Saturday, August 30, 2014

Walkerton, Ontario: Art Fish

Some years ago, several cities became caught up in a civic art project. They picked out a symbol of their city, and sent artists out to represent that symbol in creative ways. Then the finished products were placed all over the city. New York had its bulls, Buffalo had its buffaloes.

And Walkerton, Ontario, had its fish.

Walkerton sits a bit south of the Bruce Peninsula, and it is on the Saugeen River. Therefore, fish were a good symbol.

Eleven are said to be scattered around town. We found three on the main drag, Durham St. Our favorite was one that hung on a fishing pole of sorts. It was a whopper!

Thanks to Roadside America for the tip, as usual.

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Tiverton, Ontario: World's largest nuclear power plant

Admittedly, a nuclear power plant doesn't strike many people as a typical tourist stop. This one is worth at least a look.

Part of the fun is the drive (not counting the construction we encountered in getting there). The area approaching the plant, which is located right on Lake Huron, is filled with wind turbines. At one point, they stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. We found out later that almost all of them have nothing to do with the power plant.

A visitors' center welcomes tourists. It is on a hill, located above the complex. This is the largest working nuclear power complex in the world, as a bigger one in Japan was a victim of the tsunami. The picture above shows one of the reactors. This is a big area. It provides enough electricity to power a quarter of Ontario's needs. There are displays and a movie that show how the process works.

Visitors can take a tour of the facility from inside the gates, but advance preparation is needed. Names must be submitted for a security check ahead of time. The tourist area will satisfy many of your needs in this area.

As you might expect, the visitors center is something of an opportunity for public relations. Everyone wants cheap power and jobs (3,000 are employed here), but no one wants a plant in the backyard. So, this is something of a sales job, but it's a well-done one.

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Wiarton, Ontario: Wiarton Willie

You certainly have heard of Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog who lives in Pennsylvania. But what about the Canadian equivalent, Wiarton Willie?

Canada has its own competitor in this area, and he lives on the Bruce Peninsula. Willie comes out of his hole on February 2, and heads right back into the dirt if he sees his shadow for six weeks.

This started in 1955 as something of a hoax. Local resident Mac McKenzie had a party on Feb. 2, and a Toronto reporter thought it was an actual celebration. Well, the next year, McKenzie started an actual event for it, and 35 attended. Now the number is closer to 10,000. The traffic must be awful, just like in Punxsutawney.

Pictured here is Willie's living space. The catch is that you can't see Willie in this habitat designed by the Toronto Zoo. He comes out of the hole and looks around around 8:30 in the morning and at dusk. Otherwise, you are out of lucky. In Punxsutawney, Phil and Phyllis live in the library, and visitors can see them all the time, year-round. It's almost sad that visitors usually can't see Wiarton's most famous resident.

Meanwhile, the marketing efforts of the town concerning Willie are on the feeble side. You'd think you would have all sorts of souvenirs, cleverly designed, on sale. Alas, the Chamber of Commerce building attached to Willie's home only has a few items. Post cards are $2.50. Sigh. If you go to the Wiarton web site, it has a page devoted to a store that is called "Willie Headquarters." When we went there, the store was empty ... and had been for some time. Thanks for making us search for the store, guys.

Obviously, Wiarton doesn't have much money for marketing purposes. Still, you'd have to think it was missing a golden opportunity. You don't want to send tourists home unhappy.

Care to see what Feb. 2 in Wiarton is like? We can help.

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Big Bay, Ontario: Beach

Sometimes a picture does all the work in describing a place.

Welcome to Big Bay, located not surprisingly, on the coast overlooking Georgian Bay on the water-hugging road between Owen Sound and Wiarton.

The beach is filled with stones instead of sand. Therefore, it's a great place to pick up a stone and send it skipping into the bay. I was never good at that particular skill, but you might be.

The beach also has a nice dock, which can be used for boating but also serves as a launch point for swimming and diving. The water might be a little cold, but you'll get used to it.

A general store is about a block away from the beach, and it sells homemade ice cream - with some unusual flavors. (Carrot cake ice cream? Not bad.) The locals like to pick up a cone and then head to the beach for a nice view while eating it.

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Owen Sound, Ontario: Black History Cairn

Those looking for a lesson in history probably would be surprised to find one in Owen Sound, Ontario. After all, it's not exactly in the middle of Dixie.

Yet there the tribute stands in Harrison Park, well north of the U.S.-Canada border.

The reason is that famous Underground Railroad, which in a sense transported blacks from the South to freedom in Canada, ended for some here. Many stayed here, and became part of the community.

Stealing from the town web site - according to Webster's 1913 Dictionary, a cairn is "a rounded or conical heap of stones erected by early inhabitants of the British Isles, apparently as a sepulchral monument." In this case, the cairn is a memorial to Owen Sound's black settlers. Symbols were used on quilts as something of guideposts for the journey, and they are also represented.

This is all unexpected and quite touching. Nicely done, Owen Sound.

By the way, Harrison Park is a very nice, expansive park along the river. It has the usual facilities you'd expect, plus miniature golf, boat rentals and a nice restaurant. It hosts skating, tobogganing and cross-country skiing in the winter. 

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Owen Sound, Ontario: The Ancaster

Here's a story of a town that wasn't happy about a change in its country's currency. Trust me, it will make sense in a minute.

This is the Ancaster, a tug boat that has retired after performing years of service. It is located right next to the visitors' center of Owen Sound, standing watch over the harbor (or, in Canadian, harbour) it once patrolled. The area around the water, by the way, is nicely maintained.

Owen Sound used to be a good-sized hub for commercial transportation, with all sorts of ships and trains passing through. The world has changed since then, so this is something of a tribute to a bygone era.

The catch is that the Ancaster used to be pictured on Canada's one-dollar bill. Alas, the dollar bill died several years ago, in favor of a coin. It must have been nice while it lasted.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Lion's Head, Ontario: Isthmus Bay

If people moved to where the best views were, Lion's Head would be much more crowded.

It sits on Isthmus Bay, and the view from the shoreline is truly wonderful. The lighthouse does a good job of guarding the bay - even if it is just a replica of the real thing. Some school kids built a replica that replaced the rotted-out version that was torn down in 1969.

If you look in the background of the picture, you can see more of the Niagara Escarpment - a constant in these parts. Supposedly there is a lion's head in the rocks. We couldn't see it from here, but we didn't really know where to look. Perhaps you'll have better luck.

Lion's Head has about three places to eat in town only a handful of stores, but the bay makes it worth a visit.

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Lion's Head, Ontario: The 45th Parallel Road

Geography students realize that the 45th parallel goes all the way around the world. If the earth were perfectly round, that would be the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.

As it turns out, part of Route 9 (just east of Highway 6) in the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario happens to fall right on the line. Some enterprising civil servant has celebrated that fact by putting up a sign in tribute.

By the way, the actual halfway line falls a few miles north of here. It's on one of the tourist maps that is handed out to visitors. I've never seen that in other such locations. That line, however, doesn't get a spiffy street sign like this one.

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Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario: Cyprus Lake

Sometimes good fortune shines on a photographer. We knew while walking in this park that this was a good spot, but didn't take a picture - knowing it would be there when we returned from the Grotto. When we did pass it again, a bird was standing at the mouth of a waterfall, almost protecting it. It does wonders for the picture. Click on it to increase the size of the image.

Bruce Peninsula National Park is a little odd. It may be the first such park that doesn't have a sign directing traffic near the entrance. That makes it easy to drive past while in Highway 6. (Guilty) There is a sign on the road into the park.

Then, parking is extremely limited. It's almost as if they don't want too many visitors, which might not be the worst idea in the world. Again, this is more of a forest preserve than traditional park, but there are some nice hikes and good views here.

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Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario: The Grotto

Probably the top tourist attraction in the entire peninsula is the Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park. Be warned - it's a little tough to see.

After finding a parking place (go early or late, by the way), tourists - mostly wearing swim suits - walk for about 25 minutes to the shoreline. The coast is rocky and beautiful there. One warning - it's a little tough to navigate the area on foot because of the uneven surfaces. If you have mobility issues, you'll only be able to reach a lookout above the area - still well worth it. I'm not sure if an American park would allow people to go swimming here.

More climbing on rocks to the north is necessary, and it's also on the difficult side. Along the way, visitors can see this small grotto (pictured here), which is quite spectacular in its own right. People do make it to the grotto and go inside the cave for a swim. I wasn't prepared to do that during my visit, so I'll rely on the work of someone else to show it here.

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