Point Pelee National Park

Armed with our Parks Canada Discovery Pass, we set off for Point Pelee National Park, a roughly four-hour drive west of Toronto. The reason I chose it was because it was one of the closest (perhaps, the closest) national parks to Toronto. It’s also supposed to be a good spot to see birds (though we missed the fall migration by a few weeks). When I was researching it, I also found Pelee Island, which is an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from Kingsville (near Point Pelee) so decided we’d make a weekend of it there.

We hired a car from Avis, which is very conveniently over the road. Glen drove this time and went through the same things I did when I first drove here: remembering which side of the road to stay on, keeping to the left of the lane, which way to turn and how many lanes of traffic to get across. I don’t think he relaxed until we got a bit down the Gardiner Expressway.

I read The Picture of Dorian Gray while he drove, and after two hours we pulled into a stop to fill up with gas (for you Aussies, that’s petrol) and get a coffee for Glen. The place we pulled into is called On Route and they have a gas station and then four fast food places in one: Tim Horton’s, KFC, Taco Bell and A&W. There’s also a Market which sells snacks. Glen bought a vile tasting mocha and then we went on our way, this time with me driving.

The countryside here is so much different from back home. As Glen said, it was like something out of a picture book. There were trees and farms but it was all so green. There was even green grass growing everywhere. This is country? Apparently it only looks like this in this part of Ontario. Go much further north and it looks scrubby. Was great to see though.

Pretty much bang on four hours we arrived at Point Pelee National Park. It’s the southernmost point of mainland Canada and has been made a national park because of its important Carolinian forest and point on bird migration routes. It used to have cottages all the way to the point, as well as agriculture, but in the 60s or 70s, they shipped all that out, cleared it up and made it into a national park. It’s even got southern flying squirrels, apparently, but we didn’t see any. As well as a good spot for birds, it’s one of the stops for the monarch butterfly migrations.

We flashed our passes at the attendant in the ticket window and then drove down towards the visitors’ centre. The road is tree-lined and really pretty, but when you look up, you see these big web things all over the branches. Naturally, we assumed spiders and thought how awful it would to walk into one of them. It wasn’t until much later, after we left the park and went to Pelee Island, that we learned they weren’t spiders’ webs at all but made by caterpillars. That explained why all the leaves inside were dead. They still look like things from my nightmares.

We parked near the visitors’ centre and got out to have our picnic lunch on one of the benches. While sitting down, a tiny, tiny spider crawled over Glen, then a daddy long legs walked across the table near me. We stood up from then on.

We took the shuttle bus from the visitors’ centre to the tip of the point (the only other way to get there is walk and we had to stick to a schedule). Aboard with us were a couple of families of either Mennonites or Low-speaking Germans. Lots of kids but all very well behaved.

The shuttle ride took about ten minutes and then we walked through a bit more forest and emerged on the beach. We then followed everyone else as we walked to the sandy point of Point Pelee, which is really the southernmost point of mainland Canada. There were signs everywhere to say no swimming or wading as the currents can be really dangerous.

We took our shoes of and walked along the edge, then out a bit towards the tip, but didn’t go much further. I don’t think there was any danger of us being swept away (the waves were pretty low) but Glen got anxious and so went back. There were a few birds about the place, Canadian Geese and seagulls mostly. It’d be great to be there at dawn during the height of the season to see all the birds come in. Another time maybe.

When we got back to the visitors’ centre we jumped in the car and drove up to the Marshes. There’s a boardwalk that goes right around, through the reeds and across waterlilies. You can also canoe on the water but we didn’t this time (despite how keen Glen was) as we were running out of time. We walked around and I was trying to find soft-shelled turtles but had no luck. The wind rustled through the reeds which were about as tall as our heads, if not taller, and the effect of them waving in the wind was quite peaceful.

Then we saw the tip of a black snake slip beneath the boardwalk and decided we’d had enough.

So ended our first trip to a Canadian national park.

It took about thirty minutes of driving through the middle of nowhere to get to Kingsville where the ferry for Pelee Island docked. It arrived at 5:30 but by then we had already taken our car onto the dock and were waiting to board. It was very exciting to drive onto the ferry, something neither of us had done before. Always amazed these things can stay afloat.

The journey across Lake Erie took an hour and a half. I read my book while Glen read articles. There were a couple of dogs on board, including a Berneres. The top deck was open-roofed so you could sit and soak up the sun while looking across the water. It was cooler inside though and time passed quickly.

We arrived at Pelee Island at 7:30 then drove the two minutes from the dock to the Gathering Place B&B where we were staying for the night. Nancy, one of the other guests, greeted us and let us know that Liz, the owner, was down by the beach and would be back soon. We occupied ourselves by looking at the soy field behind the house.

Liz missed seeing our car along the road (the friend she was with had just received a text message to say her 90-year-old mother had died) so was surprised to see us in the driveway. We had a quick introduction and then she phoned down to the Wheel and Anchor Inn to see if they were still serving dinner. We then jumped in the car and drove down the road for food.

Pelee Island is a bit like Rottnest Island in that if the shops are closed, you’re a bit stuffed. But I love Rottnest and Pelee Island has a similar feel. Very relaxed and chilled, small community, a holiday type place. It’s prettier and more picturesque in the usual way than Rottnest, and slightly bigger (four hours to cycle around) but it just made me sigh.

The buffet wasn’t bad, the waitress down-to-earth and abrupt. Glen had a frozen mango daiquiri and I had two glasses of a Pelee Island zinfandel. It was very relaxing and we ate a tonne of food.

When we got back to the B&B, the two couples who were staying there – Nancy and Kirk, Mary-anne and Graham – were in the sitting room. They live in Perth County (bizarre but true) and know each other through their church. Kirk used to be a Presbyterian minister but now runs an Alzheimer’s facility. Nancy is in public health, Mary-anne is a teacher, and Graham works with youth mental health.

I was keen for a chat so went in and sat down. Glen followed. Being the Aussies in the room, they were keen to hear why we were in Canada and what we planned to do. Kirk gave me a few lists of yet more places to go to. We chatted about travel and politics and various other things. They’re all really friendly and it was nice to talk to different people. I’m always a bit apprehensive about meeting new people, especially ones who you don’t know other than that they are staying in the same hotel, but it turned out well.

We all went to bed about 10:30. We were staying in the blue lighthouse room and had an ensuite bathroom. It was nice to sleep in a dark room for a change and the only sounds outside were the chirping of crickets. Very peaceful.

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