As much as I love the city (Toronto, that is), every once in a while I gotta get away and a few weeks ago I came up with the idea of a little winter weekend getaway with my sister-in-law Yolande and my nephew Jazz. So I started surfing around the Internet to see where we could go, and since I didn't want to spend several hours driving, I settled on a destination just about an hour outside of Toronto: I came up with the city of Barrie whose surrounding areas include several ski resorts. Yesterday was a gorgeous day, and at plus 8 degrees Celsius certainly not a typical Canadian winter day. After checking in at our overnight retreat, the Nicholyn Farms Bed and Breakfast just 15 minutes outside of Barrie, we drove downtown to explore this growing city of 125,000 which is located right on the shores of Lake Simcoe on Kempenfelt Bay. Although our plans to go ice-skating fell through, Lake Simcoe was frozen solid enough so we could take a walk around Kempenfelt Bay, and like many others on this gorgeous day we were able to walk and play on the frozen lake.
I started off with a brief walk through town to capture some of the essence of this country town that has become a popular bedroom community for commuters to Toronto. The completion of the railroad connecting Barrie to the City of York (now Toronto) in 1865 and the construction of Highway 400 in the 1950s were critical events that promoted this city's growth. With its proximity to both Toronto and Ontario's Lakelands and 4-season resorts, Barrie is ideally positioned for a quick winter getaway. [SAFETY WARNING: Please ensure that you obey all weather warnings when venturing out on frozen lakes.
This year the winter has been particularly mild and every year several people fall through the ice and drown. Please make sure that the ice is safe before you venture out on the lake!] In close proximity to Barrie are 2 winter resorts, Horseshoe Valley Resort and Snow Valley, and not much further away are Blue Mountain / Collingwood (Ontario's largest ski resort) and Mount St. Louis Moonstone.
The forests and lakes around Barrie offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-mobiling. Its proximity to Georgian Bay, one of Ontario's favourite getaway areas, makes Barrie a popular travel destination close to Toronto. Lake Simcoe itself is a major hub for ice-fishing. Barrie's downtown is anchored around Dunlop Street which holds a variety of independently owned shops and retail outlets. Many of the buildings along Dunlop Street date back to Victorian times and the city has made an effort to preserve and highlight its architectural heritage. Barrie's waterfront is dominated by an impressive outdoor sculpture: the Spirit Catcher, which was designed by sculptor Ron Baird for the 1986 EXPO in Vancouver.
The sculpture was donated to the Barrie Gallery Project in 1987 and represents the Aboriginal People of Canada and the Aboriginal myth of the Thunderbird. When the Spirit Catcher was erected, it was blessed in a special ceremony by the Rama Native Drum Group of the Mnijikaning First Nation. In the spirit of human understanding , we had our own inter-cultural experience.
After I returned from my little photographic tour through downtown Barrie, I reconnected with my sister-in-law and my nephew next to the Spirit Catcher on the waterfront. Yolande and Jazz had met a young German exchange student by the name of Martin who is currently completing a degree in Environmental Technology in Germany and managed to arrange an international coop assignment in a small town north of Barrie. We had a fabulous conversation and Martin mentioned how tough it was to realize his dream of completing an international coop program in Canada. But he succeeded and is spending 9 weeks here in Ontario. He said he loves the country and is taken in by the Canadian mentality. Of course, he also plans to explore Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Niagara Falls and New York City during his short 9-week stint here in Canada.
Martin told us that at his young age he had already travelled to 19 different countries, and no matter where he goes he loves to link up with people from different places. It's getting dark. And apart from just having a conversation, Martin, full of youthful energy and mischief, was definitely up for a snowball fight and some horsing around, something that my 8-year old nephew greatly enjoyed. It was fabulous to see the two of them chasing each other on the frozen lake, heaving snow at each other and laughing their heads off. On one hand there was blond and blue-eyed Martin from Germany and on the other there was my brown-skinned nephew of Trinidadian heritage.
Two total strangers, from totally different backgrounds and cultures, connecting through fun and outdoor activities. It doesn't get any better than that. After Martin had left, we continued our walk on Lake Simcoe and enjoyed our time in the warm sunshine like all the other people on the frozen lake until the sun slipped down beneath the horizon. We took in the activities and watched float planes land and take off, we watched the dog walkers, the ATV riders, even mountain bikers on the lake, and glanced at the ice-fishing huts in the distance on the other side of the bay.
One young boy was playing catch with his father, and with real Canuck determination, was dressed in shorts. He figured +8 degrees Celsius was enough to break out the summer garb. That's the true Canadian spirit! .
By: Susanne Pacher