Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lake Erie Coastal Treasures

Probably not what you are thinking:

It inspires thoughts of far-away places. Port Dover is Canada's version of Cape Cod while Pelee is great for island hopping and sampling wines from a climate similar to that of Northern California, Spain and Italy.

There are seaside communities with some of the finest white sand beaches, country inns, antique and specialty shops and numerous golf courses. You can sail and go boating, fishing, bird-watching, diving to explore dozens of shipwrecks from centuries ago, or catch a view of a sunset from a towering lighthouse.

Fine dining includes fresh-caught Lake Erie fish and locally grown produce from soil so rich the area is known as Canada's vegetable garden.

I was born and spent the early years of my childhood in Erie, along the lake's American coast. I don't recall visiting the Canadian beach towns. It was terra incognita. Cold and desolate. Dark and foreboding. Contemplating life across Lake Erie made me feel lonely and vulnerable.

In the United States, the Great Lakes are Frost Belt country. There is snowbound Buffalo, miserable Cleveland, and dreary Erie. We think of long winters in crumbling industrial towns. When you cross the border to see how the other half lives, you enter the Ontario Riviera:

At Canada's southernmost point is Point Pelee National Park, a tiny green oasis with trails leading to dunes, cattails, prickly pear cactus and jungle-thick woods.

Lake Erie geography depends on your perspective. Our North Coast is Canada's South Coast. The agricultural land sandwiched between the lakes of Erie and Ontario is among the best in Canada. The area is a huge tourist draw and a playground for the rich who live in Toronto.

The American side used to enjoy a similar appreciation. The Rust Belt decades put an end to it. But that doesn't mean these destinations for recreation can't make a comeback. A look across the water is a clear example of the potential. The next step is reconfiguring the mental maps of US citizens.

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