Wawa Ontario Tuesday Sept 9
Prior travel habits are returning. Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park opens at 8 AM. We parked the car in the lot and our time stamped parking receipt said 8:07 AM. We were the first ones at the falls. Lucky move since the sky was mainly sunny until about 10:30 AM.
There is a hydro power plant on the river here. It began in 1906. Under an agreement, the power company maintains a minimum flow over the falls from late May to mid-October. The weekend flow is twice the flow on weekdays like today.
Even though we were here 42 years ago, the only thing I truly remembered was the name. The falls are loud and powerful. The Kaministiquia River feeds the falls which are the second highest in Ontario; Niagara Falls are 13 meters higher.
We were able to spend 90 minutes here observing the falls from various vantage points and hiking along the path the voyageurs used to reach western Canada. This portage trail was in operation before the shorter Grand Portage trail was used and then again after 1803 when Grand Portage was shut down due to the U.S. – Canadian boundary being placed north of Grand Portage (see yesterdays blog). Obviously Kakabeka Falls could not be canoed so a short but steep portage was required. The voyageur carried 180 pounds of goods when portaging. From here the voyageur ventured up to Hudson’s Bay, to U.S. Rocky Mountains, and to western Canada.
From Kakabeka we ventured to Fort William, a historical re-creation of the original North West Company fort. Fort William is modeled after the real fort as it existed in 1816; a peak period when 200,000 pounds of furs were shipped through here to Montreal for sale to Europe. We took a 90 minute guided tour of the site.
There were two rival fur trading companies in Canada. The North West Company and the more established Hudson’s Bay Company. Hudson Bay using the northern Hudson’s Bay route to the trade in western Canada; the North West Company using the St. Lawrence River, Ottawa River and Lake Superior.
Two sets of voyageurs were involved. One type collected the furs from out west, using birch bark canoes, trading European goods like iron kettles and blankets for beaver, wolf, muskrat, weasel, squirrel etc pelts. A second type of voyageur in larger canoes transported the dried, dressed and packed pelts to Montreal via Lake Superior. I think it was a 6-8 week journey from here to Montreal. During the summer, the two groups summered here as goods were bartered and pelts dried,etc. A final party, the Rendezvous, was held in August before each group ventured back to its destination.
The Ojibwe, as at Grand Portage, were an integral part of this process and spent part of each summer year as the trading occurred. During the winter months, a small remainder of people kept the fort maintained. At Fort William, the commander was a physician (not quite a medical doctor) who ran the fort and dispensed medical care. Part of the voyageurs contract included free “medical” care for teeth, foot infections, and other ailments.
The fort was responsible for making canoes, keeping records, preparing pelts, feeding and keeping the peace among the voyageurs, etc. In 1821 it was closed as the Hudson’s Bay Company took over the North West Company. The two companies had been bitter rivals, part of that rivalry was most intense along the Red River of the North. Skirmishes from that area led to battles and court challenges that weakened both companies, leading to the merger.
We left Fort William as the skies became grayer. We made one quick stop on the northeast side of Thunder Bay to the Terry Fox memorial. Terry Fox was a young Canadian man from British Columbia diagnosed with cancer. At age 18 in 1980 with one leg amputated, he began a quest to run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research. He ran the equivalent of a 26 mile marathons each day from April until June (143 days) when recurring cancer forced him to quit just outside Thunder Bay. He died in 1982 after his remarkable effort gained nationwide attention and large sums for research. There is a memorial to him here along a stretch of the Trans Canada Highway named the Terry Fox Courage Highway.
The drive to Wawa is along the Trans Canada Highway. The scenery is Lake Superior, rivers, lakes, forests, and rock. It seemed to us that every bridge between Thunder Bay and Marathon, a distance of 184 miles, was under construction. Since most of the road is a two lane highway, this results in multiple stops as only one direction can use the lane of the bridge in operation while the other side is being constructed.
We made two brief stops before arrival in Wawa around 8 pm. The first was at Aguasabon River Gorge to observe the river’s waterfall on its way to Lake Superior. The second was in White River Ontario to take a picture of the statue commemorating Winnie the Pooh. In 1914 a Winnipeg soldier on his way to WWI stopped in White River where he purchased a small black bear cub. He ended up donating it, naming the bear Winnie after his hometown, to the London Zoo where it was watched by author A.A. Milne and his son Christopher. The book Winnie the Pooh stems from this bear.
Ed and Chris Sept. 9 late (Boy you really appreciate high speed internet when you don’t have it. Internet tonight is not as slow as last night but still 4-5 minutes for one picture to upload. The video of the falls just may have to wait until another day–Added WEd. morning.)
Fall color update: An isolated group of leaves