Saturday, August 31, 2019

WCHA - Northern Lakes Chapter - Cherry Beach Paddle

In an effort to meet local members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, I offered to lead a group paddle to Toronto Islands for the Northern Lakes Chapter.  It was scheduled for August 27th, but after weeks of beautiful weather, that day happened to coincide with heavy rainfall and extremely gusty southerly winds. The event was bumped a few days to Thursday. Joining me on the outing was Chapter Head, Alex G and local Toronto resident, Bernadette F along with her cute dog, Pookie. Bernadette was able to use public transit to arrive at the location as a shuttle bus leaves from Union station and stops right at the foot of Cherry Beach, our access point.

Conditions were much more favourable than two days prior, but a brisk Westerly wind (the prevailing direction) created some chop for the initial departure. Luckily, Alex brought his 16ft North Bay Canoe prospector which handled the conditions well and I  bobbed around in my re-canvassed Chestnut Playmate. Once in the main canal however, all was calm for a enjoyable tour.

We were greeted by a picturesque family of Mute swans, with mother and father book-ending their two cygnets in a postcard formation. This will be my wife and I walking our kids to school in a few days...

Summer canoe camps run on the island and a group had recently landed on the shore of one of the undeveloped islands to sing some camp songs while we silently paddle by...

Water levels on Lake Ontario were down from their all time high earlier this year, but they were still much higher than anything I've seen before. The shoreline which used to be sandy beach was flooded and getting under one particular bridge meant ducking under or getting your forehead smacked with concrete.

Large fibreglass voyageur canoes took tourists around, yet the local wildlife seemed undisturbed by the grunts and competing splashes of the paddles.

The group spotted two herons in the marshy areas which impressed us with their noble poise...

Due to the flooding, the island train that skirts the waterfront was non-operational and many of the farm animals at Far Away farm were inland away from their waterside pens. However, we were later gifted with seeing a mink swim across are bows.

The wind conditions in the inner harbour were too intense to check out the old Hanlan's point where the old baseball stadium once stood and where Babe Ruth hit his first home run into Lake Ontario waters as a pro-baseball player. Instead, we stayed in the protected channels until we reached the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes. At one point it was just 25 feet from the exposed lakeshore, but sand deposits and fill have now left it marooned 100 yards inland. The tree line to the south has also grown so that the lighthouse is no longer visible from the lake as originally intended.

On the way, we got some interesting comments from people riding the Gondola above one of the canals. Mostly, it was how cute Pookie the puppy was while riding in the canoe. The white and brown building in the background is the island church, St.Andrews-By-The-Lake (1884) where the every summer in July, the lagoon fills with all sorts of watercraft for the annual Blessing of the Boats, a neat local tradition.

My re-canvassed stayed completely dry which was nice. I may need to tweak the seat a little bit, but on the whole I'm absolutely delighted with this narrow 14 footer as a solo boat. Plans are to perhaps attempt another group paddle to the Islands in spring. Perhaps we'll have more people turn out after a long difficult winter.

In the meantime, the WCHA Northern Lakes Chapter may run another in another paddling hot-spot in the city - The Humber River Marshes - sometime in late September, early October to coincide with peak fall colours.

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