Guest Profile: Frater Musicus

Today I would like to thank a guest we had with us for a week: Christopher Ku.  From humouring my nutty father to keeping my brother's ego in check, helping in the kitchen and playing bartender I'm wasn't sure he really got that much of a vacation - until I read his buoyant, exceptionally well written blog post: Scenes From a Muskokan Retreat.  Chris is a working on a doctorate in Musicology (did I get that right Chris?) at Oxford, leading some enchanting choral ensembles this week (my brother's 4 guests were all from the same U of T choir) and I also used a few of his photographs in my post about Muskoka Soul


Bala Falls Hydro Project

In the heart of a small Muskoka town, the water cascading from Bala Bay on Lake Muskoka into the Moon River is at the centre of an environmental and policy debate that reaches all the way to Ottawa.  The debate is too complicated for me to form a solid opinion on, but I've been reading about it on these websites: http://savethebalafalls.com and http://mymuskoka.blogspot.com  On one hand - hydro is a good, clean source of power that can provide jobs to the community and the site already has a pretty significant dam.  On the other hand - the new dam will affect the flow of the falls, the look of the site, divert the river and restrict access to the shoreline... not to mention two years of construction in the heart of Muskoka.  
 Not sure how I feel about the controversy but I do know Bala is a charming town to visit!  I've loved Bala, ON since visiting my roommate Allison here a few summers ago. 


Belly Ice Cream

Last week at the Gravenhurst Farmers Market I had the best icecream I've ever had from Belly Ice Cream Company - worth driving all the way to Huntsville just for another bite!  Made entirely of locally sourced, whole ingredients and with fantastical out of this world flavours I just can't get enough of this stuff!  Shelley Westgarth created her frozen treats business because she needed a career that would allow her to spend more time with her children and put her skills as a chef to good use.  She's definately done that in creating elaborate flavours from twists on the traditional: Buckwheat Honey and Vanilla Bean, savoury: Basil Gelato and the truly unusual: Dulce de Leche with Hot Chili Chocolate!  Today we sampled a 2-scoop combo of Lavender Honey Chevre Icecream and Blackberry Lemon Gelato which together tasted like a light frozen cheesecake :)


mosses = best bed

The key to finding a place to sleep in the woods is locating a level spot, soft ground is even and a beautiful dappled clearing a bonus!  Mosses and lichens on the ground made a wonderful, soft sleeping spot to enjoy my ultralight tent: the North Face Vector 22 while listening to loons, crickets and other nighttime sounds.  


updates coming soon!

I'm on holidays so I've been writing my posts by hand in a notebook (how old fashioned!)  It will take me a few days to transcribe them :) but in the meantime check out my photoblog: http://katiejob.blogspot.com for some updates on my travels first in Thunder Bay and then Gravenhurst / Muskoka Area!


Loon Lake Rd.


Vintage Nouveau

I love multicoloured, handcrafted anything... so when I walked into House of Ray I fell in love with everything!  This super- saturated designwear studio is located on the corner of the Albion in Gravenhurst, ON and co-owned by Melinda Jean- Marie and Anne Hopkins.  When I went in the lovely Melinda and her mother were creating exquisite wire jewelry but I wasn't able to meet Anne as she was at home pumping out new crocheted re-creations for The Clothing Show in Toronto where you can check them out for yourselves!

I tried on a number of different pieces, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a real opinion on each (which was that the first dress I tried really didn't fit and the second wasn't my colour) so I knew Melinda was telling the truth when she said the whimsical, purple-blue, faeriesque top I finally found was the perfect fit.  My bestest friend and co-owner of many of my clothing pieces, Tori, also apparently loved it as she literally took it off me within 20 minutes of meeting up so I had to bring her back to get her own.  After she (we) selected a  mermaid-like green-y-blue top that fit us both, she left on the Northlander without it so I get to wear both tops until I see her next!  Yay!

Anne Hopkins first created her secondhand consignment business in 2007, but after moving the shop a few times she took a break before re-opening the store as House of Ray in its current location.  While she will still be accepting some clothing for consignment, the new space is intended primarily as a studio for local designers and artists to display their wares including her own reworked and crocheted creations.  Anne also designs a line for the local fashion show she organizes called Naked in Muskoka. 

Melinda is the heart behind the beaded and spiraled jewelry found in the studio, a hobby she has now developed into a pro-business.  She has called Muskoka home for most of her life and you can see the inspiration she has drawn from nature in the earthtone bracelets and sunset coloured necklaces she creates.  The names of her pieces are also fantastic, ranging from spiritual mementos to racehorses!  As for the name of her line itself: "Molly M." was an internet persona she created for security reasons and it just stuck.


Muskoka Soul

Instead of buying a cottage that we wouldn't be at for most of the summer (its my parents busy time at work) my parents rent a cottage for the last two weeks every summer.  This year we were at Muskoka Soul in Gravenhurst and I thought it had exceptional decor!  You'll be hearing about it a number of times this fall as I use it for inspiration while updating my apartment, but for now I'll start with a collection of photos!
(special thanks to Christopher Ku and Caleigh Soehner who captured some shots I missed)



Sagittaria latifolia otherwise known as Arrowhead or Duck Potato
Today I took my Ontario Wildflowers book down to the lake to see what I could identify.  I was curious to find Wapato as I've come across it a number of times while reading into edible plants.  These whorls of large white flowers and even larger arrowhead leaves produce edible tubers deep underwater, growing in hard water areas and are food for beavers, porcupines, muskrats and ducks.  Native people also historically relied on these "wild potatoes" as a starchy, filling food source and actually frequently cultivated the plants in shallow waters with no current.  The ripe tubers are white with purple skins and can be found floating freely in late August and early September (don't disturb the ecosystem by digging for them) They can be eaten raw or cooked 15 - 20 minutes in much the same way you'd cook potatoes: roast, fry, boil etc. and have much the same consistency but with a chestnut flavour.  The late summer buds and fruits of the Wapato flower are also edible and make an aesthetically pleasing contrast to deep green salad leaves. 


Gateway to Muskoka

After exploring the Muskoka Wharf (tourist) area yesterday, I decided to explore the town today.  A wonderful mix of shops both eclectic and practical with community services, and just about everything is within walking distance.  I stopped into the public library and found some great historical information on this fascinating community.

I've lived in a number of different Ontario towns - some of them I liked and some I didn't, but a few of them call out to me as being home from the moment I step into them.  First in Mattawa, then in Thunder Bay I settled into a community as well as a place, plus I found some really great living spaces (a geodesic dome, a cabin deep in the woods, a peaked attic apartment).  Gravenhurst has that instant feeling of home to me.  Bala is beautiful, but it has that seasonal cottage atmosphere; Huntsville and Port Carling just feel like the suburbs in a different setting; Haliburton is pristine but incredibly far away.  Gravenhurst however has a storied history, an interesting town separate from their cottage country attractions, and a scenic/rugged/canadian shield feel that is only two hours from Toronto and accessible by train! 

Named in 1862 and provided with a post office, Gravenhurst was the first official town in Muskoka.  Previously it had been known as Sawdust City for the booming lumber industry it supported - at one time there were 28 operational mills.  Before  Gravenhurst was accessible by rail, 100+ teams of horses pulled stagecoaches along plank roads from Orillia and Barrie.  When the railway finally reached the town in 1875 it opened up access to intrepid travellers followed by leisure tourists.  In 1866 Wenonah, the first steamboat, was launched on the lake and 1887 the RMS Segwun was built right in Muskoka Bay where it still operates today as the oldest operational steamship in North America and the oldest registered vessel in Canada.  The steamships met the trains in Gravenhurst completing the Muskoka Junction Railroad that brought visitors from Toronto, New York City and even as far as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  Although they left the heat of the city for the cool lakes of Muskoka they brought with them an urban influence that is still felt today as they built and furnished cottages along the shore and sought entertainment in the few small towns.

One of Gravenhurst's most famous residents Dr. Norman Bethune - a distinguished and innovative surgeon and radical political Communist was born in 1890 in a Presbyterian Church Manse on John St. that is preserved today as a Parks Canada Memorial Site.  Although Dr. Bethune would leave Gravenhurst with his family at the age of 3, he would return many years later as a tuberculosis patient at the Calydor Sanatorium.
Speaking of which, I should mention that there's a picturesque site just north of town, at the end the aptly named Sanatorium Rd. that's you probably should think twice about visiting.  During WWII it was the site of a prisoner of war camp, that while apparently quite pleasant, was a detention centre nonetheless.  After the war it became a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, followed by an unsuccessful resort.  Now it stands eerily empty and moderately guarded from urban explorers.  I found an original of a book I still reference in horticulture class today: Sylvan Ontario, A Guide to Our Native Trees and Shrubs, first published in 1901 by one of the first local residents: Dr. William Hawthorne Muldrew (for whom Lake Muldrew is named).  Final interesting fact: in 1930 a large fire threatened most of the town, in response to which the Ontario Fire College was established and still operates today. 


Recycling on the Peninsula

 Slept in late this morning as it was my first day here in Gravenhurst, then decided to explore the Muskoka Wharf.  The shops and boardwalk are charming and my first glimpse of the steamboats was exciting but its definitely public access to green space and waterfront that makes this wharf area beautiful to explore.  Tucked behind the Residence Inn and the public boat mooring (access from Steamship Bay Rd) is a rugged park with naturalized trails connecting two gazebos with great views of Lake Muskoka.  Its lovely to be back out of the city again spending the day reading and sunning on the sloping rocks of the Canadian shield while my parents ran some errands in town.  While easily accessible by staircases from the parking lot, the park seems much more removed from the bustle than it really is.  The municipality of Gravenhurst has also really done its citizens and visitors a great service in providing waste disposal right on the peninsula - not only garbage but also recycling!  I'm sure this has gone a long way in maintaining the original wilderness feel of this lovely park.


5-minute Rock Garden

A quick and simple way to dress up any rocks that you can't move (or top off an intentional rock wall!)  When I wrote about Hens and Chicks last month I forgot to mention how cute they are when they're tiny!  Versatile and tolerant once established, its easy to propagate Echeveria by breaking off one of the leaves and sticking it into the soil.  These little clones will form new roots and leaves and can be tucked into nooks and crannies all around your garden, but be careful - they will start to duplicate like bunnies all on their own! 


street art

Thunder Bay Edition



Thunder Bay is named as such for a reason - the sky blackening, earth shuddering, ear splitting storms that build up across Lake Superior and unleash their water masses on the bayshore.  I once lived in an upstairs apartment perched at the top of the hill on Academy Dr. that had a stunning view from Mt McKay on one end to the base of the Sibley Peninsula on the other.  I witnessed many types of precipitation: from the gentlest spring mists to the wildest winter drafts but the torrential thunder storms put on the best visual displays.

Its actually the moment before the storm that I find most captivating.  When the pressure builds and the air is filled with static electricity you can smell the rain coming.  Lake Superior and the sky above it turn a matte black that eats up the light, but the way these storms build there always seem to be a small margin of golden light, luminous as if streaming through a wheat ale, or dappled trees.  The clouds, pregnant with rain, pause - in these storms, the eye comes first.  Only the light reflects itself, multiplying exponentially.  Then they open and its as if every lake and river and stream are suddenly released from above and all the light is gone.


teresa's all natural

Mentor, inspiration, kindred spirit, honourary matriarch.  These words don't even begin to describe the role that a wonderful woman named Teresa has played in changing my life.  Living on my own at 17, 1400 km away from my own family, of course I got myself into a bunch of trouble, and Teresa was there to help me out of it.  At a time when I was pretentiously aloof and independent, she quietly provided a grounding presence.  She picked me up for the farmers market every week and kept me well fed when I was living on student caf food.  She let me run around her greenhouses and be a kid in the grass when I needed to, but put her foot down and made me grow up and get back into school when it was time for that.  Teresa is the reason I chose horticulture/greenhouse as a career and she taught me most of what I know about growing all sorts of plants.  I'm so glad I got to see her today, because visiting her gives me a new joy for life.  At whatever age she is (she won't tell me but she has adult children older than me!) she looks fantastic and has enough energy vibes to power a community.  Her no nonsense approach reminds me why I'm in this program and gives me a fresh attitude and approach just when I need it for this coming school year.


a walk in the old neighbourhood

I've lived in every corner of the province of Ontario, but the Bay St. area of Port Arthur, Thunder Bay was the first (and only as of yet) place that I truly felt at home.  I believe this is the epicentre of a vibrant, revitalized community and that vitality is contagious.  I'm on holidays from life so I'm not writing too much today, but I had to mention the highlights from my day because I miss this place so much.

  1. stroll through the Bay/Algoma district
  2. late breakfast at Thunder Bay Restaurant
  3. smoothie-to-go from Growing Season Juice Collective
  4. walk up Hillcrest park, slide back down, repeat
  5. internet and caffeine fix at Calico Coffee House
  6. early but deeeeeelicious dinner at Ruby Moon
  7. checked out Black Pirates Pub (new since I lived here last!)


sowing the seeds of food security

Even on vacation I love to visit interesting gardens, greenhouses and farms and my visit to Roots to Harvests' Urban Youth Garden was nothing short of inspirational!  Before I left Thunder Bay in 2008 I waited for the bus every day infront of an empty urban lot at the corner of Algoma and Cornwall.  One day I was glad to see that someone was making use of the space and improving the neighbourhood, but I wasn't sure what they were working on.  I was delighted to find on my return that the space is not occupied by a new building but has been transformed into a lovely urban garden that in turn blossomed into a great community cornerstone. 
Right in the heart of the Port Arthur/Bay St. neighbourhood this urban agricultural project is run by a small but dedicated group of youth aged 15 - 18 as part of a summer of experiential agricultural training that also includes some very cool opportunities such as: bee keeping, fruit harvesting, beef farming or volunteering in soup kitchens.
I am so inspired and elated to see a project like this take a whole food system approach, working as part of the urban ecosystem and brainstorming together to develop sustainable and organic approaches to food security issues we face in our communities today.  Roots to Harvest is doing an incredible service not just for the youth who work on this project, or the neighbours who purchase fresh produce from their roadside farm stand, but for our entire community mindset.  Hopefully these budding horticulturalists will leave their "of the earth" experience with a sense of being part of the food chain instead of an observer and with the innate knowledge and experience necessary to assist in building a food secure community in Thunder Bay.


PORTER - A More Civilized Way to Travel

Those racoons sure know what they're talking about! Porter Airlines is definitely the best way to get around these days, and I'm glad I chose them for my flight to Thunder Bay! Starting off our trip early in the morning on public transit (St. Catharines Transit -> GO Bus -> GO Train -> TTC) could have been a nightmare if we were trying to get to Pearson Airport.  However with a simple connection at Union Station to the Porter shuttle and a quick ferry ride we were into the airport in a third of the time it usually takes to get on a flight.  The terminal is bright and airy, simple to navigate, with a great view of the Toronto skyline.  The lounge  has  interesting aesthetics, comfortable semi-private seating and features a complimentary snack bar and wireless (not that I noticed much during my mad dash).  Despite arriving at the airport fairly late with a large number of temperature sensitive plants, we easily made it through security and onto the plane, as did all of our strange luggage.  
On board I recieved what I can only call genuine customer service, in a funny, friendly manner which was beyond helpful as flying makes me uncomfortable, dehydrated and headachy.  Its only a short flight so we didn't have a meal but beverages and snacks were served including tasty root vegetable chips, complimentary VQA wine and Steamwhistle beer - props for the healthy, local selections!  It sounds funny but my favourite part were the little waterbottles with a raccoon snorkeling!  I'm buying right into your marketing Porter, the raccoons are awesomely cute!!  From Blue Mountain to Mt. McKay, I almost enjoyed this flight - which is about as close as I'm ever gonna get to liking flying, and it sure beats spending a day and a half on a Greyhound Bus!
As I prefer to write blog posts that focus on positive experiences I have instead of trashy complainy ones about my bad experiences, I will simply say this:  My return flight on Air Canada through Pearson Airport was almost intolerable after my experience with Porter Airlines.  Discussing the differences in customer service would be like comparing apples and orangutans.  


niagara college

Every Monday morning last semester I woke up at an ungodly hour to board a bus all sleepy eyed and stomp off to class in my workboots.  HORT 1011 i.e. "Horticulture Practices" should be renamed Free Labour Class!  Sometimes it paid off when we got free flowers but mostly it just seemed like alot of grounds maintenance (weeding, mowing lawns, pruning, sweeping, raking etc) and the occasional greenhouse assembly line potting up bulbs.  This was mostly done off season in dismal weather so it wasn't until I went by the campus today to drop off my OSAP paperwork that I realized just how worth it all that work was!
Campus looks phenomenal!  It was attractive at various times throughout the year: multicoloured leaves in autumn, occasional snow laden days in the winter and the delicate flowering trees in spring.  But none of the seasons compare to the lush, densely saturated foliage spreading through the gardens at this time of year!  Now I kinda wish I was a summer student just so I could enjoy being on campus at the height of its botanical beauty (although I'd hate Free Labour Class even more in the heat!)   


garden stage 3

my midsummer garden (many more photos after the break)


Hidden Spots on the Welland Canal

A quiet cool evening watching ships in the locks was a perfect end to a laid back Sunday!  The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System has a great interactive map that shows the location of every vessel in real time as well as the direction of travel!  We found a great staircase at the exit of Lock 2 that allows you to get right up close to the ships.  They look awesome and massive at that angle so we made a short video of the local cargo vessel ALGOSTEEL exiting the lock on its way to Lake Ontario.


sooooo much rainbow chard!

I just love this vibrant rainbow leafy gem in my garden!  It's been growing prolifically all season and I've been grabbing leaves off it here or there for delicious salad and sandwich fillers. Most people harvest the outer leaves from the chard plants when the leaves are small and tender, but I like to leave the outer leaves, selecting the smaller ones from inside and leaving a ring of leaves to grow huuuuge colourful thick stalks to grow as large as celery. True the leaves are thicker and a bit tough but the vibrant stalks are great to chop up and add colour to many different dishes!  As long as the roots are not severed, gently pulling the outer leaves from each plants as they grow will ensure a continually young harvest throughout the summer season.  I've harvested armfuls of the stuff and its still growing strong!


garden update

Niagara soil + southern exposure = gardening on crack!  My last true garden was in Thunder Bay which is Zone 3, and while I knew this is a better area for successful vegetable gardening, I was really truly unprepared for the explosion that occurred in the last month!!  I have tons of tomatoes, healthy herbs, scores of succulents on the staircase, peppers popping up everywhere and a bumper crop of brassica leaves (although no broccoli or cauliflowers yet)  Some areas of my garden are ready to harvest and other sections need love to continue flourishing.

Today I'll also be planning my fall crops and containers.  The first frost date for St. Catharines is Oct 17 - ten weeks from today.  There are many plants that even sown from seed will be ready for harvest in 8 - 9 weeks (subtract a week to accommodate for shorter fall days), and a number of these plants will tolerate light frosts, especially those with longer autumn harvest times.  I'll be planting the following vegetables in this order to get the ones with longest growing seasons started right away. You'll notice radishes are on there twice because I plan to get some started now and then again anywhere from 10 days up to even about 3 weeks from now for a continual harvest until the frost!

           Crop        Days to Harvest
Radishes     25 – 30
Carrots       85 – 95
Potatoes     85 – 90
Cabbage     80 – 90
Lettuce        70 – 85
Broccoli      70 – 80
Cauliflower   60 – 75
Peas           55 – 70
Beets          40 – 70
Spinach       50 – 60
Kohlrabi       50 – 60
Kale             40 – 50
Radishes      25 – 30