I just had one of the most Canadian weekends of my life.
This coming from a girl who, in her younger days, neglected to tell people where she was from, preferring to be known as a “child of the world”.
Yes, I was that pretentious.
It’s interesting, I have such intense wanderlust for so many far-cast places that I often forget to look for gems in my own backyard. The culture may be the same, but the beauty is real.
It all started with two friends of mine, Ashley and Hannah, suggesting we take a road trip to a gorgeous abandoned mine, Wallingford-Back, they read about online. They hooked me with swooning promises of “crystal clear blue waters” and “beautiful scenic cliffs”. As I’m rarely one to say no to something as intriguing and potentially dangerous as “abandoned mine,” I obliged to join.
Day one began with heading out of Toronto at about 10 AM and driving straight to Ottawa. It only takes about five hours (pit-stops included) to get from city to city, so we screeched into Ottawa at around 3 PM.
Our first stop in Canada’s capital was to get in touch with our Airbnb host so we could drop our stuff before exploring the city. Only, as luck would have it, our host was MIA. Camping in the wilderness, to be exact.
Out hosts’ neighbors, who were supposed to give us the keys, told us that the host had neglected to leave them with any instructions on the matter. Shit on a stick.
Enter frantically phoning Airbnb.
After listening to our desperate pleas for help, Airbnb told us to give them an hour. By law, before they could secure us alternate accommodations, they had to attempt to contact our host and rectify the situation. As time passed and they couldn’t get a hold of him either, the Airbnb representative told us that not only would he give us a $100 voucher for a hotel, he would also give us a $200 gift certificate for any future Airbnb bookings.
Now that’s customer service.
This was my second trip to Ottawa. The first, which happened three years ago, is somewhat clouded in my memory due to the obnoxious, sweltering heat I endured over the weekend. Thankfully, this time it was a beautiful, sunny, but not melt-your-shoes-off, kind of weekend.
After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we headed straight for Byward Market.
An adorable market set in the heart of Ottawa, Byward is a cultural hub. There, people of all backgrounds set up shop on the street selling their unique goods to passersby. The smells of strawberries and Beaver Tails waft through the air, flowers hang off of buildings in pots, and buskers line the sidewalks with their instruments.
Also, the market is brimming with amazing restaurants – mostly pubs – with great patios. Perfect for getting your evening beer on.
After exploring Byward, we decided to take a stroll through the parliament buildings.
I was in the middle of the road posing in front of one of the buildings like an idiot, when out of the corner of my eye I could see a policeman approach me. My short and generally unexciting personal history with authority sent off sparks in my brain telling me that I was doing something wrong.
Me: “Do I have to move?”
“No, no!” He smiled and started posing with me.
Me: “I have never felt more Canadian than I do right now.”
Ashley (Who was snapping the photos): “Of course this would happen to you.”
Day 2 brought us to Wallingford-Back mine. Just a swift 45 minute drive from Ottawa, Wallingford-back was first opened in 1924 by the O’brein & Fowler company, and was originally used to mine Mica, Feldspath, and Quartz. Once the largest mine in North America, today the mine is simply a beautiful site for nature lovers and photographers alike.
The journey to Wallingford-Back was an adventure in and of itself. Located in
middle-of-nowhere Mulgrave-et-Derry, Quebec, the site is void of all cell-service, convenience stores, and safe roads.
Make sure you pack lots of sustenance for the day, and maybe some very strong friends to push you out of the deep divots in the road in which you will inevitably get stuck.
It didn’t take long before I was completely in awe of Wallingford-Back’s incredible scenery. The tall rock formations tower out of icy, yet clear, waters, birds chirp splendidly in the background, and families kayak the cave in jovial spirits.
For those of you seriously considering visiting the mine, keep in mind that there are two entrances.
The first, if you are heading down the right road, you cannot miss. The road ends and the mine presents itself right in front of you.
However, the second entrance takes a bit more searching. In order to find it, you’ll have to turn left after exiting the mine, climb up a hill, crawl through a fence (that someone has already graciously cut open with wire cutters), and follow the well-trodden trail.
Once you find the cave entrance, you’ll have to scale down an incredibly steep, rocky platform, gripping onto whatever you can for dear life. For if you decide to slide down on your butt, you’ll slide right off the edge of a cliff and into the frigid waters below. I’m pretty sure I pulled a muscle maneuvering this, so I wish you the best of luck.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
But not all that glitters is gold, mate.
I’m not going to lie to you, as beautiful as this site was, after visiting I found myself once again with lessened faith in humanity.
What you don’t see in my photos is that the easy-to-reach walls of the cave are covered in senseless graffiti. The cave floor is lined with old beer bottles, cans, and discarded food wrappers. The site is still off-the-grid enough that it hasn’t been taken over by the government to preserve and clean it up, but you can bet your bottom dollar that it soon will be if people don’t start to improve their habits.
It boggles my mind how people can go to such a gorgeous place and leave their trash there. That, when someone says to them “Beautiful Grotto” they immediately think to themselves “Must bring spray paint.”
The environment is more important than having a beer in a cave is.
Respect the environment, and respect the locals of the region.
The mine is also adjacent to a spectacular lake.
And believe me when I say, If there weren’t a bunch of campers around and I wouldn’t have had to change into my bathing suit in the back seat of a car, I would have been all up in that water.
Have you ever been to Wallingford-Back Mine? What are some other gems in the area?