I’ve travelled to 77 countries, only to realize that the most precious place in this world is a little piece of land on a small lake in Ontario that my grandfather purchased many moons ago.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve yearned to see the wider world. It’s a feeling that I would later identify as “wanderlust,” but in its infancy I only understood it as a sort of unquenchable curiosity. I was still in Canada, but mentally I was leisurely strolling up and down Europe’s great promenades.
In 2010, I moved to Oslo, Norway and during that time I crisscrossed the continent with unparalleled enthusiasm. I saw and learned so much—about Europe, about myself, but also about my homeland: Canada.
During that period, I visited about two dozen countries. Still, I remember landing back home and recognizing that my curiosity was far from quenched. I also distinctly recall that physically feeling my feet on Canadian soil felt like wrapping myself in a warm blanket. It’s that blanket that seems to have been in your house forever, the one that's just a bit more comfortable than the rest.
The Journey Continues
Not so long after that, I moved to South Korea and figured I owed it to myself to learn more about Asia. In Seoul, I was initially taken aback by how rich and definite South Korean culture and history was. I was filled with the feeling that the Canadian identity was somehow mutable in comparison, and that was, for some reason, something to be ashamed of.
By the end of that year, I was convinced of precisely the opposite. South Korea firmly instilled in me the notion that Canada’s culture is deep, rich, and profound. We have a love and admiration for the outdoors, and appreciate being isolated in nature. Our writers have a unique and poignant viewpoint recognized worldwide. Our restaurants reflect the kitchens of the world, with a handful of Canadian classics peppered in.
Most importantly, it made me consider that, for the most part, we welcome newcomers with open arms and aim to showcase and respect all the pieces that make up our cultural mosaic.
Moving Back Home to Ontario
Again, I moved back to Toronto, but within a year I was off again—this time to Istanbul for three years. When I came back this August, I just felt different. All of a sudden, I started to look at my home province of Ontario as worth exploring. The small towns I drove through in my teenage years with apathy seemed filled with opportunity.
My wanderlust had come full circle. There was no need to run off again when, for a welcomed change, the fire that was feeding my curiosity was right in my backyard.
I love Toronto, I do. But I began to understand that it’s not the place I picture in my head when someone says “Canada.” I see expansive lakes and humble orange sunsets. I smell campfire smoke and piney tree sap. I hear snow crunching and skates tearing into the ice. I taste homemade maple syrup and the daily soup at a diner that’s never been tagged on Instagram.
I set my sights on the places where I felt I could find “Canada,” and my search led me to Northeastern Ontario.
Rediscovering the Majesty of my Home Province
My first genuine foray back into exploring Ontario was at Windy Lake Provincial Park, north of Sudbury, which had pretty much already stolen my heart by virtue of its name. I filled my best friend in on my newfound purpose and we rented a cabin right by the shore, where we could look out onto the snow-covered lake.
In the summer, Ontario’s lakes look magical, but in the winter the same lake almost looks like nature’s infinity pool, as it appears to extend for an eternity. As it turns out, it also feels like it extends for an eternity when you’re walking across the bay with a pair of snowshoes on, especially after you’ve been coddled for three years prior by Turkish weather patterns. I felt bitterly cold, and, much more importantly, I felt alive.
I was determined and had my checklist for the weekend ready. We laced up the cross country skis and spent hours in the quiet forest. We went ice fishing and caught nothing but the sense that there was nowhere else to be. We barbecued locally-sourced Ontario meat and vegetables in the middle of a blizzard with big smiles, and just the right amount of bourbon.
I had found "my Canada.” And those European promenades stayed well out of my thoughts.
Not that long afterwards I made the trek again up to Northeastern Ontario, but this time to quaint little Killarney, Ontario. I had begun to see Ontario as a blank map that needed to be filled in.
The surrounding area of Killarney was a mecca for the Group of Seven for a reason: it’s stunning. Killarney Provincial Park, the Granite Ridge Trail in particular, offered winter hiking opportunities I hadn’t thought were possible. While the park is expansive, this particular trail is a great place to start and offers panoramic views that wow in all seasons.
Then there was the town of Killarney itself, with a storybook lighthouse and nature that envelops you. The town was barely a street long, but somehow all of Killarney was abuzz. Snowmobiles pulled right up to restaurants and everybody waved, regardless of whether they knew you. Since I’ve started to explore Ontario, specifically Northeastern Ontario, my list of places to explore has become ever longer.
Learning to Love Your Home
It’s funny, my grandfather’s piece of land (the one I mentioned in the beginning and where my cottage is today) is on a lake about 15 minutes in either direction from two towns that most people have never heard of. It’s not a place that you’re going to find on Trip Advisor, but it’s perfection.
What I’ve learned by reflecting on what Ontario means to me, is that exploring Ontario is about finding what makes your heart beat a little faster and what widens your smile when you daydream about it.
Go to the places you don’t know enough about, because you don’t know enough about them. Find your Windy Lake Provincial Park and your Killarney. Canada and Ontario have made me who I am, and for that I’m grateful. I’ve just turned the first few pages of this province and, for the first time, I cannot wait to read the rest of the book.