Backpacking The Sleeping Giant: Thunder Bay, Ontario

During the first week of June, Kris, Matt and myself travelled to western Ontario in the Thunder Bay region to backpack part of the Kabeyun trail in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  The park’s unique name reflects a native traditional legend about a protector of the land, who had killed men to protect the silver mineral secret of the area and was punished by being turned to stone in a laying repose — hence the Sleeping Giant.

The Kabeyun trail runs the length of the Giant and the shoreline of Lake Superior. Our hike would be seeing a section of the trail, backpack to our campsites, set up camp and then hike to different areas in the park.  The trip was a redux for Matt, who had attempted to hike around the Giant a couple of years ago, but was turned away after encountering a bear and three cubs near the first campsite.  Matt had such an eventful time, he was seeking to complete the park’s trails in this attempt, with less of involvement from large mammals.  Matt’s mis-adventure did make for a great sidebar whenever we encountered anything that would remind him of the previous trip (trees, noises, campsites, birds).


The Sleeping Giant

In traveling such a distance to the Thunder Bay area (16 hour drive from Toronto – half day flight from the Maritimes) – we needed to do some tourist type visiting along with our backcountry adventure.   As I viewed the terrain from the plane and saw what was in store for us at our bookending campsites at Kakabeka Falls, I was immediately impressed by the grandeur of the region.  Large canyons, unique mountain tops, sheer cliffs, expansive fresh water and distant views dominated most places we visited.  This area of Lake Superior is truly a rugged and beautiful area of Canada.


Standing on the Seahorse

We began our three day backpacking adventure hiking around the Sleeping Giant.  Our first day, we hiked about 9 kilometres plus side trails and then camped at Lehtinen’s Bay.  From the bay, the view of the brown cliffs and calm water from the campsite was remarkable.  Seeing the immense fresh water lake before us was also humbling – and comforting in a way as we could also use the water if we needed.

After setting up camp, our days end side trip involved heading on the Top of the Mountain trail to the Chimney.  Normally at 22 kilometre return trip for day hikers, we had cut off a few kilometres in our backpacking — but that did not reduce the challenge of going from lake shore to 300 metre cliffside.  Our legs were feeling the elevation gain, but it was soon worthwhile with the views we would encounter.  The water was pristine and tropical looking from this height.

From the trail, we also had our first views of Silver Islet – a tiny island offshore in Lake Superior that was formerly the site of lucrative silver mining operation in the late 1800s.   The history of Silver Islet is captivating and exemplifies the perseverance and hardiness of the people of that time – a real Canadian story.  (This video is shown at the park in the interpretive centre.  It is well worth the thirty minutes of watching.) Based on the wind and the waves we experienced on our hikes, I can only appreciate how challenging it must have been  in years past to live and try to work around Lake Superior.

After our views of the southern coast, the Top of the Mountain trail lead us to the Thunder Bay side of the Giant’s knees and most notably the Chimney.  The Chimney is a set of sheer 300m cliffs with quite a view point.  The middle of the Chimney used to be an extreme hiking access to the Giant, but was eventually closed for safety reasons – of which were readily apparent.  As a background to all of our photos, the wind was consistent and blustery and with each photograph taken we were was as close as we would care to venture to the edges.  Previously, I had only seen similar sheer cliffs in the Rockies.

The second day of backpacking lead us around the feet of the Giant and crossing the length on the northwestern side.  We started our 12 km day clamouring over large boulders from rockfall.  While these provided a welcome change to the easy trail we had experienced to date, we were glad the boulders did not persist for the entire day.  Soon after, we would be climbing over the Giant’s feet and down to the shoreline on the opposite side.  Our weather was spectacular.

After about 4 hours, we arrived at Sawyer Bay, another great spot for our tents and camp for the evening. The campsite was sheltered in a small bay and allowed us to have another supper time view of the lake and terrain.

This time, our trip around the Giant had now lead us to the Head trail, which we accessed by backtracking a bit from our campsite.  Normally a long day hike, the head trail is also fairly steep, as are most trails to the top of sheer cliffs.  Our 4 km return trail would take us through tall poplar filled forests to the hot and arid pine barren on top.  This was much different day than the previous one, with little wind and we were able to enjoy the sights without having to consider being blown over!  The views from the Head trail were more expansive than the Chimney, and were clear through to Thunder Bay and the mountains across Lake Superior.

The second day of backpacking was full — and we settled in for the night with a fire to keep away the mosquitos.  We were thankful that we only had a taste of the bugs normally in this area, as the evenings were still fairly chilly and close to 0 C.

On day three, our 8 kilometre return trip to the campground was a welcome breeze — and we had ended off the backpacking portion of our trip in likely the cleanest fashion we’ve had in likely all of our trips.  This of course, necessitated a photo.


We returned to Mary-Louise campground early in the day, which allowed us to read a bit of history on the park and see the displays on Silver Islet.  We also checked out the nearby cottage community and were impressed at the remaining history of the area.


The following day, we started our way back to Thunder Bay and visited a couple of canyons, including Ouimet Canyon and Eagle Canyon.  While at Ouimet Canyon, I was in awe at the sheer depth and length of the hole torn into the rock.  I was wishing I could travel the bottom, but slowly realized it was large boulders I was staring at from high above.

Our second stop was Eagle Canyon – smaller and narrower – nevertheless with two (!) suspension bridges and a zip line.  (Eagle Canyon had been boasting as Canada’s longest suspension bridges.)  We visited the quirky private park, paid for our entry and gingerly walked the suspension bridges remarking at the craziness of it all and also of Matt — who went down the zipline.  The zipline was a one minute hair-raising blast down the length of the canyon to the end.

The last part of our trip had us visiting the Fort William First Nation lookout — a mountain with an expansive view overlooking the city.  Matt and I also visited Little Falls near our campground in an evening hike.  Because we camped in the same spot twice, I took in as many late night and early morning sessions as I could at Kakabeka Falls given that the second highest falls in Ontario was only a minutes walk from our tent!


Kakabeka Falls

Knowing the history of the area, it had certainly added meaning and understanding to our adventure.  The Sleeping Giant would be a park I would revisit on a cross-Canada tour to such a far away land from the Maritimes.


Sunset at overlooking the Sleeping Giant from Mary-Louise campground




Spring-ing along through the season

As it always seems to happen, once the weather  and temperatures of winter leave us — spring comes fast and so do the activities along with it.  Sheena has kept the ladies busy over the past few months with weekend day trips for hiking or other fun stuff, such as the indoor trampoline park at ‘Get Air‘ in Moncton.  There are so many activities in one spot and within an hour will certainly tire out anyone, including two busy kids of ours.

For the past three weekends, the ladies have travelled in our area with friends for day hikes to Friar’s Nose, a steep but worthwhile climb to a lookoff in the Parleeville area near Sussex.  We’ve been there a few times before and the view never ceases to please. The group also headed to a past destination for us at Kierstead Mountain Falls.  It’s a great spot for a quick waterfall adventure and also not far from Sussex.

Spring is also ice rescue training time for the Belleisle Valley Fire Department.  I enjoy taking on the tasks involved in practicing for ice rescues.  Modern equipment makes it easier to get in the frigid water and focus on techniques and safety.  I helped out some of the newer members who were trying the suits out this year for the first time.

Sheena and I had a nice breakfast date during the week, which seems to be the trend lately.  One of the days there was a balloon in the morning air above Sussex.  I was lucky to have a quick visit to Ottawa during a course in March.  Any visit to Ottawa must include seeing the Parliament buildings.

On one of our Sunday outings, we headed to the Norton area for a geocache in one of the areas of the Stonehammer Geopark.  Areas around Saint John have unique and old rock formations, including fossils found in the the rock walls we were looking at off of Hwy 1.  While cutting the highway, riverbeds and flora fossils were found in the rock.  Seeing the ripples of a river bottom perpendicular to the ground is a strange experience! The girls were excited to look for and spot the different fossils along our walk.

We also have been moving toward more older kid outdoor activities at the house — and had the chance to put up a trampoline.  Needless to say, they’ve been at it whenever they have a spare moment — including a world record time before 8 am on the first day after it was assembled.

Spring is also time for fishing — and not too far from our house.  A Christmas gift from Aunt Wee and Uncle “Fish” , they’ve been putting their new rods to use.  Trying to follow in their Grampa’s shoes — or as seen in a recent photo — hat!  Grandpa (Dad) had fun posing for one of Grandma’s (Mom) paintings from years back.

The Ladies at the Stilesville Sugar Woods

This weekend, we were happy to share our yearly tradition of going to the maple sugar woods in the Moncton area at Stilesville.  In late March to early April, if you’re visiting or passing through — we recommend the experience of seeing a maple sugar operation and most importantly, try different types of maple products (and my favorite, taffy).  Maple sugar production is one the proudly local New Brunswick products.

Sheena, Abby and Janice took our neighbours on the walk to see the Trites family operation.  During a scenic walk through a maple forest, you can watch three family businesses at work and have a breakfast in a log cabin — with the Canadian staples of pancakes and maple syrup.

Remembering Willow

We are saying farewell to our dog Willow, who was a friend and very much a part of our family.  Back when we first moved to Belleisle, I was lucky to find such a good dog from a nearby shelter.  She was about a year old at the time and was just waiting to have fun with our young family.  In time, we figured out that she was part Malamute and Border Collie and was very smart, taking to training well.

The kids grew up with her being around as we took Willow everywhere with us.   She even herded the kids every now and then when they went too close to the road.  She loved running on the trails behind our house and we’d often catch her out of breath coming back from her morning run.  She also had an affinity for rolling rocks around with her nose, and in the winter, trying to make large snowballs with her front paws.  We would be entertained with all the different displays from her endless energy.

With all that energy to burn, Willow was also an excellent hiking dog.  She followed me all over, through rock and water, snow or mud.  Whether I biked or hiked, Willow kept along.  A few times even after 30 kilometres of travelling, she stayed with me.  She even accompanied us kayaking a few times, just wanting to swim.

A couple fun stories about her: The picture below on the top right was taken the night she helped me out of the woods one evening.  I had left the house on a supposedly easy biking trip, got turned around in the woods only a half hour from my house while trying to skip a blocked section of trail.  I had taken a short cut hiking through the woods (with no compass – bad, bad).  After I spent half an hour wandering in a direction which I thought was the way out, I realized I was lost.  Just as I had resigned to wait the night out in the woods and face the music in the morning of being unprepared that evening, Willow turned around and started walking along in the opposite direction!  Willow knew her way and showed me by returning back to the original trail. I had Sheena take a picture to remind me of my poor choices and thankfulness for the companion that night.

Another time, we were biking nearby home and we came across a big black bear eating berries.  The bear didn’t see us and Willow ran up to it and barked so loudly at the bear, all the hair on the bear’s back moved in shock and it scared off into the woods.  The funny thing is, so did Willow — and took off in the opposite direction on the trail after she saw the size of the bear!  I called her and called her to come back to me and we eventually kept on biking.  But after that and for the next hour, every twig that cracked under my tires, poor Willow jumped in the air.  I was thankful that she had that protective instinct whether she knew it or not.

There are many more stories about her that we will all remember.

Below is easily my favorite picture of her, taken by my friend Kris on one of our long hikes to upper Mary Pitcher Falls, New Brunswick.  Willow certainly was a great companion to all of us.


Skating: Canada Style

What happens with a stretch of sunny winter weather; the Olympics on television day and night; a flag; and a provincial holiday weekend? Skating and pond hockey.  In the past couple of days, we headed out to our local ice and took along our sticks for a family game.

Abby practicing her moves!

A few pictures from our pre-game warmup.

They wanted faceoffs!  Here you go girls.

Just a beautiful set of days in our neck of the woods.

Rebecca had a few practice moves as well.  We are lucky to have a nice spot so close by.

RJTW: Saint John

Our ladies have been excited to participate in an indoor track event “Run Jump Throw Wheel” as advertised at school.  For weeks before, they talked about the event held in Saint John, occurring usually every couple of months in the winter.  Ages 8-14 are allowed to enter events such as running, sprinting, long jump, high jump and shot put.  Its such a fun chance to try out events in an organized way.

I love Rebecca’s saying on her shirt.  I only seemed to notice when processing these pictures!

Here’s Abby in the standing long jump and Rebecca in one of her two running events, this one being the 150m.

I was proud of Abby trying the 60 metre.  She was in a large group of older girls.

I took a couple of videos of the events.  More videos didn’t work out as both girls were doing events in different places at the same time.  As well, to add some fun context to the last clip in the video:  Rebecca was one of the last to throw the shot-put.  Her first throw was a bit short and the judge said for her to try and hit the ‘measuring’ guy in the head.  Rebecca pushed it out so hard that she gained an extra metre and made her arm sore after (hence the face!) .  I laughed for a while after that one.

RJTW video

The next event is a regional/provincial one in March.  We’ll definitely be doing some more practice for that event.

Christmas in Mabou

A special treat for us this year was traveling to Mabou for Christmas. The best part of coming to Mabou are the family traditions.

On our pre-festivities day, we went for a walk to experience the wind and waves on Inverness beach.

As we quickly found the sea foam was plentiful due to the high waves swamping the beach. We spent our time dodging waves and attempts at searching for seaglass.

With the arrival of Laurena and Nick, we had two screaming kids – jumping up and down akin to old film of anxious fans finally seeing the Beatles arrive a venue. In the midst of it, Abby did let out a contemporary saying, “Uncle Nick is Epic!”

We also had an unplanned and soon to be annual beer exchange from our respective provinces (Picaroons and Big Spruce being the favourites).

Our first festive gathering is on Christmas Eve at my uncles and aunts place, an annual event for the past 40 years and more. For ourselves living away from Mabou, we realized our last time being here was 6 years ago. It was a great time to catch up with family, usually divided into adults upstairs and the wild kids downstairs moderated by the oldest ones.

An unexpected highlight was the clothes twins, my sister Laurena and cousin Mairead.

The Christmas Day was the usual traditions with a bit of music and then a crazy wind storm brought by Les Suetes. Here’s the girls with their uncle .

A hit during present time was Rebecca’s notes with her presents.

For Boxing Day there has been a skate and hockey game with our family cousins and outlaws for several years now. As the years go by, the kids are having more to play. They even had a crazy coach for a while.

The adults took turns in net.

Its was another great year for the Beaton Hockey League.

On our downtime, despite that there wasn’t much snow this year so far in Cape Breton, that fact didn’t stop us from sledding.

In a summary of the trip, Sheena made a quick video of some of our fun: See the video.

Christmas Players

On the last part of their fall season, Abby and Rebecca were practicing for roles in their school’s Christmas play, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. The play focuses on how Rudolph was treated by other Reindeer. In a synopsis from Rebecca, “you have to be yourself and no matter what others think about you, you should always stay who you are. ”

Abby was lucky to be chosen in the lead role as Rudolph . Rebecca joined her as one of the other Reindeer. They practiced their roles and lines daily in school and at home. It was a big thing for Abby as it was her first time acting and also memorizing lots of lines.

But with all their hard practice, they did very well and made us proud! There were two shows for the parents — and both were treated to a meal at Mama Georges afterward.

Great work ladies!!

A video compilation of their acting…

Christmas Tree Hunting

Before the first big snowfall later in the day, we decided it was time for us to head out and find our Christmas Tree.  We had a quieter time this year and had just our family out for the annual tree hunt.   We started off with Rebecca deciding she needed to play with some ice for most of our time hunting.  As a bonus, we were joined by the cat and dog, following us through the woods.  Abby picked out our tree this year.

Hope you enjoy a video Sheena made of the experience: Christmas Tree Hunting

Creative in the Family

IMG_1911For those that may not know, Sheena has been back to university this year and is in her first year working toward her social work degree.

On the surface, her courses have been interesting to see from an outsider’s perspective and how one does university education over distance on the internet, which challenges our past experiences of on-campus, test and exam-taking experiences of ‘learning’.

One neat effect I also hadn’t considered is that having someone in the house continuing their education does open our minds again to critical thinking and refreshes our understanding of current trends and research. I find it is positive for everyone in the house.

Her current course is about understanding oppression in our society. As part of the course, she chose to make a creative project as her final assignment. This is just another example of changes in assessment over the changing means of education. In these newer ways of assessment, Sheena could have written a 12 page paper; written a journal with a 5 page paper; or develop a project tied into a 5 page essay for her final assignment.

Using her musical and writing talents, she wrote, preformed, produced a song about her topic. Making her creative work even more moving was involving both Rebecca and Abby in her recording. I had to include it for all of you to listen.

Here it is:

Will you still love me when I’m different?”

After listening to the music – without any expertise in the topic – I couldn’t help but being impressed. It would be hard not to also mention that proud tear was shed in hearing the kids voices recorded in her ‘technical university work’. 🙂