I’ve driven past Parry Sound, Ontario, and stopped in on occasion for a Tim Horton’s coffee while en route to Killarney Provincial Park or to Sudbury. I’ve also competed in a number of adventure races around the Muskoka area. Still, to date, the small Georgian Bay town has never been a purpose destination. A DailyXY photo-essay assignment is about to change that.
The goal is to capture the fireworks of fall colours — the leaves are turning as you read this, and mid-October is the sweet spot for this temporary explosion of natural beauty. I’ll shoot predominantly on a Canon G11, via three platforms: air, land and water. See the DailyXY “Air” photogallery here.
Arriving on the first evening, I make my way past the familiar highway-side gas station and coffee shop strip, then through the downtown streets, finishing by the marina and my B&B, named after its address, 40 Bay Street Bed & Breakfast. The room is immaculate; the bed, ample and wildly comfortable. The ensuite bathroom has the usual perks of shampoos, soaps and…earplugs. Yes, earplugs, an amenity I’d not heard of (no pun intended) but, in retrospect, a clever one , given that B&B’s focus more on a good night’s sleep than hotels.
First, dinner. One of the great things about small towns is that they are small — in this case, population less than 6,000. So, perhaps not surprisingly, the restaurant is some 78 steps from the B&B. In fact, I can lean out the front door and see it.
With Tim Horton’s my admitted sole previous Parry Sound culinary experience, I’m unprepared for the Bay Street Café’s great selection of appetizers, salads and entrees. All the food is prepared locally, and our waitress informs us that the apple crisp uses maple syrup from her parent’s farm. This explains why, after dinner, I’m carting around a litre of local maple syrup from McEwen Maple Products.
Returning to the B&B, I notice that it’s nestled under another remarkable town feature: the railway bridge. Freight trains still run a regular schedule along these tracks, over the Parry Sound harbour and into the Ontario Northlands. If you are a fan of trains, this is a pleasant addition to your stay. If you aren’t, there are earplugs.
Come morning, the dawn colours await as I make my way downstairs for breakfast and coffee. Fed and caffeinated, I start off on my adventures. One of the better-known businesses in Parry Sound is Georgian Bay Airways, once again just across the street from the B&B. An altogether less common way to explore the Bay’s 30,000 islands (no exaggeration, there are that many), the operation provides a variety of flight-related services, notably the regular 30-minute aerial tour I’ll be taking. Of course, they also do numerous charter runs, for camping and fishing trips, weddings, corporate retreats, etc. They have even delivered pizza to offshore boats. Because sometimes you really need that slice.
I’ll be flying in a float plane: a Cessna 180, built in 1977, which seats three passengers and one pilot. If you’re the sort of flyer who assumes the fetal position as soon as you’re in your seat, you’ll be out of luck in a Cessna. I look at the piloting-yoke-in-my-lap thing, new to me. (Surely I’m not the pilot?) I fumble with seat belts, cameras, camera bags, hoping I don’t accidentally flip any of the switches that are all right there.
Our pilot gets the go ahead and we’re off. At first, it’s not much different from being in a motor boat flying along the sun-kissed water. Within seconds, though, we lift off of the bay and into actual flight, rising above the rocks and trees of the surrounding islands. I’m surprised by how incredibly smooth the flight is; having been in small planes before, I’m familiar with the size-to-bump factor.
Ascending, I’m honestly awestruck by the aerial perspective and snap photos non-stop. I’ve been through these woods on foot and bike; this perspective is entirely different. Here is a vast land that seems largely untouched. The area was clear-cut a little over half a century ago but has grown back so thick that, from above, all evidence of that logging has disappeared. The land is growing bright with the rich yellows and reds that have made this area such a popular holiday choice for visitors from around the world.
The flight does a broad circle around Parry Sound Island, with flyovers of Killbear National Park, Snug Harbour, Bateau Island, Sandy Island, Waubuno Channel, Henry’s Sans Souci and Massassauga Provincal Park. Most of it looks “the same,” which is to say, spectacular.
The air continues to warm up as noon approach. I’ll have to shed some clothing to be comfortable on the next stage of this trip. My photos aren’t turning out as crisp as they normally would at this time of year; freakishly warm temperatures led to humidity tinging my aerial shots with a film of haze. Which is interesting, if unintended.
Hopefully things will be cooler in the woods. As I am soon to learn, they are certainly going to be more muddy.
Tour arranged by Explorers’ Edge.
Image courtesy of Alison Waddell.