North Bay, Ontario is surviving primarily because it is a transportation junction. It sprang into existence because it was a junction for the CN (Canadian National) Railway, and soon there were three separate rail lines passing through North Bay -- the CN, the CP, and North Bay's own Ontario Northland Railway, whose beautiful two story white stone headquarters still proudly stands near the tracks, about five blocks south of the large old railroad station. A restaurant with promise
We had the great pleasure of viewing a film, prepared about 1950, by the ONR in hopes of drumming up business along its line, which stretched all the way from Toronto to Moosonee on James Bay. At the time it served as a promotional film, but today it is a fine historical documentary, with wonderful sixty-year old scenes, and the enthusiastic narrator reminded us of the old newsreels we saw as kids. The ONR prospered when gold and nickel from the Timmins mines along with pulpwood for the paper mills filled several trains a day. Several of the towns along the right-of-way were company-owned and built, with houses, parks, schools and stores for the workers and their families. Today more of the lumber moves by truck, and the mines are much less active, so the boom days of the ONR are gone.
The railways still come through North Bay, but what with automation and the decline of passenger travel, the economic benefit to the town of North Bay is much less. The old station is being renovated into a museum, part of an extensive lakefront park featuring a lovely carousel, a marina, and a miniature railway that will eventually have three or four station stops. The carousel horses were carved by the same artist who did the Missoula carousel.
North Bay is still a junction town, though, as two branches of the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) pass through. TCH 17 heads northwest out of Ottawa along the Ottawa river, and then turns due west at Mattawa, passing through North Bay, Sudbury, and then along the northern shore of Lake Superior to Thunder Bay and the West. TCH 11 heads north from Toronto through Thunder Bay to Cochrane, a jumping-off point for the far north of Ontario (which is known mostly to sportsmen and First Nations tribes.) Also, North Bay is the only town between Sudbury and Ottawa with a shopping mall, so Ontarians drive a couple of hours each way to shop here. There are lots of motels, generally of the older and smaller variety. Fresh Cut Fries
North Bay will always hold a special place in our hearts because it has provided us with another restaurant tale to tell.
Ever optimistic, we continue to search for gustatory pleasures. While Bob keeps seeking fresh roasted turkey meat, Elsa longs for equally fresh fish. We are often disappointed. Other Canadian favorites are hardly to be believed. French fries are made everywhere, especially in rather dirty-looking roadside "Chip Trucks," which invariably advertise either Fresh Cut Fries or Hand Cut Fries.
A menu at a Canadian restaurant is likely to encompass a wide variety of cuisines -- pizza, greek salad, poutine, burgers, Montreal smoked meat, souvlaki, schnitzel, and perhaps something more exotic like Baked Spaghetti. A North Bay special, unsampled by us, is a Pogo -- a wiener dunked in batter and then deep-fried.
There's a reason that Canada has one Tim Horton's for every 5,000 people, usually open 24 hours, and usually with a line of cars five deep waiting for the drive-thru window: the food at Tim Horton's is fresh, cheap, and quite predictable: Fresh donuts and muffins in the morning, and Carousel horses fresh soups and sandwiches for lunch, with good coffee and tea.
But as we said, we are always optimistic, and we were quite surprised to see signs for Churchill's Prime Rib in North Bay. We drove by the restaurant and noted with pleasure it was open for lunch. Located in a large old house, Churchill's has a wonderful dark panelled pub, adjacent to a number of well-decorated dining rooms with linen tablecloths, fresh flowers, a large wine cellar, comfortable chairs. The windows looked out on lovely flower gardens, with a glimpse of Lake Nipissing beyond.
Our luncheon was a 50% success. That is to say, while Elsa's pickerel was very fresh with a delicate flavor, the so-called "prime rib" consisted of a thin slice of roast beef placed on a grill and seared to a tough dry texture accompanied by an ample dish of horseradish. We mentioned to the waitress the fact that it wasn't quite what we expected when we ordered Prime Rib, Rare.
Oh. She said. They serve it differently at dinner.