Gichigami is what the called it, this great vast expanse of water that dominated the northwestern region of Ontario. It’s immense in size and sparse in population. It’s almost untouched, except for Highway 17 which forcefully furrows through the wilderness of Ontario for almost 2,000 bewildering kilometers of hinterlands. Of those 2,000 odd kilometers, about 80 slither through Lake Superior Provincial Park as the highway hugs the coastline and climbs over the rugged Canadian Shield. It’s a two and a half hour journey south along the highway 17 from Pukaskwa National Park to the northern tip of the Lake Superior Provincial Park and a further hour still the park’s southern boundaries. The journey is long but rich in scenery and a splendor to drive as the road zigs and zags across the terrain, traversing rivers and climbing the insurmountable rock shield that dominates the region. At the southern end of the park is where we made camp, in the Agawa Bay campground. We’d booked our campsite right on the beach, months in advance of course as one should for prime real estate in Ontario Parks. This forward planning of course did not take into account the poor weather that followed us for the duration of our adventure. The strong winds off the lake, the clear sandy beach and the lack of tree cover made for an interesting time trying to rainproof and windproof our site. Please note that the Agawa Bay campsite is sandwiched between the Highway and the lake. There is probably less than 200 meters between the roadway and the water in some spots, so don’t be surprised if you hear the odd midnight bigrig passing by. We however did not encounter this problem as the action of the waves and wind on the stormy Superior suffocated all noise of man.
As previously mentioned the weather on the lake was unpredictable, we planned for some open water canoeing but it never happened. We only got one decent evening of calm water on Agawa bay and by the time it arrived we were too exhausted from an earlier hike. Regardless, the slow evening allowed us to truly take in the phenomenal scenery that was hiding right in front of our very eyes. The temperatures remained chilly; with the evenings mercury being further diluted by the winds off the lake, the nights definitely required a warm sweater. During the day when the weather was in the mood to cooperate and the sun was able break through the clouds, we explored the park’s many trails. Sadly this park is too vast and our time too sparse to do this wilderness justice, as mentioned before this was a frontcountry camping trip so the famed Coastal Trail was not on our list. However the famous Agawa Rocks, a collection of First Nation pictographs perched on a rock ledge overlook the inland sea were easily accessible in good weather. The rocks depict human and animal forms as well as the mighty Misshepezhieu (the Great Lynx); also known as the Underwater Panther, the master of the watery abyss that is the Gichigami. The pictographs are a stunning visual representation of cultural and religious significance that this region holds over the people who have traditionally called it home. Finally some of my time was spent roaming along the Old Woman and Sand rivers fishing for Brook Trout. These little brilliantly coloured fish were a joy to catch as they hid in the whirlpools and rapids of the swift flowing streams. Excuse the silly look on my face in the photo of me with the fish, I was just ecstatic to catch it. And yes the fish was returned to the stream unharmed.
While our time at Lake Superior Provincial Park was short, it was not in vain. We had come to see the sunset over the Old Woman Bay; a region of the park that has been featured prominently in the works of Bill Mason, and a region that has in some respects come to define the image of the Park itself. We were not disappointed, the clouds loosened their grip over the horizon and the sun emerged to shower the bay with a most wonderful glow. As the Old Women river emptied into the bay under the timeless gaze of the Old Woman herself, we sat on the driftwood catching a glimpse of the dying light. It was blissful, it was serene, it was mesmerizing, it was more than we could have ever asked for. The bay, the rock face overlooking it and the river are all that I imaged they would be when I watched Bill Mason. It was the cherry on top of the outdoors sundae that was our Northern Ontario trip.
Finally I couldn’t conclude this trip without mentioning just how overwhelming this place is, as were all the other parks we had visited on our journey around Lake Superior. The park is massive and has so much to offer that one person cannot experience it all in one visit. The park offers majestic vistas and rugged shorelines on the coast while the inland is filled meandering rivers and menacing cascades, while it’s woods hide pristine lakes and ponds teaming with life. To me this is a place I will have to revisit soon, to me this park is replacing Algonquin as my must go to yearly destination. Finally more of my photographs can be found on my flicker page.