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.

Kirkland Lake

I almost moved to Kirkland Lake, and I’ve always kind of regretted that it didn’t work out.  Kirkland Lake is a neat little town that’s been described to me as the ‘wild west’ of northeastern Ontario.

Forty five kilometres east of the Québec border on Highway 66 (not Highway 11, we’re on a detour right now), Kirkland Lake is a largely anglophone town of about 10 000 8000, and is the largest town between North Bay and Thunder Bay on Highway 11.

Mines and Garbage

Kirkland Lake is extremely well known throughout Canada despite its small size and relatively remote location.  Since gold was struck in the early 1900s, KL has been one of Canada’s most famous mining towns, complete with gold mines, drinking hotels, and highgraders.  There’s a miner’s memorial as you come into town, which is actually quite classy and lists all the names of those who have died in mining accidents since the town began.

Kirkland Lake Adams Mine Protest

Adams Mine protests in Kirkland Lake in the 1990s

KL is also famous for Adams Mine – an abandoned open-pit mine that would have been the site for Toronto’s garbage, had the local community, First Nations, farmers and environmentalists not fought it so effectively.  They were in the media, they wrote thousands of letters, they united many groups that had not worked together before.

Kirkland Lake is a story across Canada showing that no matter how small you may be if you do it right and smart – you can win.  Adams Mine was seen as a huge story across Canada – so much so that the effort which started small eventually changed a lot of minds across southern Ontario.  The provincial government put the plan to rest in 2003.  The Grievous Angels, a band based in northern Ontario, wrote a song about it (the lyrics are here.)

Harry and Hockey and … other interesting stuff (that begins with the sound “wh”)

Kirkland Lake was named after Winifred Kirkland, a secretary at the old Ministry of Mines.  (Ah to be an early provincial bureaucrat – you might get a town named after you.) Kirkland Lake, arguably, has it’s own suburb – King Kirkland – which consists of about 20 houses and trailers about ten minutes east of town on the highway.

Sir Harry Oakes is probably Kirkland Lake’s most famous and most wealthy citizen. American-born, he was a prospector who finally struck it big in KL after stints in California, Australia, and the Klondike.  His mine in KL was the second largest gold mine in the Americas.  By the 1920s, Harry Oakes was Canada’s richest individual.  However in 1943, Oakes was allegedly murdered at his home in the Bahamas, and although fingers were pointed towards his son-in-law, no one was ever convicted of the crime.  Today his former house is home to the Northern Ontario Museum in KL.

Kirkland Lake Mansion museum

Harry Oakes’s former mansion – now the Kirkland Lake museum

In terms of other famous KLers, Kirkland Lake was also once home to Growing Pains star Alan Thicke, figure skater Toller Cranston, and former NHL goalie Darren Puppa.

Hockey Heritage North, Kirkland Lake OntarioOn the subject of hockey, Kirkland Lake used to be known as a hockey hotbed.  CBC broadcaster Foster Hewitt used to call KL “the town that made the NHL famous” due to so many Kirkland Lakers filling the roasters of early NHL squads.  Today KL is home to Hockey Heritage North, a museum that celebrates hockey and northern Ontario’s role in the NHL.  Hockey Heritage North has a parkinglot that’s bigger than the museum itself – seemingly twice the size of the facility – and the parkinglot is probably a bigger draw for kids learning to ride bikes or for rollerblading and skateboarding.  In three visits I’ve come to believe that Hockey Heritage North’s parkinglot is the nicest smoothest stretch of pavement in all of northern Ontario.

Downtown Kirkland Lake

The place to see a show in Kirkland Lake. I mean a normal show. Don’t get any ideas. Those days are over.

Way back in the day, Kirkland Lake, however, was arguably almost as famous for its red house.  KL had a reputation for being a party town, thanks in part to the mining boom and the many bachelors who ventured north to prospect and work. I have been told that one of the highlights of Kirkland Lake’s heyday was its internationally-known brothel.  Soldiers from the area went to Europe to fight in World War One and regaled Europeans with tales of “the Red House of Kirkland Lake” or “5 Main Street” which was in fact a popular brothel well-known across the north.  Supposedly the tales were so tall or so enthralling that other soldiers and even Europeans have actually come back to the area to visit Kirkland Lake’s red whorehouse.  The house itself still standing but is no longer red.

Kirkland Lake: The Town

Kirkland Lake, to me at least, is a town of contrasts.  When you enter the downtown along Government Road, it looks a bit like Huntsville in cottage country – a windy street revealing the town turn by turn, forming the backbone of an old but not pretty interesting little downtown.  Actually, I like the downtown – it’s may not be “quaint” by some people’s standards but has character. With a decent downtown and as a town of 10 000, Kirkland Lake is big by Highway 11 standards.  You don’t have to worry about whether there is a gas station or a liquor store.  There are two hotels (HoJo and Comfort Inn), a Canadian Tire, a McDonald’s, a KFC, a Subway, a pizza shop, two Tim Hortonses (heck Timmins only has three!), a northern Ontario Chinese place, the Downtown Family Restaurant, and ‘The Zone’, which is a little club sort of thing in the basement of the local MP’s office.

Yet one could say that there is very little shopping.  Other than Giant Tiger and Hart, that’s about it.  No Zellers, no Walmart, one (and a half) grocery stores, a music shop, a pawn shop, and that’s it.  The Kirkland Lake Mall has maybe about 20 shops and services.  I guess you either go to Timmins, or to Rouyn-Noranda.

Kirkland Lake Ontario's mall

Kirkland Lake has a “mall”!

For a number of years, Kirkland Lake also had a significant Jewish community. As the mining boom spread northwards, Jewish families from Eastern Europe and even the United States moved up into the Englehart and Kirkland Lake area. Some settled as farmers in the area around Krugerdorf, while others formed the backbone of the commerce that fed Northeastern Ontario’s mining towns. A synagogue was built in 1927, with land donated by Sir Harry Oakes on Station Road. The community peaking in the late 1940s at a couple hundred members. Eventually, as the sons and daughters of the community moved southwards, and as fewer immigrants came north, the community shrank, and the synoguge was turned into apartments in 1980. Kirkland Lake’s original ‘Ark’ (I think that’s the wooden structure which holds the Torah) was eventually transported to the Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto. While the community may have migrated, the history and the impact of Jewish immigrants lives long in the north, in places like Kirkland Lake, Iroquois Falls, Krugerdorf, and Timmins. Check out the virtual museum at the Kirkland Lake Jewish History link at the bottom of the page for first hand stories from community members.  (Check out KL’s Jewish history here or here.)

Kirkland Lake today still has a bit of a reputation as a hard-scrabble town. The cyclical ups and downs of the mining and logging industries make Kirkland Lake a boomtown one decade and an economic sponge the next. Just like many towns in both northern and southern Ontario, as life in Northern Ontario requires a little assistance to get by the booms and busts of the economy. Like all mining towns, Kirkland Lake is a little rough around the edges. But that’s what makes places like this interesting, and unique. Like someone posted below, KL is a mining town, past, present, and future.

Downtown Kirkland Lake

Forget the mall.  Kirkland Lake’s downtown is rough and old school and kindofabitof awesome

I have one beef with KL though, and I’ll get it off my chest now.  The signs outside the town blatantly lie.  They tell you it’s 15 kilometres to town and then 15 kilometres later you see a sign that says “Kirkland Lake 6 km” and then five minutes later you see another sign “Kirkland Lake 5 km.”  Now I’m sorry, first off you’re lying the first time, and then the second time I was driving 90 kilometres an hour and I did not manage to go only one kilometre in that span of five minutes.  It’s frustrating. Bad signage is one of my pet peeves in general.

I like Kirkland Lake.  It has a lot of potential if marketed correctly.  I’ll be back.

Gull Lake, near Kirkland Lake Ontario

Gull Lake outside of Kirkland Lake

 

For an archive of the 40 comments that were posted to Highway11.ca’s profile of Kirkland Lake between 2008 and 2012, please click here.

Iroquois Falls

Iroquois Falls isn’t right on Highway 11 – it’s about 15 kilometres away at the end of road 67.  Founded more than 90 years ago, Iroquois Falls is home to a big pulp/paper mill and three electricity dams — all of which together used to be the world’s largest pulp and paper operation.

Iroquois Falls, OntarioIroquois Falls (pronounced locally as Urr-roquois, not Ear-roquois) is about half anglophone and half francophone.  The town is split in two by the railroad, and crisscrossed by the tracks at an innumerable amount of locations.  (I wonder if Iroquois Falls has the highest number of railroad crossings per capita in Ontario.)

Interestingly, the west half of the town seems to have English street names, while the east side’s streets are in French.  There is even rue Synagogue – a testimonial to the Jewish population that once settled in northeastern Ontario.  And while we’re on street names, there’s also Oil Tank Road, which is just begging to be the name of a country album.

Iroquois Falls was comprised of at least three communities – Iroquois Fall, Ansonville and Montrock. Amalgamation has put them all together under one municipal roof.

The Shay in Iroquois Falls

The Shay, Iroquois Falls’s old locomotive

The Abitibi Arena in Iroquois Falls was built entirely by community labour in 1955. Actually, at the time it was billed as the largest community labour project in North America. A large contributor to the project was personnel employed by the paper mill. If a part or piece of equipment was needed somewhere during the construction apparently it was readily made by a millwright over in the paper mill.

Iroquois Falls woodpile at the mill, Highway 11

Sometimes this travel blog feels like a tour of northern Ontario woodpiles (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Known as “The Garden Town of the North”, Iroquois Falls is home to The Shay, an old restored locomotive that used to work the Abitibi line.  The town is also home to the Abitibi Eskimos, a junior hockey team that draws record numbers in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.  I’ve heard that people come from as far as Kirkland Lake to watch the Eskies.  Iroquois Falls celebrates Paperfest in August and the Moby Pike fishing Derby in July.  There is also a Pioneer Museum in town chronicling the rise of the forestry industry and settlement of the town.Iroquois Falls Eskis logo

Iroquois Falls used to be the home of a large, wooden hotel that was served by an fantastic dining room. Unfortunately, it is no more, either being torn down or burned down at some point before I had a chance to have a meal. Randy’s Rec Room is a pub serving surprisingly good food and the service is top notch.  For food there is also the Main Street Café, the Bus Stop Chip Stand, DJ’s pizza, a diner, and a Tim Horton’s.  There’s a motel when you’re coming into town, but I don’t think the adjoining steakhouse has been in operation for years.  There are some bank branches and a caisse.  Esso (west of the tracks) and PetroCanada (east of the tracks) are in town as well. And the Silver Grill is a Chinese place serving 100 percent northern Ontario Chinese food.

Iroquois Falls is a pretty nice town.  There are nice old houses, a few parks, and a marina at Twin Falls that provides access to the massive Lake Abitibi.

Thanks to Paul for the info on Iroquois Falls.

Cochrane

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 highway11.ca

(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.)

Kapuskasing

Kapuskaing, Cold Weather Test Centre, GM, Highway 11 Ontario

Nothing says “welcome, why don’t you stay a while?” like seeing the Cold Weather test centre from your car window

Which Highway 11 town has 9000 people, more than 50 shops and services and was the hometown of the director of movies like Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic and Avatar?

Yep, Kapuskasing is kindofabigdeal in Highway 11 terms.

Kap has some neat sites.  The old Ontario Northland train station has been recently fixed up and has a little area for art exhibitions from the area.  There’s an old locomotive adjacent to the station that houses train memorabilia and neat facts about the CNR’s history.

Highway 11 Ontario, Kapuskasing, bear

Kap’s entry into the “some big weird thing” – a bear

Originally named Macpherson, the ‘model town of the North’ was built around the pulp mill that originally supplied paper to the New York Times.  When they built the mill, they decided to build a company town, and since it was a company town they planned it as the ‘model town of the north’ complete with planned parks (quite nice), its own power supply (which used to serve the town and mill exclusively), and an English-style traffic circle, which residents and visitors alike find confusing to this day.

MOdel Town of the North, Kapuskasing's roundabout

You know roundabouts are confusing when they are a pain even in a town this small

With about 9000 people, Kapuskasing is the largest town on Highway 11 between Kirkland Lake and Thunder Bay.  It’s even has its own spot on the North American professional lumberjackery circuit.  Every July the Kapuskasing Lumberjack Festival is broadcast live on television across Canada, and maybe even into the States. (Heck, Canada doesn’t even have a soccer league, but it has a lumberjack circuit?  And is sustainable with stops in towns like Kap?  Who would have guessed it…)

POWs

Kapuskasing POW memorial, Highway 11I was surprised to find, by accident, two little memorials just west of Kap.  There’s one for Ukrainian-Canadian detainees tha

t were interred near Kap during the First World War (the photo of the guy with the hat.)  Further in off the highway there’s one for German/Austrian/Turkish Prisoners Of War (the photo with the little crosses) that died while being imprisoned.

I found out from some locals at the site that during the First World War Kap was the site of a POW camp.  It was decided that

Kapuskasing POW camp memorial, Highway 11 Ontario

Kapuskasing POW camp memorial

Kapuskasing was perfect because at the time the only way in and out of town, at that time, was by train.  In other words, everyone detained there was stuck – there was no way to escape and nowhere to go if you did.  They used their labour to clear land for Kapuskasing’s experimental farm, which is right beside the 24 graves of the POWs.

In addition, Paul emailed me to tell me about Kapuskasing’s former life as a station on the ONR rail line. Every time a train derailed, the local foreman of the track maintenance crew at Kapuskasing was required to file a report with the head office of ONR in Toronto. His reports were apparently quite lengthy and detailed. After receiving many of these “eloquent” and “descriptive” reports, about train derailments the foreman (named Flanigan) was advised by the head office people to write reports that weren’t so lengthy. So, after the next derailment, the following telegram was received in the head office, as follows:

Re: ONR train derailment at Kapuskasing:
”Off again – on again – gone again” (Signed) FLANIGAN.

Farm near Kapuskasing. Highway 11

Still farm country this far north

Kapuskasing Today

Like all the francophone towns (it’s about 30/70 anglo/franco) of the north, Kapuskasing is really quite nice.  Although a James Bay tourism brochure bogusly claims that Kap is a town of “street dances” (who wrote that thing?), there is a fair amount to do for a city of its size.

Kapuskasing train station

Kap’s train station is pretty magnifique, with a museum and gallery

There is a farmer’s market in the summer.  If you can make it past the downtown traffic circle in the direction of your desire, you’ll find a really nice lakefront park and some good walking paths.

Kap has a bunch of services that are too long to go into detail here.  What’s important is that there is a Tim Horton’s.  There’s a McDonald’s too.  There are some honest-to-goodness northern Ontario Chinese food restaurants.  There is a Walmart but no Giant Tiger.  Apparently Kapuskasing also has the most productive Casey’s restaurant in all of Ontario.  Take that, Front and University (the downtown Toronto location.)

Pub Max, right on Highway 11, also has good food, especially the chicken salad sandwich.  There are two touristy stores on Highway 11 in Kap, namely Marbleworks and the Moonbeam Country Store.

Agrium Mine, Kapuskasing

Aerial view of a mine, near Kapuskasing

Hearst

There’s something really interesting about Hearst.

Hearst is the frontier of northern Ontario – you either live in Hearst, east of Hearst, or you live waaaaaaaaaaaaaay west of it.  It even has a Northern Store (how’s that for remote.)

Hearst, Ontario on Highway 11

Hearst from the air

Where else would a town of 6000 have so many bars, the “northern ballet”, and yet still have four or five churches?

What other place keeps you in their town by telling you just how far away everywhere else is?  I mean, Longlac is 210 kilometres west, with nothing in between.  Hearst has the last McDonald’s for 500 kilometres – I know it because I checked, in person. There isn’t another McD’s until Thunder Bay

The tourist office in Hearst. Highway 11

The tourist office in Hearst. So awesome.

I once applied for a government job in Hearst, but never got an interview.  To be fair, I realize now that I was woefully underqualified.  I swear that the ad had listed French as “an asset”.  Well, no French isn’t an asset – in Hearst, it’s a requirement.

One of the most interesting things about Hearst, however, is that it is the most francophone community in Ontario – something like 85-90 percent.  Hearst even has residents that only speak French, and no English.  Rue George is the downtown drag and it’s really cute, with small shops, a library, a diner, and a movie theatre showing French-language movies.  It’s reminds me of Penetanguishene, but more with more French.

Hearst, OntarioI (h)EART (h)EARST

Erst (as it is pronounced locally) is a pretty special town.  It has:

•    The motto: “The Moose capital of Canada” (or so they boast)
•    The only tin man on Highway 11 (he keeps watch over an appliance store)
•    The most millionaires per capita (or so someone emailed, apparently it’s due to the local forestry?)
•    The largest moose sculpture on Highway 11 (Believe me, I’ve seen them all)
•    The most suburbs (two) of any small town Highway 11 town (take that, King Kirkland or Geraldton East)
•    The most truckstops per capita (or so I’ve calculated, roughly)
•    The biggest woodpile on Highway 11 (I’ve seen them all too)

Trust me.  When it's not getting snowbombed, Hearst's downtown is super cute

Trust me. When it’s not getting snowbombed, Hearst’s downtown is super cute.  The problem is that it gets hammered all the time.

Heck, I’ve been to Hearst three times.  Most of the photos here are from the first time that I hadn’t been snowed in (because it was August.)  Both other times, I was stuck for three days in storms even that locals found nasty.

Set on the Mattawishkwia River, Hearst is a forestry town (hence the massive woodpile.)  It also has a tourism industry set around hunting, outfitters, and its proximity to three Provincial Parks:  Fushimi Lake, Missinaibi and Nagagamisis.  It is also the end of the Algoma Line, which runs fall colours rail tours from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst.

Despite its francophone heritage, Hearst was once the site of a Slovak settlement.  Bradlo, nestled 11 kilometres south of Hearst, the community persisted until the 1950s when the residents realized that the land was agriculturally marginal, and wouldn’t support farming in a modern economy.

Sculpture jsut outside of Hearst

Hearst is so cool, this wolf vs. moose sculpture doesn’t even count as their “some big weird thing”…

Hearst tin man, Highway 11

…instead, this does!

Food and Fun in a Frontier Town

Hearst is a center for most of the little communities west of Kapsukasing, and is the largest town between Thunder Bay and Kapsukasing on Highway 11.  And probably for Hornepayne on Highway 631, about an hour and a half south.  (Head off-route and take a trip along 631 here.)

No McDonald's for 500 km in Hearst, Highway 11

I’ve used this photo about a twenty-two times on this website and it never gets old

Therefore, Hearst has an abundance of services.  It has the only McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s that you’ll see until Thunder Bay.  In addition to the 24-hour garage and towing company that is advertised throughout northern Ontario, there are shops downtown and food everywhere.  Hearst also has an overabundance of places that serve Northern Ontario Chinese Food.

Hearst has something for everyone – the northern ‘hotel’ scene (the Waverly or the Windsor), cafés (although Café Duo doesn’t serve coffee, go figure), fast food (McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, and the only Pizza Pizza west of Timmins), authentic chip stands (Micko’s is great), sit down restaurants (Mom’s, John’s, Pizza Place has ok pasta), fine dining (you can find filet mignon, steak, and Cuban cigars at Ailleurs), and even a little night club (OK, fine, it’s the bar at the Companion.)

Snowstorm, Hearst, Highway 11

Highway 11 in Hearst, getting walloped, again

There are motels aplenty in Hearst so you should have no trouble finding a place to stay.  (A note to those staying at the Queens Motel, keep your kids away from the funny channels at the end of the TV dial there!)  There is also hockey in the winter – in fact, Hearst is the hometown of Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers superstar, as well as Pierre LeBrun, a hockey commentator who has appearanced on TSN, ESPN, and Hockey Night in Canada. Hearst is home to the local team les Elans de Hearst. And, there is bowling.

Come on, it’s northern Ontario. Of course there is bowling!

Super awesome Hearst woodpile, Highway 11

Hearst – simply the best woodpile of any Highway 11 community

Hearst, Ontario highway11.ca

And this is what happens to a woodpile on Highway 11, in Hearst (Credit: Wiki Commons contributor P199)

 

Hearst, Ontario airport

Not sure why I took a photo of Hearst’s airport

Geraldton

Compared to the many other spots on Highway 11’s mid-west corridor, Geraldton is a relatively bustling town of 2400, apparently with its own suburbs – Jonesville and Geraldton East.

Geraldton has two town mottos – ‘Spirit of the North’ and ‘The Friendly Town with a Heart of Gold’.  It’s obvious that the town has put its golden heart to good use, as it is one of the most actively and professionally marketed towns in northern Ontario.

Geraldton, Ontario Highway 11 tourist centre

Geraldton’s fancy and new tourist center, visible from Highway 11

Thirty-eight kilometres west of Longlac, Geraldton has actively used a restored mine headspace in all its tourism literature.  The mine shaft is quire nicely restored. If you turn down Hardrock Drive (yes, it’s the best-named street in northern Ontario after Iroquois Falls’ Oil Tank Road) you’ll see a rocky landscape which I believe is the headframe’s parking lot and the starting point for the two hiking trails seen below.

The Geraldton Discovery Centre, on Highway 11 across from the mine shaft, is also really nicely done-up.  The Discovery Centre has exhibits on the area’s forestry and mining history, current practices in both industries, and also allows you to dress up in fireman gear and have your photo taken (handy if your wife or girlfriend is into that kind of thing and you’re not a firefighter like the most of us.)Geraldton's restored mine headframe on Highway 11Geraldon is on the shores of Kenogamisis Lake, which, by the way, offers some low-level cliff diving opportunities (I don’t endorse/condone/promote/suggest doing this, I just observed some people doing while I drove past. Do not jump off cliffs into the water, it’s really dangerous.)  Geraldton also has a nice golf course and some hiking trails.

Hiking trails in Geraldton, Ontario, highway 11

I think I’ll take a pass on the first one

I happened to be in town for their annual August long-weekend Jamboree.  I was planning to stop after I saw a Bristol board sign indicating that it was in nearby Macleod Provincial Park.  With my drive time approaching the six hour mark, and the valuable contents of my wallet becoming increasingly sparse with each stop for gas and coffee and doughnuts, and the rain beginning to pour, I declined my chance to jam with the locals.

Geraldton downtown, highway11.ca Ontario

Downtown Geraldton, Ontario north of Highway 11 (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

I missed the town itself.  Geraldton is about five kilometres north of Highway 11.  (I was tired. I was trying to make it to Nipigon without getting gas. (Danger Will Robinson.  Red alert.  BAD IDEA!)  Plus. it was raining.  I had just passed a hitchhiker and felt really really guilty but not guilty enough to take my life into my own hands in the middle of nowhere in order to save the guy from the downpour.)  Therefore I continued along Highway 11, and missed out on mainstreet Geraldton.

If you continue up the road past Geraldton, you’ll eventually hit Nakina and Aroland, two of Ontario’s more isolated northern towns.

Greenstone municipal building in Geraldton, Ontario, north of Highway 11

Well this is pretty swish. (Credit: user P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Nipigon

Located on the most northern point of Lake Superior, Nipigon is pretty much the only true town between Geraldton and Thunder Bay.

You know what this means.

Out of the way Tim-Br Mart.

Move over Home Hardware.

Nipigon has a Canadian Tire…!

Nipigon, Ontario, highway11.ca marina lake superior

Even Nipigon’s little port is cute!  The lookout is up at the top of that hill in the back of the photo. (Photo: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

When you drive into many northern towns, there’s usually a sign telling you that they’re the home of a semi-famous Canadian celebrity.

Well, fooling around on the internet one day I found out that a crater on Mars was named after Nipigon.

Why isn’t this on a sign beside the highway?  You could put “Nipigon – we’re so out of this world they named a crater on Mars after us!” or something like that.  Moonbeam would kill for this! I’d pledge 50$ toward that…

Nipigon shrine Ontario Highway 11Instead, you’re greeted by a sign that tells you that churches are open Sundays and are directed to a ‘scenic lookout’ which looks out over a cemetery.  Is this considered a God’s-eye view?  Nipigon does have an abundance of churches, and the town’s Catholic Church even has a little shrine beside its virgin Mary statue.

Hydroelectricity, fishing, forestry, tourism are the mainstays of Nipigon’s 2000 people. (I wonder if they did the census in the summer, and how that would impact the head-count – there seem to be some cottages in the area.) Nipigon is blessed with a scenic little harbour, complete with a waterfront park, a boat launch, and hiking trails.  It even has a nice kid’s bookshop, and a stained glass store to boot.  This is not your average Highway 11 town.

Paintings and Big Things

Nigion is full of murals Highway 11 OntarioWell, I take that last statement back.  Nipigon is your average Highway 11 town because, of course, it has to have its share of weirdness.  Of course, there is the mandatory “big weird thing in town”, but also in this case, it is public art.

Nipigon seems to love murals.  I counted four, plus the town museum which has paintings on it as well.  The one on the Legion celebrates forestry.  Another recognizes the history of the railroad.  A third shows the town’s first general store.  A fourth celebrates ‘northern Ontario time’ – encouraging workers to call in sick in order to go fishing.  It’s a great idea. I’m a sucker for any kind of public art.

Nigion is full of murals Highway 11 OntarioLike most northern Ontario towns, Nipigon has a festival and a some big weird thing displayed in town.  Every August long weekend the town celebrates the Blueberry Blast festival, although I was there on the long weekend and didn’t see any blueberries raining down anywhere in the town.  In the “some big weird thing” category, Nipigon has two entries, 1) a historic turbine taken from the electrical plant up the river, and 2) a big trout on the highway.

Big weird thing #2 - Nipigon's trout, on Highway 11

Nipigon’s big weird thing #1 – Nipigon’s trout, on Highway 11

Nipigon is the best stop to eat or refuel before you hit Thunder Bay or Geraldton.  There is a foodmart, a Robin’s Doughnuts, multiple gas bars, a Beer Store, a Mac’s Milk, a few motels, a bank or two, a Subway where I waited 70 minutes to get a sub (beware of people coming in from camps and ordering 12 subs each), and a Pizza Pizza/KFC outlet.  Out on the highway there’s Gus’ Broasted Chicken, for those wanting a non-fast food meal.

Lots of people end up leaving Highway 11 for Highway 17 after Nipigon.  If you’re interested, check out the towns that run along Lake Superior’s shore by going off-route here.

Other random stuff

Nipigon Ontario - big weird thing #1 - hydro turbine

…and Nipigon’s big weird thing #2, an old hydro turbine

Oddly, east of Nipigon past Highway 11 there is an ad for construction company in based in Hearst.  That’s past Highway 11.  In the opposite direction of Hearst.  Really, it’s nowhere at all near the town.  Do the owners know where they’re being advertised?

Nipigon is also the town that got me in trouble in Grade Four.  Whilst playing Cross-Country Canada in computer class, Mme. Bennedsen caught me and three other kids giggling at the computer screen.

Now, this long before the advent of the internet, so in hindsight there wasn’t much risk we were up to anything particularly nefarious.  But maybe she was having a bad day, or maybe she was practicing her walk-stare-scold combo for use in future computer classes once the internet became a fixture of public education – whatever the reason, she rushed up toward us, eyes glaring, finger pointing, heels clicking ominously.

We looked at each other.  Once of us would have to come clean.  After multiple protestations from us that we were up to nothing, she finally flushed it from us.  And I took the hit for the four of us.  I was forced to stand before the class, head bowed, and admit out loud that there was, in fact, no town in Ontario named Nipplegone.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay has a big random curling rock statue?  A massive four city-block-long woodpile?  Statues of polar bears, even though polar bears live nowhere nearby?  Yes honey, we're still in northern Ontario.

Thunder Bay has a big random curling rock statue?  A massive four city-block-long woodpile? Statues of arctic animals that live nowhere nearby?  Thunder Bay may be the big city but we’re still in northern Ontario.

I once heard a pretty prominent Canadian comedian joke something to the effect that there’s a reason that the Marathon of Hope ended in Thunder Bay.

I never really got the joke.  Maybe it’s because the city’s initials stand for a deadly disease, but I haven’t figured out what he was talking about. I like Thunder Bay.

TBay has a list of things going for it. TB has probably the best lookout on Highway 11 at the Terry Fox memorial.  It also has a majestic port bordered by rock formations on both sides.  There’s a pretty decent rap song about the city that was recently written up in the Toronto Star. It is the hometown of the most pro hockey players per capita. They have their own special foods that you can’t get anywhere else – superflat Finnish pancakes and their own type of doughnut. And I’m told that it has the largest Finnish population outside of Finland (more than 10 000…)
TB-16-TBay-SkylineThunder Bay:  A Tale of Two Cities

TB-16-TBay-Thunder Bay Demilitarized Zone

The TB DMZ. Keeping hostilities between Port Arthur and Fort William to a minimum since 1907.

Thunder Bay is actually two cities – Port Arthur and Fort William amalgamated in 1970.

Since then, they really haven’t come together in a physical manner.  There is a bit of a ‘no man’s land’ between north and south Thunder Bay, filled with a golf course, a hospital, an expressway, and some suburban-style office parks.  The street names change between north and south.

So how did they choose the name “Thunder Bay”? I have no idea if this is true, but I once read in a book that when Port Arthur and Fort William merged in 1970, they couldn’t decide on a common name. In order to solve the problem, they held a referendum. As always, the voters were split. Some thought it should be named “Lakehead.” While others preferred the more regal-sounding “The Lakehead.” When the final tallies were counted, the two Lakehead options combined had a majority of votes. However, with the two camps splitting most of the vote, plucky little “Thunder Bay” slipped up the middle to win a plurality. Is it true? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

It’s as if the two cities are still buffering against each other, or just don’t know what to do with the space between them. Is there animosity?  Bobby Curtola is from Port Arthur.  Paul Shaffer is from Fort William.  I don’t know if a rivalry exists, but there’s potential…

My first car had only AM radio.  Which means only oldies music.  Which means you hear a lot of Bobby Curtola to make up the CanCon requirements.

My first car had only AM radio. Which means only oldies music. Which means you hear a lot of Thunder Bay’s Bobby Curtola so the station can be in compliance with CanCon requirements.

Thunder Bay has a lot of variety in neighbourhoods.  Many parts are littered with old northern hotels and taverns (a la Timmins), while some residential areas have stately turn-of-the-century homes (a la Haileybury), while there are the 1960s suburbs (a la Etobicoke, but with bigger lawns), while Walsh Street is essentially a paved hydro corridor with homes on either side (a la Longlac.)  The whole situation means that, while Thunder Bay is a really nice city, it can be sprawly, confusing, and makes for horrible driving.

The Sleeping Giant, from Thunder Bay's waterfront

A not-so-great photo from yours truly of The Sleeping Giant, from Thunder Bay’s waterfront

Of course, nothing says ‘Thunder Bay’ to the history-conscious Canadian than grain elevators.  The prevalence of shipping means that the city is criss-crossed by train tracks, which pretty much cut off the city from most of its waterfront, save for a nice park in the north.  I think that the port in south Thunder Bay is bigger, but that the elevators in north Thunder Bay are near the waterfront park and therefore make for nicer photos.  There are beautiful views of Sleeping Giant (the big rock formation off the harbour) from both the waterfront marina park or from Hillcrest Park on High Street.

One of the coolest thing about Thunder Bay is the massive rock-bubble-things that border the south part of town.  You can’t miss them no matter where you look to the south.  They’re called the Nor’Westers (after the fur traders) and the largest (Mount McKay) is open for cars to drive up, for a small fee.  There’s something Rio de Janeiro-esque about it – they just need a statue on top, looking down over the city.

Maybe they can put a statue of a famous Thunder Bayer up there.  Again though, who to choose – Port Arthur’s Bobby Curtola or Fort William’s Paul Shaffer? I’ll pledge 50$ to that.

Thunder Bay has art grafitti. Yep it's big

Flashes of the cosmopolitan. (Photo credit: Lloyd from Wild Goose)

Thunder Bay:  The North’s New York City…?

Thunder Bay wins the north’s big city sweepstakes not only because it is the subject of a rap song (click here, the video is surprisingly good) or the presence of art graffiti but also because, compared to the rest of the north, Thunder Bay is practically a metropolis:

  • Thunder Bay has 110 000 people
  • Almost ten percent of them speak a language other than French or English (Finnish)
  • Thunder Bay has multiple occurrences of the same store or franchise
  • There are more stoplights than you can count on your hands and feet in Thunder Bay
  • Thunder Bay has satellite towns that resemble suburbs (real ones, not like the hamlets outside of Hearst or Geraldton)
  • Eight cities on four different continents around the world are twinned with Thunder Bay
  • Heck, Thunder Bay even has its own semi-pro soccer team that employs a handful of Brazilians for a few months every summer

But nothing shows off Thunder Bay’s cosmopolitan flair better than its International Friendship Garden.

The Thunder Bay Soroptimist International Friendship Garden - featuring installations from the Chinese, Dutch and Croatian communities.

The Thunder Bay Soroptimist International Friendship Garden – featuring installations from the Chinese, Dutch and Croatian communities.

The Garden was founded by various ethnic civic organizations to commemorate Canada’s centennial in 1967.  You can meet Croatia’s King Tomislav.  You can pose with the concrete geese representing Finland.  Italy, Scotland, Greece, India, the Philippines, and others are all there too.  It almost feels like a ‘mini-putt your way around the world’ exhibit that you’d find on Highway Six south of Hamilton.  Maybe it’s the Dutch windmill.  Or the random Italian villa surrounded by a chain-link fence.  Or maybe it’s the sawmill from Deutschland, which I thought was a garden shed until I spotted the faux waterwheel (sans water.)

However, you have to give TB some credit here.  It’s actually pretty cool and totally endearing. Most cities couldn’t have attempted this.  Fewer would have even considered it.

It’s more than a bit hokey, but that’s what makes it undeniably charming.  Sure, the Confucius statue and adjacent mini-pavilion looks like it could be beside Chinese restaurant in Markham, but who cares?  It’s a great park and apparently one of the ‘in’ spots for wedding photos in Thunder Bay.

No, we're not on the set of Logan's Run, these are the Finnish, Italian and Slovakian monuments at the Thunder Bay International Friendship Garden

No, we’re not on the set of Logan’s Run, these are the Finnish, Italian and Slovakian monuments at the Thunder Bay International Friendship Garden

If you’re in Thunder Bay, you need to try a Persian. A Persian is a holeless doughnut rubbed with cinnamon and topped with a bright pink sugary raspberry glaze. They were …ahem…”invented” in Thunder Bay (in the 1930s), perfected in Thunder Bay, and only sold in Thunder Bay.

These look so much bigger in real life

The Norwesters.  These look so much bigger in real life

A Persian is like the oil-soaked goodness of a fresh farmer’s market doughnut and and the sugaryness of a Beavertail all rolled up into one bundle of super fatty northern Ontario goodness. As one of my co-workers has told me, she works with people in Thunder Bay and when she asks them about Persians, she could practically hear their mouths water through the phone. When she goes there for meetings, she buys two flats and brings them back from Thunder Bay on the plane, and only one flat makes it back alive. But if you’re gonna take the plunge – make sure you avoid the chocolate and go for the real thing – the one with the pink topping.

That being said, they're eerily similar to the Unique to TBay - except they look like the Paczkis of Cleveland or the doughnuts of pretty much anywhere else.

Persians – unique to TBay, tho eerily similar to the Paczkis of Cleveland or the doughnuts of pretty much anywhere else.

There are two locations that sell Persians (the doughnuts – not the ancient peoples) – one on Tungsten (out by the university), and one on Balmoral. Just look for The Persian Man.

For non-doughnut grub and shopping the major streets are Red River and Memorial in north Thunder Bay, and Arthur in south Thunder Bay.  There is a real mall, a movie complex, the only Swiss Chalet since North Bay, some other chain restaurants, but no Giant Tiger (disappointing.). At one time, TBay had the only East Side Mario’s since Timmins but Keith emailed me to deliver the bad news – it is closed.

To-Do in TB

Thunder Bay - Art Gallery highway11.caAs far as culture, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery on the campus of Confederation College had a great Norval Morrisseau exhibition while I was there.  The gallery is small, but entrance is ridiculously cheap.  Thunder Bay also has a symphony, as well as a charity casino.  The corner of Algoma and Bay in north Thunder Bay is a bit of a hip spot, with some pubs, a hostel, and specialty shops nearby (a Finnish-language bookstore, and Finn-tastic Sauna and Gift Shop).  While I was there, an Italian festival had blocked off the intersection (beer tent + meatball & sausage stands + old nonnas telling you to eat more = my kind of thing!)  There’s also a really nice ballpark in Port Arthur that hosts The Thunder Bay Border Cats, a minor league team in one of the American independent leagues.

But as soon as you get start getting visions of grandeur, Thunder Bay returns to its northern roots.

There are all-you-can-eat cabbage rolls and pirogi every Friday from 12-1 at the Polish Hall on Algoma.  The Superior Bowladrome is one of four bowling alleys I counted in TB.

(Where I grew up we had double the population but only half the bowling alleys.)

There are the second- and third-tier franchises some common to the north – Robin’s Doughnuts gives Tim Horton’s a serious run for their money in northwestern Ontario, and especially in TB.  There is Tacotime, some sort of Mexican franchise that has placed its geometric cacti throughout the city. (This picture does not do those catci justice. And the food is pretty good too…)

highway11.ca TACO TIME - Thunder Bay, ON, Logan, UT, Toronto, ON

Taco Time! I’ve been obsessed with Taco Time ever since I visited the one in Thunder Bay (left photo) and came under the spell of its sort-of art deco cactus. I was overjoyed when I found one on my honeymoon in Logan, Utah, and when another opened in the Atrium on Bay in Toronto. Sadly, the Torontonians have no taste. :(

But for a real Thunder Bay meal, you need to go to the Hoito. It’s a diner serving traditional Finnish food, and in its heyday it was a focal point for the very politically-active Finnish community. There’s even been a book written on stories told in the diner. It’s located in the old Finnish Labour Temple, which the local community is working hard to restore.

There are also the totally random people.  I saw kids sitting unseatbelted (not even strapped in with a rope or duct-tape) on a flatbed truck, as well as roving from side-to-sid

e in the cargo hold of pickups. This wasn’t just in cottage areas, but on main drags like Arthur.  I learned that Vampiro, Canada’s top wrestler on the Mexican lucha libre circuit hails from TB.  In one of my strangest (?) memories, I witnessed a man smoking a cigar walk out of his home with his dog on a leash.  He walked across the street to a cemetery.  He let his dog poo in the cemetery, and he walked right back across the street to his home.  Gross, but funny. (Maybe this is the sort of thing that inspired White River‘s pet relief station.)

Finally, you know Thunder Bay is a true northern town as it obeys the two main laws of Highway 11 – that each city must have something big, and something in a pile.  Thunder Bay has both – its five-foot tall curling rock, and the ever-popular pile of wood.

View from Fort William First Nation, near Thunder Bay, Highway 11.ca

I used to have these teeny-tiny 200 pixel square photos of the Thunder Bay waterfront on this site.  What would this website be like without User P199 at Wikimedia Commons saving everyone from my pitiful photography?  (The photo at the top of the post is also his.)

Thunder Bay - Sleeping Gia highway11.ca

An absolutely killer photo of The Sleeping Giant, thanks to Wiki Commons contributor P199

Atikokan

Welcome to Atikokan, Ontario, highway11.caYou might think that any town whose website lists its public library as a tourist attraction would be in need of some excitement. However, Atikokan actually has a fair amount to do.

Atikokan started off as a mining town when ore was discovered nearby in 1938.  After diverting ten kilometres of river, damming the water flow, and draining a lake, workers had shifted twice the amount of earth moved to build the Panama Canal in half the time it took to build the world famous waterway.  For even more history, check out Charles Dobie’s site.

Atikokan subsisted on two mines until 1980 when both closed.  Today, Atikokan is known for forestry, hunting, canoeing, hiking, lodges, and a coal-fired power plant that is constantly giving the area’s local MPP a kink in his party’s anti-coal platform.  The town is now home to 3400 citizens.

(Thirty-four hundred seems a bit high – I’m sure there is some sort of “Ontario small-town population formula” used to make it seem like there are more than 2000 people in any small town in southern or northern Ontario. Maybe they count population during the annual fair or something.)

I can barely portage let alone do it whilst smoking a pipe, Atikokan highway11.ca

I can barely lift a canoe let alone do it whilst smoking a pipe

Atikokan is a good spot for fishing, camping, or starting a wilderness journey – it’s not called the “Canoe Capital of Canada” for nothing.  Atikokan has great access to Quetico Provincial Park, a wilderness park often recognized as one of the most beautiful places in Ontario, if not in Canada.  As well, there is the White Otter / Turtle River Wilderness Area just north of town and public swimming at the beach on Crystal Lake.

Other tourist attractions include tours of the local walleye hatchery, Scenic Little Falls, the Atikokan Centennial Museum, the Mining Attraction, and the Scenic Little Falls Golf Club. And, according to Wikipedia, Atikokan is Ojibway for “caribou bones”. Atikokan - highway11.ca water falls

However, the neatest thing in Atikokan (remember, in northern Ontario something can be “in” a town and still be 40 minutes away – or in this case, 64 kilometres away by boat or snowmobile) is White Otter Castle.  Started in 1905 by a strange local bachelor named Jimmy McQuat, the three story log cabin was built over ten years on the shores of White Otter Lake.  Jimmy single-handedly built his home out of red pine logs.  The castle has been restored by the local community and prints by a local artist are on sale for 100$.

As for services in town, I don’t have much info.  There are some lodges, a motel, a Foodland, and I’m sure a few diners in town.  Patrick reports that there is a great little campsite just outside of town.

Atikokan - White Otter Castle, highway11.ca

Okay, Jimmy McQuat’s White Otter Castle is a ‘castle’ in the sense that Hamilton, Ontario’s escarpment is a ‘mountain’, but it’s still really freakin’ neat.

Atikokan camp site, highway 11

Camp site in Atikokan

Atikokan camp site

The camp site runs on the honour system for travellers heading in at any time of day or night.  (Camp photos: Patrick.)

If you have, please email me to add to this page. My address is info (at) highway11 (dot) ca