Ontario is huge! We didn’t really comprehend the size until we drove across it. At a little over thirteen and a half million people, it has 40% of Canada’s population, mostly living in the south. We were driving a more northern route so that may have made it seem even larger.
Nonetheless, it starts bordering the US at Lake of the Woods and ends at the Saint Lawrence River. It borders Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. It borders Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
After leaving Grand Portage, we drove through Thunder Bay. I expected it to look more like the tourist areas we had been seeing, but the town has an industrial, mining and lumber base.
Soon farms and grain elevators gave way to rocky hills, lakes and forests.
Not far down the road, we came to a memorial to Terry Fox, a 23 year-old man who lost one leg to cancer. In 1981 in an effort to call attention and raise money cancer patients and research, he began a run from the Atlantic in Newfoundland to the Pacific. He ran nearly a marathon distance every day for 143 straight days (5373 kilometers) before his cancer returned and he was forced to stop in the nearby community of Shuniah. Although he soon passed on, he became an inspiration to millions of people (a former long distance runner myself, I remember the event), and there is even a statue of him opposite the Parliament in Ottawa.
We stopped to walk down to the Aguasabon River Gorge & Falls (yes, another waterfall). Then we drove around Terrace Bay, a pleasant summer resort community.
For most of the trip since entering the Rockies, highway signs warned us of the danger of hitting a moose. But moose, like deer, tend to come to the roads at dawn, dusk and night. Late-spring days this far north are very long, so we were never driving at those times. Finally, on our way to Marathon for the night, we spotted our first
moose. She retreated deeper into the woods before we could stop, but she did stop and look over her shoulder for the camera.
The little towns did not seem to serve tourists as well as they could. Restaurants and motels rarely seemed to have a view or to take advantage of the magnificent wild setting. Perhaps they are catering to more people coming for longer visits. Or perhaps I misjudged the communities. Some, at least, had mining. We passed a road aptly called “Yellow Brick Road” going back to Barrick and Newmont gold mines.
We continued on to Sault Ste Marie but only remained there over night. There are locks that permit thousand foot-long freighters to go from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. But, just the opposite of Niagara Falls, the more pleasant side of the locks and the best place to see them is on the US side. Having seen both the oldest and longest thousand-foot and more freighters pass when we visited in 2003, we did not stop this time. But I would recommend the visit, and while you are there, visit the Canadian Bush Plane Museum on the Canadian side.
If you have read many of these posts, you know that we frequently stop for a picnic lunch, especially if we can find a pretty spot to stop. It means we don’t have to tie our schedule to a town with a restaurant. And it is just a nice thing to do. Highway 17 is designated the “Trans-Canada Highway” in Ontario (as are other roads depending on where you are). Perhaps for this reason, there are lovely rest stops along the way even though it is usually only two-lanes with a lower speed limit than we are used to in the US (usually 90 Km/hr, or about 55 mph). These rest stops also usually have clean toilets, although they are mostly pit-toilets. They became less desirable once we reached the more populated areas such as those approaching Ottawa.
We visited Manitoulin Island, the subject of another post, and then went on to Ottawa via Sudbury with a stop in North Bay.
The Sudbury basin is the result of a huge meteor collision with the earth. Perhaps for that reason, it is the world’s largest mining center and has 300 lakes. One mine, the Creighton, became the largest nickel mine in the world. William E. Holditch developed the Big Nickel Mine, and Holditch family later gave the Big Nickel Mine mineral rights to Science North, a large Sudbury museum complex. The “big nickel” sculpture outside is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
We have seen large sculptures all along the way. The town of Wawa has at least three huge Canadian geese in various locations. Just east of North Bay, the town of Mattawa seems to have about a dozen statutes carved from trees. The person I spoke to thought they were all by local carver, Peter Cianfarani.
The town itself was established as a Hudson Bay trading post in 1837 in completion with local lumberjacks who trapped as a sideline.
However, the fur trading days were limited, so Hudson Bay soon began selling supplies to the lumberjacks. Obviously an adaptable company, some of its stores today are just called “The Bay.” Founded in 1670, it is the longest continuously operating company in North America.