Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
The best moments of a summer in the north, according to a southern naturalist

Today’s post comes from Connor Ferguson, Assistant Discovery Leader at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

Each summer, you will find me in the parks of northern Ontario, sharing my love of nature with visitors from around the world as an Ontario Parks Naturalist.

When the trading season ends and the visitors have returned home, I return to where I come from: the southern tip of the province. I like to think that moving between these regions gives me a special appreciation for my time in the north.

These are some of the reasons why I love spending my summers in Northern Ontario.

summer weather

A strangely shaped tree that leans to the left.The spectacular landscapes of the Canadian Shield have been an inspiration for generations, including this scene, famously painted by the Group of Seven.

Climate change has received a lot of attention lately, and in the South, it’s easy to see why. Over the course of my lifetime, heat waves with temperatures above 40C have gone from being virtually unheard of to being a regular part of summer. The humidity of the Great Lakes doesn’t help either.

Then you can understand why heading north and avoiding this weather is a huge relief. A northern summer is tolerable at worst and refreshing at best, even on days with heat advisories in effect.

New ecological communities to explore

Between the different habitats and vast nature of northern Ontario, there is a lot to see here that can’t be found in the south.

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This is where Canada’s iconic wildlife lives. Moose watch the world go by on the side of the road and bears roam freely through the vast forests. By comparison, the last report of a bear near my home in the south was in 1906!

An isolated moose among some bare trees.

Plants and animals abound in the numerous beaver ponds, viewable from the tops of the granite cliffs, and in the countless lakes.

I’m always excited to find a stand of healthy ash trees, which are a reminder that many invasive species have had less of an impact up north. My childhood home was near ground zero of the emerald ash borer invasion.

When I started working for Ontario Parks, the ash trees in southern Ontario were long gone. Finding them in the north is like running into an old friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.

Sounds and songs of the north.

With southern Ontario’s dense population, the sounds of traffic fill even the countryside.

On the contrary, in the north many areas are off the beaten path. Spending time here gives you the opportunity to fall asleep to the sound of frogs in a nearby swamp, wake up to birdsong, or simply listen to a fast-flowing river and reflect.

A little yellow bird sitting on a tree branchThe red-eyed vireois is a common bird of northern Ontario that sings well into August, up to 22,000 times a day.

The types of sounds are also different. As an avid bird watcher, birdsong is the most obvious example to me. The different northern and southern species mean there are different songs to listen to.

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And while the southern parks may offer a migration spectacle like no other, the birds stop singing early. The same is not true in the north, where some common bird species can sing all summer long.

A culture of being outdoors

In Northern Ontario, people love to wear hats for outdoor activities. This is true for everyone, not just those in the parks. In the south, outdoor enthusiasts, and especially naturalists, are much less common, despite the larger population.

However, around Orillia, Ontario culture shows a different side. Computer culture is certainly still present, but it shares the stage with canoe culture and a greater appreciation for nature.

A canoe sitting next to a misty lake on a summer morning

I was eight years old the first time I went canoeing. After some initial experiments, he couldn’t canoe again until he was 12 or 13, and then again until he was 20. I think that’s why getting in a canoe is such a special feeling for me, no matter how often I go as an adult.

If reading this makes you nostalgic for something you didn’t know you were missing, I recommend heading north. There’s a lot waiting for you here and Ontario Parks is a great starting point.

Happy travels!

To learn more about some of the cool activities at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, click here!