The northern route of the TCH -- highway 17 -- travels from the mining country of the northeast to the Lake Superior headlands of the northwest. Outside view Although there are few towns on the western stretch, the country has a rich history and is less expensive than other parts of the province.
Each of the towns along the road, no matter how small, has unusual civic art: Hearst has a terrific sculptural arrangement of a pack of wolves confronting several moose. Geraldton's tourist information building has a cantilevered prow, slanting interior walls, and a high-tech exhibit of the history and technology of the region (formerly a mining and lumbering community, they are now responsible for fire-fighting for the entire region; children can interact with a fire-fighting simulator and earn a certificate as a fire boss). Given the stretches of pine forest just now beginning to recover from a major fire in 1996, it's clear that the economic consequences, as well as the human cost, of forest fires are well-known here. Inside view
We stopped at a monument to a lumbermen's labor war. Pressed by lower prices for paper products in the 1960s, the local lumber company resisted the union's demands for better living conditions, higher wages and a shorter work week. An independent farmers' cooperative in the area was supplying pulpwood to the mills. The strikers, who knew their only chance to succeed was to shut the mill down, tried to blockade the shipments by unstacking the lumber and strewing it about. After two or three such incidents, the farmers showed up with guns and blasted away, killing three and wounding eight. The police were on hand, but had not "known" that the farmers were armed. As we followed up on the story, we discovered that the battle was waged among two competing groups of French-Canadian working-class people -- underpaid mill workers and underpaid farmers. The farmers were subsequently convicted of no more than illegal possession of firearms, while the workers lost the strike -- it was illegal in the first Morning mist over Lake Nipigong place, as not enough time had been allowed for cooling off before the action. The real culprits, we think, were the police, whose duty it was to prevent the bloodshed.
We ate lunch sharing a table with a local couple in a one-woman cafe in one of those towns which consists of six buildings in a row on the highway. They'd lived here for many years, watching the population age and the businesses -- mines and mills -- dwindle. They used to go to Florida for the winters. Like many others we've met, they mourned the cold, wet summer, seeing it as the beginning of a natural cycle -- more cold summers before the weather turns again.
We spoke English, but most of the customers spoke French. Ontario's north is about 40% Francophone, the Quebecois culture extending to house styles, gardens, and advertising signs. The invariable greeeting is "bon jour madame/monsieur" and the accent is closer to European French than it is in Quebec. Mural in Dorion
We didn't expect much from our motel in Beardmore (population about 600). We enclose photos of the Roxy Place Motel. It turned out to be the most comfortable, fully furnished place we've found, and for about the least amount of money. It also turned out to be one of five functioning businesses in town (motel, grocery, a hardware/car wash/outdoor supply/junk store called The Hook Shop, a restaurant and a gas station). The restaurant, the New Finlander Inn, run by a sturdy First Nation woman, provided a breakfast fit for the gods: "Finnish pancakes" were eggy crepes so large they spilled over the edges of the plate, and topped with a pile of bacon.
As we left the relatively flat country which drains into the Arctic for the land north of Lake Superior, the scenery changed, became hilly, with high palisades running along the shores of Lake Nipigong. It was a bit nippy in Beardmore -- 36 -- and low fogs rose from every lake, so it was quite beautiful as well. Lake Nipigong is another of the very large lakes inside Ontario, a famous destination for sportsmen such as Teddy Ouimet Canyon Roosevelt and the Duke of Windsor. They still boast of the world record brook trout, 14 pounds and 8 ounces, caught here in 1916; and well they might, for the record still stands!
In the town of Nipigong a man photographing some of the historic buildings suggested we stop near his home town of Dorion to visit Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park. This is a fine side trip, about 8 miles off the highway, followed by a 1 kilometer walk to two viewing platforms that jutted out into thin air over the canyon. It's even wheelchair accessible. The canyon is deep, the bottom of the canyon has sub-Arctic flora, and an large rock spire is the subject of an ancient Ojibwa legend. To the south is Lake Superior, visible from the overlooks. The sun was out, the trees were green, and the sky blue -- and after a couple of weeks of almost-daily rain we were especially appreciative of the colors.