First Light

By Ilona Kauremszky
Special to Ontario Travel Discoveries Magazime - Winter 2005

‘Twas in the moon of winter time when all the birds had fled, That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead’

Huron Christmas Carol written by Father Jean de Brébeuf, 1640

Midland, ON - In a split second, you hear this familiar lyric but then it’s over. For a brief moment in early December, when the moon is full and the snow stacks high like a white frosted cake, carolers gather at Sainte Marie Among the Hurons to sing this timeless tune.

How fitting as this special place is where Canada’s first Christmas carol was penned by Father Jean de Brebeuf back in 1640. But, besides the festive celebration now known as First Light that occurs at the 17th century reconstructed Jesuit mission (next year’s is slated December 2, 2006), visitors can drive to this quaint region that hugs the southern shores of Georgian Bay for some snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and mural gazing.

Don’t be surprised if you spot elegant trumpeter swans as you swoosh through the ski trails by the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre. Open year round, the wilderness sanctuary has resident swans that rest by the frozen pond including its share of busy beavers, porcupines and minks that can poke their heads at you as you plant your ski pole into the packy snowtrails. Wye Marsh’s natural beauty doubles as a winter adventurer’s dream with over 22 kms of groomed cross country ski trails and separate snowshoe trails. The folks there say you can snow shoe in the morning and ski in the afternoon.

For those of us who wish to see how a town beautified its old town buildings and waterfront silos, Midland has done a superb job transforming public space into public art. Noted for the province’s largest collection of murals (there are over 30), the outdoor gallery poignantly capture Midland’s history as you walk by them.

Not bad for an area that boasts the only Catholic shrine of pilgrimage in Ontario, the largest collection of freshwater islands in the world, the first recreated First Nations Village in Canada, and Ontario's first European fortress.

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Photography: Stephen Smith


To Know:

The First Light Celebrations occur for three nights in early December. For further information contact 705-526-7838 or visit www.saintemarieamongthehurons.on.ca

Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre has an all-day pass for $6.50 and offers a complete ski package rental for $10 (boots, poles, skiis) and snowshoe rental for $2.

For calendar of events and directions, visit www.wyemarsh.com or call them at 705-526-7809

Winterfest Horse and wagon rides, snowshoeing, hockey, pancake breakfasts are just some of the fun-filled events occuring during Midland’s annual Winterfest. For more details log onto the Town of Midland’s web site at www.town.midland.on.ca

Winterama A three-day festival held in Penetanguishene, Winterama is all about fun and includes polar plunges, silent auctions, parades, toboggan races and more. For more information visit http://www.town.penetanguishene.on.ca/Winterama.cfm?nav=442

Jackrabbit Festival A fun learn to ski program for children ages five through 12. The eight-week program starts January 7, 2006. For more details visit http://www.hardwoodhills.ca/nordic/jackrabbits.htm


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