Part 58: Slough of Despond Side Trail to George Street
Date: 31 August 2020
Start: Slough of Despond Side Trail, Colpoy’s Range Road, Georgian Bluffs
End: George Street, Wiarton
Distance Covered: 16.4 km
Total Distance Covered: 731.7 km
716. Today’s hike follows the top edge of Skinner’s Bluff for quite a distance. On 3 July 1965, Fred Bodsworth (1918-2012), the veteran Canadian journalist, described standing on the edge of Skinner’s Bluff at the start of his long article about the new and not-quite-continuous Bruce Trail in Maclean’s magazine. He retells an anecdote by one of the Trail pioneers: “I knocked at a farmhouse door once,” Phil Gosling, of Guelph … told us, “and the farmer asked me inside. I told him I was requesting land easements for the Bruce Trail. ‘Yes sir, heard all about you in the papers,’ the farmer said. He pointed to a door off the kitchen and told me, ‘You put the Bruce Trail anywhere on my place you like ’cept through there. That there’s my wife’s bedroom.’” Read the whole article online here.
717. A poignant hand-painted memorial is affixed to these birches close to the start of today’s hike.
718. The view from Skinner’s Bluff north before it turns southwest. That’s White Cloud Island at centre, which, as I write, is … for sale! Private Islands, Inc., the selling agents, describe the property thus: “Located on the southern coast of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, White Cloud Island is one of the finest islands in this sought-after region of Ontario. The island offers expansive views of the bay’s deep, crystalline water, and is adorned in the smooth rock outcrops and windswept pines that have made the area’s real estate so coveted. Within this 1,290-acre private island is a 36-acre parcel for purchase that has seven lots and 1.3 miles of gorgeous water frontage, making it a blank canvas for its future owner.” How much will this “blank canvas” cost you? A cool US $1,100,000. And if White Cloud doesn’t suit, there are another 691 islands worldwide currently for sale by this Collingwood-based agency.
719. The view north over Colpoy’s Bay from Skinner’s Bluff, with the long line of cliffs making up Colpoy’s and Malcolm Bluffs visible across the water. The Bay, Bluff, and the village of Colpoy’s Bay near Wiarton all take their names from Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Griffith Colpoys (c. 1767-1832). Colpoys fought a combined French and Spanish fleet at Cape Finisterre (1805) in the Napoleonic Wars, led a British naval squadron off the state of Maine during the War of 1812, and commanded the naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia from 1816-21. The apostrophe in “Colpoy’s” was added more recently, as it was presumed by the locals to be more correct than not having one. That’s untrue in this case, though it’d be okay if the apostrophe were after the final “s.”
720A & B. This is (I’m fairly certain) a Northern Holly Fern (Polystichum lonchitis). It can be identified as follows: the once-divided leaflets have jagged edges, like holly; on the obverse side, the sori (spore clusters) are evenly spaced in two rows.
721. Down from the Bluff, we walk along Grey Road 1 into Oxenden. This village was founded in 1862 and named for the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, Ashton Oxenden (1808-92), who by virtue of his position was also Metropolitan Bishop of the entire ecclesiastical province of Canada. (In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the population of Montreal was Roman Catholic, there was, and is, an Anglican cathedral in the city.) Oxenden was the author of numerous tracts explaining religious doctrine to poor “cottagers” in simple language. Some of these tracts sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Oxenden also wrote the autobiography My First Year in Canada (1871), which paints a vivid portrait of Montreal in 1869-70.
722. We pass this sign. More than a century ago, most women cooked, cleaned, and raised children without any formal education in the domestic sciences. Adelaide Hoodless (1858-1910) lost her baby son in 1889 to a disease that she believed she could have prevented had she been more knowledgeable, and decided to devote herself to a public campaign to reduce the likelihood of such tragedies in future. Setting up a Women’s Institute (WI) was her remedy. The WI was born in Stoney Creek, near Hamilton, in 1897, and soon the movement had spread widely throughout the British Empire. There were 888 branches and 30,000 members in 1914 in Ontario alone, and 300 branches remain active in the province, though the one in Oxenden was disbanded in 2000.
723. As we walk over a bridge westward toward Wiarton, we hear the sound of rushing water beneath and investigate. It’s the sound of Gleason Brook rushing spectacularly through a culvert under the road and over a falls on its way into Colpoy’s Bay.
724. Topical signs on the side of a house in Oxenden.
725. Just down the road, this large house is for sale. It’s described as a 1874 church conversion, has 6 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, and costs considerably less than the aforementioned offshore island.
726. Off the road again, we find ourselves on the edge of a huge expanse of plain. Mike and I might be back on the Prairies again, in the Land of Living Skies …
727. … but look, just above the horizon at left, isn’t that plane very close to the ground?
728. Indeed it is, as it’s about to land at the airport on whose perimeter we are standing. This is the terminal building of the grandly-named Wiarton Keppel International Airport (YVV). In pre-Covid days, it boasted a scheduled flight four days a week to and from Toronto’s Billy Bishop City Airport (YTZ). The “International” part of its name indicates that it can accept private charters from the USA and elsewhere as it is an official Canada Customs Airport of Entry. It has two runways, one asphalt and one gravel, and can accommodate planes carrying up to 15 people. The terminal building is named for Wiarton-born Eileen Vollick (1908-68), the first licensed female pilot in Canada, who earned her license in 1928. Eileen was obviously fearless: at the age of 18 she became the first Canadian woman to parachute deliberately into water: into Hamilton Harbour from a Curtiss Jenny biplane.
729. A mystery! We observe a number of large objects abandoned by a ditch along the Trail north of Wiarton Airport. They look exactly like sarcophagi, that is, stone coffins typical of ancient Egypt and other antique cultures. They even have sarcophagus-like lids covered by lichen that suggests great age.
730. The Trail along the northwest side of Wiarton Airport is hereby crowned with laurel as the most poorly maintained section that we have encountered so far. The white blazes on the trees show the Trail’s route, but to follow them we must wade through shoulder-high weeds taking care not to stumble and fall into the slough on the right.
731. An old wall of rounded rocks alongside the Trail brings Robert Frost to mind again. Here’s the opening of his poem “Mending Wall” (1914):
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’”…
732. We descend a steep ladder from the Escarpment and one minute later find ourselves in suburban Wiarton. A scene from the classic years of the American automobile greets us. On the left, a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500; on the right, a 1961 Ford Thunderbird. Lines from the Beach Boys’ 1964 hit “Fun Fun Fun” (written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love) come automatically to mind:
“Well she got her daddy’s car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the lib-rary
Like she told her old man now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now
And she’ll have fun fun fun
’Til her daddy takes the T-bird away.”