Picture Perfect

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Welcome to YMCA Wanakita! We had a bit of snow overnight
Our bunkhouse The main dining hall
Alex, goalkeeping in Broomball Donna trying Nordic Skiing
Me and Boy My little snow angel!
Gotta love those icicles! Donna looking quite the snow bunny
Snowshoes! Walking on frozen Lake Koshlong
The dogsled teams Beautiful Huskys

I don’t know about you, but I have a number of mental images – clichés if you like – of how I expect certain places will be when I actually see them. It’s like when you see all those images of Outback Australia and you see photos of how red the earth is or how spectacular the sunrises are, and although you know that these places are probably real, its not until you go out there and see them for yourself that you realise they are not just touched-up photos in a travel brochure… that these places really do exist, and they really do look exactly the way you imagined they would.

I had a similar mental image about Canada in Winter. I pictured beautiful snow-covered frozen lakes fringed with fur trees, log cabins covered with several feet of untouched snow, and bright blue skies shining through heavily snow-laden branches. I pictured trails through the woods, powdery crisp snow making clean crunching noises underfoot, or groups of cross-country skiers gliding elegantly along the trails, or burly blokes with big beards and lumberjack coats riding around on snowmobiles. Or even teams of Husky dogs pulling traditional sleds through the woods. I imagined these things, but just assumed they were just clichés built up from watching years of TV and movies.

And then I went to Wanakita.

Wanakita is a YMCA camp about 3 hours out of Toronto. The good folk at CLEE organised a weekend visit for all the Ontario exchangees, and it lived up to every one of my Canadian expectations and was pretty much exactly the way I had imagined “the real Canada” to be.

We arrived at Wanakita about 9:00pm on Friday night after a long drive… I can never figure out why Toronto – a city with approximately the same population as Sydney, but with infinitely better road infrastructure – still seems to suffer from the most outrageous traffic congestion. How can you still have traffic congestion on a 12 lane highway!?

Anyway, we arrived at Wanakita, checked into our bunkroom and went for a walk to the main lodge centre. Because we arrived in the dark, we had no real idea of what the surrounding countryside looked like, although the walk through the camp’s grounds was obviously going to reveal a very pretty spot in the daylight. We socialised for a while with some of the other exchangees, mostly Aussies, before getting to bed.

Next morning we awoke to see the full beauty of the spot. The whole camp was covered with a blanket of fresh snow over a very thick existing base, and the trees looked quite spectacular with a layer of pure white outlining their branch structure. There was a fine, light snow falling but there was no breeze, so it was very pretty to watch and not at all unpleasant and it kept up for most of the day.

We had breakfast and got organised for the days activities before heading off for a game of broomball. Broomball is a bit like ice hockey (in Canada of course its just called hockey), except its played only with rubber-tipped sticks, and you don’t wear skates. You run around on the ice, slipping and sliding, trying to whack a ball into the goals at either end of the field of play. It sounds a bit dangerous, and it was. Craig, one of the other Aussie exchangees, slipped over and hurt his shoulder, and had to pay a visit to the local hospital to have it seen to.

Next on the agenda for us was to learn to cross-country ski. I’ve always wanted to try Nordic skiing, and got the hang of it pretty quickly, although when we went for an actual ski trek along some of the wooded trails after the lunchbreak, it was bloody hard work! All the fresh snow made it very tiring to work through, although there was a certain magic about gliding through the fresh powder with just the tips of the skis cutting two clean swathes through the surface. Donna and I skied with the group, doing a circuit around the woods before heading back to the camp.
In the afternoon we got to try snowshoeing. Snowshoes are a traditional method for crossing soft snow, and look a lot like wearing big tennis rackets on your feet. They make it a lot easier to trudge through deep snow because you don’t sink into, but are still quite hard work to walk in. We geared up, then all walked on to the snow-covered Lake Koshlong, walking quite a long way out into the centre of the lake. The water was well and truly frozen, apparently about 18 inches thick, so it was quite safe but still kind of weird to be standing on this vast white expanse surrounded by what was obviously the edge of the lake and dotted with beautiful rustic cottages.

Saturday night we stayed in the lodge and had a fun game of Family Feud, run by the YMCA staff, who did a fantastic job keeping us all entertained. We even had a campfire sing-along (indoors), and did a rousing rendition of Waltzing Matilda. A few people got up to perform some items and even Kate got up and sang in front of the group. Walking back to the bunkhouse I noticed that the skies had cleared and I got my first real glimpse of the northern hemisphere stars, seeing the Big Dipper for the first time.

On Sunday, we arose to bright blue skies and sunshine. Breakfast was had and the kids headed off for some tobogganing – another dangerous activity if you ask me!

The highlight of the day was getting to go dogsledding. The good folk from CLEE had organised a local Haliburton dogsledding group to bring their dog teams out and let us experience what it was about. The dogs were beautiful… all purebred Huskys, they were in teams of 5 or 6, each pulling a wooden sled with two people on it. There were about 7 teams, and the sound of the dogs all yelping and barking, eager to get going, had to be heard to be believed. We eventually got our ride, and even though it seemed too short, it was a great experience and with the white snow, the blue skies, the cold air rushing past our faces and the sounds of the amazing Husky dogs pulling us through the woods, it was not an experience to be missed.

After lunch we packed the car and drove back to Oakville. Despite the snowy roads, it was an easy three hour drive and we arrived back home, exhausted but satisfied after a great weekend. I felt like we really did get to see a bit of “the real Canada” this weekend, and those mental pictures I had are now real memories.

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