Dodgeville does the Icefields

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After our couple of days in and around Jasper, we headed south down the Icefields Parkway toward Lake Louise. I’ve been on some really nice drives, including the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Monterey, and the Icefields Parkway is by far the best I’ve done.  Rarely do I actually want to pull over at every single lookout, but they were hard to resist on this trip.

When you’re driving down the Icefields Parkway, you have to make a decision: are you driving to your destination on a rough schedule, or are you taking pictures of all of the interesting things along the way? You have to make this decision whenever and wherever you’re on vacation, but Jasper is so filled with photographic opportunity that the choice must be made over and over again. I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m on vacation and not on a photographic expedition hunting for the perfect exposure of the most awe-inspiring vista. I know that it can be boring (at best; supremely annoying at worst) to travel with someone who’s constantly setting up a tripod, micro-adjusting focus and frame, running around with a light meter, and waiting in one spot for ten minutes for the wind to die down or the light to be just so. This picture is a perfect example of the tension between enjoying a relaxing vacation and satisfying a photographic vision:

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There was a very large raven sitting right on the top of that tree at the left. Several of them, in fact. One would fly away and another would take up the perch immediately afterward. So I got into position, tree in the foreground, mountain in the background, broad valley in between, a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds filling in the blanks. Took a couple of test shots and selected my preferred exposure. But now that I was in place with the viewfinder pressed to my eye, finger on the shutter button, and everything framed perfectly, the ravens were all hanging out elsewhere: in the parking lot, in another tree, on the rocks, in the sky, anywhere but sitting on that damned tree. If I’d been here alone, I would have stood there and waited half an hour for a raven to return to the top of the tree and give me the picture I had already composed in my head. But looking over at Risa getting restless at the car, I knew my time was up. Fifteen minutes at a single lookout was enough. So there’s the picture, and not a raven in sight.

But that’s okay, because in Jasper, there’s always something else around the next corner. And Risa didn’t know it yet, but we were on a mission to trek out onto the Athabasca Glacier. All the whining in the world didn’t get me into one of those icemobiles when I was nine years old, but now that I’m old enough to pay my own way, nothing’s going to stop me. That’s the best part about growing up.

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So onto the glacier we went. It was the perfect cap to an amazing drive through the mountains. There’s more about the glacier in the inevitable gallery at the end of this post. Suffice to say that it was impressive in every way.

Don’t tell Risa, but when we were planning our Western trip, I’d seriously considered trying to include some kind of cycling component between Jasper and Banff. If the Icefields Parkway is supposed to be a really nice drive, it should be an even better ride, no? Well, possibly. But passing dozens of riders on supported tours slowly grinding up one hill after another made me glad that I’d silently shelved the thought. Oh, I’m sure that I could have finished the ride, but I doubt that our marriage would have survived the 300 km trek.

On to the gallery and more observations.

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Tour de Kennedy

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How long does it take to ride up Kennedy Road to Lake Simcoe? Almost two months, apparently. As I mentioned before, it took three attempts (and two bikes) starting at the end of June for me to complete this trip. Kennedy Road is an interesting contrast to Warden, just two kilometres to the west and my more usual route north: Kennedy seems much more wild, with fewer farms and estate houses, and more forest and overgrown meadows. Kennedy also has less industry than Warden, fewer golf courses, and less traffic. The downside is that it’s also somewhat poorly maintained, with many kilometres of the road through East Gwillimbury cratered with potholes and only haphazardly patched in a way that makes it rather bike unfriendly. Still, it’s a very peaceful ride. The landscape feels less constricted than on Warden, with several sweeping vistas that you don’t see from the other northbound routes.

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One of the things that I like most about riding out of the city is watching streets take on completely different characters. Two of my formative years were spent not too far from the foot of Kennedy Road in Scarborough, where it’s a sleepy residential street. Most people are familiar with the big box hell of Kennedy Road from Lawrence to Sheppard. That’s followed by the suburban thoroughfare of northern Scarborough and Markham, which gives way to a quiet concession road and a lazy country road before finally ending up at a beach in a little cottage area. It may all be one street, but it has at least eight distinct phases from beginning to end.

Before these rides, the only part of Kennedy north of Sheppard that I’d ever ridden on was the 400 or so metres between Ravencrest Road and Mount Pleasant Trail, where it forms part of a nice big diagonal shortcut from Woodbine to McCowan on the way to Sutton.

Read on for the full gallery treatment of my ride up Kennedy Road.

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Dodgeville takes the train to Jasper

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Leaving Vancouver behind, we took the VIA Rail Canadian to Jasper. I love trains, but even I have to admit that spending more than 18 hours on a train is pushing my limit. At least one family in economy with us was going all the way to Toronto, a four-day journey. My head hurts just thinking about it.

I’d happily take the train across the country, but I could never do it all at once. I’d get a 30-day pass (or, thanks to VIA’s somewhat limited fare structures, two or three 12-day passes) and hop across the country a few hours at a time, spending a day or two here and there to explore. Four days all at once? I can’t imagine.

Still, I highly recommend the train trip from Vancouver. The train crosses much of the B.C. interior at night, and spends most of the following day crisscrossing the Fraser River and North Thompson River valleys and eventually climbing over the Yellowhead Pass into Alberta.  By my count, our train had at least 17 passenger cars (including 6 cars with observations domes), making it by far the longest train I’ve ever been on. The observation car nearest to us was never more than half full when we went up there. My advice: try to get a good night’s sleep at the beginning of the voyage and then grab a good window seat for the rest of the day, whether in the dome car or your regular passenger car. If you can, shell out for a sleeper compartment; it’ll cost twice as much, but you’ll be at least three times happier in the morning.

Jasper, the National Park, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You could probably spend the entire summer there and not run out of places to go or things to see. Jasper, the town, is tiny and reminds me a lot of southern Ontario tourist towns: the main drag is so focused on serving tourists that I’m always left wondering where local residents shop or eat. I can’t imagine that locals spend $100 for a middling dinner for two at Evil Dave’s or $20 for souvenir underwear.

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I love little local museums, and the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum didn’t disappoint. The walkthrough display chronicling Jasper’s history is so chock-full of Banff-envy that it reads like it was penned by a spurned lover. “Banff may be bigger and better, but we’re happy that we’re small and unappreciated! We swear!” While the museum spends a lot of time disparaging the development and popularity of Banff and extolling the quiet virtues of still-wild Jasper, it’s actually bang-on in making the comparison. Wildlife was abundant in Jasper, with appearances by too many elk to count, as well as some deer, a moose, a black bear, and countless ravens that seemed twice as big as their urban cousins in Vancouver.

Just about the only thing I remember about Jasper from when I was there as a kid thirty years ago was the preponderance of trailers and motorhomes. It’s still largely the same, but at least half of them these days are rentals.

Anyway, read on for the obligatory gallery and more observations.

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Dodgeville annexes Vancouver

Kayaking on False Creek

The best thing about taking a vacation is coming back home. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy exploring beyond the normal boundaries of the Greater Dodgeville Area, but there’s just something about Toronto that really makes me appreciate coming back to it.

Risa and I were visiting family in Vancouver before scooting over to Jasper and Banff for a few days. It was a varied couple of weeks for transportation: in all, we flew, drove, walked, hiked, biked, and canoed, and rode the train, the bus, the icemobile, the ferry, and horses: something different almost every day.

This was the third time I’ve been to Vancouver in the last five years, and my first trip to Alberta since I was nine years old. I’ll spare you the typical vacation slideshow here, but I thought I’d share some random Dodgeville-style observations from each place we visited, starting with Vancouver. Banff and Jasper will follow in subsequent posts.

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Grouse Grind

Risa and I are on vacation out west. I used the occasion to climb Grouse Mountain, one of the peaks overlooking Vancouver. The interesting thing about Grouse Mountain is that you can take public transit to it: a quick ferry and bus ride  from downtown Vancouver gets you right to the base of the mountain for $3.75. Ah, for TTC and GO service like this to some of Toronto’s far-flung attractions. Grouse Mountain isn’t huge by mountain standards, but it’s still a lot bigger than anything I’ve climbed in Toronto. I’ll have more random thoughts about Vancouver in a later post or two, but for now, here’s a gallery of my climb up the Grouse Grind.

Tour de Dufferin

Moo! These cows are really friendly to people who stop by for a visit.

There’s a lot to see on Dufferin Street before you get to the end of the road. Once you get out of the city and past the worst of suburbia, the street progresses through several distinct and varied phases as it marches north through horse farms and wooded valleys before running out of space in the heart of the Holland Marsh.

I started my trip (two trips, actually; one in a chilly rain and the other in glorious warmth and sunshine) at the TTC’s Downsview station, riding through a quiet industrial area before hopping onto Dufferin at Steeles and riding as far north as I could go.

Until I made this ride, I’d only ever seen Dufferin north of Steeles a handful of times, and always on my way to or from Pardes Shalom Cemetery (and once almost 20 years ago when I went to Eaton Hall for a wedding). I wasn’t expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the worst of the sprawl is, for the moment anyway, contained to the south of the cemetery and that the countryside really opens up to the north, allowing Dufferin to retain its rural feel.

The relentless march of suburbia to the south finally melts away into farmland as you pass through Vaughan

I’ll also add that we must have had a really good spring and summer so far because all of the vegetation—whether wild or farmed—was greener and lusher than I remember seeing in a long time. I wanted to stop for pictures almost constantly, which isn’t exactly the best way to get home on time.

I ride outside the city fairly frequently, but this was the first time that I stuck to a single road to its end and documented the journey. I’ll be doing it a few more times as the summer progresses. The gallery below contains the highlights from the Tour de Dufferin. Enjoy.

[Note: the gallery images may not display properly from an RSS reader. Please visit Dodgeville directly to view the gallery. I’m looking for an elegant solution to this, but I’m not sure that there is one.]

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The Newmarket Canal

Standing in front of the middle lock

There’s an interesting piece of history hiding in the outer reaches of the GDA (Greater Dodgeville Area, loosely defined as any place I can reach by bike) just north of Newmarket: the scattered remnants of the Newmarket Canal.

This never-finished canal was to be a southerly branch of the Trent-Severn canal from Lake Simcoe to Aurora via the Holland River. This was not a trivial undertaking for many reasons, not the least of which was that there just wasn’t enough water in the river to operate a canal. The initial plan for the canal called for reservoirs to be fed by water diverted from Lake Wilcox, the source of the Humber River. That plan was later shelved as being too expensive and politically unpopular, and was replaced by a scheme to pump the necessary water uphill from Lake Simcoe to the top of the Oak Ridges Moraine at Aurora.

Work on the canal was to be done in three stages: the first required that the river be dredged from Lake Simcoe to Holland Landing. The second required three locks to be built between Holland Landing and Newmarket (the second of those locks is pictured above). The final phase, from Newmarket to Aurora, would require an additional five or six locks depending on the final route, which still hadn’t been finalized when construction began.

Even as the work on the canal began in 1906 and continued for five years, there was still no clear plan for keeping enough water in the canal to keep it navigable during any period of the year outside the spring thaw. Increasing public opposition, escalating costs, and a change in government ultimately doomed the project in 1912 after years of political shenanigans, interference, and scandals that would make most modern politicians blanche. At that point, most of the work on the canal through Holland Landing and up to Newmarket had been completed. The three lock structures and the base of one swing bridge that had been built before the project was called off still stand along the east branch of the Holland River north of Newmarket.

James T. Angus’s comprehensive book, A Respectable Ditch: A History of the Trent-Severn Waterway 1833–1920, details the tortuous political and physical paths of the entire project’s 90 years of debate, design, and construction. It devotes a chapter to the Newmarket Canal debacle and is well worth reading.

This was at least the second planned canal along this route. The other would have gone straight through the Oak Ridges Moraine and connected to Lake Ontario via the Humber River.

I first visited two of the abandoned lock structures almost 20 years ago, shortly after learning about the Newmarket Canal in Ron Brown‘s excellent guidebook, 50 Unusual Things to See in Ontario. I finally visited the third lock and the swing bridge just this past September.

Looking back now, 50 Unusual Things was probably what set me off on my habit of exploring the GDA and finding unusual sights and abandoned bits of the city. Damn you, Ron Brown!

My most recent cycling visit to the canal was on Saturday, during which I was trapped under a sheltering bridge for an hour and a half by that big storm that whipped across southern Ontario. I eventually called Risa to rescue me with the car after giving up hope that the lightning, rain, and wind would let up in time for me to get back home at a reasonable hour.

The irony here is that I was stuck within spitting distance of the East Gwillimbury GO station. I could easily have gone home by train, but the next one was 36 hours away on Monday morning and I wouldn’t have been able to take my bike on it. Hello GO? Weekend service, please.

More pictures below the fold.

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Bridge from the past

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you see something at the side of the road that you just have to stop and check out. This is a prime example from last year: a concrete bowstring bridge beside the current alignment of Stone Road outside Guelph. According to the crossbar, it was built in 1916.

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

The modern bridge that carries Stone Road today was built in 2005, but it’s difficult to believe that the old bridge was still carrying cars just four years ago; it looks like it’s in pretty rough shape.  The bridge was designated as a heritage structure in 2003 (PDF) and became part of a walking trail along the Eramosa River after Stone Road moved a few metres north to the new bridge.

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

Concrete bowstring bridge outside Guelph

I don’t know when we stopped building this kind of bridge, but I think the two that still exist in the Don Valley date from around the same era as this one. The sight of a concrete bowstring bridge always makes me smile; they seem to strike the perfect balance between elegance and industry.