Archive for the ‘Small Town Ontario’ category

Exploring Ontario’s Forsaken Area

March 28, 2010

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.

Like ghost towns, such as Khartum, Letterkenny, Newfoundout and Brudenell.   Where all that might be left is a falling-apart church, where a once-thriving settlement once stood.

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.

You Know You’re Living in Small-Town Ontario When…

March 3, 2010

Snowmobiles pull up to service stations to gas up, showering sparks all over the pavement.

The word “youse” is considered an acceptable pronoun.

It’s pretty much impossible to find a contractor or tradesman during the month of November, because they’re all off to Deer Camp.

Poutine with meat is considered haute cuisine.

To outsiders, your town is known mainly for the Tim Horton’s on the highway.

The same Tim Horton’s will routinely run out of donuts.

It’s not unusual to drive 100 km without seeing a traffic light.

The local-yokel radio station plays bingo.   Live, on the air.   Winners  phone in their winning cards.

The DJ at the same local-yokel radio station knows his callers on a first-name basis.

The main grocery store buys out the only other food store in town, and shuts it down to eliminate the competition.

The plant installs a revolving door in their newest building, and it causes confusion with some people who’ve obviously never had to use one.

Two different people who’ve never met will try to set you up with the same single woman.

The only sales help you can get are clueless, sullen 17-year-olds.

You better fill up with gas by 10:00 PM, or you’re going nowhere.

They finally tear down the old Canadian Tire and build a brand new store, but they neglect to install automatic electric doors.    Have fun trying to maneuver your 500-lb. trolley full of garden soil outside.

Gas-station restrooms all consist of circa 1968 wood paneling, and are freezing inside.

Bears shit in your back yard.

Baseball caps are the height of men’s fashion.

A beer gut isn’t something to be ashamed of.   In fact, it’s expected.

It’s a 45 minute drive to the nearest shopping mall.    And McDonald’s…and movie theater…and functioning laundromat…and real hospital….

When you’re at that mall’s food court, and you try to buy burgers, the A&W informs you that they’re out of meat.

There are only 3 pay-at-the-pump gas stations within a 150-kilometer radius, and you know where they all are.

Every store sells worms.

Apparently, you have the only video store on the planet that displays the  DVD’s chronologically, rather than alphabetically.

The “Pizza Pizza” franchise closes at 9:00 PM on Friday.   Because Lord knows, NOBODY would want to buy a pizza on Friday night.

The local restaurants don’t bother with a soda fountain.   When you order a coke, they give you the can, and charge you $1.25.

You write letter to the editor in the local paper, and people are still talking about it 2 years later.

Small-town Momemts #561 and #562

June 27, 2009

Last year, I bought a cordless lawn trimmer from the local Crappy-Hardware store, which is part of a large nation-wide chain.

Last week,  the whipper-cord spool ran out, so I went back to the Crappy-Hardware to buy a refill.

They’d actually expanded the store since then.   It’s now a huge brand-new shiny building, filled to the ceiling with merchandise.   It’s on par with similar stores in the big cities.    So you’d think they’d be stocked with everything, right?


Nope.   They couldn’t find the refill spool I needed.

Not like they sold out and had some on back-order.

No, there wasn’t even an empty peg on the wall, to show where it might have been.  It’s like they decided to stop selling it.

They had re-fill spools for every make and model of lawn trimmer, EXCEPT for the one I had bought in their store.

(Pretty good.)

The 18 year old clerk didn’t know what to suggest.   Except that maybe I try the Crappy Hardware store in the other town,  45 minutes away.

(Even better.)


Later that day,  I wanted to buy a Sudoku book for my mom.   You can buy these anywhere.

But, being in the generous mood I was in,  and wanting to support the community,  I thought: “Hey, why not give the bookstore in town some of my business instead?”

It was 4:50 PM, I thought I can just make it before closing time.   I mean..that’s when MOST normal businesses operate, right?


Big suprise.  The store said “CLOSED”.

Silly me, I should have realized that on Saturday, they only work from 10:00 to 4:00 PM.

But AT LEAST there was a small sign on the bookstore’s  front door, reminding us to “Buy Local”.

I love shopping in this town.

Really, I do.

A slice of grease.

March 25, 2009

This is the third installment of my watercolor junk-food still-lifes.

A generic slice of pepperoni from a forgettable franchise:  this wasn’t great pizza,  but it was the only place within a 40-minute drive that sells it by the slice.

From an artistic point of view, it would have better to get a slice of all-dressed.    The extra browns and greens from the peppers and mushrooms would have enhanced the bi-color red/yellow palette.

But this is Splat Creek.    The sidewalks roll up early (even at 6:45 PM).   So apparently it’s not worth selling more than one type of pizza-by-the-slice, even during peak supper time.


Still, it made for a decent breakfast.    Any cold pizza out of the fridge tastes good the next day.

Yes, we have NO Breakfast.

January 17, 2009

Some of you know I like to bitch about the local small town stores here.  But every once in a while, I’ll still give them the benefit of the doubt, and try to throw some business their way.   Support the local economy, you know.

Like this morning.  It was 11:30 and I went to eat breakfast at the Clueless Restaurant.   Even though I’ve gotten burned there before (they stop serving breakfast on Saturdays after 11:00 AM).

(God only knows WHY…).  But that’s besides the point.

But they’ve been under new management, and I know they extended their Sunday breakfast hours.

So heck, why not give it a shot?

No such luck.

Survey says: “ANNNNNNH!” (Insert obnoxious buzzer sound here).

When I walked in, they told me sorry, we don’t serve breakfast after 11:00.

Never mind that the Lunch Special was a FRIED EGG SANDWICH!  (Seriously, I can’t make this up, folks!)

They probably had club sandwiches too.

Meaning you could probably buy bacon, toast, and eggs.

Just apparently not all together.

The manager tried to reassure me that I can still get  “breaksfasty” things on the menu (whatever the f#%*  THAT means).    But she stuck to her guns, and said they don’t’ serve actual breakfast.

Sigh. I guess they didn’t want my money.  (Even though I was the ONLY customer there.)

Oh well.  I did what I usually do.

I went 400 yards down the road to their competitor:  The Normal Restaurant.   That WILL serve breakfast on weekends.   Till 4:00 PM, even.

And guess what?   I was eating hot breakfast within minutes.  And there were at least a dozen customers already doing the same.

There’s probably a moral to this story here….regarding which businesses will succeed and which ones will fail.

But I dont’ think Clueless Restaurant could (or would) listen to it.

Walking to Work at Minus 37 Celsius

January 16, 2009


Sun is barely up.

Out the front door.  Ice forming on my beard within seconds.

Air is dead calm.   You can hear a pin drop.

Eyes watering.  Eyelashes freezing together.

Feet making loud scrunchy noises on the snow.

Breathing through my nose, and getting an ice-cream headache.

Ski jacket makes funny crinkly noises.  The materials’ gotten brittle.

Face burning…especially two spots on my cheek, where I once got frostbite years ago.

Approaching my office.   (Jesus this is cold!)

Still, I’d rather be here outside…

…than go inside to work!


Small-Town Radio Trivia Challenge

December 18, 2008

(Note:   No, I’m NOT kidding, folks.    These are pretty close approximations of actual calls I heard on the local radio station!)



“Hello, you’re on the air.”

“Oh, Hi!  Brad!   How are you doing?”

“Guhhhhhh-REAT!…Who’s this?”

“It’s Uncle Ti-Boc….I’d like to pick dat question about music”

“Okay…music.    What musician was charged with tax evasion in 1973?”

“Ohhhh…I don’t know….Hmmm….(silence) was dat guy…..him…who…who….dat guy….let’s see….was it dat guy… JERRY LEWIS?”

“No, I’m sorry….it WASN’T Jerry Lewis.  He actually WASN’T a musician.  The answer is Chucky Berry…CHUCK BERRY”.

“Oh…yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah….DAT was da guy.  Yeah yeah yeah,  Chuck Berry.   Hokay….tank you.      Bye now.”

“Thank you for calling”


“Hello, you’re on the air.  Who is this?”

“It’s Jeanette.”

“I’m sorry, Jeanette, you already called in for Game Number One…you have to wait till Game Number Two begins, before you can call in again…”

“But…I didn’t get the question….For the game.   I had no question..(mumbles).  I was calling for the game, and you have to ask me something…but I didn’t get on…for the game question…”

“No, Jeanette…you already answered a question earlier this evening for game NUMBER ONE.   You have to wait till GAME NUMBER TWO starts, before you’re allowed to call in the second time”

“…But I called, for the game.  And the question, I didn’t get it..and I’m calling again…”

“No, Jeanette, we’re still on GAME NUMBER ONE.    YOU CAN”T CALL IN until GAME NUMBER TWO starts!

“Oh?  Really, but it’s the question I want to answer for the game”


“Oh, okay….Bye”.


“Hello, you’re on the air…who is this?”

“Jackie Carcajou.   Hi there, Brad, how are you?”

“Guhhhhhh-REAT!  Which question would you like?”

“I’ll take songs from the 1970’s”

“Okay…which singer sang “Withering Heights”

“Oh…Gee,  I dunno….I’ve never heard of dat one.”

“Oh, I know.   That’s an obcure song.   I know there’s a book called “Withering Heights”.  I’ve never read it.   But  I know the book’s called by that name. But not too many people know the song”

“Can you SING it for me…?”

“Uhhh…well, no, not really (perplexed).    Usually, the Deejay doesn’t SING on the air….But I’ll play it for you if you like. ”


“Okay…No more calls?  Going once…going twice.   No more calls?  ?  Okay…Game Number One is over.    I’m clearing the board, and it’s not time to start GAME NUMBER TWO.    Hello, you’re on the air…who is this?

“It’s Jeanette…how are you, Brad?

“Guhhhh-REAT!!!  Hi Jeanette….you’re ready for game number two now?

“Yes….I’ll take the donut.”

“Ahhh…yes, the “Donut” category.   Here’s the question:  What number of donuts to Americans eat every year?”

“Ohhh….(pause).  Oh (silence).  I don’t know…..”

“Would you like a multiple choice?”

“Ohhh..yes….give me the multiple choice”

“Okay…what number of donuts to Americans eat every year?  Is it (A) Ten billion?   (B) One billion?  (C) A million or (D) Five hundred thousand?

“I’ll take the third one”

“A million?  Is THAT your answer”.

“Yes, a million”

“No (sighing), that’s NOT the correct answer.    When you think of it, a million is pretty small.    There are what?   Four Hundred million people in the States…?  Don’t you think a million donuts for the whole year is a little bit low?

“Oh?   Okay.  Oh well, thank you, Bye.”


“Hello, you’re on the air.   Who is this?”

It’s Nadine   How are you Brad?”

“Guhhhhh-REAT!!   Which question cateogory do you want”

“I’ll pick…um….nursery rhymes.  That one there.”

“Okay…who was the person who “kissed the girls and made them cry”?  ”

“Ohhh….I know that.   It’s on the tip of my tongue.    Porgy…”

“Nadine, you’ll have to give me the full name….who kissed the girls and made them cry?”

“Ohh…(pause).   Oh….I’s that guy….Orgy….Porgy”

“No…Porgy is close….but I’ll need the full name”

“…Orgy-Porgy?  Is that it? “

“Sorry, it’s NOT Orgy-Porgy…you’ll need the FULL NAME.      Would you like to hear the multiple choice?”

Okayyyy….(pause) give me the multiple choice”.

“Okay…who kissed the girls and made them cry?   Was it:  (A)  Humpty-dumpty?  (B) Georgy-Porgy?  (C) The Easter Bunny? or (D) The Man in the Moon”

“Oh! That’s it…!!!  The third one, I think!    Georgy-Orgy!”

“Yes…you GOT IT!  The right answer is GEORGY-PORGY!   Congratulations, Nadine, you’re on the trivia board with ONE POINT”.