My first (and last) visit to Centennial Park is lost in the mists of time. On Sunday, July 3, 2022, I decided to hike the trail. I had lingering memories of a logging camp and a narrow-gauge railway.
I started out after 4:00 p.m., temperature 24’ C., fair weather clouds. I left Arundel Street, west of Boulevard Lake, and drove a paved road a kilometre to the gateway. To the right, in the woods, was a sign board for a doggie walk ̶ with a trail map and 13 rules governing visits. I decided they didn’t apply to me; besides, I’d neglected to bring a poop bag.
Past the gateway was a spacious car park with several vehicles. I parked, shrugged into a modest daypack with my water and bug spray, and walked up to the bridge. A sign allowed only authorized vehicles. I was struck by the number of signs clustered at the bridge and the trailhead. There were, however, some necessary signs missing.
The bridge spanned Current River, a shallow, lazy stream at this point. The trail forked. An arrow pointed to the trail on the right. Very misleading, as we shall see. Arrows to the left pointed straight ahead to washrooms and playground. I veered right, dropped a looney into the thief-proof box, and continued to the first infrastructure.
An historical plaque commemorated the infamous story of Rosvall and Voutilainen:
On November 18, 1929, Finnish-Canadians Viljo Rosvall and Janne Voutilainen left the Port Arthur area for Onion Lake, 20 kilometres upstream from here to recruit bushworkers for a strike. Their bodies were found at Onion Lake the following spring. Local unionists and many Finnish-Canadians suspected foul play, but coroner’s juries ruled the deaths accidental drownings. The two men’s funeral on April 28, 1930, is remembered as the largest ever held in Port Arthur. As thousands of mourners marched to Riverside Cemetery, an eclipse of the sun darkened the sky. The mystery surrounding the deaths of Rosvall and Voutilainen endures, sustaining them in public memory as martyrs to the cause of organized labour.
I’ve always been fascinated by this story. I’d heard only the gist of it, so anytime I travelled the Onion Lake Road, paralleled by the dinky little brook called Current River, I had the urge to stop and poke around. Perhaps if I poked a stick through the roots of the cedars, I’d find . . . Who knows? Nobody had told me they were dead. I thought they were just lost.
One writer had been so fascinated by this story he wrote a book about it. Fictional, of course.
Beyond the plaque was a log building. Closed. The only information I could find about the museum and railway were a year old. Where are signs when you need them?
I proceeded to the 1912 logging camp ̶ closed. The hard-packed trail was wide enough to accommodate the machines of the trail maintenance crews. For a while the railway paralleled the river. The forest was full of old-growth trees as well as shrubs and lush ground cover. Every five minutes I met some hiker, or a small group of hikers.
When I came to the highway, I didn’t know any better, and hiked under the overpass. I met no one else. For the first time, someone passed me. He was jogging ̶ a guy in spandex with a mutt on a leash. When the trail veered left and he continued into the wild country, I took a loop trail that led me back to the overpass. Signs would have been helpful.
The only flies out were a few skeeters which I dispersed with spray.
I always have an eye out for flowers and fungi. I came across the odd Bunchberry and Bluebell and Thimbleberry. Lots of plants had yet to flower. At the overpass I found Honeysuckle (which of the 16 species?) and Wild Rose and a purple vetch (Marsh Peavine?).
According to the trail map that I later Googled, I had missed the entrance to the recommended loop trail before coming upon the overpass. Apparently, most hikers start at the bridge and walk towards the washrooms and playground and then, and only then, start the loop trail. But the trail arrow pointed right, towards the money box and the museum.
I came across four cyclists on the shoulder of the trail. Dad was attending to a little girl who was sobbing forlornly. Her two older brothers stood around bemused. The four of them caught up to me at the logging camp. Dad and the little girl were walking their bikes. She was still sniffling.
The sun had gone, clouds darkened the sky.
One last look at the placid flow of Current River.
So, R. and V. are dead, eh? Who knew?