NORTHERN ONTARIO: A WORLD AWAY, BUT OH-SO CLOSE
Northern Ontario is perfect for a quick escape, a retreat to nature and a pristine wilderness that’s within comfortable driving distance from Ontario’s biggest cities. But, as close as it may be, this part of the province feels like it could be a world away. It is a geography of lakes and rivers, of quiet and serenity, of wildlife and heart-stirring beauty.
Canoeists and hikers, photographers and artists, sportsmen and wildlife watchers have long felt the draw of this unspoiled landscape.
Whether a short visit or a long stay, this part of Ontario delivers the goods— from scenic train tours and museum visits, to premier angling and camping. Both indoors and out, Northern Ontario supplies a direct connection to nature and the people who appreciate it (www.northern ontario.travel).
NORTHEAST: A PASSION FOR THE OUTDOORS
Anchored by the cities of North Bay, Sudbury, Temiskaming Shores, Cochrane and Timmins, Northeastern Ontario is very much an alfresco destination where people come to relish solitude and quiet. With more than 1,000 lakes and rivers, paddlers may find themselves on “a lake of their own.” And there is no artist quite like Mother Nature—whether hiking, crosscountry skiing or paddling, the canvases of nature are nothing but inspiring. Look up at the clear, dark night skies for a stargazing spectacle and the northern lights.
This part of the province is blessed with four distinct seasons and is just a three to four hour drive away from Toronto or an hour by multiple daily flights to North Bay, Sudbury and Timmins.
Taking in the great outdoors is top-ofmind for many locals and visitors to the area. Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park is known for its healthy population of white moose—the
First Nations Peoples know these as the “spirit moose.” Take the Polar Bear Express to Ontario’s North Shore or see polar bears in Cochrane. The province of Ontario protects both these animals and placed a ban on the hunting of the magnificent creatures.
You don’t have to rough it to soak in the beauty of this boreal forest wilderness. Whether your mode of transport is snowmobile, ATV, motorcycle or bike, and your interest is relaxing, wildlife viewing, trophy fishing, an epic road holiday or connecting with locals, great accommodations are available throughout the year. Rustic simplicity melds with luxury touches at Killarney Mountain Lodge, a full-service resort with romantic rooms, suites and chalets (www. killarney.com). Outfitter WildExodus has a full menu of glamping experiences in tents and yurts, with high-end culinary adventures from just-caught shore lunches to fine dining on white linens in a prospector’s tent (www. wildexodus.com). Cedar Meadows Resort & Spa in Timmins offers wellness getaways with a full menu of services at their Spa Grande Nature and Nordic Baths (www. cedarmeadows.com). Horwood Lake Lodge is now open throughout the year for trophy fishing expeditions, ATV trail rides, mountain biking and wildlife watching. Guests can choose from cabins or glamping in luxury teepees (www.horwoodlakelodge.com). For something completely different, an authentic sweat lodge experience can be arranged through the Timmins tourism office in collaboration with local Indigenous partners (www.tourismtimmins.com).
Summertime means getting out on the water. There are lakes, streams and more than 200 lodges and campgrounds making the region an angler’s dream. Home to 25 types of sport fish teeming just beneath the surface, there are opportunities to catch brook or lake trout, walleye, salmon, northern pike or muskie.
With names like Killarney, Georgian
Bay, James Bay, Mattawa, Manitoulin Island and Temiskaming Shores, visitors are attracted to boating, paddling, hiking, riding and driving. These are popular ways to explore historic trade routes, enjoy the grandeur of nature and gaze across a landscape barely touched by man.
Renowned for its trail systems, the region features expansive well-established hiking networks to suit everyone, from city trail systems to long distance treks. Just off the beaten path near Timmins is Archie’s Rock, named after the late avid outdoorsman, Archie Chenier. It is a unique geological formation of enormous, stacked boulders left from the last period of glaciation.
Summer also means festivals, powwows, sporting events, fishing derbies and cultural attractions. The second annual Stars and Thunder Festival is an eight-day international fireworks competition and music festival boasting headliners including Bryan Adams and Blue Rodeo, along with almost 40 other bands (www.starsandthunder.com).
And on the water, 2018 is a celebration of the 10th Great Canadian Kayak Challenge and Festival. The late August, three-day festival attracts thousands of visitors and more than 130 boats participating in kayak and stand up paddleboard races, seminars, workshops and a voyageur canoe brigade. Displays include an Indigenous village with drumming, food, ceremonial events and arts and crafts (www.thegreatcanadiankayak challenge.com). For a tranquil river experience in the heart of Northern Ontario’s pristine wilderness, Northern Spirit Adventures offers canoe expeditions, courier des bois style. Costumed interpretive guides lead tours along waterways such as the Abitibi River, once an historic fur trade route. The remote area is a wildlife-watchers dream— home to bears, wolves, moose and lynx. Trips include time for birding, fishing, hikes and campfire-cooked meals (www. northernspiritadventures.com).
Sudbury is home to two outstanding, interactive science centres: Science North and Dynamic Earth. The distinctive snowflake-shaped buildings of Science North house an IMAX theatre, digital planetarium, enclosed butterfly gallery and interpretive displays on the geology, landscape, waterways, forests and wildlife of the north. Dynamic Earth—home of the Big Nickel, Sudbury’s most famous landmark—is an earth sciences centre with exhibitions, displays and special events on geology, fossils and the region’s mining history (www.sciencenorth.com).
In the colder months, guaranteed snow means winter magic. The region boasts a long season for Alpine skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding and dogsledding, in
addition to hundreds of kilometres of groomed Nordic ski and snowshoe trails. As the water freezes over, ice huts—some heated —pop up on lake ice surfaces. Wintertime anglers can connect with operators and lodges for bait and tackle, hole drilling, shuttle services and hut rental packages.
SAULT STE. MARIE—ALGOMA: MUCH TO CELEBRATE
Northern Ontario’s third largest city—Sault Ste. Marie, fondly nicknamed the Soo—sits at the heart of the Great Lakes. A border crossing location, drivers take the International Bridge connecting the United States and Canada and recreational boaters float from Lake Huron to Lake Superior through the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site.
This natural intersection of land and water has made Sault Ste. Marie a travel hub for hundreds of years. It is one of the oldest European settlements in Canada—the French Jesuits established a mission there in 1668—and for millennia was home to the Ojibwa who fished in the rapids of the St. Marys River. Missionaries, traders and voyageurs used what is now Sault Ste. Marie as their base to explore the waterways and the great swaths of untouched forests.
For modern day explorers, the Soo is the perfect place to discover this rugged and remote part of the province. Just steps from the city, Algoma Country is filled with some of Canada’s best hiking, paddling and wildlife watching, as well as opportunities to find relaxation in an authentic, remote setting. The city’s hub of restaurants, hotels and shopping is a place to refuel and stock up for short day trips or longer journeys. Sault Ste. Marie is a popular starting point for the drive along the northern shore of Lake Superior, considered one of the most scenic drives in Canada. There are selfdriving tours along the coastline, marked by interpretive panels tracing the footsteps of the Group of Seven, landscape painters celebrated for their work in the early decades of the 20th century. Two or threeday tours can be viewed and purchased on-line (www.saulttourism.com).
Letting someone else do the “driving” is an excellent way to see the rugged northern wilderness on the scenic Agawa Canyon Tour Train, an interactive Canadian Signature Experience (CSE). The historic train line’s upgraded coaches have been outfitted with the latest audiovisual technology and a GPS-triggered script with the option to listen in several different languages. As the weather turns colder, the hardwood forests are splashed with red, orange and yellow, making autumn a dazzling time for the daylong train tours. It was this blaze of intense colours that attracted some of Canada’s most famous artists, including the Group of Seven. Several members of the Group—including Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson—painted from a boxcar, moving from one outstanding vista to another, sometimes setting out on foot to capture the perfect angle. A replica of the boxcar-studio is on display in Sault Ste. Marie at The Machine Shop (www.agawatrain.com).
You don’t have to be an aviation geek to enjoy the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, housed in the Soo in an actual airplane hangar. It is dedicated to the history of float planes and the skill of aerial firefighting by means of water bombing (the technology was actually developed in this hangar). There are dozens of planes for visitors to climb into, exhibits that tell the story of early water bombing technology and firefighting methods, an operational engine test cell and a flight simulator. Guides in the centre are retired bush plane pilots. A large screen theatre with 3D technology that makes guests feel like they are flying above the trees in an actual water bomber, tells the story of how forest fires are fought. There are 27 bush planes on display, including a restored Beaver—the oldest production Beaver in flying condition to come off the De Havilland Canada assembly line (www.bushplane.com).
North of Sault Ste. Marie, along the famous coastline drive, the wilderness outside the town of Wawa is home base for Naturally Superior Adventures, an outfitter for guided hikes, sea kayak, canoe and voyageur canoe trips. Certified guides provide sea kayak and canoe instruction and workshops, as well as equipment rentals and vehicle shuttles for paddlers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Paired with Rock Island Lodge on Lake Superior, the outfitter offers bed and breakfast packages (www.naturallysuperior.com).
Inland, further north along the Trans-Canada Highway, the town of White River is the launching point for an authentic angling experience in the Canadian Shield wilderness. From there, by seaplane
or by train, guests travel to the secluded Lodge Eighty Eight on Esnagi Lake. The remote lake is known for walleye, northern pike, perch and whitefish. Guests can stay in the main lodge or in ultra-deluxe cabins. Here, there is everything an angler would need for their next big catch, from bait to boats (www.lodgeeightyeight.com).
NORTHWEST: THE HEART OF THE BOREAL FOREST
The northwest part of Northern Ontario is an enormous area of 527,000 sq. km (203,476 sq. mi.), filled with communities large and small, expanses of virgin pine and spruce forests and more than 150,000 lakes and rivers. It is a part of the province rich in Indigenous culture reaching back 9,000 years, strong European influences and recent Southeast Asian inspiration. Blended together they create a unique cultural and culinary tapestry.
This part of Ontario is a renowned water destination for angling and paddle sports in pure wilderness settings including Quetico, Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou provincial parks as well as the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. The lakes and rivers are known for walleye, northern pike and lake trout.
There is no shortage of quality adventures to escape, explore and be immersed in the beauty and history of Ontario’s northwest. Wilderness North is a collection of lodges and outpost cabins offering world-class fly-in fishing, fly fishing and lodge-to-lodge adventures. Guests can camp, paddle and explore on professionally guided, remote wilderness retreats (www.wildernessnorth. com). Totem Lodge, near Sioux Narrows on Lake of the Woods, combines escape, relaxation and a passion for the great outdoors at the region’s only five-star rated resort. The luxury wilderness property is an Ontario Signature Experience, with guided or self-guided fishing, hunting, hiking and ecotours (www.totemresorts.com).
Getting out on Lake Superior provides a different kind of escape—the exhilaration of the big water of the world’s largest freshwater lake! With Sail Superior, visitors can relax on a wine and cheese cruise or a tour of the Thunder Bay Harbour. They also offer a sailing school, bareboat charters and hike ’n sail adventures to nearby islands and the Sleeping Giant—a massive rock formation that is the City of Thunder Bay’s mascot (www.sailsuperior.com ). The relaxed elegance of an all-inclusive cruise on the Grace Anne II is definitely a luxurious way to experience the solitude and beauty of Lake of the Woods. Departing from Kenora, the classic 26-m (85 ft.) yacht with gleaming mahogany decks and staterooms offers gourmet meals, fishing, water sports and wilderness excursions to explore the 105,000-km (65,244-mi.) Lake of the Woods shoreline (www.graceanne.com).
The best way to gain an appreciation for the Europeans who broke paths into the northern Ontario wilderness is at Fort William Historical Park, a living history attraction devoted to recreating the days of the North West Company and the Canadian fur trade. The Park’s heritage buildings paint a vivid portrait of life during the fur trade era, including culture, crafts, domestic and daily life, business and farming. Visitors can come for the day, sign up for an artisan workshop or opt for an overnight stay (www.fwhp.ca).
On the shores of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay is the urban base camp to the region’s outdoor experiences including Kakabeka Falls—the second highest waterfall in Ontario—and Sleeping Giant provincial parks. Served by an international airport with 16 flights daily from Toronto, the city has a rich Indigenous heritage and a robust culinary scene that draws on the local taste and international influences. Thunder Bay is a base for rock and ice climbing, paddling, boating, winter sports, urban angling and a fine year-round festival and event culture (www.visitthunderbay.com).
For city dwellers and visitors searching for an authentic Canadian wilderness experience, Northern Ontario fits the bill. It’s a place to find relaxation, dabble in a little history and culture, indulge in a little pampering and still be just steps away from exploring the beauty and solitude of Ontario’s pristine lakes, rivers and forestlands.
SAILING ON LAKE SUPERIOR • DESTINATION ON
ESNAGI LAKE, ALGOMA • JAMES SMEDLEY
HORWOOD LAKE LODGE
WILDEXODUS GLAMPING • DESTINATION ON
LODGE 88, ALGOMA • JAMES SMEDLEY
NATURALLY SUPERIOR ADVENTURES • DESTINATION ON
FISHING IN WABAKIMI PROVINCIAL PARK, NORTH OF THUNDER BAY • TOURISM THUNDER BAY
FORT WILLIAM HISTORICAL PARK • DESTINATION ON