After my farmer’s welcome on my first day in Canada, my short-cut across southern Ontario continued to be a series of pleasant encounters with our northern neighbors. They seemed even more curious about a lone guy on a bike than many in the States, and were uniformly delighted to hear about my trip and that I had chosen to come through their region for part of it.
This area just north of Lake Erie is mostly dedicated to farmland, right down to the shore. I was surprised to see so much open land in the region between Toronto and Detroit. Maybe the Canadians are consciously dedicating much of their most southern land to farming, or maybe it makes sense to concentrate industry on Lake Ontario rather than on the north shore of Lake Erie, to save the extra hassles of working through locks for shipping. Whatever the reason, the land is wide open and productive. My PBR-drinking farmer grows corn, wheat, sugar beets and soy beans in rotation; other fields in that area had tomatoes; and I saw a few enormous greenhouses bigger than whole city blocks (which we also see in southern British Columbia near Seattle) where winter vegetables can be grown using the relatively cheap Canadian hydropower for heat and light in winter.
(Soybeans as far as the eye can see, in southern Ontario.)
(Massive hothouses for winter vegetables, in southern Ontario.)
Wind turbines are the other thing quite noticeable about this region. They are everywhere! There must be good, reliable winds off these Great Lakes and/or significant investments by Canada in wind generation. Quite impressive.
I rode through Dresden, Ontario, the home of former slave and author, Josiah Henson, whose memoirs were the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Josiah hosted the northern end of the Underground Railroad for those fleeing slaves who wanted to cross into Canada – his acreage was called Dawn Settlement, a place for escaped slaves to resettle. Cool history that I was unaware of.
Lake Erie, like all the Great Lakes, is huge (I guess that’s why they are called “great”), and reminds me of the ocean but without salt in the air and no tides. The shore is lovely with small beaches, headlands and bluffs just like along the coast. In southern Ontario the farmland typically runs right to the bluff, with small towns or a few cottages right along the shore. My ride was quite scenic as I followed the shore east.
I took a side trip one day to visit the town of Ingersoll, Ontario, about 35 miles north of Lake Erie. This is where my grandmother Everett (my mother’s mother) was born, and where the Everett and Kelly branches of our family tree sprouted in the 1800s. I wasn’t expecting to run into cousins (I didn’t), but it was still a treat to see the town, which seemed quite prosperous, and the surrounding countryside, which is still mostly farmland but now includes a GM assembly plant among other industries. The library had a significant section on local history, so I was able to grab some photos of the regional maps from the 1800s to better understand all the small village names in Oxford County that I’ve seen in the genealogy records for long-lost relatives.
(The Sacred Heart Church, built in 1838, possibly where my great-grandparents Hiram Everett and Sarah Kelly were married and where my grandmother Lillian was baptized, in Ingersoll, Ontario.)
(The prosperous downtown of Ingersoll, Ontario; folks in The Old Bakery were super friendly and supportive – great food, too!)
At the town’s museum, I learned two interesting things. First, Ingersoll was famous for its cheese, so much so that “Ingersoll” was a household name throughout North America and even Europe (like Chedder or Gouda) from the 1850s to the 1960s. And second, a local guy named Douglas Carr rode his bicycle around the world between 1937 and 1939. Here are his wheels, now displayed proudly in the Ingersoll museum.
(Same basic rig as mine, although with fewer gears and no USB port.)
At Port Erie, I gazed across the beginning of the Niagara River at Buffalo, New York, and rode along a beautiful parkway on the Canadian side of the river heading due north. Around a few corners, I saw mist and heard a roar. The sight of Niagara Falls is truly spectacular, and on the Canadian side one can almost touch the water just as it flows over the lip of Horseshoe Falls. I was there on a hot Saturday afternoon in late July, so I shared the experience with thousands of fellow gawkers and selfie-stick wielders speaking many languages. Quite the tourist moment, but well worth the amazing view.
I am now back in the States and enjoying my travel along the historic Erie Canal through Upstate New York. More on that in my next installment. As of this writing, I’m getting closer to the Atlantic and feeling the urge to push harder toward the goal.
– Dave (posted 7/26/2016 from Utica, NY)