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Sleeping Giant

According to a somewhat suspect telling of an Ojibway "legend," the Sleeping Giant is Nanabosh, the spirit of the lake, turned to stone because white traders discovered the location of a rich silver mine. I say "suspect," because the discovery of the mine and the publication of the story date from the late nineteenth century whereas the formation of mesas that make up the Giant are much, much older....

From our vantage point, camped on Lake Marie Louise in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Nanabosh is female. In placement and proportion, the "Adam's Apple" hill looks more like a lovely pair of breasts.

Whatever the case, her resting place is a wild and ruggedly beautiful part of Ontario. Whether it's due to climate change or just to the climate of Northern Ontario, the area around Sleeping Giant is an ecosystem all its own: we were there in early July but the lilacs were in bloom in the village of Silver Islet, and the mayflies--those sad creatures who live only to reproduce, die, and feed the newly hatched fish and birds--were abundant. And the black flies, usually swarming from early June, were arriving as we left.

Sleeping Giant is a terrific park to camp: the sites at Lake Marie Louise are big and beautifully maintained, and the facilities are really good, although scavenging wildlife is abundant. We had visits from a fox and a persistent skunk, and two chipmunks and a red squirrel joined us for cocktails every day, attracted by the dry roasted peanuts on the picnic table. The pebble beach below our site was a great place to watch waterfowl, with a mother duck and her brood of nine swimming past at dusk, hunting for crayfish and mayflies. The little ones would visibly panic when the lake's giant fish brushed their legs from below.

Lake Marie Louise is renowned for its giant bass and its perch. Pete and Jenny Lancrete of Duluth, pictured enjoying the sunset from the privacy of their canoe, were there to camp and fish with their family. Calm as glass in the early morning and late evening, the lake gets choppy around noon when the wind comes up. It can be treacherous away from the shelter of the shore and paddlers need to be aware of what the weather is doing.

One morning, paddling around the south end of the lake, two bald eagles soared overhead and then perched in a tall pine tree. One flew off, but one stayed, eyeing us as we tried to maneuver our kayak close enough to take pictures. He was very photogenic and put on a bit of a show: I hadn't realised that eagles can rotate their heads nearly 360 degrees like an owl.

The park and the Sibley Peninsula are mainly off the grid, although the night sky was often so clear we could see satellites orbiting overhead. The Milky Way seems to glow earlier up here but maybe that's just me.... One of the great things about Thunder Bay is that the sun doesn't set until 10pm in the summer. It must be brutal in the winter, but the long evenings do give the chance to make the most of the summer.

At the bottom of the Sibley Peninsula is the village of Silver Islet. Just offshore, in 1868, Thomas Macfarlane discovered a deposit of silver on a rocky islet about the size of a hockey rink. Despite the tremendous difficulties in mining such a small space, in nearly twenty years the mine produced $3,250,000 worth of silver. Alexander Sibley, the mine developer, constructed wooden breakwaters to hold back the lake water and expanded the islet using crushed rock. Unfortunately, in 1884, at the end of the season, a shipment of the coal needed to fuel the pumps was delayed. The pumps failed and the mine flooded, never to be used again.

Today, the lake has reclaimed most of the islet, and the village is comprised of a few dozen wooden houses, an antique general store, and a government dock. It costs five dollars to land at the dock, payable at the store, which is open only sometimes. Described by some sources as a "ghost town," the village is actually a peaceful community and one of Ontario's pretty, hidden secrets.

All this beauty aside, the reason we drove nearly 3,000 km round trip from Toronto was to walk 26km, half of it uphill, to see another of the province's wonders. Stay tuned....

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