Sunday, July 15, 2012

Missing Kenora

A tile wall mosaic at the Kenora Skate Park
A friend of mine is currently on a solo bike trip from Toronto to Vancouver (and blogging about it); sort of a One Week without the health issues. She's in Saskatchewan right now, but the first part of her trip took her along the same route that Sarah and I follow when we drive to Kenora, a place I like to get to as often as possible. I didn't make it there last year for mainly financial reasons; those reasons persist and I won't be there this summer, either. I was dealing with this pretty well until I started following my friend's blog and seeing the pictures that she took between Toronto and Winnipeg. Now I'm sitting in the stinking heat of a Toronto summer that is suffocating in every possible meaning of the word, wishing with all my heart that I could instead be perched on a dock in Northern Ontario on the incomparable Lake of the Woods, watching the float planes take off and land, feeling the cool, clear air off the water and listening to the loons.

Grumpy P at the controls, proving penguins can fly
Both of Sarah's parents were born in Kenora and her Dad returned there to live several years ago. In the early years of my relationship with Sarah she would alternate the seasons that she would visit her Dad and his partner: one year she would go in the summer, coinciding with Harbourfest which takes place annually over the Simcoe Day long weekend, and the next she would spend Christmas in Kenora while I stayed home and spent it with my kids. The first time I accompanied Sarah on one of her annual pilgrimages was in the summer of 2003; we flew into Winnipeg and spent part of the day at The Forks (a lovely spot), and Sarah's Dad picked us up later in the day and drove us back to Kenora, a two hour trip by car. I had been through Kenora once before in my life, in 1971 on a cross-country trip with my family, but we entered the city from the east and it didn't leave much of an impression on me. However, I will remember until my dying day coming upon Lake of the Woods from the west for the very first time. Such spectacular beauty as I had scarcely ever seen before (or since, for that matter): it was all I could do not to actually weep at the sight of it. We spent an idyllic week there that summer, doing such diverse things as selling drink tickets at Harbourfest (for the Nazareth concert under the big tent), touring the waters of the region on a dinner cruise aboard the M.S. Kenora, and fulfilling a life-long dream by chartering a float plane for an hour (I actually got to take the controls for a few minutes). Taking off from water for the first time was pretty cool; however, it couldn't hold a candle to landing on water.

The Spirit Rock at "Devil's Gap"
I didn't return to Kenora until 2007, but Sarah and I made that trip a memorable one by driving each way, which is why my friend's pictures bring back such sharp memories for me. (I posted some of my own pictures of that trip in a blog piece in April.) The first day we drove to Pancake Bay, a beautiful Provincial Park about 45 minutes west of Sault Ste. Marie. This allowed us to spend the entire second day traveling along the North Shore of Lake Superior until we reached Thunder Bay, which is a drive I could spend all summer doing over and over again. We were in Kenora by the evening of the third day and once again we volunteered to work the next night at Harbourfest. This time we were "promoted" to tending bar and, in an odd twist of fate, Nazareth were once again the headliners. I didn't rush around this time doing all the "touristy things" and, because we brought our own car, we had the freedom to explore the area a little more - in between the almost-daily fishing excursions on Lake of the Woods, that is. That year also marked the 100th anniversary of the Stanley-Cup-Winning Kenora Thistles, an amateur team that beat the Montreal Wanderers in a total goals series in 1907 to take home what at that time was a "challenge cup". Kenora's population back then was around 4,000 people, making it far and away the smallest town ever to claim the Stanley Cup. As you might imagine, there were more than a few events and displays in town to commemorate that amazing feat.

Kenora harbour: City Hall, MS Kenora, Harbourfest tent
The most recent time I was in Kenora was 2010 and, once again, we drove there and back. This may have been the best of all three trips, because so many family members of Sarah's Dad and his partner were there while we were, most of them choosing that time to visit in order to attend a family celebration. We had a fantastic time as every day felt like a party for most of our visit. We spent a day at Coney Island Beach (there is a terrific old picture of this beach on Sarah's Mom's blog), swimming, picnicking, tubing behind a boat. We took another cruise on the M.S. Kenora. We fished...and fished...and fished. I had an opportunity to eat a walleye that I had caught myself for the first time in my life and it was incredibly delicious. We spent an evening at the camp (the Kenora name for "cottage") of "Aunt Mei", positioned directly across the channel from that of Mike Richards, of the Cup-winning L.A. Kings. Aunt Mei sadly and suddenly passed away last year so I consider myself very lucky indeed to have visited her beautiful home at all.

Sarah's whopper
"Grampy" P
Huskie the Musky

Sunset on stunning Lake of the Woods
Our original plans for that most recent trip called for us to leave sometime during the day on the holiday Monday. We like to make that drive mid-week to avoid cottage and camping traffic so our two-week Kenora vacation is always booked from Wednesday to Wednesday. We decided, however, to stick around for the fireworks that night that close Harbourfest each year and then drive back to Toronto over just two days, which proved to be considerably easier than either of us thought it would. I'm so very glad we did, because every extra moment I get to spend in a place that beautiful is more valuable to me than a thousand moments anywhere else. Although I have only been there three times with Sarah, I miss Kenora more every summer that I do not get to return. Thank goodness I have so many wonderful pictures and memories of my times in that soul-enriching part of the world.

And part of me has never left there.


  1. Canada is such a beautiful country, and I particularly love the outdoors in summer. How lucky we are to live here!

    1. Ah, you sell yourself short, Sar. I have pictures that prove you love the outdoors regardless of the season. :)

  2. I grew up in Kenora !!!!
    I would dearly love to move back to my hometown instead of living in this blasted city that spends far too much time glorifying itself and sneering and snubbing the rest of Canada.


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