Not as fa­mous as we had thought

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey

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.

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