Famous for freshwater fishing and boating, Canada’s Northern Ontario has some of the most beautiful freshwater lakes in the world. In fact there are so many lakes in this area, it feels as if there are more lakes than solid ground.
Our Great Canadian Road Trip began in Golden, BC. Click on these links for previous stories from Golden, BC in summer and winter and hiking near Calgary, Alberta in Kananaskis and Banff. Since Maggie grew up in Winnipeg we have been back and forth between BC and Manitoba many times. On our road trip across the country we didn’t make many stops or take many pictures on this part of the trip but we can show you a few highlights.
The drive from BC travels through the majestic Rocky Mountains before the landscape opens up to expose the flat prairies. We saw many typical prairie scenes such as cattle grazing in large fields; oil well pumps, called pump jacks pumping oil from the ground; fields covered in hay bails; and further on fields covered in crops such as wheat, canola and sunflowers.
If the lighthouse is the iconic symbol of the Maritimes, then the grain elevator is the symbol of the Prairies. Our favourites are the old wooden ones that are unfortunately, being replaced by metal, unappealing structures.
After crossing the Prairies, we continued on the Trans-Canada to reach Northern Ontario. It feels strange to us that it’s called Northern Ontario since it’s actually more south than Calgary and Golden.
Northern Ontario is much less populated than the southern part of the province. Here there’s not much land between the thousands of freshwater lakes. Lake of the Woods, near Kenora is set in a particularly beautiful area where one lake continues on to the next with islands and peninsulas making up most of the land. This is cottage country. Small towns dot the landscape, but many of the lake shores and islands are home to summer cottages. We stayed at a friend’s cottage on an island in Shoal Lake. It is a serene setting beside a gentle lake, perfect for swimming, paddling or water skiing. Despite the rainy conditions, it was a great place to start our road trip across Canada.
From Lake of the Woods the Trans-Canada continues to travel between lakes, beside forests and over rivers. Before Thunder Bay is the impressive Kakabeka Falls where Kaministiquia River drops 40 metres into a gorge resulting in a powerful waterfall.
The city of Thunder Bay is where the Trans-Canada begins its journey around the upper edges of Lake Superior. Unfortunately it was raining when we were passing by so we couldn’t see much of famous ‘Sleeping Giant’ island. Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and contains a whopping 10% of all of the fresh water in the world.
By the time we reached the town of Nipigan the skies had improved and we had great views toward Lake Superior and its many islands. Further on we came to a famous spot along the Trans-Canada. A huge Canada Goose is posed ready for flight on a hill just outside of the town of Wawa.
The drive between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie (Sault is pronounced Soo) is said to be one of the top 10 drives in Canada. It shows the incredible beauty of the Canadian Shield. Here the landscape, made by thousands of years of erosion, is rugged and yet very picturesque. Steep tree covered granite cliffs hang above the many freshwater lakes. It’s easy to see how the Group of Seven artists found inspiration in this area.
Two of the ‘must-see’ spots on this part of the drive are Old Woman’s Bay and Agawa Rocks. At Old Woman’s Bay a steep cliff drops straight down to a sandy beach on Lake Superior. You’re supposed to see an Old Woman’s face in the cliff. I guess we didn’t have enough imagination because we couldn’t find her.
At Agawa Bay a short hike passes steep granite walls and boulders before reaching the shore of Lake Superior. From there we saw the granite shelf that provides the only path to reach 17th century pictographs painted on the shear rock face above. The granite was slippery and we decided to remove our flip-flops and walk barefoot. Unsure what we’d find, we were surprised at the vividness of these old paintings. We saw images of canoes, animals and mythical creatures that were painted in red ochre by Ojibway shamen generations ago. Even though we are able to see several images, apparantly there used to be many more. Their location on the exposed rock face has resulted in most being washed away forever.
The city of Sault Ste. Marie sits on the small piece of land separating Lake Superior from Lake Huron. From here the Trans-Canada Highway travels along the northern edge of Lake Huron. Unfortunately it was raining heavily when we were there. We had wanted to see Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, but were only able to sneak one picture before the storm intensified. I guess all of the water in this area has to come from somewhere.
Seeing so much gorgoeus wilderness in Northern Ontario we were excited for our next adventure, canoeing on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay.
Tips for travelling across Northern Ontario
• Accessing most of Northern Ontario requires you to have your own car. There are domestic airports in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
• The Trans-Canada Highway is almost entirely single lane for both east and west directions. On top of having only single lanes, the speed limit is usually 90 km/hr. Finally, as with most of Canada, highway construction is common during the summer months cutting down the lanes even further and with reduced speed limits.
• The section of road between Sault Ste. Marie may have unusually slow traffic as Mennonites are allowed to travel on the shoulder in their horse and buggy.
• Ontario has HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). Therefore an additional 13% will be charged to most items in addition to the ticket price.
Coming Next – Canoeing on the Georgian Bay
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