Agawa Canyon: From Rail to Trail

After enjoying a nice family hike along the Attikamek Trail in Sault Ste. Marie, the next day we took a rail excursion from Sault Ste. Marie to Agawa Canyon Park. Agawa Canyon has been on our list of destinations to visit for a while. We were so glad to make it happen.

Getting There

The Agawa Canyon Park is only accessible by hiking trail or the Algoma Central Railway, and is located 186 km or 114 rail miles north west of Sault Ste. Marie. We take the Agawa Canyon tour train that departs from Sault Ste. Marie at 8 am and arrives back in Sault Ste. Marie around 6 pm.

Agawa Canyon Park location
Agawa Canyon Park location (red marker)

About Agawa Canyon

Agawa Canyon was created more than 1.2 billion years ago by faulting along the Canadian Shield. A series of ice ages subsequently widened and reshaped the Canyon over a period of 1.5 million years with the last ice age retreating about 10,000 years ago. The word Agawa is native Ojibway for “shelter”.

The Sault Ste. Marie visitor guide provides a map of three nature trails in the Agawa Canyon Park. They are the Lookout Trail, River Trail, and Talus Trail. We hike the River Trail and the Talus Trail for the three waterfalls in the park. The Lookout Trail is closed on the day of our visit. The trails are well maintained and are covered in fine gravel.

The Train Ride

Rarely is the journey as rewarding as the destination, but the Agawa Canyon train ride is truly an exception. The train is outfitted with large tinted windows and comfortable seats to watch the ever-changing and breathtaking Northern Ontario landscapes. The train ticket includes a $10 voucher that we can use for food and drinks in the dining car.

Spruce Lake
Spruce Lake

We drink in the beautiful scenery as the train hugs the shores of northern lakes and rivers, crosses towering trestles, and passes by mixed forests that turn red, purple, gold and yellow in the fall.

Autumn foliage
Autumn foliage towards Lake Superior

We also listen to a GPS-triggered audio commentary about key points of interest and the rich history of the region. When we can peel our eyes away from the window, the train has locomotive-mounted cameras that provide an engineer’s “eye-view” via flat screen monitors installed throughout the coaches.

A view from our window on the Agawa Canyon train
A view from our window on the Agawa Canyon train

The Weather

The weather changes frequently during our train ride, from overcast, to partly cloudy, to light snow flurries at high elevation, to partly sunny as the train starts its descent into the canyon at Mile 102 and full sunshine by the time we reach the canyon floor at Mile 114.

Light dusting of snow
Light dusting of snow at high elevation
Train arrival at Agawa Canyon Park
Full sunshine upon train arrival at Agawa Canyon Park

The River Trail

Upon arriving at the Agawa Canyon Park, we start our hike on the River Trail which gently rolls along the banks of the Agawa River. The strong sunlight quickly melts the thin layer of snow. The trail glows and smells fresh as if it just received a spa treatment.

Autumn colours by the Agawa River
Autumn colours by the Agawa River

We walk about twenty minutes, enjoy the trail and the vibrant autumn colours along the river before reaching the beautiful Bridal Veils Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park.

View along the River Trail
View along the River Trail

We see many white birch trees with their golden leaves and mountain ash trees with their red fruits that accentuate the landscape.

Mountain ash
Mountain ash

The water flow at all the falls in the canyon is contingent on runoff from snow and rainfall. We luck out that Bridal Veil Falls at 68.5m (225 ft.) are running strong. The Agawa River is the calm and reflective barrier that holds us back from getting closer to the falls.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls at 68.5 m (225 ft)

The Talus Trail

From the River Trail, we walk about fifteen minutes to reach the Talus Trail which follows along the base of the west canyon wall. This trail leads us past lichen covered talus slopes to the viewing platforms at North and South Black Beaver Falls.

The Talus Trail
The Talus Trail

We can hear the rushing sounds of water before reaching the viewing platforms. Black Beaver Falls at 53.3 m (175 ft) are also running strong and look so beautiful with the surrounding autumn foliage. We respect the Caution sign to keep off the rocks.

North Black Beaver Falls
North Black Beaver Falls
South Black Beaver Falls
South Black Beaver Falls

Clouds roll in and out while we pass bridges, creeks and waterfalls to return to the train. Altogether we walk 5 km and enjoy every minute of the hike in Agawa Canyon Park.

On our way back to Sault Ste. Marie, we get to see the spectacular landscapes again from our train windows. Everyone is wide-eyed to take in as much as possible the pristine beauty of Canada’s rugged wilderness.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Hiking the Attikamek Trail

I’m co-hosting the Wellness Wednesday November 13th link up with my blogger friend, Leslie. The optional prompt is Healthy Holidays so in this post I’m sharing a hike that my family and I did during our mini-vacation in Sault Ste. Marie, a city on the shore of the St Marys River connecting Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (green marker)

About the Attikamek Trail

The Attikamek Trail is located at the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site of Canada, easily reached from the city centre. It’s 2.2 km long (1.4 miles) on flat terrain. Attikamek means white fish.

Hiking the Attikamek Trail

We started from the Sault Ste. Marie Canal gate, crossed the lock, and followed an accessible pathway onto south St. Marys Island. The weather was overcast, cool, and calm without any wind so it felt quite comfortable for an outdoor hike.

Looking towards the International Bridge
The Attikamek trail is on the left in this photo.

We soon entered the packed gravel trail path, surrounded by autumn foliage, from green to various shades of yellow and red. Part of the trail let us walk under the International Bridge, built in 1962.

Attikamek Trail

The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge spans the St. Marys River between the United States and Canada, connecting the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie

We stopped by St. Marys Rapids to listen to the sounds of the water and watched a few dedicated fishermen patiently waiting for a good catch. The packed gravel and leaf-laden trail then turned into a wide wooden boardwalk with lovely views on both sides.

Boardwalk

A flock of small birds happily greeted us at the boardwalk. They had light yellow and some black feathers. I think they’re warblers. Can you see a bird blended in with the berries in the centre of the photo below?

We enjoyed the calm reflection of autumn foliage, woods, and wetlands in the river. A family of ducks lazily swam along while other ducks were just watching us.

Autumn reflections
Ducks

Further along the trail, we found a few beaver dams but no beaver in sight since they usually work at night. What looks like a heap of branches is protection against their predators and gives them access to food during winter.

A beaver dam
A beaver dam

At the end of the Attikamek trail we reached the Sault Ste. Marie lock and walked around to examine how it works. The lock operation to raise or lower vessels that go from Lake Huron to Lake Superior is fascinating and deserves a separate blog post.

Looking towards the Locks
The lock is behind the white bridge at the end of the photo.

It was a nice short hike on a calm afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie. Altogether we walked about 3 km (1.8 miles) and experienced the wonder of quiet woods and wetlands. Happy trails!

Click here to join the Wellness Wednesday link-up and share your health goal updates or healthy holiday ideas.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Have you heard about the Float’em Garden?

During my stay in Tofino, I walked along the main streets in the village and discovered the Float’em Garden. I thought I’d share the artist’s message and the story behind the objects in the garden with my blog readers.

About the Float’em Garden

The Float’em Garden is located along the sidewalk on Third Street between Campbell Street and Main Street in Tofino. It’s an outdoor public art installation comprised of eleven individual assemblages made entirely from marine debris. Pete Clarkson, the artist and a park warden, has been creating his unique marine debris art since 2000. The Float’em Garden was opened in June 2018.

Art from recycled marine debris

Sea Chimes by Pete Clarkson
Sea Chimes by Pete Clarkson
Plastic Water by Pete Clarkson
Plastic Water by Pete Clarkson
From Sea to Tree and Little Bear by Pete Clarkson
From Sea to Tree and Little Bear by Pete Clarkson

Message from Pete Clarkson

Here’s an excerpt from Pete Clarkson’s message inscribed at the Float’em Garden:

I hope you’ll take a moment in this spectacular place to enjoy the Float’em Garden, and consider your own role in the marine debris story. As these objects remind us, there’s no longer an ‘away’ when we throw things away. Everywhere is somewhere, and the ocean is downstream of everything. The daily decisions we make – what we buy, what we throw away, what we value and support – can add up to a chorus of positive action. Let your actions show how much you care. We can all make a difference!

I find the Float’em Garden art installations visually interesting and the message behind the marine debris thought-provoking. It’s a good reminder that we are all connected and we need to reduce waste that is harmful to our environment.

Practicing the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)

My family and I have made a diligent effort to practice the 3Rs in our day-to-day living. We follow our municipal waste reduction movement and help keep items out of landfill. Some of the actions that we’ve taken:

  • Borrow books or DVDs from public libraries.
  • Buy locally-grown fresh produce as much as possible.
  • Cook and eat most of our meals at home with no food waste.
  • Donate clothes and linen to recycling organizations.
  • Put recycling, organics, and garbage into the right bins. Blue bin for recycling, green bin for organics, and black bin for garbage in our city.
  • Read or subscribe online for news and community event notifications.
  • Re-purpose cookie tins and glass jars for storage.
  • Trade in old items when purchase their replacements (where trade-in is offered).
  • Use refillable water bottles.
  • Use reusable bags for grocery shopping.

We shop consciously, plan ahead, buy only what we need, and consider the impact of packaging when making purchases.

I wonder to what degree Pete Clarkson’s message and similar environmental reminders affect consumers’ shopping habits, especially around the holidays when people tend to have more purchases and more social gatherings.

How does the marine debris story from the Float’em Garden affect your shopping habits? How well is waste managed in your city? I’d love to hear your comments.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Hiking the Tonquin Trail

One afternoon during my stay in Tofino, a solo traveller named Anna from Chicago, approached me to ask if I knew of any nearby hiking trail. It so happened that I was heading out to explore the Tonquin Trail myself so we went together.

From Tofino village centre, we followed the sign to the Tonquin Trail Connector, and walked about 1.2 km before reaching the Tonquin Trail trailhead. We passed by old growth forest, a small wetland, and a few small creeks.

Tonquin Trail Network

Once we entered the Tonquin Trail, we were surrounded with beautiful tall trees and shrubs. It was September and after the recent rainfall, the forest was lush, looking fresh, and smelling fresh. The trail path was sand mixed with gravel, fairly easy to walk on.

Tonquin Trail outbound

Amid the greenery, I spotted some Canadian bunchberry plants, native to this part of Canada. Their bright red fruits are edible to humans.

The Tonquin Trail is about 1.2 km long. It took us about twenty minutes to reach the wooden staircase that leads to Tonquin Beach. We could hear the soft sounds of the ocean before reaching the end of the staircase.

A wide sandy beach with islands in the horizon greeted us. The expansive views were incredible. The sea water was shimmering in the sunlight. The natural thing to do was to inhale deeply and exhale slowly and savour this beautiful environment.

Tonquin Beach to the north
Tonquin Beach to the north

We sat on the rocks and basked in the warm sunshine for a while before walking along the beach to check out the driftwood and look for seashells. There were a handful of other people at the beach, quietly enjoyed the moment.

Tonquin Beach to the south
Tonquin Beach to the south

Although the trail signage warned us about wildlife such as bears, cougars and wolves, the only wildlife we saw on our way back were a few Pacific banana slugs. They looked long and healthy with brown blotches all over their yellow body.

It was a nice short hike on a beautiful afternoon in Tofino. Altogether we did about 5 km return trip (just over 3 miles). Nature recharged me and gave me new energy. I looked forward to exploring other trails in the area. Happy trails!

Tonquin Trail

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

On Nature’s Edge in Tofino

After having a wonderful time in Victoria, I took the Vancouver Island Connector bus to Parksville and stayed there for two nights. Parksville is about 150 km north of Victoria, a perfect mid-way place to break up my full day trip from Victoria to Tofino and to meet up with three fabulous blogger friends as mentioned here.

From Parksville I continued my bus journey to Tofino, a small coastal village at the western edge of Vancouver Island. The driving distance from Parksville to Tofino is about 170 km (105 miles). The winding road and Kennedy Hill upgrades along Highway 4 meant the ride would take about four hours. The picturesque scenery made up for the time delay.

From Victoria (A) to Parksville(B) and Tofino (C)
From Victoria (A) to Parksville (B) and Tofino (C)

Tofino is situated in the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, who have called the area home for over five thousand years.

Welcome to Tofino

It is surrounded by the vast, breathtaking expanse of the UNESCO Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region. Being in Tofino means being close to nature, the ocean, the rainforest, the mountains, the islands and inlets.

Lone Cone Mountain
Lone Cone Mountain, Tofino, BC, Canada

I stayed at a hostel situated at the waterfront in Tofino, overlooking a harbour on Clayoquot Sound. The views were breathtaking and ever changing as the wind moved the clouds. They filled me with a sense of wonder.

Morning view in Tofino
Morning view in Tofino, BC, Canada

The green domes in the photo below housed my “neighbours”, an eco-lodge operated by WildPod for luxury waterfront glamping. One morning I saw a family of sea otters came right up to the pier and the rock wall to say hello.

On nature's edge in Tofino
On nature’s edge in Tofino, BC, Canada

Tofino centre is grid-like and very easy to navigate. There are many shops specialized in outdoor activities such as surfing, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), sea kayaking, scenic flights, whale watching tours, bear watching tours, and hot springs tours.

Tofino marina
Tofino Marina

I was drawn to the many public art works seen throughout Tofino, such as the Weeping Cedar Woman created by artist Godfrey Stephens to protect the ancient rainforests of Clayoquot Sound and Meares Island, and the Totem pole in Anchor Park, created by Master carver Joe David.

Weeping Cedar Woman, Tofino
Weeping Cedar Woman by Godfrey Stephens, Tofino, BC, Canada
Totem pole by Joe David, Tofino
Totem pole by Master carver Joe David, Tofino, BC, Canada

I took the self-guided Tofino Art Gallery Walk that featured five individual artist owned galleries, each a five minute walk apart. The bigger gallery of the five is Eagle Eerie Art Gallery by Roy Henry Vickers, a world-renowned Canadian First Nations artist.

Roy Henry Vickers Art Gallery, Tofino
Roy Henry Vickers (Eagle Eerie) Art Gallery

Within walking distance from Tofino village centre is a network of hiking trails that go through ancient forests and lead to various beaches. I’ll share one of my hikes in another post. I leave you with a view from my bed in Tofino. At night, the sky glittered with millions of stars. I’m so grateful.

View from my room in Tofino
View from my room in Tofino

Have you been to Tofino? What were your impressions?

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

A Whale of A Time in Victoria

I mentioned in my September Wrap-Up post that I traveled to Vancouver Island. My itinerary included Victoria, Parksville, and Tofino. All three stops are in the Province of British Columbia, on the West Coast of Canada.

From Toronto to Victoria, the flight time is about five hours. I had been to Victoria before so on this trip, sightseeing-wise I intentionally chose to do things that I cannot do in Toronto and skipped a few things that first time visitors to Victoria might do.

Be close to the sea

I strolled the Causeway circling Victoria’s Inner Harbour, to the docks at Fisherman’s Wharf, and walked James Bay Unity Wall and Breakwater. The sea air was refreshing, the views were wonderful, and there was always something in the surroundings to engage my senses. When I arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf early in the morning, most of the shops were still closed, the water was so calm, it mirrored everything.

Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria
Fisherman’s Wharf, Victoria, BC, Canada

Snap pictures of totem poles

I loved the totem poles at Thunderbird Park. I had seen them on my first visit to Victoria years ago and wanted to see them again. I was unsure why my obsession with the totem poles. I just took a lot of pictures. I think they are expressive, visually captivating, and unique artworks.

Walk the history

I attended the 30-minute guided tour of the British Columbia Legislature. It was time well spent to learn about the history of the building, and to see the beautiful building interiors, including the stained glass windows that celebrate Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee (1837-1897) and Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee (1952-2002).

British Columbia Legislature
Legislature building, Victoria, BC, Canada

I also followed the seven Signs of Lekwungen to learn more about Victoria’s history. The site markers are bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.

Signs of Lekwungen by Victoria's City Hall

Visit the “superlatives”

I walked through Victoria’s beautiful Beacon Hill Park to see the Spirit of Lekwammen, the world’s tallest totem pole at about 38.89 meters (127 feet 7 inches). I also walked the narrowest street in Canada named Fan Tan Alley, and had a yummy snack in Victoria’s Chinatown, which is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and a National Historic Site.

Meet someone famous

I “met” Our Emily, a bronze statue created by sculptor Barbara Paterson. The statue honours the renowned Canadian artist and Victoria’s famous citizen, Emily Carr. The sculpture features Emily Carr seated outdoors with her sketchpad. Her Javanese monkey, Woo, perches on her shoulder and her dog, Billie, stands nearby. The building behind the statue is the also famous Empress Hotel.

Our Emily sculpture by Barbara Paterson
Our Emily sculpture by Barbara Paterson

Go whale watching

The weather was beautiful as I boarded the boat for my whale watching tour. It took about 40 minutes of travelling South to come across our first sighting. It was two humpback whales whose large blows were visible in the distance.

The pairing looked like a mother and calf. Initially they were a little spaced out from each other but eventually the mother soon caught up with her calf. The two flicked both of their tails up in the air in a synchronized dive. What an unforgettable sight!

Humpback whales

We continued watching this pair until we spotted another couple of humpback whales further away. These two were making large blows, swimming leisurely, and then captured our hearts with a few tail flukes.

See the seals and sea lions

The whale watching tour included a visit to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve where we saw the Harbour seals and California and Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks. Some were sleeping in the sun while others were engaging in power struggles for the top of the rock. The Harbour seals blended very well with the rock colours.

Seals and sea lions

Conclusion

I had a whale of a time in Victoria 🙂 All of the activities mentioned were free, except the whale watching tour. I’d love to see whales in the ocean again. This trip was also the first time I took all my photos with my phone. They turned out better than I expected.

Have you been to Victoria? Have you ever watched whales in the ocean? What were your impressions?

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.

Postcard from Kingston

In August, my family and I took a train trip to visit Kingston and stayed at Queen’s University campus for a few days. Kingston is a historic city. It was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada on February 10, 1841. It’s located midway between Toronto and Montreal.

Map of Toronto-Kingston rail route
Toronto to Kingston by train

We have visited Kingston a couple of times and have been on the Thousand Islands cruise which departs from downtown Kingston. During this stay, we explored a bit of history, nature, and arts. Below are the highlights.

National historic sites

We visited three national historic sites: Kingston’s City Hall built in 1844, the Shoal Tower built in 1847, and the Murney Tower built in 1846. Shoal and Murney Towers are part of the Kingston Fortifications. In 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kingston City Hall
Kingston City Hall
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Shoal Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston
Murney Tower in Kingston

Nature

Kingston’s waterfront pathway spans over 8 km along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and saw many kayaks and sailboats on the lake and many windmills in the distance. The Breakwater Park is one block from where we stayed on Queen’s University campus so it was very convenient to get my morning walks done.

Kingston's waterfront
Kingston’s waterfront
Kingston's waterfront pathway
Waterfront pathway by Breakwater Park in Kingston

Visual Arts

We visited the Agnes Queen’s Art Gallery on Queen’s University campus. Admission was free. There were various types of artworks on display, some are more contemporary than the others. I liked one of Sarah Robertson’s paintings and Claude Tousignant’s bold geometric style.

October, Ottawa Valley painting by Sarah Robertson
October, Ottawa Valley by Sarah Robertson
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant
Horizontal Ultra Orange by Claude Tousignant

Queen’s University also has many beautiful limestone buildings worth browsing. Kingston’s nicknames are The Limestone City, or K-Town, or YGK. Aside from the above sightseeing, we met with our friends in Kingston to catch up. It was a nice and fun trip that was part of our wonderful summer 2019.

Copyright © 2019 natalietheexplorer.home.blog – All rights reserved.