Holland Landing

Crossed by the railway, a river, and bordered by a marsh, movers and shakers always had big plans for Holland Landing.

Highway 11 Yonge Street Holland Marsh highway11.ca Landing

Holland Marsh, undrained, at the north end of Holland Landing and the end of Old Yonge Street

In the 1790s Holland Landing was to be a shipping port that would facilitate the transportation of goods across Lake Simcoe, linking the northernmost part of Yonge Street with the Penetanguishene Road.  But heavy boat traffic never materialized.

Holland Landing was then to be used as critical point to transport shipbuilding supplies during the War of 1812.  But the war ended before Holland Landing could play a major role.

Then, in the early 1800s Quakers from Pennsylvania settled the area.  But they ended up building their big temple in nearby Sharon.

The late 1880s saw plans for a re-settlement of Manitobans fleeing from conflict with the Métis.  But Sir John A. MacDonald ended put troops on the new railway and snuffed that out to his political benefit.

In the early 1900s Holland Landing was supposed to be the site of a canal that would link Lake Simcoe with the Trent-Severn canal system.  But with the canal almost complete, it was cancelle by Sir Robert Borden.

The 1920s saw the draining of the Holland Marshes for agricultural use.  But most of those drained areas are actually west of town, closer to Bradford.

Holland Landing, East Gwillimbury Ontario, Yonge Street

So there is an East Gwillimbury to Bradford‘s West!

Today, Holland Landing an agricultural town and bedroom community that is home to about 40 percent of the Town of East Gwillimbury’s residents.  There are a few restaurants in town, most notably a Subway, a Country Style, and a few independents; in this case, the Sunshine Café, Dragon Kind Chinese, and Santa Fé Pizza.  But being so close to Bradford, and now bypassed by the modern Highway 11 (Holland Landing is at the terminus of Yonge Street, a bit north and east of the highway) most of the traffic ends up in Bradford.

Yonge Street in Holland Landing, Ontario

Yonge Street in Holland Landing (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Yonge Street, Holland Landing Ontario

It’s still called Yonge Street, even way up here

Holland Landing, Yonge Street, Highway 11 marsh wetland

More marshy goodness in Holland Landing, Ontario

Holland Marsh

Holland Marsh, Canal Road farmer's market, Highway 11

The Canal Road farmers market has a direct exit from the 400

Although it’s not immediately apparent when you’re driving on Highway 11, you can’t miss the wet, black fields and the plasticky, arching growtunnels of the Holland Marsh when you’re on the 400.

Stretching from Highway 400 to the outskirts of Holland Landing in the east and Innisfil in the north – with Bradford right in the middle – the Holland Marsh is one of central Ontario’s most productive agricultural areas.

The area was first settled in the 1880s when local mattress companies set up shop in order to harvest marsh reeds for stuffing and bedding.  By the mid 1920s the marshes had largely been drained, leading to the founding of a small Dutch settlement of 15 families in 1935.

Today the Holland Marsh is a mix of corporate farms, veg processors and family farmers that largely grow market garden crops for local consumption, particularly onions, carrots, and lettuces.  During the summer months, there is a farmer’s market open on Canal Road, just off the 400 as you get ready to drive up the big hill.

Carrots from Bradford, Ontario, Holland Marsh, highway11.ca

Holland Marsh veggies, in my fridge!

Holland Marsh, highway11.ca Ontario Holland Marsh, Ontario, highway11.ca

Bradford

Bradford, Ontario GO train station, highway 11 yonge streetI’m from the burbs, from a family of commuters.  But Bradford to Toronto on the GO Train?  That’s one heck of a commute, without even thinking about the mention inevitable track delays or having to transfer to the TTC.  Needless to say, if it has a GO Train station then it’s a real town.  Bradford is not a village or a hamlet or a siding or a corners.

Another Victim of the Southern Ontario Squeeze

Bradford is one of those southern Ontario towns that is at a cross-roads.  It’s still small, rural, and agricultural enough to be surrounded by farms, have a big feed elevator siding the railway, and host a goofy festival like the Marsh Mash every May.  But it is not so rural that it is immune to the pressures of urbanization that have slowly seeped into its cracks.  Bradford is close enough to the big city to be constantly affronted by its demands, but may be just too far away to reap its full share of the benefits.  These are the sort of towns that are pinched between two realities, and that are too often never given the choice between one or the other.

Bradford, Ontario, Yonge Street, Highway 11

Highway 11 heading south into Bradford

With ten thousand people or so it has the usual amenities, including Tim Hortonses, a McDonalds, etc.  This is not the kind of place where you need to worry about getting gas.  Or getting anything.  It even has a 7-11.  (So if you’re into slushies – my favourite is Schweppes Ginger Ale, hard to find but worth it – Bradford is a good place to stop.)

But Bradford is unique in the sense that it is not so small that it can only support a couple of third-tier fast food joints, but also not so big that the economies of scale are sufficient to support those generic, sit-down dining franchises like Kelsey’s and Boston Pizza that seem to be infecting every southern Ontario community from a secret mist of spores wafting from some suburban power-centre nerve HQ.

It was refreshing to see the number of independent restaurants for a town this small and this rural.  There is old-school greasy roadside fare like BBQ King, two diners, a Portguese bakery, an English chip shop (Cook’s Bay), a Dutch tea room, Bangkok Saigon Noodle, a Mexican restaurant, a souvlaki place, and a couple of independent pizza parlours.  And, of course, there are the standard old-school sports bars you’d expect of a rural Ontario town.

ENV305:  Informal Travel Blog Training at the U of T

I lose most of my inhibitions anytime food is involved.  I’ll eat almost anything, anywhere, with anyone.  I’m not particularly big on small-talk, I generally keep to myself, but I don’t have much of a problem strolling into strange restaurants, whether it’s for coffee at a francophone diner in Kapuskasing, a midweek lunch at Sister’s in Englehart or a bustling Sunday morning post-church congregational brunch at The Roosteraunt in Smith’s Falls.

Downtown Bradford, Ontario, Yonge Street, Highway 11

When you’re alone and life is making you hungry you can always go downtown

I attribute this fact to the specialized training I received at university: ENV305 Ecosystems of Ontario.  The course description was a complete yawn.  The fact that it was only offered in alternating years made it seem unpopular.  But the lucky few who enrolled were all surprised when, during the third week of class, we received a syllabus that seemed nothing like the description.  It became obvious – the course was made to sound so dry as to attract only the die-hard, and offered only every other year in order to derail word-of-mouth.  Because, reading that syllabus, it become clear that the course would have been more appropriately titled:  “Drive around Ontario, go hiking in the bush, wolf down greasy diner food, identify rare flora, end the day at a sadsack sportsbar in some tiny rural Ontario town, and then find a way back to your camp to freeze your ass off in a tent.  Repeat biweekly.

So, when you’ve closed the Halloween night party at the Pacific Hotel in Wiarton, scoured Norfolk County for a place that was open after last-call, traded your pita for entry into The Beer Store five minutes after close in Huntsville, bought every last cinnamon bun in the bakery on the last Saturday morning of the cottage season in Bala, and gotten propositioned by cougars whilst dancing to karaoke in your yellow rain coat and rubber boots in Ridgetown, stepping into a local restaurant for lunch is nothing to speak of.

Usually.  Joe’s Restaurant and Bar was a bit of an exception.

Just a Little bit Chickens**t

I was about to settle for Subway – it was 11.30 am on a Monday, and most of the aforementioned restaurants were closed – when I saw it.  Scribbled hastily in magic marker on a whiteboard in a dark window of a non-descript hole-in-the-wall on the north side of town:  Portuguese  Chicken  Dinner.

Not that there was anything wrong with the restaurant at all.  It was fantastic.  (Actually, if you want to skip the over-written anecdote below, the food was the best meal I’ve ever had on Highway 11 / Yonge Street.  Province-wide.)

Bradford, Ontario Yonge Street Highway 11 court house

Council chambers and courthouse, in Bradford

I waited in the vestibule to be seated.  I could see that there was no-one in the dining room or at the bar, but I could hear noise coming from the back.  It was still technically morning so I knew I’d have to take a little initiative.

I headed to the kitchen, at the far back of the restaurant, where I found an aproned woman ladeling steaming stews into painted terra-cotta dishes.  Seven or eight huge guys huddled around her, all of whom were staring at yours truly.

It’s at times like this that being a guy with a preference in footwear isn’t necessarily a cool or quirky touch.

I have never heard my boots sound louder than they did when I walked across the restaurant.  (Do the Portuguese tile everything?)  I probably sounded like Mr. Ed.  From the sound of my steps maybe those guys expected me to be wearing a sheriff’s costume.  Or chaps.  Or maybe they wondered if the owners were about to get a shakedown.

Whatever they thought, me in my cowboy boots and jeans and sideburns and my foam trucker hat (it’s not a fashion accessory, I swear, they’re the only baseball caps that fit my huge head), well, when compared to the guys with their plaster-stained t-shirts and steel-toed boots and heavy-gauge jeans sagging under the weight of their tool-belts…I felt like a member of the Village People.

Bradford, Highway 11 Yonge Street mural, Ontario

It is Highway 11 here … so there’s gotta be a mural!

I waited my turn and asked the woman what the lunch options were.  She responded to me in Portuguese.  (My best guess was: something fishy, something else fishy, and something beefy and fishy.)  Normally I’d just make a blind choice and chalk it up to ‘an adventure’ if it didn’t turn out.  But today, sticking out like a phoney cowboy in an ethnic restaurant, I was off my game.  Thankfully my local bank has a “We Speak Portuguese” sign in the window.  And I’ve spent years scrolling foreign websites for soccer stats.  So after a quick mental translation, I managed to cough out a weak “Falamo ingles?”

She turned to her side and removed the lid off an aluminum tray that was being warmed beside the main dishes.  She took its contents to the back.  She checked over her shoulder and seemed surprised that I was still waiting.  “You?Chicken.Sit.

I didn’t know whether to be relieved or offended.  I’m not used to being the mangiacake.  But damn, was it ever a good day to be the mangiacake!  That was hands-down the best Portuguese chicken I’ve ever had.  Crispy skin gave way to succulent chicken that was cooked just right so the fat had melted into the meat.  And the potatoes?  Wow, soft, sweet, they yielded to your bite like little pillows of Portuguese potatoey goodness.  The piri piri sauce was tangy and spicy but didn’t blow the tastebuds out of your mouth.  The rice was, well, let’s just say I’ve never understood why Portguese chicken comes with potatoes and rice.  The second is just an unnecessary starch.  Give me a veg or something.  Anyway, it was the best meal I’ve had travelling all of Yonge Street or Highway 11.

Bradford, Ontario's windmill hosts the Classic Car Restorers Guild, on Yonge Street, Highway 11

Not only does this windmill contraption count as Bradford’s “big weird thing”, but it also houses “The Guild”, a killer classic car restoration showroom.

 

Coulson’s Hill

Highway 11 Ontario Coulson's Hill highway11.caAs you travel on Yonge Street / Highway 11 from Bradford, you’ll pass through two hamlets, both home to two churches, sitting atop a hill.

Churchill is one.  Coulson’s Hill is the other.

On the way up to Coulson’s Hill you’ll pass three farm stands, a garden centre, and a farm with a sign advertizing “Nonna’s Firewood.”

The town site for Coulson’s Hill is actually just off Highway 11, one turn west.  That’s where you’ll find the two churches – one Anglican, one Presbyterian – a cemetery, and a few houses.  I know that these churches draw from the surrounding farm country, but with a swath of churches 10 minutes south, in Bradford, another two churches up in Churchill, maybe ten minutes north on Yonge Street, you can’t help but wonder how big their congregations are.  What keeps these churches going?

There is also a really big Garden Gallery just north of Coulson’s Hill, possibly in Fennell.  Fennell was was a dot on my map but I never saw a town sign for it.

Coulson's Hill, one of two churches in town, Highway 11

Church #1

Church in Coulson's Hill, Ontario off Highway 11

Church #2

Apple farm stand, Highway 11 Ontario near Coulson's Hill

Driving along Highway 11 in northern Ontario, almost each town has some big weird thing on the side of the road – sometimes a snowman, sometimes an animal, sometimes a curling rock. I don’t know if this apple counts.

Kernel Simpson's Farm Stand, Coulson's Hill, Ontario, Ontario Highway 11

For a while I was into wearing baseball caps with minor league baseball because the logos were so often so bad. This corn dude reminds me of the Cedar Rapids Kernels hat I wore proudly for age.

Churchill

As you travel north on Yonge Street from Bradford, you’ll pass through two hamlets, both home to two churches sitting atop a hill.  One, is the very aplty named Churchill.

Churchill, Ontario, Curling Club, Highway 11

Who knew curling was even invented in 1878?

Churchill is pretty tiny.  There isn’t a gas station and there might have been a variety store, although I don’t recall one.  But with its two churches and a couple of old buildings, it’s kinda quaint.  There is a curling club, a store named Steeples that sells home decor, fudge, and pies, a garden centre (gotta love those multi-faceted Highway 11 stores), “Skydive Toronto” (isn’t that a bit misleading?), and, most importantly, a cowboy boot store.

Yes, you read that correctly – a place that sells western boots.  In a town that doesn’t even have a gas station.  If that doesn’t scream Highway 11, what does?

Churchill, Ontario, Wild Wild West Western Wear on Highway 11

Does this medium-sized replica of a cowboy boot count as Churchill’s “big weird thing”?

I had to do a double-take.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  I pretty much pulled an immediate u-turn on Highway 11 – this is a big deal because there was traffic and when driving I’m cautious to the point of anal.  (You don’t know how many cool photos I’ve missed because I’m unwilling to slow down, pull over or pull a u-ey.  I missed going into Eagle Canyon in Dorion simply because I missed the turn and then didn’t feel comfy u-turning til I hit Thunder Bay, and by then I was too far away!)  I couldn’t believe that there would be two western boot stores in between Toronto and Barrie (the other is in Innisfil.)  I had dreams of finding a form-fitting pair of Tony Lama Regal Americanas in Antique Peanut or a pair of 11 EW Dan Post Justins in Cognac.  But sadly for me, I was driving on a Monday afternoon.  And in the off-season, Wild Wild West (which seems to run out of someone’s home) is only open on Saturdays from 11-5.

If you’re looking to venture off Highway 11, turn east onto Killarney Beach Road.  A ten minute drive will take you to Lefroy, a cute little beach town (with a great fish and chips shop) that reminds me some of the little shoreline towns on Lake Erie.

Highway11.ca my western boots

A few years back I needed to buy riding boots for a ranch vacation. They wouldn’t fit in my luggage so I had to wear them on the plane. Despite being the cheapest boots I could find they were the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Not to mention the coolest looking too. So I’m a convert. I even have a fancypants pair for work!

Farms near Churchill, Ontario, on Highway 11

Although Churchill does have its modern subdivision just north of town at the crest of the hill, by and large it’s still an aggy community

Churchill, Ontario, St. Peter's Anglican Church on Highway 11

This is church #1 in Churchill when driving north up Highway 11. I did not get a photo of church #2.  It probably would have made more sense to put this photo up at the top where I refer to the churches.

Barclay

17Barclay - Star trekI swear that I’m not a Trekkie.  Really, I’m just a casual fan.  It was a nice part of a childhood Saturday night – maybe we’d get a bit of pop with our supper, if we were lucky we’d make a pizza, and then we’d watch Star Trek before settling in for Hockey Night in Canada.  That nostalgia may be the reason that every time I see the word “Barclay”, immediately this guy springs to mind.

OK, back to the content.

Barclay is another one of the dots on the map along Highway 11 that contribute to the municipality of Innisfil.

There is some other stuff in Barclay – the Innisfil municipal hall, a gas station, the Innisfil recreation centre that the Ontario Gaming Corporation has been promoting the heck out of in a not-so-subtle bid to convince Torontonians to build a casino downtown.  But to my recollection Barclay is more a smattering of services than a little village that hugs Highway 11, like Churchill or Stroud.

Barclay is also home to the southern-most woodpile that I saw along Highway 11, although I think it was a result of someone logging their back forty rather than being a permanent local fixture like the woodpiles in that dot more northern communities.

Barclay, Innisfil, Ontario highway 11 feed and grain elevator

You know you’re in rural southern Ontario when the village has a feed and grain elevator…

Barclay, Innisfil, Ontario, speedway on Highway 11

…and a motorsports facility…

Model home centre, Barclay, Innisfil, Ontario, Highway 11

…but is still under pressure to accommodate suburban residential development.

Ontario Highway 11 Innisfil Recreation YMCA OLG highway11.ca

Innisfil’s super-swish YMCA, of OLG commercial fame.

Barclay speedway, Ontario, Innisfil, Highway 11

Whenever I see a speedway, I just feel so country.  I expect to see Brad Paisley jump out at me or something.

Barclay, Innisfil, Highway 11 Ontario highway11.ca feed

Barclay, Ontario, feed and grain elevator, on Highway 11

Innisfil

Innisfil is the town in Ontario.  Innisfail is its namesake out in Alberta.  I’m going to get that out of the way and try my best not to make any typos and avoid any negative emails.  For this site, typing Innisfail would be an epic fail.

Highway 11 Ontairo, Innisfil, highway11.ca

For years, David Wilcox was never invited to play my hometown’s summer festival because the organizers thought that his crowd (baby boomer dads?) was “too rowdy”

Innisfil is pretty well-known throughout southern and central Ontario for its beach on Lake Simcoe and its outlet malls on Highway 400 near Cookstown.   After driving down Highway 11 south of Barrie, however, I gotta say that I’m a little confused.

I knew that, administratively, Innisfil encompassed a collection of villages and hamlets south of Barrie and along the western shore of Lake Simcoe.  But, I always thought that there was a specific settlement named Innisfil on Yonge Street / Highway 11.  That may be the case, but it wasn’t apparent during my recent trip on Highway 11.  My map reads: St. Paul’s, Stroud, Barclay, Churchill, Fennell, Coulson’s Hill, and then Bradford.  No Innisfil in sight, other than in block letters over the region.

Innisfil has changed a lot since its first settlement in the late 1800s.  After more than a half-century as a farming region, Innisfil has slowly become more commuter-focused.  At one time, almost every house on Lake Simcoe was a recreational property.  Today, more than 90 percent are year-round permanent residences.

Though the Ontario Stock Yards moved here from Toronto in 1993, Innisfil has gradually become less agricultural.  It lost land to Barrie in 1967, 1982, 1993, and 2010 despite pressure to facilitate development for commuter residents bound for Barrie or Toronto.  Book-ended by Barrie’s 135 000 people and Newmarket’s 80 000, Innisfil’s 32 000 (spread over over seven or eight communities) are facing the squeeze of urbanization.  Contrast this to the depopulation problems faced by communities an hour or two further north and you’ll have a good sense of how Ontario’s diversity can be a challenge in creating political and societal consensus province-wide.

Innisfil, Ontario on Highway 11 farming highway11.ca

Farms outside Innisfil, Ontario on Highway 11 (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

I don’t often advocate leaving Highway 11 for 400-series highways, but in the case of Innisfil you have my blessing.  Not only if you’re going to the beach, but also if you’re looking for antiques.  The Roadshow 400 Antique Mall is located right on Highway 400.  And it is really fantastic, open during the week and weekends, with some of the best selection of antiques available day-in-day-out in Ontario.  (It gives Southworks in Cambridge a run for its money.)  And the yellow-and-black chip truck in the parking lot has a pretty decent poutine.

Antiques in Innisfil, highway11.ca Ontario

Don’t get distracted by the neighbouring flea market, focus on the antique mall at the east end of the complex.

The other reason to head off Highway 11 in Innisfil is Herbert’s Western Boots and Western Wear.  One of two cowboy boots stores on Highway 11, Herbert’s has the best selection in western boots in the area, and I can attest that staff are helpful and low-pressure – willing to help you for hours if need-be, even if you can’t find the pair for you.  (Keleher’s Western Boots and Tack, also in Cambridge, has a slightly larger selection.)

Innisfil, Ontario, Cowbow Boots Herbert's Western Wear, Highway11.ca

Uhh, yup we’re not in Toronto anymore.

Stroud

Stroud, Ontario - southern farming on Highway 11 highway11.ca

Naturally, this did not excite me as a kid

Oh, I was mad at Stroud for a long time.

It all began one day in April when the parents of some kids that we played with down the street came home with a motorboat.

This was completely foreign to us.  Our parents might come home from work with a chocolate bar.  Or a roast chicken.  (We always wished for a puppy.)  But a motorboat?  We didn’t know what to think.

At the time, we didn’t consider the broader implications of a family down the road buying family-sized pleasure watercraft.  We weren’t terribly concerned that our playmates were now rarely able to play on hot, boring weekend afternoons.  We weren’t super bothered that their stock amongst the rest of the neighbourhood kids shot up astronomically, increasing competition for playtime with these new-found all-stars on the block.  No, we were pretty young.  We were much more single-minded than that.

We just really really really really wanted to go on that boat.  And we waited.  Patiently.  Politely.  Never asking.  Never hinting.  We watched them hitch that boat to their Ford Windstar, pile into their minivan, and drive-off early Saturday mornings their smiles broad and toothy.  And we waved back like two siblings wishing their parents bon voyage for a second honeymoon on an oceanliner.

And then, one Friday morning, it happened.  One of the girls asked, off-hand, if we’d like to spend the next day with them out on the Grand River, as if it were nothing more than a trip to the park.  At home, we heard the phone call, their mother running the plan by our mother.  The click of my mom putting down the phone was our cue.  We raced down the stairs, beaming, excited, delirious with anticipation for the one thing we had waited for all summer long.

We’re going to look at houses,” stated our mom, rather matter-of-factly.  It wasn’t immediately apparent to us that this was the royal “we”.

We’re all leaving early in the morning.  On Saturday.  We’re going to Stroud.

…?
……..?
????????????

We couldn’t believe it.  To go from a boating extravaganza to a two-hour-plus trip in the searing August heat of our non-airconditioned Chevette to the middle of nowhere?  Fueled only by home-made sandwiches, a handful of piecefruit, and two cans of pop sweating all over your hands from their time in the cooler, all shared across the four of us?  To look at dusty subdivisions of half-constructed model houses that even us kids knew that we were never going to buy?

We were furious.  So it’s safe to say, we pouted the whole time.  A further boating invite was never forthcoming.  And more than twenty years later, as I drove into Stroud, I noticed that, in some ways, not a lot has changed since my childhood visit to the place that denied me a long-anticipated boat trip.

Sure, Stroud is much more suburban than it was twenty years ago, but hasn’t lost its rural nature.  Like an old country town, it still has its cluster of road-side houses and businesses on Yonge Street and it is still decorated by goofy business names you’d expect from a small town, in this case Doo or Dye (hair salon) or Killer Inkstink (tattoo parlour).  Subdivisions are tucked off the main drag in a way that lets you know they’re there without making you feel like you’re in Mississauga.  There’s the local bar, Tapps, with karaoke on Friday nights, and the standard Chinese place, always “famous” for its food.  (I can assure you that The China Inn is too far south to offer authentic Northern Ontario Chinese Food.)  In sum, Stroud seems to have been able to balance multiple pressures:  population overspill from Barrie, demand for recreational properties for Toronto weekenders, and everyday needs of a rural farming community.

Stroud, Ontario plaza on Highway 11 highway11.ca

The plaza at the north end of town definitely wasn’t there some 20-odd years ago.  (I’m not sure what part of my brain says “Yes, take a grainy photo of that plaza!“)

Although I can’t speak for my sister, I’ve largely gotten over my beef with Stroud.  Boats are expensive and inconvenient.  They get old fast and once you’ve lost the love they’re difficult to offload.  You’re better-off renting one.  Or, even better, staying on land.  When you’re in the suburbs, you’re better off using the space you’d need to store a boat to park your third, fourth, or fifth car.  In short, I no longer pronounce the word “Stroud” with same invective as Jerry would say “Newman…(!)“.

And today, as a parent, I realize that my parents probably pulled that trip to Stroud right out their ears.  Not only to keep us from an activity that they couldn’t supervise but to avoid a flat-out “no”, which would have been inexplicable to us and insulting to the other family.  If so, well done Mom and Dad.  Well done.

Highway 11 Ontario, highway11.ca Stroud, Ontario

Highway 11 just north of Stroud, Ontario

St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s is a hamlet just south of Barrie on Highway 11.

I was at a public town hall meeting discussing my former community’s development prospects many years ago when the guy I was sitting beside leaned in and whispered in my ear.  “Look,” he said, pointing at the screen.  “Every subdivision is named after the things that the houses just eradicated.”St. Paul's Ontario, Highway 11 highway11.ca

I looked for this phenomenon in St. Paul’s.  Why?  Because St. Paul’s marks the end of Highway 11′s southern agricultural interlude.  St. Paul’s still has its farms, its little circle of country houses, and its Anglican Church.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been paved over a la Brampton.  And sure, there are suburban and estate developments in nearly every dot on the map along Highway 11 as it runs north of Newmarket.

Wow.  This is one intimidating name for a fruit farm.  Carpe diem, carpe fructum.

This is one intimidating name for a fruit farm. Carpe fructum, my friends.

But it’s in St. Paul’s where you start seeing more and more subdivisions off the side of the road.

You have to assume that this development creeped into the local community long before Barrie annexed St. Paul’s from Innisfil in 2010, as mandated by the province.  It all made me feel kind of bad.  It’s not that suburban development is necessarily bad; I grew up in the burbs and for me, I couldn’t have wished for anywhere better.  But I’m sure that for long before Barrie‘s suburban boom starting putting the squeeze on its neighbours, people sought a home in smaller communities like this as a means of enjoying the best of rural life, with the conveniences of the city nearby.

Change is never avoidable.  And I don’t want to give the impression that St. Paul’s is some concrete jungle – far from it.  It’s still small and rural.

But after escaping the suburbs of York Region and enjoying the mental and physical space afforded by the rolling farm hills of Bradford and Innisfil, St. Paul’s was a warning that when you’re in southern Ontario, urban reality always lies just around the corner.

St. Paul's, Yonge Street, Ontario Highway 11 highway11.ca

It’s still called Yonge Street even 85 km north of Lake Ontario.

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.