Illustration: Stefan Woronko

Northern’s plight

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By Josh Brown

For many students, an exciting summer of travel consists of backpacking across Europe or driving out to British Columbia. However, there is a different culture in our own province.

For three summers I travelled through several small towns in Northern Ontario, once as a tree-planter, once working for the Ministry of Natural Resources and last year working at a summer lodge.

The further north you get in Ontario the faster you notice the decline in McDonald’s restaurants and the increase in French speaking people. The towns also start to look more like the sets of Hee-Haw and The Beachcombers.

Shining Tree is a typical small Northern Ontario town that I stayed in while treeplanting. It is two hours north of Sudbury and one hour away from any other town. It has a thriving metropolis of 26 people, 15 kids and 11 adults.

I always felt sorry for the 18-year-old boy in town since the girl closest to his age was 12. I was no secret how he spent his summer nights — how do you say masturbation?

There’s only one store in Shining Tree. It’s a variety/post office/laundromat/clothing/liquor store. They only sell two kinds of beer, Blue and Canadian, and only sell them by the case. The store only sells 26ers and had one brand of each kind of liquor; one vodka, one rye, etc… The kids have to choose between Doritos and plain potato chips.

I don’t know what it is about small towns but everyone looks the same. They all look related. But please note that the locals don’t take kindly to the word inbreeding.

A mid-sized town I camped in was Swastika which is just outside Kirkland Lake near Quebec. This area has to have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Canada. I have never seen so many baby carriages in all my life!

There is also a fierce rival of ‘80s glamrock going on in Swastika. Guys give a whole new meaning to hockey haircut. And I think this is the only town that still sells those black heavy-metal T-shirts with the three-quarter cut white sleeves. I had totally forgotten about groups like Ratt, Krokus and Iron Maiden before arriving in Swastika.

A larger town in Northern Ontario is Timmins, the home of Shania Twain. I had the unfortunate experience of living here before Shania was popular and didn’t know I was just kilometres away from such a goddess. Damn my timing! For the love of god, damn my timing.

Take away the outline of pines surrounding the town and Timmins could be mistaken for any southern town. It has it all, from malls and fast food mixed with the best Mother Nature has to offer. There are a lot of pick up trucks, country bars and nice people in Timmins.

Because of my stays in towns like Timmins, Swastika, Kirkland Lake, Shining Tree, Massey, Capleau, Spanish, Kenogami, Espanola, Moonbeam, Kapuskasing, Hearst and Sudbury I learned that Northern Ontario is a lot different than the rest of the province. There is a strong sense of pride among the people.

You really feel isolated from the rest of the province living up north. All you ever see if the depletion of natural resources and it really feel like southern cities get the most provincial attention.

No matter how different Northern Ontario is from the south, I always seem to return each summer. It’s hard not to miss the beautiful northern lights, the untouched nature and wildlife and the friendly people. Heck, sometimes I even miss those hockey haircuts. But at least the south can still find them in Bolton, Ontario.


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