Northern Ontario is huge, as anyone who has ever driven through it knows.
Once I drove from Ottawa to Timmins for a job interview. I checked into the hotel, got a paper and a beer, read the paper, checked out of the hotel, and drove home.
It was a long trip. Like, 18 hours long.
Anyway, Rachel lives up there in a place called Sudbury now. So I asked her how that’s going.
What was it like growing up in the Sault Ste. Marie? Were you always worried about bears, and being sent away on a giant ocean freighter?
Growing up in the Sault — the Heart of the Great Lakes — was great. You have access to Lake Superior on one side and the North Channel on the other. You can’t get much better than that.
Our family had a 29-foot sailboat called Obstreperous while I was growing up. We never travelled to far-off places like Disneyland. We took weeks-long sailing trips to all the North Channel hotspots such as Bruce Mines, Blind River, Croker Island and Little Current.
I did have a love-hate relationship with ocean freighters. When I was young, my nerdy self enjoyed looking up the smokestack designs on the ships in a book I had to see where they were from. At the same time, I was terrified of sailing too close to them.
As for bears, I actually only ever saw one bear in the wild while I was growing up in the Sault, and I was in a car at the time. It was a big black bear standing upright on the train tracks.
You left for the big city, but went back. What was the appeal?
Many reasons. Mostly lower housing prices, stronger newspaper unions, proximity to family, friendlier people, cheap beer and quick access to the outdoors.
What do you do for fun in Northern Ontario?
I recently had five days off. During that time I went to a concert at a community hall in the booming metropolis of Hilton Beach, Ont., followed by a party at a friend’s camp. (In Northern Ontario, camp is a cottage). I spent the majority of the rest of the time floating in a pool in Sault Ste. Marie, hiking on the shores of Lake Superior, shopping and sleeping. That pretty much sums up what I do for fun in Northern Ontario.
If you want to really have a big weekend, where do you go?
The moose calling contest at the Porcupine – South Porcupine Winter Carnival. Just kidding, although it is a good time. It’s a toss up between Sault Ste. Marie, where most of my friends, extended family and in-laws are, or Toronto, where my immediate family has ended up.
Seriously, how many bears do you see each day?
Living in Sudbury, I see bears probably a handful of times each summer. Most of the time, it’s while I’m driving.
We did have a bear hanging out in our yard last year for a couple of nights. It went in our neighbour’s garage, pooped on our lawn and pawed my brother’s car. I’m guessing there was an old sandwich or some other kind of food product in the car that attracted the bear.
That night, we watched the bear from our deck for a few minutes. My brother contemplated throwing a bottle at it, but it sauntered off into the bush on its own accord.
I carry bear spray with me while I’m hiking. I don’t expect to ever need it, but you never know. Last summer I interviewed a woman who was pawed by a bear while having a smoke outside her Coniston home. She needed dozens of staples to repair four large gashes in her leg. Injuries like this are rare, but scary nonetheless.
I’m not a hunter, but I wouldn’t disagree with a spring bear hunt. A former colleague I worked with in Timmins used to joke about letting a few bears run wild on the lawn of Queen’s Park — as they do in our cities and towns — to see how our politicians would react then.
If, hypothetically speaking, tourists went to Sudbury what would you recommend they do?
The girls should go to bingo while the boys get stinko. Really, I usually take visiting friends to Science North or Bell Park on the shore of Ramsey Lake. Then we get stinko.
Have you ever touched the big nickel? What’s it actually made of?
I have stood near the big nickel, but never actually touched it. It is made of stainless steel.
I have interviewed the man behind the nickel, creator Ted Szilva.
I have also heard comedian Jason Alexander totally rip in to the fact that we have a giant nickel as a tourist attraction during Sudbury’s comedy festival. For some reason, he couldn’t understand what it would be like at that meeting where it was decided that building a giant nickel was a great idea.
Really, there is a science centre called Dynamic Earth at the base of the nickel. It’s not like tourists just drive there to have their picture taken.
Are you now, or have you ever been, a miner?
I am not a miner and never have been a miner. I did go into an open pit mine once for a story in Timmins. It’s not a job I’d ever want to do and they deserve every penny they get.
What’s more fun – a Sudbury Saturday Night or taking a ride on the Algoma 69?
I’ve never actually been on the Algoma Central 69. I have had many fun Sudbury Saturday Nights, so I’ll have to vote for that. Where else can you get OV beer on tap or spend a whole night at a bar and have a $33 bill.