Canada rocks!

I’ve just returned from one of the world’s great treasures, Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada. I have very little skepticism to offer—sure, I could talk about Park management, the Master Plan, logging, First Nations, etc. but then I’d lose an opportunity to share some of the natural beauty and some of the medical highlights.

The Park is about the size of Connecticut and occupies a huge chunk of Ontario as it bends around Lake Huron. (Remember that Ontario’s southernmost leg is rather far south, with the city of Windsor being directly south of Detroit. It widens toward the northeast, and then opens up north and westward, forming a sort of reverse “c” around Michigan.)

Now, for my fellow Americans, let me just reiterate: Canada is a country, not a state. Not only that, but their dollar is now worth about the same as ours, although many of those dollars come in odd coins called “loonies” and “twonies”. They are also fond of some odd foods, such as poutine (not to be confused with “poutaine“), a dish which ruins perfectly good french fries by covering them with cheese curds and gravy.

But all that aside, Canada has done a great job of guarding its natural resources, and the Park is an example. Its Master Plan creates zones of utilization, setting aside the bulk of the Park for recreation and conservation, and creating smaller areas for logging, development, and other purposes.

The Park lies at the southernmost extend of the Canadian Shield, so in most places, you can scrape a bit of soil away with your shoe and find solid rock. I’m no geologist, but it’s pretty cool rest your hand on a hunk of granite and say to yourself, “this is the Earth’s crust…not topsoil, not sand, but the actual bedrock of my planet. Very cool.

This leaves areas perfect for white pine, red pine, and hemlock. The hills and highlands have the usual hardwoods like maple, and give way to conifers as the soil gives way to rock near lake shores.

I could probably go on all day about the fragrant wintergreen-scent of a fresh cut yellow birch twig, wild blueberries, etc., but really, the pines hanging onto rocky shorelines and the fall colors of the hardwood highlands are what many people remember from the Park. Group of Seven painter Tom Thompson (who is a much better Canadian product than poutine) captured the many moods of the Park in paintings such as “West Wind” and “Autumn Foliage”.

I keep trying to get down to business, and I keep getting sidetracked by the Park’s natural beauty. You really have to get there before you die. Really. It’s probably the best (accessible) canoeing on the planet (this is me and my kiddo, and, yes, the canoe is supposed to be leaning like that)

Anyway, it was a bit early in the season to be heading up there, unless you like black flies. I don’t. Neither does my wife. I had described them a bit to her, but when she actually stepped out of the car and was surrounded by a cloud of them, well, there’s nothing like direct experience, now, is there? Some folks were kind enough to let me take some pictures of their “war wounds”. Black flies, which are only a few millimeters in length, land around your hairline, painlessly scrape away some skin, and lap up the blood. This leaves the victim with a neck and scalp covered in small bumps and scabs and, after enough bites, swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Thankfully the season is short. The mosquitoes last most of the spring and summer, and they represent a significant annoyance, especially at dusk. This time of year, deer flies also make their earliest appearance, to be followed later by horse flies, a truly vicious beast that is remarkably resistant to blunt force delivered by a canoe paddle.

None of that should discourage a visit to the Park, albeit with at least 30 percent DEET solution. For a real treat, go in the late summer/early fall, when the air is cool, the bugs are quiet, and the leaves are turning.

And by the way, a quick note to my friends up north—I know we’ve always called them “click beetles”, but really, they are white-spotted sawyers and, no, they cannot cut off your hair, and they don’t bite. Stop stepping on them.