Ontario's scenery is memorable in many different ways: the thousands of lakes and little lslands, their tree-covered crowns rising above the glassy water surface, the forests of many different kinds, the modern skyscrapers of Toronto and Ottawa, the still-quaint village streets near the Fort Frances lumber yard Quebec border. As we moved west toward Fort Frances and the United States border, we found ourselves in a still different geography.
We drove the Trans-Canadian Highway through forests of mixed trees, past occasional small farms and tiny towns. Most of the other traffic seemed to be lumber trucks, both empty and full. There were small hills, just enough to break the road into a sequence of surprise turns. The farms seemed to have a generalized animal collection -- geese, cows, goats, pigs, kitchen gardens now coming into full glory, ready to harvest.
We took one side road just to explore, and snaked our way up a hill till we reached the outer gate of a small lumberyard, which provided a counter-example to our belief that only Big Lumber operates in Canada.
Then we came to Fort Frances, operated by Big Lumber! Semi trucks waiting in the U.S.
We tried several times with our camera, but eventually gave up on the attempt to capture the size of the paper mill which dominates this city. It seems to fill the equivalent space of a small village itself, its smokestacks providing proof that it operates 24/7. The odor of processed wood is everywhere. And feeding this plant are immense stacks of tree trunks which, themselves, fill seemingly acres of ground. We couldn't visit the plant -- it was Labor Day weekend -- but the literature said this Abitibi mill has a single paper-making machine that is larger than a football field.
On the other side of the Rainy Lake -- part of the Rainy River -- is the United States. We could see boathouses and docks of small pleasure boats, and past them was a yard where a dozen or so large trucks were parked -- NAFTA is alive and well here. Pileated woodpecker at work
The town has done its best, as have most of these small towns, to encourage tourism and lift the spirits of residents. There's a pleasant walkway along the river, with historic plaques at convenient intervals. The city park has a tower one can climb for a view of the area, and there are places for boating, fishing, camping, ballgames.
We were exploring the park when we heard a loud unfamiliar bird sound. A bunch of pileated woodpeckers moved in on a tree right next to our truck. This was an uncommon bird for us, as novice birders, and we were thrilled. They didn't seem the least bit concerned about two humans and a camera as they dashed about and played woodpecker games. They not only sounded like Woody Woodpecker, they moved like him, dancing and zigzagging, seemingly arriving instantaneously at the opposite side of the tree trunk from where they had left.
It was a nice contrast -- the four birds pecking at the tree, only a mile from the giant mill. We'll take the birds, any time.