Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Road Trip with a Wheelchair: Ontario Great Lakes

The Inukshuk looks like a pile of stones marking a trail — but the stones are stacked by size in a way that gives them a human form.  Traditionally used by the Inuit to mark trails and to commemorate events, the Inukshuk is currently used all over Canada as a symbol for events such as the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Inukshuks also prevail on the top of rocky cliffs on the northeast shore of Lake Huron in Ontario.


Beach with MobiMat at
Cobourg Marina
After following the St Lawrence River from its mouth in the Atlantic to its source in Lake Ontario, we headed toward Sault Ste Marie, as croissants turned into cakes.  We traversed the north shore of Lake Ontario, passing by the lake-front town of Cobourg.  The marina had flat, paved trails, and the beach had a MobiMat — offering access from the parking lot (or at least a couple of feet from the parking lot) to the sandy beach.  


At the west end of Lake Ontario, we headed toward Toronto. I had wanted to travel across Lake Huron by taking the ferry from Tobermory (at the top of the peninsula northwest of Toronto) across the lake to Manitoulin Island (connected by bridge to the north shore of the lake), but the ferry was full for the next 2 days, so we drove along the north-east  shore of Lake Huron to Sudbury instead.  Topsoil was scarce, but beautiful rocks were plentiful, and the road was bordered on both sides by low rocky cliffs with flat tops covered by armies of Inukshuk.

Boreal College
Student Residence
In Sudbury, Ontario
In Sudbury, we lucked into an overnight stay in the student dormitory of the Boreal College — part of a a network of student residences at colleges that opens to the general public for lodging during the summer. (  Our spartan yet accessible suite included 2  wheelchair-accessible bedrooms with a twin beds and roll-under desk; a  kitchenette with a full fridge, microwave, sink, and table; and an accessible bathroom with a small roll-in shower, a raised toilet with grab bars, and a roll-under sink with a tilted mirror. Bedding, towels and some dishes were included. If you could stand the spartan furnishings, the small separate beds, and the small group of students acting like (well-behaved) students, then this is an amazing find -- cheap and  accessible.

Boardwalk trail along 
Lake Huron on
Manitoulin Island at
Providence Bay

After Sudbury, we drove along the north shore of Lake Huron, where we crossed the bridge to Manitoulin Island (the world’s largest island in a freshwater body of water). 

Providence Bay
Beach and playground
On Manitoulin Island
On Manitoulin Island, we spent some time in Providence Bay, where we were surprised with a beach covered with accessible beach mats and fronted by an accessible boardwalk. The MobiMats did not go into the lake and did have gaps near a couple of the connections, but they ran the length of the playground and went fairly far toward the lake on the sand. The lengthy boardwalk, built to counter sand erosion, had several platforms looking over the lake, and it went past a store that sold ice cream.

Bridal Veil Falls near
Kagawong on
Manitoulin Island

We also drove by the town of Kagawong and and Bridal Veil falls, which had good wheelchair access to the falls overlook.  There was an easy trail along the river to the falls, but I’m not sure if it was wheelchair accessible.  We then left the island and continued along the north shore of Lake Huron.

Village Inn Motel in
Iron Bridge

We stopped in the town of Iron Bridge, where we couldn't find an accessible motel, but The Village Inn motel had very concerned and helpful owners, offering a room that was accessible with our usual means (use our ramp and take off the bathroom door).  

The next day, we continued westward along the north shore of Lake Huron, taking short side trips to see the beautiful viewpoints at Thessalon and Bruce Bay on the lakeshore and  Richard's Landing on St Joseph Island.   Then we drove to Sault Ste Marie, where Lakes Huron and Superior meet. 

Large cargo ship passing 
through locks at
Sault Ste Marie

The MI (southern) side has large locks, so that cargo ships as long as to 1000 feet can go between the iron ore mines of northern MN and the Midwestern steel mills.  

Run-away bridge on
quieter Canadian side
of Sault Ste Marie
On the Canadian (northern) side, however, there is only a small lock for pleasure craft…

Sault Ste Marie rapids between
Lakes Huron on Superior

… and the rest of the area has been left in a more natural state -- the water is still wild with rapids, 

Accessible trails on 
Canadian side of
Sault Ste Marie

and the land boasts a series of (accessible!) trails of dirt and boardwalk, with views of the rapids, the “bridge to the US," and wet-lands with their flora and fauna.  

Whitefish Island at
Sault Ste Marie

There is a network of trails on St Mary’s and Whitefish Islands there — most of them accessible.

Accessible trails on
Canadian side of
Sault Ste Marie

The trails are in varying condition (some parts were under water when we went), and AllTrails does not list them in the “wheelchair friendly” filter, but we were able to hike most of the trails with a wheelchair, and I really enjoyed the views and location.  

In addition, the John Roswell Hub Trail is a paved 25km multi-use trail through the city, and at least the east-side waterfront boardwalk is accessible.

US-Canada border crossing

After a few weeks in Canada, we crossed over the bridge to America. 

Lock at Sault St Marie (MI)

On the MI side of Sault Ste Marie, we went to the viewing platform (the second floor is accessible via a ramp) and watched as the giant ships were raised or lowered between lakes.

Hotel Ojibwe in
Sault Ste Marie (MI)

We stayed at the Hotel Ojibwe on the Michigan side.  It was an older hotel situated on the main street of town, right next to the garden and park fronting the locks, so we could watch the big ships right from our room. We got the accessible room, which was recently remodeled in one of the upper rooms with low, slanted alcove ceilings with sky lights (I only bonked my head once, but it was something to remember at all times).  The room had wide doors, space for a wheelchair on one side of the bed, and a spacious bathroom with a roll-under sink and a tub/shower with grab bars and shower chair.  Unfortunately, there were no side grab bars by the toilet.

A short, pleasant stay in a small, pleasant town, and then we were on our way to the US and its highways and people.