Paddle New Lowell to Peterborough

May 1/17 to Oct 5/17Paddle and Cycle Saskatoon to New Lowell
May 13/18 to June 1/18Paddle New Lowell to Peterborough
Apr 15/19 to June 20/19Paddle Peterborough to St. Lawrence River

In 2017 I decided that I would spend the summer of 2018 backpacking and cycling in the British Isles. I booked that flight from Toronto because I intended to paddle to Peterborough, where I had arranged with the Canadian Canoe Museum to store my canoe until I returned in 2019. I had taken the bike with me when I returned to B.C. the previous year. When I was looking for flights from Vancouver to Ontario, I found a direct flight at a decent price to Hamilton. Going there would add 100 kilometres to my bike ride back to the canoe but that route would allow me to visit New Dundee, the birthplace of both my great grandfather and his father as well.

About to board SkyTrain for the Vancouver airport with the bicycle and the rest of my kit in a rather large box. I’ll pass along a tip that someone gave me. Princess Auto sells a tiny 3-wheel dolly for around $15. That’s why it’s off the ground at the back. The box pulled relatively easily, like a wheeled suitcase.

I didn’t have any difficulty in finding the ancestral graveyard of Daniel, who died in 1858, and his son Rueben. I didn’t know it at the time but my genealogical gravestone discoveries on this visit to Ontario wouldn’t be ending here. Wow Air, the Icelandic air carrier I had booked to get me to Ireland, had a big surprise in store for me that would provide me with time to search for Daniel’s father’s gravestone.

Reunited with the canoe. Mice made a clean-up necessary, but my bird seed-filled juggling balls were the only loss. I was expecting some mice and hadn’t left anything I thought they’d eat but didn’t realize how many plastic bags they would chew up to make their nests. The canoe spent the winter upside down, wrapped in tarps, in the space behind the lattice screen in the background.

From here it’s a 50 km bike ride to Lake Simcoe which is part of the Trent Severn Waterway, a hundred-year-old canal system now run by Parks Canada.

Lake Simcoe. I hadn’t paddled for seven months and was hoping the fifty kilometres needed to reach the Trent Severn Canal system would be uneventful wind-wise.

Welcome to ‘Cottage Country’ Ron. If you are a 21st-century voyageur guess what. Get past the Great Lakes and you’ll find that undeveloped land to use for a camping spot is going to be next to impossible to find. The shoreline of Lake Simcoe soon had me realizing that. Was happy to find this small park complete with a loo but of course, also decked out with ‘no overnight camping signs’. Well, I have to lay down and sleep somewhere – doubtful those signs would ever lead to a room with bars. I wonder what the public consensus would have been in days gone by if they had been told that a person, travelling by non-motorized means, was forbidden from stopping to sleep. Bureaucracy – a reason for no reason!

I was only needing another ten kilometres, to be done with Lake Simcoe, when this bit of beach offered a rare, shielded from the public eye, camp spot. I should have kept paddling. The next morning the wind was up and I was windbound. Rather than wait out the wind I decided to cycle to reach the Trent. Like everywhere else along the lake this was somebody’s private beach even though it offered privacy. Nobody was home though when I sought permission to cross their property so I went ahead with the time-consuming uphill move to the road. Wonder if the owners ever returned in time to notice my cart wheel tracks across their lawn?

By the time I made it to the first of twenty locks along the 145 kilometre Trent Severn Waterway to Peterborough the door was closed until the next morning. At the locks though camping is permitted and for only $5 a night.

Going up! The rules required that you had to at least hold onto the side. I learned though that it was simpler for me to just float free away from the walls where I could easily keep to the middle using the kayak paddle to adjust for the currents. Not always allowed but I’d always state my preference when entering a lock.

The Trent Severn Waterway from Lake Simcoe to Peterborough. The Wikipedia entry – should you want to read about its history.

When I arrived at Lock 30, it was closed for the day. A boater told me of this old, now unused, ramp intended as a bypass for small boats. It had seen better days but it still served its purpose.

Peterborough’s hydraulic lift lock. An alternate way to make a lock work. Instead of having gravity fill the water chamber, just use hydraulics to pick up the already filled chamber. Here there are two such chambers – no waiting for two-way traffic. It seemed to me to be a lot of expense for just one canoe. A lot of room inside those big tubs. How much room you ask …

Room enough for 328 paddle craft to pass through at the same time! This from a 2017 ‘Lock n Paddle’ event.

As I arrived in Peterborough the rowing club was on the water. Carol the rowing coach was out on the water. I waited until she was free and then paddled over and quipped something about my need for a rowing lesson. That led to an offer to camp at the club grounds, plus the needed lesson, as well as a check on my rowing set-up. As well, when I returned the following year to continue my paddle Carol and Brian graciously invited me to stay with them.

One of the club members trying out my rowing set-up. A lesson I needed most was how to feather the oars – to turn your wrists on the return stroke so the blades are parallel to the water. For a sculling racer, it’s to reduce wind resistance, for me, the know-how was needed to prevent the blades from slapping the waves when conditions made that necessary. I had never bothered with even trying it and was surprised to learn that this is the reason the oars are squared where they sit in the oarlocks. Turn them ninety degrees and clunk, they are seated where they should be. I found though, that for all-day rowing, it’s not practical to try to feather. Too hard on the wrists.

All competitive sculls worldwide are designed so the seat slides. I could have set mine up that way but chose instead ‘sliding riggers’. The seat stays stationary, and instead, the leg action moves the oarlocks with each stroke. Early on in competitive racing, it was determined that sliding riggers had a very slight advantage over sliding seat craft. To prevent the need for everyone to switch over, (t remain competitive) it was decreed that sliding riggers would be illegal for competition worldwide.

Out of the water and arriving at the Canadian Canoe Museum. Big thanks to the museum for allowing me to use their mouse-proof warehouse for my winter storage needs. The canoe got to rub gunnels with some craft of fame as well.

This is Canada’s oldest birch bark canoe which was in private ownership in Britain for more than 200 years. The museum is in the process of building new premises. With more display room this canoe and others stored in the warehouse will be properly displayed. Historic Canadian birch-bark canoe found …

This canoe had special significance to me. Don Starkell, from Manitoba, used this canoe for his ‘Paddle to the Amazon’ adventure. He also accomplished an incredible three summer-long kayak paddle from Churchill, in Hudson’s Bay, to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, told in the book ‘Paddle to the Arctic’. Reading those books makes you want to say ‘when does the fun start?’ During my travels, whenever I started to feel the slightest bit like I was being taxed to my limit, two words would come to mind, ‘Don Starkell’ and that was enough to assure me that there was more of whatever was needed available in my tank.

I camped a few nights at the last lock, in Peterborough, while I was waiting for my flight from Toronto. That included a time when the lock was closed for a few days for some reason. A Mallard hen and her brood of ducklings somehow managed to get trapped in the lock at end of day, with no prospect of being released until the lock reopened. Mama duck could fly out and in, but not the babies. With the help of a neighbour, who supplied the ramp structure, and a little ingenuity, the determined brood all made their escape overnight.

I am packed up and ready to head for the bus to take me to the Toronto airport and my flight to Iceland, where I’ll spend ten days before continuing to Ireland. Or so I thought. When I arrived at the check-in counter I was told the name on my ticket didn’t fully match my passport and I would be denied boarding. Wow Air (who have since gone bankrupt) had sent a pre-flight email to all passengers warning of this, and that travellers should check their tickets and report any discrepancies 24 hours prior to boarding. I dismissed that email, telling myself that I wasn’t that dumb, that I had booked flights before and knew of that requirement. I did make that mistake though, but thinking back I believe Wow was complicit. I believe myself and other passengers were initially set up to have this happen. Unlike all other airlines, Wow didn’t request a full name with their booking. After being denied boarding I recalled the original booking and my wondering when I would be asked to submit my name as on the passport. Wish I had remembered that sooner.

But it would all turn out to not be as bad as I first figured. I was able to rebook another Wow flight for a week later, which would still allow me to connect with my already booked flight from Iceland to Ireland. Although now I would only have a couple of days to spend in Iceland. For now, though, I had a week to kill and my where-to-next thoughts had me again on the trail of ancestor’s gravestones. One detour to make first though.

‘When You and I Were Young Maggie’ is a song that had been on my singing repertoire for more than 20 years. One day my father remarked ‘you know, that’s a very old song’? Initially, I assumed the song was from Ireland or Scotland but his remark eventually had my checking Wikipedia to learn about its history. Turns out, the lyrics were first written, in Hamilton as a poem, in 1864 for Maggie Clark, by her school teacher – who became her husband. I read there was a historical plaque at a Hamilton school to commemorate the song. When I arrived in Hamilton, earlier in the year I had thoughts of cycling to that sign, getting out the guitar and doing a little commemoration of my own. It was in the opposite direction to my intended travel though, and on that day, it would also have meant cycling into a headwind that could much better serve as a tailwind. But now I was back in Hamilton and had time to do just that. Didn’t find the plaque, as it’s now inside a community hall, but by a true stroke of luck, my footsteps found Maggie’s childhood home! The owner, Karen, not only consented to my Maggie tribute, she videoed it and remarked, “I get people coming, wanting to see the house, but nobody has ever brought a guitar and sung the song!”

When You and I Were Young Maggie, as posted to Facebook. Done with one take. I hope Maggie liked it. Listen for the bird joining in near the end.

I had help in my quest to locate my ancestor’s burial plots. In 1982, Thomas Sherk published, The Sherk Family, a very thorough genealogical reference. Information on where my relatives were buried was included in the book. I only had to locate the cemeteries. Didn’t know though that John was buried on his original homestead. The farm has been in the family ever since (The present owner’s grandparents are Sherks.) I had a good chat with them, then pitched my tent where John built his original home on the property. The rock was placed for a Sherk Family Reunion held here in the ’80s.

A family reunion. Father, son and grandson. I think it unlikely that all three were ever together. Rueben, my great great grandfather was born in New Dundee, 150 kilometres from where John lived.
John Sherk B. 1778 D. 1866 Age 87
Daniel Sherk B. 1806 D. 1858 Age 51
Rueben Sherk B. 1840 D. 1922 Age 82

Gravestones were all I was expecting to find of things belonging to my ancestors, but I was in for an unexpected surprise. I was in Port Colborne, headed to catch the bus to Niagara Falls. I had hoped to visit the museum, but they didn’t open until noon and the bus was at 12:45. My path though took me right past the museum. With fifteen minutes to spare I entered the museum saying I only had a few minutes. The volunteer took me into the next room to show me their new display of a when the town was a smelter site for Inco, the Sudbury mining company I worked in briefly as a teenager. I wasn’t aware of that, and she commented how my brief visit had offered some knowledge that would ‘make my day’. I replied that the previous day’s discovery of my gggggrandfathers John Sherk’s gravesite and homestead had already made my day. She said, really, well come outside then and take a look at this. In 1980 the museum moved and reconstructed a cabin, John had built in 1850.

I usually make a point of avoiding anywhere that tourist buses stop. Could not, however, be this close and pass up the chance to have a sixth visit to Niagara Falls, Canada’s number one tourist destination.