Chimo the Polar Bear in Cochrane, ON

Travel blog lesson #31 – always take a second, empty, non-person photo.  Or else you may end up with a blog full of photos of previous girlfriends.

Most towns would make a big deal of the fact that a former hockey player and doughnut baron hailed from their community.

Instead, Cochrane advertises Nanook, Aurora, and Nakita as its three most famous citizens.

Yep, we’re talking about animals.

If you have a fear of polar bears, steer well clear of Cochrane. I’m just teasing – they’re well contained. Cochrane has adopted the polar bear as their town symbol, even though true polar bear habitat is more than 300 kilometres away.  There are even fake igloos in town.

Chimo, the town mascot, is honoured with a big polar bear statue just as you enter town.  There’s also the Polar Bear Conservatory, where Nanook, Aurora, and Nakita spend their time.  There you can watch feedings, see interpretive displays, and “swim with the polar bears.” Ok, so if you’re more than 4 feet tall it is more of a wade than a swim but don’t let my teasing dissuade you – the Polar Bear Conservatory is interesting. Kids love the wading with the polar bears part. There’s also an adjacent ‘old style’ village with gas pumps, farm implements, and a collection of really awesome vintage skidoos.

Polar bear conservancy in Cochrane, Ontario

This was pretty cool, to be honest

Old Tyme Village ski-doo collection, Cochrane, Ontario

Definitely the most northern Ontario museum in northern Ontario

Cochrane is a very pretty little community of 4500 (slightly more anglophone than francophone) on Highway 11.  No matter what language you’re in, Cochrane is pronounced like cock-ran.  This might seem pretty intuitive but once in a gas station with a bunch of tourists from Belgium who kept asking how to get to a place that sounded like Cosh-rahnne and no-one, not the anglos nor the francos knew what the heck they were talking about.  I only figured it out about a year later.  Hopefully it didn’t take them that long.

Old locomotive on display in Cochrane, Ontario

(Credit: Patrick)

It has a growing tourist industry built on the Polar Bear Express, which runs north to Moosonee twice a day in the summer.  Or at least it did, until the government stopped supporting the railway and now no-one knows what’s happening to the ONR.

Fishing and ATV expeditions often start here.  Greenwater Provincial Park is about an hour west of the town, providing fishing, swimming, and hiking around a series of kettle lakes.  Greenwater is pretty, and quiet. Also notable is the Tim Horton arena, home to the Tim Horton museum, that I didn’t have a chance to visit.

One of the coolest things about Cochrane, in my books at least, is Lake Commando. One –  that’s a sweet name.  Lake Commando. Sure, it’s more like a pond, but the words ‘Lake Commando’ just sounds so cool.  That’s awesome.  That’s even cooler than Geraldton’s Hardrock Drive, or Iroquois Falls’ Oil Tank Road. Two – it’s pretty.  It has parkland around it, a walking trail, and a quaint little bridge.  There’s also a bed and breakfast bordering the lake.

Cochrane, Ontario train station leads to James Bay

Cochrane train station.  (I do not know how to effectively use my camera in any lighting – dark or bright.)

As for amenities, since Cochrane has about 4500 people it’s fairly well served.  If you’re looking to bring out your fancy-pants you may be out of luck, but otherwise there’s everything you need.  Cochrane has a Tim Horton’s (which pays homage to the town’s most famous son with plaques on the walls, memorabilia all around), a KFC, and some other diner-style restaurants.  There’s also a rib/wing place and the Station Inn if you want a real sit-down meal, and, of course, a place serving Authentic Northern Ontario Chinese Food.

Cochrane, Ontario on Highway 11

Can you milk a polar bear? Well, Cochrane sure does. (Photo credit: Patrick)

There’s a small farmer’s market at the north end of town every Saturday, and a country store you’ll see across from the polar bear statue that sells cottagy-type stuff that you see in Muksoka.  Also, Cochrane has the last Giant Tiger on Highway 11 after Kirkland Lake.

Cochrane is also notable for receiving Ontario’s first ever permit to serve liquor on a Sunday, for a winter carnival held in the mid 1960s. Despite the devastating fires of 1910, 1911, 1916, and Cochrane still exists to this day.

Thanks to Paul for some of the Cochrane.

Lake Commando, Cochrane, Ontario

Lake Commando.  Still looking for Rambo River. (Come to think of it, there was a Rambo Creek near to where I grew up…800 km away)

Cochrane, Ontario off highway 11

(Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Cochrane, Ontario street

Streetscape in Cochrane

Cochrane, Ontario municipal building highway 11

A nicer Cochrane streetscape. (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

36 thoughts on “Cochrane

  1. My father grew up on a farm in Kennedy Township and my mother, Doris Chapleau lived for a time in Norembega in Fox Township. In the very late 1950s our part of the family moved to Timmins and nearly every Sunday we would drive up to the farm in Kennedy to visit my father’s parents. I have happy memories of those visits including the anticipation of crossing the Abitibi River on the cable ferry before the Bailey bridge replaced it in 1966.

    Does anyone recollect how people crossed the Abitibi before the ferry went into service?

    • Hello James,

      Very interesting to read your message. I also grew up in Kennedy Twp.
      and my father worked on the Ferry and on the ice road in the winter.

      Just wondering if you had been to Cochrane lately?

      • Hello Linda,

        Obviously it’s been quite a while since my last visit to this site, life being what it is and getting in the way sometimes. To be honest about it I got the information I was looking for from another source and stopped coming back here with any frequency.

        I will take a guess and say you’re a daughter of Tom Bell’s?

        I haven’t been back to Cochrane since the very late 1980s when I returned to settle some family business concerning the family farm. I have a few distant relatives still in the area and I keep up to date visiting the Cochrane Past and Present Facebook site.

        How about yourself?

        • Hello James, I check this site only once in a while, so I haven’t seen your post until now. If by chance you do check this site I wonder if you would send me an email. I have a few pictures of “Granny ” Waller , ( I think that is what everyone called her,) that I thought your family might be interested in seeing. My Dad was John Zaverucha, who also worked on the ferry. A Mrs. Waller also travelled to the Soo for my parent’s wedding. In those days it was a very long trip. Hope to hear from you. Linda

  2. Having grown up in Petawawa it was lovely to read these posts on Cochrane. It so reminded me of Petawawa as a kid in the 70’s. Although Petawawa is hardly Hwy 11 North we certainly where in the bush. I look forward to driving through Cochrane and stopping to visit for 4-5 hrs as I drive across Canada in the next year God willing. God bless you all up in Lovely Cochrane Ontario

  3. My dad was born in Cochrane and the rest of his 11 older siblings. But when he ha d my brother and i years later, he brought us to Cochrane to visit the family for the first time and seeing my grandparents for the first time at the age of 4. Ever since then, we have visited his home until i turn 16. But my brother still drive there for hunting with at least close to Cochrane and end up sleeping there. Before i ever did turn 16, i use to go to the camp (45 minutes outside of town) with my dad and his school friends from back then that i call uncles ahah! but I still miss the fresh air you receive when you leave the camp and drive off with a skidoo around the trails and into town once in a while. Miss visiting my grandparents before they passed away. The fun we get to eat out in town with some of his sisters (aunts) or even just go to the Polar bears exibit for the first time and snapping one beautiful shot of the Polar bear, glad i took it cause its a great memory to keep from there.. and to visit the bombardier museum, looking at all the skidoos of every year made. Sadly i wont be able to come visit home for a while due to work and school. Hopefully soon i’ll be able to come down and visit my family, really miss them.

  4. I grew up in Cochrane, lived on 3rd Ave, as well as a few other places since we rented and had to move a few times..Went to Cochrane Public School and both High Schools on the lake and up by the dump. My half brothers were Chapleau’s, Burnell(Stephen), Gordon, and Gil. My half sisters were Veronica and Doris. My mom worked at the Classic Restaurant on Railway St. for a time. We walked everyehere, no car. Collecting the mail at the postoffice. French fries and gravy and sometimes an egg roll at the Golden Star was a treat. ,25 cents went far at the movie theatre. Collecting pop bottles and buying a huge bag of penny candy with the money.. Winter Carnival was the best.. Ice sculptures on the corners of Main st. Climbing over that huge snowbank in the middle of Main to cross. . Etta Jane Dodds, Anne and Christine Johnson were my pals from school. Brenda Beaton was my bestie

  5. We vacationed many times just outside Cochrane at Greenwater Provincial park and love the area. We were in town to pick up supplies on the afternoon that destroyed building in the streetscape picture above caught fire. It looks like you may have been too. Too bad Greenwater closed, it was our favourite park.

  6. I was born in Cochrane and lived there until I was 20. I have moved around a bit but Cochrane is my hometown and still love to visit. I sure miss the Stedman’s store where my mom and I would share a banana split and we would visit the bird “Jo” in the basement. I miss the Golden Star when I would go every Monday night before going to the movies… ah memories. Best of all was the lake where I would go swimming during the summer, and where activities where held during the winter for the carnaval.

  7. My Name is Caroline (Burkholder) Gauthier and I was born and lived in Cochrane almost all my life. When I was reading the story about my Uncle John and Aunt Avis brought back so many memories of them. I often visited them on weekends. Summer time – playing in the field, in the barn, horses and a donkey were there too! Winter time fun – driving Uncle John’s double track snow machine in the field with my cousin Liisa. I do remember Mark and Paul working hard – with the hay – splitting wood too! They were always polite and very nice boys. I am actually named after my Aunt Avis – her name is Avis Caroline! I had a lot of fun! So nice to read that you boys are still following the rules – lol and you appreciated the help from my Aunt Avis and Uncle John!

    • Hi Caroline,

      I’m John & Avis’s grandson, John. I remember the farm, my sister Liisa, Fifi the poodle dog, the raspberry bush behind my granddad and grandmom’s house, the tire in the tree, The Dodds living not far away, the now buried shed, everything. My father, Charlie (John), lives in Cochrane now. We’ve been back up therer a few times for visits and been out to what’s left of the farm, the wife and I.

      John Burkholder

  8. I moved to Cochrane when I was two years old with my mom (Alice Gilmour) from Kirkland Lake.Better known as Alice Chapleau.We moved into Edward Chapleau farms.Where I was raised and went to the Brower school all of my school years.We used to get our mail at McCartneys store in Dunning.Some got their mail in Brower store at the other end.It was a good and clean life growing up their.My step dad was a potatoe farmer and he also sold cream in those days. Thats how he made his living to feed us I have a step brother Roger Chapleau who now lives in the trailer park.I could go on and on as there are a lot of stories growing up in Cochrane area. Oh yes saturday was our day to go into Cochrane to shop and and maybe sell a few bags of potatoes or cream also my dad bought us supper in the restaurant and we all went to the show after.Those were the good old days.We looked forward to saturdays growing up.And we knew everyone in the farms around us.They were all ready to help one another if someone needed help and so friendly.Its not like todays society.Like I said theres lots of stories I could say growing up but I think ill end it here as im sure others have great community stories also……LOVE COCHRANE……

  9. I”m from Cochrane and always refer to it as “HOME” but now live in Ottawa. I try to go home to visit my mother at lease 2-3 times a year. I do admit, it’s sad to see the on-going changes. Miss the water tower and the water fountain at the bottom of 6th, among other landmarks that made Cochrane unique. Regardless, as soon as I pass the 4 mile corner….the excitement kicks in that I’m “home” 🙂 . Chimo everyone!

  10. my great grandparents, grandparents and parents were all born and raised in Cochrane. I was also born and raised in that beautiful town. A few years ago due to my husband’s job we moved to ottawa, Which is also a beautiful place but nothing beats the people and the warmth (not talking temperature 🙂 ) in the town if cochrane. My father is the president of the Cochrane Vintage Riders and antique snowmobile museum. He has put so much time into making the museum an amazing place. Every winter they have an antique snowmobile run that has just grown every year. I’m a teacher in ottawa and I have shown my students every year pictures of my hometown and we do a whole unit on Carnaval! I show them pictures of all the great activities… Princess pageant, demolition derby, fishing derby, sliding at queen Elizabeth Park, torch light parade, polar bear dip, police vs firemen hockey game and our annual Bantam Blues Hockey tournament.
    Cochrane is a jewel of a town and will always be my HOME!

  11. I lived in Cochrane for 9 years which included most of my schooling. It was a great place to grow up in. Although I left in 1962, moving to Timmins for one year, Cochrane memories remain in my heart.

  12. I was born and raised in Cochrane. Although I haven’t lived there in about 20 years, I still miss it.

    • Je suis née à Cochrane, et j’ai étudié à l’école St Joseph.
      Je garde que de bons souvenirs de mes jeunes années.

  13. My grandmothers family is originally from Cochrane and my father was born there. He moved south as a youngster with this family and when he married he raised his children is Southern Ontario. Cochrane called to him though, and when his children were all of adult age he retired to his home. He passed away earlier this year in the place he loved, Cochrane Ontario. We just sent a lovely weekend visiting with remaining relatives in the area.

  14. My Mom (Gladys Burkholder) is from Cochrane. I remember the looong car ride to get there. I loved to visit my Uncle John’s farm with his collies.

  15. My grandmother was Avis Burkholder and my grandfather was John Thomas Burkholder. I have some very good childhood memories of Cochrane and I try to return as often as possible.

    • Hi John..I used to live with your grandparents.John and Avis,also Paul Sherman was raised by them Would like to chat Leave message on my Email thanx

      • Mark, they were some of the best years I’ve ever had (hindsight). Not that the rest of life has been bad, it’s just that those years will last forever. John and Avis Burkholder were loving parents, grandparents and foster parents. I still live by things I learned from them. We’ve our experiences as well… Lake Margaret, hunting camps, tossing hay, cutting cords of wood for Mrs Gale, cutting roads through to the far tree house… I hope you are doing great Please drop a line. It would be great to hear from you.

        • Just wondering if the Mrs. Gale you referred to is my grandmother. What year would that have been when you were cutting wood for her?

    • John, your grandparents were wonderful people who will never be forgotten. There was always excitement at the farm when you and Lisa were coming for a visit.
      Cochrane was a great place to grow up in the late 60’s. I still drive back through Glackmeyer Twp whenever I pass through. Stop at the cemetary east of the high school to pay respects.

      • Hi Paul and Mark,
        My Dad lives up there now. My wife and I have been up about 3 or 4 times to visit him. We’ve been to my grandparents graves and I’ve toured around with Hélène, my wife, and taken many pictures. We’ve been to the Polar Bear Habitat and visited the Hunta museum. I have no close relatives aside from my wife and father, although I am told Cochrane is running amok with Burkholders. I had no idea my grandparents raised any foster children, aside from Paul, I believe. is an email you can reach me at, Mark & Paul.

    • Hi John
      If my research is correct Avis was adopted by the Chappell family ca 1915 after her mother Jennie Emery nee Adams passed away in 1915. Her father, Rufus Emery had passed in 1909. Avis was born in Idaho but the Chappell family lived in Canada, I have a photo of Avis in Winnipeg 1917. She’s with Marjorie Chappell who also was adopted so I don’t believe they were biological sisters however. Avis did have siblings in the US. If you need more info and/ or photo jpg. My contacts say Charles Chappell was a cousin of Avis’ mother Jennie. send me an email.


  16. My parents were in Cochrane one year for my mom’s birthday way before I was born. They had fried eggs for dinner. My mom told me that they left Hamilton and drove and drove and drove for about 8 hours. (My mom hates long car trips.)

  17. I was born in 1928 at home in Cochrane and played hockey on the same public school team as Tim in 1940

  18. Lorne Fleece is looking for any
    actors or support staff that participated in the DE TROYES pageant or video productions. The pageant was presented in 1978, 1979, 1982, and 1984 on Lake Commado in Cochrane
    There was also two videos produced “Abitbi Country and Come Sail a Legend”.
    E mail
    Thank you.

    • I am not positive but I think that my brother Ted and i along with Dwayne James, and George Stewart particiapted and “acted” in one of the videos from 1984.

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