The last words I heard before an adrenaline-inducing canoe moment was “I can hear falls up ahead.” Rule number one. Never tell a girl from Niagara Falls there’s falls ahead because all you envision is fast-flowing ice-cold water ready to sweep you over the brink.
By the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, falling waters are pretty common sights as a patchwork of rocky caverns and deep gullies scar the ancient Niagara Escarpment.
Since we hedged our weekend bets on a getaway to Cape Croker Park in the northern peripheries of the Bruce located 329km north from the mighty Niagara Falls, it suddenly dawned on me as we were hitting the waves that maybe just maybe this spot had some falls too.
Cape Croker, an Indian Reserve with mystical lore and a strong heritage, lies along the Niagara Escarpment which runs from the Niagara Peninsula in the south to the Manitoulin Island in the north. For centuries this chunk of parkland overlooking Sydney Bay was used as a portage route and has been a First Nations hotspot.
Records show the Nawash Band from Owen Sound arrived on the cape in 1858. The elders used to see the waters around Cape Croker as a place of healing and a place of hope. Considered the Bruce Peninsula’s best kept secret, the park is a quiet oasis run by the Chippewas of Nawash Band.
Now paddling hard in the middle of the bay the blue waters turn into a dark indigo. The more we paddled, the louder the thundering echoes seemed to grow.
Deep water zone
That was mistake number two. We broke the cardinal rule: follow the shoreline. We took the bull by the horn and entered the deep water zone as we plied across the bay. But just before a wave of panic set in, the thundering blasts intensifying by the nanosecond, I sealed my eyes shut then paddled and paddled some more.
“Hey open your eyes,” Stephen yells.
“It’s so loud I can’t.”
“Just open them. See what’s ahead.”
Sun blazing on this glorious midday, I slowly pried open my eyes. By the water’s edge the tide was kissing a flat black shale shoreline sprinkled in smooth pebbles carried in by the water.
That was my intro to Cape Croker’s mysterious allure. My mighty falls were only neat splices of stone drifting onto the lakefront. The horizon could play tricks on you. It did for me. I got my first dose into the magic of this remote untouched area that’s outlived prehistoric times and have never forgotten the misguided ordeal.
Cape Croker Park (RR 5, Cape Croker, Wiarton, Ontario) has 315 campsites. Rates are from C$30 a night
Season: Until Thanksgiving.
5 more places to paddle
The Niagara Escarpment is the headwater of five other rivers. Here are five more paddling breaks:
Grey County has downloadable paddling maps. One popular route is the Beaver River.
2-Lions Head Provincial Park
The park contains glacial rock formations and lies along the Niagara escarpment
Saugeen River has the best fall salmon and trout runs.
The headwaters originate at the Niagara Escarpment and definitely worth the effort.
Grand River has unbeatable rafting trips with local outfitters like Grand River Rafting