Hamilton and Dundas.  A couple of these are really worth a visit and, if travelling from Woodstock or Paris, can be seen on the way to Niagara, which is what I did at the end of April.  Tew’s Falls drops 135 feet, but is fairly narrow.  Just a short distance from there is the Webster Falls, which drops 72 feet.  Both are glorious in their own ways.

  

                               Tew’s Falls                                                               Webster Falls

THE LAKES – ONTARIO AND ERIE

During my eight month stay in Ontario I made numerous visits to the Great Lakes.  My first venture to Lake Ontario was in the dead of winter and the lake was frozen.  It was an amazing sight to behold as great chunks of ice were formed on the shores and in the midst of the lake.  Over the months I was able to see the evolution of the lakes through the seasons.  I absolutely loved this beauty.  South of Woodstock, along Lake Erie, there are nearly 60 large Wind Turbines for electricity generation.  The beaches are beautiful in the summer, especially along the northeastern shores of Lake Erie.  Back in July I actually drove back from Niagara after seeing my wife and daughter off on their way back to Kentucky an found myself meandering on small narrow roads along the coast of Lake Ontario.  It was fabulous!!
                                                                                                   Some Lake Erie scenes

                                  A large ship can be seen in the distance on Lake Erie.

TORONTO

Obviously, I cannot neglect Toronto, Canada’s biggest city.  I visited this city 4 times while in Ontario.  It is a fabulous place to visit, especially Kensington Market.  This place is so colorful…the buildings, all similar in structure, are all painted in a variety of ways.  And, in the market areas the walls have become the canvas for the hands of meticulous grafitti artisits.
                          The colorful houses of Kensington and some of the fabulous grafitti artwork fouund on the walls.
ALGONQUIN NATIONAL PARK

Perhaps my most memorable experience was my visit to Algonquin in late September.  The fall sceneray was nothing short of breath-takingly spectacular.  It was a marvelous two days.  Here are a couple of the full size photos….

Other sites and places of interest in SW Ontario
During my eight months working in Ontario, I took over 2000 photographs.  Here are some of my favorites…
Tulips near Norich Township
                     A field of tulips near Norwich Township in Oxford County
 Ontario Provincial flower - Trillium
The Provincial flower of Ontario –  A Trillium, taken near Sparta, Ontario.  These are only in bloom for two weeks a year
 
 Maid of the Mist in the churning waters of the Niagara River at the base of Horseshoe Falls
  
  Montrose Covered Bridge, Montrose, ON.  the only covered bridge remaining in all of Ontario
  
 A Mennonite woman sews while selling maple syrup near St. Jacobs, Ontario
 
 I loved this red barn and its shadows.  Taken near Paris, Ontario
  
  Lawn bowling “bowls”.  Taken at a lawn bowling tournament behind my apartment in Paris, Ontario
  
  A little girl interacts with a swan in Stratford, Ontario
  
   A crokinole board taken during the World Crokinole Championships in Tavistock, Ontario
  
  Old tobacco kilns add symmetry to the fields near Delhi, Ontario
  
  Some boys emerge from a pond after fishing near Waterford, Ontario
  
  The Walters Family perform during dinner at the Walters Family Dinner Theater near Woodstock, Ontario
  
  The Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Shop, in Mapleton, Ontario (near St. Thomas)
A whimsical Broom Family at Winter Wheat near Sparta, Ontario
 Grafitti wall in Kensington Market in Toronto
I was struck by the irony of this Mennonite Wagon speeding by the big modern homes near Wellesley, Ontario
The Final Treasure

My final find of my time in Ontario is the Screaming Heads near Burks Falls, Ontario.  Artist Peter Camani has created some fascinating sculptures and, I was fortunate enough to visit on a misty morning at the end of September with fall colors in the background.  Here are three of my favorite shots…full sized…
            
            
That’s it for my quick observations about Ontario.  Part III will cover my travels to and from Ontario.  During those trips I visited Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania.
Have camera…will travel

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