Friar’s Travel Guide to Northern Ontario
First, let’s get things straight. Northern Ontario (or “The North”) starts at North Bay, and includes anything north or west, thereof.
Anything south of this boundary is considered “Toronto” and is worthy of scorn. (Feel free to make fun of Toronto at any opportunity, it’s highly encouraged up here.). In fact, making fun of Toronto is encouraged everywhere else in Canada, too.
And never mind cities like Ottawa or Pembroke. Even though they’re pretty much the same latitude as North Bay, they are NOT “The North”.
Never mind why…they just AREN’T.
Common courtesy dictates that in The North, you must wear a baseball cap. It’s proper to say “youse” a lot.
And (unlike Toronto) a beer belly is not something to be ashamed of. Rather, it’s a status symbol. Younger apprentices will have a small paunch. The seasoned veteran will proudly sport a huge gut, which is a badge of honor. Here’s a man that’s spent many a fine weekend fishing/hunting/drinking with the boys.
Women tend to be tough as nails (they have to be, to put up with their yahoo men). A Northern woman will think nothing of opening a beer bottle with her teeth, while standing on shore, fishing next to her man.
The ladies tend to be have 1980’s feathered hairstyle, with lots of blue eyeshadow. Young girls get pregnant at age 20. Preferably more than once. After which, they’ll become waitresses at the local restaurant, where they’ll finish off their careers. Older women in their 50’s tend to become round in shape. Possibly to conserve body heat during those cold winter months.
The difference between Northerners who live there, and the Toronto yuppies who come up to vacation, is that Northerners do everything “Motorized”. Motor boat, versus canoe. Snow-mobile, versus cross country skiing. 4-Wheeler, versus walking.
The only way to earn a living up here is mining, or logging. So every town has some kind of “Mill”, where everyone works. The Mill is the region’s sole source of economy.
Unfortunately, a lot of “Mills” are shutting down, and businesses arent’ doing well. Things are rough here. You can pick up a house for $30,000 in some of these towns, if you want to move here.
Folks make extra pocket money selling wild blueberries off the side of the road. Definitely worth stopping and buying some. These aren’t store-bought farm berries from the States. These are wild-blueberries hand-picked picked in the bush, bursting with flavor.
Don’t be thrown off by the signs, though. Ontario Bylaw 15-C1 dictates that “blueberry” must always be misspelled.
Lots of huntin’ and fishin’ up here. Obviously. Whether you got your Moose Tag or not is a frequent topic of conversation.
So Vegans or members of Peta might consider staying south of Huntsville, for their own Safety.
Distances don’t mean anything up here. Driving 60 miles to the next town is the equivalent of going to the corner store for a pack of smokes. Hornepayne, Hearst, Wawa, Kapuskasing…just neighbors down the street. They’ll probably have a cousin there.
Talk to someone from Manitouwadge about a good fishing lake 300 miles away, and he’ll know about it. In fact, he’s probably been to that lake and fished for walleye. Along with everyone else within a 100 radius trying to do the same thing.
Because the main fish to catch here is WALLEYE. Everyone wants walleye. All other fish is considered junk (with the exception of trout, which is reluctantly deemed an “acceptable” alternative).
Never mind that the lake a mile down the road is full of pike, and nobody’s fishing there.
Never mind that the other fish taste just as good and are more fun to catch.
That’s BESIDES the POINT.
You want WALLEYE and you’d kill your grandmother to have one.
Which you’ll then fry up for shore lunch (the fish, I mean). With a fire you started with gasoline.
Unlike the States, which is criss-crossed with major Inter-States, 21-st Century Canada still does NOT have a continuous 4-lane highway. Sure, we have sections here and there, but not in too many places. Especially in The North, where it’s essentially single-lane for at least 1000 miles.
So good luck getting around cities like Sudbury, where you have to stop every 2 miles for a traffic light. And the same railroad track that crosses the highway multiple times. This is especially fun when a train comes by. Get to know that 18 wheeler in front of you…because you’ll be following him for the next 30 minutes.
Oh, and in North Bay, there are six traffic lights. You will get at least FIVE of them red (with the advanced green against you). Always. Just accept it.
At least this is the Trans-Canada Highway (our one major east-west artery through which all commerce and trade passes).
But hey, at least we built it. Canadians have been able to drive across Ontario since 1960. (Seriously, I’m not kidding..that’s when they completed the last section of road).
There are only three types of vehicles on the road: Pick-up trucks, 18 wheelers, and those Freaking Land Yachts (those slow RV’s driven by seniors as they inch their way across Canada). Who hold up the traffic for all the rest of the us.
North of the Soo, things start emptying out. If you want tunes, you might be lucky to get some American radio station from the Upper Peninsula. But often, the only damned thing you’ll be able to get is the CBC. So enjoy listening to some pony-tailed tortured intellectuals read poetry while you drive between Marathon and Rossport.
If you drive at night, watch out for Moose. Seriously, these huge fuckers love to cross the road at dusk, right in front of you. If you’re not in a rush, try follow a truck. At least he can act as a line-backer, and clear the road of any potential Bullwinkles who might smash into your windshield.
And don’t expect to find too many McDonalds. There aren’t any in the 400 mile stretch on the North Shore of Superior. (There are at least two A&W’s that I know of, though). Just no Rotten Ronnies.
If you’re low on gas, look for the “Esso” and “Shell” signs. Don’t trust signs advertising for a “Gas Bar” in the next small villages. You don’t know how old that sign is…you might be in a town where The Mill has shut down, and you’ll be disappointed with deserted gas-pumps with grass growing out of the pavement.
Heading north of Superior, you might come across a sign saying “Arctic Watershed”. (There’s one halfway between Sudbury and Timmins). I always think this is pretty cool. Which means, that you’ve crossed the drainage boundary. The lakes and rivers at that point no longer will drain into the Great Lakes, but will now drain into Hudson’s Bay. (At least, I take their word for it).
If you’re driving across the country, and you’ve reached Thunder Bay, don’t count your chickens just yet. You aint ‘done with Ontario. You still have another 5-6 hours of trees and lakes before you hit the Manitoba border. (Ontario is one Big-Ass province).
One Final Note
Be aware of the “500 series” of highways on the map. Normally, around Toronto, these tertiary highways are paved scenic back-roads.
But up here, should you decide to take a scenic detour, you might find yourself committed to driving the next 90 minutes with gravel and trees.
And when they say “No gas for 80 km”, they MEAN it.