This past weekend my partner and I took a rather last-minute planned road trip to my hometown. I lived there til I was about 16 and I never really connected with the place we moved to afterwards (
because it is a hate filled shit hole). I am from a very small town- only 1200 people at the time- on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. We didn’t have a movie theater within a two hour drive, no mall, not even any stop lights. When they installed the town’s first flashing four way stop light my best friend and I went to go look at it, it was that kind of boring. My connection to the island is more frayed and distant than it’s ever been, I am not in touch with anyone who still lives there and most of my parents’ friends have either moved or passed away. For me it’s just a place of memories. A beautiful region full of deep blue water, enormous rock cuts, coniferous forest, and ghosts.
It’s always a strange experience to go “back home”, the place you remember as the backdrop to your childhood inevitably changes, as your perspective does, or you do. My partner and I plotted the entire trip in one dizzy afternoon, both of us at our desks across the city, messaging links back and forth. Suddenly hotels were booked, ferry tickets purchased, and it was happening!
We left early Saturday and arrived at the French River by early afternoon, this enormous river is considered the boundary between Northern and Southern Ontario. Beyond it’s shores the terrain slowly grows more harsh- rocks and coniferous trees and wildflowers you don’t see as much of in the south. The Canadian Shield is a swath of stone that runs across the country and in the north is particularly visible as giant rock cuts on the sides of roads and in the enormous stone hills. I’ve always associated the north with the Shield and stone.
At the French River we climbed a closed snowmobile crossing suspended over the churning river below (it’s the green bridge in the photo above)! The views were incredible. We then went on to Sudbury (and checked into the sketchiest motel ever) and visited the Big Nickle sculpture at dusk. Growing up we would drive the hour and a half to Sudbury on weekends to go shopping (as there was nothing like that on the island). The city seems more threadbare and small now, much of it’s industry has closed or moved on. It was once a mining town (hence the giant nickle coin).
The next morning we headed on through a paper mill town called Espanola (which reeks like sulfur when it’s operating but thankfully didn’t on the weekend) and down through the rock cuts to Little Current (my hometown). The only ways onto the island is by an old iron swing-bridge or by ferry. Every hour on the hour during the warm seasons the bridge swings to let boats through the busy channel, it takes maybe 20 minutes and is super frustrating if you need to be somewhere…
We explored my favorite place growing up, the ruins of an old mill down at the water. In the past Little Current was a major manufacturing and shipping hub! Mills operated 24/7 by the water and most are gone or lay in ruins there. I think much of my love for exploring abandoned spaces comes from hanging out in them as a child. Being fascinated by their stories and strangeness. We didn’t get inside the “tower” this time (we were in swimwear at the time) but it was amazing to see it still standing.
My other goal for this trip was to swim in Bridal Veil Falls, a gorgeous waterfall I’ve loved my entire life. Oddly, I’ve also had dreams about that spot repeatedly for years. People say Manitoulin has strange or unearthly energy and maybe that’s part of it. We did get to swim in it! It’s about neck deep in the middle, and the waterfall crashing over me felt like fists on my skin.
At dusk we drove up a precarious dirt road to a look out over the island and watched the sunset. It was absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful.
The last day we drove out to catch the ferry towards the mainland, the Chi-Cheemaun! It was a relaxing break from all the driving, nothing is very close up north and expanses of forest between towns and settlements seem to go on forever.
Arriving back in the city as night fell was a strange feeling, having woken up in my hometown and then to be back in my adopted home city. This was my first proper non-family-holiday related holiday in over a decade! I am so glad we got to do this, and that I could share my strange homeland with my partner.
There are more photos on flickr (TW- including a road kill fox in case you don’t wanna see that).