NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 7)
For those who have never seen Lake Superior, you get an inadequate picture of it when you hear it called a lake. And for those who have sailed over it, the term lake must sound ludicrous. My first view of its waters were in Thunder Bay and, since Nipigon, I had been keeping my eyes out for its elusive horizon.
At Rossport the road cut inland for five kilometers. I cycled to the crest of a high plateau, then without notice its bottom fell out. What a sight. There at my feet, stretching out to a haze on the horizon was Superior. An opal sheet of water unspoiled by islands and as a large as an ocean. I had been travelling so slowly that these sudden views were a rarity. I had followed the contours of Lake Superior from Nipigon but its outline was always blurred by objects. Nine times out of ten the speedy traveller misses these subtleties, but there are times when speed is better and the faster the picture it flashes the more memorable they become. The unannounced view that stamps itself in your mind in a way prolonged association rarely achieves and travelling the roof top of Superior, I often wished the miles would fly.
I was now cycling through that typically North American experience; towns born into the boom-and-bust syndrome, with school reunions often better remembered that lived in. My route had already taken me to half-a-dozen lakeside communities and there were many more to come. Most had boasted larger populations than they now housed. Mines and pulp mills had sprouted up like mushrooms in the boom years proceeding the Great War, but many more had shaved their productions and some even mothballed them. It wasn't as if they were ghost towns, far from it. Miners had been replaced by artisans, forest workers by retirees, but the threads that held them together, its schools, churches and bars had long since emptied. Boarded-up homes, abandoned trailer courts and stores for sale told their own story. For some, communities like Kenora, Dryden, Nipigon and Terrace Bay had taken root, expanded, diversified and been able to buffer the winds of change. The bustling days when Superior surfed the crest of an 'Energy, Mines and Resources' wave had disappeared into folk lore. I knew Marathon and Elliot Lake had seen better days, and Timmins and Sudbury to the east were also suffering. I knew mines existed just north and south of the highway, but many of the small towns they fed seemed derelict and sad; if not yet ghost towns, then allowed to exist through the social insurance stamp and retirement benefits. They now relied, like so many I had seen in British Columbia, on tourism. Nurturing its past through industrial museums and selling futures through packaging heritage sights into manicured tracks of wilderness.
Some of these towns have built thriving tourist industries around myths. For instance, in Ignance I was told everybody heads to the towns garbage dump at sunset to watch the bears, and in White River, no trip along the Trans Canada Highway is complete without a pilgrimage to its local A&W, where one can be pictured standing next to a huge thermometer to commemorate its place as Ontario's coldest spot. And now in Wawa it was a huge sculptured Canada Goose.