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.


Trout Creek

Trout Creek, ontario, powassan, community centre, highway 11,

Community Centre and ball diamonds, Trout Creek, Ontario on Highway 11

Trout Creek is a small hydro town of less than a 1000.  My time in Trout Creek has always been brief – usually passing through on an early morning drive up or down Highway 11.  And each time I’ve been through, no matter what hour or what weather, there are always a few people milling about outside the general store.  Small town life always surprises you.

Settlers came up in 1880s when railroad was being built.  With the creation of a rail station and a few other amenities, settlers came in to log nearby Algonquin Provincial Park, and with the discovery of a waterfall, tap the rivers for a sawmill and for electricity.  A hotel was eventually built but unfortunately, everything was destroyed in 1892 by fire.

Today Trout Creek still has logging and still has a sawmill.  There is a little library in town, as well as a few shops and stores.  The Trout Creek Hotel and TJ’s Restaurant and Motel have room and board both, while the Princess Motel and Tracy’s Fresh Abundance Restaurant have room and board, respectively.  Trout Creek hosts a winter carnival every February and a fishing derby in July.

Trout Creek is the home of former Boston marathon winner James Corkery.

Trout Creek, Ontario, HIghway 11, lumber, mill, yonge street, powassan

Trout Creek, Ontario lumber yard or lumber mill? I’m not sure. But at six am on a Monday, I wasn’t going to get out and ask.

Trout Creek, Ontario, Highway 11, Church, fishing derby, yonge street

Evidence of creeping northernOntarioness in the upper-south: a fishing derby, and an our lady of sacred something, in Trout Creek, just south of North Bay.

Trout Creek, Ontario, on Highway 11

I wanted to get a shot of the general store on Main Street, but as is my luck a bunch of guys were sitting outside having a smoke at six in the morning.  So, instead, I give you Trout Creek, Ontario, on Highway 11 (Photo: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

North Bay

Although considered to be in northern Ontario, if you look at it North Bay really isn’t that far north.

“Just north enough to be perfect” according to its slogan, North Bay is the second city of Ontario’s near north (after Sudbury.)

Considering what southern Ontario considers to be ‘north’, maybe “just north enough to be perfect” should be Barrie’s slogan? Kidding…!North Bay, Ontario, Highway 11

Explored by Samuel de Champlain, North Bay wasn’t founded until 1891.  Primarily a railway town, North Bay once harboured massive ambitions of being Canada’s Panama – there were plans for a canal stretching from the Ottawa River through the town to Lake Nipissing, which would have essentially been a massive shortcut for boats en route from Thunder Bay.  This never materialized.  North Bay did however play an important role during the silver rushes in Cobalt as it was the hub of both the CPR and the ONTC line up to northeastern Ontario. Today, North Bay is largely a university, military, and (most importantly) a transportation town.

Highway 11 ontario north bay

Highway 11 heading out of North Bay (Credit: P199 from Wiki Commons)

I’ve driven through North Bay five times, and stopped in a couple of other times for visits of a few hours.  It has all the amenities a trveller could need – from motels to real hotels, from diners to chain restaurants, from no name doughnut stops to Tim Horton’s.

North Bay is essentially the last place to get a full range of big city shops, services, and franchises before Timmins, or if you plan to stay solely on Highway 11, the last place before Thunder Bay.. I was once told by a facetious friend that North Bay is Cree for “a place on the lake where the gas is cheaper.”  While that’s obviously a joke, the general point about gas prices is true – sometimes as much as 15 cents cheaper than its more northern counterparts.

Lake Nipplesing, North Bay, highway 11

Lake Nippissing under clouds.

North Bay is home to a really nice restored theatre – the Capitol Centre – that hosts plays and concerts. (I got dragged to an Anne of Green Gables play while we were there…and I can’t believe I’m admitting this but it was actually kind of good.  The island, the island, we’re from Prince Edward Island…we’re island, we’re island throughandthrough…)  Although the theatre doesn’t immediately catch the eye (it’s on Main St, or Oak St, I can’t remember) the inside is really quite nice. There truly isn’t a bad seat in the house.

North Bay was home to Mike Harris, a two-term Ontario Premier during the late 1990s in Ontario whose name pretty much became a curse-word if you were a public school student at the time.  He’s famous for the coining the phrase “common sense revolution.” Oh, and the Dionne Quintuplets were born in nearby Corbeil Callander.  Their exploitation brought a fair amount of money to North Bay during the depression.  Kids in the Hall comedian Scott Thompson was born in North Bay (I think he grew up in Scarborough though), as is weatherperson Susan Hay and a pretty not so great band called High Holy Days.

Plan in North Bay, highway 11, Ontario

North Bay’s “some big weird thing” is a bit more refined than some other northern Ontario towns

North Bay is also famous for being the hometown of Roy Thomson, the founder of the Thomson media empire and the namesake of Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, one of Canada’s premiere music venues. Roy Thomson started out selling radios door-to-door in North Bay. This interest in radio led to him taking over the local radio station, taking over or establishing more radio stations, then expeanding into newspapers – eventually making him one of Canada’s most successful businessmen.

North Bay cruise tour highway 11

I once chuckled at an acquaintance who recounted their engagement story, which occurred under a Tuscan sunset.  I shouldn’t have laughed – I almost proposed on a boat tour of Lake Nipissing

Tourist activities include the Commanda boat tours on Lake Nipissing, and the beach, walkways, and mini train ride at the city’s waterfront.  There are plays (Nipissing Stage Company) and festivals (The Heritage Festival every August Civic holiday.)  The Dream Catcher Express used to run a day-trip train to Temagami to view the leaves in the fall – but that’s been cancelled since the government shut down the ONTC. There is also the original Dionne House, where to Dionne quints were born (the house pictured second from top on the left), which has been moved into town and turned into a little museum. The museum is open from Spring to late October, and entrance is about 3$ each, and is worth a visit if you’re in town.

Dionne House Museum, Ontario, Highway 11

I never cease to amaze myself with how crap my photos can get. This is the Dionne Quints Museum house.

What else can I say about North Bay?  You know, this site is kinda focused on the more northern towns, like Timmins, so I guess I’m not always putting as much content up about places like Barrie or North Bay, etc. I guess since North Bay is a bit bigger than the average town on this site, there is less I have to tell you. North Bay is pretty nice, it seems like a good place to live and a great place to grow up – but this site is a bit more about the smaller, more remote towns to its north. (I got flack from a poster on the Huntsville page for this site’s north-centric focus, I’m waiting for same flack to be posted on behalf of North Bay too…)

Fun in North Bay, Highway 11

For a while I had no photos of North Bay, and this was the first that came up in google


Which northern Ontario town had its own street cars, was home to the guy who wrote the Hardy Boys, had the most millionaires in Canada, was the first home of the team that would become the Montréal Canadiens, and then promptly had its prosperity wiped out by a massive fire?

Streetcar Norhtern Ontario, Haileybury, Highway 11

Back off St. Clair Avenue West…Haileybury has had streetcars too!

The thing that makes Haileybury really northern is its history.  The rise and fall and apparent rebuilding is really interesting and, in my opinion, totally characteristic of northern Ontario.

Lumber boat in Haileybury, ontario

After Longlac and Opasatika, let me guess this is a lumber boat?

Once known as Humphrey’s Depot, Haileybury was founded in the early 1900s by a former fur trader on the shores of Lake Temiskaming.  He named the town after the school he attended in England.  He tried to attract settlers with the usual propaganda leaflets, but as northern Ontarians know, there’s no better way to get the country settled than a gold rush.  And that’s what it took to get Haileybury off the ground.

Haileybury, downtown, Highway 11 Ontario Lake

Haileybury road leading into Lake Temiskaming. (Credit; User P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Despite being named after a place in England where wealthy parents got rid of their kids, Haileybury is the start of francophone north-eastern/central Ontario.  (Or it is the end, depending on which way you’re traveling on Highway 11.)  Approximately 80 percent of Haileyburians are French-first, which is interesting given that their neighbours are primarily anglophone, particularly in New Liskeard (70 percent) and Cobalt (almost completely unilingual.)  As you go north after Haileybury, the towns almost alternate – anglo, franco, etc.

The discovery of silver in Cobalt in 1903 started a population explosion in Haileybury, as the town became a bedroom community for prospectors and mine owners.  So successful were some that a street in Haileybury was dubbed Millionaire’s Row for the wealthy people it housed.

Haileybury, Ontario on Highway 11But of course, this all had to come to a tragic end with the fires of 1922, which killed 11, displaced 3500, and razed the town completely alongside New Liskeard, Dymond, and possibly Cobalt. In order to survive, many families had to hide in wells, lakes, and even down mine shafts. Many of those who escaped to the mines died when the fires, passing over the mines, sucked out the shaft’s oxygen, asphyxiating those who sought refuge underground. The town commorates the fire with a sculpture at its waterfront park, pictured below on the left.

Haileybury Today

With 4500 people, Haileybury (pronounced locally as Haileyberry) is the second largest part of the Tri-Towns and Haileybury is the seat of the Temiskaming Shores municipality, which includes New Liskeard and Dymond.  It is a quiet lakeshore community that is worth a stop if you’re not in a hurry.

Pioneer Monument, Great Fire, Haileybury, Highway 11

Monument to pioneers that survived the Great Fire by hiding in swamps, lakes, and wells

I really like the waterfront.  There is a nice little pavilion with the Pioneer’s Monument (pictured) honouring the fire of 1922.  There is a little beach and a modern marina as well.  The view is nice across the lake to Quebec and in the summer you’ll see a number of boats on the water as Lake Temiskaming is the end of the scenic Ottawa River route, which is popular with boaters.  The waterfront is worth a drive, if not a full stop.

Haileybury on the shores of Lake Temiskaming

Haileybury on the shores of Lake Temiskaming

In terms of tourism, there is a fair amount to do.  The Haileybury Heritage Museum was built to chronicle the history of the town and tell the story of the fire.  The museum features a restored 1920s streetcar, as well as an old firepumper and a preserved tugboat that used to ply the waters of Lake Temiskaming.  You can also visit the “world famous” Haileybury School of Mines.  Haileybury is also home to the Temiskaming Art Gallery.  You can see different types of ores at the Rock Park Walk, while there is camping and golf in town as well.

I don’t remember a lot of places to eat, and I think the only Tri-Town Tim Horton’s are in New Liskeard and Dymond.  Accommodations include the Leisure Inn, Edgewater Motel and Cabins, the Haileybury Beach Motel, and the Les Suites des Presidents Suites, an upscale bed and breakfast.  New Liskeard has more places to stay and eat.  Personally I find that Haileybury, despite being very pretty and having stuff to do, is still something of a bedroom community.  It doesn’t have the same downtown nor the same ‘feel’ that New Liskeard does.  And it’s nothing like Cobalt.  At all.

Downtown Haileybury

Back to History

Haileybury was also home to the team that would become the Montreal Canadiens.  The club played the 1909 NHA season and left for Montreal.  It would become the Canadiens only two years later.  I think that’s pretty neat.

Haileybury’s streetcars were part of the Nipissing Central Railway that connected the Tri Towns, which would definitely make it unique in the north.  Heck I’m sure it ran faster then than Timmins transit does today.  Toronto also donated 87 streetcars after the great fire to help shelter the homeless.  Today there is one restored streetcar left at the Haileybury Heritage Museum.

And, to finish, Haileybury was also home to Les Macfarlane, who wrote many of the Hardy Boys novels under the pen name Franklin Dixon.

Thanks to Johnny O for the info on the Tri Towns.

The Hardy Boys's Sleuth, in Haileybury on Highway 11

I never liked the Hardy Boys. Too All-American. Too serious. Too predictable. Sure, you knew that Encyclopedia Brown was always going to figure it out too but at least he had a sense of humour. But, anyway, this is a replica of the Hardy Boys’s boat, in Haileybury.


Englehart is an anglophone town of 1500 on Highway 11.  Right at the north end of the Temiskaming claybelt, you can tell that it’s near the end of farm country as there are farms all around yet the major employer is the Grant Forest Products Mill, which dominates the town from Highway 11.  Englehart is about 30 minutes from Kirkland Lake.

Englehart Grant Mill, highway 11 ontario

I had my own photo of the mill but User P199’s at Wiki commons is so much better.  This view is facing south on Ontario Highway 11.

The town was founded in 1908 and named after Jake Englehart, an American who moved to Canada at age 19 in 1860s to setup oil refineries in southern Ontario.  After achieving success in the Petrolia area, he was appointed by the Province to run the ONTC rail line in 1905.  His management brought stability and expansion to the provincial agency.  But most importantly, Englehart helped rebuild the region after the devastating fires of 1911.  He even spent his own money to feed those left homeless by the fires – he posted a sign at one of his rail stations saying that no-one need pass the station feeling hungry. In its heyday, Englehart even had a small Jewish population which helped settle immigrants into farming communities like Krugerdorf, and later provide work when these homesteads were abandoned.

Englehart has a cute, quiet downtown.  It is a town of well kept houses, manicured lawns, and cute little parkettes.  The old Temiskaming Locomotive 701 has been restored and displayed downtown – it was the last steam engine to prowl the ONTC tracks.Small-town American 1950s downtown  right in Englehart, Ontario(A note to travellers – on my first trip to Englehart we stopped at the local library to use the washroom.  That was an uncomfy decision.  It was completely awkward – don’t forget that in a town like that, everyone knows you’re a stranger and it was completely conspicuous to walk in, pee, and walk out without so much as lifting a Chatelaine off the shelves.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, no one said anything, but I just felt so conspicuous. Go at one of the gas stations on Highway 11 instead.)

Englehart has a really nice little music store called Musical Strings n’ Things that recently moved into a larger location across form the town hall.  It’s worth a visit, especially if you want to try your hand at the banjitar.  Service is great.  I’ve stopped in three times, and received better service than in any music shop I’ve ever dropped into – and I’ve never purchased a thing. And they know I’m not going to buy anything.  I’m obviously from away, and it’s unlikely that I’m going stop in Englehart for a pee, a pop, and a mandolin.  But each time, the shopkeeper tells me they’re just filling in for the owner who has just stepped out, but I’m welcome to play, try, or ogle at anything in the store.

Music store, Englehart, Ontario Highway 11

The North’s Best Music Store, as decided by … me.

A former housemate named Tara had family from the region, and she informed me of the local specialty – the Island Burger. Apparently, the hamburger is served at a Cousin’s Restaurant and is named the “Island Burger” as the hamburger is essentially an island in a sea of hot gravy and cheese curds. Sounds fantastic.

For food and drink there is the Olde Town Inn and Restaurant, a Subway, and a Coffee Time (all on Highway 11.)  In town, there is Cousin’s for burgers or pizza (although I’m not totally sure if it is still open), Kim’s Pizza Plus, and a local diner, the Sister’s Cafe, which serves breakfast, lunch, and supper platters. My partner and I stopped in at Sister’s for a weekday lunch. Being not from Englehart, and more importantly being under the age of 65, we got some pretty surprised looks from the existing patrons and even the staff, but we survived, everyone was friendly, service was great and so was lunch.

There’s a new drop-in café catering to teens on 8th Avenue, the Oasis Teen Café.  There is gas on Highway 11 and a reasonable-sized Valumart in town for those who need groceries.  Englehart also has a full blown LCBO. In terms of shopping there is Memory Lane Antiques or Treasure Chest Antiques on Highway 11, as well as Marion’s Emporium and Christmas store in town.  There’s also a little home-run spa in town.

Englehart train, highway 11

First Cochrane, next Iroquois Falls, now Englehart’s turn with the old locos

Englehart has a few tourist activities – most notably the historical museum.  There are also walking trails, one of which goes to nearby Kap-Kig-Iwan Provincial Park and its picture perfect waterfalls.  Every June the town hosts the annual Black Fly Festival, and the weekend after Labour Day means it’s fall fair time.

Of course, with Grant Forest Products in town, Englehart also has a fairly substantial woodpile.

Thanks to Justin and Tara for the Englehart info.  Check out some more photos here, here and here.


Swastika, Ontario

(Photo: P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Unlike Chaput Hughes, which is on the map but is essentially a part of Kirkland Lake (hence why I don’t profile it on this website), to my eyes Swastika was a bit more separate – it seemed to have the makings of being its own little hamlet (at one point in history.)

Once again, I had to be set straight. Swastika is technically a part of Kirkland Lake. On the other side of KL, King Kirkland (which I had erroneously identified as part of the town), however, is not. I stand corrected.

Swastika is a former railroad town on Highway 66 (not Highway 11) founded in 1906.  It is here that the main ONTC line branches off to Rouyn in Quebec.  Swastika was also home to the Swastika Mining Company, which found gold in 1908 but soon went under soon after.

During the Second World War the Province asked Swastika to change its name to Winston, in honour of Churchill.  The town refused.  Someone even put up a sign stating “To hell with Hitler.  We had Swastika first.

Swastika, OntarioWhen driving through a few years back, I counted three churches and estimated about 60 houses in Swastika. Evidently, as per the posting below, there are more than 60 hourses in Swastika.  The Swastika Fireman’s Park has a nice little waterfront along the Blanche River, featuring an historical plaque, a bunch of ducks, and a peaceful spot to stop.

I’m not sure how many services or shops in there are in Swastika.  Corner Link Variety is one – it serves ice cream as well as normal variety store stuff.  It’s off the main road, a bit north at the base of the church pictured here. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the town, I was eating ice cream at the Fireman’s Park.Swastika, Ontario church

Swastika also has a train station – I was surprised to learn that the ONTC passenger service doesn’t go into Kirkland Lake, but lets you off in Swastika where you then take a bus to KL.

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.


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

(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.)


Fauquier, on Highway 11 in OntarioFauquier is a quiet, clean, and quaint hamlet of about 600 on the Groundhog River, which is crossed by both a rail and road bridge.

Much bigger than its cousins Strickland or Harty, Fauquier (roughly pronounced Folk-yay) once supported a mill.  Today the community has a few businesses, but I’m told that most residents commute to Kapuskasing.
Fauquier bridges

There’s a statue of a particuarly conniving-looking groundhog just off the highway, as well as a nice gazebo, soldier’s memorial, and a little parkette.  There’s another park just south of the highway, which borders the river and has a little boat launch.

Fauquier's creepy giant smoking groundhog on Highway 11

In northern Ontario, even the groundhogs are smokers

Just east of town, there’s a house with a rather eccentric yard, sporting the Olympic rings (?), some wooden sculptures (??), and a family of inukshuks (???). I didn’t get to take a photo, as the truck behind me was following too closely to safely stop and admire the uniqueness.

Like all the francophone communities on northeastern Highway 11, it is extremely well kept with a church, a dépanneur (convenience store), an LCBO outlet, and a small food store.  There is no gas station, however.

The Den, right on Highway 11, is a good place to stop for breakfast.  I’ve been there a number of times and it’s pretty decent.

Thanks to Patrick for most of the photos.

Fauquier, Ontario on Highway 11

Fauquier sunrise over the tracks

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).