We started the final day much as we had started the previous 4 days, by rising early and trying to get our bearings. We were scheduled to arrive in Toronto on the morning of Tuesday, July 9 around 08:30. The original plan was for me to catch a GO bus back to Barrie to get picked up and taken to Collingwood. JC would go to the airport and rent a car for a 2 day detour to Kingston (300 km to the east) and eventually end up in Collingwood eventually as well.
We had already decided the day before that I would get off at Washago, saving hours of extra travel time. Washago sits at the northernmost point of Lake Couchiching, itself at the northernmost end of Lake Simcoe. The rail crew indicated that a “short stop” would not be a problem.
First we needed to confirm my change of plans that we had texted the night before. We soon discovered that our plans needed some additional changes as well.
The Toronto Storm
On the evening of Monday, July 8, Toronto had a rainstorm that broke rainfall records with over 120 mm of rain falling. The storm paralyzed much of the city including the rail system. As we learned of this early Tuesday morning it quickly became clear that going into Toronto was a bad idea for both of us. I was glad of my change of plans and now we needed to re-organize JC’s plans as well.
We quickly changed the car rental to a Barrie pickup and an airport drop-off and informed the train staff that both of use wold be detraining together. Eventually, with the train running 2-1/2 hours late, both JC and I got off the train at Washago.
Washago is part of the Ramara Township municipality that was formed in 1994 from around 50 once-separate communities. The total population of this Township is about 10,000.
Killdeer with Young
While waiting for our ride we wandered around the Washago train station and discovered a family of killdeer consisting of an adult and two juveniles.
Our vacation within a vacation was over and the Collingwood part was about to begin.
We woke around 07:00 some 100 km or so to the east of Sioux Lookout. This was to be a day of a day of rivers, lakes and trees.
We made an early brief stop in a small spot called Savant Lake at the intersection with Highway 599 to drop off some passengers.
Anyone going south on 599 had a 150 km drive to Highway 17, the Trans-Canada. Anyone going north would be travelling through boreal wilderness with the only eventual options of turning back or continuing on by sea-plane.
The CN line continued eastward, passing north of Lake Nipigon towards the next station of Longlac some 300 km further on. It was 13:30 when we finally arrived.
Longlac is part of an amalgamated town called Greenstone with a 2011 census population of under 5000 people. It sits at the north end of Long Lake (one of dozens with the same name in Ontario) which stretches around 80 km towards Lake Superior with a width that is rarely more than 2 km.
The Endless Boreal Shield
When we moved out west from Kingston (Ontario) to Vancouver in 2009, we drove the Trans-Canada Highway that hugs the north shore of Lake Huron and Lake Superior. On that trip, the entire first 3 days of our trip were spent in Ontario. Even with multiple drivers travelling around the clock, we would have been hard-pressed to get out of the province in under 24 hours. Northern Ontario is big, the distances are great and the landscape does not change much.
The trip in the other direction was similar though it was taking an even more remote route. By the time we reached the end of our trip we would have been on the train at least 30 hours just in Ontario. If you were starting in Madrid, a trip of the same distance in Europe would take you roughly to Vienna with much more variation in scenery.
If you check the geography more closely, you will see that the entire area that we were travelling through was part of the Boreal Shield ecozone with its mixed forests and endless lakes and rivers. Unlike the previous day there would be much less evidence of development as the Boreal Shield was less amenable to agriculture and human settlement.
From Longlac, the CN tracks run south of the highway reaching the CN rail-town of HornePayne about 150 km further. We arrived around 16:30 and had our first opportunity of the day to leave the train.
Hornepayne is a small township with a 2011 census population of 1050 people (down over 13% since 2006). On a map it appears to be in the middle of nowhere.
The nearest cities of substantial size are Thunder Bay 300 km to the southwest, Sault Ste. Marie 300 km to the south and Sudbury 400 km to the southeast. Hornepayne is an important stop on the CN line. It also supports an active timber industry, the region’s primary employer.
I mentioned the trees, rivers and lakes but did I mention the bugs? Northern Ontario is known for its bugs. In the spring it is the black flies which have a enough of a reputation that there has even been a Canadian folk song written about them.
Early July was probably near the end of their season but mosquitos were also on the menu (actually, it was probably us on theirs). We were concerned that our brief time off of the train would have us running from the little biters. Happily, there was a light breeze and neither critter was a big nuisance during our time off the train.
All Quiet on the Wildlife Front
Unlike the previous day, there was relatively little wildlife activity. Early in the day we had our one and only moose sighting. It was briefly visible from the neck up as it was swimming away from us in a small lake. We also saw a total of three beavers one of which we managed to get “on film”.
On the bird front, there were several Cedar Waxwings spotted during one of our stops to let a freight-train pass. Lots of Loons were spotted in ones and twos on lakes that we passed and a lone merganser was seen near where we took our beaver pictures.
My original plan to detrain in Toronto and then make my way back up to Collingwood changed sometime during the day and the plan that emerged was for me to get off the train at the CN stop in Washago (a small town north of Orillia) and have my ride pick me up there in the morning instead of later in the day in Barrie. JC’s plans remained unchanged: Get off the train in Toronto, rent a car and head off to Kingston for a couple of days before meeting up back in Collingwood.
There was almost no cell-phone coverage the entire day as we passed through North Ontario. However, before we hit the sack, we did manage to get a couple of emails and texts off to let the appropriate people know of our changed plans.
So ended Day 4.
The Black Fly Song
Written in 1949 by Wade Hemsworth, this song is something of a Canadian folk music classic. Here are the chorus lyrics and a YouTube recording of Wade singing the song:
And the black flies, the little black flies Always the black fly no matter where you go I’ll die with the black fly a-pickin’ my bones In North Ontar-eye-o-eye-o, In North Ontar-eye-o