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Where Northern Ontario begins


What is Northern Ontario, and where does it truly begin?


That's a question that occupies the minds of many people when they have nothing better to think about.

Lorne Elliott once performed in the small but comfortable Classic Theatre in Cobalt which is deemed, at least politically, to be part of Northern Ontario. At that time he posed a question to the audience of about two hundred who had travelled varying distances for the event. “How many of you have ever seen a polar bear?” he asked. About thirty people raised their hands. “Well you're not really from Northern Ontario then, are you?” he stated.


It is true that there is a vast stretch of Ontario which reaches well beyond the roads and even the railway tracks that snake through much of this province. Access to the true wild stretches of tundra, the Arctic Ocean and opportunities to see polar bears in the wild is obtained by air only.


But do those of us who reside in the remote communities somewhere in the middle between Southern Ontario and the True North deserve the right to claim to be within that land of mystique known as Northern Ontario?


Beyond the northern boundaries of the Greater Toronto Area, there is a stretch of lovely country decked in pine and shimmering lakes. The winters are real, and so are the blizzards, but the proximity to Toronto makes this natural paradise a place where many people from the South enjoy spending their off time, mainly in the summer, but often enough in the winter that the area enjoys a year-round economy.


Another hour or two north of that, the towns tend to enjoy the attention of Southern folks during the summer, with a very robust economy revolving around cottage country activities. In the winter, these little communities tend to drift into a kind of quiet introspection as permanent residents regroup and wait for the next summer season of tourist activity.


One or two more hours driving north of that, Ontario becomes the land of resource extraction. The mining industry, the forest industry, and agriculture are the mainstays of life in this neck of the woods in which I reside. The tourists who venture this far North tend to be hardened. Many tend to have canoes and tents and are ready to strike off in search of the old-growth forests of legend that can still be found in the depths of the Temagami wilderness. They are ready to face down the fiercest creatures that the North can throw at them—the blackflies.


About two hours more north of this beautiful but challenging region, Mother Nature sets forth her opinion that the True North rightly begins. There is a place modestly marked with a sign on Highway 11 at a point of land 14 kilometres northwest of Kenogami, and not too far from the famed town of Kirkland Lake which was constructed on, over and because of a mile of gold happily discovered there about one hundred years ago or more.

The water speaks the truth at this point, and rather than flowing southward to various warmer climes, the water here begins to flow north, resolutely and without any further discussion about where the True North begins. Follow the water as it heads off into the Arctic Watershed.


I don't know why we pay so little attention to water and its sources, or its destinations. Just like the air, the water comes and goes with little interest from those who are so completely dependent on it. But the paths of the water around the planet are as important and vital to the planet's health (and ours) as are the movements of the blood in our own veins.


Water flows everywhere--through brooks, rivers and lakes, over rocks, through dams, under bridges and past waterfront mansions, parks, industry and shipyards until it finally makes it to the great bodies of water that touch the shores of other countries in other parts of the world. From there, the water flows on, joining and mixing with other waterbodies, replenishing and nourishing all that lives and breathes.


We are all connected by our air and water. They travel everywhere, directed by the shape of the planet, the heat of the sun, and the pull of the moon.


One region of the province, the country or the world, is not so far away as we tend to think. When we consider that every puff of air has been so many other places, and every droplet of water has also been around the planet countless times, we can better understand how closely we are connected.


Who knows where that breath of air you just drew has been? Who knows where the water has come from that is now passing by your feet in that stream?


Where does Northern Ontario begin? In a way, it never begins, but is simply a continuation, as the water and air pass through that pristine place, preparing for another journey back and around the planet yet again.


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