Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Our paddling route as per my GPS tracks in the Massasauga Park

Certainly, it is one of my favorite parks… and in early September, 2014 my friend and I embarked on my 6th visit to this park! The weather was still very good and the forecast did not call for any rain. Upon arriving at the park’s Pete Access Point, we were told about very active black bears in the park and advised to hang our food, which we were planning to do anyway. It was a little windy, but most of the time we paddled in channels and were sheltered from the wind. It took us almost 4 hours to arrive at our campsite — this time we reserved campsite #601 on Jenner Bay My friend, a canoeing novice, found such long paddling quite challenging and was very content when we finally reached the campsite.
Campsite # 601 on Jenner Bay

I had visited this campsite several years ago; it was located in a magical, a.k.a. eerie forest and it was rather dark. There was a small clearing on the shore of the lake, with the fire pit and a bench. Because I had almost always set up campsites on rocky islands, exposed to the elements, quite often on bare rock, it was certainly a totally different camping experience. Besides… I just wanted to find out if the eerie feeling I had had several years ago was going to translate into something more tangible and sinister… like a haunting house (or, in this case, a haunting campsite). There were two additional campsites on Jenner Bay (remained vacant during our stay), yet quite substandard. We quickly set up our tents and found two branches perfect for hanging food.
View from our campsite

There were a couple of old pits here and there, most likely man-made. They resembled trenches which dotted forests in Poland—remnants of the Second World War. Later I asked a part warden about them; whereas he did not know their origin or purpose, he said that there used to be a lot of human activity in the park and it was very likely there were some kind of structures many years ago. They kind of looked like mass graves, which caved in after whatever was buried in them, had disintegrated… but I did not try to carry out any semi-archeological research.
This catfish does not look pretty, but it makes a great meal!

The bay was quite private, although a small boat moored for two nights and from time to time we saw a few fishing boats come to the bay.
Chris with our dinner

Every day we were canoeing on Jenner Bay and on Lake Huron; the second day we caught a big, 16 lb catfish, which we fried and it was delicious! Later we caught two pikes, both in Jenner Bay, and they ended up in our frying pan as well.

The water level kept visibly changing; sometimes it reached the fire pit, at other times it receded at least one meter. Although we religiously hanged our food on trees’ branches, no animal every disturbed it and we only saw a few cute mice at night near the fire pit. A few times we spotted colorful hummingbirds.

One day we paddled to Frying Pan Island, where we went to the small store (also an LCBO agency, where alcoholic beverages might be purchased), replenished our beer and ice supplies and then paddled to the famous Henry’s Restaurant. Soon, I realized that something was amiss: the restaurant’s docks, normally bustling with activity and full of cruisers, motorboats, sailing boats and float planes, were completely deserted. I guessed the restaurant had closed for the season right after the September 2 Labour Day, just a few days earlier! Well, we stopped at the Sans Souci and Copperhead Association where I could finally read and take photographs of several monuments/inscriptions (which I had always only seen from afar). One of them was dedicated to the famous explorer Samuel de Champlain, who had passed in this area 399 years ago:

Samuel de Champlain

“As for me, I labour always
To prepare a way for those
Willing after me to follow it.”

The Province of Ontario
The Georgian Bay Association

After a while we paddled back to our campsite, where we sat, sipped the delicious, cold beer and admired the rising full moon.

On the second-last evening, while sitting on the shore and reading a magazine, I suddenly noticed a coiled snake near the canoe; unmistakably, it was the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, the only venomous snake in Ontario, after which the park is named. I immediately called my Chris and grabbed the camera. He hurried in and initially suspected that I had placed a rubber snake just to scare him, as the snake was motionless — but soon it began sluggishly slithering forward, powerfully rattling its tail. 
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake at our campsite

Its rattle was made up of 9 rings. It was exactly the 5th time I had seen a rattlesnake in Ontario, but this one was the biggest: it was up to 1 meter long, very thick and unlike the previous rattlesnakes, it was not scared of us at all and did not try to escape as the others had always done. Instead, it kept forcefully moving forward across the clearing, then cut through the fire pit and eventually disappeared in the bush. Knowing that rattlesnakes usually hunt at night, patiently waiting for passing rodents, we became very careful while walking all over our campsite, especially after dusk. Although the last fatality due to the Massasauga Rattlesnake bite in Ontario was in the 1960s, we did not want to take any risks (by the way, the hospital in Parry Sound did carry have snakebite serum).

While paddling back to Pete’s Place, my handheld Garmin GPS became totally misaligned and after trying to fix it, I gave up and got my back-up unit, which I always bring with me. Of course, we could have found our way back without the GPS, but it was much easier to do so with the help of this modern piece of technology. It was fairly windy and we had to paddle hard on choppy Woods Bay, but once we reached Blackstone Harbour, the wind subsided.
Around the campfire

The park staff told us that every day campers were reporting active bears visiting their campsites, but the bears were not in the area we camped. Fortunately, bears were only interested in food, not campers, but since I had had quite a few encounters with black bears, I could only imagine how scary, unnerving and unpleasant such confrontations must have been!

Nothing spooky or supernatural took place during our stay there, yet Chris confided to me one year later that indeed, there was something creepy about this campsite and to this day he kept thinking about this site.

Overall, it was a nice canoeing trip: the park was almost deserted, the boat traffic significantly dwindled, most of the bugs gone and the weather still good. We had hoped to catch more fish, but well, you cannot have everything! I am looking forward to visiting this park next year.

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