Tuesday, August 22, 2006

pelee island, part 1

canadian garage
In the western end of Lake Erie lies a cluster of nine islands, primarily named for poultry, that comprise the southernmost inhabited point of Canada. However, the islands of Hen, Chick, Little Chick, and Big Chicken are mostly uninhabited, though one would think they either contain or resemble chickens in some way. I wouldn’t know, as we stayed on Pelee, by far the largest of these islands and the only one of any real significance, other than the fact that these smaller islands played crucial roles in that blessed rum-running underground railroad from Canada into the states during the prohibitionary years of our nation’s dark past.

Known for primarily for its wine making and summer tourism, Pelee is a quilt of nature reserves, vineyards, and wheat fields dotted with a handful bed and breakfasts and beach houses. It encompasses roughly forty-two square kilometers, but you’ll have to decide for yourself what this means in terms of miles.

merlot vineyard
The metric system doesn’t bother me like the Celsius scale. I’m horrible at judging distances and often have just as much trouble communicating in miles as I would with foreign measurements. However, the supremacy of the Fahrenheit scale is undebatable.

One hundred degrees in Fahrenheit is damn hot, but this same heat measured in Celsius gives us only a whopping thirty-seven degrees. We have the psychological advantage of our heat waves rising into the triple digits. Once it has gone beyond the hundred, we know that it is effing hot. This also works on the other end. True, the Celsius zero marks their freezing point and serves as a reasonable boundary to the unreasonable cold. However, our zero is much colder and strikes fear much like our triple digit heat. We know that zero is effing cold and that to venture below that into the negative would be fucking cold.

But I digress.

Within these kilometric confines reside some one hundred and seventy five permanent residents and few occupational choices. In fact, many work multiple jobs on the island. It’s quite natural for your waitress at one of the islands few restaurants—one can easily exhaust the dining options in less than a week—to be your guide at the winery or cashier at the marina the following day. Everyone, as our host at the Tin Goose Inn told us, has to work nine jobs, and even then has to find work on the mainland for the three months that the island stays frozen over.

the tin goose inn
I liked the liked the Tin Goose, but my limited experience with bed and breakfasts gives me little to compare it to. I imagine that your average B&B should lie somewhere between an episode of Newhart and the Waltons with perhaps a slight dash of a P.G.Wodehouse story thrown in, and that was pretty much what we had.

I prefer staying in more historic places while traveling, but one of the drawbacks to this is a misconception I’ve picked up from watching fat too many of those haunted hotel shows on the Travel Channel. I fully expect to see the ghost of an old woman, Civil War soldier, or pirate standing at the foot of my bed if I wake up in the middle of the night. I therefore keep my eyes shut if I happen to wake up before daylight. Still, I like to think there’s a pirate ghost waiting patiently there for the chance to frighten me—perhaps twisting his face ghoulishly in anticipation when he sees me stir and is then let down each time I refuse to sleepily glance in his direction.

Anyway, there was neither ghost nor Internet access nor television at the Tin Goose, and most of our time within the one hundred and eleven year old house was spent reading or breakfasting continentally before heading out to wander around the island. The mornings downstairs were quiet during the week and a bit more crowded near the weekends. The guests were mostly families from Ohio, Michigan, and mainland Canada, with the occasional British accent thrown in among the Colonists. Tennesseans are a slight oddity.

We had dinner at the restaurant there one evening and it was pricey, though worth it. Our host was also a gourmet chef who easily distinguishes the Tin Goose from the primarily fried perch and chip establishment that make up the majority of the island’s other culinary offerings, though there is certainly nothing wrong with that sort of thing.

Another place I would recommend for travelers to Pelee would be Connorlee’s Bakery. Though only opened during the day from Tuesday to Saturday and nights on the weekend, it is the best place to get lunch and coffee. They use vegetables from an organic farm down the road and provide picnic tables under the trees out front where their lethargic cat lazily watches you eat.

Did I mention that there are no fast food restaurants on Pelee? In fact, there are no chain stores of any kind. Gasoline and groceries have to be purchased at the island’s Co-op located on the northern shore across from the Canadian mainland, and most items still have to be ordered. Some islanders prefer to take the two-hour ferry every couple of weeks to shop in Kingsville or Leamington in Ontario.

Another thing missing from the island is a police force. There is not even a policeman, Mounty, or Barney Fife figure roaming the streets.

Neither are there garbage men, as residents drive their garbage to the dump every week.

The only sign of anyone being employed by the town was the guy whose responsibility it was to maintain the roads. We encountered him on each of our drives, and just seemed to drive around in his pick-up all day filling in potholes with shovels of gravel and then pouring tar over them. I didn’t notice him having another job anywhere else despite the fact that probably less than half of the roads on Pelee are paved.

Half the people on Pelee move about by bicycle, and we spent a day exploring on a set of these particular bikes built in the bike shop/bike rental place across from the ferry dock.

dorky bike
They are designed so that the rider sits upright and are therefore more comfortable, though, as our host put it in his thick Windsor accent, “They make you look kinda dorky, eh”. I suppose they do, though they are comfortable up until the point one, while flying along some ATV trails on the way to see some glacier grooves on a remote limestone beach, hits a rut and goes flipping over the handlebars at an alarming velocity.
That would be me. One minute the weather is perfect and I’m gliding down a trail worn through the middle of a relatively flat glade, and the next, as if tripped perhaps by the foot of some unseen and understandably frustrated pirate ghost, though there is not sufficient evidence to cast blame in any direction, I find myself awkwardly intertwined with the dorky bicycle in the most unflattering heap in the middle of the trail.
Coming soon: Pelee Island, part 2. Will our Rex get to experience socialized medicine? I don't care either, but he will probably tell us. Also, there will be considerable rambling on the subject of the Canadian mosquito.


Blogger ceeelcee said...

I totally agree that Farenheit kicks ass!

I once heard that the only piece of the metric system to ever take hold in America was the 9mm cartridge.


11:31 AM  
Blogger Vol Abroad said...

I hear ya brother, celsius bites. I refuse to understand it. It's lost all the poetry of measurement.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

It should be the first thing we change when we take them over.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do realize that every country BUT your good ole U.S. of A. uses the Celsius system???? But I understand... ignorance is blissful where y'all come from.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rex,

My families had a cottage on Pelee since I was 12, you did the island justice.

As for the Celsius debate, as a transplanted American in Canada, it kinda does make sense having freezing at 0, does it not?

3:20 PM  
Blogger jimsey said...

If there's one thing I really hate, its pirate ghosts.

3:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home