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Brian James of Symphony Nova Scotia recounts his annual summer trek to Parry Sound on his motorcycle, and some of his adventures along the way.
Every August, I load up a two-wheeled teutonic riding machine with camping gear, a white jacket and an oboe, and set out on a 4000 kilometre adventure. My destination? The Festival of the Sound at the Charles W. Stockey Centre in Parry Sound.
“What’s an oboe” you ask? The oboe is an orchestral woodwind instrument that looks a lot like a clarinet – but sounds way better. I play the quackiest of all instruments for a couple weeks in one of North America’s premier summer music festivals. It’s here, in Parry Sound, that I trade the rugged Northern Atlantic for the somewhat more refined Georgian Bay. The Festival of the Sound is where the world’s great musicians come to perform the greatest music ever composed for enthusiastic audiences of all kinds – and I sneak in and crash the party on two wheels.
Have Oboe, Will Moto
Why take such a long trip on a bike? Why not fly or drive? If I have the option to travel by bike, I take it. I gladly contend with and even embrace the elements when traveling by motorcycle. I enjoy smelling a rain storm before I see it – smelling the woods, the barbecues and the road kill as I roll along. I feel the climate change as I ride, and I become part of a road’s surrounding area, as opposed to simply using it to get from point A to B. When I stop for a bite to eat or to fill up the tank, I stumble into intimate conversations with locals and other travelers. These are things I simply “don’t have time for” when I’m in a car or on a plane.
The trip from Halifax to Parry Sound first takes me through New England, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. Once I cross the Canadian border again into Ontario, I hightail it for one of my favorite places to ride and play – Algonquin Park. (As I approach the Canadian Shield and I keep one eye peeled for moose.) In Algonquin, I’ll stay at one of the many excellent campgrounds, I’ll spend a morning hiking (working out 1500 kilometres of saddle butt on one of the trails), and then jump in a sparkling blue lake to refresh.
Any back road in the park will have me buzzing around twists and turns on the bike and taking in the countryside. This is unspoiled landscape – lacking in ambient city light. If you’re living in a city somewhere south, the night sky up here is worth the drive alone. Next along the route I encounter the picturesque town of Huntsville, and from there I make my way along curvy and wooded back roads to Parry Sound.
Beautiful Parry Sound on Georgian Bay
This beautiful spot on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, where the land meets the water, is what is so special about Parry Sound. Besides the music I’ve come to perform and the friends I’ve come to visit, it’s the bay itself that draws me here year after year.
The coastline trail beside the Stockey Centre, with its iconic ‘Tom Thomson trees’ and the stunning view of purple, orange and red sunsets on the bay, inspires me on my daily run. I’ve met a black bear on this coastline trail as well as trombonists – the latter much more dangerous. The Stockey Centre is located adjacent to the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame – another popular spot in town. Parry Sound has has great spots to eat and a killer coffee shop, The Mad Hatter. Artisan shops and galleries keep me busy when I’m not in a rehearsal or concert, or out on my bike riding the bay roads.
The music in Parry Sound is also incredibly special. The Festival of the Sound, a world-class event with world-class musicians, runs this year from July 18th to August 13th. You’ll hear exceptional music, from the Baroque era to modern Jazz, in one of North America’s finest concert halls over a great three-week period.
So jump on your bike, take your time, and head north to this incredible spot in Explorers’ Edge – for the scenery and for the music. (And don’t forget to watch for low brass players.)
Guest Blogger: Brian James
Brian James is a member of Symphony Nova Scotia who started performing at the Festival of the Sound in 2002 with The Festival Winds – a Harmoniemusik ensemble. This group (one of many at the festival) consists of pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and french horns and a solo string bass. They perform a wide range of classical music, specializing in Mozart.
Night sky in Algonquin Park photo by Malcolm Park.