Barbers Bay

Barbers Bay, located a few minutes drive east of Connaught, is a mainly cottage community on the shores of Frederick House Lake.Barbers Bay, Ontario

Barbers Bay has a nice lakefront home that looks out onto Barber’s Bay Lake that was up for sale for ages and was finally fixed up by a local family. Now the house is an ideal spot to watch the lake, see the sunsets, and be peaceful and serene. I might want to live there…

Barbers Bay has a historical plaque commemorating the Hudson’s Bay Company set up the Frederick House fur trading post (that was located at Connaught, if my sources are correct) and that was the location of a massacre more than 100 years ago.

According to local stories, two locals killed more than 25 others after they took over the trading post one cold, winter night. Stories are unclear as to why they did it – snow fever, paranoia? – check out this link for a better recounting of the tale.Barbers Bay beach ontario

Barbers Bay, Ontario

Thanks to Patrick for the photos of Barbers Bay


Connaught is is a small hamlet about 30 minutes northeast of Timmins.

Located on the back road shortcut to Iroquois Falls (on Frederickhouse Lake Road), Connaught is a small village located on the old site of a Hudson’s Bay fur trading post – where the Frederick House River meets Frederick House Lake.  Today, Connaught is a small village with a post office and the odd the odd farm.  Oh, and a really good diner.

Connaught, Ontario -

Yep, this is all I’ve got of Connaught.  (Photo: Patrick)

Back in my time in this area there was a really good diner in Connaught, they serve some pretty mean wings and I think their wing special ws every Wednesday. It was popular with people driving between Iroquois Falls and Timmins and locals looking for an unpretentious bite on the way.

Connaught is also home to a pIoneer Museum operated by the local historical society.  At the museum they’re restoring an old forestry tug boat that used to ply the waters across Ontario – at one point starting in Rainy River, later on working its way to Marten River.

I’m assuming Connaughtians work in Timmins or Iroquois Falls – where else can you work when you live out here?  The Hoyle Pond mine?  In the bush, maybe?

Frederick House River, Connaught, Ontario

Cottages on the Frederick House River, near Connaught, Ontario (Credit: User P199 at Wiki Commons.)


Just kidding, this is Kitzbuehl!

Kamiskotia Ski Resort at night

You’d think that in a place like northern Ontario, where winter is not in short supply, that a “snow resort” wouldn’t have much pull with the locals.

Well, Kamiskotia Snow Resort puts my theory to rest – the ski club being a big draw in the area from December through to March with downhill, cross-country, snowboarding, tubing, etc.  Anything you can think of to do with snow, well, someone in northern Ontario has made a business out of it.  I think that Kamiskotia has the only skiing in northeastern Ontario, or at least north of Kirkland Lake.

Kamiskotia Snow Resort, near Timmins, Ontario

Kidding!!!  That’s Kitzbuehl. This is Kamiskotia.

Normally I wouldn’t include a resort on the website but on the map I was working from whilst I stayed in Timmins, Kamiskotia had it’s own dot, just as Connaught or Hoyle.  That might be because the Kamiskotia area is also home to a small cottage community, whose cottages line the shores of Kamiskotia Lake.  Hunting, snowmobiling, hiking and ice fishing are available out this way, as is an outfitters.

Kamiskotia Lake, near Timmins, Ontario

Kamiskotia Lake, northwest of Timmins

Let me know more about Kamiskotia by emailing stories, info or photos to info (at) highway11 (dot) ca.


It’s weird.  The vast majority of my time in northern Ontario was spent in Timmins. Yet Timmins is one of the last places I’ve ended up blogging about.

Timmins, Ontario sunrise, care of Wiki Commons User P199

Timmins, Ontario sunrise, care of Wiki Commons User P199

Maybe Timmins kept falling down the priority list as I focused on towns that are actually on Highway 11 and Yonge Street.  Maybe it’s because it’s a little easier to get down your thoughts when they’re relatively limited to the basic impressions of someone passing through town.  Maybe it’s because Timmins is closer to my heart than some of the other places I’ve written about, and that I thought I had to do it justice.  Or maybe it’s that my observations kept shifting, influenced by the distance of time.

It has been years since I’ve been to Timmins.  Six or seven years to be honest.  But, writing this, it doesn’t feel that way.

Ontario’s “Real” North

In writing about my travels along Ontario’s Highway 11 and Yonge Street I’ve blogged about ~120 communities, more than half of them being in northern Ontario.  So sometimes it’s difficult to avoid playing all hokey-jokey with northern stereotypes.  Of course, Timmins has no shortage of these.

So lets get it over with.  You know you’re in northern Ontario when…

  • …the smell of lumber permeates the air.
  • …the major streets are named after trees.
  • …there isn’t just one fast food place exclusive to poutine, but two.
  • …everyone smells like gasoline from either snowblowing or snowmobiling, but no-one else notices but you.
  • …the town’s former claim to fame was being the largest land area of any city in the province.
  • …the town’s current claim to fame is having the most bars per capita of any city in the country.
  • …the town builds a big tourist attraction around a famous singer that grew up there (Hello, Shania Twain Centre)
  • …and then sells that big tourist attraction to a mining company because the ore underneath is worth more than the attraction (So long, Shania Twain Centre)., woodpile in Timmins, ON

Hands down the most beautiful woodpile photo on (Credit: Harriet Carlson)

Really, though, it is not about the stereotypes.  Though residents of Thunder Bay or Sudbury or wherever would likely disagree, to me Timmins will always be the heart of northern Ontario.

Thunder Bay and areas west tend to gravitate toward Winnipeg.  Sault Ste. Marie has its American twin across the river in Michigan.  North Bay is too south – that’s why they call it the “near north”.  Sudbury is too big – it lets you opt out of northern Ontario, like living in Windsor or St. Catharines minus the Carolinian trees.    Kirkland Lake is too out there – a frontier town hanging by the thread of the boom-bust cycles of local mines.  Geraldton is too small, too isolated, too anglophone.  Hearst and Kapuskasing are too small, too isolated, too francophone.

But this isn’t just some personalized process of elimination.  There is something about Timmins that is intangibly reflective of the north as a whole.

Timmins, Ontario:  Putting the “other” in mother tongues

I first noticed it standing in line outside in the slush in -17 degree weather at the Tim Hortons on Algonquin (which is way too small for a city this size and this cold) not more than 20 minutes into my time in Timmins.

“Deux cafés – une grande, une extralarge, both two cream une sucre.”

My ears perked, but I quickly slid back into my early morning stupor.  A few days later, I heard it again.

« Youse guys veux jumper sur la tramp? »

Right then and there I knew that I was gonna love this place – for two reasons.

I’m the grandson of immigrants to Canada.  One set are from Italy and, after 50-plus years here, bits and bobs of English have permeated their Italian.  I grew up hearing Italianized words like “chickena” and “carro” and “trucko”, hearing “shitta!” yelled from the basement each time a mason jar is dropped, and, most inexplicably, the couch constantly referred to in both languages as the “chesterfielde”.

But what most prepared me for Timmins was being a product of Ontario’s French Immersion school system.  The one thing that every French Immersion kid knows is that though the program aims to make you fluent in two languages, it leaves you master of only one – franglais.

Mines, mines, everywhere a mines

Timmins, Ontario – Mines, mines, everywhere a mine

Whereas most of the northern mines hired either anglophones or francophones, but not both, Noah and Henry Timmins had a francophone mom and hired people of both backgrounds.   So, thanks in part to the legacy of the Timmins brothers, just over 50 percent of people in Timmins are raised as anglophones and just over 45 percent as francophones.

That being said, I’m sure that 80 percent grew up in a home where franglais featured prominently.

Mix that in with some of regional quirks of northeastern Ontario French – using pièces instead of dollars, or pronouncing moi et toi more like mmmwhy et ttttwhy – and this franglais leads to some of the best sentences this French Immersion kid has ever heard, such as:

« Le parkingCa cost cinq pee-ass? J’ai pas le cash.  »

or the French conjugation of English verbs, like

« Il snowera demain.  »

or the ultimate in franglais, which can apply equally to your used car, your boss’s latest email, or the state of your marriage …

« …c’est fucké.  »

There’s more to Timmins than mangled languages

Timmins - Dante ClubTimmins is deceptively diverse.

You see it in the Dante Club, the Croatian Society, the Club La Ronde, the White Eagle Hall, the Obji-Cree Centre, the St. Andrew’s Society, the Chinese Benevolent Association, not to mention churches for everyone from Baptists to Mormons.  It’s in the First Nations population.  In the businesses like Bucovetsky’s or Feldman Tire.  The Persian mechanic who fixed my car after blowing my bushings trying to avoid a crater on Airport Road.  The Congolese lecturer I met at the local Université de Hearst campus.  The Tamil chef who ran the Italian restaurant that used to be in Timmins Square.  The Venezuelan doctor that convinced me that I had not pulled a muscle exercising at Rehab Plus, which is, by the way, probably the only gym where you can run laps in the glow of stained glass – it is located in a re-purposed church.

I was surprised to find that this diversity is supported by stats.  Timmins, North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie have visible minority populations that hover around 10 percent.  That’s twice as diverse than similarly sized cities in southern Ontario, such as Brantford, Bellevile, Orillia, Welland, Woodstock, Stratford, or the Kawarthas.  Timmins is more diverse than Thunder Bay or Sudbury.

I used to always say that multiculturalism – both as a concept and as a policy – foresaw the rise of globalization.  But when you learn that the mines were the only places that hired during the Great Depression – drawing immigrants from across the globe – you realize that Timmins, Schumacher, the Porcupine and Kirkland Lake were Canada’s original melting pots.  Long-before we fashioned the urban street, beset by storefronts emblazoned with different languages and alphabets became our collective image of multiculturalism, northern Ontario was multicultural Canada.

Timmins - Orthodox - Harriet Carlson,

Timmins, Ontario church. (Credit: Harriet Carlson)

Like Ontario, Timmins is kind of a mixed bag

At first you see the little things – an empty shelf in the A&P, left bare because the trucks didn’t make it up Highway 11 thanks to a bad storm.  Or the sad, wilted produce in the supermarkets during the winter.  Or the size of Giant Tiger’s frozen foods section – it practically fed me while I was up in Timmins.

You notice the signs for independent stores and long-standing family businesses, and compare those to the shuttered windows of Harvey’s or Arby’s or some similarly ubiquitous national franchise that, in most southern Ontario towns, only serves to print money.  Yet, just outside town, a Wal-Mart has sprung up.

But what’s most visible is the diversity in the neighbourhoods.  Most Ontario communities are relatively economically homogenous.  If they’re not, they’re usually large-enough to make economic variety seem like different shades of a similar colour., Timmins, ontario Algonquin Ave

Timmins, Ontario streetscapes – Wiki Commons User P199 on the left, mine on the right. It is OK to like his better.

But towns like Timmins don’t have outer and inner suburbs into which to stash their rich and shunt their marginalized.  You might not expect visible signs of homelessness in a town of 45 000.  You definitely don’t expect the homeless in Timmins, as a proportion of the population, to be quadruple that of Toronto.

And that’s when you realize that even in a place as sparsely populated as northern Ontario, Timmins functions as a regional refuge for the enormous hinterland, no different than London or Kingston for their surrounding rural areas.  In a way, Timmins is a microcosm of a larger urban centre.

Hotels, bars, hotels with bars, bars with hotels, hotels with lounges, lounges with hotels…

For a time, I wanted to write about the hotels.  I had stayed in enough of them to learn their quirks.

But what I truly remember best are not the dank bedrooms or non-descript conference facilities.  Instead, it is the people.

I remember registering with the Elections Canada official, wishing andhoping andthinking andpraying that I’d be assigned to a voting booth void of any volunteers from other parties.

I had volunteered as a scrutineer for a local election.  When you’re from out of town, there are only so many evenings and weekends you can spend with your coworkers.  I was desperate for something to do other than bowling. Or eating.

And as luck would have it, I arrived at my poll to find to find it permanently manned by someone representing a rival.  And that someone was a much older man, dressed conservatively in slacks and a cardigan, shirt fully buttoned to his adams apple.  He raised his head in suspicion from his book, eyes peering at me over semi-circled librarian specs topped by wild, muppet-like eyebrows.

The silence was pretty weird.  The age gap made it even weirder.  The election atmosphere just made it insufferable.  I had to say something.  So I asked him about what he was reading.

And then it all changed.  Instantly friendly, we talked about our love of non-fiction, his criticisms of Jared Diamond, my skepticism of early North American “discovery” theories, and are mutual interest in popular geography.  I soon forgot to report back on my poll.  He forgot to report back on his.  We were scolded by Elections Canada staff for talking.  Two or three hours slipped by, with no thought to the fact that we represented candidates whose values, policies and priorities couldn’t have more opposite.  And when I arrived home, three months later, there was a book waiting for me in the mail – with numerous clippings and photocopies of similar articles.  I still regret not writing him back.

Northern Ontario hotels – always looking for ways to add value

Driving up to Timmins for the first time on my own, I stopped just outside Kirkland Lake.  Having underestimated my travel time, I was going to get into Timmins very, very late.  I had a standing offer to stay with a coworker, but I wasn’t going to take him up on that.  Not past 11 pm, some stranger knocking on his door, waking up his wife whom I had never met.

I stopped in at the gas station just west of town and asked the woman behind the cash if she knew of places to stay in Timmins.

No idea.  But if you were to ask my boyfriend,” she said, “I bet he’d say the Muh-tog.”

I vaguely remembered some black and purple sign from my latest stint in Timmins.  So I headed out to the pay phone and, finding the only place in the phonebook that could be that Muh-tog place – the Mattagami.

The phone rang without answer.  I tried the Travelodge – booked.  I tried the Porcupine Motor Hotel – no answer.  So back to the Mattag.

On my fifth call, a woman finally picked up.  Exhausted, I laid it out.  I’m from southern Ontario.  From the burbs.  I’ve never driven up before.  Even went into the bit about the coworker.  I just need a place to stay for one night.

I think The Senator is more for you,” she said, “but you’d probably have a better time here,” she deadpanned.  And then she hung up.  The Mattag, an establishment of only marginally-better repute than Kirkland Lake‘s famed “Red Door”, was torn down in 2009., Timmins, Ontario Mattagami Strip Club

Quick test – if you had to guess which was the local strip club, would it be the “Mattagami Motor Hotel” or “The Senator”?  If you said the latter, you’re definitely from southern Ontario.  Or anywhere else in the world.

Good luck finding “The Senator” in the phone book

I was going to babble on about how towns of an impermanent nature, including resource-oriented Timmins, often grasp for permanence through names.

Because, the night I arrived into Timmins for the first time by myself, I wasted two hours driving around searching for “The Senator.”  I pretty much drove from Kamiskotia through to the Porcupine, and back, at least twice.  Gun-shy after my experience with the Mattag, I wasn’t about to ask anyone for any help.

I finally had to give in and ask the guy at the 7-11.  When he insisted it was just down the street, I just about gave up.

I walked down Algonquin and stopped into the first business that was still open – a Days Inn.  It was late, and a tall woman just a few years older than me was staring mindlessly at a computer screen that I couldn’t see.  I gingerly approached the desk…I nervously apologized in advance for asking her about a competitor…but could she direct me to The Senator?

“Oh, that’s us,” she smiled.  She knew I was new.

I passed her almost every Saturday.  She was ending her shift, and I was on my way up to their hot breakfast buffet.  She smiled every time.  It was the only day of the week I had a breakfast that wasn’t a stale bagel from Giant Tiger.  Having exhausted my travel expense allocation, I hadn’t stayed at The Senator for months.

And each time, all she did was smile.,poutineland, Timmins ON

Yes, this is for real. Chez Nous / Poutineland is a variety store that sells poutine 24-hours a day. Timmins is awesome. (Credit: Harriet Carlson)

Yes, I can confirm it, Timmins, Ontario definitely has the most bars per capita of anywhere in this country

I was going to write about the bars, like The Maple Leaf, which was torn down in 2009, 30-plus years after it gave Stompin’ Tom got his start.

But what’s more memorable is hearing from some of the old timers about when Stompin’ Tom sang about the area in the mid-sixties – most notably about the Hollinger Mine Fire – he outsold even The Beatles in Timmins and the area.

I was going to talk about becoming too-well acquainted with the Franco-Ontarian centre, both through breakfasts upstairs at La Chaumière and downstairs in the basement bar.

Really, though, the memory that sticks out is the night I become inextricably embroiled in a local festering controversies.  Did I take my poutine at Chez-Nous or Chez-Vous?  Chez-Nous, hands down.  The Victory or Albert’s?  Neither.  Was I a Toffanello’s person or a Colasacco’s person?  Colasacco’s – almost as good as my own Nonna makes it.  (I’m sure the wings at The Moneta and Mrs. Colasacco’s home-made gnocchi accounted for most of the 20-plus pounds I gained in Timmins.), Maple Leaf Hotel, Timmins, ON

Not just home to Stompin’ Tom, but a young Shania too. (Credit:

I wanted to wax on about my Friday afternoon lunches at the The Moneta, with its crispy wings and beer mugs fresh from the freezer every time you ordered a draft.

But what’s more meaningful is the afternoon in early August that my table was approached by a stranger.

You”, he pointed, picking me out from the two other guys I was eating with.  “If you’re from around here you’re here too much.  If you’re not, let me tell you about this place.

That’s when he told me about how The Moneta used to be a highgrading tavern, the place where miners used to sell the contraband gold they smuggled from their shifts underground.  And about how highgrading could be a ticket to a better life, or, if you happened to be in the bar at the wrong time, it was a ticket to jail, a beating, or worse.  It’s still an apt metaphor for northern life.

Three weeks later, after finishing my last Friday afternoon lunch, I found there was no bill to be paid.  And not just for me, but for my friends too.

I don’t know who covered it, but I have a hunch., Moneta Hotel, Timmins, ON

The Moneta Hotel in Timmins, Ontario.  Awesome wings, ice cold beer in frosted mugs. Doesn’t get any better. (Credit:

Timmins:  It’s really about the people

Sometimes extremes share unique similarities.  One of those is this independent streak that often runs through the Ontarian psyche – regardless of whether you’re urban, suburban or rural.

Urbanites often become emboldened by anonymity in the face of life surrounded by so many people.  The suburbs let you become sheltered by through an independence in which interaction with others is relatively optional.  The independence of space and relative isolation of rural life can lead people to live relatively solitary lives.

It’s understandable that these conditions, over time, can lead you to believe in your own self-reliance., Timmins, Ontario airport welcome sign

Welcome to Timmins, Ontario!  I have never ever had a greasier meal than the breakfasts I took at the Timmins airport, though a lot of local restaurants sure gave the airport a run for their money.

But Timmins in different.

It is in the way that Timmins celebrates its sons and daughters.  Everyone I ever talked to didn’t begrudge Shania Twain for not visiting regularly.  Instead they were proud of the fact that someone from their hometown did so well for themselves that they could afford to live in a Swiss castle.

This is a town where the houses empty in early December for the Timmins Santa Claus parade.  A relatively modest celebration by most standards, in Timmins the parade regularly draws almost a quarter of the community to its streets.

I thought I would be lonely and bored.  But I couldn’t get people to leave me alone in Timmins.  I was invited on fishing trips.  I was taken on family trips to Cochrane to see the Polar Bears, to Cobalt to see the old mines, to Kamiskotia to hang out at their cottages, to Fred’s Northern Picnic where I saw Serena Ryder play to an audience of 60 people, long before she shot to prominence.  And there is the bowling.  I don’t know what it is with people from Timmins but geez they love their bowling.

Night after night, weekend after weekend, I was invited into their homes – not just for food, or a warm bed, but to be part of their daily routine.  To play with their kids.  To look at their photo albums.  To drink Green Candy Apple liqueur while watching Columbo.  To “help” them work on their snowblower or lawnmower or xmas lights or ice fishing shed.  Or to just listen to classic rock, drink beer, and …well…I’ve already talked about it in the South Porcupine blog post.

That’s how it is.  Because you can’t get by on your own in a place like this.

And in a way, that sentence sums it up best.

I’m not sure why Timmins had such an effect on me.

Maybe it’s just because I was there during an impressionable and interesting stage of my life.  Or maybe it’s because I’m getting old and falling prey to nostalgia.

Or maybe it is because Timmins is oddly reflective of both the Ontario we used to be, as well as the Ontario we could become., Timmins, ontario, hollinger park

Hollinger Park in Timmins, Ontario, Timmins, Ontario winter fire downtown

Winter fire on the main drag in Timmins, Ontario, Timmins, Ontario City Hall and Chamber of Commerce

Timmins City Hall (left) and Timmins Chamber of Commerce (right)


Schumacher - TownSchumacher is a town of about 2000 people just east of Timmins named after one of the early prospectors that hit the area looking for gold – Frederick Schumacher, originally from Columbus, Ohio.

I’ve always liked the sound of it.  As a map-crazed kid Schumacher was one of the towns that stood out for its obvious ethnickyness amongst the anglo-saxon map of Ontario place names.

Schumacher, much like South Porcupine, Porcupine and Timmins was a product of the local gold boom.  Devalued currencies, an increased demand for gold and depressed wages breathed new life into the local gold mines during the Depression, attracting immigrants from abroad.  This made towns like Schumacher – known for its Yugoslav population – the first meltingpots, long-before Canada adopted the multicultural identity we accept as reality today.  Little Italies, Greeces and Chinatowns were to come later.  Outside of a few Jewish and Irish enclaves in Montréal, Toronto and maybe Winnipeg, Canada’s the pre-WWII melting pot was northern Ontario.Schumacher - Croatian Hall

Ethnically diverse but largely Croatian (subject of the documentary In the Heart of Gold Country) Schumacher had all the hall-marks of a company mining town.

There’s a good side of being a one-horse town – the community.  The executives behind the McIntyre Mine built “The Mac”, a community centre with a bowling alley and a soda shop and one of the first artificial indoor ice surfaces in Canada.  They also contributed to building a children’s camp on a local lake.  Frederick Schumacher provided a Christmas gift to each kid to make sure none went without.  There were numerous ethnic or community clubs and halls, public facilities, and a high school.

There’s a tough side of being a town like Schumacher – and it is also the community.  From what I’ve heard about it, the town itself was as rough and tumble as the tough-sounding teutonic name suggests.  Schumacher was a place where people from around came for a good time.  A place where outsiders might be given a hard time.  Mining is a tough life.  Punching the clock makes for weary folk.  Constant danger and the threat of death and loss and ruin make people edgy.  Towns of a few thousand are small.  Life could be insular and manic.  Everyone is subject to the same ups and the same downs.  Life takes on an throbbing intensity in a one-job town.

Today, like South Porcupine and Porcupine, Schumacher has fallen on harder times.  But it’s taken it harder than it’s cousins to the east.  Although you’ll often find the area represented on Timmins council by a councillor with a southern- or eastern-European last-name, the second and third generations have largely left for southern Ontario.  Although the McIntyre Arena remains in operation, schools, pools and other local services have been largely consolidated in Timmins.  Although low house prices have attracted residents from Timmins, empty houses abound.  A main street that used to have 40 or 50 businesses now has maybe ten.  At the time of writing you could buy a house in Schumacher for 70 000$.  Back when I was up there, I swear I heard a guy at the Airport talk about paying one-third that for his.  Rumour was that there were lots of vacant buildings in the hands of one or two absentee owners unwilling to fix them, demolish them, or rent them out at bargain rates.

I spent many an evening watching the sun set over the McIntyre Mine headframe from a friend’s house in Schumacher, sipping cheap wine that I doubt I truly liked.  Growing up on my grandfather’s home-made wine, with the consistency of motor oil made me a beer guy.  Yet, for some reason, sitting on my coworker’s jerry-rigged back porch watching the sun be eclipsed by this shadowy grey industrial building I can’t remember the wine ever tasting bad.  Such is the lure of northern Ontario.  These unique, memorable moments take the edge off a life and surroundings which can sometimes be pretty tough.  I’m not sure the point I’m trying to make is really working as I write this out, but hopefully you know what I mean.Schumacher - Headframe

The McIntyre Arena (aka "The Mac") still stands in Schumacher, Ontario.

The McIntyre Arena (aka “The Mac”) still stands in Schumacher, Ontario.

The old Dwyer Block in Schumacher, Ontario.  Sadly, Schumacher's once busy strip is now pretty quiet.

The old Dwyer Block in Schumacher, Ontario. Sadly, Schumacher’s once busy strip is now pretty quiet.

South Porcupine

Although South Porcupine was founded in 1907 as a town site for gold prospectors and mining workers, it remained a sparsely populated outpost in northern Ontario’s mining frontier.South Porcupine - Road Sign

Despite the best efforts of mining ventures to keep the news under-wraps, by 1909 news had leaked down south that gold had been found in the Porcupine Country.  That’s all South Porcupine needed.  By next summer, settlement was in full-swing, and South Porcupine was Ontario’s latest mining boom-town.

The arrival of the railway in 1911 was intended to bring settlers – up til then, everyone had to hike it by canoe and foot from Haileybury! – but instead it brought devastation.  Two days after the arrival of the train, the great fire of 1911 razed the area.  This didn’t slow much down.  Most of the mines, although completely destroyed, resumed production the next day and South Porcupine’s main drag was rebuilt lickety-split over the span of two months.  (Two months!  Heck, I’ve seen bungalows that take longer to built than that!)  Despite the quick turnaround, the fire spelled the end of South Porcupine’s regional dominance.  Hollinger mine owner Noah Timmins built a new company-town a further west, closer to his own mine, which would eventually become the city that now bears his name.

I'm pretty sure this tavern is in South Porcupine, but my memory made be failing me. (Credit:  Harriet Carlson)

I’m pretty sure this tavern is in South Porcupine, but my memory made be failing me. (Credit: Harriet Carlson)

Today, like Porcupine and Schumacher, South Porcupine and its few thousand residents are part of the municipality of Timmins, although locally the former towns are all considered to be distinct and separate entities.  Much like Timmins’ The Senator, old identities have long-lives.

Mining is still prevalent in South Porcupine.  It is home to the Dome Mine – one of the world’s longest gold-producing mines, having been active for more than 90 years – which gave rise to international mining giant Placer Dome.  If you’re driving into South Porcupine from the east, you’ll see the waste pile from the Dome mine on the south side of Porcupine Lake.

Much of my time in South Porcupine was spent staying over at the Regal Motel (cheaper than the Senator, the Regal Motel isn’t half bad) and also at the Airport Inn, which was a favourite for beer and grub if I was in the area but too lazy to drive the eight kilometres to Timmins to hit The Moneta.  One night at the Airport Hotel we crashed the victory party of the local MP.  You gotta be a pretty novel kind of politician to have your victory party at a rangy old place like the Airport Hotel., highway 11 ontario

The Airport Hotel out in South Porcupine, just east of Timmins. (Credit:

The rest of my time in South Porcupine was spent in my coworker’s garage, ostensibly “working on the shack” – her husband’s home-made ice-fishing shack that, I swear, was maybe only half the size of the bachelor apartment that awaited me back home.  Of course, I didn’t contribute any work – we were there to drink beer, eat chips, bum around, listen to 70s rock and, every so often siding up to the garage’s home-made urinal:  a PVC pipe fitted to the wall leading out to outdoors.  It might sound goofy but spend a winter in Timmins and you’ll understand the necessity of it.

But what I remember most was being surprised to find that my coworkers, who had me over to their place in South Porcupine frequently for supper, lived kitty-corner to a homeless shelter.  I never expected a homeless shelter in a town this small and this out there.  And I certainly didn’t know anyone that would be willing to live that close to a shelter either.  Strangely, today I live a stone’s throw from a similar facility in the city.  A reminder that sometimes things aren’t so different between north and south.

I can't even image working in a mine by day and then having the energy (or health!) to play competitive hockey on the side.

I can’t even image working in a mine by day and then having the energy (or health!) to play competitive hockey on the side.

Canada Post and Municipal Buildings in South Porcupine, Ontario.  I wish I had taken more photo whilst I was there!

Canada Post and Municipal Buildings in South Porcupine, Ontario. I wish I had taken more photo whilst I was there!


The Porcupine Waterdome float plane terminal is actually in South Porcupine, visible across the lake from Porcupine.  (Photo credit: John Monaghan)

The Porcupine Waterdome float plane terminal is actually in South Porcupine, visible across the lake from Porcupine. (Photo credit: John Monaghan)

Once called “Golden City”, Porcupine was founded in 1909 after the discovery of gold northwest of Cobalt led to the Porcupine Gold Rush.

The idea of a gold rush out near Timmins is kinda crazy if you think about it.  People braved extreme cold in the winter and wildfires in the summer and had to make their way on foot and by paddle all the way from Haileybury.

Yet, unlike the Klondike, the gold was completely earthbound, stuck in veins of quartz.  You’re not going to make a fortune panning for gold nuggets in a river.  Instead you need manpower and engineering.

The Porcupine Gold Rush was not one to make individuals rich.  It’s the kind of rush that benefits the speculators and the mining outfits.  And that bears out in the region’s history, as Porcupine began as a serious of company-owned townsites built in the shadows of mines like the Paymaster, Pamour, Buffalo and Ankerite.

I don’t have a lot to say about Porcupine.  The most enduring image I have of the Porcupine is the float planes on Porcupine Lake.  I spent most of my time in Timmins proper, and a bit out in Schumacher and even less in South Porcupine, so the easterly-most part of Timmins wasn’t really on my radar.  But please – add your memories, experiences or thoughts below.

The Porcupine Mine Rescue Station is also located in South Porcupine.  (I wish I had taken more photos when I was up there.)

The Porcupine Mine Rescue Station is also located in South Porcupine. (I wish I had taken more photos when I was up there.)

Porcupine Fire historical plaque.  I ended up blogging a bit about the fire on the South Porcupine page.

Porcupine Fire historical plaque. I ended up blogging a bit about the fire on the South Porcupine page.

The Porcupine police lining up in front of their new digs in the early 1910s.  Policing exasperated and isolated miners?  Sounds like a fun job.

The Porcupine police lining up in front of their new digs in the early 1910s. Policing exasperated and isolated miners? Sounds like a fun job.


Hoyle is an intersection town about two minutes east of Porcupine, 18 kilometres northeast of Timmins.Hoyle, near Timmins Ontario

There’s a fire hall, community centre, and few houses around on the back road short-cut to Iroquois Falls.  Hoyle is the site of the Hoyle Pond Mine, one of two remaining gold producing mines in the Porcupine.

Hoyle seems to be a tiny farming hamlet that has hung on a bit better than its eastern neighbour Shillington.  During my time in Timmins, there was a resident right around the main corner that sold fresh vegetables from their oversized garden.  I’m not sure if they’re still selling, but if so they’re highly recommended.

Let me know a bit more about Hoyle – history, stories, photos, anything. My address is info (at) highway11 (dot) ca.


If you’ve gotten off of Highway 11, heading west from Matheson onto Highway 101, Shillington would be the first of those familiar Ontario town signs you’d see.

I’m pretty sure that Shillington is an old farming hamlet that has withered over the years.  Although I’ve passed through Shillington probably 10 times, it’s been a while and I can’t remember what there is there.

I know there is the intersection of Highway 101 and Chemin 577 Monteith, the odd house or building, a community hall on the south side, and the sign that says Shillington.  It’s pretty rural, and fairly empty.

The community hall hosts suppers and seniors events throughout the year. There’s also an evangelist church in what looks to be an old United Church a little bit past the main intersection.  I took a photo of that sign, and of the community hall, but in the intervening years I seem to have misplaced it on my computer.  I remember reading an article in Highgrader Magazine written by someone who grew up in Shillington, but though I kept a copy I seem to have misplaced that as well!.

I’m sure I’ve underestimated Shillington.  Posts your thoughts below, or email me at info (at) highway11 (dot) ca – photos are welcome.