Inspire Me! blog

Windsor – more than just salt

I have a special fondness for Windsor, Ontario, having been born in the area. The Windsor of today is very different from the one I remember as a child, as happens to all cities, especially those that sit at crossroads. Windsor straddles the edge of the Detroit River, directly across from the city of Detroit, Michigan. The Ambassador Bridge that joins the two cities across the expanse of the river is the busiest commercial crossing along the border between Canada and the U.S., and a popular crossing for general citizens. I remember regular trips to visit the Detroit Zoo with my dad, and excursions to the water’s edge to watch fireworks displays.

View from the Riverfront Park

The river is a defining feature that dominates my memories of living there, and created a lifelong love of being near water.

Windsor is a very old community, dating far back beyond the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s. Several Indigenous tribes already inhabited the area along the river, which was part part of the Three Fires Confederacy between the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi. European settlements began to grow because of the abundance of beavers, whose soft and waterproof pelts doomed the poor creatures.

Various pelt distinctions displayed in the Chimczuk Museum

In between trapping beavers, the early Europeans seemed to have a very confused idea of how the animals lived and built their homes. The painting below from the time period shows them walking around on their hind legs like people in an assembly line of construction.

In 1749 a French agricultural settlement was established where the city of Windsor is now, becoming the oldest continually-inhabited European settlement in Canada west of the city of Montreal. French place names all over the Windsor area come directly from the early settlers, even while the name of the eventual city and many surrounding towns and cities were taken from England itself. Indigenous names are also in the mix, such as the satellite town of Tecumseh, named for a Shawnee chief who tried to unite fellow tribes into a resistance movement against American expansion. A compelling carved-wood statue of Tecumseh himself bathes in the sunlight at the Chimczuk Museum, a great spot to learn all about the history of the city that would eventually become very well-known for table salt, Prohibition-era booze smuggling and automobile manufacture.

Today the liquor production is all legal (to the best of my knowledge, and you can tour the fantastic Hiram Walker museum), and car manufacture, although no longer in its heyday, continues to be an important industry.

Windsor has a thriving downtown with a great food scene, lovely gardens lining the river, a big casino, and plenty of interesting rural communities surrounding it to explore for a day out. There are several wineries and golf courses in the vicinity, as well as Point Pelee National Park, sitting at the southernmost tip of Canada’s mainland.

One of the things I have yet to do is visit Windsor’s salt mines. In 1891 (there are two), William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), sunk a test well on CPR land in Windsor, and found what he suspected was there. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sample of salt crystal at the Chimczuk Museum

In the early part of the 20th century, the proximity of Windsor and Detroit created a superb opportunity for liquor-producers to smuggle their products to the Americans in the throes of Prohibition, and the Detroit River became very busy starting in 1916 after the State of Michigan banned the sale of alcohol three years before it was banned nationally. I’ll blog more about this in the future, but for now, Wikipedia gives a good overview.

The Chimczuk Museum is a worthy beginning for your exploration of Windsor, and the docents are excellent, as is the gift shop. It’s a nice spot to cool off on a hot summer day, and a great place to learn about all the layers of history where so many cultures came together and continue to make a home.

The Made with Love Quilt, made by the Windsor-Essex Sewing Force in response to the COVID pandemic
One of the old tile signs at the border crossing, now housed in the museum

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

Step away from your screen(s)

An African sunset, truly magical

Since March 2022 I’ve been a local explorer. During the autumn preceding the COVID pandemic, my hubby and I had visited Ireland, and over the December holidays we’d spent time with a relative outside Nashville, TN, so at least we had those under our belts to hold us while we waited to see how the global disease was going to play out.

Some of our friends and relatives decided to travel outside the country, bucking the requests and advice of our government; we chose to stay within our province for the greater good. So if you’ve been following this blog during that time, you’ll have seen memories from all the local adventures I’ve been embarking on. On those journeys, there has been so much history and local culture to discover, and plenty of local beauty as well. Most of my, and our, best moments have happened out and about.

We have spectacular ornamental cherry blossoms in our area each spring, but hardly anyone goes out to see them

I was intrigued to see what advice a 100-year old traveller – someone who’s reached a milestone most of us never will – would have to offer, in a recent article posted on AFAR Magazine, and wasn’t really surprised to see that it dovetails with my own philosophy.

Both Deborah Szekely and I (and most of my friends) grew up in the decades before smartphones, tablets or even the internet existed. We had no other option than to really embrace the world around us and be in the moment all the time. It was a great time to travel, sometimes by the seat of our pants, and without the benefit of GPS, online city guides, or any kind of convenient app. That meant that we had to think on our feet, pay attention to our surroundings and form our own opinions.

Now, I see all kinds of travellers with their faces buried in their screens, completely missing what’s going on around them. They base their choices on the opinions of influencers who offer no guarantee that they know what they’re talking about, and often present false fronts on their media sites. People destroy popular tourist sites so they can take a photo of themselves looking cool, thus being a general nuisance and often ruining the site for any visitors that try to come after them.

This beautiful iris in the cloud forest of Peru only blooms one day a year; exploring by myself, I was the only person in our tour group to see it

According to the article about Szekely, her philosophy is “to find our own inner peace by looking away from our screens and immersing ourselves in the beauty of the world. And sometimes, the best antidote to doom scrolling is by going on a walk—not on the treadmill, but in nature—and by focusing our awareness on the birds and other wildlife around us, we’ll find “all kinds of answers.” “ 1

Building on that, if you look through history, political clashes come and go and the human race goes on. Devastating epidemics have occurred over the centuries – the Black Death killed 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, the Spanish Flu anywhere from 17 million to possibly 100 million worldwide – and humanity survived those with far less medical advances than we have today. Many people are working hard to save species and our planet.

Things you see on the side of the road deep in the African bush: an elephant refreshing itself in the hot afternoon sun

It’s important for us to stay informed enough to remain safe, but not to drive ourselves crazy with it. Conspiracy theories count on fear to help them spread, but wouldn’t you rather feel good about life and stop worrying that everyone’s out to get you? Sure, there’s bad in the world, but there’s a lot of good also, and that’s the kind of news I want to look at.

My advice builds on what Szekely has to say: stop living your life through an electronic device. Get out and actually live! The world is still very beautiful and there are plenty of wonderful people in it. But you’ll only experience all of that when you look up. Go someplace, see what it has to offer without any preconceived ideas, and make up your own mind about it. Learn to rely on your own opinions and judgements. Travel locally or travel abroad, safely and with full awareness of where you are. And then let me know what you found 😊

Look up, look down, look all around — you’ll be amazed at what you see

All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

1After Living, Traveling, and Learning Her Way to 100, Deborah Szekely Has Some Advice for You, byChloe Arrojado for AFAR Magazine, May 10, 2022, www.afar.com/magazine/wellness-tips-from-100-year-old-legend-deborah-szekely

Tracing the old Welland Canal, version 2

On a fine spring day, awash in cherry blossoms but before all the leaves pop out and make viewing almost impossible, you can follow quite a long section of the second Welland Canal, constructed in the mid-1800s over a number of years. The wooden locks of the first Canal had deteriorated, as you might imagine from their regular soaking in deep water, and the size of ships passing through the Canal had increased. The same essential route was kept, with a change to stone locks, a widening of the channel, and the use of 25 locks to climb/descend the Niagara Escarpment, a rise/drop of 140 feet. It was a remarkable feat of engineering for the time.

From Thorold, Ontario it’s possible to still see reasonably well-preserved remnants of locks 21 to 15 in Mountain Locks Park. There are paths straddling both sides of the Canal, although some are rough dirt paths, sometimes mucky and slippery after rain, winding through thorny thickets; wear hiking boots with good treads. Mid-spring is the best time to do this walk, before the trees are too full and the mosquitoes haven’t appeared. The views of the Canal are unfortunately large obscured by high chain-link fence. While I understand the need to protect people and animals from falling into the old channel, surely there would be a better way to allow history buffs to see more of one of the engineering wonders of the world.

Lock 21
northern part of Lock 21

There’s a good view of Lock 21 from a footbridge that straddles it. The photos above provide evidence of how narrow the channel still was in the 1800s, and how shallow; none of the laker ships today would fit either in width or depth. At the end of the lock wall you can still see the lock number chiselled into the stone:

I took the above photo with a zoom lens centered between links of the surrounding fence. When all the leaves have come in on the trees, it would be very difficult to see the numbers on each lock. Below you can see how obstructive the fence is. There’s a huge, unsightly accumulation of garbage along the banks if you were to try to climb the fence to get closer, and the angle of descent is quite steep.

Today’s hike was full of sunshine and cherry blossoms, and many people were out enjoying one of the first nice days we’ve had.

As you follow the Canal’s passage, you can see the stepped bottom. It’s difficult to envision exactly how the lowering/raising of the boats was managed over these short jumps.

Near lock 20 some intrepid soul had opened a section of the fence, and I was able to capture this terrific view of the lock.

At Lock 17, seen above, the water disappears underground, right below this transverse footbridge that I was standing on to take the photo. It trickles its way below the remainder of the park and crosses under Glendale Avenue, a major thoroughfare in southern St. Catharines.

On the other side, the old Canal is dry, and only scraps of wall are left. The path leads down a small hill to the valley that was once the Canal itself.

Graffiti ‘artists’ have defaced the historic walls, although it does make it easier to spot the stone through the tangle of vegetation.

One of the most interesting things in this section is a great look at the Canal wall from where it abruptly stops. You can see how thick the walls were made.

Remaining remnants of the walls can be spotted if you pay close attention.

At a certain point there’s still a channel with water in it, between the two sides of the old lock, so it must be roughly where the ships travelled between locks 16 and 15.

If you can avoid tripping over all the brush on the wooded floor, you may be treated to a lovely carpet of wild violets.

Not much farther along, the wall veers abruptly off at a 90-degree angle, toward an enormous pond.

Apparently this was a large reservoir where the boats turned toward lock 15. Today it’s a quiet place with only a lone Canada goose for company.

From this point it’s best to head toward the paved path through Mountain Locks park to avoid getting mired in mud and swamp. As the path curves around, you can see the curved wall where the Canal turned into Lock 15.

Lock 15 now only displays the top of its walls.

What a sight this must once have been, watching ships literally climb down or up the massive eroded rock outcrop that itself curves from the reaches of Western New York through southern Ontario, all the way above Lakes Huron and Michigan, and more than half way down the western shore of the latter lake.

It’s a worthy hike for anyone who’s interested.

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

Green Day

A painted turtle shows off its colours while it basks on a pond log

Apologies folks! I was so busy last week prepping for a family dinner on Easter weekend that I lost track of my blog post schedule. But today is perfect timing to celebrate Earth Day, and in honour of the event, this week’s post features green things on our planet. Green is the colour of nature, of growing things, of hope. As Spring very slowly makes its appearance in my neck of the woods (we had snow again just a few days ago!), burgeoning green plants are a signpost that the change of season is really happening.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Invest in Our Planet”. Check out the website for listings of global livestream events as well as a map of any local events that may be taking place near you.

If there’s nothing near you, I encourage you to take a walk in nature and appreciate its richness and beauty. Be grateful that we still have so much greenness to enjoy and celebrate.

Bright daffodils with their rich green leaves and stems
Green mixed with shades of burgundy and purple on tulips pushing out of the ground
A carpet of green grass studded with blue flowers under a venerable old tree waiting to unfurl its leaves
Spectacular unidentified shrub, possibly a kind of bamboo?
The soft jade of a sedum cluster
Even water can be green – here the Niagara River as it flows under the Queenston-Lewiston border bridge

So many shades of green! Let’s all do our part in preventing that colour from going extinct.

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

It’s alive!

Cyclamen?

Our local weather has been completely conflicted as March draws to a close, flipping from snow and hail to balmy spring temperatures and back to cold again within 24 hours spurts. The other day I snuck out on one of the good days to my favourite botanical garden to look for any signs of life among the often dismal days that have comprised our early spring so far. What I found was far more than I expected: myriad brave flowers lifting my spirits as they lifted their heads to the fickle sunlight.

I expected to see a few stalwart snowdrops, but there were hundreds of them bursting out all over the lawns and organized gardens
The rhododendrons were already readying their flower buds
All kinds of crocus were sprayed across the lawns; this blue variety was especially lovely
These look like daffodil stalks; their vibrant green shoots poking out of the drab soil just made me smile
The netted iris, which I hadn’t seen before, were absolutely breathtaking
Hellebores in the Woodland Garden were out in all their ruffly spring dress
A pair of glorious yellow crocus also made an appearance in the Woodland Garden
Crinkly yellow witch hazel flowers glowing against one of our rare sunny blue skies lately
In the meantime, the local horticultural students have been busy preparing the flower beds for their spring plantings

If you’ve also been waiting impatiently for signs of spring, I hope these photos cheer you up as much as the real-life versions did me 🙂