Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

“We’re almost at the top!” I exclaimed out loud — more so to motivate myself than my dad who appeared to be effortlessly leaping up the top of the Giant trail, whereas my legs felt like I had bricks strapped to my shoes with each step upwards. Standing on the shores of the Thunder Bay marina, it’s easy to make out the outline of the Sleeping Giant in the distance, but the sheer magnitude of the natural landmark truly comes to life when you’re faced with climbing some of the tallest cliffs in Ontario. According to an old Ojibway legend, the giant is Nanabijou, who was turned to stone when the secret location of a nearby silver mine was revealed to greedy white men. Today’s mission, climbing to the top of the mesa to reach the Giant’s knees, is no small task — the trail is 22.4 km round trip — but as I get a bird’s-eye vantage of Lake Superior shimmering in Caribbean-like hues between a dramatic gorge from nearly 1,000 feet below, I get the overwhelming sense that every single step of the elevation gain was worth it. Out of hundreds of kilometres of trails found in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, this is the view that continues to draw people in from far and wide. Howling winds on a crisp November morning mean we don’t linger too long, but I know that this shared experience will stay with us for much longer. The following afternoon, I’ve come full-circle settling in for a rewarding flight of beer in the Sleeping Giant Brewing Company’s taproom next to a wall lined with an assortment of beer bottles from around the world. The craft brewery utilizes locally-sourced fresh water from Lake Superior and malt from Canada Malting Co. to create its flavourful beers. For anyone looking for inspiration for their next great post-pandemic road trip, Thunder Bay, should be a top contender. While people often drive through the city on the way out West, it’s worth more than just a stopover.

WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GROUP OF SEVEN
The impressive landscapes in the region are what first drew the legendary Group of Seven to the north shore of Lake Superior nearly 100 years ago. Today, some of the places that inspired the iconic artists can be discovered along a new self-drive route that traces the places and scenery that inspired their paintings. “Having experienced the rugged beauty of Algoma from 1918 to 1921, Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson decided to push further on to the north shore of Lake Superior in the fall of 1921,” explains Art Historian and Artist Michael Burtch. “From revelling in the riot of autumn colour on Superior’s east side to meditating on the broad mystical expanse of sky and inland sea on the north shore, Harris and Jackson, along with many other members of the Group of Seven, continued their annual painting expeditions to the region until 1928, and there produced many of their most iconic works, including Harris’ celebrated ‘North Shore, Lake Superior’ in 1926.” The Group is renowned for paintings that are inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement. “Driving the route today from Marathon to Thunder Bay, the breathtaking beauty of the many vistas over the lake make it easy to understand the Group’s fascination with the region,” says Burtch. “The constantly shifting moods of the lake, the dramatic sky and the towering, majestic landscape make the north shore one of the most scenic areas in Canada.”

NORTHERN DELIGHTS
While it may be the scenery that attracts travellers to this part of the country, there are no shortage of delicious things to taste while here. One local delight is the Persian, a pastry that the owner of Bennett’s Bakery and The Persian Man says can best be described as a rich cinnamon bun with an incredible icing topping. “This pastry has been a staple in Thunder Bay since the 1940s and has grown from there,” says Danny Nucci. “People that have lived here and moved away, have not forgotten [Persians]. They phone our office wanting us to ship Persians to them. We have shipped them all over the country.” On the average, the bakeries produce 100 dozen Persians a day from a secret recipe. The story goes that the treat was meant to be named after General Pershing of the First World War. Despite the wrongful spelling, the name stuck, and it indeed has nothing to do with the Middle East. Another must-try is Heartbeat Hot Sauce Co., a local business that started off as a hobby and quickly developed into a full-fledged small batch hot sauce production company. These also make for a great gift to bring back for friends and family back home. Finally, a notable option for those seeking a meal out on the town is Tomlin restaurant, which works alongside local producers to create seasonal family-style sharing plates. At the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant got a plug from Brian Baumgartner, the actor who played Kevin Malone on The Office.

 

IF YOU GO…

A WALK IN THE PARK

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which was founded in 1944 as Sibley Provincial Park, has 200 campsites at the Marie Louise Lake Campground suitable for tents and RVs that make a great home base for embarking on hikes. The Park is also home to five full-service cabins that can be rented for a minimum of two nights that are available year-round. Advanced reservations are recommended, especially during prime summer season. For those seeking a shorter alternative to the Top of the Giant trail, which provides spectacular views of Lake Superior and the surrounding area, consider the Sean Lion trail, a 2.4km round trip from the parking lot to a unique geological feature that got its name for resembling a sea lion.

CHASE WATERFALLS

While the 40-metre-high Kakabeka Falls are the most wellknown waterfalls in the region and mark the second highest in Ontario, don’t miss out on the adjacent Little Falls, while visiting the Provincial Park. Those seeking a lesser-known spot to discover should head over to Silver Falls Provincial Park, which is known for its Holocene-era features. For the opportunity to stand behind a waterfall, visit Wolf River Falls.

DO IT FOR THE ‘GRAM
Situated on the north shore of Lake Superior near Nipigon — about 100km from Thunder Bay — Ruby Lake Provincial Park is a non-operating park that is like discovering a hidden gem. The trail offers multiple stunning viewpoints overlooking the lake and Lake Superior from steep cliffs. Another surefire bet is the Kama Cliffs trail, which also offers sweeping views of the surrounding area.

Story and photos by ANN RUPPENSTEIN

Winter Wonderland

STAYING CLOSER TO HOME LEAVES PLENTY OF ROOM FOR ADVENTURE
 
The first snowfall of the season is typically when Canadians across the country start daydreaming about jetting off for a sunny escape. But could this be the time to embrace the winter wonderland in Canada instead of escaping for the hot, hot, heat? We talked to four travel experts for some inspiration on how to embrace winter travel in Canada. After all, there’s no place like home…
 

THE NORTHERN LIGHTS Have quintessentially Canadian experiences in the comfort of your backyard this winter, like the awe-inspiring northern lights in the spectacular Northwest Territories. “Many Canadians have not experienced the wonder of Canada. This year, we’re suggesting unique destinations of Canada that may not be on the radar, such as Haida Gwaii, Northwest Territories, Rocky Mountaineer, and the list goes on. Canada has so much to offer and now is the best time to explore our own country.” Kemp Travel Group kemptravel.com

SHEILA KEMP

GO WEST Why not venture west this winter? Tourism Vancouver Island welcomes all Canadians, encouraging them to get on island time… Vancouver Island, that is, especially the snowbirds who typically flock to Florida, Arizona, and California in the wintertime. “With our temperate winter climate, Vancouver Island is a natural alternative for Canadian Snowbirds. We are committed to supporting the 3,000+ tourism businesses in the Vancouver Island region by strengthening the visitor economy.” Tourism Vancouver Island Tourismvi.ca 

ANTHONY EVERETT

ONTARIO IS YOURS TO DISCOVER Instead of moping around this winter, set your sights on short-term trips around Ontario. Take the hassle out of your Ontario travel plans by booking a local tour with a travel agent. “We have a complete Canadian short trip program with day trips to Muskoka, Canada’s Wonderland, Kingston and the 1,000 Islands, Niagara Falls, the ever popular winery tours to Prince Edward County, as well as CanaDream RV rentals.” Marlin Travel marlintravel.ca

MARY LAROCQUE

POLAR BEARS, OH MY! So many Canadians still have the desire to travel, but so many more Canadians are simply more comfortable staying a bit closer to home this season. Luckily, we’ve got Churchill, Manitoba, a destination for travellers from all over the world who come to visit our mighty polar bears. “With so many amazing experiences right in our own backyard, it’s a fantastic time to take advantage of travel within Canada, whether it be a food tour of Vancouver Island, experiencing the majestic Rockies, a camper rental travelling with those within your own bubble, or enjoying a villa with family. Being from Manitoba, we have one of the most unique opportunities that people come from all over the world to enjoy – that being Churchill.” Travel Quest travelquestmb.ca  

CAREY DUNCAN

Story by ANN RUPPENSTEIN

Muskoka’s Top Drops

At the lake, drinking Ontario wine feels like the right thing to do for any occasion. And local wineries can —and do—spin out some very fine juice. You just need to know which bottles to buy. With that in mind, I tasted high and low to find six hidden gems that pair perfectly with quintessential cottage moments.

ON THE DOCK
2017 Redstone
Limestone Vineyards
South Block Riesling,
VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara
Score: 96 | $19.15
Available at redstone.com Kick back in the sun with a glass of this sunlit Riesling. Its refreshing scent of fresh salted lime and saturated, sorbet-like attack will have you at hello. The beam-like entry tastes bright and pure, quickly unspooling with coy suggestions of white peach, lemon-lime and mango before leaving an attractive wet stone and sea salt finish. This is a stylishly complex wine with a light kiss of sweetness, mouthwatering acidity, and a sensibly low 10.5 per cent alcohol.

AROUND THE BONFIRE
2016 Tawse Winery
David’s Block Cabernet Franc,
VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara
Score: 96 | $50.15
Available at tawsewinery.ca Bonding around the bonfire with friends is priceless—especially over a superb bottle of red such as this. It teems with aromas and flavours of black cherries dunked in dark chocolate, while the rich centre is intriguingly scored with elements of minerality—graphite and granite as well as a toasted nuttiness. And yes, actually, it pairs with stick-roasted hotdogs, too. Ticks all the boxes while demonstrating why connoisseurs are calling Cabernet Franc Ontario’s flagship grape variety.

AS THE SUN SETS
2017 Westcott
Rosé Pinot Noir,
VQA Vinemount Ridge, Niagara
Score: 92 | $22.95
Available at westcottvineyards.com Pour a glass of this dry wine that drinks like a Provencal rosé and watch the sun set. All easy elegance, it shines pale coral and exudes ethereal aromas of struck steel and crushed redcurrants. The attack is silky-crisp and restrained, with wispy notes of cool linen and homemade strawberryrhubarb pie, followed by a faint but resonant twist of citrus zest on the finish. Just 400 cases of this delicate rosé were produced though, so snap it up before it’s gone.

WITH GRILLED STEAK
2017 Henry of Pelham
Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir,
VQA Ontario
Score: 94 | $24.95
Available at LCBO Vintages or henryofpelham.com Baco Noir has a cult-like following in Ontario, and this particularly profound expression tastes like it was made to pair with grilled steak. Made from 35 year old vines, it’s inky dark in colour and delivers robust aromas of macerated berries, smoky tobacco and roasted coffee. Then, a cashmere crush of dark cherry and plum, cigar box and espresso fill the mouth and stay a while. Outstanding value from a top-notch Baco Noir producer.

WITH GRILLED FISH
2017 Stratus
Weather Report Chardonnay,
VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake
Score: 93 | $28.00
Available at stratuswines.com Grilled fish is a summertime staple. And it comes to life with this sophisticated white from one of Ontario’s terroir-driven producers. It offers all the concentration and weight needed to stand up to grill marks, while maintaining delicacy and elegance. Quiet scents of nougat and praline lead to a smooth entry that quietly unfolds with full-bodied flavour. Chantilly cream, sweet corn, and nuts infuse the bright citrus core, and a crème brûlée finish with a touch of grapefruit pith lend lingering appeal. A connoisseur’s wine.

IN GOOD COMPANY
2016 Leaning Post
Clone 96 Chardonnay,
VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, ON
Score: 97+ | $45.00
Available at leaningpostwines.com This impressive wooded Chardonnay drinks like fine white Burgundy at a fraction of the price. Wonderfully heady aromas of smoky lime, fresh butter and cool stone draw you toward a creamy-weighty palate shot through with bright acidity. Each satiny sip unfurls with lemon curd, toasted meringue, and freshly rolled pastry with underpinnings of chalk, marzipan and honey. Polished,poised, and worth every cent. Winner of the gold medal at the Ontario Wine Awards and Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines in 2018.

Story by CAROLYN EVANS HAMMOND