Monteith / Val Gagné

I suspect that Monteith Correction Facility used to be a source of ..."interesting" comments on this page before I upgraded the comment system.

Given the number of crazy posts I had on the old Monteith page, I suspect that Monteith Correction Facility used to be a source of …”interesting” comments before I upgraded the comment system.

Monteith is about 20 kilometres northwest of Matheson (on Highway 11), and 11 kilometres south of Iroquois Falls. Most people see places like Monteith as dots-on-the-map, but if you look behind the map you’ll find that places like these often have some pretty neat histories.

Monteith was founded in 1916 as Driftwood City (the ‘city’ part obviously debatable to some ) but was destroyed by fire soon after.  The town (‘town’ less debateable) was then rebuilt as the home of a demonstration farm.  I’ve been told that the town was named Monteith after a former Provincial Minister of Agriculture.Val Gagné is a largely francophone hamlet of about 50 houses 30 minutes south of Iroquois Falls.

Monteith's church.

Monteith’s church.

The demonstration farm was eventually converted into a military training centre, which was then used as a boarding school, which was then turned into an abandoned boarding school, which then turned into a jail, which then turned into a World War II Prisoner-of-War camp, which then turned back into a jail.

Today Monteith is known for being the home of Monteith Correctional Centre, a medium security prison that bears an eerie resemblance to my old high school.  The facility is pictured here (Monteith, not my old highschool.)

Paul emailed in to tell me that during the summer of ’64 or ’65 there was an iron ore discovery north of Timmins. This was quite a rich find, and was followed by a huge smelter being built just outside of Timmins. The find of iron ore sparked speculators and claim staking in an area of approx. 40 – 50 miles all around Timmins. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of claims staked.

Apparently, a Toronto Star reporter with a vivid imagination described the exploration boom with the following headline: “Startled guards at the Monteith Correctional Centre discovered miners tunnelling underneath the jail in search of iron ore”.

  Of course it wasn’t true. Apparently somebody must have fed that reporter quite a line, but it was good for a few laughs. (I guess they didn’t check sources in those days).

I’ve only been to Monteith once, so I haven’t done a tonne of exploring. I counted maybe 20 houses (there are probably more, I always seem to under-count and get emails later) there is the Mary Magdalene Church (pictured), an old playground, a pop machine, and oddly enough a totally random garden centre. There;s probably more I just didn’t get to see it that day.

Val Gagné

Val Gagne isn’t directly on Highway 11 – it’s about a 10 minute drive east of the main highway.  Val Gagné is one of many tiny little farming communities that typifies northern Temiskaming.

National Tavern, Val Gagné, Ontario

The National, Val Gagné’s watering hole

In town, Sunshine Café and Variety on rue Principale serves cold beer and also has an LCBO outlet.  Last time I was there the store was for sale (I know a lot of people who would love to own their own liquor store, just maybe not in Val Gagné.)  There are a few other businesses, including Guay’s Garage, a caisse, a foodmart, and of course, a church.

I took a photo of the old National Tavern as a tribute to the town’s past.  I thought it was shut down and boarded up, but in fact I’ve been told that it’s still open.

Val Gagné apparently has one of the nicest baseball fields in all of Ontario and hosts an annual baseball tournament on the August long weekend named Val Gagné Days.  There is also an annual corn roast that attracts 10 000 people from across the north.  If you explore the cemetery there is a statue to be found commemorating the people who died in the Great Fire of 1916.

A former Val Gagné resident emailed me regarding the website and alerted me to the fact that I’m making their hometown (and many others) seem like a “ramshackle collection of abandoned huts”. While that’s definitely not the case, nor the intent (at least not on purpose) there may be more to the town than met my eye that rainy afternoon in August.

(Photo are “pour” to incessant rain.)

Tunis / Nellie Lake

One my drives up Highway 11 after Iroquois Falls, I didn’t see much in Tunis, at least not much that was directly on the highway itself.

Dutch from Kitigan emailed me to tell me that Tunis, was the home of a huge church that was used as a vacation retreat for Catholic priests and nuns. About 25 years ago, the church sold everything, and left. New owners tried to run a motel out of the complex, but it soon went under, and burnt down five years later.

About 15 years ago, a large power plant was built not far south of Tunis, financed by the Ontario Teachers Retirement fund.

As far as I could tell, Nellie Lake consists of a gas station, a few houses, and an an abandoned motel/gas bar complex along Highway 11.

However, according to some helpful emails from Sarah, I seem to have missed all the fun. Nellie Lake requires that you leave Highway 11 to truly find it.

Nellie Lake (the town) is largely a small cottage hamlet off the highway. Worth checking out is the lake itself, which has beach facilities and apparently picturesque and transquil surroundings. Cameron’s Beach and Trailer Park borders Big Nellie Lake and offers camping and trailer services alongside the water.


Driftwood is situated 80 kilometres north of Timmins city limits at the corner of Highway 11 and road 655.  There are two homes in Driftwood.  One is for sale.

Otherwise there’s a big truckstop, which is a good place to get gas before Smooth Rock Falls.  The truckstop also has showers and a restaurant that serves a decent breakfast. I used to stop there sometimes on my way from Timmins to Smooth Rock Falls.  One of the servers was this pretty girl about my age with a nice ponytail and I always used to try to sit in her section.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.Truckstop in Driftwood, Ontario on Highway 11

Across from the truckstop there is a little alcove where the OPP hides to catch speeders, so beware if you’re continuing along Highway 11.


Fraserdale, Ontario, highway 11 siteFraserdale began life as the railway stop three miles from the Abitibi Canyon Colony.  It is not on Highway 11, instead being about an hour’s drive north on Highway 634.

The colony, approximately 5 kilometres from present-day Fraserdale, was constructed by Ontario Hydro to house staff for nearby hydroelectric dams. At its height, the Abitibi Canyon Colony was home to 300 people. Major indoor facilities included a three-sheet curling rink, hockey rink, swimming pool, four-lane bowling alley, billiard room, library, gymnasium, and a theatre. The extent of these facilities were needed to help entertain families in such an isolated location.

Abitibi Dam near Fraserdale

Abitibi Dam near Fraserdale (Photo credit: Patrick, including the next photo.)

However, the Abitibi Canyon Colony fell victim to isolation and economics. Children has to leave the colony for high school or complete final years by correspondence, often boarding with families in Timmins and Kapuskasing. The Abitibi Canyon Colony was the most extensive community ever built by Ontario Hydro, at its height housing up to 1500 residents. Until 1966, the community was only accessible by rail, and even then the train only ran three times per week. By the 1980s, the site cost well over 1 000 000$ per year to maintain. The Abitibi Canyon Colony was eventually phased out in 1980 over a two year period. Check out the Abitibi Canyon Reunion site for some old photos and memories.  The colony’s history is available here.Rail equipment in FraserdaleAccording to info from Don, Fraserdale wasn’t much of a town while the Abitibi Canyon Colony was up and running. Today Fraserdale is a small hydro community, and acts as starting points for bush journeys and wilderness trips, most frequently for canoeists who are traveling up the large rivers to Moosonee or Moose Factory.

Highway 634 began construction in 1966. Completed and paved in 1971, the road links Fraserdale to Smooth Rock Falls and Highway 11, approximately 75 kilometres to the south. Like many northern towns, the community was named for a railway engineer, Alan Fraser.

Fraserdale siding, ontario

Fraserdale siding solitude. (Photo credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Jamie was up that way a few years ago and reported that the Polar Bear Express will pick up passengers at Fraserdale Station according to a sign at the start of 634 in Smooth Rock Falls. Island Falls GS is a dead end but a good stop where you may be able to see helicopters.  The highway is paved right to Abitibi Canyon GS, and is in great shape.

Recently, author Joseph Boyden wrote a short (fictional) story about the building of a dam in the Abitibi River canyon in his collected of short stories set in the north titled Born With A Tooth.

I didn’t head up the road to Fraserdale during any of my journeys and couldn’t find much on the net. Thanks to Patrick and to Jamie for the photos.

Can you add to this page? Please email me at info (at) highway11 (dot) ca

Fraserdale, hydro generating station, highway 11

View from Island Falls hydro station (Photo credit:  Jamie, including next two photos)

Fraserdale Ontario rapids otter

Fraserdale Ontario 50th parallel highway 11

At the 50th parallel

Gregoire Mills / Strickland

Gregoire Mills, Ontario, on Highway 11Like many other former towns, the mills have left Gregoire. Gregoire Mills consists of seven or eight houses spread out along Highway 11 between Fauquier and Strickland and that’s about all I could find.

Strickland was a stop on the railroad.  It’s actually not on any of the maps that I have, it’s listed as a rail stop but there is a sign on the highway for it so I included it in the Highway 11 website.

Fauquier/Strickland, on Highway 11

Mural on the local gym

Technically part of Fauquier, there’s not a lot in Strickland.  There’s a church, about 15 houses facing Highway 11, and Chez Belanger, the local convenience store.

Local dépanneur in Strickland, on Highway 11

Local dépanneur on Highway 11 in Strickland

Harty / Val Rita

Harty, Ontario, Highway 11Harty and Val Rita are two more clean, quaint, and cute francophone hamlets in the heart of French-speaking Highway 11.  There’s not a tonne of stuff in Harty – St. Stanislas Church (founded in 1932), maybe 30 houses, and a playground.

Harty’s town sign is nifty as you can see it from both directions on Highway 11 – there are letters on both sides of the pillars. The photo does not do this justice as it is hard to see the town letters carved into the concrete.

Val Rita, Ontario, Highway 11

Bienvenue a Val Rita (Both photos c/o user P199 at Wiki Commons.)

As for Val Rita, well it’s a bit larger but unless you want to eat, get gas, wash your car, or go to church…yep those are your options.

Val Rita chip stand, Highway 11, Ontario

I shoulda made a website on HIghway 11 chip-stands…

In terms of food, there’s a small Foodmart, as well as the Val Rita Chip Stand.  The 24-hour The Auberge Inn (Auberge means ‘inn’ in French, no? So effectively the place is named The Inn Inn? That’s almost like “The La Trattoria” from the movie Mickey Blue Eyes) offers rooms, breakfast, and gas.  There’s also a car wash and a caisse.

Help me add more to this page, send an email to info (at) highway11 (dot) ca, or post below.

Churhc, Val Rita Ontario, Highway 11

Val Rita’s church

Reesor Siding

Reesor Siding, three kilometres west of Reesor proper, is the site of one of Canada’s bloodiest labour conflicts and the inspiration behind a really good Stompin’ Tom song.

On Highway 11 there is a memorial to the Reesor Siding Strike of 1963, a defining moment in Canadian labour history whose division still exists to this day.

From what I’ve read and been told, it all began when a local lumber union walked off the job.  They were supplying wood to the pulp mill in Kapuskasing.

Some local farmers decided to break picket lines and supply the Kapuskasing mill with wood.  This angered the local union.

This led to a stalemate where the union sabotaged the farmers’ efforts to supply wood, and the farmers refused to support the strike.  When some union members went to disrupt a secret midnight shipment of wood, an altercation broke out.  Three strikers were shot, 11 others were wounded. In the end, something like 20 individual farmers were charged with murder for the one resulting death, which was a record as the largest murder trial in Canada. More than 150 strikers were arrested for rioting, and were held for two weeks at the correctional centre at Monteith.


Reesor Siding monument, Highway 11

Monument commemorating the strikers killed at Reesor Siding

The memorial on Highway 11 was erected by the local union, to the dismay of some locals.  The Reesor incident remained a sore point for some time.  Supposedly, the first time Stompin’ Tom sang his song “The Reesor Crossing Tragedy” at a concert in Kapuskasing, he was run out of town…

Reesor Siding, at its height, had about 100 residents, after a number of Mennonite and fraco-Ontarian families took homesteads after the ONR railway moved in in 1915. A store was opened in 1924, and a sawmill, Mennonite church, cemetery, and tennis court. A school came in 1927. However, with the hardships of the Depression, families generally left the area, and farming families struggled.

By the time the Reesor Siding incident happened, only a few farm families were left in the area.

“Just a little bit west of Kapuskasing,
Reesor Crossing, that’s the name.
Farmers hauled, from out of the bushland,
pulpwood for the mill-bound train.
Twenty farmers met that night,
to guard their pulp from a union strike,
unaware this night would see a tragedy,
the Reesor Crossing Tragedy.
“You’ll never load that pile of lumber”,
said the Union men, when they came.
Though they numbered about 500,
the twenty farmers took rifle aim.

“We’ve got to get our pulpwood out,
before the muskeg frost comes out”.
“And may God help us all to see,
no Reesor Crossing Tragedy”.

“You’ll never touch this pile of lumber”,
but they came, and tragically,
three men died, that february,
in the year of ’63.
Eight more wounded, some beat up
tires slashed on the lumber trucks.
A night of death, and destiny -
the Reesor Crossing Tragedy.
“You’ll never touch this pile of lumber”,
seven words that spelled out pain.
For the widows and their children,
and their men who died in vain.
How can anyone forget,
the bloodiest labour battle yet,
in all Canadian history?
The Reesor Crossing tragedy.

Just a little bit west of Kapuskasing,
they erected a sculpture beside the tracks.
Of the bushman and his family,
who live their lives behind the axe.

It reminds us in the North,
not to bring out tempers forth
That there may never elsewhere be
 no Reesor Crossing Tragedy.”

Lyrics from “The Reesor Crossing Tragedy” by Stompin’ Tom Connors (1968).


Lowther is dead.  Long live Lowther.

I’ve been told by a Mattice resident that Lowther is on the map since it used to be the home of a NORAD base until the mid-1980s. Dwight confirmed this.
Much like the radar base around Ramore, the Lowther baseclosed in 1987. However, unlike Ramore, when they closed the place absolutely everything was removed within a couple years. The first photo below shows the Lowther base from Highway 11, in 1984. The second is an aerial shot of the base, with Highway 11 running diagonally in the background.

Today, Lowther is just an empty area where the radar base and all buildings existed. While Lowther is on the map, it no longer exists.

Thanks to Dwight for the info, and for pointing me to the photos linked below, care of Marg and Ren l’Ecuyer’s Pinetree Line website (
Photo Links: Pinetree Line – View of Lowther Base from Highway 11, 1984, Pinetree Line – Aerial View of Lowther Base from Highway 11, Pinetree Line – Dismantling of Lowther Base, 1989, Pinetree Line – View of Lowther Base from Highway 11, 1998

Hallébourg / Val Coté

Hallébourg – a cluster of approximately 20 homes east of Hearst on Highway 11 – is one of the smallest of the francophone hamlets on Highway 11.  I think only Strickland or Harty are smaller.

Hallebourg, Ontario, on Highway 11

(This and the next photo both c/o user P199 at Wiki Commons)

Just east of Hallébourg, Val Coté used to be a tiny farming hamlet, but as farming became less profitable in agriculturally minor areas of Ontario like up here, it soon lost its economic raison d’etre.Val-Cote, Ontario Highway 11,

There are about 15 houses in Val Coté along with an old barn or two, a church, and a tiny caisse.  In the church parking lot there’s a sign advertising the Val Cote Musée Des Pierres, a rock museum.

Church in Val Coté, Ontario, Highway 11

Val Coté’s church

Val Coté, Ontario's Rock Museum, Highway 11

Sadly not open at 8.45 AM on a long-weekend Friday.


Nakina / Aroland

North of Geraldton you’ll find two towns on opposite ends of Highway 548 – Nakina, and Aroland.

Nakina is village of approximately 500 people on Highway 584. The village is situated approximately 60 kilometres north of Geraldton – making Nakina one of Ontario’s more remote towns on the road network.

Nakina highway ending, Ontario

At the end of one of the most northerly stretches of road in Ontario are Nakina and Aroland

With 500 people today, Nakina is essentially the remnants of an old railway town. The town was founded in 1913 due to the junction of the railway – after Nakina the rail lines branch southwards towards Toronto or east towards Quebec. This made Nakina an ideal spot for a railway centre. In its heyday, Nakina has a fully functioning roundhouse, with fuel, servicing, and train-turning facilities.

The 1940s saw Nakina get a radar base. Built in World War Two, the base was designed to protect the important locks between Lakes Huron and Superior at Sault Ste. Marie. Like many of Canada’s old radar bases, it was operated by the United States, but dismantled soon after the Second World War.

Nakina, Ontairo way up north a fair bit off Highway 11

Nakina, harkening back to the old days of northern Ontario railway towns (Photo: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Nakina hit a boom in the 1970s when, in addition to its railway functions, the town was home to a large paper mill. This boosted the population to nearly double what it is today. Currently, however, minerals exploration and tourism are the largest industries today. Nakina is a starting point for many northern fly-in lodges. You can fly to lakes such as Makokibatan, part of the Albany River system. Fish for walleye, northern pike as well as brook trout.With both the pulp and railway industries definitely on the wane, it may be hard for Nakina to stem out-migration and beat the odds of being such a remote, northern town.

Train station in Nakina, Ontario Highway 11 Homepage

Nakina’s train station

Nakina advertizes along Highway 11 with its mascot, the “Nakina Mosquita”… I wish I had taken a photo of one of those signs. Thanks to Keith for sending in the photos of the rail station and of the end of Highway 584.

Aroland is an Oji-Cree First Nations town about 20 kilometres northwest of Nakina off Highway 584 on Highway 643. Approximately 300 people live in the community.

The surrounding area was a traditional camping ground in the late 18th and early 19th centuries due to good hunting, fishing and trapping. The Hudson Bay Company set up a trading post at nearby Kawpaskagami Lake in the early 1900s. The railway expanded to the area in 1911. According to the Chiefs of Ontario website, the Arrow Land and Logging Company, which operated in the area from 1933 to 1941, employed many Band members and contributed to the establishment of a permanent community.

The community is made up of members from many First Nations across the north, including former members from Long Lake, Fort Hope, Marten Falls, and Fort William Bands. The Aroland settlement is within the boundaries of the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850 and the James Bay Treaty of 1905 (known across the north as Treaty 9.)