As an ignorant southern Ontarian I always grew up associating the two, sort of Barrie is to Orillia what Hamilton is to Burlington. Well, it’s a mistake that I made countless times – thinking that once you hit Barrie, you’ll hit Orillia about 10 minutes later. Well no, you won’t. It takes a while, especially if you think past the distance between the town boundaries and actually are driving from Barrie town centre to Orillia town centre.
This is where the transition begins, southern Ontario slowly blending northward into a no man’s land of cottage country temporariness. It’s evident in the mix of permanent and seasonal businesses that dot the highway – the junk stores disguised as antique shops, the candy stores for the kids, a Napoleon barbecue outlet, the cottage furniture stores, the old-school huntin’ and finshin’ sporting goods and outfitters, the portable sawmilling service, the ads for timber framing, the cycle of independent burger joints constantly opening and closing juxtaposes against the opening of a new Oliver & Bonacini restaurant to serve the cottage crowd.
There are a few towns in between Barrie and Orillia along the north shore of Lake Simcoe but I haven’t profiled them because this section of Highway 11 is more like a real highway – it has four lanes, it has exits, and it completely by passes the area’s small towns in the name of faster travelling. So I’m sorry, Crown Hill, Guthrie, Oro, and Forest Home, I haven’t visited and considering that this is the last stretch of real highway on Highway 11, I’m unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Additionally, many of the towns are a bit of a detour off the highway, sometimes all the way to the shores of Lake Simcoe. If it was in northern Ontario I’d probably take the detour, but up north towns are few and far between. They’re a luxury. In southern Ontario and especially in cottage country towns are a dime a dozen. So I’m sorry Shanty Bay, Oro Station, and Hawkestone, I haven’t visited.
I’ve always found this bit of a difficult drive. You go from the 400 series Highways, averaging 120 kilometres an hour over three lanes to a highway littered with fast food restaurants on the side, cars merging and exiting at speeds way too high for the two-lane divided highway that is this part of Highway 11.