Ontario is BIG…Did You Know?

I’ve been Tweeting and Facebook posting about this a lot, but it has to be said. Ontario is big. Like, I can’t get over it. Since we arrived in Ottawa last Monday, it has taken us a total of six days to drive through the province (minus a two-day stopover in Ottawa to see my family).

We left Toronto after a night out celebrating Cailin’s birthday to head towards Sault Ste Marie, a nine-hour drive. Sault Ste Marie to Thunder Bay took another nine hours, and Thunder Bay to Winnipeg took us ANOTHER nine hours…an hour of that actually being in Manitoba. The funny thing is, the drives weren’t terrible at all. In fact, they flew by.

Northern Ontario is a whole different world. Many places reminded me of Cape Breton, with green rolling hills and tiny towns. Leaving Sault Ste Marie, we pulled up at a stop and took pictures of people statues standing around a deck, including one lady decked out with triple-F boobies. Country music blared from a store’s speaker. And then as soon as we hit the highway, our cell phone signal disappeared…and remained lost in space for two days.

Katherine Cove, so pretty.

Then, somewhere between the Soo and Thunder Bay, we came thisclose to running out of gas. Like, another five minutes without a gas station, and we would have been shit out of luck. We were warned not to do this at LEAST three times, from a number of people. We ended up in Pancake Bay at a hilarious rest stop called The Canadian Carver, where moccasins hung for sale, carvings littered the floor, a wood stove crackled in the corner, and we were handed free coffee upon entrance. People were overwhelmingly friendly, and once again, country music blared from speakers.

One of the stops in the Soo.

We were seriously entertained.

But the REAL adventure started when we arrived in Thunder Bay at 11:30 p.m. in search of our hostel. The highway was completely black. Eerily black. No cell phone service. Our GPS pointed us to a dark, deserted byroad without any streetlights, and finally we ended up at the hostel with no one else in sight. An older man came out to introduce himself and point us in the direction of our rooms.

Did I mention the whole time we were in Thunder Bay, it was THUNDERING? And LIGHTNINGING? Non-stop. CONSTANT flashing.

Him and his wife had been running the hostel for over 40 years, apparently. They’ve literally adopted people from all over the world, and their hostel actually consists of three different buildings to house travellers. And their place is FILLED with stuff, like more stuff than I could ever get through. Statues, carvings, artwork, magazine clippings, funny comics, books, souvenirs. It’s amazing, and insane, and we spent some time browsing through photos and reading material left out for visitors. In our “Mongolia” room, the owners had filled little plastic sleeves with short stories selected for our reading pleasure. We were told there were 15 year old boys camping out in the camp bus, and a dude named Mario who ran the whole show. We originally thought he was imaginary, because the elusive Mario was nowhere to be seen. But the next day as Cailin headed to the car, she found him sitting on a bench feeding a cat.

A view of the hostel

The next day we just left, casually. That was it, we showed up and then disappeared. Owners were totally casual about it.

Twilight. Zone. Can’t tell you how glad I am that we stopped at that hostel.

Yeah, Northern Ontario is sorta surreal. There’s large-ish cities like Thunder Bay and the Soo scattered about, yet they’re hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres from any other major hub. It’s kinda baffling. You’re just driving through this northern wilderness and BAM! A city! Also, if you go to Thunder Bay, eat at Hoitos for breakfast (get the Finnish pancakes) and head over to The Persian Man for a Persian pastry. And then go run five kilometres.

  • June 05 2011

    Yeah, Northern Ontario is wacky and amazing! Did you go by Wawa? The legend is that if you’re hitch hiking north, you’ll get stuck there!

    • June 08 2011

      LOL, we had so many people tell us the same thing! Hilarious! We didn’t see any hitchhikers though. Just a giant goose.

  • June 05 2011

    Cool. Had to look up where thunder bay was because I thought you were talking about Hudson bay when you were talking about Northern Ontario! Must learn more a out Canadian geography…

    • June 08 2011

      Hahaha, dude, I’m learning on this trip that apparently I know nothing about Canada …

  • June 06 2011

    I knew Ontario was huge, and we never drove even past halfway west. Quebec is also pretty huge. But, mostly, this post is hugely reminding me of my childhood summers up in northern ontario… kind of miss it now.
    Glad you’re having so much fun! That hostel sounds amazing! And thumbs up for having a persian! ;D
    (mildly related: found out yesterday my brother got a job in a fly-in community in northern ontario…. north spirit lake… can’t even drive there!)

    • June 08 2011

      PERSIAN WAS SO GOOD. Haha, and Ontario was great! Epic places for camping, for sure.

  • June 06 2011

    It baffles me that Toronto to Winnipeg is an 18 hour drive. Can’t wait to hear about the adventures at that hostel in person. Did you take a dip in Lake Superior?!

    • June 08 2011

      I did not, I didn’t even put my toes in! Shame on me. :( But yes, the sheer size of this country astounds me. Unreal.

  • June 06 2011

    One of my reoccurring nightmares is running out of gas in the middle of an intersection. And lots of happy drivers as I attempt to push an imobile Honda off the road. My wife is convinced a low-gas light bulb will never burn out, and she’s fine as long as it isn’t on. *sigh* Any day now…

    • June 08 2011

      Hahaha, we’ve pushed our Daytona Beach Bad Boy to the limits many times on this trip..

  • June 06 2011

    I love this….I feel like I’m there, which is the very best kind of writing, I think. I’ve never driven across ON and now I’m going to have to add it to the list!

    I very nearly ran out of gas driving in Saskatchewan. I was headed northeast of Regina to visit my girlfriend way out hither and yon and, like you, if it had been five minutes more, I would have been stranded when suddenly a wee tiny gas station appeared.

    I think every Canadian should drive (or train) across their country sometime. There is no way to appreciate the immensity of it otherwise – oh, and drive to the territories one time too.

    Thanks for bringing us along on your trip with you!

    • June 08 2011

      Susan, makes me so happy to hear you say that! Thank you. And you’re right, there’s no way to better appreciate this country than driving through it. My god, this place is MASSIVE! P.S. I’m LOVING BC, ahhh!

  • June 06 2011

    Northern Ontario looks like it would be a neat place to explore. I’d imagine it would be pretty big, but I didn’t realize it would take so long to drive across the province. In Alberta I don’t think it would take more than 10 or 12 hours (at most) to drive from the BC border to the Saskatchewan. Although going from the north to south end (or vice versa) would probably take a couple days, or one really long day.

    • June 08 2011

      Well, it’s a lot shorter with more than one person driving! Haha. But I’m glad we took our time, it was nice to see places I wouldn’t normally visit.

  • June 06 2011

    Haha pulled the exact same stunt in my van while driving through Ontario. Skipped one gas station and ended up JUST making it to the next on fumes. Glad to hear I’m not alone. Sounds like you gals are havin’ a blast. Enjoy the country tunes! They grow on ya.

    • June 08 2011

      Hahaha, lesson learned, right? And I do love me some Shania Twain! JK…

  • June 06 2011

    Looks so cool! I love the green chair!

  • July 19 2011

    I just stumbled upon your blog this morning while trying to find the quickest route out of Ontario. It IS big! This is our third night and we’re only in Barrie! Mind you we have 2 kids with us and we’re driving the Joy Jeep with a uhaul trailer (can only go 100km per hour). We’re travelling across Canada/USA spreading JOY for the Give Joy Now project. 10,000 Joy Gems are being dispersed with a goal of 1,000,000 acts of joy worldwide. Accept the challenge, change the world, Give Joy Now! :).

    Keep writing Candice, you’re a great writer!

    Michelle Arbeau
    Chief Joy Officer

    • July 20 2011

      Oh I love this project, how cool! I may ask you for a feature on Matador Life later. Such a neat idea.

      And thanks for your comments. :)

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