Thursday, September 20, 2012

Snapshots -- Along the North Shore

Then who does one listen to?

So I'm hurtling east on 17 along Superior, towards Terrace Bay on the way to Pukaskwa. The sky grows active, ominous. Then rain pelts down in something just short of sheets and continues for the next 120 km or so of steeply cursive road. Periodically I tune to Environment Canada, whose radio voice informs me that it's partly cloudy at Terrace Bay and likely to stay that way for the remainder of the day.

Later I tell this story to a fellow traveler and he says with just a hint of you should know better in his voice: "Don't listen to Environment Canada. Even they say not to listen to Environment Canada."

Right. Now they tell me.

But a fair piece east of Nipigon I captured this and made it safely to Pukaskwa, later in the day. All's well that ends well, I suppose...


Really, really big fish don't swim here anymore...

Lake Nipigon is called by some the "Sixth Great Lake". I'd not go that far, though it's mighty big indeed.

And as the largest tributaries into Lake Superior, the Lake and the Nipigon River that flows from it deserve respect. But that's not why, when Heather & I first traveled the north shore, I insisted on driving all the way up the river to see a place I didn't realize no longer exists.

We went there 'cause it was up on the Nipigon that during July of 1915, Dr.J.W. Cook enjoyed a couple of the best days in perhaps the entire recorded history of freshwater fishing. You don't get so close to a place like that, without you go have a look-see...

Now, if you don't know Brook Trout, you might think "So?" Truth is, most folk are tickled pink to have caught a brookie of 13' or so. This hallowed emblem of the Northwoods isn't noted for size, but rather for delicacy, beauty and the finesse it often takes to coax one to the net.

Dams have forever altered the Nipigon River. That's not a fish ladder, to the right. It's a log chute, added to the dam just before the rails made running logs down the Nipigon obsolete:

Today in Nipigon as in other areas around the Basin, populations of Coaster Brook Trout are on the rebound from near oblivion, thanks to the efforts of communities, fishermen, naturalists and others committed to the continued health of Superior.

And, as it turns out, there still are wild places where really, really big fish swim, though both the times and the fishermen who catch 'em, they've certainly changed:


Any Port, Near Dark

The first time Heather and I went up and over, it was September and we'd not made a plan. Used to traveling in the States, while charting our way we'd seen the Provincial Parks as they appeared on the map and figured to hop from one to the other as we went. We'd figured wrong.

The wakeup call came just east of Rossport Ontario, when at the end of a long day we went to pull into Rainbow Falls Provincial Park only to find it closed. I don't mean closed as in no services please self-register then drop your fee in the slot near the empty kiosk and have a good time kinda closed, a fairly common offseason affair around other parts of the Basin. I mean Katy bar the door closed, as in gated and locked, too the Hell bad for you.

There we were, at a total loss and more or less in the middle of nowhere as darkness fast approached.

Which is how we first found ourselves at the famous Rossport Inn.

Built in 1884 to service passengers on the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Inn is the north shore's oldest surviving hotel. We once spent an evening on its rooftop deck, sipping brandy to forestall the effects of a chill mist off the lake while visiting with two Canadian Wildlife & Fisheries guys. They regaled us with stories from their job, which was to apply the then nascent technology of digital mapping to the bottoms of all the bodies of water in Ontario. That was quite the night as you'll imagine. And once again I realised I'd missed a true calling.

Anyway, at the time of our last visit the Inn boasted a very fine restaurant indeed, featuring a full menu and the fresh catch of the day, whether whitefish or trout. Which leads me to a small tale of my own...

Heather and I'd taken a cabin at the Inn and were spending a lazy afternoon in the Adirondack chairs beneath a late summer sun. Suddenly, a great commotion rose from the kitchen of the restaurant.

Cursing and yelling and crashing ensued. Then a young man burst out from the kitchen, fairly falling on his face from forward inertia. The screen door slammed behind as he hopped on a bicycle and tore off to parts unknown.

We wondered if murder hadn't occurred in the kitchen.

Turns out, the local fisherman whose job it was to bring in the catch of the day had gotten drunk the night before and hadn't made any catch that day, leaving the restaurant empty handed.

To have no trout was a sore disappointment, but as the chef made up for it by serving the finest lamb chops I'd ever eaten, it was all good.

I can't vouch for the place these days, so should you decide to go, do your research. And opt for a cabin instead of a room at the B&B, trust me. But I can vouch for the quiet charms of Rossport, which remain as ever unchanged.

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