Winter Walks

snow hut

For many years we visited a timeshare in Horseshoe Valley, a twenty-minute drive from Orillia, ON. The resort will be closing in a week to be put up for sale. It is the end of an era for us and for many others who love this space.

Over two decades we spent time learning about the wider area. We experienced First Light at Sainte Marie Among the Hurons, where Canada’s oldest Christmas carol was penned by Jean de Brébeuf in 1642. We had a great tour of the Penetanguishene Museum that we had seen profiled on a favourite tv show. Our daughter researched a project on the Ouendat people at the Huronia Museum. We visited the Oro African Episcopal Church Historic site founded by black militiamen who fought in the War of 1812. I discovered a book highlighting my own family connections at the Simcoe County Museum.

We experienced the area by water. We marveled in fall colours on Orillia Boat Cruises. We enjoyed an anniversary aboard a Historic Boat Cruise in Penetanguishene. Our family went on a lunch tour on the historic Segwun steamship in Gravenhurst. We visited the SS Keewatin, the last Edwardian steamship in the world and a former Great Lakes cruise ship, which is docked in Port McNicoll.

Our son motivated us to go on winter and summer Hummer tours to see back trails and seldom seen sights including foundations of a town once known as Hungry Hollow where farming proved impractical. Our family learned about raptors, the importance of marshes and geotracking on a canoe trip to Wye Marsh. We walked the trails and enjoyed the views from a suspension bridge at Scenic Caves in Collingwood. My husband and I learned about turtles and reptile conservation efforts at Scales Nature Park.

Culture was a focus of visits too. We spent many hours enjoying community and professional theatre at the historic Orillia Opera House and at the beautiful King’s Wharf Theatre at historic Discovery Harbour. We visited the former home and boathouse of literary figure Stephen Leacock and saw an art installation.

We experienced all these things and more. What we didn’t do much over the years was spend a lot of time in our room. With the lock down of sights and safety considerations in mind, we arrived for our final few days with enough groceries for the duration and no plans to go out.

Shortly after arrival, I heard a lovely video of a choir singing Gordon Lightfoot’s 1967 Song for a Winter’s Night. This beautiful piece encapsulates feelings of love, longing and separation during a difficult time. Gordon himself was born in Orillia. Our daughter attended conferences at the downtown church where he first sang in choirs.

Song for a Winter’s Night by Gordon Lightfoot, performed by My Pop Choir

This music inspired me to make the most of our final visit with daytime and nighttime winter walks to take in nature’s beauty. As the sun set on our time there, we experienced the final full moon of 2020 in this beautiful and historic space and enjoyed tall pines and pure snow.

I wish for a better 2021 for all of the cultural, historic and travel destinations in the area and for all the local people who welcome visitors and help us to connect with the land and its history.

I am deeply grateful for all that we learned over many busy years of exploration. I got to hold the hand of the one I love during as the snow quietly fell on this final visit. Beautiful memories of a glowing moon and a Song for a Winter’s Night will linger as one chapter ends and another begins.

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