The old rusty hinges creak as the giant wooden door is pulled open, revealing a dimly lit stone staircase. Stepping in from the bright and warm sunshine I am immediately enveloped in cool, wet, darkness. You can hear the dripping of water from the tall stone walls that surround me. I am transported back in time to the Ordovician time period, surrounded by limestone that’s been building for 12000 years and fossils of sea creatures that are over 500 million years old. I have officially begun my tour of the historic wonder, the Bonnechere Caves.
Here in Eastern Ontario, we are well known for our natural scenic tourist attractions. To name a few, white water rapids, beautiful fishing lakes, scenic hiking trails and flat-water paddling. Where I’m from, there is a beautiful river that flows through the towns and villages in my community called the Bonnechere River. Growing up, I have spent a lot of time on this river, camping, swimming, fishing and water skiing. This river holds some great campsites and tourist attractions including one that I am incredibly proud to show you. The Bonnechere Caves, owned by Chris Hinsberger is located at 1247 Fourth Chute Road just outside the villages of Douglas and Eganville. This destination is a series of tunnels and caves nestled alongside the Bonnechere riverbed.
The Caves have provided fun and educational tours for families from all over the world for 55 years. The caves are an incredible and historic landmark that had been at the bottom of a tropical sea over 500 million years ago. Stalactites, or rock icicles hang from the ceiling, Fossils of coral and sea creatures, including the ancestors of giant squids, can be seen. Millions of years in the making, the Bonnechere Caves are a thrill for the sightseer.
The first exploration took place in 1955, by the retired World War II ace Tom Woodward. Tom went into the completely black caves with nothing but a flashlight, a camera and a rubber dingy.
Bonnechere Caves is known for it’s many fossils, our area is is the Ordovician capital of Canada! Here you will be shown dozens of specimens from this time period. Many of the
fossils found buried in the walls of the cave are coral and sea creatures that existed in a tropical climate.
As a young kid, and even when I visited this week, walking into the bat section of the caves is always a thrill. This is a section where hundreds of bats hibernate for the winter. The caves are home to 6 out of the 7 species of bats that live here in Ontario. A secret I will share with you that the locals know, is never rub your hands along the cracks and ledges of the wall because there might just be a furry friend waiting to surprise you. And secret number two, the sound of terrified screaming really travels in a tunnel!
Some interesting facts about this destination are that 3 wedding ceremonies have taken place in and around the caves, also artists and photographers from around the world have visited to capture the majestic falls located just outside of the tunnels. The caves are closed in the winter months so that the water levels can be returned to normal to preserve the natural habitat and hundreds of bats hibernate during the freezing cold.
I have always loved visiting the caves. It’s really interesting to travel below the surface of the ground to see what wonders lay beneath. It is a very educational experience for all ages, while still remaining exciting and fun. I always feel like a real explorer or spelunker when I’m traveling through the darkness of the caves. No matter how many times I’ve been through a tour I always learn something new and fascinating.
I come from a very small rural community with a lot of wide open spaces and waters. Here we don’t have mountains, we don’t have ocean beaches and we certainly don’t have skyscrapers and big towers. What makes where I come from different and special are the hidden beauties that lie within. The Bonnechere Caves might be a little off the beaten path, but in my opinion so is everything that is truly great.
Until next time, GO GOLD!
-Kathleen, Miss Teenage Eastern Ontario 2016