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.

Barrie

London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Philadelphia, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Moscow, and Barrie.

…wait a second.

Barrie, Ontario Live 8

Live 8 in Barrie.

How does Barrie fit into a list of world class international cities?

Barrie hosted Canada’s Live 8 concert at Molson Park, when Toronto couldn’t handle the last minute capacity due to other festivals and events.  And Barrie was sufficiently far enough away from the Big Smoke that putting “Toronto” down on the list would have been misleading.

That must have felt good, Barrie.  Real good.

Barrie is a suburban community of about 150 000 135 000 (175 000 if you count the greater area) that has the potential to be the next Brampton.

For the geographically challenged, or very narrow-minded, Barrie is considered the start of northern Ontario.  But for everyone else on the planet, it’s completely clear that Barrie is in southern Ontario.  So they’re at a bit of a crossroads.  Barrie is also where Yonge Street ends and the real Highway 11 begins on its route across Ontario.

Barrie waterfront highway 11

Barrie’s waterfront

Barrie used to be a farming, industrial, and brewery town.  But they developed much of the land and Molson’s closed up its operations so now Barrie is a regional centre and a suburb for those who work in Toronto’s suburbs or who are willing to do the commute all the way into the big city.  This means that while it used to have more in common with towns like Sarnia or Stratford, some might say it now has more in common with Brampton.  Barrie is Canada’s fastest growing city, at a whopping 25 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Barrie, Spririt Statue, Kempenfelt Bay Highway 11

Spirit statue near Kempenfelt Bay

Highway 400 to Toronto is congested, busy, and used above capacity.  This is especially true during cottage season and on long weekends.  So be warned.  While they say it only takes 50 minutes to go from Toronto to Barrie it’s usually about an hour and a half.  Barrie has commuter train service via the GO Network, but if I recall correctly the station isn’t downtown.  The government has introduced legislation to keep a belt of land between Toronto and Barrie essentially undeveloped, it is very likely that sprawl will simply hop this area, called the “greenbelt”, and continue to develop it on both sides.

Barrie also gained international notoriety for having one of Canada’s largest drug busts.  Someone had converted part of the old Molson’s brewery into a secret pot operation and it apparently flourished until getting busted.  Everyone was really surprised.

Barrie's "Arch", Highway 11

This is no St. Louis Arch, that’s for sure

To me, a product of the southern Ontario suburbs, Barrie isn’t particularly different…it is a lot like home.  Its population is large enough to give you some stuff to do.  The Barrie Colts are the local junior hockey team.  There are two ski hills in the area (Blue Mountain and Horseshoe Valley), and there are many beaches on Lake Simcoe.  Barrie has a nice waterfront along Kempenfelt Bay, with boating, swimming, and other recreational opportunities.  There are many cottages nearby as Lake Simcoe is a cottagey area. For those who like Art there is the Maclaren Art Centre and the annual Kempenfelt Arts Festival.

The Downtown offers good waterfront access, a fish and chip shop, and a few nice walks along Lake Simcoe.  And there is a Pita Pit.  Any town with a Pita Pit gets points from me. Barrie has made an effort to keep its downtown alive despite the box stores and these new outdoor mall plaza things that have taken over outskirts of every suburban city these days, including their own.  Like any other city of this size, there are the usual indoor attractions, including miniputt, movies, and bowling.

I’ve received a fair amount of emails (okay, six) complaining that I painted Barrie as dry, uneventful and homogenous.  In a sense, it is.  That’s not a criticism; that’s the point of the suburbs, including the one I called home for more than 20 years.  Barrie doesn’t fit into the molds (e.g. rural, or northern, or isolated, or tiny, or non-existent) that apply to most of the towns on this site. So if anyone is from Barrie and thinks this doesn’t do the town justice, I’m sorry.  That was never my intention.  Please add to this – send me an email with your thoughts and tips:  info (at) highway11 (dot) ca

North Shore

Aha!  So you thought that Barrie and Orillia were close by.  Think again!  It’s about 40 kilometres from Barrie to Orillia.

Ice fishing, Lake Simcoe, Highway 11

Ice fishing on Lake Simcoe, just watch out for global warming

As an ignorant southern Ontarian I always grew up associating the two, sort of Barrie is to Orillia what Hamilton is to Burlington.   Well, it’s a mistake that I made countless times – thinking that once you hit Barrie, you’ll hit Orillia about 10 minutes later.  Well no, you won’t.  It takes a while, especially if you think past the distance between the town boundaries and actually are driving from Barrie town centre to Orillia town centre.

This is where the transition begins, southern Ontario slowly blending northward into a no man’s land of cottage country temporariness.  It’s evident in the mix of permanent and seasonal businesses that dot the highway – the junk stores disguised as antique shops, the candy stores for the kids, a Napoleon barbecue outlet, the cottage furniture stores, the old-school huntin’ and finshin’ sporting goods and outfitters, the portable sawmilling service, the ads for timber framing, the cycle of independent burger joints constantly opening and closing juxtaposes against the opening of a new Oliver & Bonacini restaurant to serve the cottage crowd.

Highway 11 near Hawkestone

There are a few towns in between Barrie and Orillia along the north shore of Lake Simcoe but I haven’t profiled them because this section of Highway 11 is more like a real highway – it has four lanes, it has exits, and it completely by passes the area’s small towns in the name of faster travelling.  So I’m sorry, Crown Hill, Guthrie, Oro, and Forest Home, I haven’t visited and considering that this is the last stretch of real highway on Highway 11, I’m unlikely to stop anytime soon.

Additionally, many of the towns are a bit of a detour off the highway, sometimes all the way to the shores of Lake Simcoe.  If it was in northern Ontario I’d probably take the detour, but up north towns are few and far between.  They’re a luxury.  In southern Ontario and especially in cottage country towns are a dime a dozen.  So I’m sorry Shanty Bay, Oro Station, and Hawkestone, I haven’t visited.Church, north shore lake simcoe near Barrie, Highway 11

I’ve always found this bit of a difficult drive.  You go from the 400 series Highways, averaging 120 kilometres an hour over three lanes to a highway littered with fast food restaurants on the side, cars merging and exiting at speeds way too high for the two-lane divided highway that is this part of Highway 11.

So now that you know there is some space between Barrie and Orillia, you may continue your journey to either of those two cities.

Orillia

Orillia is an interesting town.

A bit of a mix of blue-collar rural town-dwellers, working-class provincial employees, and left-leaning urban-escapee folkies, Orillia is a strange brew – the kind of place where you’ll see a lineup at both the spelt-flour bread stall and the Dairy Queen.  Imagine Guelph without the university.Orillia, Ontario Highway 11My first substantial visit to Orillia came in March. And I must say, even in the drab, dreary days that aren’t quite winter but aren’t quite spring, I was pretty impressed.

Orillia has enacted by-laws to try to keep its downtown quaint and small-towny. And they’ve succeeded.  Downtown Orillia is pretty cute.

There are many independent and specialty stores. We visited a specialty kid clothier. A store that sold upscale pet accessories. Apple Annie’s bakery and breakfast that sold french desserts alongside pancakes and waffles. Hudson’s kitchen store that sold everything from fancy La Creuset enameled cookware to cat-themed soap dishes, where I finally found myself a plastic thing to help scoop chopped and diced vegetables. The main street was pretty full, for a good three blocks. I can only imagine that it is cuter, busier, and even nicer in the summer.

Downtown Orillia, Highway 11

Downtown Orillia is cuter when it’s not winter and when I’m not the photographer

Home of the Ontario Provincial Police, Orillia is a town of 32 000 people about 45 minutes north of Barrie on Highway 11.  One hundred and thirty five kilometres north of Toronto, Orillia has waterfront on both Lakes Couchiching and Simcoe.  Home to the Stephen Leacock Museum, the Orillia Opera House, and the Orillia Museum of Art and History, Orillia also has a nice waterfront park with a boat launch, walking trails, and a boardwalk.

Orillia was founded in 1867 and has been home to eminent Canadians such as author Stephen Leacock and musician Gordon Lightfoot.  It was the first North American municipality to adopt daylight saving time.  Today Orillia is a retirement and casino community, as nearby Casino Rama draws both gamblers and seniors.  It has almost 20 doughnut shops.  ___Insert OPP police joke here___

The Orillia Opera House is a pretty impressive building. With two turrets, it stands out in downtown Orillia, and is pretty much unmissable. The Orillia Opera House hosts plays, concerts, and even comedy. In the back, the Opera House hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday morning, that runs through winter (we bought some jam.) The morning we were there, there were about five older men and women standing outside the opera house, protesting against war. For no particular reason, as far as I could tell, except that it seemed like something they probably did every Saturday morning since they moved there in the 1960s. Wrapped in wollen blankets, ready with pamphlets, rainbow flags, and thermoses, these grown-old hippies showed pure dedication, even if they were small in numbers.

Opera House, Orillia, Ontario

Every Saturday Orillia’s Opera House hosts a farmer’s market and a protest for peace

Orillia is well known for the Mariposa Folk Festival and less well known for its annual perch fishing derby. There is also a store across from the Opera House that sells bongs, and only bongs. I know that Orillia has the leftover hippie element from its folk music days, but a store specializing in selling technicolour, skull-and-crossbones, flaming ninja bongs? The woman in the store was nice enough to let me take a photo. And this is only one half of the store.

Other than Opera, hippies, folk music and maybe the bong store, Orillia is also known for is Weber’s Hamburgers.  This place is so popular that it built its own pedestrian overpass over Highway 11.  Sometimes the lineup stretches over Highway 11.  This is a popular stopping spot for people on their way to cottage country.  I’ve heard of many people who swear by their burgers but with a big lineup and a Harvey’s in Orillia, I’ve never stopped.

Highway 11 overpass, pedestrian, Orillia, webers

Pedestrian overpass on Highway 11 built to serve customers of Weber’s Hamburgers, near Orillia, Ontario

Best bong store ever, Orillia, Highway 11 Ontario

I’m guessing this bong store serves the folk music crowd more than the opera crowd in Orillia, Ontario.  They told me that people come from as far as Huntsville and that I wasn’t the first to ask to take a photo.

Sundridge

“Sunny Sundridge village by the lake, only two and a half hours from Toronto.”  Yeah right!  Lake – yes, sun – maybe (it rained the first two times I visited, and was cloudy on the third).  But two and a half hours north of Toronto?  Maybe at 3 AM doing 140 the whole way and not seeing a truck the whole time. Or maybe I just drive too slowly…

Highway 11 near Sundridge, Ontario

(Photo: user P199 at Wiki Commons.)

Sundridge is a village of about 1000 people strewn along the east side of Highway 11.  Established in 1889 on the shores of Lake Bernard, Sundridge is a former lumber and rail town that now finds itself as pretty much the northernmost extent of southern Ontario cottage country.  One my highschool teachers left their job for a high school in Sundridge, apparently for the solitude and seclusion.  Let me tell you, if you’re looking for quiet and minimal company this is the right place.  Sundridge is small and, for a southern Ontario town, situated pretty far north.

Sundridge is kinda funny because it’s a name no-one really wanted.  Originally the town was supposed to be named Sunny Ridge, but when they applied for the name in the late 1800′s Canada Post made a mistake and registered it as Sundridge.  As long as the mail came it really didn’t matter, so it stuck.

Sundridge Lake Front park, highway 11

This photo is so bad I’m almost proud of it

The Sundridge that most travellers see is a relatively nondescript rail crossing on the highway with some truckstops and a factory or two on Highway 11.  However if you turn into town you’ll find that although tiny, Sundridge isn’t half bad.  There is a nice little waterfront park with a playground and a little beach on Lake Bernard.  There is a “resort hotel”, a few car dealerships, a grocery store, a LCBO, and a Legion, along with a few other stores like Home Hardware. There is Ten Gables Golf Course, fishing charters, and snowmobiling, icefishing, and sugar shacks in the winter.  Sundridge also hosts an Agricultural Fair in the fall.

Sundridge made national news in August 2008 when the employees of the local Ford dealer won half of Canada’s second-largest lottery jackpot ever. Twenty-five people split 22.5$ million. The owner said that he didn’t expect to lose anyone to retirement right away…they must be a really dedicated lot.

Being in cottage country means that Sundridge has a few more amenities than its neighbours to the north.  There are five bed and breakfasts (Lakeview, Maple Sugar, Mitchell’s, Belrose, and Entwood Forest,) the Relax Shack Retreat, Allenby Cottages, a trailer camp, and a few motels.

For food there is Danny’s Justa Pasta a bit south of town, Double Decker burgers, Ha’s Chinese, a deli, a café, and the Stieirhut Schnitzel Haus (which I’ve always wanted to try, but never have – I love schnitzel).  I had a good breakfast at Jim and Elsie’s Café. In town I also bought the most stale, overpriced croissant ever – I didn’t know that the price of croissants was indexed to the price of gas to rise as you go up the highway.

Sundridge ATV parking, Highway 11

ATVs parked right beside cars like it’s normal? You know northern Ontario is beckoning…!

Sundridge waterfront - way nicer than this photo

Sundridge waterfront – way nicer than this photo

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 highway11.ca

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

Haileybury

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 Hailey-berry) 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.

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.

Englehart

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.

Nipigon

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

You know what this means.

Out of the way Tim-Br Mart.

Move over Home Hardware.

Nipigon has a Canadian Tire…!

Nipigon, Ontario, highway11.ca marina lake superior

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paintings and Big Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other random stuff

Nipigon Ontario - big weird thing #1 - hydro turbine

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

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

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

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

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