A kayak on the Humber
The Humber river watershed is the largest in Toronto, as the river winds nearly 100 km from the north. A great way to explore its profusion of egrets, herons, swans and cormorants is either by kayaking or canoeing.
Toronto Adventures offers kayaking tours on a regular basis. Guides are experienced, and often offer advice on how to improve paddling. Groups meet at 10 a.m., on the beach just west of Sunnyside pavilion, and gradually paddle past the graceful arches of the white footbridge over the mouth of the Humber.
The bridge was built in 1994 at a cost of $4 million, is 6.5 metres wide and is almost 140 metres long. According to the architects, the steel webbing connecting the two arches is patterned as an abstracted version of a thunderbird. Simplicity does not preclude loveliness, as the bridge has won several national and international design awards.
Looking east on a hot summer day, you can see the smog like a gauze curtain against the CN Tower and its skyscraper sisters. It doesn't seem to reach here at all. During any heat wave in the city, the place to be is near Lake Ontario if you can. It's imperative to drink a lot of water, as the paddle and the heat dehydrate everyone.
The tour destination is the Humber marshes. Branches kiss the water as paddlers make their way upstream, leaving the sounds of the city behind. Egrets perch on tree stumps. Swans also nest here. Just ahead is a cormorant rookery, with its cacophonous inhabitants congregating on defoliated treetops. Apparently, as of 2004 there were 137 nests there. Cormorants wreak havoc with foliage and herbaceous diversity; push out other bird species; and eat too many fish. They're like the zebra mussels of the feathered world.
In addition to the cormorant colony, there are lovely black-crowned night herons, lounging on one leg, looking like white, grey and black puffins. The next marsh has an entrance, with a fence made of wood around it. Kayaks have to go in single file, but in the end all of them get there, just as if there were no fence at all. It must keep out the bigger craft. Only smaller motorized boats are allowed here. However, "small" can include things that look almost like yachts, with two big motors.
In the second marsh there are no cormorants, but several egrets who take flight languidly around the paddlers. This marsh has lily pads in the water.
Back in Lake Ontario again, kayakers may need to give the right-of-way to practising dragonboats, whose racers focus only on the paddle in front of them, hitting the water in unison.
In all, the tour takes about two hours. Kayak and canoe excursions available throughout the summer and until mid-September.
(c) 2005 Dominique Millette