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Flashback Friday: Wawa to The Soo

Over the nearly 8,000 km of the TransCanada Highway there are a few really special sections. The halfway section through Algoma Country in Ontario is one of those sections. This section between Wawa and Sault Ste Marie (The Soo) was built in the 1950's. The workers considered this section a bearcat to build because of difficult terrain. That tough terrain gives us some pretty spectacular views. There are very few amenities along this section, so make sure you are prepared with fuel, snacks, and a picnic lunch. If you are driving straight through, without any stops, it will take about 2.5 hours. Don't do that. The majority of the drive goes through Lake Superior Provincial Park. I had decided to stop at every lookout, picnic spot, and short trek. I took all day but in retrospect, I wish I had stopped and camped for a few days. There were many spectacular hikes that needed more time.

The famous Canadian Group of Seven artists were inspired by this area and the Province of Ontario has created a unique series of educational markers at the locations of many of these masterpieces. I thoroughly enjoyed each one of these displays. My education has been more focused on music throughout my life and I have made learning more about visual art a goal over the past 15 years or so.

I started my day at the visitor center in Wawa, home of the famous goose sculpture but I was more impressed with the bright and colourful carvings of Gitchee Goumi.

Wawa is an Ojibwe meaning "wild goose", and explaining the famous goose sculpture. The town’s history spans back to the fur trading days and has since served as a hub for forestry, mining and boat-building industries. Today, Wawa attracts visitors for fishing and kayaking on Lake Superior, many winter snowmobile trails and (of course) for snapping a selfie with the Wawa Goose, one of the most photographed landmarks in North America. Gitchee Goumi (or similar) is the Ojibwe word for "Big Sea". This name was made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem "The Song of Hiawatha" and by Gordon Lightfoot in his song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". As is common in much First Nations' story-telling the lake controls much of natural and human world. One of my first stops was Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park, it seemed appropriate.

Old Woman Bay is a long sandy beach with driftwood surrounded by stunning natural beauty. Looking towards the horizon, the face of the Old Woman can be seen within the 200-metre standing cliffs to the left.

The sheer size of the Great Lakes and especially Lake Superior cannot be understood until you have the opportunity to stand on the lakeshore. Big waves in a lake. Tides in a lake. This is a huge piece of water.

The sand beach at Kathryn Cove is sheltered by the Lizard Islands. The shallow waters promised a nice warm swim. This has been the land of the Ojibwa people long before foreign settlers arrived. The Province appears to have attempted to recognize this fact but were unable to completely shed settler attitudes. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the various "corrections" made to the signs in this area. Kudos to the person(s) responsible. It's a good reminder that 'O Canada' is our home ON native land.

It's amazing what one word can do to change the understanding. I spent time pondering how these subtle things shape the colonial narrative of Canada and the effect this would have on indigenous individuals as they grew up in their ancient lands.

The Agawa area is absolutely breathtaking and I was really looking forward to my next stop... I wanted to see Agawa Rock, a place where pictographs are painted onto the side of the rocks. It was a short, but treacherous trail. There were two of these signs on the short trek.

It was a rugged trail with many up and downs, narrow pass-throughs, and rocky pathways. I appreciated the shade on a hot day. I was surprised at how few people I encountered on the trail.

Agawa Rock is a sacred site for generations of Ojibwe. The pictographs record dreams, visions and events and have proven to be resilient, withstanding the harshest of elements given their location. The paintings continue to fade away over time. Sun, wind, waves and ice are naturally causing erosion of the cliff face. Lichen or mineral deposition cover the figures in some places. It is unknown how many pictographs have already faded from Agawa Rock. Ironically, since this site is protected, nothing will be recorded at this site and will disappear in time.

The pictographs are located on the water side of the cliffs. This surface receives intense weather. It is estimated the pictographs will only last about 400 years.

There are pictographs all along this cliff just above water level with more even further around the corner approximately another 500m. There is a chain to hang onto as you walk. It's hard to tell in this photo but those rocks are at a very steep angle. The ranger was standing beside me as I took this photo. He told me that he was not allowed to go further, unless a visitor got into difficulty. Just in case you slip, there is a preserver they can throw you. Strangely, that was not reassuring.

The young ranger made it very clear that going much further was not a wise move. I decided I would listen to the nice young man. Next time, I will get a boat tour to see it from the water... likely the only view the pictograph artists had.

These (below) are likely the oldest of the pictographs at the site, about 400 years old, while the photo above shows the most recent, about 200 years old.

Canada's settler history is filled with repeating names as generations of the same family contribute both good and bad to the country's history. The person most responsible for locating and cataloguing these First Nations pictographs was Selwyn Dewdney, an artist, activist, and author who dedicated a great deal of his life to the preservation and understanding of pictographs across the nation, cataloguing over 300 different sites from the Rockies to Newfoundland. Selwyn and his sons were especially involved in the local Ojibwe community. He also happened to be the grand-nephew of Edgar Dewdney, one of the founders of the notorious residential school system in Canada. After a thoroughly pleasant couple of hours, I returned to the highway and continued on to Chippewa Falls. Members of the Group of Seven rented railway boxcars which were parked on a siding near this spot. They "camped" in the boxcars for the summer in this area and created many sketches, paintings, and other studies.

Chippewa Falls is considered the half-way point of the TransCanada Highway. There were some stunning spots along the river, the falls include several pools where the swimming is pleasant. It's a short walk from the parking to the falls and is a good place to stretch your legs and spend a couple of hours. I enjoyed a soak in the water after I had tramped along several trails.

After all my stops, it was getting later in the day and it was time to get to my evening's lodgings, so I headed towards Sault Ste Marie. Sault Ste Marie has an interesting history. It was a meeting place, trading centre, and transportation hub for the Objibwa people, then it became a fur trade Fort. When the US - British North America border was drawn along St. Mary’s River, it divided the community, with a bit in each country. Like many places in Northern Ontario, it is an industrial town surrounded by stunning beauty.


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