Steam heat

We’ve been living in a regional sauna lately — heat warnings most days this month. I go out as little as possible when the weather’s like this, mainly for groceries and to water our drooping garden plants.

By late August I’m longing for cool autumn weather — which looks like it’s still pretty far away — so for this post I’ll share some photos I took on one of the rare rainy days a couple of weeks ago, up at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. My brother and I spent some time strolling Hendrie Park, until the rain became torrential, lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around us. We felt sorry for the two wedding parties there that day!

Just looking at these photos makes me feel cooler; I hope they affect you the same way 🙂

Widespread cloud cover took the edge off the heat while we walked the pathways.
Magnificent rust-toned sunflowers nodding way over my head
I like the contrast of these fluffy Teddy Bear Sunflowers with their huge shiny leaves
An explosion of colour against cool green leaves
Dragonflies welded together in a mating dance landed briefly by this crimson water lily
These soft creamy day lilies reminded me of sheer lacy curtains waving in a summer breeze
Spot the Monarch butterfly
Pale lavender roses epitomize coolness
The stormy sky reflected in a pond shortly before the rain blew in

Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping cool while this month burns its way into the history books.

Choices in difficult times

Is it just me, or does this cloud look like a balloon animal?

I needed another stress break today, so I went on an impromptu trip to one of my favourite places that’s appeared in my blog several times, the botanical garden at the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls.

One of our neighbours has two dogs, one of which hates being outside if all its people are inside. It’s a dog thing – some don’t mind being outside in the yard, but the majority I’ve seen only want to be out if their humans are as well. When dogs are stressed, they bark until the stress is relieved.

The barking went on for over forty minutes; this had been going on all week, every day throughout the day. Today I’d had enough and went over to speak to the family. I’d planned to talk to the parents, but they weren’t home, and I chose to speak to the son about the issue. I was polite, but angry.

I was at my wit’s end; we’ve had ongoing issues with this family since they moved in. Things like repeated trespassing, damage to the adjoining fence by the son over a year ago that the father promised to fix but still hasn’t, and other issues I won’t list here.

What I should have done, though, was ask the son to put the dogs in the house and to have his parents contact me.

These are challenging times and we’re all feeling the strain. Even though the world is making great progress against the coronavirus, we’re not out of the woods by any means; we can just see the outer edge of the trees. A lot of people have lost loved ones, lost a job or a business, been affected by political issues. We’ve all struggled to stay sane in general.

The father came over to our house later in the day and asked that in future if something’s bothering me I should be speaking to them, not the kids. That’s a fair request, and it’s the choice I should have made.

Everyone is irritable, as much as we try not to be. All we can do to mitigate that is try to be as considerate of others as possible.

Be nice to the store clerk, keep an appropriate distance from others in public, drive responsibly – be a good neighbour, which, although I had good reason to be fed up today, I didn’t do the best job of either.

I read an article the other day that complaints about neighbours have escalated in the Ottawa region in the past year, and I’m sure other communities have experienced the same thing. Our region also holds quite a few tourist attractions, where we’re still having issues with visitors misbehaving – sometimes, sadly, those visitors have lost their lives doing risky things.

We’re all stressed, and looking for ways to blow off steam in the craziness of 2020-2021, but let’s try to do it respectfully, and safely.

I had an issue that needed addressing today, but I could have handled it better. The whole situation bothered me so much that I had to get out of the house for a while. I relaxed as soon as I started walking around in nature. The gardens were busy today, but everyone was calm and considerate; nature is a great way to chill out. I’ll share with you some of the peace and beauty I found, as at least a virtual stress break in case you need one too.

One of the pretty paths to stroll
This was labelled as a ‘Blackberry Lily’, although the name seems odd so I’m not sure
I need this for my Halloween garden!
Several crab apple trees dot the gardens, all full of fruit
The paths at the gardens are so serene to walk
These strange plant bodies are near my favourite pond; they weren’t labelled, but they look like roots of some kind?
Quite a few frogs croaking in the pond
Lots of these pretty blue flowers in the water
A blue jay enjoying his crab apple
No idea what this tree was, but it was lovely
A pretty pink flower shows off its interior
Still trying to find out what this podded plant is – does anyone know?
Beautiful juxtaposition
Unidentified statue by the rose gardens
Shrub rose
I was sitting on a handy branch on the interior of this tree to take a break from the sweltering sun
I loved the layered mix of colours in these beds
Detail of the beautiful veining on the canna leaves
A cheerful honeysuckle flower

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

Local adventures — Morningstar Mill

I was asked by a friend the other day if I’m itching to travel abroad, and I couldn’t really say that I am. Yes, I definitely miss traveling further afield than the province we live in, but I can wait until the effects of the pandemic have all shaken out.

I’ve been keeping an eye on what’s going on in the industry while my hubby and I did our part to limit the spread by staying local. There have been many tales of attempted trips that haven’t turned out well, purveyors who’ve refused to honour refunds, issues with mixed vaccines that haven’t been recognized by other countries, etc. To be fair, I’ve also read of travelers who’ve had a great time enjoying destinations almost entirely free of other tourists.

Staying closer to home, though, has given us the opportunity to explore parts of Ontario we never bothered with before, and we’ve had a great time doing it. When the time is right and we can travel with more confidence, we’ll start up again, but in the meantime we’re making the best of things in our own neck of the woods.

One of our local sights includes a vintage and unusual grist mill, sawmill and 19th century homestead. My hubby and I have visited many mills powered by classic large water wheels, but Morningstar Mill is one of the rarer type powered entirely by water turbine.

Vertical water wheels, which are still in use today, date as far back as the first century BC; their predecessors go back at least two centuries before that. The Greek philosopher Archimedes described a screw pump in 234 BC that took on his name, but there’s evidence that such a device had been used much sooner in ancient Egypt. Water wheels were used for industrial purposes throughout the ancient world — they may even have been used for sawing slabs of marble.

The earliest turbine mill was constructed by the Romans in Tunisia in the late 3rd/early 4th century AD. It’s harder to find historical samples of turbine mills, so Morningstar Mill offers a look at how this different technology worked.

The original set of mills on the site were built by an early settler of what was then the Province of Upper Canada, which included all of modern-day Southern Ontario and some of Northern Ontario. His name was John DeCou, or John DeCew — the spelling is uncertain, but the latter version survives in local place names to this day. DeCew was a United Empire Loyalist and fought in the War of 1812. After the war he acquired a site on Beaverdams Creek with a waterfall in 1788 and built one of the first saw mills in the area. Later he added a grist mill.

DeCew had stiff competition from William Hamilton Merritt, the catalyst for the construction of the Welland Canal system (the third Canal was covered in a post just a few weeks ago). The Canal diverted water away from DeCew’s mill, and in 1894 he sold it. The new owner, Robert Chappell, who built a new turbine-powered grist mill and renamed it Mountain Mills. After surviving local political shenanigans for a few years, the mill was sold to Wilson Morningstar, who lived on the site with his family and operated the mill until 1933, and it’s his name that remains.

The mills and other buildings are now operated as a heritage site that has some excellent volunteer docents. There’s far too much to see to include in this post — for sites like this, you’re far better off visiting in person for a great interactive experience. Take the time to devote at least half a day to get the most out of it.

Caveat: The mill houses all of its original equipment, much of which isn’t safe for children to play with. Please be mindful of what the docents tell you when you visit.

In the photo above you can see the stone grist mill, i.e. flour mill, on the right, and the saw mill in the red building on the left.

The water flows into the site through culverts that run under Decew Road:

Inside the turbine shed you can safely view the turbine itself, a remarkable piece of 19th-century engineering:

On the exteriors you can see quite a bit of the mechanisms that closed a set of gates to collect water into a millpond. A drum and crank inside the mill were then turned by hand to feed the collected water through horizontal and vertical penstocks and into the turbine itself (visible in the photo above). The water flowing through the turbine then powered every piece of equipment in the mills.

The equipment included things like a lathe:

…with some of its original parts stored in a crate underneath.

The grinding stone for milling flour was a French burr stone, made from sections of quartz cemented together. This type of burr stone was used for finer grinding. Morningstar Mill still grinds flour today, although post-pandemic production hasn’t resumed yet. I’d recommend visiting when you can see the grinding in action and take home some stone-ground flour for yourself.

There’s a great deal of early Ontario history housed in these buildings.

One of Morningstar’s original paper flour sacks is framed and on display — a small piece of memorabilia from the days before big grocery store chains and mass-produced foodstuffs.

You can view Decew Falls themselves safely from above the falls.

The 1895 Morningstar family home is currently being refurbished. It has a lovely position atop a small hill overlooking the mills and falls.

It features wonderful gingerbread architecture on the exterior:

A friend of mine is one of the docents and kindly arranged for me to be able to look inside the home. The kitchen contains a classic wood-burning stove with a water-heated oven, and a hand-pump to draw water up from a reservoir below.

The pantry/larder contains a lot of vintage cooking equipment, like the meat grinders in the top left of the photo below, and numerous earthenware crocks for food storage.

You can even see a genuine vintage ice box, the progenitor of our modern refrigerators. Since cold air is heavier than warm air, the block of ice would have been inserted in the top compartment, allowing the chill to sink down and help preserve foodstuffs in the bottom part of the box.

The living/reception areas of the main floor are still being worked on, but I was able to see the spacious rooms and gorgeous woodwork, something that modern houses are sadly lacking.

On the upper floor you can see beautiful examples of early Ontario bedsteads and coverlets.

Imagine laundering clothes using this vintage tub and washboard. I’m unfortunately rather accident-prone, so I imagine plenty of skinned knuckles trying to do this.

When volunteers, including my buddy Terry, were working on restoration of the upper floor, they found the original bathroom, hidden behind walls erected to cover early damage. The volunteers were able to find all of the bathroom fixtures and paneling elsewhere in the house, and using an old photo, reconstruct the bathroom to its former beauty. They did a remarkable job!

In one of the children’s bedrooms, you can see delightful vintage books and toys.

There’s so much more to the site that I couldn’t possibly fit into this post — including the sawmill, for which we ran out of time. I’ll visit it another day and post some photos.

This type of site is a local treasure, a window into a simpler, more arduous but incredibly ingenious past. Places like this are a reminder that our fast-paced, overly technological world that’s buzzing with electronics and noise isn’t the be-all and end-all of life. We can take little breaks from the hubbub and enjoy the quietude of our historical heritage while we wait for the larger world to become safely available again.

I’ll continue to post our local adventures from time to time, and if you begin embarking on your own, I’d love to hear about it!

Stay safe and healthy.

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

Hidden by time – the old Welland Canal

How much do you know of your area’s history? Probably not as much as you should.

So much of the landscape has changed in the Niagara Region through modernization that we’ve literally lost sight of the centuries of history here. But, like temples in the Central American jungle, remnants of our past peek out of the trees and brush that have overtaken them — we have only to put on bug spray and hiking boots to find them. A knowledgeable guide is a great asset, and my friend Terry has been showing me some of our old treasures on days when the scorching summer heat has abated and the skies aren’t emptying their contents on our heads.

The modern-day Welland Canal is such a technical marvel that it’s difficult to envision its origins in the early 19th century. The first version of the Canal was completed in 1829.

In 1824, nine “freeholders of the District of Niagara”, including a man who would become a local notable, William Hamilton Merritt, petitioned the Province of Upper Canada to build a canal to transport boats between the two local Great Lakes, L. Ontario and L. Erie. Merritt owned two mills on the Twelve Mile Creek, a natural waterway running through the current city of St. Catharines. In the summer, the water supply to the mills often ran low, and his original idea was simply to divert some water from the Welland River about 18 miles away to help. That idea was expanded to create a navigable canal to transport goods.

The geography of Niagara threw several wrenches into this plan, but eventually, utilizing as many natural waterways as possible to save costs, the first canal was built, with wooden locks. On November 30, 1829, two schooners made the inaugural journey from Port Dalhousie on L. Ontario to Port Robinson on L. Erie, and the Welland Canal was open for business.

As you’d imagine, the lifespan of wooden locks swimming in water all the time was short. The Second Welland Canal was built along the same route, but replaced the wood with limestone. It had a string of 27 locks, and continued to be used until 1881, when it was replaced by the Third version, shorter and straighter (reducing travel time) as well as wider to make room for the bigger ships coming into use.

The Third Welland Canal featured water siphons built into the walls to fill the locks (and empty them).

Bollards were added along the edges of the canal with which to tie up the ships while they were being lowered or raised.

Bollards are still used today along the modern Fourth Welland Canal, but now ships use them to tie off while they’re waiting outside of the locks. One of the most interesting features of the Third Canal was that in places it ran over top of the landscape, in one place over a sunken section of a road, and in another over a railway tunnel built for the Grand Trunk Railway Line between locks 18 and 19. That tunnel still exists today — it’s called the Blue Ghost Tunnel, as it’s apparently haunted; look for a feature on the tunnel this October!

A hike along sections of the Third Canal is an exercise in patience and fortitude. If you’re not fond of heights, the hike might not be for you, and ticks are prevalent in the bush through which a hiking path has been maintained, so you’ll need long pants tucked well into hiking boots, a bug shirt, and plenty of insect spray (and even then you’ll still need to check yourself for the nasty little critters before you get back into your vehicle to return home). But the hike is a great look at a bygone era when the only previous way to get between the two massive lakes was a hazardous portage.

Today these are some of the extant sections of the Third Canal:

Lock 13, just beyond Glendale Road
Discovering deformed bollards along the thickly-wooded hiking path
The crumbling walls of Lock 14. On the left you can see where the gate was attached and swung open/closed on a curved track
The other end of Lock 14
Most of the canal is shallow now, with a series of small rapids
CN Rail tracks run over an old haulage road
Remnants of an old weir between Locks 17 and 18
Vivid orange ditch-lilies pop out of the brush
An old double-tracked Grand Trunk swing bridge still springs out of the landscape. The apparatus that allowed the bridge to pivot no longer exists.
The old tracks across the bridge are walkable
Rust has coated the metal supports
At the edge of the bridge, you can see the wide flat section on the lower left that is a remnant of one of the reservoirs used to hold back water from the canal.
On the outskirts of Thorold, a spillway releases water from a reservoir for the Fourth Canal
The reservoir itself, looking towards Thorold
Looking down at the low water of the spillway
Some of the remarkable landscape of the Niagara Escarpment
A Pearl Crescent butterfly on the path

To give you some idea of what ship travel would have looked like in the Third Canal’s heyday, this photo was posted on the Historic Welland Canals Mapping Project website. I wasn’t able to find any source or permissions info.

c. 1904, ship at the 17th lock

While we all recover from the pandemic, this is a great time to explore parts of your regional landscape that you never thought you’d have time for. If your area is like ours, there are likely all kinds of interesting things to discover!

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

Blossom time in Niagara

This week we’re celebrating blossom time in the Niagara region, which is Nature’s sign that spring has truly arrived.

Every May fruit trees all over our farmlands cover themselves in gorgeous flowers. The blossoms don’t last long, and the timing is tricky if you want to see them — like fall colours, it’s all dependent on the weather. This year, with plenty of mild weather, sunshine and rain showers, the blossoms have arrived right on cue, and I thought I’d share them with everyone who can’t come and see them in person during the continuation of the pandemic.

Our sublime May light makes the blossoms look almost incandescent — rows of glowing colours in orchards, lining our parks, and dotting our city streets.

In the photo below, cherry trees line the fringes of a historic site called McFarland House, built in 1800, and the thick showers of pink blossoms contrast strikingly with nearby red maples also flaunting their best spring outfits.

The resplendent clusters of pink flowers pop against the trees’ craggy grey-green bark.

I believe these are Japanese flowering cherries; here’s a closeup of the blossoms and new leaves for anyone who might have a better idea than I do.

It’s not just fruit trees that are livening up our landscapes; here at Queenston Heights in Niagara Falls, vibrant tulips are showing off their best colours. This historic site, which commemorates the first major battle in the War of 1812, is also the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail, the famous hiking trail that runs for 900km (about 560 mi) from Niagara northward to Tobermory on the shores of Georgian Bay.

I’m partial to variegated tulips…

…but all of the flowers were putting on a grand display of their lush petals and intriguing variety of reproductive configurations.

Niagara Falls also boasts quite a pretty 10-acre lilac garden.

The garden is free to visit; you can spend an entire morning or afternoon there, inhaling the wonderful perfume of the flowers…

,,,and admiring the different varieties. There were a handful of us getting some outdoor exercise on a lovely day, although rain was on the horizon.

I loved the pretty variegated leaves on this shrub.

Turning back toward Niagara-on-the-Lake, I found numerous pink-strewn cherry orchards…

and white apple orchards lining the roads.

Clusters of white apple blossoms were bursting out on all the branches, their sprays of delicate pistils making them look like lace.

Even the other trees are sporting froths of bright new leaves. I love this time of year, when the air is fresh and invigorating, and the sunshine begins keeping its promises.

Heading to the Fonthill area, numerous farms are studded with the stubble of last year’s corn stalks.

Even though the region is starting to drown under the weight of wineries (over seventy in about 700 square miles), if you take the time to wander the back roads you can still find pretty farms tucked away.

In fact, a leisurely wander is the best way to see the region’s spring beauty when you have a chance. You might even spot some of the area’s wild turkeys searching a field for lunch. There used to be one that patrolled an intersection near where I live, stopping traffic for the better part of an hour as it strutted up and down the road. (If you’ve never seen one for yourself, they’re huge birds, up to four feet tall and rather ornery.)

Hiking trails abound; this section of the Bruce Trail is twinned with a trail project in South Africa, surprisingly enough.

Even here the trails were luminous in the afternoon light.

At some time in the future, when life has returned more closely to normal, you may want to visit the Niagara Region in the springtime, when it shows all of its prettiest colours. In the meantime, I hope you have some lovely areas to explore and let Nature work her magic.

Signs all around us – Part 2

This week we’ll look at signs that touch you on an emotional level. They may make you chuckle, scratch your head, feel a pang, feel trepidation or its opposite, relief, or even make you hungry/thirsty (often because of where they’re located).

Let’s eat/drink!

The photo below reminds me of a fantastic place where we had breakfast in Ireland. We’d missed the breakfast slot at the hotel, but the front desk staff recommended this place on a local farm, whose name refuses to stick in my head. However, I can always bring up this photo with the place name thoughtfully imprinted on bags in which to cart off loaves of their fresh, crusty bread.

Our lodge deep in the Amazon jungle along the Madre de Dios river, served up a wild assortment of irresistible cocktails. I believe I tried the Anaconda 🙂

On a trip into eastern Ontario last fall, when the pandemic situation on our province was still largely contained, we visited a farm market that’s famous in the area but danged hard to find, even with a GPS. We’re glad we persevered, though — a dazzling assortment of homemade and gluten-free products listed on the sign behind the counter. We’d tucked a cooler in the back of our pickup truck in case there was anything we wanted to come home with; we filled that up and stuffed a couple of paper bags full of fruits and vegetables in between the golf clubs on top of that!

A little libation of the colonial variety with a flight of beer, helpfully labelled, at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

Something every hot and thirsty traveler wants to see, a roadside stand offering fresh tropical fruit juice.

Signs of delight

I loved this bumper sticker so much I had to take a photo of it, in the town of Sleepy Hollow in New York State.

Knowing is half the battle 😉

A hiking trail through some woods had a section created especially for all children of all ages.

This vervet monkey in Kenya clearly needed its morning java.

Head-scratchers

Clearly this fellow would be the solution to all of life’s problems 😉

Of the ‘what the heck’ variety. This sign could also fall under the ‘induces trepidation’ category. We saw a number of signs like this in eastern Tennessee. Really, why would anyone need to rent a machine gun?!

This sign only fell into this category after we drove round a mountain for over an hour trying to find the spot, unsuccessfully, followed by blowing out a tire as we went back down the mountain, put on the spare on the side of a steep and narrow road and limped the rest of the way down to our bed-and-breakfast. Let’s just say that signage in Ireland lacks a lot of pertinent information and frequently stumps the GPS in your rental vehicle.

A wave of nostalgia

I grew up in the Woodstock era. I was much too young to be allowed to go, but the scrappy little music festival ended up making history and defining a generation. When we found out a few years ago that the site had been restored and was available to visit, we had to go — to stand in the place that was such a big moment in our youths and to share in that moment even if only in retrospect.

We also grew up with the Charlie Brown comics. One of the annual Christmas-season events in our house is a viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas — we never tire of it. It remains a popular show to this day, but I’m not sure more recent generations realize what a time capsule it is — children walking around by themselves after dark, lots of wide snowy undeveloped spaces and frozen ponds to skate on, the popularity of metallic trees… We’d been down to the fantastic ICE! show at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville once before while spending Christmas with one of our cousins, and on a return visit as soon as I found out that the theme that year would be A Charlie Brown Christmas I booked the tickets! It was a chilly blast from the past to walk through the entire story done in larger-than-life ice sculptures.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has always been my favourite spooky story, with the big bad as a dead Hessian soldier on his jet black horse with a flaming pumpkin for a head! In another aha moment, as soon as I found out that the town of Sleepy Hollow actually exists (originally called North Tarrytown but adopting the name from Washington Irving’s most famous story out of affection and marketing value), I knew we had to go. The entire area is Irving country and replete with all kinds of Halloween events. But most important of all, you can walk across the modern incarnation of the bridge that helped inspired Irving in his 1820 tale of terror in the wilds of Westchester County.

Although this style of signage was iconic of an earlier generation, when you stumble upon one now it’s a perfect little time capsule of a bygone era when post-war life was good, the economy was booming and North America was full of innocence and optimism.

Shiver me timbers!

As a devotee of haunted attractions, I love the creativity in signage used to intrigue us and make us wonder if it’s safe to go on.

Of course, this photo is of one of the least-frightening Halloween attractions around, but it’s an opportunity to turn into a five-year-old again for a few hours.

Busch Gardens in Williamsburg does a little eerier version — not too frightening, but lots of atmosphere!

Signs throughout the park during the day promise thrills after dark.

Here in Ontario, Fort Henry in Kingston takes advantage of its built-in architecture to turn into its creepy alter-ego once the sun goes down.

Next week we’ll continue on this theme with poignant signs that give us insight into the tears of the past.

As always, all photos are by me and all rights are reserved.