Part 70: Little Cove Road to Bruce Trail Northern Terminus
Date: Saturday 7 November 2020
Start: Little Cove Road, Tobermory
End: Bruce Trail Northern Terminus, Bay Street, Tobermory
Distance Covered: 8.1 km
Total Distance Covered: 890.4 km
883A & B. Our final hike takes place on a Saturday morning unusually mild and sunny for early November. It’s only 8.1 km from here on Little Cove Road to the cairn marking the Trail’s northern terminus in Tobermory, but it turns out not to be not quite the simple walk in the park that we had anticipated. Rather, this hike is a condensed composite of almost every kind of terrain that the Trail has presented us with. The easiest part comes first: just over one km along Little Cove Road itself. (A) Starting out, we’re curious about that red dot in the distance, which eventually resolves itself into (B) a woman doing energetic jogging exercises, including running backwards. There’s a white dog with her, and she’s loudly and continually urging it to keep up with her, but, amusingly, it seems completely unwilling to do so, trotting along at its own relaxed pace several meters behind her.
884A, B & C. The Trail then veers off road to the right. Now there’s (A) dolomite pavement here near where the Niagara Escarpment lowers itself to lake level at Tobermory, then continues underwater to Manitoulin Island; (B) there’s either a newly planted little pine forest or a Christmas tree farm; and then (C) there’s an ex-golf course. Called Cornerstone, it was a 9-holer that opened in 1963 and closed down for undetermined reasons in 2018. The tees, fairways, and greens are all completely overgrown.
885A & B. Soon the Trail is back for a short spell on the lakeshore at Dunks Bay. (A) Mike takes a photo of this little natural bridge and then (B) captures me scrambling up a steep section of Trail away from the shore.
886A & B. The following section of less than 1 km is one of the trickiest we have encountered. It’s as if the Trail was saying, Don’t imagine you’re out of the woods yet. As the blaze in (A) indicates, the Trail crosses this bare, downward sloping bedrock, which must be a nightmare after rain. (B) This little pine is doing its best “Group of Seven” imitation, with Bear’s Rump Island on the horizon behind it.
887A & B. Soon enough we’re passing by the Bruce Peninsula National Park Visitor Centre, closed for the season. Still open is (A) a 20-metre-tall viewing tower that gives spectacular panoramas of the area, but frankly, we’re just too weary to haul our asses to the top. And there’s (B) a stile over nothing next to an information board that claims, falsely in both official languages, to be where the Bruce Trail begins. We know exactly where the Trail begins (or from our perspective, ends), as we saw the precise location from where we stayed overnight …
888. … namely, the Princess Hotel, one of only two hostelries open in pandemic Tobermory in early November, and just about the only place in town with an operating restaurant. The Princess opened in the early 1900s as the Matheson House, a boarding house. Later it became the Davey Hotel, and then The George’n (Georgian, get it?), catering to scuba diving groups who flock to Tobermory as the base for exploring the wrecked ships in Fathom Five National Marine Park, just offshore. There are 18 wrecks in the Marine Park, the first and only such underwater park in Canada. The Tobermory Princess Hotel acquired its current name and function when the present owners took it over in the early 1990s.
889. The Princess Hotel overlooks Little Tub Harbour. Guess what Tobermory’s other, larger harbour is called.* The “Glass Bottom to Flowerpot” vessel in the foreground takes seasonal tourists to Flowerpot Island 6.5 km offshore to see the flowerpot geological formation (see #836) that gives the island its name. The glass bottom of both the smaller vessel and the Great Blue Heron behind it allows visitors to see two shipwrecks through the lucid waters of Georgian Bay: the Sweepstakes, a Great Lakes schooner that hit a rock and foundered on 23 August 1885, and the City of Grand Rapids, a double-decked steamer, that went down on 29 October 1907 as a result of a fire on board. Both wrecks are in *Big Tub Harbour just west of here. Tobermory itself was named in 1882 after the fishing port on the Scottish Island of Mull; the name comes from Scottish Gaelic Tobar Mhoire, meaning “The Well of Mary.” Once there were as many as forty fishing boats based in Tobermory’s two harbours, and during the later nineteenth century there were five large lumber mills in the village, processing pine, maple, ash, elm and birch. These days, Tobermory’s main industry is tourism. After you’ve taken the boat tours and checked out the wrecks and the coastal formations, you can put your car on the ferry for a 2.5 hour ride to Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island, then drive on into Northern Ontario. But out of season, as now in November, the tip of the Bruce Peninsula is a dead end and Tobermory is almost a ghost town.
890A & B. And here (A), just across Bay Street from the Princess Hotel and overlooking Little Tub Harbour, is the northern counterpart of the cairn at Queenston Heights where we began the Trail on 2 April 2018, just over two and a half years ago. We could not have imagined then how much the world in 2020 would change, nor how quickly. Many thanks to the friendly bartender at the Princess for taking this snap (B) of two old friends feeling a conflicting mixture of emotions: pleased with their achievement, tired from recent exertions, apprehensive about the near future as Covid gathers strength, and maybe a little lost for words now that the long journey is over. So let’s conclude this 890th entry with someone else’s words that have, I think, a timely resonance:
“As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
“Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.”
— T.S. Eliot, from “East Coker” (1940).