Bits and Bites of Everyday Life


How I spent my summer holiday,

Exploring the land, exploring words

“Explore. Dream. Discover.”
(Isaac Walton)
“Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.”(Isaac Walton)
True North Perspective

Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

Yes, Kathy! I finally did it. I went on vacation… on a trip I had been yearning to do for almost twenty years… From August 16th to the 22nd, I discovered the beauty of the Georgian Bay, Lake Superior, Sault Ste. Marie area. It just came about spontaneously when my friend, Françoise, told me she was going on an organized trip in that area. As I confessed my desire to travel there but lack of opportunity, she called the local organizer of the trip who promptly gave me the details and advised there were just a few seats left. Shortly after, I booked with Groupe Voyages Québec.

The morning of August 16th, we joined the La Tuque, Trois-Rivières and Drummondville groups in Cornwall where we had lunch at the Peppermills Restaurant. As we later headed down the 401, Annette (our organizer) asked me if I would agree to trade places and sit with the lady in front of me so she and her husband could move forward from the last seat at the back of the bus. My front-seat neighbour from Drummondville had no objection that I sit with her. And unbeknownst to Annette, she had matched me with a charming lady who would become my “soul sister” during the trip. Born and raised in Switzerland in a farming community, Lise Robert later married a farmer, raised five children and adopted two more. At age fifty, when the couple realized some of their children were interested in farming, they concluded they had to expand. Canada became an appealing option so, after visiting Québec, they decided to purchase a farm in the Baie-du-Febvre area, near Drummondville… On this first leg of our trip, Lise and I discovered just how much we had in common.
The Toronto traffic didn’t phase us; we had an excellent driver who could navigate smoothly and safely through heavy traffic. And besides, we were too busy getting to know one another or listening to Bob, our tour guide. It was getting late when we arrived in Barrie and headed over to Georgian Downs for dinner at the OLG Casino. I introduced my new friend to my long-time buddy, Françoise and her travel partner, Mrs. Loiselle.
Our overnight stay at the Days Inn in Barrie was a welcome respite. I had brought with me “The Year of the Rabbit” written by a dear friend who recently published her first novel under the pen name, Florence T Lyon. Theresa (her real name) was raised in the Georgian Bay area. Her novel, set in the fictitious town of Simcoe, paints a very true-to-life picture of what it’s like to grow up in a small community where neighbours constantly interact, know each others’ business and yet, keep the dirty secrets under cover for fear of disturbing the peace or creating dissent among community members. After reading a few pages before going to bed, I looked forward to visiting Midland and the Georgian Bay area.
The next day, we visited the Martyrs’ Shrine with its beautiful, multicultural grounds that honour the work of the first missionaries in Huronia and saints from other parts of the world. Built in 1926, after the beatification of the Martyrs, the impressive structure whose wooden interior ceiling looks like an overturned canoe contains relics of some of those martyrs. The beautifully groomed grounds once visited by Pope John Paul II are a joy to behold with their magnificent flowerbeds, statues of the missionaries, the way of the cross, blessed members of the aboriginal communities of that time such as Kateri Tekakwitha and more. I remember reading Kateri’s life when I was in primary school. Leaving her own people in order to pursue a Catholic life of prayer and penance, and caring for the sick and the elderly seemed like a huge sacrifice for such a young woman. That she died at age 24 impressed me and spurred my curiosity. (I was attracted by aboriginal stories, not knowing then there was an aboriginal heritage in my father’s family.) Our next stop was Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. I had dreamed of one day visiting this site since, as an elementary school teacher, I had taught history classes relating to those times.
Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was an eye opener! Set up in 1639, along the shores of Georgian Bay, by French Jesuits and lay workers, it became Ontario’s first missionary community and only lasted ten years, after which it was abandoned. The fortified village contained two sections: the French quarters, complete with chapel, the Jesuit residence, houses, hospital, shops such as the blacksmith’s and carpenter’s, kitchen, granary, stable… and of course, the Wendat village that featured longhouses and gardens. The Huron-Wendats were good traders and skillful farmers who cultivated corn, beans, squash and sunflowers. They were also hunters and fishermen. This allowed them a more sedentary life that allowed them to build longhouses that usually accommodated six families (30-40 people). The village was protected by a fence of upright poles with a gate and observation decks.
Their society was well-organized and responsibilities well-defined between men and women. Cooperation, respect and generosity were tantamount to their courage and devotion to their clan. The chief and the shamans played a very important role in their society. While the male shaman was usually the healer and interpreter, the female shaman dealt more with witchcraft and sorcery. Shamans, male and female, were highly respected and highly paid.
What struck me during this visit was the courage and resourcefulness of these people, French and aboriginal, but also the precarious quality of life during those times. I must admit I would not have fared well living in one of those longhouses during long winters that were even harsher than our present day ones. And within those cramped living spaces is it any wonder that germs and epidemics spread as quickly as wildfire and killed so many?
At the restaurant, we enjoyed the famous corn soup “Sagamité” and a delicious lunch. Our next stop was certainly of a different nature: a stop at the very popular and very hip Wasaga Beach. Lise and I took off our sandals and waded in the water, all the while marveling at the impressive expanse of water and beach. We then drove up to Tobermory and settled at the Coach Inn Resort where our German hostess made us feel welcome and fed us well. That night, I read more pages of “The Year of the Rabbit” and reflected on events that can change the course of your life in very little time: disease, abuse (physical and mental), having to leave your home or hometown or losing a dear friend. I could identify with young Sera, a precocious child, who finds her changing situation very bewildering and takes refuge in books.
The next morning, we boarded the Blue Heron V in Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Lake Huron from Georgian Bay, and left for a cruise in the Fanthom Five Marine Park area where the water is so clear that you can spot an old shipwreck with the naked eye. We went up to Flowerpot Island and observed the interesting coastal rock formations and the crystal-clear waters of Georgian Bay… a truly beautiful area. We then left Tobermory to board the M/S Chi-Cheemaun with our tour bus on our way to Manitoulin Island. We enjoyed lunch, all the while taking in the scenery and walking the decks afterwards during the hour and 45-minutes crossing that would take us to South Baymouth. A continuation of the Bruce Peninsula and Niagara Escarpment, the island has four major rivers flowing through rolling land and 108 freshwater lakes. Bob, our tour guide who constantly shared an amazing amount of information, told us the Manitoulin Wikwemikong Indian Reserve is sovereign and proudly governs its own lands which are well kept.
We crossed over the bridge to Highway 17, on route to Sault Ste. Marie where we would be dining and sleeping at the Comfort Suites and Conference Centre. My thoughts then were of the sheer beauty and diversity of our country, of the breathtaking landscapes that have inspired so many artists. Blessed with good weather, we were able to savour each moment of this trip. Lise and I shared our thoughts along the journey and discussed everyday life. Sault Ste. Marie finally appeared with its neat suburban look, well-kept city parks and sports facilities, shopping malls and restaurants. We passed some of the Algoma Steel Company buildings before arriving at our newly renovated hotel where a gorgeous suite awaited.
The next morning, we crossed over to the American side in Michigan and headed for the Soo Locks, connecting Lakes Superior and Huron. The largest in the United States, they are operated by the U.S. Army Corps and Engineers. They lower or raise ships twenty-one feet between the upper and lower levels of St. Mary’s River. Our cruise was quite an enjoyable experience as I had never been through a lock system before. There, we had a beautiful view of the Mackinac Bridge which spans approximately 5 miles.
After the cruise, we left for St. Ignace where we would board another ferry boat to Mackinac Island, once called Michilimackinac (place of the great turtle) by the Native Americans. The island has been under an automobile ban since 1898 so horse-drawn carriages took us from the dock to the famous Grand Hotel where we would dine in style. After lunch, there was time to stroll along the magnificent flowerbeds of the hotel grounds. We joked about having walked the red carpet at least once in our life! On the island, tourists will often choose to travel on a bicycle, in a horse-drawn taxi or just walk. In order to visit the state park, we hopped onto another horse-drawn carriage that took us along winding pathways; we passed the museum, the cemetery and went on to Arch Rock. Rising 146 feet above the water, it was carved by wind and water and offers a magnificent view of the beach below. We came back to the main streets where it was time to shop. The area is well known for its fudge. I bought the coconut-walnut variety while enjoying a refreshing root beer. The area is also known for its lilac trees so I purchased some lilac-scented body lotion for my daughter.
Later, we returned to St. Ignace by ferry boat and settled at the Best Western Harbour Pointe Lakefront hotel. This time, dinner was a pleasant outdoor BBQ. Lise and I decided to take a walk afterwards and share some more life stories. Having lost our spouses to cancer, Lise and I reminisced and shared the pain of losing our loved one. We also discussed the subsequent challenges of this unexpected turn of events and how it has impacted our lives and that of our family.
The next day, we visited Frankenmuth, a truly Bavarian town. Lise and Yvon Proulx, neighbours of my friend Lise, were celebrating their 45th anniversary on that day. During lunch at the Bavarian Inn, the accordion player offered a special anniversary song for the occasion. It was a heartwarming moment! A special visit to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland store made us feel like little children again. I had never seen so many Christmas ornaments in my entire life. That afternoon, we also shopped at the nearby German Village Shops. Lise and I were like school girls! We tried on some clothes, bought some tops and scarves, souvenirs and special mugs to commemorate Lise and Yvon’s anniversary. When it started raining, we returned to the Bavarian Inn and its underground shops. We bought jewelry to wear that evening for dinner at Zhenders where we showered our anniversary couple with love and our special gifts. Lise and I went back to the German Village Shops that evening before heading over to the Bavarian Inn Lodge for rest, relaxation and a good night’s sleep.
The last leg of our trip took us to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, a truly amazing place that houses not only cars but all types of machinery and household items. As their flyer says: Henry Ford Museum is filled with history that inspires, history that tells stories of men and women whose vision and courage changed the world around them.
So as we settled in at the Quality Hotel and Suites in Woodstock for our last night, I pondered these words from Rainer Maria Rilke: “There is only one journey: going inside yourself.” I had the opportunity to do just that while discovering a beautiful part of Ontario and the neighbouring American state of Michigan and sharing with wonderful people this special journey. I thank my friend Lise for sharing the journey with me and for listening. Special thanks to our tour guide, Bob, for providing such detailed information of every place we visited, to our skilled driver and to everyone who shared this adventure.
P.S.  To Theresa, I really enjoyed “The Year of the Rabbit”!



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