You haven?t really experience a northern Ontario winter until you?ve eaten bannock on a stick beside a campfire in a silent snowbound forest…
–Or crossed an icebound lake on snowshoes to struggle up a mini-mountain for a view that makes the climb worthwhile.
–Or skied all afternoon through deep woods with a stop by a campfire for bannock and cedar tea and ended the day with a sizzling sauna, a hearty dinner and a sleepy evening before a huge fireplace in a log house that?s miles from nowhere.
–Or driven a dog team down what seems to be an endless trail over the cleanest snow you?ve ever seen.
A Toronto outdoors-entrepreneur named John Langford is luring city dwellers from Canada, the United States and Europe to these and many other winter experiences in deep-snow country at the northwest corner of Algonquin Park.
With photographer Jac Holland, I went on one of his three-day expeditions and came back with new knowledge about myself and winter in Ontario.
Although I?m nearly an octogenarian, I found I can keep up with much younger people on snowshoes. Snowshoes, I decided, are more my style than cross-country skis. You don?t have to worry so much about staying on your feet.
I realized anew that in winter, Ontario is really two countries ? the densely populated southern domain of the big cities and the vast silent land that begins 200 km or so to the north. Here, snowfall is measured in feet, not centimeters and winter is enjoyed rather than endured.
John Langford calls his company Voyageur Quest. Its operations base is the Algonquin Log Cabin, an amazing hideaway that looked to me like a miniature version of Quebec?s Chateau Montebello. Located at the end of a snow-packed road on Surprise Lake, it?s about 20 km northeast of South River and about 306 km north of Toronto.
With no electric poser, propane-gas lights and six bedrooms, it has indoor toilets and running water.
Guests arrive here by Voyageur Quest van from Toronto or in their own cars. After lunch, they find themselves almost immediately on snowshoes that are fitted by Chief Guide Brian Pink. Like all the guides, he?s a college graduate with years of experience in the bush. He?s also an expert cook.
An introductory snowshoe trek is the start of three action-packed days that stretch your muscles and mind with new experiences. On day Three, the climax is usually a dogsledding trip where guests learn to harness and drive a six-dog team.
In winter, with five guides and outpost camps, Voyageur Quest offers several three-day programs from $275 to $490 with meals and accommodation. In summer, wilderness canoe trips are the main attraction.
For more information, visit www.voyaguerquest.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also phone 416-486-3605.
Bannock, by the way, is a primitive voyageur bread made from flour, water, berries, salt and baking powder if available. It?s usually cooked in a frying pan with bacon grease.
Our guide, Kara Mitchell ? she was a high school teacher before she took to the bush ? showed us how to collect the dough on sticks and toast it over the campfire to a golden crusty brown.