Pretty much since our forced departure from our waterfront home this summer, Dan and I have been anticipating our eventual return to lakeside living. We loved the area we were in, but expect the price of real estate there would put most waterfront properties out of our financial reach (at least until the moth guide hits the bestseller lists and I strike it rich). We’ve been eyeballing a part of the Frontenac Arch that’s a little further north, a little more remote, and consequently a little more affordable. It will be years before we have the savings to make the move there, most likely, but that doesn’t stop us from dreaming about it.
In the meantime, Dan has been considering placing a MAPS station in that part of the Shield Country, since it represents a substantially different habitat type than what’s found further south, near Frontenac Provincial Park, the location of his other stations. This afternoon was gloriously mild, and we decided to head north for a few hours to check out some of the area.
Frontenac County is divided into three townships: South, Central and North Frontenac. Our previous house was in South; the area we’re now primarily considering (unless property values conveniently drop) is North. The township of North Frontenac sprawls across 1,136 square kilometers (about 438.6 square miles), of which over 70% is crown land (that is, belonging to the Canadian government). Much of the private land is used seasonally. The 2006 population census reported just 1,904 permanent residents for the whole township – that’s a population density of about 1.7 people per square kilometer (about 4.4 people per square mile; compare to the value of 19.4 people per sq km in South Frontenac), one of the lowest densities in eastern Ontario.
We didn’t see too many cars on the roads, even the main one whose name included the word “Highway”. We followed a cottage lane off the main “highway”, one that I knew passed through crown land that we could stop and hike around in. We stepped out of the car and were met with a complete lack of human sound, that incredibly blissful silence that I have missed hearing since leaving the lake. There was nothing except the wind rustling the trees and the crunch of our feet on the gravel. I’m sure that in the summer, when cottagers are visiting their recreational properties, the woods aren’t quite so quiet, but there was no hint of it today. It’s one of my favourite sounds on earth – the absence of people.
The road we followed in ran along the south shore of Big Gull Lake, one of the biggest lakes in North Frontenac, at 21 km (13 miles) long and with a surface area of 2,540 sq km (980 sq mi). The lake has no significant inflow streams, and the majority of its water comes from springs and snowmelt. We passed a dam at the nearby town that helps to maintain the water levels. In the fall, the dam is opened to allow the water to drop, providing room to accommodate spring runoff. This usually occurs in mid-October, after the Thanksgiving weekend (usually the weekend in Ontario when most cottages are closed up). Apparently the minimum water level is usually reached in December, so it still has a little bit more to go. This afternoon, the weeds and pond lilies at the edges of the little bay were all exposed.
The portion of the road we walked along bordered a small bay. There were no cottages along this stretch, although there were a couple of powerlines that stretched across the water, and a dock on the far side, its owner not visible from where we stood. Big Gull, being a large lake, is home to many cottages; the most recent number I could locate had the estimate in the 350s. That said, the overall population of the lake is low, with many stretches containing no cottages at all. The lake has a shoreline of about 88 km (55 mi), and a large portion of that is North Frontenac Park Lands, a stewardship program and backcountry camping experience that helps to protect land around a number of the township’s lakes.
Whereas South Frontenac is predominantly deciduous forest, most of North Frontenac has a very strong coniferous component, especially along lake or marsh edges or rocky ridges. Black Spruce is a reasonably common species in this area, a tree that in South Frontenac I’d only see associated with bogs and fens. The landscape there is noticeably rockier, too, especially compared to our current location. Both features are characteristic of the Shield, and North Frontenac represents the southern edge of it. The land isn’t much use for farming, and the vast majority is forested.
Despite the warm temperatures today, we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife. A flock of geese flushed from the water of the bay, a Blue Jay flitting among the hemlocks, a White-breasted Nuthatch foraging on a dead snag. I didn’t see any insects, although I admit I wasn’t looking too closely. It would be nice to visit in the summer when the woods are in full vibrant song. As we were leaving the road, we passed a noticeboard where one rather hopeful resident had posted a request for information on any possible sightings of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the area. I wish I had got a photo. I bet he got a lot of well-intentioned reports of Pileateds.