The Happy Camper: Southwestern Ontario Camping Road Tour (Part 3)

For the third—and last—portion of my Southwestern Ontario camping road tour Kristine and I (and the dogs) moved inland, keeping to some lesser-known campgrounds at Conservation Areas. I worked for the Conservation Authorities throughout the 1980s and it was good to go back and reminisce. Here’s an overview and review of where we stayed.


Fanshawe Conservation Area

I’ve been to Fanshawe Conservation Area many times to paddle the reservoir, but I’ve never camped there. Our site was surprisingly perfect. Packing only a tent and not needing an electrical hook up allowed us to grab a site far away from the business of the main portion of the campground. We pitched our tent under a stand of tamarack, directly across from the water. We had no adjacent neighbours and it was the busy time of the camping season. You can’t get any better than that.

The main reason for our visit was to meet up and catch up with my friends at Nova Craft Canoe. Chris, the new owner since Tim retired, and Sara (marketing manager) joined Kristine and I for a paddle on the reservoir. The heat wave had intensified during our journey and this had to be the hottest day yet. The dogs enjoyed being on the water, catching a breeze, and we all enjoyed the paddle and conversation about the dramatic increase in camping and canoeing since Covid.

We grabbed local supplies before pitching camp, picking up some local produce and back bacon at the farmer’s market in downtown London. Kristine and I made sure to pick up some craft beer at the Forked River Brewing Company.

I knew some of the staff working at the park. I taught a couple at the college I’ve instructed at part-time for over 30 years; and the superintendent and I met back in 1991 while paddling across the remote Missinaibi Lake in northern Ontario. We even saved a boater from drowning. It’s a long story—so make sure to check out the video where I tell the tale at the end.


A.W. Campbell Conservation Area

Once again Kristine and I were able to get two full nights at one campground, and we made the best of it. The heat wave continued, and major thunderstorms kept rolling in; but Kristine and I pitched a perfect tarp at the campground and spent the majority of time exploring the region.

We first went to the nearby town of Alviston to check out Munro’s Honey and Meadery. I knew nothing about beer (mead) made from honey. So, they dressed me up in a beekeeper’s suit to check out some hives, tasted pure honey, found the queen bee—and did it all without getting stung. Then we quenched our thirst with a can of mead. It had to be one of the best experiences of our trip so far.

In the afternoon we headed to the Sarnia Bay Marina. Kristine and I booked a boat charter through Twin Bridge Fishing Charters in hopes to catch some walleye out of St Clair River. Captain Lorne was awesome, and the dogs sure loved the cooler weather out on the turquoise blue water. We even headed out on Lake Huron for a bit of a joy ride. Unfortunately, another storm rolled in, and we were forced to head back to the docks without wetting a line. So, we ended up treating ourselves to fresh walleye at Purdy’s Fish Market. They won for best fish dinner of our entire trip, hands down.

The rain continued through the night and the morning. Our canoe day down the Sydenham River Nature Reserve with Roberta and Mark Buchanan from the Lambton Wildlife Group had to be altered. We hiked the protected area instead.

The slice of riverside property is rich in extraordinary diversity of plants and animals. A total of 23 species at risk reside here. Half of Ontario’s bird species breed in or pass through the area during migration. The river itself has been rated as the most diverse waterway in Canada. It also hosts an old growth sycamore tree measuring seven feet in diameter. Ontario Nature purchased the property in 2016 and is being managed by the Lampton Wildlife Group and Sydenham Field Naturalists. Roberta and Mark were knowledgeable hosts and true sports to give us the tour in the pouring rain.

Kristine and I treated ourselves to a meal back in town, ordering take out at the Armor’s Ale House. No fish tonight. We enjoyed a clubhouse and fries (and more mead) under the rain tarp back in camp.

Dalewood Conservation Area

Our last campground of the tour was a hidden gem. The conservation area has a cluster of non-electric sites down by the boat launch at the reservoir. It was a Friday night when we arrived, and we had the place to ourselves. A waterfront site and no neighbours. What a rarity. It was awesome!

Before checking into the campground, Kristine and I tried out the 30 metre (90 feet) Elevated Park in nearby St Thomas. Volunteers created this unique walkway across the historic rail bridge, originally built in 1929. During it’s prime, 50 trains passed over St Thomas’s Kettle Creek.

Close by is another St Thomas tourist attraction, a memorial for Jumbo the Elephant, who was hit by a train here back in 1885 while helping a younger elephant, Tom Thumb, across the tracks. Jumbo was the feature attraction of the renowned Barnum and Bailey Circus. The circus stuffed the elephant’s remains and continued to tour with Jumbo for many more years to come. True story.

A local lunch was had again at the popular Snack Wacky Food Truck and another craft beer stop was needed—this one at Caps Off Brewing—make sure to try their Scottish Ale.

The rain had finally stopped and so did the heat wave. Kristine and I went around Dalewood like school kids. We hiked the six kilometre trail that circles the park’s reservoir and paddled the new Waterway Trail—it includes the reservoir and a portion of Kettle Creek. Wildlife sightings were amazing—herons, beavers, bald eagles—incredible, since the park is a stone’s throw from the city of St. Thomas.

Time spent at Dalewood was a perfect way to end our adventure. I had visited the familiar and reconnect with a wild landscape and local towns where I grew up. It molded me, kept me focused and prepared me for what next to come.

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