Friday, August 31, 2012

A Wand'a Thru Toron'a - Part 1

In the past couple of weeks we have travelled to Toronto Ontario a few times.  On two occasions my wife wanted to visit an old friend.  When she did I was left to wander the streets of Toronto.

Toronto is the capitol of Ontario, and the largest  city in Canada.  It is also one of the oldest cities in the northland.  It has an incredible amount of character, something I didn't really realize until I wandered its streets for an afternoon.

These are some pictures from my first wander through the mad streets of Toronto.

A sculpture of the poet Al Purdy, found in Queens Park,
Queens Park: The Ontario legislature.
 Tim Hortons is Canada's most popular coffee and donut shop.  They also offer free wifi, which is a bonus when one doesn't have a cell phone that roams outside of the US.
Old Toronto City Hall: This is now a courthouse, but was once the center of Toronto politics.  Also it is the site where the first Santa Claus Parade (ever!) occurred.  The parade still happens annually.
 Interesting fact learned while geocaching:  The architect of the Old City Hall was not allowed to put his name on the building.  He got around this by hiding his name in the decorative bits that run around the top of the building.  You have to walk completely around the building, always looking up, to read the entire message.  One of the letters is shown here.
Jack Layton was a member of parliament for Toronto, and the leader of the New Democratic Party.  Much loved by the youth.  He died about a year ago of cancer.  The day before I did my wander was the one year anniversary of his death, and the area youth held a memorial vigil, and wrote messages to Jack on the walls of the walkways surrounding Nathan Phillips Square.
 The round buildings are the current location of Toronto City Hall, located at Nathan Phillips Square.

Note that you can see these buildings in two Star Trek Episodes:  The Original Series's All Our Yesterdays, and Next Generation's Contagion.
 The Hudsons Bay Company is the oldest corporation in North American (and one of the oldest in the world).  It started out as a fur trading company way back in the 1500s, and is now one of Canada's premiere department stores.
 The CN tower is the second tallest free standing tower in the world. It is used as a communications tower, tho it also has two restaurants, and a couple observation decks.  It defines the Toronto sky line and no tour of Toronto would be complete without including it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Shipwreck of La Grande Hermine II

There is a shipwreck in Jordan Harbour, just west of St. Catharines Ontario, that is plainly visible from the highway known as Queen Elizabeth Way, aka the QEW.

I've seen the ship many times as I drove by at 100KM/h (or there abouts), but I never knew how it got there, or what the history of it is.

There is a cache on shore near the ship so I decided to grab it the other day, and in the process I learned a little interesting history about a local landmark.  I am sharing it with you now, because... well... it is what I do.

The ship is called La Grande Hermine II (aka The Big Weasel), a replica of the ship Jaques Cartier used when exploring and "discovering" the St. Lawrence river way back in 1535.

It is not clear from my research if this ship was created for the Expo '67 in Montreal or a different replica.  However it seems to have been used as a restaurant in Quebec City.

The replica ship was purchased by a businessman who moved it herewith hopes of using it for a different restaurant.   That dream never materialized (Dreams can come true, they can happen to you, but not if you are this guy).  The ship caught fire in 2003 under "mysterious  circumstances" and is now, literally, a burnt out wreck sitting in the harbour.

Ownership of the boat is in question (the man had many debts it seems), so now it sits, run aground, in Jordan Harbour.  It us now just an interesting sight for drivers of the QEW (I used it as the point where I started moving to the slow lanes to make the exit for Highway 406 when I was dating my wife).

If you are ever out this way, stop by and take some pictures of this little piece of history for yourself, like I did:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Geocaching Adventures: The 5/5

Today I bagged my first 5/5 geocache.

For those that may not be familiar with geocache ratings, they are rated on a scale of 1-5 for both difficulty of the hide, and difficulty of the terrain to get to the hide.  So a 5/5 cache would be among the hardest caches to get.  A terrain 5 can also mean that special equipment is required to get to the cache - in this case a boat.

The cache is on a breakwater made up of large rocks in Port Maitland ON, where the Grand River meets Lake Erie.  The last time I was in the area I had my eye on the cache, but since I lacked a boat I could not get out to the breakwater.  Swimming is out due to the high currents in the channel. It was also winter so water activities of any kind was a bad idea.

This time, being the height of summer, weather wasn't a problem.  I had posted an info log on the cache  asking about boat rentals in the area.  I got a response from the cache owners, Kreamers&BearsKrew, who offered me the use of their boat.   Awesome!

Today I took them up on their offer, and we (Tonka Tyke and myself) met Beamers&BearsKrew (a husband/wife team and their infant daughter).  We piled into their boat and headed off the 0.2 miles across the port to the breakwater.

Making the landing was tough.  The wind had picked up and the waves were getting high, so we couldn't just pull alongside the rocks (we tried - we failed).  So the plan was for me to perch on the bow, and jump off when the bow gets close to the rocks (Tonka Tyke would stay on the boat as it was way to rough for him to get off)

So that is exactly what I did. I climb over the windshield and perch on the bow. The bow bumps the rock. I leap off the bow.  After I ensures my feet were secure on the damp rock I signal success to the boat. Landfall.

My heart was pounding from the excitement of the landing, but I immediately start clambering over the rough rocks in search of the geocache.

I finally found it perched among the rocks.  I quickly signed the log, and replaced everything as found.

My mission complete it was time for extraction, which was the same process in reverse: boat approaches the rocks, I jump onto the bow, then climb over the windshield and then head back to the mainland.

Surprisingly this went off without a hitch.  I had managed to jump off a boat onto a pile of rocks, find a cache, and jump back onto a boat - all in high waves - without getting wet.  Not to shabby if I do say so myself.

Afterwards we took a tour up the Grand river for a ways, then returned to the mainland.

After we parted ways with Kreamers&BearsKrew I took Tonka Tyke over to the pier to check out the lighthouse (where I proposed to my wife), and Tonka Tyke climbed on the rocks.

We then headed home, tired but happy.

This was an amazing and adrenalin filled adventure, and my first proper 5/5 caches.  A great way to spend a morning.

I'll leave you with some more scenes from the day:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Geocaching Adventures: Niagara Falls

Tuesday was a busy day for me. I started the morning with a walk around Queenston Heights, then after lunch I toured a ghost town, and then to finish off the day I headed to Niagara Falls to explore one of the worlds natural wonders.

I also had some geocaching business to take care of.

I have been to the falls many times  - my first date with my wifey was partly at the falls, and we've been there many times since - but visiting  the falls itself have always been a secondary activity, and I didn't get a lot of time to simple sit and take them in.  So Niagara Falls seemed like a great location to end my day of wandering.

First to business.  I had picked up a travel bug a few weeks ago at an event.  The bug was a brass looking anchor with Niagara Falls Canada written on it (odd, since it was released in California, but who am I to judge?).

The goal of the bug is to travel to boats, light houses, and places that have monuments with anchors.  Even tho it didn't mention water falls, I knew I was heading to the bugs namesake, so I figured I should take it with me.  I checked the bug into the Earth Cache at the falls, and took this photo -->

My duty to the travel bug taken care off I then found the Tim Hortons and got an Ice Cappuccino (aka liquid crack for Dave), sat down beside the falls, and took in the scenery.

Once I was refreshed from my delicious beverage I moved on and went down the Niagara River a mile or so to find the most visited traditional cache in Ontario (according to the cache description)  Foundations:  Ghosts Of The Clifton.  The description also says that the chances of meeting fellow cachers while doing this cache is high as a result.

The cache is in an out of the way courtyard that is easy to miss by tourists.  I arrived and had the place to myself.  I quickly found the cache, and sat down  on a nearby rock to open it.  As I sat I noticed a family enter the area, the mom had the tell tale signs of a geocacher (Walking slowly, GPS looking device in one hand, intensely interested only in objects that could hide things).  I put the cache behind my back.

When she got close enough and caught my eye, I showed her my GPS.  She laughed and asked if I had found the cache yet.  That is when I pulled the container out and showed it to her.  We talked for a bit, and then they moved on.  I had to wait another 5 minutes or so to replace the cache as some proper muggles came by as I was signing the log.

Eventually everything was placed back as it should be, and I headed across the street to the Hard Rock Cafe for a beer and poutine for desert.  Afterwards I drove back home.

It was a wonderful end to a great day of exploring and caching.  Here are some more pics from Niagara Falls.

I added this life rule after today: Any adventure that includes a natural wonder of the world doesn't suck.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ghost Town Of Joseph Balls

Heading up the Niagara Escarpment
Today I struck geocaching gold in Queenston Ontario.

It is often said that the best part of geocaching is exploring places that one would never know existed otherwise.  The cache I am about to describe fits that saying exactly.

Back in the mid 1800s Scottish settlers started exploring the Niagara escarpment, looking for rock for building materials.  The quarry they started has been in operation since, and is the oldest one operating in Canada.

They built a small settlement of 14 houses nearby to house the workers.  Todays cache, a two stage multi-cache called "Ghost Town", would take me to the old ruins of one of these houses: the residence of Joseph Balls.  The hard part is getting there.
An old basement?The hard part is getting there.  

The closest parking is a half mile away, which doesn't seem like a long distance, but the Niagara Escarpment stood in my way.  The escarpment is several hundred feet of steep hillside, but thankfully I only had to climb about 80ft of it.

 The trail was as straight and as steep as possible and still allow it to be climbed without ropes, so up I went.  When I got to the top I consumed an entire bottle of water and took a rest.  I was exhausted, but I reminded myself that climbing the escarpment was the very thing that cost the Americans the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812, so I didn't feel so bad.

The Bruce Trail
At the top the trail intersects with the famous Bruce Trail (885KMs of trail that runs from Tobermory ON to Queenston ON).  I started down this trail and almost immediately saw signs of the settlement.  It looked like a basement dug into the ground.

A quick check of the GPS showed the cache still being 0.3 miles away, so I keep going.  I see other signs of quarry work as I go.

About 0.1 miles away I see a little-used foot path snake off into the woods on the left. The GPS compass is pointing in that general direction, so I leave the Bruce and head across country.

Almost as if by magic the ruins of an old stone building appear out of the thick underbrush.  This is ground zero.

The ruins consist of one entire wall, with two side walls ending about half way down.  The fourth wall is missing entirely.

I spent a few minutes grabbing photos, and finding out the information I require to solve the puzzle to get the coords for the next stage (some initials carved in the brick).

Once I locate the info, I do the requisite math and headed off about 300ft to the final.

When I got to the final I found the geocache opened, and its contents strewn about.  I am not sure why it was this way - most of the contents, including stuff a muggle would take, was still there, and there was no signs of animal teeth or claw marks.

Amazingly the log book was still in great shape, despite sitting on the forrest floor unprotected for who knows how long.  I signed the log, reassembled the container, and hid it back where I assume it was meant to be hidden.

My mission accomplished I started to program the GPS to take me back to the car, when I accidentally hit "Find closest cache".  One popped up 0.3 miles further down the trail.  I was about to ignore it when then name caught my eye  It was simply called "Geocache", which seemed rather basic and probably meant it was an old hide.  Sure enough the publish date was March 17, 2001.  This cache was placed during the first year of geocaching!   Naturally I decided to go after it.

[Editors note:  Research shows that this is the 6th oldest geocache still active in Ontario]

I am glad I decided to find it as it dovetailed perfectly with my original story, the ghost town cache.  Along the way I found the actual quarry.  I also found the geocache (tupperware in a tree stump).

Finally satisfied that I have accomplished an additional mission, I hiked the (now) mile back to the car, including that tricky descent down the steep escarpment trail, and arrived back at the car.  Exhausted, sore, but thrilled that I had just had what could easily be described as the quintessential geocaching experience, and I survived to tell the tale.

Geocaching Adventures: Queenston Heights

Nestled just north of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side of the Niagara Escarpment lies the town of Queenston.

The town is famous for being the site of the first major battle during the War of 1812: The Battle Of Queenston Heights.

Today the site of that battle is a memorial to Major General Sir Isaac Brock, the British commander. He was killed during the battle, and now rests on top of the heights under a towering monument erected to his memory.

Brock was a childhood hero of mine. Mainly because his brilliant military strategies, and ability to make allies with the native indians, saved Canada from being defeated during the War of 1812.  He is known as the Saviour of Upper Canada (modern day Ontario).  His exploits are too numerous to mention here (and I'd probably get most of the details wrong) but you can read more about it here.

Given all the above, I jumped at the chance to go geocaching on the Heights the other day.

The highlight was a 4 stage multi cache that took me on a 3 mile tour around the battle site, including going up and down the escarpment.  One of the deciding factors in the battle was that the heights could only be attacked by a force that had to climb up the escarpment.  It was really awesome to see the locations that were made legend inside the mind of a boy from reading descriptions in a biography book in grade 8.

At the foot of the Brock monument is a memorial placed by Candian Native Indians, who were allies of the British during the war.
A flower bed marking  Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee - 60 years as a reigning monarch.  EIIR is the Royal Cypher meaning Elizabeth 2 Regina.  A lot of non-Canadians are surprised to learn that the Queen is still the head of the Canadian government, tho she is mainly a figure head at this stage.

Yours Truly looking over the Niagara River towards the American side of the escarpment.

The Brock monument as seen from the gates to the park.
A canon pointed over the river.  This was one of the few large guns the British had under their command.

The Niagara River:  The Yankees are coming!
From one of the memorial plaques.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

This Blog Has Gone To The Birds

Taking decent pictures of birds in flight is difficult - at least for am amateur photographer armed only with a simple point and shoot camera like myself. I have had some amazing luck grabbing pictures of birds in flight lately, so I decided to share them with you folks.