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By Dominique Millette
Summer vacationers in Ontario have a plethora of choices available: cottage country snakes up the 400 to Sudbury, or up Highway 11 to Muskoka, North Bay and eventually Timmins.
I’ve always followed what used to be Highway 69 and has now become the prolongation of the 400, since I was born in Sudbury and still have family there. Along the way are several beauty spots. Their epicentre lies in the town of Parry Sound, which transforms yearly from a sleepy winter hollow with 18,000 souls to a bustling summer metropolis serving 60,000 people. It’s a 140-mile drive, or 220 km, now about two hours up the road from Toronto.
My favorite spots in the area lie along Highway 559, which ends in Killbear Provincial Park and its 882 camping spots, three rugged hiking trails, extensive shoreline along Georgian Bay and 6-km recreational trail accommodating cyclists and pedestrians. The 559 also leads to the White Squall Paddling Center, where boaters can rent a kayak or canoe and take lessons as needed. The center also sells supplies and equipment: I bought kayaking gloves after discovering I’d forgotten mine at home. From there, I drove to Snug Harbour with my rented kayak well tied onto my roof, and paddled for a few hours before eating at Gilly’s. Their fish and chips garner such raves that people drive for miles to have a taste.
There are also a few bed and breakfasts on roads branching off Highway 559. The one I picked was Chalet Rosemarie: in addition to surrounding themselves with nature, guests here can order a gourmet dinner for when they return from their peregrinations. The host serves meals on the upstairs balcony with a view of the surrounding woods. On a gorgeous summer day, there’s nothing better.
Last year, I combined nature and culture by attending two concerts during the Festival of the Sound. This celebration of classic music lasts from approximately mid-July to mid-August every summer in Parry Sound at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts. When it launched in 1980, the event became the first annual international summer classical music festival in Ontario.
Canadian celebrities such as baritone Russell Braun and pianists André Laplante and Janina Fialkowska have performed there. International guests have included cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Over the years, the Festival has become known for large ensemble chamber works for strings and wind, such as Dvorak’s D minor Serenade. Its first full-length opera in 2013 was Handel’s Acis and Galatea, with an English libretto. Highlights for me at the Opera Gala weekend were soprano Virginia Hatfield, and a favourite tenor at the Metropolitan, David Pomeroy.
The Festival of the Sound also has an educational mandate, both with musicians and the general public. Beloved by residents and local businesses, it received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Arts in 1995 and 2003 for its ability to garner private sector and community support. The Charles W. Stockey Centre building itself also houses the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame, celebrating a sports hero while it draws in arts lovers. Surrounding outdoor views redeem the humble architecture of the edifice.
For anyone who likes a bit of culture along with their kayaking during summer holidays, Parry Sound and Highway 559 are the place to go.
IF YOU GO:
Dominique Millette is a Toronto-based bilingual author and translator, as well as a freelance writer. She has worked in several weekly newspapers and written and published a novel in French (La Delphinée), one theatrical monologue and several short stories. One of these, “Oomblaug Day”, was published in Parsec magazine. Another, “Better than Elvis”, was published in Maisonneuve magazine. She has also studied with Joan Barfoot at the Humber School of Creative Writing.