North Bay

Although considered to be in northern Ontario, if you look at it North Bay really isn’t that far north.

“Just north enough to be perfect” according to its slogan, North Bay is the second city of Ontario’s near north (after Sudbury.)

Considering what southern Ontario considers to be ‘north’, maybe “just north enough to be perfect” should be Barrie’s slogan? Kidding…!North Bay, Ontario, Highway 11

Explored by Samuel de Champlain, North Bay wasn’t founded until 1891.  Primarily a railway town, North Bay once harboured massive ambitions of being Canada’s Panama – there were plans for a canal stretching from the Ottawa River through the town to Lake Nipissing, which would have essentially been a massive shortcut for boats en route from Thunder Bay.  This never materialized.  North Bay did however play an important role during the silver rushes in Cobalt as it was the hub of both the CPR and the ONTC line up to northeastern Ontario. Today, North Bay is largely a university, military, and (most importantly) a transportation town.

Highway 11 ontario north bay highway11.ca

Highway 11 heading out of North Bay (Credit: P199 from Wiki Commons)

I’ve driven through North Bay five times, and stopped in a couple of other times for visits of a few hours.  It has all the amenities a trveller could need – from motels to real hotels, from diners to chain restaurants, from no name doughnut stops to Tim Horton’s.

North Bay is essentially the last place to get a full range of big city shops, services, and franchises before Timmins, or if you plan to stay solely on Highway 11, the last place before Thunder Bay.. I was once told by a facetious friend that North Bay is Cree for “a place on the lake where the gas is cheaper.”  While that’s obviously a joke, the general point about gas prices is true – sometimes as much as 15 cents cheaper than its more northern counterparts.

Lake Nipplesing, North Bay, highway 11

Lake Nippissing under clouds.

North Bay is home to a really nice restored theatre – the Capitol Centre – that hosts plays and concerts. (I got dragged to an Anne of Green Gables play while we were there…and I can’t believe I’m admitting this but it was actually kind of good.  The island, the island, we’re from Prince Edward Island…we’re island, we’re island throughandthrough…)  Although the theatre doesn’t immediately catch the eye (it’s on Main St, or Oak St, I can’t remember) the inside is really quite nice. There truly isn’t a bad seat in the house.

North Bay was home to Mike Harris, a two-term Ontario Premier during the late 1990s in Ontario whose name pretty much became a curse-word if you were a public school student at the time.  He’s famous for the coining the phrase “common sense revolution.” Oh, and the Dionne Quintuplets were born in nearby Corbeil Callander.  Their exploitation brought a fair amount of money to North Bay during the depression.  Kids in the Hall comedian Scott Thompson was born in North Bay (I think he grew up in Scarborough though), as is weatherperson Susan Hay and a pretty not so great band called High Holy Days.

Plan in North Bay, highway 11, Ontario

North Bay’s “some big weird thing” is a bit more refined than some other northern Ontario towns

North Bay is also famous for being the hometown of Roy Thomson, the founder of the Thomson media empire and the namesake of Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, one of Canada’s premiere music venues. Roy Thomson started out selling radios door-to-door in North Bay. This interest in radio led to him taking over the local radio station, taking over or establishing more radio stations, then expeanding into newspapers – eventually making him one of Canada’s most successful businessmen.

North Bay cruise tour highway 11

I once chuckled at an acquaintance who recounted their engagement story, which occurred under a Tuscan sunset.  I shouldn’t have laughed – I almost proposed on a boat tour of Lake Nipissing

Tourist activities include the Commanda boat tours on Lake Nipissing, and the beach, walkways, and mini train ride at the city’s waterfront.  There are plays (Nipissing Stage Company) and festivals (The Heritage Festival every August Civic holiday.)  The Dream Catcher Express used to run a day-trip train to Temagami to view the leaves in the fall – but that’s been cancelled since the government shut down the ONTC. There is also the original Dionne House, where to Dionne quints were born (the house pictured second from top on the left), which has been moved into town and turned into a little museum. The museum is open from Spring to late October, and entrance is about 3$ each, and is worth a visit if you’re in town.

Dionne House Museum, Ontario, Highway 11

I never cease to amaze myself with how crap my photos can get. This is the Dionne Quints Museum house.

What else can I say about North Bay?  You know, this site is kinda focused on the more northern towns, like Timmins, so I guess I’m not always putting as much content up about places like Barrie or North Bay, etc. I guess since North Bay is a bit bigger than the average town on this site, there is less I have to tell you. North Bay is pretty nice, it seems like a good place to live and a great place to grow up – but this site is a bit more about the smaller, more remote towns to its north. (I got flack from a poster on the Huntsville page for this site’s north-centric focus, I’m waiting for same flack to be posted on behalf of North Bay too…)

Fun in North Bay, Highway 11

For a while I had no photos of North Bay, and this was the first that came up in google

Tilden Lake / Cooks Mills

I first heard of Tilden Lake when my local Rotary Club donated a firetruck to the community.  About six hours north of my hometown, the community is about 40 kilometres north of North Bay in Temagami cottage country.Tilden Lake, highway 11 ontario

Tilden Lake is a community of about 400, which swells in the summer as the cottage population increases.  It offers cottage, camping, boating, and outfitting opportunities.  There is a beautiful cottage for sale near Tilden Lake that comes up every time I do a google search for the community.  It is gorgeous.

Tilden Lake has an old MNR fire tower that is no longer maintained, so don’t climb it.

HIghway11.ca Tilden Lake north of North Bay, Ontario on highway 11

(Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons)

Cooks Mills is just south of Tilden Lake – the first dot on my map on Highway 11 after North Bay.

After wondering for about 45 minutes when we were going to hit Cooks Mills, and wondering just how long this drive really was, we came upon Tilden Lake.

Marten River

Marten River is a hamlet of about 100 people 45 kilometres south of Temagami.  On the south end of Lake Temagami, the town is largely dependent on forestry and tourism, and is home to a number of lodges and outfitters.

Marten Falls, big fish, Highway 11 Ontario

Highway 11′s largest fish? That’s what Marten Falls claims

Marten River Provincial Park has camping, hiking, and a replica 19th century logging camp.  Every July there is the annual Logging Days Festival.  It is also home to the obligatory “some big weird thing” that each town in northern Ontario seems to have – in this case, it is what they claim is Highway 11’s biggest fish, though Nipigon might have something to say about that.  (Sorry, Larder Lake, you’re disqualified.  You’re not on Highway 11 at all.)

There is a gas station in town, Marten River Outfitters, and a few little places to eat, including the Rock Pine Motel and Restaurant.

There are three lakes near Marten River – Marten Lake, Ingall Lake, and Jumping Caribou Lake.  The lake is stocked with fish and there is also hiking at the local crown game preserve.

Temagami

ONTC line near Temagami, Highway 11 Ontario

Nothing captures the loneliness of northern Ontario than the railway heading off into nowhere

Sure, after Huntsville the towns become sporadic, a bit less refined, and really small – but those areas are still within relatively short driving distance to either Barrie and/or North Bay.

But it is after North Bay where Ontario changes.

Towns of 10 000 become cities.

Villages of 2000 become towns.

Hamlets that wouldn’t warrant a sign in southern Ontario make it into maps, travel guides and guidebooks about the north.

Temagami is the perfect example.  Not only do you not realize just how far away it is from North Bay (more than an hour), but it’s also really small.  The dots-on-the-map before Temagami aren’t really true towns at all, they’re much closer to being dots-on-the-map. And when you get into Latchford, you realize that it is much the same as Temagami.

If you don’t have some decent cassettes for the car by now, you’re in trouble from here on in.  You’ll start seeing more transport trucks than cars. Of the few cars on the road, they’ll practically all be domestic, and will likely have an ATV in tow. The distances are only going to get larger and the roads will only get lonelier.

Temagami from Highway 11

Temagami from Highway 11

OK, so a bit about Temagami

Temagami is a town of about 1000 an hour-plus from North Bay.  The town was first settled in 1850 when the Hudson Bay Company set up a trading post on Lake Temagami.  The ONTC railways came through in 1904 as silver was found in Cobalt to the north, and Temagami became a town of trappers, traders, and prospectors.
Temagami, Ontario Highway 11From Highway 11, Temagami is a land of contrasts.  Some spots can be boring as heck.  Rocks and trees, rocks and trees.  Others, however, can be surprisingly beautiful. On a recent trip to the area we didn’t take many photos of Temagami, mainly because the scenery was so majestic, it was nearly impossible to discern what was photo-worthy and what wasn’t, without taking photos practically every ten minutes. We actually experienced scenic fatigue, and by the end of our trip we were turning our noses up at lakes, forest scenes, and vistas we would have stopped for has we been in southern Ontario. And we didn’t even go into the interior, or explore Lake Temagami, which is reportedly more scenic than the area directly off Highway 11.Lake near Temagami, OntarioOne of the many reasons for Temagami’s beauty is that it is one of the last parts of accessible Ontario with old growth forest, and was the subject of intense protests against logging in the 1980s.  Temagami is Ojibway for ‘deep water by the shore.’  It is also where Englishman Archie Belaney found fame as Grey Owl, an Aboriginal devoted to environmentalism.

Today Temagami is largely dependent on forestry and tourism. There are two provincial parks nearby, Finlayson and Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater.  Temagami is a starting point for a number of all season activities, including boating, dogsledding, canoeing, cross country skiing, swimming, fishing, camping, houseboating, hunting, and guided tours.  There are also a nature interpretive centre, some craft shops, and an art gallery.

Temagami Train Station, Highway 11

Train station in Temagami

Temagami has a few tourist amenities.  There’s a gas station, the aformentioned grocery store, two outfitters (one of which was closed and for sale during our trip), two outdoors stores, two restaurants (one Chinese, and the Busy Bee) and a couple of shops.  There are numerous camps, lodges, and other places to stay, including Inn The Woods Motel and Bed and Breakfast, Leisure Island Houseboats, Linda’s Wigwams, Smoothwater Resort, and Temagami On-Ice Bungalows. There is a bit of a residential area on either side of Highway 11, and another a bit further north in what is called “Temagami North.”

Being on “Temagami Time”

You hear a lot about Temagami in the news and from friends who have cottages and cabins.  Yet I was surprised just how tiny the town is considering the tourism business up here.  There is a lot to do in Temagami if you like the outdoors.  But if you like the indoors, or just aren’t that woodsy, well, don’t expect much of a town or any indoor or evening attractions, because the town itself is miniscule, and what is available keeps weird hours – what I call “Temagami Time.”Panorama from hiking trails of HIghway 11, Temagami, Ontario

The Co-op grocery store isn’t open on Wednesdays. Many offices or stores are only open half-days. The scenic rail route from North Bay, called the Dream Catcher Express, runs a meagre six days a year. One of the town’s two restaurants closes at 6 PM on some days. The Temagami tourism welcome centre, the Caribou Mountain fire tower info centre and shop, and the train station interpretive centre and gift-shop all close after the first weekend in October.

Most surprisingly for Northern Ontario, the LCBO closes at 5 PM (go to Latchford for an agency store that stays open ’til 8 or 9.) If you’re visiting Temagami after September, you better have electricity in your cabin or be prepared to go to sleep early, because nothing will be open and it’ll be dark – during our recent trip we experienced pitch black night during the second week of October at the late hour of 7.25 PM. So if you’re heading to Temagami, especially in the fall, be prepared to live according to Temagami Time. While I’m half joking, this is actually something to think about – I only became acclimatized to being on a late fall ‘vacation’ in Temagami – going to bed early, timing trips to stores and eating supper early – by the time my mini vacation was over!

Temagami, Ontario, Highway 11

Nestled in the woods like a fairy tale is Temagami’s town site

Hiking

Temagai beavers ruin boardwalk, Highway 11

Sabotage! Wilderness 1 Hikers 0

The area used to be littered with forest fire towers that were up to 1000 metres high – one of which has been maintained as an attraction that you can climb.  My partner and I attempted a climb on a windy, wet day in October. We’re not embarassed to admit we didn’t make it all the way up. She was a bit iffy to begin with, but considering we were the only ones there, the cold, biting winds, some slippery stairs, and the requisite creaking of the structure with each gust, we abandoned our climb 3/4 of the way through. It didn’t help that it was cloudy and that the lookouts built around the tower gave us the nice views we wanted without needing to climb. (No shame in excuses for me!)  I don’t think the tower is as tall as it seems, but considering it’s on the highest point in the area, it seemed very, very tall. The tower is one kilometre from Highway 11, east on O’Connor Drive up Caribou Mountain, but isn’t really visible from the highway, unless you’re looking for it.

Climb Temagami's restored fire tower, Highway 11

I’ll admit it. I bailed when the tower sighed under my weight and shifted with the wind

I enjoy hiking and Temagami has a lot of opportunities to get into the forest. The one problem is that many of the hiking trails are accessible only by boat. For example, there is a renowned stand of old growth pine on Bear Island, but that’s only accessible by an hour’s canoe, or by water taxi from the marina at the end of the Lake Temagami Access Road, 25 kilometres drive south and west of the town. Others are further in the bush, such as Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park, which are accessible only if you’re willing to paddle and portage, or willing to pay for a float plane flight. Even the White Bear Trails that are right in town require a canoe trip (or a significant hike of three hours) to reach the best old growth forests.

Temagami cottage, Highway 11

Raised cottage in the bush

The trails that you can reach by car tend to be at the end of long, winding, unpaved logging roads that are no longer maintained, such as those at Grand Campment Bay, 40 kilometres east of town, anything off of the two Roosevelt Roads, or at Lake Anima Nipissing, just south-west of Latchford. Many are poorly marked, and do not directly indicate their skill level. We hiked one trail that turned out to not be the paths were throught we were on, another we considered following turned out to be an ATV route, and a third we never found at all despite following directions to a T. A fourth was a great hike, but was a bit beyond our capability. (Well, maybe not beyond our actual capability, but beyond our willingness.)

Anyway, I just want to say that hiking in Temagami isn’t as easy as driving up and looking for a trail sign. It’s not onerous, but it takes some planning – you have to do a bit of homework.

Temagai, aerial view, Highway 11

Obviously not my photo

Temagami, Ontario, Highway 11

October storm whips the waters near Temagami

Temagami Highway 11

Rocks and trees, rocks and trees

Temagami, Highway 11

The limitless possibilities of the open road beckon in “real” northern Ontario

Highland Trail

Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail, near Latchford, OntarioThe Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail is not a town, but a network of backwoods trails leading from Ottawa up through to Haileybury.

The trail, maintained by the Nastagwan Trails non-profit passes through Latchford, specifically through the Cliff Lake Reserve southeast of Latchford, accessible by Roosevelt Road.

Friday Lake, on the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail

Friday Lake, on the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail

The hiking we did on the trail was great – but difficult. The trail is marked, but not always cleared, which made for a challenging, but rewarding hike along lakes, through maple forest, and over rock outcroppings blanketed by lichens.

If you’re planning to hike through Cliff Lake on the Ottawa-Temiskaming Trail, come prepared with extra layers (it can be cold, especially in the fall), lots of water, a walking stick (if possible), really good hiking shoes that are waterproof, a map (which you can buy at the North Cobalt Flea Market), and lots and lots of water.

Ottawa Temiskaming Highland Trail, Highway 11

Forest floor close-up

Ottawa Temiskaming  Highland Trail, Highway 11

Not sure what this is, but it was neat

Ottawa Temiskaming Highland Trail, Highway 11

Fall colours on an early October hike

Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail, Highway 11

Lots of lichen (lichens?) on the trail

 Ottawa-Temiskamind Highland Trail, Highway 11

Abandoned Cliff Lake hunting and/or sugar shack

Cliff Lake, Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail, Highway 11

Stream into Cliff Lake

Latchford

With the town motto of “The Best Little Town By a Dam Site”, Latchford signals the end of Temagami and the beginning of Temiskaming. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more photos.)

Like Smooth Rock Falls, another tourist guide I saw advises that Latchford is “the perfect stopover place for food, fuel, and tourist information” however I couldn’t really attest on my first visit – I was in a rush, Latchford was small, and you can’t stop everywhere each time you take a roadtrip. I’ve since visited and can confirm that, while tiny, Latchford is clean, quiet, and has some nice river access and good hiking nearby.

Aubrey Cosens Bridge, Latchford Ontario, Highway 11

Like a mini Skyway Bridge made of big mechano

Latchford was founded in 1902 as a logging town on the Montréal River.  Steamboats used Latchford as a home base to pick up passengers on their way up the Montreal River to Elk Lake. Today the river is crossed by the newly restored Sergeant Aubrey Cosens Bridge. (And this is the second thing named after this guy – there’s also a heritage plaque near Iroquois Falls.) The bridge buckled in the winter of 2003 after it rusted to an unsafe state.  It was closed for months, cutting off all of northeastern Ontario from he Highway 11 artery it so relied upon. Trucks were forced to detour east through Témiscamingue, Québec, up and over Lake Temiskaming and into the Tri-Towns, or west through Sudbury, Gogama, and through Timmins – until a temporary bridge was built. Thankfully, it has now been fixed.

More interestingly, Latchford used to be the home of a big casino during the Cobalt mining boom.  Many miners and prospectors would come to Latchford to party and increase their fortunes, and of course to visit the dancers and prostitutes that called the casino home.  I think the town has quieted down sufficiently since then.

Latchford, Shortest Covered Bridge in the World, Highway 11

Latchford’s “some small weird thing” – The World’s Shortest Covered Bridge!

In Latchford there are tours along the Montréal River.  There is a little town museum (called the Latchford House of Memories) which opens in the spring and closes the second week of October. Latchford is also home to the Ontario Logging Hall of Fame, which has an old blacksmith shop, an icehouse, some old logging equipment, and a restored turn-of-the-century sawmill.  I’m surprised some environmentalists haven’t defaced the logging museum. Latchford is also known for having the world’s shortest covered bridge.  Every August they have their annual canoe and kayak races on the river. If you’re into hunting, the area around Latchford is good for bear, and is located in two prime moose areas. The whole of Highway 11 from North Bay to beyond Latchford is postered with “watch out for moose” signs everywhere.

Latchford is pretty small, but it has a decent spate of amenities. The town has its own tourist info centre (located in the municipal office) however it was closed in October when I was there last. There are many lodges, campsites, and RV sites nearby for accommodation, as well as a diner, a Chip Stand (LA Fries – it is for sale), a variety store, and a gas station in town. Latchford is home to an LCBO agency outlet which stays open until 8 or 9 PM. Wilks Restaurant (also called the Café Log Cabin Café) is housed in a trailer just north of the tourist information centre, and serves homemade food at reasonable prices. Wilks Restaurant has been highly recommended to me by people who live in the area.

Highway 11 Ontario backcountry near Latchford

An ode to Fergus. My trusty, gas-sipping steed is now longer

I’ve stayed at Bay Lee Mac Camp, which is within Latchford’s southern limits, about halfway between Latchford and Temagami. While rustic (no electricity – all lights, the stove and fridge ran on propane) the cottage was clean, quiet, and serene – I don’t think I’ve ever been in a quieter place in my life. Located right on Rib Lake, Bay Lee Mac has water access for swimming, boating, and canoeing, provide organized hikes and hunts, and is located close to the Ottawa-Temiskaming Highland Trail.

Additional outdoors activities include the fishing derby in July – check it out here if you’re interested – and WJB Greenwood Provincial Park.

Cobalt

Cobalt, OntarioIn my travels along Highway 11 I’ve noticed that some towns are:

And then there are some that are just plain cool.

Enter Cobalt.

Cobalt is just really neat.  Part of it is the history.  Part of it is the town’s independent streak.  But mostly, it’s just so old and, well, old, that it’s really interesting.

From “Yikes” to “Cool”

My first impression of Cobalt was “oh god.”  And not in a good way.  But boy was I wrong. Cobalt is the kind of town that would have five taverns but no grocery store. And that’s what makes it so interesting.Abandoned storefront in Cobalt, a reminder of its heydey

Cobalt headframe, hgihway 11 Ontario

Preserved mine headframe in Cobalt – really cool

It was when I stopped to take a break from driving that I really saw my surroundings.  I realized that what looked old and run down was simply historic.  That was looked grotty and old really had a tonne of character. That instead of tearing down older buildings and erecting cheap, shoddy new ones in their place, Cobalt had preserved its history. A history they were proud of. This place wasn’t run down, it was preserved.  Cobalt was named Ontario’s most historic town for a reason.

Sure, there aren’t a tonne of stores or boutiques.  But at least there aren’t a tonne of places selling crap either.  There is no grocery store left in town (it closed in 1992 when the store owner cleared out the remaining products and held dance parties in the store to commemorate its closing), but what else is there is because it needs to be there – like museums, mine shafts, and bars.  More than a few of them.

Cobalt Train Station, Highway 11

Cobalt ONTC station

Highway 11 Book Shop, now closed. Cobalt, OntarioThe Highway Book Shop was a classic tourist destination that never feels like a tourist destination.  It was a family-run used bookshop on Highway 11 just outside of Cobalt and it is not only worth a visit, it is worth some time.  Maps, books, magazines, teaching materials, kid’s lit, old books, new books, big books, rare books – you wouldn’t have believed all the crap they have in there.  I think I spent an hour on two separate occasions perusing the cramped store. It might smell like your grandmother’s basement, but it’s really neat, and no visit to Temiskaming is complete without a stop, in my opinion. Sadly, the icon has closed.  Ready to retire for years, the owners couldn’t find anyone to take the store on and had to shut one of Highway 11′s best attractions down.

Cobalt Classic Theatre is the only remaining theatre from Cobalt’s heyday in 1920s.  While other towns were using economic development funds to build golf courses, Cobalt restored the old Classic Theatre in 1993 and now hosts students, playwrights, and actors from across Ontario. The theatre is restored to what it looked like in the 1920s and is a focal point for the community.

Cobalt, mining equipment, Highway 11

Antique mining equipment on display at the lakefront.  Other towns would have just thrown this stuff out.  Cobalt, refreshingly, doesn’t run from its roots.

Mine headframe now a bar, Cobalt, Ontario

This headframe is now the world’s only bar in a mine headframe! That’s revitalization, northern Ontario style.

The Cobalt Mining Museum has the world’s largest display of silver and offers the only underground mine tour that I’ve seen outside of Timmins.  The Bunker Military Museum has a good collection of memorabilia, the Great Canadian Mine show displays mining technology, and there is also a firefighter museum in town.

Cobalt also has two separate self-guided walks.  The Cobalt Walking Tour brings you through town past historic buildings and historical places, while the Heritage Silver Trail is a self guided tour of many of the abandoned mine headframes in the area.

There’s more.  There is Fred’s Northern Picnic, an annual music festival that the local Member of Parliament usually plays at (he’s a musician by trade) and where you get three days of music and free camping for like $60.  The Silver Street Cafe has good food and decent prices, and they also cater local events with real food (forget hamburgers and hot dogs, think steak on a bun and pulled pork with onions.)  The Silverland Inn and Motel is a restored hotel from Cobalt’s mining heyday and also serves food.  There is a stained glass shop, a gem shop, and Iddy Biddy Petting Farm.  Cobalt also has more murals than Nipigon.

Fred's Northern Picnic, featuring MP Charlie Angus, Cobalt, ON

Not sure if they’re still running Fred’s Northern Picnic, but that’s where I saw Serena Ryder before she was big, and the local MP get up and do a set too

History of Cobalt Mural, Cobalt Highway 11Hockey, Streetcars, and Casa Loma

I read in the James Bay tourist brochure that there is a legend that Cobalt blacksmith Fred Larose threw his hammer at a fox, uncovering a rich vein of silver in the process.  Further silver and mineral deposits were found in 1903, triggering a mining rush like no other in northern Ontario.  The significance of the Cobalt finds supposedly led to riots over mining stocks in New York City.  Others say that Cobalt built Bay Street (Toronto’s Wall Street.)  A testament to the town’s wealth, the Cobalt Silver Kings played the 1909 season in the NHA, the NHL’s precursor. Another first in Cobalt include the Temiskaming Streetcar Line, which was installed between Cobalt and Haileybury, and was the first streetcar system north of Toronto.

Mining ruins, Cobalt, Highway 11 Ontario

Mining ruins east of town

Cobalt Lake, Ontario

Cobalt Lake, once drained, then filled, now restored

In addition, the mines of Cobalt built Casa Loma, the famous “castle” built upon Spadina Heights in Toronto. Sir Henry Mill Pellatt was a wealthy Canadian mine owner (some say Canada’s richest man at the time.) It was his mining operations in Cobalt that allowed him to gather the immense wealth to build Casa Loma. Construction began in 1911 and took more than three years, 3.5$ million, and more than 300 full-time workers. With 98 rooms, it was the largest residence in Canada at the time. Pellat eventually lost his residence, as the Depression and the decline of mining in Cobalt led to his financial ruin. Casa Loma was essentially built with the revenues Sir Henry Mill Pellatt gained by draining Cobalt Lake for silver mining.

The Cobalt rush eventually produced more than $260 million worth of silver, countless myths and stories about how and where silver was found, who struck it rich, and who lost their pants in speculation. The Cobalt silver rush resulted in a whole little Cobalt culture developing – embodied by the Cobalt Song (click here to download the sheet music.) Cobalt led to the founding towns like North Cobalt (a bedroom town for miners) and Haileybury (a bedroom town for wealthy mine owners.) The mining boom in Cobalt also paved the way for exploration further north, which led to massive gold finds in Timmins and Kirkland Lake, both of which far exceeded the value of the mines of Cobalt in the long-run.

Cobalt, Ontario, downtown, highway11.ca Ontario Highway 11

I could move this photo of downtown Cobalt closer to the text that talks about downtown Cobalt but in wordpress moving photos around is a pain in the rear. (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Although Cobalt survived the usual northern Ontario disasters, including a typhoid outbreak in 1909, and Great Fire of 1922, it couldn’t survive the decline of mining.  Well, it survived, but it’s much smaller today and mining no longer exists.  There is some exploration for diamonds, but I don’t think they’ve been found.  I’ve heard that many of the old mines still have minerals in them, but that it’s just not economical to mine such old shafts for minerals at today’s prices. But, in the end, the history of Cobalt is one of a town that conbtinually gets kicked, but then manages to find its way back up.

Cobalt is considered the third part of the Tri Towns along with New Liskeard and Haileybury.  But for some reason it didn’t amalgamate into Temiskaming Shores in the late 1990s when the province forced municipalities to squish together.  Maybe it’s too far away.  Maybe old hostilities with North Cobalt scuppered a move.  Maybe the town is too independent.  Maybe there is still an old hockey rivalry between Cobalt and Haileybury from the one season both towns had a team in the NHA.  I’m sure someone in the town of 1200 put up a fight.  I don’t know.

I haven’t spent as much time as I would like in Cobalt, and, I must admit, haven’t visited any of the touristy things here other than the Highway Book Shop.  But I’m sure I’ll be back again.

Old mining carts, Cobalt, Ontario

My grandfather worked in coal mines in Europe for a time.  Seeing these things, all I could think of was my disbelief that people actually went underground with these things…that’s ballsy

The Cobalt Song Mural, Cobalt, Highway 11 Ontario

North Cobalt

I didn’t notice the difference between Cobalt and North Cobalt while driving through the area the first time, but my recent trip to the Temiskaming region confirmed that it is indeed separate and distinct, even if only by a few minutes’ drive.north cobalt flea marketNorth Cobalt is a former mining camp established right between the towns of Cobalt and Haileybury during the silver rush in the early 1900s.  It was a stop along the Nippissing Electric Railway that ran from Dymond to Cobalt.  Along with Haileybury, North Cobalt was destroyed by the fires of 1922.

The North Cobalt Flea Market isn’t a true flea market in the usual sense of the word – it’s more like a liquidation place like the Bargain Shop or a going-out-of-business BiWay that sells everything it can get its hands on.  On my first trip, however, they had a whole whole wall full of St-Hubert sauces and mixes. Now, it’s only a rackfull. I’ve bought some each time I’ve driven through town.  I love St-Hubert.

St-Hubert Sauce Heaven at the North Cobalt Flea Market on Highway 11

Heaven. Salty, savoury, salty heaven. I HEART ST-HUB

While North Cobalt is a bit newer-looking and better kept than its predecessor, there doesn’t seem to be much to do.  There is Gramma’s Chipper, a summer-time chip stand, and a couple of gas stations that seem to have lower prices than any in the Tri-Towns.  There’s an old cemetery behind the local

Devil's Rock, North Cobalt, Highway 11

Devil’s Rock – a pawn in the tug of war between North Cobalt and Haileybury

Catholic Church.  I read in the Toronto Star once that there is an egg grading station in North Cobalt.  I also found the Maiden Bay Camp, which is on a rural road in North Cobalt.  It seems there are some abandoned towns nearby as well.  You could also venture off the main road to visit some “ghost towns“, although in northern Ontario a “ghost town” is usually just a razed or abandoned settlement – nothing like the fully-intact, faux-fronted, tumbleweed-infested ghost towns of western legend.

North Cobalt does, however, have Devil’s Rock, which provides hiking and a nice view of Lake Temiskaming.  Haileybury tries to claim it, but I have the good word of a Tri-Towns resident that the devil lives in north Cobalt.

North Cobalt became part of Haileybury in 1971 and has been part of the town ever since.  I don’t know if a separatist movement exists but considering its northern Ontario, there probably does.

North Cobalt, part of Temiskaming Shores, ONtario. (Credit: Wiki Commons User P199)

North Cobalt, part of Temiskaming Shores, Ontario. (Credit: Wiki Commons User P199)

Haileybury

Which northern Ontario town had its own street cars, was home to the guy who wrote the Hardy Boys, had the most millionaires in Canada, was the first home of the team that would become the Montréal Canadiens, and then promptly had its prosperity wiped out by a massive fire?

Streetcar Norhtern Ontario, Haileybury, Highway 11

Back off St. Clair Avenue West…Haileybury has had streetcars too!

The thing that makes Haileybury really northern is its history.  The rise and fall and apparent rebuilding is really interesting and, in my opinion, totally characteristic of northern Ontario.

Lumber boat in Haileybury, ontario

After Longlac and Opasatika, let me guess this is a lumber boat?

Once known as Humphrey’s Depot, Haileybury was founded in the early 1900s by a former fur trader on the shores of Lake Temiskaming.  He named the town after the school he attended in England.  He tried to attract settlers with the usual propaganda leaflets, but as northern Ontarians know, there’s no better way to get the country settled than a gold rush.  And that’s what it took to get Haileybury off the ground.

Haileybury, downtown, Highway 11 Ontario Lake

Haileybury road leading into Lake Temiskaming. (Credit; User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Despite being named after a place in England where wealthy parents got rid of their kids, Haileybury is the start of francophone north-eastern/central Ontario.  (Or it is the end, depending on which way you’re traveling on Highway 11.)  Approximately 80 percent of Haileyburians are French-first, which is interesting given that their neighbours are primarily anglophone, particularly in New Liskeard (70 percent) and Cobalt (almost completely unilingual.)  As you go north after Haileybury, the towns almost alternate – anglo, franco, etc.

The discovery of silver in Cobalt in 1903 started a population explosion in Haileybury, as the town became a bedroom community for prospectors and mine owners.  So successful were some that a street in Haileybury was dubbed Millionaire’s Row for the wealthy people it housed.

Haileybury, Ontario on Highway 11But of course, this all had to come to a tragic end with the fires of 1922, which killed 11, displaced 3500, and razed the town completely alongside New Liskeard, Dymond, and possibly Cobalt. In order to survive, many families had to hide in wells, lakes, and even down mine shafts. Many of those who escaped to the mines died when the fires, passing over the mines, sucked out the shaft’s oxygen, asphyxiating those who sought refuge underground. The town commorates the fire with a sculpture at its waterfront park, pictured below on the left.

Haileybury Today

With 4500 people, Haileybury (pronounced locally as Hailey-berry) is the second largest part of the Tri-Towns and Haileybury is the seat of the Temiskaming Shores municipality, which includes New Liskeard and Dymond.  It is a quiet lakeshore community that is worth a stop if you’re not in a hurry.

Pioneer Monument, Great Fire, Haileybury, Highway 11

Monument to pioneers that survived the Great Fire by hiding in swamps, lakes, and wells

I really like the waterfront.  There is a nice little pavilion with the Pioneer’s Monument (pictured) honouring the fire of 1922.  There is a little beach and a modern marina as well.  The view is nice across the lake to Quebec and in the summer you’ll see a number of boats on the water as Lake Temiskaming is the end of the scenic Ottawa River route, which is popular with boaters.  The waterfront is worth a drive, if not a full stop.

Haileybury on the shores of Lake Temiskaming

Haileybury on the shores of Lake Temiskaming

In terms of tourism, there is a fair amount to do.  The Haileybury Heritage Museum was built to chronicle the history of the town and tell the story of the fire.  The museum features a restored 1920s streetcar, as well as an old firepumper and a preserved tugboat that used to ply the waters of Lake Temiskaming.  You can also visit the “world famous” Haileybury School of Mines.  Haileybury is also home to the Temiskaming Art Gallery.  You can see different types of ores at the Rock Park Walk, while there is camping and golf in town as well.

I don’t remember a lot of places to eat, and I think the only Tri-Town Tim Horton’s are in New Liskeard and Dymond.  Accommodations include the Leisure Inn, Edgewater Motel and Cabins, the Haileybury Beach Motel, and the Les Suites des Presidents Suites, an upscale bed and breakfast.  New Liskeard has more places to stay and eat.  Personally I find that Haileybury, despite being very pretty and having stuff to do, is still something of a bedroom community.  It doesn’t have the same downtown nor the same ‘feel’ that New Liskeard does.  And it’s nothing like Cobalt.  At all.

Downtown Haileybury

Back to History

Haileybury was also home to the team that would become the Montreal Canadiens.  The club played the 1909 NHA season and left for Montreal.  It would become the Canadiens only two years later.  I think that’s pretty neat.

Haileybury’s streetcars were part of the Nipissing Central Railway that connected the Tri Towns, which would definitely make it unique in the north.  Heck I’m sure it ran faster then than Timmins transit does today.  Toronto also donated 87 streetcars after the great fire to help shelter the homeless.  Today there is one restored streetcar left at the Haileybury Heritage Museum.

And, to finish, Haileybury was also home to Les Macfarlane, who wrote many of the Hardy Boys novels under the pen name Franklin Dixon.

Thanks to Johnny O for the info on the Tri Towns.

The Hardy Boys's Sleuth, in Haileybury on Highway 11

I never liked the Hardy Boys. Too All-American. Too serious. Too predictable. Sure, you knew that Encyclopedia Brown was always going to figure it out too but at least he had a sense of humour. But, anyway, this is a replica of the Hardy Boys’s boat, in Haileybury.

New Liskeard

I just have to get my bias out of the way – I love Liskeard.

I was driving up to Kirkland Lake to scope out the town when I decided to stop in New Liskeard.  And was I ever surprised – Haileybury was nice, and New Liskeard is even nicer!

New Liskeard, farms, Highway 11, Ontario

Farms outside of New Liskeard

Some years ago, New Liskeard was the first town in northern Ontario I had ever really stopped in. “This can’t be northern Ontario” I thought, my stereotypes being left shattered.  And boy was I wrong.  It’s too bad my camera was toast or else I would have taken some shots of the downtown on my first trip.  I made a trip up that way a couple of years later, so this page will have a mix of my shots, as well as the random photos from the internet that I had used up until that time.

New Liskeard has a small but quaint downtown that is actually relatively full of stores.  There’s a nice waterfront with a walkway, a beach, and boat launch facilities.  There are restaurants, there is accommodation, there is even a Tim Horton’s, and an independent coffee shop and bookstore with fancy fair trade coffees and books in both English and French (The Chat Noir.)  If you drove through New Liskeard you’d proclaim that small town Ontario is alive and well and living in Temiskaming. Right at the base of the Temiskaming claybelt, New Liskeard may actually live up to the billing on guidebook gave it, as a “northern oasis” and the “heart of the scenic north”.

Downtown New Liskeard, Ontario, Highway 11

Downtown New Liskeard feels like Elmira or Walkerton

Founded in 1903, two years after its northern neighbour Dymond, New Liskeard quickly grew to be a northern hub during the forestry and mining booms in northern Ontario.  But the heart and charm of New Liskeard lies in farming. Thanks to its agricultural base, it has remained a fairly vibrant town despite the ups and downs of industry in northern Ontario. Today New Liskeard is one of the few towns in northern Ontario (and for that matter southern Ontario as well) that has maintained its downtown with both chains and independent stores.  Heck, there are two shoe stores downtown.  I don’t even know where to buy shoes in Timmins and it has ten times the population!  There’s a museum, an art gallery, a Carnegie library, as well as a big waterfront park (with a marina and a mile of beach and boardwalk on Lake Temiskaming) – the downtown is definitely worth a visit. With 5500 people (aprroximately 30 percent francophone), New Liskeard is the largest of the Tri Towns (Cobalt and Haileybury being the other two.)

New Liskeard Carnegie Library

Carnegie library

New Liskeard hosts a number of different events throughout the year.  Winter sees Ontario’s largest snowmobile rally, while the annual Fall Fair showcases local agriculture and is generally regarded as the biggest fall fair in northeastern Ontario, with the best in produce, livestock, and of course midway rides drawing people from as far as Cochrane and Timmins.  Every Canada Day Holiday Summerfest draws people from across Temiskaming.  There is the annual Bikers reunion which draws people from across Ontario to raise money for cancer research.  And, of course, this is all in addition to the usual camping, boating, hiking, golfing, mini putt, etc., etc.

Boardwalk on Lake Temiskaming, New Liskeard

Boardwalk on Lake Temiskaming

Don’t get me wrong, if you go to New Liskeard for a holiday you won’t be inundated with city activities. You won’t be roboting in any clubs or partying the night away at waterfront festivals. But this level of activities and amenities is significant for any northern Ontario town. And when added to just how cute New Liskeard is, makes the town impressive. There is something friendly, something alive, something cute, something quaint. All the best of southern Ontario and northern Ontario together. It has a great vibe.

New Liskeard's annual Bikers Reunion

Port Dover North?

New Liskeard has a fair amount of amenities for travellers, including banks and a caisse.  For evening festivities, the King George has karaoke (Wednesdays) and live music (weekends) and Sam’s Place features country-ish music and karaoke on Wednesday nights.  There are four restaurants in New Liskeard:  Country Kitchen, Rooster’s, and two northern Ontario Chinese food places.  Some chip stands open in the summer too.
Accommodation ranges from the Wheel Inn Motel, to BnBs, and from beach camping to the expensive Waterfront Inn (and everything in between.)  There is a small bunch of motels, fast food, and big box stores in Dymond, a few minutes north where Highway 11 and 11b meet.

I loved New Liskeard and after my first trip I was always kind of sad that I didn’t stop for more than coffee, a stretch, and some midol (the latter being not for me.)  Thankfully, I had a the chance to make a trip up since then, and it’s confirmed my little crush on New Liskeard. It may someday be a goal of mine to move there. Well, then again, it’s a goal of mine to move up north regardless of where. But New Liskeard It’s a quaint and interesting place with a small but vibrant little downtown.Downtown New Liskeard

Thanks to Johnny O for the info on the Tri Towns. If you’d like to see a bit of New Liskeard on film, check out the 2005 National Film Board documentary Harvest Queens, about the New Liskeard Fall Fair’s annual Harvest Queen contest, where local teenage girls compete to be crowned Harvest Queen.