Not as famous as we had thought
Glengarry? The affable art gallery studio owner in Kagawong was wracking his brain. Alexandria? Maxville? Lancaster? No, never heard of them.
How about the Highland Games? Surely he was aware of the huge gathering of the clans. “Oh, that is in Nova Scotia, isn't it?”
The man, who had been raised in Western Ontario, and had rarely ventured further east than Oshawa, conceded that beyond Kingston, “That part of the map seems to be just a point..”
We are in the midst of a 2,216-kilometre ah-inspiring and educational road trip. There have been many “ahs” because Ontario has many natural and man-made wonders, and this trek has been informative, since we are learning so much, including the fact many people in this province are totally unaware of our little part of the world.
Some people encountered along our trek had been to Cornwall and Hawkesbury, and had a cousin whose car broke down in Maxville years ago.
But for the most part, the mention of Glengarry drew a blank.
Perhaps that is because we live in a “flyover” area, one of those regions that travellers fly over or drive through as they journey between more popular destinations.
By the way, Glengarry will be getting a free plug in the October 1 edition of The Ottawa
Citizen when the daily features this area in its Five Worth The Drive segment, the result of a day freelance writer Katharine Fletcher spent here a few weeks ago. She found many more than five reasons to visit.
But why do tourists from farflung regions not flock to Glengarry?
Answers may be found in the success of communities that have clearly developed winning marketing strategies.
There is obviously something in the water. People love oceans, seas, creeks, brooks, rivulets.
Take Kagawong, one of the tiny picturesque hamlets that comprise Manitoulin Island.
Everything in Manitoulin is off the beaten path. Yet, everything here seems to draw tourists.
Declaring itself “Ontario’s Prettiest Village,” Kagawong is built into a valley with its downtown sitting adjacent to Mudge Bay; the Kagawong River flows into the bay from the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls, where salmon spawn. Kagawong, meaning “where the mists rise from the falling waters” in Ojibwe, was once known for a mill that produced wet pulp that was shipped to Michigan to make Sears-Roebuck catalogues. The mill has since been converted into an art gallery. The community has familiar issues. For example, the fate of the post office, operated by the general store owner, is up in the air. Yet it seems to have few problems drawing visitors.
One of its appeals is the legend of Manitou, the supreme being that is particularly compelling for Europeans who are more cognizant of our First Nations' history than many Canadians are. “Idle No More” inscriptions can be found on the island, which has plenty of wildlife, great beaches, fabulous fish, splendid sunsets, glorious vistas, enthusiastic promoters and warnings about drug abuse.
Another plus is the total absence of franchises. The coffee and burger chains can't make enough money here because the permanent population is too small.
On Manitoulin, there is a single traffic light, at the swing bridge in Little Current. It is activated hourly, but only if a boat is approaching. On the island, every attraction is an hour's drive away, and is accessed by crawling along lonely curving, dipping and diving country roads. One bustling art gallery is situated at the end of a seven-kilometre gravel road. Manitoulin teems with deer, which outnumber humans. A doe stared us down in the parking lot of the Gore Bay Museum, in the middle of the day. The constant presence of deer, and the absence of taxis, might explain why one restaurant serves no more than three alcoholic drinks to any guest.
Touting their assets
Tourist meccas make the most of all of their assets and business people talk them up to visitors. Everywhere we went, folks were encouraging us to see other sites and sights in their communities. Some were very parochial. One motel operator took a pen, drew a line on a map. “There is nothing to see beyond this point.” A waitress insisted that the museum in her town was the best, ever.
On a journey that took us to places as diverse as Renfrew, Collingwood, Espanola, Parry Sound and Spanish River, we learned that regional museums, barn board, repurporsed door knobs, craft beer and local food are big.
Collingwood, the tony resort north of Toronto, epitomizes the notion that one can never be too rich and/or too thin. There are no fried baloney sandwiches on the menus in this playground where the beautiful people, who fear carbohydrates and detest white bread, strut from the café to their idling Hummers, carrying their over-priced coffees aloft as if they were trophies. But the place has its charm, along with some of the most expensive pieces of real estate in Ontario, and the real people are cordial. Take the man at the LCBO who was promoting all sorts of craft breweries, and his own special barbecue sauce. Glengarry? Sorry. But is that near where Beau's beer is made?
Everyone has problems. On the road to Orillia, “No wind turbines” placards signal futile opposition to the installation of windpowered energy generators that tower over nearby homes. Near Collingwood lies Creemore, a village that also has no traffic lights. An independent bookstore owner touts the brewery, cycling routes, the local food movement. But he admits that after Labour Day, retailers hunker down for a long lean Winter.
Cue Tobermory, a two-hour ferry ride south of Manitoulin, a tourist magnet where the merchants in September are counting the cash and heading south. Humming since June, as Fall approaches, there are still many marching along the Bruce Trail, checking out wrecked ships and being boated over to Flower Pot Island. This venue provides the backdrop for an ironic scenario. A zealous Parks Canada person passes out "Critters Against Litter" wrist bands to reward visitors for not leaving any trash behind on the pristine property. She unwraps the wrist bands, and the plastic covers take flight. Some land in the water; others flutter in the air. A pursuit ensues. The antilittering band has actually produced litter. Do you laugh, or cry?
You have to roll with the punches. Which brings us to Sudbury. It once resembled the surface of the moon and was a prime source of acid rain. But it has cleaned up its act and elevated its stacks. The Big Nickel and the science centre, built on and around a harsh landscape, are two huge attractions in a city that has a downtown lake, postcards with sunsets and smoke stacks and slag, and a Made In Canada restaurant that serves up high-carb food and plays tunes by famous Canadian singers we cannot name. Sudbury has is it all. Rough. Ugly. Real. Solid. When combined, those terms sound like the name of a craft beer.
The skies open on the route south to Toronto, which has its own character, and characters. As the end of this trek nears, we are welcomed back to SD&G, “Where Ontario Began,” realizing that this is a great place to live, while many have yet to discover it is also a great place to visit.