Travel Ontario: A Drive To Thunder Bay

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Travel Ontario: A Drive To Thunder Bay

By Cheryl Smyth

Travel Ontario: A Drive To Thunder Bay

Travel Ontario: A Drive To Thunder Bay – Batchawana Bay

On Our Way
I had reserved the motel room and ensured the car was in proper running order. The cooler was filled with refreshments, and the debit and credit card were on hand. Judging from a glance at my map, I determined if we set off early in the morning from our southwestern Ontario homes, we would reach Thunder Bay by nightfall. I was wrong about the last part.

Since seeing massive cliffs when flying over Thunder Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior years ago, I yearned to discover more of this rugged looking region of Ontario. The part of the province I live in is mainly flat farmland, where only hints of Carolinian forests lie.

Finally, my friend, Helen, and I had a chance to escape from our grueling schedules for a few days. Tessi, my dog, was happy to accompany us as she needed a break from the grueling boredom of sleeping most of the time. Though there are faster routes to Thunder Bay, I wanted to travel the one east of Georgian Bay and north of Lake Superior to experience the treasures our province would reveal.

The day sped by quickly. As we headed north, the landscape gradually changed to include a mixture of southern deciduous trees and northern boreal trees. Huge jagged boulders of various shapes hugged the highway south of Parry Sound. We stopped often, not only for necessity, but also to capture compelling scenery with our cameras.

Tessi’s Fun
Just as we were discussing our options for lunch, a picnic area appeared on a short road branching off the highway we were driving on. On this road, we had to pass the predictable offering of fast food restaurants to reach the lonely looking picnic table among some trees. Once parked, instead of hauling our lunches from the cooler, we grabbed our cameras. We recorded images of tree roots twisting in and out of the needle-covered ground. Hidden behind the picnic area, we found a tranquil rock-bordered pond. The leaves on some of the deciduous trees, which appeared to be growing out of the rock, were changing to their fall palette.

Meanwhile, I had given Tessi temporary freedom from her leash. The scent of a squirrel soon enticed her. Despite my attempt to discourage her, she chased the spry animal into a tree. As she stubbornly stared up into it, we watched the squirrel sneak down the other side. Tessi had stretched out to wait when suddenly she yelped; she had been stung on her belly. The wound wasn’t serious, although she had difficulty getting comfortable in the car for a short time.

The Mysterious Skull
In Iron Bridge, on one of our many stops for gas, Helen chatted with the attendant. I wasn’t listening to their conversation since I was engrossed in examining a large, wrapped head on the roof of the vehicle beside us. Its apparent owners, a young couple, mentioned it was a buffalo skull. I regret not asking why they had this strange rooftop package.

Meanwhile, the attendant had told Helen the town hadn’t seen rain all summer. The waterworks started once we left the town behind.

We Have How Far To Go?
We drove through Sault Ste. Marie, the last notable city before Thunder Bay, in the late afternoon. Just as I was wondering if I could drive what I thought would be a few more hours to our destination, I spotted a sign revealing Thunder Bay to be a further 690 kilometers (429 miles)—at least a seven hour drive. I was filled with shock and disbelief; my head jumbled with questions, possible solutions, and worry, among other thought processes. (To this day, Helen still teases me about the look on my face then.) After more than 12 hours on the road, I knew I couldn’t drive much farther without a long break, even with Helen occasionally relieving me at the wheel, as she had throughout the day. I also didn’t want to risk hitting a moose as they have proven to be a night hazard on the road, and I didn’t want to be arriving at the motel during the early hours of the morning.

I hadn’t wanted to leave our overnight options to chance, as having a dog usually requires securing reservations; dog friendly accommodations get taken quickly. I had reserved a room for two nights at the Country Inn Motel in Thunder Bay.

A Pleasant Place to Spend the Night
After travelling in shock for another hour, I decided I had better phone Wendy, the motel’s owner. Fortunately, we soon found a payphone since my cell phone call wouldn’t go through. Wendy informed me that we would likely be at least eight hours on the road, so I explained the situation. Her kindness and appreciation of the phone call put me at ease. I did assure her we’d be at her motel the next night.

With that taken care of, I became conscious of the fact we’d have to find a place for the current night. As I walked away from the phone, I noticed it was attached to the outside wall of the Voyageurs’ Lodge and Cookhouse. They not only had a reasonably priced room available, but also accepted pets.

The Voyageurs’ Lodge and Cookhouse is situated along highway 17, north of Sault. Ste. Marie in the Batchawana Bay area. The motel’s old log décor features a comfortable home away from home. There is not only a three kilometre sandy beach, but also assorted hiking trails.

We, especially Tessi, appreciated a much needed outing on the beach, which is across the highway from the motel. Afterwards, Helen and I delved into hot meals at the motel’s restaurant before settling in for a refreshing night’s sleep.

Giant Geese and Scary Heights
On the road the next morning, we passed by a couple of provincial parks; and drove through Lake Superior Provincial Park, where we experienced a misty sunrise over the rugged highlands. I never realized we had this beautiful mountainous landscape in Ontario. The drive was amazing with the road twisting up and down and around; revealing picturesque lakes and rivers. I’m glad we had found a motel when we did, as those first few hours seemed devoid of life. Eventually, we detoured off the highway and headed into Wawa. The car was ready for gas, so we thought we might as well check out the town’s famous goose statue.

We saw a few of them as we drove through town. Once the car was gassed up, we stopped for pictures of one of the geese. Later, I found out it wasn’t the well known statue. At least I have original travel pictures for my photo album.

Travel Ontario: A Drive To Thunder Bay - Eagle Canyon

Travel Ontario: A Drive To Thunder Bay – Eagle Canyon

As we neared Thunder Bay, we made time to explore Eagle Canyon Adventures, which is 65 kilometres east of the city. It claims to have Canada’s longest suspension footbridge over a canyon. I had been looking forward to the destination, but was surprised at how unstable the bridge felt once I stepped onto it. Helen was also hesitant. We had been quivering in our sandals for a short time trying to work up our courage, when an older couple came along and immediately headed out to traverse the canyon. Helen felt encouraged by them, so she followed and I had no choice but to follow her. Though this bridge was obviously well constructed, I had visions of the rickety ones in all those jungle movies I had watched. We were proud of ourselves (and Tessi—she was braver than Helen and me put together) for crossing the 183 meter intimidating span. The canyon was breathtaking with its sharp-edged cliffs and detritus piled by the side of the tea-colored stream flowing along the bottom.

Eagle Canyon Adventures, which is off highway 11/17, is easy to find as there are directions at each turn in the road. There are more than five kilometres of trails that include two suspension footbridges—the 183 metre bridge and another at 91 metres. The trail continues down steps taking you to the bottom of the canyon, where you can fish for speckled trout. The park offers a variety of camping for those roughing it in tents or those having the comfort of RV’s.

Finally Thunder Bay
Overlooking Lake Superior and Thunder Bay in a pleasant park setting is the Terry Fox Memorial. The monument is an impressive dedication. You can’t help but be awed by what Terry Fox, who had attempted to walk across Canada to raise funds for cancer research, achieved in his short existence. He had only made it to this part of the country when the disease stole his life.

The Long Drive Home
Once we left the monument, it didn’t take us long to find the Old Country Motel, settle in and fall asleep early. It is easily found on Cumberland St. in Thunder Bay. The two bedroom unit with a kitchenette was reasonably priced, especially as there was no added charge for Tessi’s stay.

The next morning, daybreak found us back on the road. We decided we’d have to drive straight home as we both had obligations the next day. We didn’t deny ourselves any wanted breaks despite the fact we had limited travel time; we knew we’d need to stay refreshed for the long drive. Taking turns at the wheel helped to keep us focused.

The pleasant day brought us sunshine, a perfect breeze, and a moderate temperature. We stole some precious time to bask in it all while sitting on a bench among flowers by a colourful statue of Winnie the Pooh in White River. The town boasts being the birthplace of the original, once living version of the famous bear.

One of our last stops before nightfall enabled me to capture photos of the Loon Dollar Monument—a giant loonie statue—in the town of Echo Bay. I knew we would miss the popular giant nickel in Sudbury.

Darkness had fallen by the time we reached Sudbury. Maneuvering the car in sporadic rain on the unfamiliar curvy two lane highway south of the city challenged me. The constant oncoming traffic, although somewhat blinding, did help light the road.

After we had been away for about 72 hours, 42 of them spent on the road, we arrived home safely in the early hours of the morning. We had a brief, rejuvenating drive to a memorable part of Ontario. I’m satisfied with what I discovered—for now. Someday I will return to casually explore its winding hiking trails, waterfalls, and cliff top lookouts.

If You Go:

Cheryl Smyth has been a photographer for 20 years and has recently added writing to her repertoire. The desire of having her dog, Tessi, with her on her travels has inspired her to discover all that pet travel has to offer. Some of her travel stories and photography can be found on her website



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