Verrassende mogelijkheden

Het onderstaande kaartje komt van Google (het kan even duren voor het geladen is), maar de plaatsaanduidingen zijn afkomstig uit een spreadsheet dat ook ergens op internet staat, bij EditGrid.com. EditGrid is een internetdienst waar je een spreadsheet (rekenblad of tabel) kunt maken en die met anderen kunt delen. Zo zou ik ook de tabel met plaatsnamen kunnen delen met anderen, zodat die daar veranderingen in aan kunnen brengen. Dat doe ik niet, maar je kunt ze wel bekijken, kijk maar hier!


Rondje Georgian Bay

Vanuit Toronto rij je naar het Noorden, door het heuvelachtige landschap net buiten de stad, naar de Blue Mountains, een ski-gebiedje. Over het mooie Bruce Peninsula, de ferry naar de Manitoulin Islands, Sudburry, een mijnstad, door het lege gebied ten Noorden van de baai, met enkele fraaie parken, Ste Marie among de Hurons (voor het verhaal van de oorspronkelijke bewoners), het oude Gravenhurst en uiteindelijk het fascinerende Algonquin National Park.

Hieronder een overzichtskaart, de route-punten, met verwijzing naar enkele PDF’s, en enkele aanvullende links.

(Een mooie interactieve versie van deze kaart blijkt te zijn gemaakt door Travel Ontario: klik hier)

Het rondje aflopen, volgen we de blauwe lijn van Toronto, naar het Noorden, Het eerste stuk maar over de snelweg om wat afstand af te leggen. De officiële kaarten van Ontario staan ook op internet, zie link. Verder gebruik ik de Rough Guide Canada en Canada, van Capitool Reisgidsen. Net boven Toronto toch even afslaan naar de Mc Michaels Art Gallery, daarna Barrie en door naar de Blue Mountains:

  1. Mc Michael Art Galery in Kleinburg (link)
    Canadian art and stories – through a distinctly Canadian art experience.
    The McMichael Canadian Art Collection offers its visitors a unique and truly Canadian experience. From the art within its walls to the surrounding landscape, the McMichael is the perfect gallery for an introduction to Canada’s art, its peoples, their cultures and their history. Renowned for its devotion to collecting and exhibiting only Canadian art, the McMichael permanent collection consists of almost 6,000 artworks by Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven, their contemporaries, and First Nations, Inuit and other artists who have made a contribution to Canada’s artistic heritage. The gallery welcomes on average 120,000 visitors annually.

  2. Barrie (maar dat is zeker geen verplicht nummer), wellicht goed voor een lunch, omdat het restaurant van de McMichaels nou niet het toppunt van gezelligheid is (wel even bekijken), voor meer info over dit kleine stadje aan Lake Simcoe, klik hier.
  3. Blue Mountains. Dit is Toronto’s eigen skiresort op zo’n 150km van de stad, Natuurlijk in de winter, de place to be (lees). Over Collinggwood en Thornbury staat niet zoveel in de gidsen (op internet is er MyCollingwood.ca). Hans kent er een prima patisserie, van Franse oorsprong, waarover later meer…
  4. Thornbury, het centrum van de appelteelt met goede pensions en uitstekende restaurants en een vistrap (volgens Nelles). Zie ook de fraaie en uitgebreide website van Grey County (klik), met de daar beschreven scenic Georgian Bay Drive en Travel Experiences.
  5. Owen Sound, zou een goede plek zijn voor één of twee overnachtingen, in de Rough Guide (pg 144, klik). Tijd voor een wandelingetje en wellicht een bezoek aan de Tom Thomson Gallery, nauw verwant met de Group of Seven (zie 1.).
  6. Een beetje van de route, maar wel interesant wellicht is Kincardine, een dorpje met een Schots verleden en ditto architectuur (Nelles): klik. Niet ver er vandaan is Southampton te vinden, met het Saugeen Indian Reserve (klik)

Bruce Peninsula (klik)
Vervolgens de groene lijn, door het Bruce Peninsula, een prachtig gebied: The Bruce Peninsula is a place of diversity. There are sandy beaches for the sun-seekers, 25 pound salmon for the anglers, many coves and inlets to discover for the boaters, 150 kms of the best hiking in Ontario for the naturalist, orchids and other rare flowers for the botanist, art shops and galleries for the art lovers, miles of trails for the snowmobiler… whatever your interest you will find it in the Bruce Peninsula.

  1. Suggestie voor een wandeling in het Bruce Peninsula NP (klik), of een rondrit over het schiereiland, zoals dat wordt voorgesteld in de Capitool Reisgids (even verder bladeren).
  2. Tobermory (pagina 146, Rough Guide), voor informatie over de ferry: Ontario Ferries

Manitoulin
De blauwe lijn vervolgt, na de overtocht naar Manitoulin Island: Manitoulin Islands (mănətÅ«’lÄ­n) , archipelago consisting of three large islands and several smaller ones, in N Lake Huron, NW of Georgian Bay. The islands, in a noted fishing region, are popular resorts. The permanent population is mainly Native American. Dairying, lumbering, mixed farming, and tourism are the major activities. Manitoulin, c.80 mi (130 km) long and from 2 to 30 mi (3.2–48 km) wide, is the world’s largest lake island. It encloses more than 100 lakes and has a much-indented, rugged coast. Cockburn Island and Drummond Island are also rocky and forested. Drummond Island belongs to Michigan, and the others of the group to Ont., Canada (lees meer in Wikipedia).

  1. Langs Little Current, met de befaamde Turner Store. Al vraag ik me af of er in dit mini-stadje verder echt veel te beleven is. Meer over Manitoulin op de lokale website en Outdoor Ontario.

  2. Sudburry (RoughGuide pg 199) heeft wel een interessante geschiedenis: Het ligt aan de rand van een grote krater, die werd veroorzaakt door een vulkaan of een meteoor. Daardoor is er de grootste reserve aan nikkel en koper te vinden. Het is dus een mijnstad, interessant wellicht, maar waarschijnlijk niet erg dynamisch (Lees meer: Wikipedia en Sudbury Tourism). Bezoekwaardig is het museum Dynamic Earth in the Old Nickel Mine.

Sudbury en verder
Vervolgens, langs de Noordkant van de Georgian Bay, door een leeg gebied met mogelijkheid enkele parken te bezoeken. Om daar optimaal te kunnen genieten van de natuur is het aan te raden er een (2-3) meerdaagse kanotocht te maken, informatie vind je via de bijgaande links. Lees meer over de Park regels en gewoonten in de Killarney Park Guide, zoals die in veel parken te vinden is.

  • Killarney Provincial Park
    Considered one of Ontario Parks’ crown jewels (48.500ha.), this majestic, mountainous wilderness of sapphire lakes and jack pine ridges so captivated artists – including The Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson – that they persuaded the Ontario government to make it a park. Once higher than the Rocky Mountains, La Cloche’s white quartzite cliffs gleam like snowy peaks from afar. Where paddlers, hikers, skiers and snowshoers now journey through in this craggy, imposing landscape, there is evidence that others passed thousands of years before. (klik)

  • French River Provincial Park
    The French River (51.750ha.) has a colourful past. For thousands of years before Europeans arrived, Aboriginal people used the river as a place to meet and exchange trade goods. Early French explorers and missionaries began travelling through the area in the early 1600s, leaving behind intriguing journal records about the river and the people who lived along its shores. Before Canada became a country, Voyageurs were paddling its waters – brigades of canoes portaged around rapids and waterfalls – transporting furs from Canada’s great Northwest to market in Montreal. Because of its historic significance, “the French” was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1986.
    Flowing 110 kilometres from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, this waterway park has more than 230 interior campsites and offers a variety of water-based recreational activities in an outstanding natural setting.
    Today, over 300 years after fur traders first plied its waters, motorboats, canoes and kayaks now travel the French River; lodges and cottages dot the landscape; and it provides a wealth of activities for anglers and hunters. If you’re planning an overnight stay, a camping permit is required. A new visitor centre opened at the junction of the French River and Highway #69 – about 65 km south of Sudbury.
    (klik)
  • Killbear Provincial Park,
    This Georgian Bay peninsula (1756ha) is a water lover’s paradise for swimming and sailing, fishing and boating. Camp by a sandy beach, on a rocky shore or under the trees. Hike to lookouts for views of Parry Sound, that lonely white pine on a windswept rock or one of Georgian Bay’s spectacular sunsets. (klik)

  • Georgian Bay Islands, National Park
    Protecting one of Canada’s national treasures for your enjoyment: from the Honey Harbour area to Twelve Mile Bay in southern Georgian Bay, you will discover spectacular landscapes, time-worn rock faces, diverse habitats and the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield. These magnificent islands are accessible by boat only. The largest island, Beausoleil offers island tent camping, overnight and day docking, heritage education programs and hiking trails. Wheelchair accessible sites and reserved campsites are also available at the Cedar Spring campground on Beausoleil Island. (klik)

Parry Sound
Een uurtje onder Parry Sound wordt het weer wat drukker op de weg. Dit is cottage country, het gebied waar veel Torontonians hun tweede huisje hebben om de zomerse warmte te ontvluchten of in de winter te gaan cross-country skieën.

  1. Parry Sound, wordt in de Rough Guide "a cheery little place" genoemd. Er zijn enkele B&B’s en hotelletjes. De beschikbare toeristen info is beperkt. Van daar uit gaat de rout richting Midland, met onderweg een aantal historische attracties. Die eventueel ook overgeslagen kunnen worden, in welk geval je bij de 169 linksaf sla richting Bala, Torrence en Gravenhurst.
  2. Sainte Marie among de Hurons, een van Ontario’s meest boeiende attracties volgens de Capitool reisgids. (pg. 218-219, klik)
    Follow in the footsteps of Ontario’s first Europeans at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland. Explore this recreated, 17th century French Jesuit mission headquarters and experience the interaction of the French and native Wendat Huron nation. This Ontario tourism destination in the Georgian Bay region features a unique time in Canadian history when French missionaries and their workers lived and worked among the Wendat. A rare chance to see the earliest in Canadian pioneer life through guided or self-guided visits, school group tours, "hands-on" education programs, special events and corporate functions. Sainte-Marie among the Hurons will shed light on one of the earliest examples of the introduction of Christianity into Aboriginal culture.
    Sainte-Marie today provides a unique historical experience which will delight and intrigue visitors of all ages. Complete your stay with a delicious meal in Restaurant Sainte-Marie and visit the award-winning, indoor museum. Browse the web site and then come and see how life unfolded when two very different peoples came together for the first time.

  3. Huronia Museum and Huron-Ouendat Village
    Canada’s first re-created Aboriginal village, Huron-Ouendat depicts Huron culture prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1500s. Learn how to grind corn, play a Ouendat game and explore the "beaver dam" shaped longhouse – once home to as many as 50 people. Ponder exhibits and artifacts over 11,000-years-old at the Huronia Museum in Midland. Huronia Museum (maar deze in nog onder constructie)

  4. In hetzelfde gebied ligt nog een openlucht museum, Discover Harbour (klik) in Penetanquishene. Het is een verzameling 19e eeuwse huisjes en scheepjes, die een beeld geven van het leven in het nieuw ontdekte land, in tijden van oorlog met de zuiderburen. Het is een aardig uitstapje, niet bijzonder, maar jammer om te laten liggen als je in de buurt bent en nog wat tijd over hebt.
    Discovery Harbour, on scenic Penetanguishene Bay, will take you back in time to the presence of British naval and military forces in Central Ontario. Come and explore this recreated, 19th century community on the southeast corner of Georgian Bay. An Ontario tourism destination, Discovery Harbour is also home to the replica British sailing ships H.M.S. Tecumseth and H.M.S. Bee. Tour the historic properties, including the restoration project on the Officers’ Quarters, and learn first-hand the challenges of shipwrights, sailors, soldiers and other military and civilian personnel at this isolated outpost built to defend Upper Canada. Enjoy a fabulous meal at Captain Roberts’ Table as you take in the scenic view of the tall ships (ahum) at docks nearby.

  5. Centrum van het gebied is het stadje Midland (klik, aardig maar niet bijzonder), in een uurtje rij je daar vandaan naar Gravenhurst dat meer aantrekkingskracht schijnt te hebben. Al schrijft de Rough Guide: "In the unlikely event you decide to stay, aim for the Pinedale Inn". Of dat een goede keuze is vraag ik me dan weer af. Feit is dat dit een aardige tussenstop is op weg naar de laatste bezienswaardigheid: Algonquin Park.

Algonquin Provincial Park
Een bezoek aan het Algonguin NP mag in dit rijtje echt niet ontbreken. DE ontmoeting met de natuur is groots en nog al eens is er wild te zien, dat wordt aangetrokken door de bezoekers en hun voedsel. Behalve Highway 60 (Capitool) lopen er geen wegen door het park. Zou je dat wensen dan kan hier je Canadese outdoor experience starten met een meerdagse kanotocht of wandeling. Langs de Highway zijn een aantal hotel, cabins en campings. Outfitters verzorgen tours en zorgen voor de benodigde spullen. n The essence of Algonquin is in its vast interior of maple hills, rocky ridges, and thousands of lakes. The only way to explore the interior of this park is by canoe or on foot. There is also a second Algonquin – along the 56-kilometre stretch of Highway 60. Here you can enjoy camping at one of eight campgrounds, hike one of 14 trails, take part in extensive education programs, and visit Algonquin’s superlative Visitor Centre and the Logging Museum. (Park website | Friends of)

Vanaf de Park entrance is het 260km (plm 3 uur) rijden naar het centrum van Toronto

Apropos, Aboriginal Affairs
In het bovenstaande ontbreken een beetje de oorspronkelijke bewoners van het gebied. Alhoewel ze op veel plaatsen te vinden zijn hun activiteiten en nederzettingen erg verspreid en erg kleinschalig. In het geheel der dingen sneeuwen ze een beetje onder. Hieronder een aantal verwijzingen:

  1. Manitoulin is grotendeels een Indian Reserve, meer info volgt…
  2. Op Travel Ontario zijn een aantal pagina’s gewijd aan Aboriginal Places & Events: klik
  3. Er is een overzicht van toeristische activiteiten in South Central Ontario: klik

Tot slot, nog meer informatie over deze route, maar waardevol om ook even te bekijken bij: Travel Ontario. Op haar website staat een volledige beschrijving staan van een 870 km lange variant , mèt interactieve kaart voor nog meer vakantie-plan-plezier, lees hier.

Zie meer relevante weblinks: link

Montreal-Halifax by train

Since 1904, Canada's longest-running train, the Ocean, has been picking up passengers in Montreal and taking them on a 21-hour journey through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, finally depositing them in Halifax. This summer, VIA Rail, the Amtrak of Canada, launched a new level of service called the Easterly class, promising redecorated cars with a Maritime Provinces theme, two meals featuring local cuisine, and something called a Maritime Learning Experience. The idea was to attract more tourists to the eastern provinces, where foreigners currently only account for 10 percent of VIA Rail riders.

Now, if you're willing to spend the time and money to travel by rail, you've probably got a bit of a nostalgic streak. Call me a romantic, but my dream train is a pastiche of ones from old Hollywood movies, where Marilyn Monroe strums a ukulele in a Pullman berth and Orson Welles lurks in the corridor, ducking passport inspectors. I'm grateful for any anachronistic touch a train company can offer to nourish my fantasies. Eager to see what VIA's Easterly class was about, I booked a Double Deluxe cabin for me and my girlfriend, Erin.

My first impression was disappointing. Rather than behemoths of steel wreathed in steam, the cars were diesel work-horses–narrow and brand-new. Our tiny cabin's "Maritime theme" translated to one photograph of the lobster boats of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The shower, for which I'd paid an additional $42 by upgrading from the Double cabin, was just a nozzle mounted on the bathroom wall–perfect for hosing down the toilet.

Things looked up as we pulled out of Montreal. At the back of the train, the double-decker Park Car instantly satisfied my longing for retro. All stainless steel and elegantly curved windows, it felt like a '47 Pontiac (make that a '47 Pontiac being towed by Hyundais).

We'd booked a table for the second dinner seating, at 8:00 p.m. The diners at the 6:30 p.m. seating had eaten all of the pan-seared Atlantic halibut, so I took the vegetarian option, a plate of steamed zucchini and spinach risotto, and paired it with a pint of Propeller Bitter, a dark, Halifax-made microbrew with butterscotchy bottom notes. Though the waiters insisted the gluey risotto was tortellini, they made up in charm what they lacked in expertise. "Attention!" shouted our waiter, Ron, after the lights flickered off. "I'm taking up a collection. We've forgotten to pay our power bill again!"

Dodgy lights weren't the only problem. Several members of the staff candidly mourned the loss of the stainless steel HEP cars (for Head-End Power). Until recently, the entire train had been of the same 1950s vintage as the Park Car. The Renaissance cars that replaced them were built for the Chunnel. Tailor-made for European executives in search of a quick nap before a meeting, the Renaissance cars weren't nearly as comfortable for almost a full day's occupancy.

In addition to the amiable staff, the Ocean's major draw was the scenery we passed. I returned to the Park Car shortly after dawn to watch the spruce forests of New Brunswick unfurling. After crossing the pink Tantramar salt marshes on the isthmus that links Nova Scotia to the Canadian mainland, we entered a more verdant landscape patched with farms, lakes, and wildflower-dotted fields.

A VIA employee named Gary Frenette led the Maritime Learning Experience, which he animated with a grab bag of props. Different tartans, Gary said, represent the Maritime Provinces, and he pointed to his own vest: The forest green stood for lumbering; blue for water; and gold for wealth. He then led a lively Q&A about local food using a rubber lobster as his aid. Erin and I found it a little lightweight, but the kids onboard enjoyed themselves. Plus, Gary was game to go off topic and answer questions about passing sights, such as Springhill, Nova Scotia, site of one of Canada's worst mining disasters.

A couple of hours outside Halifax, the air conditioning broke down. As the temperature inside neared 95 degrees, several passengers informally exchanged impressions. In spite of the glitches, the consensus was that the scenery was beautiful, the staff friendly, and the food quite good. The Renaissance cars, however, were a disappointment. The quarters were so cramped that wrestling with a suitcase made you feel like you were in a Marx Brothers skit.

"Train travel reminds you how big the world is," observed one passenger, a British Airways pilot. "As opposed to airplanes, which fool you into thinking it's very small." The sentiment resonated. After 22 stops and several breakdowns, the Ocean had been one of the pokiest milk runs I'd ever been on. But I'll never forget the experience–in distinct contrast to the 90-minute flight home.

Booking tips

 

  • Splurge on Easterly class. It gets you dinner, breakfast, and exclusive access to the Park Car, with a teacher on hand. A Comfort sleeper, about $50 less, only buys a cabin.

     

     

  • Avoid the Renaissance equipment. Several departures a week still use the roomier, old-fashioned HEP cars. The composition of the trains varies weekly, so you have to ask the reservationist on the phone, or look for the words "stainless steel" if you're booking online.

     

     

  • Don't spring for a shower in a Double Deluxe. It's weak at best, and a showerless Double cabin is up to $42 less.

     

     

  • Reserve five days in advance for 30 percent off. The Ocean leaves Montreal at 6:30 p.m. every day but Tuesday. Easterly class is only offered May through October. Tickets start at $240, 888/842-7245, viarail.ca.
  • IJsberen in Churchill

    Polar Bears and Rail Tours

    If there is one Canadian tour I would love to take it is this one: Freshtrack’s (tel. 800/667-4744; www.freshtracks.ca) "Polar Bear Tour" in Churchill, Manitoba. The six-day excursions depart from Winnipeg between October 11 and November 17, 2006 and are priced from $3,148 to $3,326 per person based on double occupancy — a small price to pay to get up close and personal with these majestic kings of the ice. Churchill, Manitoba is known as the "Polar Bear Capital of the World." In October and early November, polar bears congregate at nearby Cape Churchill in large numbers, waiting for the ice to form on Hudson Bay. This tour gives participants the opportunity to see these mighty creatures from the comfort and safety of a specially-designed vehicle called the Tundra Buggy. The fully escorted group tour price includes a Churchill and area tour, Eskimo Museum, Parks Canada slide presentation, one-way air transportation between Winnipeg and Churchill, VIA Rail Sleeper service between Winnipeg and Churchill one-way, three nights’ accommodations in Churchill and two nights in Winnipeg, local bus tours, the Tundra Buggy tour (two full days including lunch), Churchill transfers, a group farewell dinner and 3.5% PST (tax). Airfare to Winnipeg is not included.

    Freshtracks also offers a series of specialized winter train trips through Canada. Its eight-day "Canadian Rockies Winter Rail Classic" package includes six nights’ accommodations with choice of superior or deluxe category rooms (two-nights in Vancouver, one in Jasper, one in Lake Louise and two in Banff), one nights’ accommodations aboard VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian train in Silver and Blue Class with use of dome car and lounge seating, meals onboard the Canadian (dinner and breakfast), a Vancouver sightseeing tour, Johnstone Canyon ice walk, Banff Heritage Passport, private transfer from Vancouver hotel to the train station and motor-coach transfers from Jasper to Lake Louise, Lake Louise to Banff and Banff to Calgary Airport. In between all those destinations, there should be plenty of time for some outdoor activities and winter-time recreation (downhill and cross-country skiing, dog-sledding and sleigh rides) in some of North America’s best ski resorts. This trip starts in Vancouver on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from December 10, 2006 to March 28, 2007. Prices are as follows:

    • December 10 to 15, 2006: standard $1,322; deluxe $1,537
    • Dec 17, 2006 to Jan 3, 2007: standard $1,525; deluxe $1,837
    • January 5 to 24, 2007: standard $1,322; deluxe $1,554
    • Jan 26 to Mar 28, 2007: standard $1,427; deluxe $1,716

     

    Peddelen met de kudde

    Paddling with the herd
    ALISON PICK, Special to The Globe and Mail

    GJOA HAVEN, NWT — It is Day 4 of a 60-day Arctic canoe trip. Ahead of me in the bow, my paddling partner Tim picks up his binoculars. "Caribou?" I wonder hopefully.

    The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are home to herds including the Beverly, the Bathurst, and the Qamanirjuaq. Every summer, more than a million animals migrate from their Northern calving grounds back down to the tree line. Our itinerary for the canoe trip has been planned with the hopes of witnessing this mass exodus. We consulted maps of the caribou’s most probable path. In the end, we settled on the Baillie, a 10-day trip on a tributary that flows into the mighty Back River, which we would follow for another 50 days to the sea.

    Tim’s father paddled part of this route several years ago, and arrived at the confluence to see exactly what we’re hoping to see. We know the migration is unpredictable, and differs each year based on food supply, insects and weather. Tim’s dad’s story of the animals covering every inch of visible tundra is so compelling, though, that we have vowed to take a rest day where the rivers meet in the hopes that history might repeat itself.

    "I want to see the caribou streaming over the hillside," Tim tells me. "More than anything."

    Before I go any further, let me make this clear: I am a relative wildlife neophyte. I have lots of canoeing experience, sure, but what I enjoy are the gorgeous vistas, cooking over an open fire, swimming at midnight under the barely-setting sun. The perspective on my life back home in St. John’s that only such isolation can give.

    Tim, on the other hand, is a wildlife guru who has seen an astonishing number of bears. He’s worked as a grizzly-tracking guide on the coast of B.C. and as a polar bear-tracking guide in Churchill, Man. Right now, he’s guiding at Great Bear Nature Tours in B.C.’s Great Bear rain forest. If you want to see bears, go there. Ask for Tim Irvin. If there are bears to be seen, you’ll see them.

    You may have to squint, though. At least this is the way it happens for me. A tiny spot — I’m talking flea-sized; I’m talking a pea on some very distant dinner plate — appears on a distant ridge. To me, it looks like a rock, same as all the other rocks dotting the tundra. Where I see rocks, though, Tim sees musk ox. Where I see, well, more rocks, Tim sees wolf cubs.I’m completely oblivious, writing novels in my head, while all around me teems the Arctic Wildlife Safari.

    No caribou migration, however. We pass Pelly Lake: no sign of the herd that graces its northern shore. We pass the juncture between the Garry Lakes where we’ve heard reports of hundreds: all we see is a lone musk ox so far away it might as well be in heaven. It’s now Day 35 of the trip.

    We’ve been paddling for a few hours when Tim says, "Hey, Alie, look. A couple caribou on the ridge."

    I look up. I squint, and see rocks.

    "Oh man," he says. "Look. There are more. Maybe 40 or 50." His voice is picking up tone and urgency. "No," he says. "More. There’s gotta be 100. Maybe 200."

    I peer at the ridge alongside the lake. There are, indeed, caribou streaming over the hillside; streaming (oh happy day) in our direction. We are at a narrowing of the river, and now they begin to cross directly in front of us. It is a stupendous sight, hundreds of wild animals navigating the current, turning their bodies to the precise angle needed to make it across.

    When we skinny-dip in the evenings, it is a fluster of sweaty bodies flailing at the surface of the icy Arctic water, gasping and running back to shore. The caribou, on the other hand, swim with their shoulders back, their gorgeous antlers held high above their heads like precious objects they don’t want to get wet. If they were skinny dippers, they’d be the kind who sidestroke gracefully to the distant shore with a bundle of clothes held aloft in one arm. Tim whispers to me that their hair is hollow, making them extra buoyant and able to ford rivers gracefully. I am more inclined to think they are simply on the way to the Queen’s house for crumpets and tea.

    Afterward, it is almost like we have imagined them. A thin line of white fur on the far beach is all that’s left of their passing.

    The day we left on this trip was the day my first novel, The Sweet Edge, went to print. It is set partially on a canoe trip like ours, and one of the characters sees the caribou migration: He is startled awake in the middle of the night by a herd stampeding through his campsite. It becomes clear, now, that I have imagined this. . .I won’t say entirely incorrectly, but perhaps not as accurately as I might have.

    For the next four days, we become part of the herd. We don’t travel with them so much as cross paths over and over again. The animals increase to upwards of 10,000. They don’t stampede. They run, yes, and it is truly a marvellous sight to watch them moving across the terrain as far as the eye can see. But they are also content, like me, to laze around daydreaming: they lie flat on the tundra, get up, walk a little, stop and drop their heads to graze. Because there is such an enormous number of them, and so few of us, we are able to get very close and see the range of colours, of body mass, of antler configuration. We see calves nuzzling their mothers to nurse. We watch streams of caribou joining larger streams, splitting apart and coming back together like ants on a massive anthill. One animal spooks and 10,000 take off running, only to forget where they were going after 100 metres and return, docile, to the others. At the back of the herd, struggling to keep up, is a yearling with a broken leg, soon to be a meal for the arctic wolves that follow the herd like nefarious shadows. If you go in for anthropomorphizing, you might see the entire human drama played out in the fashion of a Tolstoy novel. Without all the messy words, of course.

    You too can see the great caribou migration in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and in Nunavut, but you cannot plan a trip around it, at least not with any guarantee. The whole enterprise depends on luck, timing — and on good eyes like Tim’s.

    WHEN TO GO

    July and August are the best months to catch the migration

    GETTING THERE

    Air Tindi: 867-669-8219; http://www.airtindi.com. Scheduled and chartered air service throughout the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

    Arctic Sunwest Charters: 867-873-4464; http://www.arcticsunwest.com. Provides fishing charters and caribou sightseeing tours.

    GUIDES AND OUTFITTERS

    Canoe Arctic: 867- 872-2308; http://www.canoearctic.com. Offers remote fly-in canoe trips on the Thelon River and environs. Guiding-outfitting costs $225 a day for each person.

    Arctic Safaris: 867-873-3212; arctic.safaris@nt.sympatico.ca.

     

    De laatste grens

    The Final Frontier
    LASZLO BUHASZ, © Globe and Mail (August 27, 2006)

    IQALUIT — Visitors to Canada’s North invariably return with the memory of an iconic moment that encapsulates their encounter with this wild and beautiful corner of the world. Mine came this month on Akpatok Island in Ungava Bay off the north coast of Quebec. And it was all thanks to a trail-blazing Inuit cruise company.

    Passengers get a close look at an iceberg off Baffin Island. Laszlo Buhasz/The Globe and Mail

    Fringed by a narrow gravel beach, the uninhabited island’s 240-metre-high, mist-swaddled cliffs are home to the world’s largest colony of thick-billed murres, black-and-white birds often called the penguins of the North. As many as a million of them nest here in the summer, filling the air, the surrounding sea and every crevice and narrow ledge of the island’s sheer rock walls.

    Their summer gathering is a spectacle few southerners have seen. But they are important for another reason: Their protein-rich eggs and fledglings are the most important prey for local predators, the largest of which are polar bears.

    As our Zodiac boat idled toward a stretch of beach beneath the looming cliffs, a great white bear and her two cubs — bloody-pawed from a recent meal — climbed down from a rock fall and waded into the surf.

    From less than 10 metres away, the magnificent sow eyed us with the disconcerting gaze the world’s largest land-based carnivore reserves for its next potential meal.

    My group would see 10 other bears along Akpatok’s shore that day, and almost a dozen more during a sea voyage to Baffin Island. We would also sight walruses, seals, whales and more than a dozen species of birds, ranging from rock pipits to black guillemots. We sailed into awesome fjords, explored the relics of a historic whaling station, hiked into one of the North’s most spectacular national parks and learned about Inuit culture. We even had a near-encounter with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

    But the memory that will remain clearest in my mind years from now is that close encounter with nanuq, the wild Arctic incarnate.

    This was all part of an expedition with Cruise North, an Inuit-owned company chartering the Russian vessel Lyubov Orlova for a seven-night, 2,200-kilometre cruise from Kuujuaq in Nunavik to Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital on Baffin Island. The company, in its second year of operation, is part of the First Air/Air Inuit family owned by the Makivik Corporation of Quebec, a highly successful Inuit investment arm launched with money from Canada’s first modern-day aboriginal land-claim settlement in 1975.

    Running nine summer cruises from June through the end of August, Cruise North is the only Inuit operation in a burgeoning Northern cruise industry that will see various tour companies operate 10 different ships in Nunavut waters this year, double the number in 2005.

    After a flight from Montreal to Kuujuaq and an Inuit cultural performance, 56 of us were transferred by Zodiacs to the Lyublov Orlova anchored in the Koksoak River, about 50 kilometres upstream from Ungava Bay. We were a diverse lot, ranging in age from two months to 83 years, and coming from Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

    The 100-metre-long, 30-year-old Orlova — one of a quartet of Russian ships named after Soviet-era actresses — can accommodate 122 passengers on three decks. The 63-member Russian crew and serving staff were efficient and welcoming, even inviting passengers to visit the bridge at any time.

    The ship’s library, lounges, bar and dining room are unpretentiously comfortable with a slightly worn decor that could be described as Ikea on the Volga. Not that there was much need for formality. Typical passenger dress during our week aboard ranged from sweats, denim and T-shirts to fleece, Gore-Tex and hiking boots.

    The cuisine, an important element of any cruise, was basic but tasty, with breakfast and lunch buffets featuring hot and cold selections and served dinners with a choice of three entrées that often included regional ingredients such as caribou and Arctic char.

    This voyage, however, was not about shipboard amenities. Most were here to see the land and learn about its people and animals. In that regard, few were disappointed.

    Before our encounter with the polar bears on the second day of the cruise, we landed on the west side of Akpatok and saw one of the sad relics of southern activities here: an abandoned oil exploration site littered with metal drums and pipes rusting around rotting sheds.

    According to Jason Annahatak, one of our Inuit expedition guides, this was one of at least 60 such sites in Nunavut, most dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s when a brief oil-industry rush to the Arctic ended with the cancellation of government subsidies. In an era before mandatory cleanup regulations, companies left their trash behind.

    We reached the southern end of Baffin on the third day of the voyage with Zodiac landings in fog-surrounded Pritzler Harbour, where expedition botanist Susan Aiken introduced us to the miniature but abundant flora, such as crowberry, Labrador tea, mountain cranberry and Arctic willow. Historian and lichen specialist Lawrence Millman held forth on a much-misunderstood plant that thrives in the planet’s harshest climates. Over the following days, we would visit the forbidding shores of Monumental Island to see walruses, and sail into Pangnirtung Fjord. The magnificent cleft in Baffin’s rugged shore off Cumberland Sound is named after an Inuit community that has existed there for 1,000 years and, with 2,200 residents, is Nunavut’s second-largest community.

    The fjord’s boulder-strewn mountains, carved by retreating glaciers, were capped by low clouds, lending an other-worldly quality to Akshayuk Pass, the southernmost tip of Auyuittuq National Park. Transported by Zodiac to the head of the fjord, we hiked through the mud left behind by low tide and past the warden station, for a taste of one of Canada’s most remote and beautiful natural preserves. Camped around the station were a handful of adventurous hikers from all over the world who had trekked south for 13 days from Qikiqtarjuaq through Akshayuk Pass and were waiting to be picked up by boat.

    That evening, back aboard the Orlova, our mud-spattered boots hosed down and nursing our aching joints, we enjoyed a top-deck barbecue, surrounded by the misty peaks of mountains few Canadians have ever seen.

    The following day, after a tour of Pangnirtung, Lyublov Orlova sailed south again. Our final stop before a full day at sea and arrival in Iqaluit was a brief visit to Kekerten Island. This territorial historic park preserves the relics of a Scottish and American whaling station used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The giant skull of a bowhead whale propped on a rock here is a reminder that the whalers at this station almost single-handedly wiped out the species. Littering swaths of spongy tundra grass are the rusting hulks of vats used to boil whale blubber, the foundations of storage buildings, tangles of barrel hoops, pulleys and the grim skeletons of two whalers spilling out of makeshift coffins. The footprints of history fade slowly in the North.

    Despite the magnificent scenery, the cruise was also a reminder that the North is no Utopia. The Inuit communities we visited were litter-filled, and residents admitted that infrastructure is severely strained by the fastest-growing population in Canada.

    George Berthe, a senior executive with Makivik Corporation, and Thomasie Alikatuktuk, an artist and president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association representing 13 communities, spoke to passengers about the Inuit’s connection to the land and animals, and the challenges of maintaining their culture and language in a time of rapid change.

    Alikatuktuk, 53, told us he was born in a sod house in an isolated corner of Cumberland Sound. "I was surprised when I learned there were other people in the world," he said. "Now, young Inuit people have satellite TV."

    While jet service and subsidized fares have made it easier for Inuit youth to travel to southern cities for higher education, Berthe said, many become lonely and depressed in the unfamiliar culture and return North as soon as they can. "They say, ‘If they see you crying, no one asks why.’ " Like other experts among the ship’s expedition staff who delivered talks during the cruise, Alikatuktuk said he has seen a rapid warming of the Arctic, threatening a delicate environment and animals, such as polar bears, that are dependent on winter ice. "When I was young, the tops of Pangnirtung Fjord’s mountains were covered in glaciers, but they’re gone," he said, adding that icebergs, too, were much bigger years ago.

    Ironically, global warming and disappearing sea ice was also on the mind of Prime Minister Stephen Harper that week — but for an entirely different reason. The day we arrived in Iqaluit, he was there to meet with Inuit leaders such as Alikatuktuk and to address the territorial legislature about Canada’s need to demonstrate sovereignty over the waters of its Arctic coast. As the ice disappears, the region will become more accessible to foreign shipping. The Conservative government has promised increased military spending in the Far North and a deep-water port, probably in Iqaluit.

    But not everyone is totally impressed. "That’s good," said one elder I spoke with outside the town’s community hall, " but he should also talk about helping our communities cope with social problems and the affects of environmental change. We’re the ones who live on the land and claim it for Canada."

    Back in Montreal, the airport’s long queues and general tension after the bomb scare in London came as a shock. It put our voyage and the general rise in Arctic cruising into perspective: In an increasingly paranoid, turbulent and din-filled world, the peace, stark beauty and uncrowded shores of our cold Northern lands have become hot attractions.

    Pack your bags

    Cruise North offers seven- and eight-day cruises from June to the end of August. Rates start at about $4,000 a person (based on double occupancy), and include return air fare from Montreal. Early booking is a must, as the voyages fill up quickly. For more information, contact a travel agent, call 1-800-263-3200 or visit http://www.cruisenorthexpeditions.com.

    The Baffin Island cruise on the Lyubov Orlova is also offered by tour operator Horizon & Co. (1-800-387-2977; http://www.horizon-co.com).

    OTHER NORTHERN CRUISES

    Quark Expeditions: http://www.quarkexpeditions.com.

    Peregrine Adventures: http://www.peregrineadventures.com.

    Adventure Canada: http://www.adventurecanada.com.

    Hapag-Lloyd: http://www.hl-cruises.com.

    Quest Nature Tours: http://www.questnaturetours.com.

    Polar Star Expeditions: http://www.polarstarexpeditions.com.

    MORE INFORMATION

    Nunavik Tourism Association: 1-888-594-3424; http://www.nunavut-tourism.com.

    Nunavut Tourism: 1-866-686-2888; http://www.nunavuttourism.com.

    Auyuittuq National Park: 867-473-8834; http://www.qikiqtarjuaq.com/auyuittuqpark.htm.

    Kekerten Historic Park: http://www.nunavutparks.com/on_the_land/kekerten_park.cfm.

    Bekijk ook de prachtige foto’s (klik)