Sunday, 16 August 2009

A Road Less Taken

Glenelg Heritage Road
Much as I had seen and heard of the badness of the roads in Canada, I was not prepared for such a one as we travelled along this day: indeed, it hardly deserved the name of a road, being little more than an opening hewed out through the woods, the trees being felled and drawn aside, so as to admit a wheeled carriage passing along.

The swamps and little forest streams, that occasionally gush across the path, are rendered passable by logs placed side by side. From the ridgy and striped appearance of these bridges they are aptly enough termed corduroy.

Over these abominable corduroys the vehicle jolts, jumping from log to log, with a shock that must be endured with as good a grace as possible. If you could bear these knocks, and pitiless thumpings and bumpings, without wry faces, your patience and philosophy would far exceed mine;-- sometimes I laughed because I would not cry.

Imagine you see me perched up on a seat composed of carpet-bags, trunks, and sundry packages, in a vehicle little better than a great rough deal box set on wheels, the sides being merely pegged in so that more than once I found myself in rather an awkward predicament, owing to the said sides jumping out. In the very midst of a deep mud-hole out went the front board, and with the shock went the teamster (driver), who looked rather confounded at finding himself lodged just in the middle of a slough as bad as the "Slough of Despond." For my part, as I could do no good, I kept my seat, and patiently awaited the restoration to order. This was soon effected, and all went on well again till a jolt against a huge pine-tree gave such a jar to the ill-set vehicle, that one of the boards danced out that composed the bottom, and a sack of flour and bag of salted pork, which was on its way to a settler's, whose clearing we had to pass in the way, were ejected. A good teamster is seldom taken aback by such trifles as these.

He is, or should be, provided with an axe. No waggon, team, or any other travelling equipage should be unprovided with an instrument of this kind; as no one can answer for the obstacles that may impede his progress in the bush. The disasters we met fortunately required but little skill in remedying. The sides need only a stout peg, and the loosened planks that form the bottom being quickly replaced, away you go again over root, stump, and stone, mud-hole, and corduroy; now against the trunk of some standing tree, now mounting over some fallen one, with an impulse that would annihilate any lighter equipage than a Canadian waggon, which is admirably fitted by its very roughness for such roads as we have in the bush.

The sagacity of the horses of this country is truly admirable. Their patience in surmounting the difficulties they have to encounter, their skill in avoiding the holes and stones, and in making their footing sure over the round and slippery timbers of the log-bridges, renders them very valuable. If they want the spirit and fleetness of some of our high-bred blood-horses, they make up in gentleness, strength, and patience. This renders them most truly valuable, as they will travel in such places that no British horse would, with equal safety to their drivers. Nor are the Canadian horses, when well fed and groomed, at all deficient in beauty of colour, size, or form. They are not very often used in logging; the ox is preferred in all rough and heavy labour of this kind.

Catherine Parr Trail - The Backwoods of Canada
On Saturday we went out for a drive and to visit Holstein Farmers Market. We have a very detailed map-book and we enjoy driving down different side-roads in search of mild adventure. We found one on this trip when the road we were following crossed another road, and changed in nature. "Glenelg Heritage Road" said the sign; there was nothing to indicate that it was not a through road, nor any sign that it was not maintained in winter.

However, it quickly became clear that what they meant by "heritage road" was that no work has been done on it since the 1880's or so. The trees pressed in on either side; there was no shoulder or verge, and the road was only wide enough for one vehicle.

The road itself consisted of a blend of sand, coarse gravel and stone that I think was simply the underlying glacial till exposed by the removal of the trees and earth to form the road. The hills and dips had not been flattened in any way, and we found ourselves going down to first gear to get up some of them. There was only one cottage that we passed, no houses, and one farm field which I could not tell whether it was still in use or not.

Eventually we reached the point in the picture above. If we had had a 4-wheel drive vehicle we would have continued, but the ford was about a foot deep in spots, and we did not think it prudent to drive our poor abused little compact car through it, so we were obliged to turn back. It was a fascinating spot though; when we got out to look at the water and see how deep it was, a dozen tiny green frogs leapt away from the road, and we saw some campanula americana in bloom along the roadside. I would really like to go back, with some rubber boots, and spend some time poking around.

It's interesting to see how many funny little roads there are out there. Why one road becomes busy and eventually paved, and another dwindles into a track for farm equipment and off-roaders, I cannot figure out. That one factor is fairly large tracts of land that are too poor to farm, and thus there are no farms or traffic on it, is pretty clear; but we travel along several roads that are minor highways and which suffer from the same disadvantages. However, I'm very happy to find these roads less taken, and imagine for a few minutes what travelling was like in the past.

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