Lake Erie Circle Tour Journal: Day #4 The Coastal Towns to Thorold

Day #4 Thursday, May 30, 2019

Breakfast at the Idlewyld Inn in London was not your typical free hotel breakfast.

There were no Styrofoam cups or plastic forks here. No powdered eggs. No Fruit Loops. Entering the elegant breakfast room we were greeted by a friendly hostess and tables set with white tablecloths, cloth napkins and real dishes that someone would have to wash.

Breakfast room at the idlewyld Inn

There was creamy vanilla yogurt and granola with raisins accompanied a bowl of fresh sweet ripe cantaloupe and honeydew melon. I mention that first because it is one of my favorite breakfasts when I’m at home and rarely do I get it when traveling. Real scrambled eggs and bacon were in a warming tray. Assorted breads, bagels and English muffins were in a basket beside sweet rolls and pastries. We made our selections and a server would toast it for us and bring it to our table. (Now that’s service!). The English muffin was very different than what we buy in the U.S. It was softer and heartier with fewer air holes. How did food companies in America ever convince us that purchasing air was a great way to spend our dollars?  We bought the sales pitch that said English muffins should be full of “nooks and crannies” in order to better hold more butter. Hershey sold us a lightweight chocolate bar, the “Air Delight,” by telling us the holes would make the chocolate “melt in your mouth.” We’ve been sold on words like “light” (less concentration of actual product) and “fluffy” (pumped full of air). Ahh, but I digress…

  The ladies working the breakfast room were warm and welcoming. We chatted about our journey, the hotel, and other attractions in Ontario. I was anxious to see what the new day would bring but at the same time I was reluctant to leave this beautiful place.

We packed up the car and returned to Port Stanley where we’d left the coast road the day before. Following the Lake Erie shore, we were struck by how much this Canadian coast looked like our own. Small summer cottages dotted the lake side of the highway. On the north side of the road much of the land had been cleared and planted with crops.

In Port Bruce we stood on the beach and looked for pretty stones and beach glass. We walked out onto the pier where fishermen were casting their lines into the water in hopes of catching pickerel or perch. The scene brought back some of my earliest memories. I was very little, not yet even grade school age, when my dad would take me fishing with his buddies. No wives or mothers. It was just me and the boys. He gave me my own fishing pole (a pretty orange one) and tied some kind of red and white bobbing ball to my line which made it easy for me to see when I had a nibble. One day I caught seven fish. More than any of the grown men had caught. At five years old, I ruled the river! But again, I digress…

Driving the coast you expect to see all kinds of boats and ships sailing on Lake Erie. But you might not expect to see the massive Ojibwa submarine up out of the water and sitting on dry land. Quite a sight to behold, even if you don’t take the tour, the Ojibwa, originally named the Onyx, is worth driving in to town to see. She was launched in 1964. In 1984 she performed an anti-Soviet patrol for NATO and on a second patrol the following year, she discovered a Soviet Delta-class sub that passed within 800 yards of her. She tracked the Soviet vessel for two days before being detected by a second Soviet sub and losing contact.  Following decades of service, the Ojibwa was decommissioned in 1998. In 2010, awaiting disposal, someone had the idea to turn her into a museum ship. She was towed to Port Burwell becoming the centerpiece for a Museum of Naval History.

Before we could do any more sightseeing though, we had a problem to solve. Driving down the highway we had occasionally noticed a scraping noise coming from the back wheel of the car. Rory insisted that it was nothing to worry about. We ignored it. Rory had an ingenious fix that would quiet it for a while. He would throw the car in reverse, step on the gas sending us hurling backward, and then suddenly slam his foot on the brake pedal skidding to a stop and giving us all whiplash. (It really was great fun!). But now the sound was becoming louder and more persistent. It became harder to ignore by both us inside the car and people out on the sidewalk who turned to look at us as we drove past. When Rory’s ingenious “fix” stopped working, we knew it was time to do something.

Rory crawled underneath the car and determined a stray piece of metal was scraping inside the wheel but he was unable to remove it. It didn’t appear to be doing any damage. It was just noisy. We needed to have the problem fixed though before it made us all crazy. We needed a mechanic. Surely, with all of the boats and ships going in and out of these port towns, there would be some kind of mechanic nearby.

At the end of the street, a group of men were loading furniture into the back of a pick-up. The car rattled as we drove up beside them. Rory asked if there was a mechanic in town. There was not. But there was a garage called Cain’s about ten minutes away in Straffordville.

When we found Cain’s Auto Sales and Service there were already two cars inside their garage and I thought we might be stuck waiting a while. But the men at Cain’s were very accommodating. As we all climbed out of the Pilot, they backed a car they had been working on out of the bay and pulled the Pilot inside and onto the lift. Kay sat down on the edge of a trailer and began to knit. Hey, this might take a while! But It didn’t. It took only a minute or two for them to remove the noise maker. We applauded. They only asked for 10 bucks. Rory gave them $20. Their quick repair would have us quickly back on the road. Once again, we’d proven that you meet the nicest people when you travel. We were certainly meeting the nicest people in Canada.

We were now more than ready for lunch. In Port Rowan we opted for The Boat House Restaurant overlooking the harbor of fishing boats. pleasure crafts, and a row of boathouses. I ordered the fish and chips. It seemed appropriate.

Driving out of town, I spotted Franni’s Attic, a store both Rory and I had come across it in our reading the night before. Franni’s is housed in an old hardware store with original wood floors that squeak and creak when you walk across them and a painted tin ceiling. It was a great shop — a place I could have spent much more time. As it was, I stayed for as long as I knew my non-shopping husband could tolerate (although even he enjoyed this store filled with items that brought back childhood memories). We browsed two floors of rooms packed with antiques, retro finds and even some upcycles. Household items, toys, décor, garden tools, collectibles, salvaged hardware, and more were all nicely displayed. It was one of those places where you think you’ve seen it all but when you go back the second time you see all sorts of things you missed before. Franni’s Attic gave me many ideas for new projects to begin once I returned home.

After a quick look at one more of Ontario’s parks where we stopped to look at a snake that was curled up in the middle of the road, we began the two-hour drive to Thorold. The Inn at Lock Seven was to be our home for the next two nights. Far enough from our lake shore route, we probably would not have found it on our own. Fortunately, it was brought to our attention and recommended by our friend, Philip. Of all the different hotels/motels we visited on this trip, The Inn at Lock Seven was my favorite.

We checked in. The manager was friendly, kind and extraordinarily generous. He went out of his way to see that we had everything we needed during our stay. More motel than hotel, The Inn at Lock Seven is a nothing fancy but an oh so special sort of place. “Nothing fancy” means it is clean, receives regular maintenance (the stair railings had just been painted), and is decorated with typical hotel furnishings. Housekeeping kept the large windows in our room sparkling clean so that we could enjoy the view. The walls were made of cement blocks, but they were so nicely painted that it wasn’t noticeable. There was no elevator, but because the parking lot is higher than the front of the hotel, we only had to climb two flights of seven steps each to access the second floor. Rooms were equipped with most things you’d expect like a fridge and a coffee maker. What made this place “oh so special” though was that every room has a door facing the parking lot and at the opposite end of the room, a patio or balcony overlooking the Welland Canal.

We hadn’t gone looking for or expected to hear live music when we stepped into Donnelly’s Irish Pub for dinner. As soon as we sat down I began to notice a young man setting up equipment in the corner. A short time later, Chuck Jackson and Brad Krauss began to entertain. What these two can do with musical instruments is amazing. Chuck is the best harmonica player I have ever heard. Brad’s guitar playing was flawless. Chuck sang several old favorites and a few songs that were new to me. We stayed and listened to their entire first set before heading back to the hotel and an evening of “lock watch.”

The Welland Canal is a remarkable feat of engineering.  It allows a ship to sail between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie while avoiding the impassable Niagara Falls which lies on the Niagara River connecting the two lakes. A ship can enter the canal from Lake Ontario at the north end or Lake Erie at the canal’s southern end. Once inside the canal, the ship passes through a series of eight locks. Lake Erie lies 32 feet higher than Lake Ontario. Each lock raises or lowers the ship, depending on which direction it is headed, allowing ships to overcome the difference in elevations.

When a ship enters a lock the gate closes both in front of and behind it, sealing the lock and making it water tight. Water is either pumped into the lock if the ship is southbound or pumped out of the lock if the ship is northbound. When the water reaches the proper level, the front gate is opened and the ship sails forward moving through the canal until they reach the next lock and go through the whole process again. 

Our hotel balconies were side by side and gave the four of us a front row seat to this amazing process. We had barely settled into our room when a Victory cruise ship sailed into the lock. It was not the last time I would enjoy seeing this same ship.

Lock #7 on the Welland Canal
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