I am way behind on my writing. It’s been two weeks since our Easter camping trip and I am only just getting to it. But before I begin, I have a confession to make: I am not a very religious person, more of a questioning agnostic, but I love Easter. Its message of rebirth and transformation lifts my spirits and brings hope. And nowhere is this message more pertinent than in nature so that’s where we choose to spend our Easter holidays. This year I welcomed Easter morning watching the yellow Easter egg of the sun roll out of Lake Erie and right into my heart, sparkling a fire akin to religious devotion, a feeling I haven’t experienced in any of the churches except for Nature’s cathedral.
For the past three years, we’ve been spending our Easter weekend camping. This year was no exception. Planning a camping trip in April can be a bit tricky. You never know whether to prepare for snow or summer-like temperatures or both. When I got to planning this year’s trip, there was one requirement: the route to the park had to pass through Waterloo. Our son was sucked into his exam prep and couldn’t come with us, so the plan was to visit him on the way back. After some discussions, we narrowed our list to two places: Bruce Peninsula, a national park sandwiched between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, and Wheatley Provincial Park on the Lake Erie shore. From that opening paragraph you already know which one won in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruce Peninsula. It offers some excellent hiking along the final stretch of Bruce Trail plus incredible views. But I was hoping for a bit of warmth and Bruce Peninsula could still have snow on the ground. The weather forecast predicting two days of rain sealed the deal. Temperatures at Wheatley, on the other hand, promised to be in the twenties (Celsius) with little chance of precipitation. After all, it is Canada’s “deep south.”
Sure it is no wilderness but Wheatley and Point Pelee National Park located nearby are among the best places in Ontario for bird watching, especially in the spring. And I was looking forward to waking up to the birdsong in the morning. In fact, it was the birds that drove me out of the tent on Easter morning. Better than any alarm clock.
We left Toronto on the greyest and rainiest of mornings. After a thirty-minute drive, the clouds parted and sunlight spilled over. By the time we reached Wheatley, it was nice and humid (only in the spring can one be happy about humidity). Flowers were sprinkled on the forest floor. It was shaping up to be a perfect spring camping trip. Warm temperatures, birds, flowers, some of us even happened to go for their first dip of the year but more on that later.
I think it was the opening weekend for Wheatley so the park was pretty quiet and half empty, which was a great thing because privacy is almost non-existent, especially in the spring with no foliage to provide at least a little bit of cover. We had a site by the wetland, which offered calming views right outside our tent door.
Speaking of a tent, it was this year’s first camping trip in a tent so I was looking forward to testing our new Eureka! El Capitan 3. It performed beautifully: it was easy to set up and was nice and cozy at night.
Once we set up the tent, we took a walk to the beach, which looked different from the last time we visited and was pretty much covered by the lake. We found a little patch of sand and our son had fun skipping stones.
Then it was time for dinner, campfire, beer (although not for everyone) and card games. Our new tent was calling so we turned in early and fell asleep to the frogs’ lullaby.
The next morning I was up with the sun and the birds, but you already know that. After taking a few pictures of the channel, I wandered over the bridge to watch the sunrise over Lake Erie to the accompaniment of crashing waves and tweeting birds. It was warm but the clouds were rolling in and I even felt a few drops as I was crawling back into the tent.
Luckily, the rain never materialized and by the time I got out of the tent the second time the sun was trying to break through. We had our Easter breakfast of colourful eggs (all dyed naturally with onion shells, red cabbage and turmeric) and yummy Easter bread, plus some non-festive foods like veggies, hummus and cheese.
After that we had an egg hunt even though our son is a couple years too old for Easter bunnies. But as long as we are all having fun: me hiding the eggs, our son looking for them, and my husband eating them.
Once we were done with all the Easter rituals, we drove to Point Pelee, where we got free admission with our free Canada Parks pass. Point Pelee is a small park, might even be Canada’s smallest, but it is famous for its bio diversity and for being Canada’s southernmost mainland point. The tip of the peninsula is located below the 42nd parallel, the same latitude as Barcelona and north California. And while it might not be as hot here, the park is home to Canada’s rarest plants and animals because of its mild climate.
A popular stopover for migrating birds, Point Pelee is also a birdwatcher’s paradise. The park is often referred to as the “warbler capital of Canada.” It was a little too early for warblers but we did see lots of red-winged blackbirds, blackbirds, barn swallows, geese, and even a bald eagle (not all of them agreed to be photographed though).
The Marsh Boardwalk was a great place to watch the birds but it also rendered a good number of turtle sightings. There were quite a few painted turtles, one Blanding’s turtle and a large snapping turtle.
In addition to reptiles, we came across a mammal: a raccoon fishing for lunch.
The most memorable moment on the boardwalk, however, was our son falling off it. I guess practicing dance moves right along the edge wasn’t a great idea. The water was freezing cold and he was covered in black slime when we pulled him out. But at least it was very warm outside, the car was only a short walk away and we had a full change of clothes in the trunk. After spending thirty minutes or so in the washroom trying to wash off all the goo with the help of his dad, our son emerged all clean and shiny and we were ready to keep on with our adventures. Luckily, less exciting than the boardwalk.
Point Pelee has a bike trail running through the park all the way down to the point. Our bikes were happy to finally get a workout after the winter hibernation. The trail was lined with blue and white spring flowers that attracted a different kind of winged signs of spring, and as we got more south, patches of prickly pear cactus.
There were also multiple access points to the beach. And while no one else went for a swim that day, it was nice to get a break and soak in some sun. Our son used the opportunity to skip stones, of course.
The tip, once we got to it, wasn’t pointy at all, rather a blunt edge cut off by the lake. It was also crowded so we didn’t spend too much time there.
On our way back we stopped at DeLaurier Homestead to learn more about the human history of the park and the darker side of Point Pelee. Before it became a national park, Point Pelee was home to Caldwell First Nation members. In the early 1920s, they were evicted in the most brutal fashion. Unfortunately, a story of displacing Indigenous peoples to create parks we now all enjoy is not an uncommon occurrence. As uncomfortable as it was to see that sign, it is important to learn about the true history of Canada, including the stories behind its national and provincial parks. These days Parks Canada has been working on mending its relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples through its Indigenous Affairs Branch. The agency is working with 300 Indigenous groups across the country to manage and protect its national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas.
This work is on display at Point Pelee. The entrance to the park now features a sculpture by an Ojibwe artist. At the bottom of the sculpture is a quote by Chief Seattle. A reminder that we are all interconnected and are only one strand in the web of life. Something we in the west have long forgotten. But I have hope that we can still remember. A hope that rebirth and rejuvenation is possible.