We've become so accustomed to Ontario's lakes that we can barely be bothered to turn our heads as we pass one gorgeous tree-lined glass-smooth almost deserted body of water. But our most recent drive brought us a surprise spectacle, The Niagara of the North, Kakabeka Falls, named and described for Europeans in the 1700s by French voyageurs, has lived up to that description ever since. The river is broad and the drop is steep, with the falls dividing in the middle. In another million years or so there'll be a new island where now the water divides. Passersby like us can walk down a short wooden promenade to view the most dramatic parts of the falls, and if we had wanted we could have walked across the river on a handy bridge. The Provincial Park allows camping and further hiking possibilities.
This is one of the parts of Ontario where canoe maps are common. In fact it would be impossible to explore this area, in any depth without a canoe or a small plane. We saw many billboards advertising fly-in hunting and fishing vacations.
Atikokan itself is another tiny town. Our motel, built perhaps in the 1950s has recently been sold. The new owners, targeting would-be Kakabeka Falls outdoorsmen fleeing big cities for peace and quiet, offer not only breakfast but a fitness center and the town's Internet cafe right in the lobby. The buttons on the phone say "TAXI" "PIZZA" "Wake Up" "FRONT DESK" and "Messages".
There's a goodly amount of civic energy and civic pride showing, from the careful and colorful flower gardens in many front yards to the objects in the city park, where volunteers have installed pieces of mining equipment -- a truck, stamping mill, various drills. A log building commemorates the first dwelling constructed in Atikokan; in many places this would not be considered historic, but here the history only goes back perhaps a century and a half, with the birth of mining.
A sign accompanying one mural tells the story:
The LAKE MOVERS
For over 30 yrs Atikokan was home to 2 mining companies, Steep Rock Iron Mines and Caland Ore Company. In 1938 Prospector Julian Cross 1970s ore moving truck discovered ore beneath Steep Rock Lake, north of Atikokan. 1 Yr later SRIM was formed, but, unitial underground attempts flooded out. Because of the war, the demand for ore was high. It was decided, under the engineering genius of "Pop" Fotheringham, to divert the Seine River system approx. 10 miles so it wouldn't flow through Steep Rock L., then drain & dam the lake to reach the ore.
Over 110 million yds of silt, gravel & rock were removed by 2 electric dredges "Steep Rock" & "Marmion". Caland Ore Co. leased Falls Bay from SRIM & their dredges brought the total area cleared for mining to 2.5 square MI. with a total of 270 million tons of lake bottom removed. The first phase was double the earth removed for the Panama Canal in 1/2 the time with enough water pumped in 8 hours to supply all of Montreal for a day. In 1 week, 1 dredge alone removed the same amount of earth as was taken from Toronto's entire Yonge St. Subway excavation. Over 63 million tons of high grade ore which was hauled from the pits at the bottom of Steep Rock Lake was enough to produce every steel part in every automobile that has ever been driven in Canada. Both companies planned for long term development of up to 100 yrs, but the growth of taconite, a new ore processing technology, made this ore less economical. By 1980 both mines had closed. Despite these closures Atikokan progresses into the future. Downtown Atikokan
The Atikokan Mining Attraction Association was formed to use their unique, proud mining history to enhance this progress. The mural program is just 1 facet of its efforts. Local artist & AMAA member, Heather Schmutzer, has donated the painting of the Lake Movers mural to the people of Atikokan. Her design is based on historical photos in the Atikokan Centennial Museum collection. Materials & upkeep are provided by AMAA (Atikokan Futures MNDM) and sale of musal squares.
A special treat was our first lunch, a Chef salad which was perhaps the best we have had in Canada, with lots of different veggies (the cook making the most of all her supplies). A less welcome experience was the 3 a.m. departure of a fishing party from the motel!
We'll be returning to the United States in just a few days, feeling that we have explored most of the accessible part of this Province, wanting to return to several areas. That's the hoped-for result of each of our trips, and one we feel we have fully achieved here.