Standing atop of a steep, snow covered hill, I looked around. Cars from the QEW highway whizzed by me on one side, and I could see Lake Ontario on the other. The wind was cold, and the waves on the lake were white-capping.
“Let go of your end” I said as I looked across the canoe at Sean. He looked down the hill, and released his grip on the large, red, heavy Coleman RAM-X canoe.
I gave a tug on the canoe, and it quickly, but gently began to slide down the snow covered hill, and came to rest on the bottom. “Good thing it’s a tough canoe, or we couldn’t have done that.” I said. Sean looked on in amazement.
Sean and I collected our gear from the Jeep and made our way back down the hill. While heading towards the canoe, my foot caught on something. I didn’t pay any attention to it, until I stepped forward and very slowly, and gently was brought to my knees – still holding lifejackets and other safety equipment. It was a gentle fall. Sean looked up and said “what the hell, we’re not even in the water yet!”
Together, we put on our life jackets, (including one on the dog) checked our kits, and pushed the boat into the water. The ground was partially covered with snow and I could feel the cold wind pushing at us. Sean said “I really hope we don’t end up in that water. We won’t last 20 minutes” I agreed and suggested we don’t stay far from shore. A canoe instructor once told me to never be father away from shore than you want to swim.
This area of the Niagara Region is fortunate that over the last 100 years, there has been little human interference. The waterway has been allowed to completely naturalise. Nature has taken over quite nicely and the area has become home to fish, birds, and other animals.
As the canoe drifted under the QEW highway, a Great Blue Heron stood proudly in the shallow water. I have seen him there several times over the years. It must be a prime fishing spot for him. When he saw us, he flew off into the distance to let us pass.
Sean and I paddled the canoe into the open water of the 16 mile creek. The cold wind blew at our backs and the chocolate milk coloured water had large ripples in it from the wind. The wind was at our backs, which for a quick paddle. We hoped the wind would either die down, or change direction later in the day.
Canoeing in this water body was a strange experience in late spring. Unlike summer canoe trips, I was all bundled up with a ski-mask, thick jacket, and multiple layers of clothing. The ground was dotted with glistening patches of white snow which lay between leafless trees. The skies were grey and overcast. You could smell the cold.
Paddling close to shore, you could easily see what the forest canopy normally hides. Piles of rubbish, old wooden skids, blue plastic barrels and a plethora of other human made objects dotted the landscape.
Rounding a bend in the 800 metre wide “creek” we could see a series of white dots floating on the water. I pulled out my binoculars to expect to see bleach bottles, foam bricks, or other rubbish floating about. I was surprised to see large white swans in the water. I counted 6 of them.
“Honk! Honk! Honk!” I heard as I looked up to the sky. Several Canadian Geese had decided to fly over and land in the water. I also saw a black Cormorant fly by as well.
After about an hour of paddling, the island came into view. A small 2 hectare island jutted up from the water line. It was quite steep on most sides, and surrounded at the base by fallen trees. The beach lay on the south side of the island.
“Ramming speed” I called out laughing as we headed toward the beach and beached the canoe. I stepped out and dragged it out of the water. I lifted my dog out of the canoe, and Sean stepped out last.
Examining the island, looked like no one had visited it this year. The snow had cleared on the island, and it was quite muddy. A large silver tarp had blown onto the island during the winter. “This will make a perfect shelter” Sean said as we walked over it.
“It looks like there is a mating pair on the far side of the island” he said.
I turned around and saw an existing fire pit from last year. I gathered some light, small sticks from the island and started to set-up a fire. Sean used his Gransfors Bruks hatchet to split some deadfall. It didn’t take long to get a small twig fire started in the fire pit someone had built sometime in the past.
The wind started to pick up and we used the silver tarp to create sitting pads as well as a windbreak to make our stay more comfortable. Sean curled up in his wool blanket with my dog and we relaxed and enjoyed the fire.
After some rest, Sean decided to make a warm lunch for himself of Raman noodles (Mr. Noodles in Canada) and tea. I ate my cold lunch which I had packed earlier in the day.
The island was dotted with mature oak trees. Some of them created beautiful deadfall in which Sean whittled. He made shavings using his knife and then slowly dumped them onto the fire. The afternoon slowly wore on, and the skies cleared. We found ourselves under a beautiful warm sun, with no wind.
I completed my journal and we packed up our kit, disassembled the tarp, and put out the fire.
We ensured the fire was completely out by pouring several pots of water on it, and stirred it around with a stick. In the distance I could hear the distinct “Hee-Haw” of the black capped chickadee.
Packing our kit, and the dog in the canoe, we set-sail under blue skies with the waterway being as smooth as glass. It was a beautiful, easy paddle back.
“Hard to starboard!” I shouted as I looked ahead. Sean paddled hard and the bow swung to the right. As the boat silently glided through the water, we could see what appeared to be a large sunken cable of which had come to the surface. Thankfully we did not go over it
Moments later, in the distance I saw a large, majestic bird swoop down onto the water. His large dark body accented with bright white tail feathers, head, and a glistening yellow beak. I shouted to Sean “Look at that – a bald eagle!”
About four years ago I was paddling through this area and had seen the bald eagle which had called this area home. I reported it to the local Ministry of Natural Resources who confirmed there was a mating pair of bald eagles in the creek. It was a beautiful sight to see such a large and beautiful bird in the area.
Pulling the boat ashore, Sean and I removed our life jackets, and put on our backpacks. We carried the heavy canoe back to the Jeep and mounted it securely on the trailer. The morning snow long melted, the paddle turned out to beautiful. The cold day had kept everyone away from the park, and we had the entire area to ourselves.
There is nothing like taking advantage of unseasonably warm weather with a canoe paddle, and fire on a deserted island.