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Introduction

For kayakers, bird watchers, and photographers the 9 km Big Creek in Norfolk Country is the ideal launch point to explore the Canadian outdoors.

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Kayaking on Big Creek

Kayaking in Norfolk County

Known as Canada’s Amazon, the meandering Big Creek in Norfolk County (Ontario, Canada) takes you through the marshes and thick vegetation of the Carolinian forest to the open waters close to Lake Erie.

For first time kayakers this approx. 9 km paddling experience is ideal before getting into choppy waters elsewhere.

Our (my wife and I and two friends) journey included two hours of paddling on Big Creek, followed by a short break, and then two hours paddling into the Big Creek National Wildlife Area.

An environmentalist at heart, a kayaker and teacher of nature by passion, Brian took us on a four hour journey that inspired this story.

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The guides take you through the do’s and dont’s. For first-timers, instructions on how to hold the paddle, how to use your legs to control the rowing and the kayak, and what to do if you capsize proved invaluable.

Standing in muddy waters and getting into the kayak was not as difficult as I thought. The $10* water shoes held my weight without any complaints.

Two hours went by without a hitch. We were back at the starting point for a 15 minute break. The break and light lunch in the kayak under the shady trees also helped ease the cramps in my back.

The second half of the expedition took us in the opposite direction to the open waters. My only regret was in not coating myself with enough bug spray. I was attracting a lot of flies, the biting ones.

For adults the guided tour is a shade under CAD $100 per person. [Check the Long Point Eco-Adventures website for updates.] Guests can choose a single person Wilderness Systems 12 foot single Pungo kayak, which are very stable, or a Wilderness Systems 14.5 foot Pamlico tandem kayak for those who like to paddle together. Paddles and Life Jackets are included in the price.

There are no washrooms at the launch location. Guests are welcome to use the washroom and other facilities at Long Point Eco-Adventures prior to the paddle on Big Creek.

All our outdoor trips, if there are no public washrooms, are limited to two hours. For longer treks, facilities are a must. I have even researched tactics some of the eCommerce drivers use on their delivery routes.

We were fortunate to have Brian Craig as one of our guides. He is as passionate as he is knowledgeable having worked with Environment Canada before. The group consisted of 10 kayakers plus the two guides.

All of the Long Point Eco-Adventures Big Creek guides receive safety training and are very knowledgeable on the natural and cultural history of the Big Creek area.

The launch area is off the side of the road. The guides help you into the kayaks and push you out. The kayaks are snug and comfortable. No one tipped over or found it difficult to control the kayaks.

Recommendation: Single kayaks. Tandem kayaks are also available [advance booking required]. Another option is also to take your own kayak [inflatable or solid-state kayaks] and explore Big Creek all by yourself. 

The meandering Big Creek takes you through the marshes, thick vegetation of the Carolinian forest, to the open waters close to Lake Erie on an approx. 9 km four hour paddle. For first time kayakers this experience is ideal before getting into choppy waters elsewhere.

The pandemic brought out the best and worst in all of us. My wife and I explored the outdoors every weekend. We hiked in all seasons and took to the waters in a canoe during summer.

The thought of even buying a canoe crossed our mind. Due to storage issues we turned our attention to kayaks. Should be it be single kayaks or tandem ones? Inflatable or solid-state?

To try it out before any major decisions, our friends came up with the idea of a guided excursion. The Big Creek excursion turned out to be a perfect experience.

There is a break about half way into the excursion. The group comes back to the starting point before heading into the opposite direction. The break is meant to have a light lunch or snack, regain energy, or get out and stretch your legs.

There are no washroom facilities unless you are prepared to explore the bushes around the area.

Getting in and out of the kayaks sometimes involves standing in ankle deep muddy water. Water shoes ($10) are most comfortable.

Life jackets are provided by the organizers and included in the price of the expedition. If you are planning more such outdoor expeditions (kayaking, canoeing, paddling) bringing your own life jackets ($40*) is a more hygienic option.

Light clothes that cover your whole body are advisable due to the bugs and elements.

For the four hour trip we carried sandwiches and  mixed nuts in a waterproof dry bag ($30*).

Depending on the day recommended articles are sunscreen, bug spray, hat, raincoat (light showers).

It is a two hour drive from downtown Toronto. If you are planning to stay and hike in the area over the weekend it can be turned into a relaxing short vacation.

Parking in the area is on the side of the road and can comfortably hold about 15-20 vehicles.

After the kayaking trip quenching your thirst and getting your fill of fish and chips in the pub (Sandbar on the beach) by the side of the lake restored my energies!

  1. Long Point Eco-Adventures
  2. Environment Canada
  3. Map of Big Creek
  4. Pub by the lake

*Notes:
All currency is noted in Canadian Dollars.
This is my personal experience and is not endorsed by anyone one else.
Brian Craig has given me permission to use this interview as I see fit.

Brian Craig

The best time to see birds on Big Creek is in the month of June. Long Point is known as a staging area before migrating south.

Driven by a love for the open waters

My love for the open waters began when I was 16. I’ve always loved being in nature, being on the water and enjoyed fishing with my grandpa. I bought a canoe for $129 and that was a lot of money in those days. My dad asked me why I needed a canoe as there were no water bodies around the farm!

When I took early retirement from Environment Canada, the owners of Long Point Eco-Adventures suggested that I join them. Since I love kayaking I now have the privilege of guiding people kayaking on Big Creek. That has turned out really well. I get to meet a lot of really nice and interesting people, predominantly from the city. I get to share with them the nature of Big Creek and talk about environmental issues.

Brian Craig

Nature Lover, Long Point Eco-Adventures

About eight years ago, we were kayaking underneath a sycamore tree, which belongs to the Carolinian species. I happened to look back and there was a bald eagle sitting in the sycamore tree. I was lucky to have a good camera with me, and I got the best picture I've ever taken.

All About Brian Craig

I was raised on a dairy farm, just outside Ottawa. That was my introduction to nature. I still remember the times when I went collecting butterflies with my mother.

A combination of events set me on the path to a fulfilling career. My parents taught me to respect nature. One of my high school teachers motivated the class to look at nature differently.

Their influence inspired me to take the course Man-Environment Studies at the University of Waterloo. Now it’s known as the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability. I also had very good professors who challenged the students to make the world a better place.

When you look at the millennium ecosystem assessment and what’s happening around the world, we’re really fortunate to live in Canada. We have plenty of natural resources and our environment still is in good shape.

My love for the open waters began when I was very young. I’ve always loved being in nature, being on the water and enjoyed fishing with my grandpa. At 16, I bought a canoe for $129 and that was a lot of money in those days. My dad asked me why I needed a canoe as there were no water bodies around the farm!

Mike and Dave, two of my good friends, had created a hub in Norfolk County where people could come to experience our beautiful countryside. They started Long Point Eco Ventures. They organize winery visits, mountain biking, kayaking, nature hikes, mushroom forays, and beekeeping activities.

When I took early retirement from Environment Canada, my friends suggested that I join them. Since I love kayaking I now take people kayaking on Big Creek. That has turned out really well. I get to meet a lot of really nice and interesting people, predominantly from the city. I get to share with them the nature of Big Creek and talk about environmental issues.

I enjoy meeting people of different ages, from all walks of life, go paddling on Big Creek, and talk about the birds and beavers we come across on the Creek and about the national wildlife area. So it’s just a very enjoyable job for me. It doesn’t seem like work.

Long Point is a 40 km long sandspit, and adjacent to the sandspit are the marshes. Long Point is known as a staging area. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, etc.) stop and fatten up in the marshes before migrating south. The Tundra swans spend their winters in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA, and then fly through this area in spring. So these marshes play an integral part in the life cycle of the migratory birds.

The best time to see birds on Big Creek is probably in the month of June. We’re fortunate to have the headquarters for Birds Canada (used to be Bird Studies Canada) right here in port Rowan. Every year I take groups of people and they’ll see and hear over 40 species of birds just along Big Creek. After breeding season things get quiet. And by now, during this time (in the fall), most of our birds have already headed south.

I’ve been volunteering with the Long Point Biosphere Region for about 25 years. And through some of our projects, you get to know the conservation community and people who work for the federal and provincial government, as well as the many non-governmental organizations in our community. And so, it’s basically just by working with people that I’ve learned a lot about Norfolk County. We do have a really good conservation community here that wants to continue to conserve and preserve our environment so that it’s sustainable over a long period of time.

About eight years ago, we were kayaking underneath a sycamore tree, which belongs to the Carolinian species. I happened to look back and there was a bald eagle sitting in the sycamore tree. I was lucky to have a good camera with me, and I got the best picture I’ve ever taken. It’s all the more significant because during the 1960s, bald Eagles in Canada were extirpated; they became locally extinct, because of DDT bioaccumulation. Smaller fish would get a little DDT in their body from the ecosystem. They would be eaten by bigger fish, which were in turn eaten by even bigger fish. By the time the bald Eagle ate the fish, there would be a lot of DDT in its system.

The high concentration of DDT resulted in thinning the eggshells, which further resulted in the female eagles crushing the shells when they sat on them. And over time the adults died. So the federal government banned the use of DDT, and later Ministry on Natural Resources worked to reintroduce the big bald eagles in Norfolk County. Now, we see them quite frequently.

So considering all this, to get a picture of a bald eagle, after they were reintroduced, was really special to me, something I will never forget.

It feels very satisfying to see the amazement and enjoyment on my guests’ faces when I point out something to them that they’ve never seen before. They’ve never had the opportunity to  kayak on a really healthy creek that’s bordered by forests and marshes. 

I have great privilege in teaching two fall courses in Fanshawe College, Simcoe, London, Ontario – the Adventure Expeditions and the Interpretive Leadership program. Students who sign up for this are usually interested in becoming guides over time or creating their own business. And we’ve had some real success stories there. One of my students has bought a pontoon boat and he gives tours out in Long Point inner bay.

I basically teach natural history, about trees and plants and animals, and little bit about the geology of the area and across Canada. I find this very rewarding because besides in-class studies, I get four hours a week to take the students hiking through various forests.

Kayaking on Big Creek is part of the program too. We also teach them the skills to develop and manage resorts, trails and interpretive projects. For example, how to put together an interpretive program and implement it.

I generally have 15 students, but now due to COVID19, the class size has gone down to three this year.

I get a chance to share my passion about protecting, conserving and working towards sustainability with the students. Yes, it’s a real treat to be able to teach at Fanshawe. I also had the privilege of teaching an ecological restoration course at the University of Waterloo. We do a field camp down here in Norfolk county, but due to the pandemic that was put on hold the past two years.

I also have my volunteer work, at Long Point Biosphere Region, to ensure social, cultural, economic and ecological sustainability for future generations. So I’m pretty busy year round. And as hobbies, I play hockey and I play in a classic rock band.

I don’t need to retire. I’m doing what I love.  I’m very fortunate that my health is good and I do hope it stays that way. I would like to guide kayaks Big Creek for another 10 years, God willing.

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