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The next back roads challenge (7 photos)

This week Back Roads Bill looks ahead, beyond the centre, to the far reaches of the province

There is the idiom “bigger fish to fry…” more on that later.

But now find an 8.5” X 11” piece of paper, have it in a vertical position and use a pencil or your index finger.

Close your eyes…close them… (open for the sketch)… and draw - freehand the extensive boundary of Ontario.

Start up in the far northwest way up on Hudson Bay. There are straight and diagonal lines that start heading south and along the west side of the Manitoba border.

Then there is the meandering border of the Great Lakes, the animal head of southern Ontario by Georgian Bay, that far eastern side over by Cornwall towards Montreal and then north again, back up the Ottawa River and along James/Hudson Bays.

It is a spatial, mental map exercise. Good job!

We reside within a vast and magnificent land.

The area is 139,931 km² (52,860 sq mi). Our population is now more than thirteen million, about one-third of the national total of 38 million.

It is the second-largest province by total area (after Quebec). Ontario is Canada's fourth-largest jurisdiction in total area when the territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are included.

By comparison, France is half the size, Japan about one-third, the entire United Kingdom about a quarter and the State of Florida is less than one-fifth the size of the province.

Look at the edges or cardinal direction extremities, if you extended the vertical and parallel lines you could draw a circle within the four sides and place a dot where you think the geographic centre of Ontario is located.

Now look at the map here and just remember there is some distortion based on the mathematical formula, and then projected on a flat surface or plane. It is located between Highways 11 and 17 and just a few kilometres to the east of Highway 631. Notice, that centre (and center) can be a noun, adjective, or a verb.

There are some bragging rights here. The first trek to the centre was in 2018, there was a second visit and then the concept of notoriety was presented to the Mayor and Council of Hornpayne early in 2020. This is how you get here

I wore and presented a T-shirt to the Mayor. Then the pandemic engulfed us. On April 10 the third trip to the destination ensued, just a few kilometres off of a logging road to the NNE of town. The beauty and fragrance of the mature black spruce forest were still there so was the deep snow ready to collapse. But there was another epiphany.

Hornepayne Centre

People in the community of about one thousand residents that features black bears as part of their present tourism existence are excited.

There’s a new sign designating the centre at the community ball field beside the sign denoting a new intended hotel complex long overdue. The Hornepayne Lumber mill is going strong.

In the summer of 2016, the mill was purchased by a number of private investors including Frank Dottori, known for founding forestry industry giant Tembec.

"Hornepayne, the Geographic Centre of Ontario, is looking forward to the fruition of a walking/hiking trail into this valuable location within our province and country. The Township has established an Ad Hoc Committee that is eager to get this project going and has some productive ideas," said Mayor Cheryl Fort. "Although the pandemic has hindered the development over the past two years, excitement for the project has not wavered. The Committee, Council and our entire community are committed to seeing the Geographic Centre of Ontario develop into an ecotourism site for generations to come and explore. We are excited to resume working on this exciting project for our community!"

The new preferred route (apart from our bushwhacking) and parking area have been now identified. 

“I am excited to watch the Geographic Centre of Ontario project unfold and look forward to welcoming people from all walks of life to our neighbourhood to enjoy this attraction that will be unique to Hornepayne!” said Gail Jaremy, CAO/Clerk.

We all look forward to the trail; it was also suggested by this writer that this also become the Sasquatch Capital of the province complete with an iconic statue at the centre.

The next challenge

It was during the third visit to the centre the next challenge became apparent. Last year the challenge was driving to the furthest point in Ontario. To understand that challenge, you have to go back in time to the Grade Nine math concepts.

The plan is to put foot on the closest land to the water-related boundaries related to the surveyed four extremities. From the furthest point north to the southernmost point is more than 1700 km; it is just about the same, given the curvature of the Earth, to the west-east extreme points.

I have interviewed Adam Shoalts and he has spoken at one of our Earth Day book talks at the Canadian Ecology Centre. He ventured into the largest unexplored wilderness on the planet, in northeastern Ontario, he hoped to set foot where no one (Again River) had ever gone before. What he discovered surprised even him that’s within the book Alone Against the North: An Expedition into the Unknown. So there’s always another softer test to consider.

Based on the north-south, east-west extremities, from the centre; when you zoom into the four corners/edges you see the official surveyed boundaries. Three of the four are on water, international and provincial/territorial vertices. See the map again, the longitude and latitude coordinates are referenced in the dialogue boxes. The x-axis and y-axis are axes in the Cartesian coordinate system. Recall plotting these numbers back in the day. Together, they form a coordinate plane. Enough geometry but you will see the jogs or anomalies within the boundary lines; they are not straight but irregular. There is history here as to why.

Brian Emblin is a keen, co-adventurer from the City “with a heart of gold.” This is what he thinks about the next challenge. “Realizing the size of this province…from Timmins to the most southern point is 1000 km and to the western extremity 1500 km. The other thing will be to do a comparison of the spot from the very far north location with its tundra terrain versus Pelee Island with its vineyards; that’s incredible that we have those extremes in the province.”

The most southern is easily attained. That’s the spit of land south of Point Pelee and Point Pelee Island, Lake Erie, Windsor-Leamington way. There’s a ferry and bike ride, very doable and it is an international/Canada-Ontario provincial boundary point.

To the 'Far East,' you need to move NNE beyond Cornwall and the St. Lawrence River near a little place called Bainsville; it is the PQ/ON boundary. The closest will be the end of someone’s driveway on County Rd. 2 or maybe a dock; if we get the invitation.

The most western extremity is another interesting anomaly. It involves the most northern point in the Continental United States, in a place called Angle, Minnesota which became famous during the pandemic, see this New York Times article

Here, just beyond the Canada/USA border, is the Manitoba-Ontario border point, this one is on land, and the map will help. We have to go into Manitoba, south into the USA (there’s a phone-in border checkpoint) to reach Angle and then by water to the provincial border point on land. This is west of Lake of the Woods and south of Shoal Lake.

The most challenging will be the point of land about 150 km NNW of Fort Severn on the Hudson Bay coast. Stay tuned, the planning has begun and there will be stories. We will be staying at the Niska Inn. (If you know someone there within the furthest north settlement in Ontario please share the contact.)

Not sure if anyone has done this and not sure why anyone would want to? I suppose there will now be a stampede of adventurers. There is also that idiom, (not an idiot), about being “a small fish in a big pond…” on the back roads.