Exploring Ontario – Winter Walk at La Mer Bleue Conservation Area

Those of you who have previously read my blog will be familiar with a book that I bought my husband for his birthday which lists nature hotspots throughout Ontario, the first one that we visited being Britannia Conservation Area and Mud Lake.

We haven’t done any from the book since then but with the extended holiday period here and no hope of flying visits to our relatives in the UK or elsewhere, we decided that as a family, we would explore the local Ottawa Greenbelt again and La Mer Bleue was another place that my husband, Mike had read about and suggested we explore.

For those of you who don’t speak French, La Mer Bleue means simply ‘the blue sea’, which I have to admit is an unusual name to give to a peat bog that is meant to be the most southern example of boreal forest in Canada. The name comes from the grey fog that accumulates above the peat in the early hours of the morning and has a bluish tinge which, when combined with its density, gives the appearance of a blue sea.

Apparently, bogland like La Mer Bleue usually lies further to the north, close to the tundra and the Arctic. It would appear that in this part of Ottawa there is a microclimate which allows plants that would not normally prosper to thrive here so that peat and sphagnum moss are visible and you get a taster on your doorstep of what it would look like in the further reaches of the Great White North.

To access the bog, there is a conveniently placed boardwalk and several boards of information so that you can learn about the plants and the process of how the peatland was created while you explore nature.

It was obviously nothing like a sea.

We were there in the mid morning and so the blueness of the bog had dissipated hours before to be replaced by the blueness of a winter sky. However, the vestiges of the mistiness were still visible and wisps of moisture were rising from the bog around us, lending the atmosphere a mysterious feel as the landscape tried to remain hidden but was persuaded by the warmth of the sun to reveal itself.

La Mer Bleue

Many other people had decided to walk, probably working off some of that holiday excess like us. What is good about the boardwalk is that it is one-way so you can proceed without concerning yourself with possible avoidance tactics when faced with approaching hikers.

In pre-Covid days, this would not have been a concern. You would quite happily have allowed the person heading towards you on a narrow slippery boardwalk to pass you by and just kept politely to your side. Now, trying to keep a 2 metre distance from someone determinedly coming towards you on a boardwalk less than 2 metres wide adds an extra element of challenge which may include precariously balancing yourself on the edge to maintain that distance.

Not being a circus performer, what I generally find myself doing is breathing deeply before they get to me and positioning myself bodily in a way that angles me away from them and their breath stream without appearing too rude. It’s a complex situation.

I suppose if all else fails, leaping off the boardwalk is an option. Or maybe wearing a mask? Knowing how steamed up my glasses get at the supermarket, I think it may be better to be mask-less on a walk on uneven, previously unexplored terrain otherwise who knows where I may end up? With limited vision, icy boardwalks and unsteady gait, it could be a recipe for disaster. Besides, the whole idea of being outdoors is to get fresh air in an unlimited way and not to have it filtered through a mask.

The walk was grand. The freshness of the winter chill on your cheeks was just enough to remind you of the season and not enough to freeze your smile and the brightness of the day with the blue sky splitting the clouds made you glad to be outdoors. It was a lovely setting, the bog nestling between trees on either side. Dried reeds, golden in the sun, laid like a carpet into the distance and the patches of snow-covered ice from which the reeds sprouted added a splash of contrasting white, pleasing on the eye.

We stopped on the boardwalk to look at the reed beds and listen to the squawk of a blue jay and see if we could locate it and noticed the tracks on the ice. We speculated as to what they were, suggestions as diverse as rabbit, skunk and the rather inspired frog being bandied about.

We read some of the information about the bog and its importance as a natural habitat on regularly placed boards. We learned that it had been there for 7,700 years and is scientifically important.

Whilst it looked a little washed out in its winter foliage, there was colour in the heath, rich brown and russet, a carpet of warmth which the boardwalk sliced through with its frosted white wood.

It was really quite lovely, especially when the path reached ahead and contrasted with the plants and there was something about the light at times that softened the brightness, adding a muted haziness.

Ultimately, what we got from La Mer Bleue was a delightful winter walk, an informative learning experience about the environs of the city in which we had chosen to live and an insight into the natural history of this great northern country, all in the space of a 40 minute stroll. We made a vow to return to it in the summer as I think that it would undoubtably be a place transformed and ripe for rediscovery in a different season.

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