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Going Up North in Ontario: How Things Have Changed

Going Up North

When I was little, going up north was an annual thing. Every August we would take a trip to Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ontario for a special Mass celebrated by the Polish community. We would wake up early for what felt like a very long car trip.

Thirty odd years ago, Midland was a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with country roads leading to it. Sitting in the back seat of my parent’s ’83 Oldsmobile Cutlass, we saw planted forests on crown lands on either side of the road. The air seemed sweeter and fresher. Towns and villages were small – you’d be lucky to see a general store that sold fresh, locally made ice cream. You had a sense of being far, far away from the city.

How things have changed in 30 years. What I used think of as “up north in Ontario” is now a short day trip away.

Going Up North Is Easier Than You Think

Doug English wrote about how we continue to refer to “going up north” when touring towns and cities in northern Ontario, that aren’t really that far up in latitude. However, many places such as Parry Sound are now considered “Southern Ontario”, and North Bay is the “near North”.  He noted that places such as Sudbury and North Bay are easily doable trips as they’re only four hours away from Toronto.

He writes:

Northern Ontario sounds so far away that some places in what is traditionally defined as the North market themselves as being closer to the heavily populated South.

North Bay uses the term “the near North.” Parry Sound, once considered in the North for tourism purposes, is now lumped in with the South.

The situation would be laughable if not for the fact many in Southern Ontario think “up North”means Muskoka. Venture beyond that and you risk encountering bears or, worse, losing cell phone service.

Yes, there are places where you lose cell signals. Yes, there are spots where your Sirius XM radio goes wonky too. I’m happy that places like this exist. It means you can unplug and take a moment to enjoy the silence.

Going Up North Is Easier Now Than 30 Years Ago

A day trip to Parry Sound, Collingwood and even Tobermory, with a full day of activities included,  is easily doable.

Not enough time to have coffee in the morning before you head out? Easy – stop at one of the many Tim Horton’s locations found along your route. Need to stretch your legs and have a bite to eat? Not only are town and city highway exits planned well with restaurants nearby, but also many service stations have been renovated and updated to give you what you need. Forgot the folding chairs? No problem – there’s most likely a Canadian Tire or WalMart in one of the towns or cities along your route.

The furthest we’ve done for a day trip is a visit to Killarney Provincial Park. It may look closer than Sudbury, but the road that leads into it from the Trans Canada Highway is about 60 km. It can take more than an hour to get to it from the highway. If you’re stuck behind a slow-going RV, expect that drive to be even longer.

Killarney Provincial Park

Killarney is a doable one-day visit from Toronto if you get up early enough.

Weekend trips up north are also easier. Places such as Sudbury, North Bay and beyond are doable as long weekend road trips. With better highways and towns geared towards tourists, exploring Ontario is becoming a “thing” to do.

The more you travel around the province, the more you start thinking of places as really not “up north”. They are closer than you think. We’ve begun to think this way as we explore further beyond our area of Burlington.

What do you think is the boundary line between southern Ontario and “up north”?

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