Land of the Silver Birch, home of the Beaver

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May 15th 2019
Published: May 15th 2019
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Yesterday was pretty special. We went to visit the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation at M’Chigeeng near Lake Mindemoya on Manitoulin. Artists work there, reviving traditional work like moccasin-making, beadwork and fine jewellery and painting on skins, wood and stone. Beautiful craftwork. They run free sessions for school children there too. These classes are so important following on from years of suppressed cultural identity. Manitoulin children were sent away to Catholic residential schools from the 19thCentury right up until 1958. At these schools, where they spent ten months of the year without seeing family, brothers and sisters were segregated from the age of five, beaten if they were caught speaking the Ojibwe language and also frequently abused. The idea was to obliterate Ojibwe culture and the Catholic Church failed to apologise formally until 1996! Many First Nation people have gained compensation for their sufferings at the residential schools. Last night on TV we saw that now, in 2019, having completed the residential school compensation programme, the Canadian Government is starting to deal with those who suffered in the cities at the day schools. We are talking about thousands of people! For this reason, the work at the Cultural Foundations is of vital importance.

One beautiful room at the Cultural Centre is called the Healing Lodge: used for ceremonies, meetings and small gatherings. It is circular in the shape of a lodge and represents the circle of life. Here everyone is equal, the circle has no beginning or end. The seven Godfather Teachings taught here are Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth. We had the Lodge all to ourselves; a lovely peaceful space to sit!

After leaving M’Chigeeng we drove to the start of the “Cup and Saucer” Trail head. The cliffs are called “cup and saucer” because the higher “cup” is perched on the lower “saucer” formation. Both are Silurian deposits about 400 million years old. The trail passes through the most beautiful forest of Silver Birch, Spruce and Cedar, climbing steadily up to the top of the Niagara Escarpment. The views from the top are stunning and I am proud of myself because I didn’t think I would get to the top. I couldn’t stand near the edge like John (sheer cliff drops) but enjoyed the stunning views from a metre or so back! There are a few places on the trail that are rather challenging, more like rock-climbing than hiking, one wooden staircase to get up one rock face and a few deep crevices to be careful of, not wide but deep. It was a wonderful experience going up there. We had a picnic at the top, all by ourselves and in fact only saw a few people the whole climb. One advantage of being here at the start of the season! We are pleased to say that we didn’t see any snakes either (there are a lot in the area). We were delighted to see a Douglas Squirrel; we haven’t seen one of these tiny pretty creatures since we were in the Grand Canyon eleven years ago. They are indigenous to North America but quite elusive and hard to spot. It was a wonderful day!

Tuesday 14th May 2019

Today was a driving day, about 350 kilometres, which takes quite a while in Canada because the strict driving speeds are 80 and 90 kilometres per hour, even on straight roads. Rather slow! The scenery, however, is sensational! We left Kagawong at 10 a.m. and drove to where we are now, Sault Saint Marie, by Lake Superior. On a map, Kagawong and Sault look quite close, but one has to drive off the island in the east then along the main shore from east to west. From Tobermory we took a two-hour ferry trip to get to Manitoulin Island, however leaving was simply a case of crossing bridges, island hopping across the channel between the island and tha mainland. The first bridge, at a place called Little Current, is a single lane swing bridge, which opens for fifteen minutes on the hour to allow boats through. Thereafter, bridges span the gaps between island after island. It is so beautiful, like driving down a mini Florida Keyes only colder with different vegetation! Once over to the mainland at a place called Espanola, we headed west, following the Spanish River towards Lake Superior. A great drive.

We have just checked in to a Howard Johnson, I am typing this whilst John makes coffee then we are off out to explore Sault. We shall sort out photos later and post the blog.

The weather has warmed up considerably so when we set off heading west again tomorrow, we are hoping it lasts so that we can spend a few days in the Lake Superior Provincial Park. From East to West around the rim of Lake Superior will be a drive of about 700 kilometres (Sault to Thunder Bay) so we want to take our time and spend three or four days, hopefully camp, hike and enjoy the scenery around the blue lake and rocky shores. We might be lucky to see some moose:

“Land of the Silver Birch,

Home of the Beaver,

Where still the Mighty Moose

Wanders at will

Blue lake and rocky shore

I will return once more” song lyrics circa 1920

Additional photos below
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15th May 2019

Dear Viv and John So enjoyed your blog. What an amazing wilderness. You really do go where no man or hardly any dare to tread. It begins to give us a real idea of the scale of the area around the lakes. Take care love Barb and Dace xx
15th May 2019

Hi. It is amazing Barb and so BIG!!! Xxxx
15th May 2019

Silver birch
Hello there you guys. I am sorry didnt comment on your last blog but events here overtook me but i can assure you it was well read and brought back school girl memories with Hiawatha. This most recent blogg sounds equally as lovely as the earlier ones. What splendid isolation you are enjoying along with the stunning scenery. So very very beautiful. I am sure john will produce photos which could be translated into your art Viv. Well i look forward to reading your next blogg and of course seeing your next photos. Your journey is definitely one of a lifetime enjoy and stay safe and well. Maureen
15th May 2019

So lovely to hear from you. Sorry I didn't get to see you before setting off . Will make up for it when I get back and see you at art class. Lots of love xxx
15th May 2019

All new
Hi, I didn’t know Canada shares Ireland and Australia’s history of suppressing native peoples - and the Catholic Church features again. What scars these folk carry. It sounds rather special visiting these places and island hopping without seeing many people. You make it sound beautiful, peaceful and (still) rather cold. I liked the photos looking out across the lakes. Take care. Love, Ann xx

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