Fort Frances

With a population of around 8000, Fort Frances is the largest town on Highway 11 west of Thunder Bay. Fort Frances is on the border with Minnesota, which you can cross to via the International Bridge.

Fort Frances got its start as a fur trading crossroads.  No less than four independent fur trading companies set up shop where Rainy River meets the lake of the same name.  The Northwest Company, Fort St-Pierre (a French fur trading station,) the American Fur Company, and later an HBC outpost named after the wife of its governor were all present in the area.

The modern town was founded in 1903 around the local paper mill and its power generating station. The last I heard, the mill was facing a crisis with a shut-down potentially on the horizon for its 700 employees.  I don’t know what they’ll do with the hydro station if the mill shuts down – it’ll probably be kept online to generate power regardless.  You can take a tour of the mill if you call ahead.Like every good town on Ontario’s Highway 11, Fort Frances has a few big, weird, random things in town.  One is the Mermaid Statue on Copenhagen Island just off in Rainy Lake, apparently made by some Hans Christian Andersen fan.  And there’s also a really big chair in one of their parks.  I’m not sure if they have a competition with fellow big chair enthusiast Highway 11 towns Gravenhurst and Callander.

Fort Frances Chair and Mermaid

Fort Frances’ mermaid is more Hans Christian Andersen than Walt Disney. And if probably a lot more comfortable on that rock than she be in Fort Frances’ big chair.

In terms of tourist stuff, For Frances has a museum which recently celebrated the town’s centennial.  There are the requisite lodges and wilderness outfitters found in northwest Ontario.  Fort Frances has a nice waterfront and hosts the annual Fun in the Sun festival on Canada Day, with children’s activities, food, fish and chips, bathtub races, and more (according to the municipal website.)  There is also a two week long festival of the arts hosted by the town in April.

Just seven kilometres east of Fort Frances you can travel the Noden Causeway, which goes from island to island with nice views.  There is also the Kitchen Creek Golf Club just outside of town.

Other interesting things about Fort Frances include that more than one quarter of the population is Ukrainian, that it was hit by a Tornado in 1945, and that it hosts the annual Canadian Bass Fishing Championship.

Sunset on the River near Fort Frances, with the bridge crossing to Minnesota in the photo above this one.

Rainy River

Rainy River is closer to Winnipeg than Thunder Bay – and considering it’s in the same province as places as far away as Windsor, Ottawa, and Welland, you can tell why some people in the north may feel a bit disaffected. I mean, technically, it is faster to drive from Toronto to Rainy River via the US, passing through Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, rather than taking Highway 17 and/or Highway 11 the whole way.

Depending on the direction you’re travelling, Rainy River is either the start or the end of Highway 11.  Atwood Street in Rainy River is the terminus of Toronto’s Yonge Street – all 1600 kilometres of it.

Highway 11 Rainy River terminus end

Although this website sort of starts in Rainy River, If you came from the south, Rainy River is the end of Highway 11, meaning you have two options: you can take Highway 600 up through Lake of The Woods, or…

Rainy River International Bridge Higway 11

…or you can take the International Bridge across Rainy River to Minnesota (This photo and the above c/o Patrick.)

International Bridge in Rainy River

(Photo: Keith)

Rainy River is the gateway to northwestern Ontario – well, if you’re coming from the west, that is.  Rainy River is about 100 kilometres west of Fort Frances on Highway 11, and about 450 kilometres west of Thunder Bay.Rainy River began with a lumber mill in 1895 and by 1901 the CNR had a stop there.  By 1904 the town was established.  Today, its importance as a railway and logging town diminished, Rainy River is home to about 1000 people.  It’s an important border crossing, with access to Minnesota, and has plenty of outdoor activities.

Rainy River Locomotive, highway11.caRainy River is home to the 4008, a restored steam locomotive that used to run the CNR route to the town.  Much like the Shay in Iroquois Falls, the train is a testament to the old logging and railway industries which once dominated northern Ontario.  There is a railway heritage museum in town detailing Rainy River’s history with the railway.

Rainy River also has a marina, sports facilities, and both a buffalo and an elk farm.  There is a lot of hunting, fishing, boating, and swimming. Rainy River is one of the towns closest to the beautiful Lake of the Woods.

Rainy River hosts a few festivals including the mid-summer Railroad Daze, the Walleye Fishing Derby, and the Rainy River Giant Pumpkin Festival.  (Doesn’t some town in Nova Scotia have a giant pumpkin festival too? Where they row the carved pumpins like boats?  I don’t know.)

Post below, or email me at info (at) highway11 (dot) ca

Rainy River, Ontario, highway 11

Rainy River is small, but is a starting point for outfitting and anything to do with Lake of the Woods. (Photo: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Rainy River municipal building,

(Photo credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)