Canoeing on Lake Ontario
This year I learned a new trick to gain unique vantage points of Toronto - taking a canoe out onto Lake Ontario.
Being a photographer and residing right here in the city, I am constantly in pursuit of sights unseen through the lens of a camera. This pursuit often requires me to be constantly driving or riding the Red Rocket across this expansive city, typically accompanied with extensive walking over unfriendly terrain. But not anymore.
Lucky for me my friend and fellow photographer Mike Mitchener just so happens to own at sixteen foot long, hunter green canoe. At first the idea seemed absurd; canoeing on Lake Ontario? The water is too big, too choppy. Canoes are meant for smaller lakes and therefore are usually reserved for use in cottage country - or so I thought. Then after putting more research into this idea I learned that there is already an official Sailing and Canoe Club in Toronto.
Mike and I decided to take the plunge. On our first outing we got our feet wet at the bottom of Coxwell Avenue in Ashbridges Bay. I could tell by the way that Mike gracefully hoisted that very large canoe over his head, lifting it from the roof of his car and then carefully placing it into the water without making as much a splash that I was in company with an experienced paddler. From Ashbridges Bay we set out towards the big water. Dipping my paddle into the calm waters of the morning felt very natural to me. I was connected with the voyageurs from this country's origins. We continued east venturing out just past the R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant before looping back. I was hooked!
The infamous city workers strike that had taken place over the majority of this summer had brought closure to the Toronto Island ferry service thus cutting off the masses from a very ideal place of leisure. The thought of visiting the islands at a time when nobody else from "Mainland Toronto" could gain access to them was simply too irresistible to pass up.
On two separate occasions Mike and I launched his hunter green canoe from the shore of Cherry Beach near the lifeguard station and set course for the island. Leaving early in the morning just prior to sunrise would assure us that there would be calm water and of course gorgeous light for photography. The island was silent but it was also alive. Wildlife such as raccoons, geese, swans, beavers, muskrats and herons all were busy reclaiming their territory in the absence of the usual hordes who come to the island to play and maybe have a picnic. The sound of absolutely nothing throughout the island was priceless although it was occasionally pierced by the sound of our camera shutters clicking away. Desperately we tried to capture every single moment of tranquility through our lenses as our paddles sauntered through the quiet lagoons and hidden passage ways.
There is something so absolutely incredible about laying your eyes on this ever-growing city with its dense population living and working within a complex jumble of condos and office towers and not hearing it make a sound - a sleeping giant. This is why we canoe.
Now, I am not yet an expert canoeist by any means but I can offer up the following pieces of advice for anybody out there that would consider trying this for themselves. Do go out with an experience paddler and make sure you wear a life jacket. Do stay within sheltered areas or stay closer to the shore when out on the big water. Mike and I once ventured out into the middle of Toronto Harbour when great waves suddenly appeared with no indication of prior warning. They rolled along the side of the canoe threatening to enter the boat without invitation. Frantically, we scrambled to get our cameras into our dry bags while trying to keep the tiny vessel in balance. Getting wet we could handle but definitely not at the expense of our cameras! Do carry a watertight dry bag.
Lastly, do leave early in the morning whenever possible. It is no easy task "raising the dead" at 5:00 AM on a summer Saturday morning but your reward is the sight if the rising sun and the silence of a city still deep in slumber. I am surprised that more people are not doing this.
Writing and photography by Toronto photographer William Self.
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