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Travelogue - the more difficult version (11 photos)

Last week it was easier, this week Back Roads Bill takes us to places, that may require some effort; we can take this summer to special Northern Ontario destinations

This is part two of a travelogue/compilation sort of back roads story. Last week we looked at some easier-to-reach destinations.

These special places in Northern Ontario often have two ingredients - often some planning is required to reach the destination and then there are the natural and cultural stories that are ingrained within the landscape.

Wilderness and solitude

You first notice the sound as a low rumble in the distance, it is distinctive.

You see it skyward, it grows larger, and the drone increases, always in harmony, the Pratt & Whitney engine echoes its presence. The big red floatplane swings around for a landing. The silver, yellow-tipped prop stops and the working antique effortlessly glides to the dock. This 1956 historic Beaver will be the taxi to find what remains of the hermit of Whitewater Lake.

There are many adventurers or thrill-seekers who plan extraordinary pilgrimages into the wilderness. Their motivations are varied the subsequent experiential accounts differ. Humans are meant to seek adventure it is part of our DNA.

The hermit of Whitewater Lake

Find the spirituality within the rocks

It is one of the most unusual rocks in Northern Ontario, a beacon of sorts seen almost 1,000 metres away - it is a waterway navigation marker. Its significance is found within the indigenous interpretation and the spirits within the red rock.

There is always an anticipatory feeling about special places like this very different pictograph. It took four attempts to arrive at the red rock location, based on: “Should I drive through the washout?” And, "This is not the day to break my leg.”

One’s self-worth is tested by time travel, the amount of immeasurable bushwhacking and canoe dragging, tempered by being thwarted, through the uttering of too many expletives. You try again.

All about a bush-whacking canoe-dragging, fifth-time's-a-charm back waterway journey

The commitment within a love story

You will have to follow closely the chronological details of this story about Romeo. There are only so many available words.

In 2009 I was exploring the back roads returning to one of those loose ends nagging at the exploration or right side of my brain. The search for something I had found some 25 years earlier was on. I had returned a second time to Dalton, between Chapleau and Wawa, to retrieve a photo of a small “donkey” steam engine abandoned after the lumber mill closed.

Romeo and the ghost town. A cemetery story

Look up at our highest peaks

Not often, but sometimes we carefully climb to the top of our roof to check the chimney, the shingles or the whirligig. Santa will be doing so soon.

There is something more special when you climb to the top of a mountain and you experience the 360° view. Or take in the vista from a high cliff it includes the process of getting there.

Some scientists heatedly debate the issue, arguing that their technique is the most accurate. The world's tallest mountain differs depending on whether a mountain's height is measured from sea level, by a vertical rise or from the base or even from the centre of the Earth. This clouds the debate in Northern Ontario as well; what height of land claims the title for us?

How high can you go in Ontario and where

Cold War crash and the spirit lives on

Is United States Air Force (USAF) Pilot 1st Lt. Gaylord Treu, MIA, a casualty classification? He is somewhere out there among the boreal black spruce bogs of Northern Ontario.

Accidents are a series of mistakes. Something went tragically wrong on Dec. 17, 1959 during the height of the Cold War. A fighter jet collided with a long range bomber north of Hearst during a training mission. The Pinetree Line of radar stations stretching across Canada (many Northern Ontario locations, including nearby Pagwa) was fully operational as was the BOMARC guided missile base in North Bay. During this training mission the interceptors would have been in pursuit of enemy aircraft.

Capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger was an American interceptor aircraft built as part of the backbone of the USAF. Its main purpose was to intercept invading Soviet strategic bomber fleets during the Cold War; the F-102 was the USAF's first operational supersonic interceptor and delta-wing fighter. It used an internal weapons bay to carry both guided missiles and rockets.

A Cold War crash over Northern Ontario and the search for a missing pilot

Trailblazer indigenous minister

To blaze a trail is to lead the way, to be a pioneer in a field or to clear the road for others to follow in your footsteps.

John Sanders was the first, Indigenous Anglican minister in northern Ontario and one of the first in Canada. Sanders contributed greatly to mission work with his translations into Ojibwa. It was also the time of the advent of residential schools.

He is buried in an overgrown cemetery close to the CPR tracks near Missanabie, in the middle peninsula of the elongated Dog Lake. Where’s that and who was he? This cultural story is about putting together a lifetime of puzzle pieces within two nations.

The story of John Sanders, first Indigenous minister (4 photos)

Visit the orchre mine and learn

With time on our hands, there have been countless COVID-19 stories related to unique human behaviour. In times of stress it can be more difficult than ever to smile awhile.

But what do tiny baby hands and feet have to do with an ochre mine? Ochre was utilized as the organic medium for indigenous rock face paintings called pictographs. These stone canvases are found throughout the northeast at more than 80 sites including the well-known collections at Agawa, north of Sault Ste. Marie, Fairy Point, west of Chapleau and Wizard Lake near Gogama. There are few countries in the world that do not have evidence of rock paintings, an anthropological record of early aboriginal inhabitants.

The “paint” is made of ochre and there are two significant sources within northeastern Ontario.

Here's how one family used locally-sourced ochre to make a keepsake of their baby

Reach for the top

It is one of the most striking physical features on our northern landscape.

When you are in the little village of Kearns, east of Virginiatown the natural anomaly seems to be growing straight up and out of Highway 66. It is also mysterious.

When you first see the massive, bulbous shape from a distance you wonder about climbing to the top? It is not Mount Everest, but the climb to 500 m above sea level is worth it. An expanse of land in all directions is worth the effort.

For early native inhabitants, Mount Cheminis was a spiritual place, a place that was close to the gods.

Explore a towering monadnock with Back Roads Bill

More than spring water

You could help solve a million-dollar mystery, one that's not your ordinary old logging camp or mining audit.

It is one of those bush puzzles that, when you stumble upon it, you ask “What was going on here?” You could not drive there then or now, the questions have some answers.

The crumbling, concrete, rectangular-shaped cistern is covered in lichens and mosses. An old pipe sticks out at one end, severed but headed about 200 m in a linear direction, down a slope to where there was a health spa, cabins and a health clinic.

The mystery of a spa in the middle of nowhere (6 images)

Go camping and especially within this park

During the past 15 months, statistics have been daily rituals. Pretty soon we will be able to enjoy camping in Ontario Parks and a word of warning the next bits of information should not dissuade you from getting on to those back roads and waters. Summer is within days!

Conor MacLean at Lefebvre's Source For Adventure, in North Bay, the oldest outdoor retailer in Northern Ontario answered my questions about merchandise availability.

“The early bird most definitely gets the worm in 2021.

Three must-do things in Ontario Parks (7 photos)

The preceding vignettes have a summary for your consideration with a pic and a Village Media link for more information. And check out the map link within each story; yours to discover.

Part of the satisfaction is the planning that goes into moving across the land and waterscapes. If these stories motivate you into action then I will look forward to hearing back from you on the back roads.