Thoughts on an autumn afternoon.Sunday, September 16, 2012 by: David Root
It’s that time of year, again, when the first blush of autumn colours appear.
It’s one of my favourite times of year, and yet it is also a bittersweet time, for me. Autumn doesn’t last very long, here, and it will be winter before we know it.
I’ve lived and travelled across the province, and have experienced autumn in a number of regions. There are many areas that experience beautiful autumn colours, but i really believe the most spectacular colours are to be found here in Algoma.
Our forests have an incredible mix of deciduous varieties, including the Sugar Maple, that give us a unique and brilliant palette of colours. Interspersed amongst the leafy trees are the coniferous evergreens, offering the contrasting splashes of dark green. As well, the Tamarack — a deciduous conifer that sheds its needles each fall — adds a brilliant flare of bright yellow to the mix.
I remember the autumn I spent in Thunder Bay, attending Teacher’s College, and experiencing the unfamiliar yellow-rusty palette of a forest that lacked Maple trees.
I sometimes think we take for granted how spectacular the scenery is, here. Others, however, understand the beauty that surrounds us, and are willing to pay handsomely to experience it. They will drive here from across Canada and parts of the United States to take the Tour Train to Agawa Canyon, ooh-ing and ah-ing at the colours.
The falling leaves...
Of course, for me the autumn colours also herald shorter days and the coming of (*sigh*) winter. The brilliant colours will fade far too quickly, and leaves will fall leaving (no pun intended) the bare skeletons of trees standing stark against the sky.
Almost before we know it we’ll be putting he snow tires back on our vehicles, and swapping rakes and brooms for snow shovels and ice scrapers.
I often imagine a world that has only three seasons… or perhaps four, but with a very short winter (2 weeks, maximum!). Can’t you just imagine it: the riotous colours of springtime; the hot, sunny summertime; the crisp and spectacular autumn; with just a light frosting of winter, just in time for Christmas.
I could learn to like that!
Something else I believe we take for granted is our maritime heritage. This community just wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for its location between Lakes Superior and Huron, on the banks of the St Mary’s River.
From the times when the First Nations people gathered here, to the arrival of the explorers and settlers from Europe, to the dawning of the industrial era and right up to today, the river has played a pivotal role in the development of this community.
I have spent a fair bit of time this summer at the waterfront, at the locks and Clergue Park. Watching freighters and tugboats and small craft ply up- and down-stream is very relaxing.
I has occurred to me, however, that as a community we don’t seem to have a sense of how important this waterway has been — and continues to be — to us. We have embraced the automobile culture so completely that the river is just an obstacle between us and a quick shopping trip.
True, we no longer have to line up to take the ferry across the river. Neither do we sail to Toronto or Thunder Bay. But the sheer volume of goods that float past us is nearly beyond comprehension.
Imagine how much a loaf of bread would cost if wheat had to be brought to the flour mills and bakeries in Southern Ontario by train, instead of being transferred to ships at Thunder Bay?
Imagine how much more we’d have to pay for gasoline, for instance, if it wasn’t delivered to us by lake freighter.
And yet, we pay very little attention to what is happening on the river. People scoff at the museum ship Norgoma, even though it was once the pride of a fleet of ships that ferried goods and passengers along the upper Great Lakes.
When I lived in Dundas I would frequently find myself somewhere within sight of Lake Ontario — in Hamilton, Burlington, or Mississauga, for instance — and could see freighters passing well out on the lake.
It just wasn’t the same as seeing them here, sailing majestically along the river, close enough to read their names and identify the logos on their smokestacks.
Yes, we do have the Boardwalk, which is enjoyed by many residents and visitors alike. We do have the annual Tugboat Races, which attracts both local boaters and those from around the Great Lakes.
Our downtown, including the Station Mall, seems one step removed from any association with the river. Our sister city, meanwhile, has a bustling shopping district almost within arm's reach of the ships passing by through the locks.
(In fairness, I should mention that City Meat Market does offer chandler service to the commercial marine traffic.)
Granted, there are a fair number of pleasure craft docked at Bellevue Marina (I counted about 50 the other day), and I see many powerboats trailered in people’s driveways around town.
But for a city hard by the shore of the river, we just don’t seem to have a maritime culture. Even our nickname “the Lock City” isn’t as well received as the more popular “Steel City.”
The sailing club seems to be going strong, too, but other than crossing the bridge, the river doesn’t seem to factor into our every day life, here, and I find that a bit odd.
But… thats just my opinion.