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Travelling NW Ontario

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Travelling NW Ontario In The Winter

by Scott A.Sumner
    As most of our readers know by now I'm a snowmobile enthusiast. Last week I embarked on a fun trip with 30 other riders from Marathon to Manitouwadge and then Hornpayne, Hornpayne to Dubreulville and then White River and lastly White River to Marathon.  The three day trip of some 425 miles by sled gave a good insight into life in the smaller communities of our region.  Driving to Marathon the first day by truck you first experience the strike of Terrace Bay.  The local people seemed somewhat concerned about how long this might occur as the town noted as one of the highest per capital incomes in Ontario has all it's workers out of work.  
Gary Christianson shows us the Mark Frame bridge
In Marathon, our staging point, I quickly found out more about the Newmount Gold Mine which will shut down and two of our riders will be affected.  One person had 5 shifts left in his $90,000 per year job as a millwright.  That's not good.
  Up bright and early it was off on our snowmobiles to Manitouwadge the next day.  Our first stop along the trail was the Mark Frame Bridge.  This one million dollar structure that spans the Pic River, was completed in the memory of Mark Frame a volunteer groomer operator who lost his life when the groomer went down.  Gary Christensen was also in the groomer that night and was able to survive the event. Gary was on the ride this year with his wife.
       Manitouwadge is where I grew up from ages 8 to 18.  My dad and I had visited the Newmount gold property in 1984 when there were only core samples on the surface.  Some billion dollars later and 20 years of mine life the Newmount is closing and many of its employees live in Manitouwadge . If you want to buy a home there, $20,000 to $30,000 will get you going.  The economy isn't perfect I was told.  The shrinking tax base means one of these houses will have annual realty taxes of $2400 to $2800 so that is comparable to Thunder Bay.  Manitouwadge is still a picturesque place to be.  We had our lunch there and then were off to the Hillsport Hillton, which caters to snowmobilers, a brainchild of Manitouwadge grocery store owner Gary Dorian.  Next it was Hornpayne, a NW town I had never visited.  Unique is the large mall like complex complete with 130 room hotel that acts in part as a rest area for CN workers travelling across Canada.  It is really a unique concept to have a large enclosed town centre in a remote place.  The trails here were great and the scenery great.  I really enjoyed this part of our trip.


Guays Enterprises really helped out on the trail.

  The next day it was off to Dubreulville and lunch at this thriving logging town with a Buchanan Saw Mill.  One of our riders Tim, President of the Thunder Bay Adventure Trails had an incident with his Ski Doo Mach 1sled.  The throttle cable wasn't working well and when he started his sled, it took off and glanced off another sled before ending up on its windshield. Fortunately  no one was hurt and in Dubrielville we were able to drive to Guays Enterprises, get some minor adjustments made and carry on our way.  Also another rider had his Yamaha suspension break.  Earlier the previous day an identical sled had blown its motor so it was a quick 1 hour repair in the restaurant parking lot switching suspensions.  This was fun to watch and good for my friend as he could complete the ride by sled rather than in the support truck.  Reaching our destination of White River, the coldest place in Canada, it was time for some dinner and conversation and as Don Cherry would say a few pops for most of the riders.
      Starting out the next day in a -27 celius temperature was cold and I learned later my neck had frozen a little.  This part of the country also had a huge forest fire in recent years and you would ride through many burnt out areas.  Even so the scenery was spectacular with rolling elevation changes.  We really do live in a beautiful area.  Arriving in Marathon it was time to load up the sleds on the trailers and head home to Thunder Bay.  Some of our riders were waiting to see if they would make the cut at Bowater and retain their jobs, a theme of this trip it seemed.  Overall everyone had fun and enjoyed the journey.  Let's hope next years version of this trip finds more positive economic news!

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