Written by Greatness Ambassador, Karey Billyard.
Lake Superior had always felt like it was worlds away – from the balmy shores of Hamilton, Ontario, Superior felt like a remote part of my home province that only the brave, or the crazy, would ever venture to. Completely unfamiliar, my mind’s eye couldn’t help but picture the region as a cold, unrelenting environment – desolate, yet surely majestic.
Rugged, and treacherous. Wind-swept white snow, crashing cold waves, and a peaceful, yet unsettling loneliness was always what would swirl into my head.
Not for the faint-at-heart, was this really the place I would ever want to spend my Great Lakes summer vacation?
We’d babble as a group of Southern Ontario city friends about the “challenge” of Superior and the guaranteed adventure-in-store, but a trip up to “The Big Lake” just never seemed to actually happen. Instead, every summer, we’d be lured in by the sparkling blue waters of Tobermory on Georgian Bay, the heartbreaking sunsets from the beach town of Kincardine on Lake Huron, the vibrant wine country in Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario… the list of other beautiful year-round Great Lakes destinations goes on. (And a lot of them are convincingly close by!)
Lake Superior, on the other hand, has its most Southern point sitting a whopping 686km away from the city-slicking hub of Toronto. Intriguing, but inconvenient, that’s 7.5 hours one-way if you bee-line it, which even for your ambitious Canadian road-tripper isn’t your typical long weekend drive time. Just slightly out of reach, we seemed to reason with ourselves that we could get that same “Superior” feeling from one of the other Great Lakes in the south.
Absolutely not. true.
It wasn’t until we embarked on a 4000km journey for the Greatness #Greatroadtrip project to circle the entire Lake Superior shoreline that we realized exactly why this lake whole-heartedly deserves its illustrious name.
She truly is superior.
We set out in early November with hopes that with the majority of tourists gone home for the season, we’d have more intimate access and encounters awaiting. We were right. As we drove solo along countless “scenic byways” and “historic highways”, we found ourselves in some of the most remote and real places we’d ever been – remarking day after day how we were continuing to fall not only for the unspoiled adventure-scapes, but possibly even moreso for the genuine people, maritime culture, bountiful wildlife, bustling breweries, hearty cheese curds, fresh smoked fish, curious sasquatch cardboard cut-outs, looming giant roadside Muffler Man statues, endless wood paneling and flickering neon art-deco motel signs, converted paper mill cabins and working man’s meat pies… authenticity and heart at every turn, the wonderful true north wilderness (and weirdness) just did not stop.
It’s almost as if the entire region is frozen in time. Or, frozen in temperament, might be the best way to put it. Dictated by its sheer remoteness to stay true to its roots, and happy to be there.
I found myself smiling, and sometimes unknowingly laughing with glee as we would pop into such authentic roadside “attractions.”
It felt surreal – as one Instagram follower commented on a photo of a fish smoker / roadhouse / pub: “This looks straight out of a Wes Anderson film!”. It absolutely did.
As we weaved down historic hwy 61, every so often jutting out almost over the edge of Superior’s Western shore, it was an absolute trip to find over-sized… everything! Greeting us along the way, we would see a giant homemade statue at least twice per day. “Pantsless Pierre the Voyageur” was our favourite – echoing the classic Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, Pierre is 20 feet tall and stands proud with his paddle, high boots, no pants, and a giant canoe for fellow explorers to snap some pics. He was built to celebrate a time when French Explorers navigated the local wilderness waterways, and embodies that Big Lake spirit of cherishing the local lake life history, and having a laugh at the same time.
Every person we met had a story, and they wanted to tell it.
If it wasn’t their own personal story, they’d be eager to share the most colourful details of local historic happenings on the Big Lake, and would be more than happy to share the WOW facts that we just needed to know. “7000 shipwrecks on this here lake!” “The Wawa Goose Monument is one of the most photographed landmarks in North America!” “The Soo Locks is the world’s busiest canal in terms of tonnage that passes through it!” Regardless of which side of the border we were on, a real sense of pride of place seemed to unite each and every Lake Superiorite.
Pride of place, indeed. The lake itself, and the natural beauty surrounding it, is something I feel all Canadians should mission to experience for themselves. The number of enormous, rushing waterfalls is enough to make you dizzy with excitement and blow your hair back each and every time. The hallowing canyons that go on for miles, the suspension bridges and train trestles beckoning for adventure. Sprawling pebble- and white-sand beaches go on forever, and countless awe-inspiring geological formations and sea caves stand proudly as coastal punctuation marks to keep it all interesting.
As we finished our journey, we couldn’t help but continue to be stirred by the hard work and craftsmanship that is so beautifully embodied in all things Lake Superior. Traditional boat builders to micro-brewers, swing bring operators to sawmill workers, we felt like we had got a gracious glimpse into a life on the lake that was driven by true grit.
Now… we only wish we could come back to visit in the glorious summer!
WANT TO HEAR MORE ABOUT WHERE WE STOPPED?
LOOK FORWARD TO OUR NEXT BLOG: “TOP 15 PLACES TO VISIT IN THE GREAT LAKES” WHERE WE SHARE ALL THE DETAILS. Stay tuned!
Photos and video by Karey Billyard.