There’s an area in Eastern Ontario I like to call “The Forsaken Area”.
It lies south of the Ottawa Valley, and just East of Algonquin Park, and is also known as the Madawaska Highlands.
It’s where the grid-square pattern of farmland stops and suddenly gives way to the rolling hills and lakes of Canadian shield.
The change is quite abrupt: in only a few hundred meters, the landscape changes from cultivated fields and thriving towns, into sparsely-populated forested hills of bedrock.
Not that people didnt’ try to settle this region. The Opeongo Road was built in the 1850′s to open up the then-virgin area and encourage immigrants to start farms.
Anyone who applied was given a parcel of 100 acres of land, and it was theirs to keep, provided that within four years, they built a house, and cleared and cultivated 12 acres of land.
Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. The region was remote, the climate harsh, and the soil was thin and infertile. Many of these farms failed and were subsequently abandoned.
Later, mining towns were built, and logging briefly thrived. But the good timber was soon exhausted, and the mines went bust by the early 1900′s. By the 1940′s, a lot of these places closed down and everyone had moved out.
Nowadays, there’s not much left to see. Even the summer cottages are sparse, as there aren’t that many lakes or nice beaches in the area. It’s mostly just 2nd-growth forest and rocky soil.
But there’s something to the Forsaken Area that keeps bringing me back.
It’s like some kind of “Lost Zone” that time forgot. Everywhere else around this region seems to have thrived. But for whatever reason, the Forsaken Area itself seems to be stuck in the past.
It’s like going back 40 years, before everything got built-up and spoiled, like the over-developed cottage areas to the North, West and South.
Even today, mention “the Opeongo Road”, and only the locals will know about it. It’s still considered in the middle of nowhere.
But I love exploring the back-roads of the Forsaken Area, because I never know what I’ll find.
One of the better-preserved ghost towns is Balaclava, where a water-powered sawmill ran as recently as 1967.
But a few towns have managed to linger on. Like Quadeville, where Al Capone was reputed to have a hide-out back in the 30s.
(Smart man, that Al Capone. Very few people today even know where Quadeville is…let alone 80 years ago!)
There are plenty of long, winding roads in the middle of nowhere, where you wont’ see a soul for miles.
Get off the pavement, though, and it’s even more remote. In this case, you better make sure you your car has 4WD and a GPS, because believe me, you don’t want to get stuck here. Or lost.
Even recent attempts to develop this area have failed. Like the ski hill that didn’t quite succeed, and is slowly being re-claimed by the forest.
Or the abandoned military base in Foymount, which once formed part of the “Pinetree Radar Line“. This installation was used to detect detect Soviet bombers flying over the North Pole during the Cold War.
But the base became obsolete and was shut down in 1974. A few people still live in Foymount, and you can still see the decaying apartments, military buildings and the schoolyards slowly falling apart.
What I like is seeing the old farms themselves. Occasionally, a settler did manage to find a rare patch of fertile soil amongst the rocky hills. These lucky farms succeeded and are still operating.
Other farms appear to be on life-suport, and like the ski hill, are slowly being reclaimed by the forest.
But what I like best are the square-cut timbers of these early barns.
Notice these buildings arent’ made from planks of wood cut from a sawmill.
That’s because when these farms were first carved out of the wilderness, there weren’t any sawmills close by. The pioneers had to cut and notch the logs themselves, from the surrounding trees.
And many of these original barns are still standing.
It just goes to show, how young Canada is as a country.
Even in the populated eastern part of this province, less than 150 kilometers from the Nation’s Capital, we’re not that far removed from the time when this was all virgin wilderness.
In face, we can still see traces of it.