Part of the Trans Canada Highway
stretching up from Toronto's Yonge
to Fort Frances
. One of the two big arcs across Northern Ontario
Highway 17 being the other, The axis around which my first twenty years
It starts with Toronto and moves its way up through Southern Ontario
until it hits North Bay and really begins. I've always been dismissive
of places south of North Bay; the people there keep thinking they know
what winter is, or that they know what a long drive is. They don't.
A long drive isn't two hours to get across town; it's twelve hours to get
to your grandparents, or an overnight trip to get to an orthodontist.
North Bay (tourism, government), home of Mike Harris. You drive
an hour up from here until you hit Temagami. For God's sake be careful.
There's a game sanctuary about 50 km up from North Bay, and the moose
are thick as flies. I've seen a lot of cars that got hit by moose,
and the car has always lost: the hood and windshield smashed in if the
driver was lucky, the whole car twisted and charred if the driver went
into a rock cut. Tilden Lake and Marten River are marked on the map;
you won't see Tilden Lake at all, and Marten River you'll only know
by the gas station that sells bait and tackle.
Temagami (tourism, mining, timber), and keep going. There's beautiful
lakes here, but there's beautiful lakes all the way along this highway;
you'll get the bored look the locals have soon enough. Two big hills
between Temagami proper and the townsite, then a lot of flat. Get used
to it. The drive up from North Bay has shown you the last impressive
hills you'll see until Alberta.
Latchford (memorial bridge), and the Cobalt Book Store. Stop at that
last one. You can take the scenic route 11B if you want and check out
Cobalt (mining), Haileybury (government, timber, tourism) and
New Liskeard (farming town); it's a pretty drive, so go for it.
Miss Claybelt is the fibreglass cow by the side of the highway.
Nine-mile Corner is home to the cheese shop; hard to miss. It has the
name of Dymund on the map, but that's a silly distinction.
You'll drive through Thornloe, (farming), Englehart (farming town)
but miss Kirkland Lake (mining town) entirely; it's one of the many
towns along here that aren't on the highway proper. The bus makes a
point of stopping in at each one, but you're not the bus and you're not
here for a milk run. Keep driving.
Ramore and Matheson (?), then Timmins (mining, mining, mining), former
home of Shania Twain. Like Alex Trebek, pride of Sudbury (mining,
government), she got out a long time ago. Meditate for a moment on
all the cars you see going the other way; if it's late August or early
September, count the 18 year-olds and subtract from the number you
actually see in the towns you pass.
Val Gagne (timber), Monteith, Porquis Junction, Nellis Lake, Tunis
(ciphers, dropped by God or economics). You'll pass by Iroquois
Falls (timber, pulp & paper) without going in. Then Cochrane (tourism,
government): watch for the nameless fibreglass polar bear and your chance
to ride the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee (tourism, government).
Driftwood (?). Then Smooth Rock Falls (timber, pulp & paper), the first
in a series of funny-smelling towns; it's the sulpher used in the
pulp-making process. You get used to it, I'm told.
Gregoires Mill, Fauquier and Moonbeam (convenience stores, hockey arenas).
Watch for the fiberglass UFO in Moonbeam. Kapuskasing (timber, pulp &
paper, government) is the next funny-smelling town, and home of the last
McDonald's for 115 kilometres. Stock up now; otherwise it's convenience
store Vachon Cakes from here on out.
Val Rita, Harty, Opasatika (chip wagons). Lowther (curling rink).
Mattice (pronounced mah-TYCE) (motel); watch for the fiberglass
dinosaurs (2) with the single Xmas light in the mouth of the one
(visible only at night). Val Cote, Hallebourg (hockey arena), and then
Hearst (lumber, government, tourism).
This is the end of my knowledge of Highway 11. Total travel time from
Toronto: ten hours if you're good, twelve if you're taking your time,
eighteen if you're taking the god-forsaken bus.