beaver country

Yesterday, my cousin Joe and I drove back from the Sault to Toronto. (The last time I did this drive, I was in high-school.)

The trip has two distinct parts – the first part is east to Sudbury, the second part is south from Sudbury to Toronto. Between the Sault and Sudbury you’re on Highway 17, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, and the drive is very boring. The highway follows the contours of Lake Huron and is a flat uninteresting landscape. The highway also goes through many one-horse towns – Spragge, Serpent River – where the speed-limit drops to 30mph or traffic-lights force you to a complete stop. And did I mention that for the 190 miles it’s a two lanes road; this means that to pass you have to cross into the oncoming traffic lane. (Joe drives a Mercedes Coupe; and having an 8-cilinder engine in that driving environment made passing a ZOOM experience.)

However, once you get to Sudbury you turn south and for this portion of the drive down to Toronto, you follow the bend of Georgian Bay. Here you get to see the famous Canadian Shield or Laurentian Plateau. (The Shield is one of the world’s richest areas in terms of mineral ores. It is filled with substantial deposits of nickel, gold, silver, and copper. Throughout the Shield there are many mining towns extracting these minerals. The largest, and one of the best known, is Sudbury.) The highway is cut through exposed Precambrian and metamorphic rocks; these red-rocks formed the ancient geological core of the North American continent. There are areas in this part of the Shield that look totally surreal, other-worldly and there are areas where the rocks cradle deep-blue pools – above image – and everywhere there are marshes with evidence of beaver. There were beaver-dams and lodges in all the ponds and marshes off the highway.

The norther Georgian Bay region has slowly been sucked into what the Toronto urbanites call cottage-country. Yes, it’s almost 200 miles north-west of the city, but if you’re looking to buy a summer-home, prices in the established cottage-country area around Lake Simcoe, are in the stratosphere. Driving an extra hour brings young families into an affordable, hip and amazing landscape. It’s no wonder that the provincial government is invested millions into upgrading transportation into the region – there will soon be a modern divided highway from Toronto all the way to Sudbury.

After 50 years, the highway between the two largest cities in Northern Ontario – Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie – is still a two-lane road; and there are no plans to expand it into a modern divided highway.