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Bears, Beavers And Blueberries in Ontario, Canada – (Part 3)

“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw.” – Emily Carr

(FLASHBACK) It was the week of my birthday, August 2017, when Phil and I departed from Michigan to Canada pulling a trailer loaded with kayaks, camping gear, and our new Can-am Outlander, for destinations unknown (to us, anyway). We made it across the border with no problems, then drove north to Rabbit Blanket Lake campground which is located inside the Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario. I had been there before, many years ago, and Phil had spent time there on several occasions, so we were excited about seeing the old familiar sites, along with finding new places to explore.

After crossing the bridge at Sault Saint Marie in Michigan/Canada, one passes through a post-industrial city that has its less than attractive sections, but as the drive goes further north, a bustling, productive segment is revealed. Once past the city limits, Highway 17, also known as the Trans-Canadian Highway, winds through rocky cliffs sprouting large pines, enormous boulders, spanning over large rivers filled with frothy, churning whitewater. The rugged coastline reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Maine, (another bucket-list state).

It takes roughly 2.5 hours to drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Rabbit Blanket Lake, and once we arrived at our campsite, we set up camp and put our kayaks in the water. Later that evening, we decided to take a drive after dark going east on highway 101 towards Chapleau, with the intent of looking for animals along the roadside. (Phil had seen a lynx after dark on that highway years ago).

A car some distance away was coming toward us and we noticed that one of its headlights went out. We thought that was odd, and as we got closer, we saw a large animal standing in the middle of the road. That car had just hit a full-grown MOOSE!! We had been traveling for at least 30 minutes with no car in sight and then the one car we see nailed a cow going full speed! We stopped to see if we could help and thankfully, the lady who was driving was not injured… just shaken. Her car would have to be towed, however.

Learning that the lady had just left her sister’s place and was on her way to Wawa, we offered to drive her back to her sister’s which was close to 30 miles east. She climbed aboard the GMC Vandura, thanked us profusely, and then explained that her brother-in-law was a hunting guide and would know what to do with the injured moose, who by then, had wandered off into the bush with a broken front leg. Poor thing!!

*Side note- Every year, hundreds of car-moose accidents occur in Canada and many people are killed. On our 2019 trip to Canada, two men that we had met kayaking explained that the reason we saw so few cars on that highway after dark, is that most Canadians do not drive in moose country when the sun is down. No one wants to hit a m o o s e!

In our conversation with this nice lady for the next 30 miles, she told us that she owned the pharmacy in Wawa and we discussed the economics of the area, asking her why so many stores were closed and up for sale. She explained that the majority of the people in that area relied on the gold, silver, and other precious metal mines, and since these mines had closed, there were not many opportunities for employment in the area. She said that one of the mines was scheduled to re-open in the next year or two and the residents were hoping that this would bring a boost to their economy.

It was on that same 2017 trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park, when Phil and I discovered that Ontario had the most abundant wild blueberry bushes, covered in the sweetest little blue morsels we had ever tasted! Having camped in the park several times before, Phil wanted to drive into the back country on our 4-wheeler. Since riding quads is not allowed inside the park, we had to trailer the Can-am to areas outside the park boundaries.

Unsure of the riding laws in Canada, we parked our trailer at an abandoned store in Wawa, which was directly across the street from the police station, walked over and asked about quad-riding rules and which roads we could ride on. They basically told us we could ride on any road except for Highways 17 and 101, which ran through the town of Wawa. We could cross the highway, but not ride down the length of it. So, we unloaded our Can-am Outlander, 2-up, and took off riding down a side street which led to a waterfall not far away. We had a blast!! It felt really strange, and a bit naughty, riding down side streets in town, but we had full permission from Canadian law enforcement. We were in for an adventure!

Magpie Falls in Wawa, Ontario
Mission Falls, Wawa, Ontario
Sitting at the base of Mission Falls, Ontario

August is definitely the month for blueberries and we LOVE picking them wild in the Ontario, Canadian bush. Ontario is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise! I find it similar to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but on steroids! The rocky cliffs, higher elevations, and miles upon miles of rivers, lakes and forests take us to new areas of exploration. Then, with the increased possibility of seeing a wolf, moose, or black bear… adrenaline is amped!

The next day, we pulled the trailer down Steep Hill Dam Road, which is off of Highway 17 (Trans-Canadian Highway), to an area northeast of Wawa, parked the van and trailer, and then drove the Can-am down the two tracks until we came to an area that looked like it had burned awhile ago. We saw cars and trucks parked along this rugged two-track, and people were hunched over picking buckets full of blueberries! There were even camper trailers parked off the track with temporary campsites, sometimes several trailers/tents forming their own little campground. We’d never seen anything like it! How they managed to pull 30-foot trailers over some of those steep and rocky inclines… it was an incredible feat!!

We stopped to talk with one of the pickers, and he told us that they were selling these blueberries in town, at various locations and along the highway, and they picked everyday until the blueberry season ended. It must have been a lucrative enterprise for so many people to set up camp and devote all of their time to harvesting those divinely delicious delectables!

*Side-note: After talking with two Canadian gentlemen at Rabbit Blanket Lake Campground in 2019, they educated us on the reason for the “burned out” areas we discovered on our 4-wheeler. Turns out these areas were contaminated by the smelter process of the local mines which killed nearly all of the vegetation. The land is making a comeback and blueberries obviously thrive in burned-out areas. The birch trees are popping up everywhere, along with pine trees… it won’t be too many more years and the trees will dominate, snuffing out the sun that brings life to the berry bushes. The cycle continues…

We had to try some for ourselves… it really is mind-blowing how lightening fast the nerves from our taste buds can relay the sensation of sweet decadence, bringing joy and elation to the brain! Those were the sweetest blueberries we had ever tasted!! And they grew everywhere we looked! We desperately looked for a container we could put these little beauties in and had to resort to empty water bottles. Next time, we would come prepared!

Taking our quad to another destination, this time through Wawa on Highway 101, past Wawa Lake and Helen Mine, we parked the Vandura and trailer, took off on the Can-am exploring the vast Ontario wilderness. We passed blueberry pickers and then found an old railroad track turned ATV trail that took us about 19 miles to the little town of Hawk Junction. The drive is lined with gorgeous Canadian lakes, some with large islands begging to be explored. As the trail took us closer to Hawk Junction, thick aspen and pine forests towered over the sides of the trail and we observed signs of bear that had gorged themselves on blueberries.

(Pictured below is the mother black bear and one cub that we met on the trail to Hawk Junction. This mother was not moving from the trail so we stopped and watched. Phil was able to get some pictures while we waited… some time later, another cub stepped out of the bush on the left. We realized that Momma bear had been waiting for her wandering cub to join them so she could lead her cubs off into the forest, away from us, the intruders.)

Fast forward to the year 2019: We skipped going to Canada in 2018 because we had a wedding to plan 🙂

We were lucky to secure a campsite right on Rabbit Blanket Lake this year, with a short trail that allowed us to carry our kayaks to the water’s edge. We loved the convenience and hope to reserve that site in the future.

Putting our kayaks into Rabbit Blanket Lake and gliding across, we began to follow the interconnecting waterway. After an hour or so of following this waterway and observing chewed branches, mudslides, and the beginning of several dams, we came to an impasse… a full-blown beaver dam. We turned around and started back as the sun was dipping lower into the clear blue sky, and watched as a hawk soared above, swooping in and out of the pines in search of a feathered meal.

The entire three hours that we were out there, we saw all kinds of beaver sign, but not one beaver, until… we made it back into Rabbit Blanket Lake. We saw two mature beavers swimming across the lake and one didn’t like us getting so close to him. He swam right up to Phil’s kayak and SLAP!! That tail hit so hard it sounded like a gunshot! Not wanting to disturb him any longer, we slowly paddled back to our campsite, watching as the stars came out shining, one by one. With no artificial light to “pollute” the night sky, the milky way was so vibrant. I had not seen the milky way that brightly lit in a long, long time.

Phil had just bought my birthday present… a 2019 Polaris Sportsman 570 and I absolutely LOVE IT!! We brought this machine to Canada, along with our kayaks, to enable us to get back into the wilderness where few people have ventured.

We found endless areas for picking our favorite Canadian treat…

After cruising through the quaint little village of Hawk Junction, we stumbled upon an adorable little restaurant that had just re-opened this year named, The Big Bear, that had the BEST BURGERS!

(Phil eating the 1-pound burger while a sweet little 94-year young woman looks on.) We talked to this perky, gorgeous woman, her two daughters and son-in-law and found out that she had owned the Lakeview Hotel in Wawa for many years. Such a beautiful person with an amazing and interesting life… someone should write her memoir!

If you ever find yourself in Wawa, Ontario, be sure to visit the Canadian Tire Company. This local business is a hub of activity and offers everything from tires and basic hardware, to camping supplies and hunting rifles. It has a little bit of everything and not only are the people that work there very helpful, but one never knows the types of characters one could run into at this very valuable Canadian resource!

I had seen this man inside the Canadian Tire store and thought he resembled a bloke straight out of the Canadian “Outback”. Then, I spied his military vehicle, the Iltis (means Polecat in German), and just HAD to get a picture of it. He walked out of the store as I was about to take the picture, so I asked permission and then asked if he would pose with this old war relic. He blushed and said I made him feel like a celebrity. 😀 (The Volkswagen Iltis was German made, then was sold to the Canadian company, Bombardier, which produced them for Canadian and Belgium militaries. Supposedly, this ATV can float if unloaded.)

We had attended the Salmon Derby in Wawa back in 2017 and saw the enormous fish that were caught in the waters nearby. It is quite the festival with food, drink, and different types of contests going on for an entire weekend. I wouldn’t mind coming back in March to experience the activity at their Ice Fishing Derby.

Our Ontario vacation would not be complete without experiencing the sunset over Old Woman Bay. We weren’t able to kayak out there this year, but had in 2017. When she’s calm, she’s a pleasant body of water to kayak, but like any woman, she is unpredictable and can turn into a mighty force of nature!

Old Woman Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario

The rock formation above is said to resemble the face of an “Old Woman”. I’ve seen her appear in the warm, softer light of sunset.

In 2017, we kayaked to the rock formation across from the “Old Woman”, explored and had our lunch. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day, and we SO enjoyed our time spent there!

As you can see from the pictures of our two vacations spent in Ontario, Canada… August is a fantastic time to visit this land of wilderness and water. We are already looking forward to our next adventure in this pristine country…

Many thanks to the wonderful Canadian people we met along the way for sharing their insights and welcoming us to their beautiful country!

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