What do dinosaurs and volcanoes have to do with World War II and how is any of these things connected to Neys Provincial Park? Read on to find out!
Neys Provincial Park is located on the northern shore of Lake Superior not far from a small town of Marathon. It is considerably smaller and less famous than the other Lake Superior parks, like the nearby Pukaskwa, Sleeping Giant or Lake Superior Provincial Park itself, but it is in no way less beautiful or less exciting than its more well-known neighbours. We made Neys one of the pit stops on our return trip from Quetico and in the end we regretted not being able to stay longer to explore everything the park had to offer.
One of our favourite things about Neys was a beautiful sand beach. Not that we could take full advantage of it since the weather was not conducive to traditional beach activities. But we spent a lot of time walking along the shore to the soothing rhythm of the restless lake. For our son it was also a big canvas to express his creativity.
With a direct access to the beach right from our campsite, we had an unlimited supply of striking, ever-changing views of Lake Superior.
White, polished driftwood scattered along the beach looked like bones of large pre-historic animals. Recognizing dinosaur outlines in driftwood pieces quickly became our favourite game. Some looked so life-like that it was hard to believe that those weren’t actual bones or that they weren’t carved by a skillful master. But then, if you think about it, nature is the most talented artist even if her creations may seem unintentional and spontaneous.
For our son and a lot of other kids, driftwood was an excellent building material. Quite a few shelters, tipis and forts punctuated the beach.
Ok, I admit the dinosaurs promised in the title weren’t actual dinosaurs (although I am sure they did roam this part of the world millions of years ago), but the volcano or at least what’s left of it is quite real. The Under the Volcano trail allows hikers to explore what used to be a magma chamber hundreds of millions of years ago. After blowing up, the volcano eventually collapsed. Time and retreating glaciers helped with the erosion process leaving the magma chamber exposed.
So the Under the Volcano trail does take you inside a volcano. You just need to add a bit of imagination! There are eleven interpretive panels along the trail explaining geologic, volcanic and glacial history of the park. The trail is only 1 km long but to get to the start of it you need to hike the Point Trail first, which is another 1.5 km. Once you are done with the Volcano trail, you can continue along the Tower Trek (10.5 km round trip), which will take you to a great view of Lake Superior, similar to the one immortalized by Lawren Harris in his painting Pic Island. Or you can proceed with the Coastal Trail (19 km round trip) for some interior hiking and camping.
As we walked over solidified magma, it was hard to believe that it was once a hot, raging fluid. The smooth, polished rocks looked like glistening backs of giant sea mammals basking in the sun.
For geology fans, the Under the Volcano trail is a great opportunity to see one of the largest collections of volcanic alkaline rock in North America. Unfortunately, our knowledge of rocks doesn’t extend beyond sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic but we could certainly appreciate their beauty.
Along the way, we also came across a lot of cool plants and bugs. Sundew was the most exciting discovery even though we didn’t get to see it in action.
In addition to the remnants of a volcano, the trail also featured traces of more recent historic events – remains of old logging boats. These boats once belonged to the Pidgeon River Timber Company and were used to transport prisoners to and from work when Neys was the site of a WWII prisoner-of-war camp known as Neys Camp 100. It was one of 26 permanent camps established at the request of the British government to keep captured German soldiers away from the battle zones. Neys was a so-called ‘black’ camp for high-ranking, die-hard Nazis probably because it was difficult to escape due to its remote location, Lake Superior to one side and long, cold winters. Not that there were no attempts but most of them were unsuccessful. For the most part, however, Neys POWs enjoyed their stay so much that 25% of them applied to immigrate to Canada after the war. If only Canadian government treated its own citizens of Japanese descent as nicely!
The camp was dismantled in the 1950s. In the 1960s, Boy Scouts replanted the forest and part of Neys now features unnaturally evenly spaced red pines that are not native to this area. Neys became a provincial park in 1965 so this year it celebrated its 50th anniversary. We learned this and lots of other interesting facts about Neys at the visitor centre and during a guided walk through the park.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to hike one of the longer trails, canoe along the Lake Superior coast and up the Little Pic River, or paddle to Pic Island with its elusive woodland caribou. On the plus side, we have lots of reasons to come back!