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(2012 - Spring Issue)


They simply could not believe their eyes.

On a long-ago trip to northern Ontario, I was a freshly minted junior professor escorting a group of international students from Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mumbai. All were uniformly stunned by what they were seeing or rather, not seeing.

“Where are the buildings?” they breathed, staring out the bus windows.

Raised in overcrowded urban centres, my students were overcome by the vast open spaces. The sensory smorgasbord of piney woods, brilliant blue lakes and rugged cliff faces was something they’d never experienced before.

There’s magic in the wilderness and a welcome offered by smaller northern communities that’s warmer than anything a big city can provide. 

Isn’t it time you visited—or perhaps, revisited—to experience it for yourself?

Hit the Rails

If you think leaves are for raking and snow is for shovelling, a train ride from Sault Ste. Marie is going to change all that. The Algoma Central Railway’s Agawa Canyon Tour Train offers an unrivalled opportunity to explore deep into the northern Ontario wilderness, to savour the sweetness of a warm summer afternoon in the canyon, to enjoy a wild explosion of colours in autumn or to marvel at the untouched beauty of the winter landscapes. From the windows of this newly-renovated train, thousands of passengers are introduced each year to the scenery, which inspired the world-famous Group of Seven painters. Since 1952, more than 3.3 million people have taken the tour and last year alone, 25,159 passengers climbed aboard. Although the train accommodates approximately 720 passengers at any given time, you still need to plan ahead. 

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is just one of the great attractions luring eager vacationers. Once known only to hunting and fishing enthusiasts, Ontario’s north country is now a popular destination for all reasons and seasons. 

A Water World

A 90-minute drive from Sudbury is Manitoulin Island, the world’s largest freshwater island and one of the best places in Ontario to experience the wilderness. Another spectacular spot to experience the wild, the Manitou Islands near North Bay can be viewed from the deck of the Chief Commanda II, an aluminum twin-hull tour boat that also sails to Callander Bay and the French River.

Northern Ontario is truly a world of water. More than 350 lakes encircle Sudbury and another 500 surround the city of Timmins. Similarly, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and North Bay are all justly proud of their walkabout waterfront areas, filled with restaurants, outdoor cafés and shoreline walkways. Serious water sport lovers regard Timmins as a kayaking mecca and head there each year to take part in the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge and Festival. Even surfers find adventure in northern Ontario where the wild storm winds blow up swells in Terrace Bay on Lake Superior that can reach three metres. Grab a board or join the storm watchers at Pukaskwa National Park, Neys Provincial Park and Lake Superior Provincial Park near Thunder Bay.

From Treetops to Mineshafts

If you prefer thrills of a drier variety, put Eagle Canyon Adventures in Dorion (less than an hour’s drive from Thunder Bay) on your must-do list. Canada’s longest foot suspension bridge and zip line, Eagle Canyon Adventures lifts you to a breathtaking 46 metres off the canyon floor. Craving even more height? Another northern eagle is waiting in Sault Ste. Marie where Eagle Feather Aviation offers helicopter tours of the Agawa Canyon. If you’ve already taken the train trip, this will give you an entirely different perspective. 

Northern Ontario has planes for every purpose. If you’re longing for woodsy solitude, you can charter a flight from Sudbury Aviation and head for outpost fishing, canoeing or hunting camps. Fascinated by historic planes? Tour the Sudbury Basin aboard a classic DeHavilland Beaver or visit the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, to view a collection of vintage planes used for forest preservation and bush flying.

While you’re in Sudbury, treat the family to a visit to Science North, an interactive geology-focused museum that really rocks, with everything from live demonstrations, to an IMAX® 3-D theatre with a five-storey-high screen, to a digital Planetarium, to the Atlas Copco Theatre where the birth of our planet comes to life in high-definition digital imagery.

Also worth a visit in Sudbury is Dynamic Earth, a living introduction to the world of mining—past and present. A glass-enclosed elevator plunges deep underground where tunnels lead backward through simulations of the mines of today, to those of the 1950s and the 1800s. Note: this is not a tour for the claustrophobic! To round out your mining knowledge, catch the Timmins Underground Gold Mine Tour, where you’ll be outfitted with a hardhat, lamp, boots and coveralls, and taken on a guided tour by hard-rock miners telling tales of the early days at the Porcupine Camp and the Hollinger Gold Mine.

From museums to piney woods campsites, Ontario's north country welcomes visitors with an unending list of reasons to explore, to experience and to enjoy.  There's a reason we call it the great white north!

Travel Planner

For information on Ontario’s north country, visit northernontario.travel. Air Canada and Porter Airlines offer scheduled flights into Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury as well as frequent specials and deals. 

Insider’s Tip: Be sure to reserve your spot as early as possible for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train’s fall tours. Thanksgiving—the most popular of all weekends—sells out a year in advance.

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