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The Wakefield covered bridge. Photo: Ross Dunn/Apt613 Flickr pool.

613 Geotours: The Erotic Erratic

By Bruce Burwell on June 22, 2020

Things are starting to open up this summer, but are you really ready to take the plunge back into the people pool when the virus is still lurking in there? You’re not travelling anywhere exotic this summer, so where should you be spending your 613 summer staycation? I have some ideas on places that will satisfy your day-tripping needs and (coughs nervously) perhaps you might even learn something about local geography or geology. I’m calling them 613 Geotours, and this one is a personal favourite.

Wakefield is a delightful day trip about a half-hour drive from downtown. Go this summer, of course, but you may want to come back in the fall when the leaves are at their peak. Stroll or bike along the Gatineau River, check out the covered bridge, and stop for an ice cream or a beer at a café along the way.

The Wakefield covered bridge. Photo: Ross Dunn/Apt613 Flickr pool.

And when you’ve done the usual tourist things, I have a special treat for you. To find it, you should hike or drive up from the main drag to MacLaren Cemetery, which overlooks the town. On the way up to the cemetery, you could have a look around the lovely Wakefield Mill Hotel. Once you reach the cemetery, you can park just outside the gate.

When I first came here, I was very surprised to learn that I had heard of a few residents of the cemetery. The best-known is Nobel Peace Prize winner and Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson. You will see directions from the entrance to his modest headstone.

At the back of the cemetery, just at the edge of the woods, looms the reason you came: the erotic erratic—a living-room-sized chunk of rock. Why erotic, you ask? The same reason that the mechanic was satanic and that plastic is fantastic, I suppose: It just sounds good.

The erotic erratic. As you can see, it’s big. Photo: geocaching.com.

Erratics are pieces of rock that have been transported by glaciers from their original location to where they end up. The name “erratic” derives from the Latin verb errare, to move. They can range in size from tiny pebbles to house-sized pieces weighing many tons.

Erratics travel in a few different ways. Some are just carried within the glaciers. Others “raft” on giant chunks of ice in the meltwater of glaciers. Some are carried in icebergs in the oceans and then dropped to the ocean floor. Often, the type of rock that makes up the erratic can be used to identify its source and help demonstrate the advance of the glacier.

Also large in winter. Photo: geocaching.com.

Once you’ve seen this erratic, you’ll notice them in other places. Anytime you’re hiking through the woods and see a huge, out-of-place boulder and wonder “How the heck did that ever get here?” then you are likely looking at a glacial erratic.

Why do I like erratics so much? Well, to me, they make the immense scale of the impact of glaciation on the landscape very easy to imagine. I recall being told in high school geography that ice sheets could be kilometres thick and that they covered most of Canada. We went on a field trip and looked at grooves and scratches in granite and were told that was evidence of glaciation. Seeing a dumpster-sized chunk of the same granite on top of a hill really makes you appreciate the forces that were applied to get it to its final resting spot. Well, final until the next ice age, at least.


Any suggestions for future geological or geographical day trips around the 613? Let us know in the comments. Come on back next week for another 613 Geotour.