The Beauty of Lake Huron
Ontario - Sunday, September 14th, 2014
Day six of the great Waterloo region RV trip found us awakening in Falls Reserve Conservation Area under blue skies and calm winds. We decided to look for a place to have breakfast and headed toward Goderich and came across the Dunlop Motel which was just outside Goderich in what had once been the hamlet of Dunlop. I remembered the name of Dunlop as a placename on older maps of Ontario, but now there was just a few buildings and no sign that this place had ever been more than just a crossroads.
Just down the road we came across Flippin’ Eggs which had just opened. It has no website and is so new that there are no reviews on TripAdvisor, but believe me if you are a hungry man looking for a big breakfast this place to go. I have never seen Dale defeated by an excess of food, but this morning he could not finish his Lumberjack special that included three eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, home fries, toast, French toast and a huge pancake. I settled for the traditional breakfast which also included three eggs – I guess in rural Southern Ontario it’s a tradition to crack open that third egg. We weren’t complaining because the prices were very reasonable.
Returning to the RV we used the map Napier had drawn us the night before to check out how far it was from the campsite to the rails to trails. The map turned out to be completely accurate in all respects – Napier there’s a second career in cartography awaiting you if you get tired of the tourism business. It was three kms. from the campsite to the trail and as we knew we had a lot of cycling today so we decided to put the bikes in the RV and drive to the trail head. Napier was going to drive us back here at the end of the day.
We started out on the Goderich to Auburn Trail or G.A.R.T. Once again ATV’s and dirt bikes were sensibly banned although we did come across an old guy (who am I to talk?) in a golf cart with an equally ancient dog.
Just after starting out we came across this sign where a railway station had once stood and up to twenty trains a day stopped to deliver and pick up passengers and produce. Now it was just forest, nature having reclaimed the site without man’s help.
The bikes that Napier had lent us were fantastic, certainly the best bikes we have ever ridden, with front suspension and disc brakes. They were made for speed. It wasn’t long before we were both tearing along the well maintained trail at at least thirty kms. per hour which explains why we came to the Tiger Dunlop Trail just a short time after starting out.
William ‘Tiger’ Dunlop is a legendary, though very real character in this part of Ontario and considering he has the same name as me, my father and my grandfather, he has always been a figure of great interest to me. In fact, I keep a book on his life and times in my office. Getting up close and personal with Tiger in his own backyard has always been number one on my list of reasons for visiting the Goderich area. From Napier’s map I knew that the site of Tiger’s home and his burial place were located just off this trail and sure enough we saw this sign.
There is something impressive about the word ‘tomb’. Most people just get a grave, but Tiger warrants a tomb and after reading this interpretive panel I had to agree. Tiger started out as an army surgeon where he first treated wounded soldiers in the War of 1812. He got his nickname for his reknown as a tiger hunter during a stint in India before returning to this part of Canada as an agent for the newly established Canada Company. He was almost single handedly responsible for settlement of this part of Ontario including the founding of Goderich and constructing a road from Guelph to Lake Huron.
We were standing on a high hill with a magnificent view of the Maitland River and Goderich in the distance. This was the site of Tiger’s colonial mansion, Gairbraid, now long gone and is now his final resting place.
Tiger never married so he has no descendants, although I would be proud to claim descent from such an illustrious ancestor. R.I.P. Tiger Dunlop.
Continuing on we soon came a view of Goderich and the Maitland River that was even better than that from Dunlop Hill.
The good people of Goderich had the great foresight to prevent the huge railway bridge that crosses the Maitland River just outside of town from being torn down after the railway ceased to operate. In my experience this is the exception and not the rule as the railways are very leery of liability issues with old bridges that are not maintained. Yesterday we had an example when we had to make a significant detour on the Kissing Bridge Trail because the bridge over the Conestogo River was demolished. Once the longest railway bridge in Ontario the Menesetung Bridge as it is called makes for a spectacular entrance to Goderich and I am grateful to the people whose names are carved into the bridge for their wisdom in preserving this engineering marvel.
Needless to say there are great panoramas from both sides of the bridge. This is the Maitland River as it nears its end at Lake Huron. Right beside it, but not in the picture is the Maitland River Golf Course where we could see people enjoying a round of golf hundreds of feet below.
Here is the view looking toward Goderich Harbour and the Sifto Salt Mine at the entrance.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Goderich, which goes by the moniker Canada’s Prettiest Town. That’s a lot to live up to, but writing this after having spent the better part of a day in Goderich I think they make a good case for it. The town is really divided into two distinct parts, the lower harbour and port area with beaches and a park and the upper town which sits high on a bluff and has been laid out in a radial pattern from a central square in the European fashion rather than the more familiar rectilinear plan by which the vast majority of North American towns are designed. We decided to head straight down to the waterfront first where we were both anxious to get a close up look at the second largest Great Lake and the fourth largest in the world, although I think that’s a bit unfair since whoever decides these things has determined that the Caspian Sea is really a lake and so gets the No. 1 spot. On the descent from Menesetung Bridge we passed a patch of ornamental jewelweed which is really an invasive species that is very aggressive in driving out native plants like the true jewelweed which is yellow and is often called Touch-Me-Not – still it is pretty, if maleficent.
I had not laid eyes on Lake Huron, except from a plane, since I was a child when we would visit Georgian Bay from our home just outside of Sudbury. While Georgian Bay is justly famous for its thousands of islands, I really knew nothing about what the tourism signs were now calling Ontario’s West Coast a.k.a. Huron County. For example, I had no idea that there is a salt mine right at the entrance to the harbour. And this is no ordinary salt mine, it is the largest in the world. The old expression of being ‘sent to the salt mines’ takes on a new meaning in Goderich where it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, especially if you get to spend your time off exploring the area.
Almost right beside the salt mine, the beaches start and despite the huge industrial site the water is safe to swim in. I know this because that is exactly what Dale did once we got to the shore.
I spent my time just looking out over the waters of Lake Huron which had many hues from green, to aqua to royal blue.
This is the view of the Goderich waterfront park from a small breakwater that extends out into the lake. As you can see the area is completely uncommercialized and remains a place of beauty and reflection.
You can really get the idea from this photograph I borrowed from the Goderich website.
Once Dale returned from his swim we road our bikes up the steep hill to the town proper, at least Dale did; I walked mine once my legs gave out half way up. It was a hot morning and although we were still full from the monstrous breakfast at Flippin’ Eggs, we stopped into the historic Park House Restaurant which has a lovely location right beside Harbour Park. It also has its own great little flower garden. We took a seat outside on the patio and I immediately regretted not being hungry because they were offering perch tacos, something that we would never get at home. There was also pickerel on the menu, my favourite fresh water fish, but alas those three eggs made sure I wouldn’t be hungry for hours. Instead we each sipped an ultra cold Mill Street Brewery Organic Ale and waited for the perspiration to subside after our climb up from the waterfront.
We had a couple of hours before we were to meet Napier at his home and bike to Bayfield so we set out to explore the town. All I can say is that Goderich has some of the nicest homes, parks and gardens in any town of a comparable size. Despite being nearly razed by a horrific tornado in 2011, Goderich today bears no sign that I could see of this terrible event. There is a sense of civic pride that comes through very clearly in the overall feel of the place. Here is a gallery of photos that I took while exploring the town.
We still had a half hour before meeting Napier and I saw a sticker on West Street Willy’s restaurant indicating that it had been featured on You Gotta Eat Here, one of the few shows I can abide on the Food Network. Host John Catucci has a blast as he visits and cooks in lesser known restaurants that are tall on good food and usually easy on the wallet. I couldn’t resist, so we went in and sat at the bar and talked to the barkeep who said that the crew from the food show had been there just a few weeks earlier and that they were most interested in the breakfast menu which had some pretty wild things on it like Red Velvet pancakes. Unfortunately breakfast was no longer being served so we settled on the next best thing, breakfast of champions – beer. Here’s a link to the TV show (sorry about the commercials). These guys need to get a website!
I’ve always wanted to live in a house that has a name; it seems to add a little something extra that a plain old civic number just doesn’t do. Napier Simpson is lucky – his house has a name, Wellesley House and it’s pretty darn nice. Napier was waiting for us and we were soon off cycling the back streets of Goderich until we reached busy Highway 21 which we were only on for a short while until Bluewater Beach Road which we took not to the beach, but left to Orchard Line Road which we could follow all the way to Bayfield.
Orchard Line is not a busy road and most of the time we could safely cycle three abreast as Napier pointed out various things along the route and we discussed life in general while keeping up a good pace. There was a good combination of open country where we faced a steady headwind and forest where we were shaded and out of the wind. The closer we got to Bayfield the more hilly the terrain, but there were no really serious up and downs. The most interesting site were these Texas longhorn cattle that according to a small sign on their fence had been former rodeo steers in the Calgary Stampede. Now they were retired and enjoying the good life without fear of cowboys or the abattoir.
We descended into Bayfield after about two hours of good riding through pastoral country with no towns or even hamlets along the way. We did stop for ice cream at a berry farm.
Bayfield is one those places that is so impossibly pretty that it almost, but not quite, appears Disneyfied. Unlike Goderich, Bayfield is strictly a tourist centre focused around one main street that has a number of interesting buildings and businesses including the Little Inn which was particularly beckoning. Most notably there were no bloody chain restaurants serving up their puerile crap. Instead there was a goodly number of what appeared to be nice restaurants, well patronized by a clearly tony clientele.
After returning our bikes to Outside Projects who I have to thank for letting us ride these excellent machines, we went across the street to the Black Dog Pub & Bistro. By now I was hungry, but first we had to choose one of the twenty beers on tap – tough decision! Napier went for the high powered Affligem Abbey Blond from Belgium, Dale for the Scottish Innis & Gunn while I stuck to Ontario with Beau’s Lug Tread. I don’t think there were any bad choices that we could make. We split an order of P.E.I. mussels prepared in a coconut curry which were quite good, although I have definitely noticed that P.E.I. mussels seemed to be getting smaller every year. Whether you get them at a restaurant or buy them from the grocer they just aren’t as big and juicy as they were ten years ago. I don’t know if this is because they harvest them sooner than before or what, but I wish the trend would stop.
For my main I had the Huron County burger with smoked gouda, back bacon, fried onions and maple mustard. Absolutely delicious as were the fries. As far away from a Big Mac as you could get.
You might think that we had done enough for one day, but the best was yet to come – a sunset cruise on Lake Huron. We were taken by van to a marina at the mouth of the Bayfield River where we met up with Napier’s wife and went on board the thirty four foot Beneteau 331 where the husband and wife team of Chris Thatcher and Lorraine Foster operated Sail Huron with their boat, Stir Crazy.
In no time we backed out of the mooring spot and on out through the tiny entrance to Bayfield harbour where well wishers on the wharf waved to us as if they knew something we didn’t. I couldn’t help but notice the sunken boat just off of Bayfield Beach and wondered if it had set out under such benign conditions as well.
Lorraine took the helm as Chris pulled up the sails. Thankfully all we were expected to do was watch, which I’m really good at.
At first it seemed like there was going to be no wind and we would simply sit there just offshore, but gradually the wind picked up and we were soon really sailing. Dale went to the front of the boat for where he showed his dexterity by not tripping over the ropes and other paraphernalia that inevitably would have caught me up. I just hung on to the railing with one hand and a beer in the other.
The whole purpose of this excursion was to see the sun set over Lake Huron, which I heard from several people was the second best in the world. Seriously? If you beat out everyone else but one, why not just claim to be No. 1? Who’s going to know the difference?
Looking toward the west I could see faint clouds on the horizon so whether or not we would actually get to see the sun set was going to be iffy. Still it was great being on the water and kind of weird to me not to have the smell of salt air on the nostrils.
The sunset was scheduled for just after 8:00 and about fifteen minutes before then the sun began to break through the cloud layer.
With five minutes to go it was looking really good.
But at the last minute the clouds came back.
But it was still pretty spectacular.
Amazingly, looking east instead of west, the sky was still blue and the moon was clearly visible. It’s hard to believe, but this picture was taken after the one above.
On the way back to the marina I had a chat with Chris and Lorraine and found out that they spend the winters RVing. This year they are doing the American southwest, but previously have been to Australia, New Zealand and the American south. Talk about a great life!
Napier drove us back to the SUV via some back roads that got us there a lot quicker than I would have. We thanked him for arranging a truly great visit to Ontario’s West Coast and we promised to return.
Despite the fact we had been up since six we still had time for one last campfire to reminisce about our great day. Goodbye from Huron County.
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