We're staying in Timmins, a mining and lumbering town on the Canadian shield, where mine buildings dot the landscape and immense piles of tailings disguise themselves as hills. It seemed to us as if Timmins is thriving better than Sudbury, although all the northern Ontario mining towns are suffering from underemployment and an aging population. Here in Timmins machine shops, trucking companies, construction equipment are all about, and nearby roads are being widened. This morning as we breakfasted at the nearest Tim Horton's the line to the counter stretched out the door and almost every seat was occupied with people getting ready for work. We were close to the bears
Today we drove up to Cochrane, a much smaller community, to change our hotel reservation and to visit the Tim Horton museum. As we registered at the motel the friendly owner suggested additional sightseeing: had we heard about the Polar Bear Habitat? We had not, and were delighted she told us
We were some of the first visitors to The Polar Bear Conservation and Educational Habitat and Heritage Village which just opened July 17. A group of local residents who want to preserve the polar bear -- and also encourage tourism in Cochrane -- has built this Habitat which includes 2.5 acres of forest, a building for the bears which allows them to enter and leave whenever they like, open enclosures with big rocks where visitors can see them playing, and a pool for them to swim in. At present there are three polar bears: a 23-year-old male and two young females. It is hoped that next year, when the females are old enough, Nanook might become a father.
The bears have all been orphaned as young cubs and have spent most of their lives so far in zoos. They had shown signs of poor treatment, so they are excellent first residents of this habitat. There is room here for an additional bear or two, should one become eligible. The head zookeeper was formerly in charge of the arctic animals section of the Detroit Zoo. Heritage Village Main Street
The managers of the Habitat have an abundance of plans. They have a pool next to the bears' pool, where children can swim next to the bears, looking at each other underwater through a stout piece of glass (not this day, however -- it was cloudy and about 46 degrees!) They have arrangements with other zoos to videotape the bears' activity. They are working on arrangements with school systems as far away as Manitoba; children will be connected over the Internet to share bear stories. They also hope to acquire and rehabilitate additional polar bears -- at present they are the only zoo in North America licensed to breed (or as the literature says, "re-populate") them.
In addition to the Habitat, this park is the new home of the Hunta, Ontario, Museum of Days Gone By, a collection of buildings housing antiques restored by a local Cochrane couple. This Heritage Village, recreating life in the early 1900s, currently includes a general store, blacksmith shop, and family home. The gas station is being completed and next year will see the construction of a church, school, and doctor's office.
But the oldest (begun in the 1970s) museum in Cochrane can be found in an old train which has been polished up and rests on a siding near the Old fashioned store busy railroad station. A wondrous collection of stuff, from stuffed animals to hardware to miner's lamps to railroad memorabilia to old photographs, consumes most of the space of several passenger and baggage cars. In addition, this is the home of the Tim Horton Museum. We estimate there is one Tim Horton Doughnut Stand for every 5,000 Canadians, and we have yet to see one without a line of customers at the counter and the drive through. These familiar shops provide excellent coffee, fresh donuts, bagels and breads in the morning, and soups and sandwiches at lunch. They are always busy, always clean, and always predictable. And inexpensive.
We've been told that Tim Horton and a friend started the restaurant chain in Hamilton, Ontario. They can now be found across the country and into the adjacent areas of the U. S. The chain has now merged with Wendy's, but Wendy's is better in the States and Tim Horton's is better in Canada. We tore ourselves away from the polar bears to pay our respects to Tim, conscious that this tiny town of 5,000 has more spirit than many communities twice its size.
The museum didn't have much to say about the restaurant chain, but there was an awful lot about Tim Horton the famous hockey player. He was near the end of his career, playing for the Buffalo Sabres when he died on the Queen Elizabeth Way -- the freeway from Toronto to Buffalo -- Bright red Farmall tractor speeding home after a successful game in Toronto. Horton was a local Cochrane boy, who happened to grow much bigger than either of his parents, and played defense for the Leafs, scoring as many goals and assists as most hockey forwards. He was very popular with the fans.
We're learning another thing about the North of Ontario -- there's many a lonesome mile from one town to the next. They used to try to farm up here; it's known as the clay belt. The soil is all right for farming, but the weather just doesn't cooperate -- too many early frosts and late freezes don't leave enough season to raise crops year after year. So now many of the old-time farmhouses are disintegrating and the once-cleared land is returning to its natural forested condition. It's tough country; the wife of one motel keeper talked longingly about returning to where she was from -- Toronto. She will have to convince her husband to move.