Much of the fabric of Northern Ontario is bisected by two Trans Canada Highways 11/17 that dominate and connect the developed landscape of this vast and magnificent land. Why are there two, that’s a story in itself.
As the highways enter and exit many small towns we tend not to stop except for gas and snacks and selfies.
One of the towns on the Trans Canada Highway is Hearst, Ontario and it just celebrated its hundredth birthday. Happy birthday Hearst!
It is celebrating its official centennial on Aug. 3 and there is much to do in and around the bilingual community. See the short commemorative YouTube video. In fact, there are almost one hundred things to do in Hearst.
You are not too late the celebrations were delayed because of COVID, the 100th-anniversary celebrations for the Town of Hearst will continue through August and into the fall.
Stop at the moose and the wolves at the tourist information centre they will be glad to help. But there is more to see and do on the back roads around Hearst.
But first, like many places in Northern Ontario, there was a defining impactful event that sparked development. The arrival of the railway in Hearst marked the beginning of European descent migration to the area.
The National Transcontinental Railway (now Canadian National [CN]) arrived in 1912 and the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway (ACR) in 1914. From then until the 1930s, Hearst was an important railway hub.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ontario government promoted colonization by boasting the merits of Northern Ontario agriculture and forestry.
For some, it was known as the period of “broken promises and shattered dreams” as newcomers tried to eke out an existence on the rugged landscape. The publicity attracted many migrants from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, as well as many others of British and French Canadian origin.
The French Canadian Catholic Church encouraged members of its flock to sustain their religion and the French language by moving to Northern Ontario.
They were attracted by the possibility of obtaining their own land. Many French Canadians who settled in the area earned their living by working in the woods as loggers and at the mills.
When it was incorporated in 1922, Hearst’s population numbered 573 persons. From the last census, it is just over 5,000. Hearst was named to honour William Howard Hearst, a former Ontario Minister of Forests and Mines and later Premier of Ontario.
“This is a very historic and proud moment for our town. Covid delayed the official opening from January until August but things are rolling and will spill over into 2023," said Marc Johnson, a longtime resident. “We wrote a Centennial Book, One Hundred Glimpses of One Hundred Years which was launched on June 30th and it sold out in less than a week. It has 100 photos accompanied by a short text, which offers the reader a historical and heritage window on the first hundred years of the Town of Hearst.”
It is expected to be reprinted by the local historical committee, for an update, contact Marie Lebel, [email protected].
He also said there are various committees that have been hard at work planning different activities that have already started to take place and will continue through the fall and into next winter.
“French media (TFO) was in town recently interviewing various citizens to profile the town for an upcoming broadcast,” Johnson said.
His contribution was his arrival in the community in 1977, 45 years ago. He talked about Anglophone, Francophone and First Nations contributions.
One recommendation is to go on Ernie Bies’s Facebook page of historic milestones and photos on Hearstory, the History of Hearst Ontario.
He is a retired civil engineer who has taken up writing.
“My parents were immigrants from Czechoslovakia who homesteaded in a Slovak community near Hearst called Bradlo. My family moved to Gerald ton from ‘44 to ‘46 where I was born. Returned to Bradlo in ‘46 and I lived there and in Hearst until going to Ryerson in ‘63 but maintained contact with Hearst ever since,” Bies said.
He was a coeditor of a book in 2009 called Clayton's Kids; Pioneer Families of the Hearst Public Schools. Then he set out to write a book about Hearst's history.
“I spent ten years researching and writing short stories that were published in regional newspapers. I have so much material that I could not trim it into a book so I created ’Hearstory’(sic) in April 2021 as a venue to share my research and stir up interest for the town’s 100th anniversary. Hearstory (on Facebook) has 2,200 members with approximately 75 who have posted stories and pictures."
Ernie is determined, he has posted two or more stories/photos a week for 16 months. There are 3,000 pictures so far.
“There are about a dozen active posters. Every post gains about 1,500 interactions so the members are very active.”
Check the resources cited.
More to Do
As stated stop at the iconic wolves and moose display at the Hearst tourism centre, it is one of the most realistic of tourism highway icons in the north including nighttime photos of the depicted predator-prey relationship.
The roadside statues in both Hearst and nearby Mattice have something in common. The one in Mattice honours the importance of the fur trade and it appears to be a bronze statue, but it's actually painted fibreglass but both were created by the same sculptor. You may recognize the name as he also created the lumberjack roadside icon for Iroquois Falls on Highway 11 (the highway tourism information centre there is closed).
That sculptor, Denys Heppel, is an artist from St. Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec. The Hearst setting was inspired by a sketch from former Town Foreman, Real Gagnon.
The iconic wildlife sculptures were transported by flatbed truck in the summer of 2002 to Hearst where they now rest at the Hearst Tourism Centre at the east end of town.
The moose was too large to fit on the transport trailer so the legs were attached in the Hearst town garage upon arrival. The approximate cost at the time was about $60,000 and through the years have required some maintenance usually involving fixing the cracked fibreglass to prevent damage from water getting inside.
As Hearst has a reputation as "the Moose Capital of Canada" the moose and wolves are a good fit and replaced an aging wooden moose that was in place for years.
There is another Heppel sculpture which is located also along Hwy. 11 but closer to the centre of town and is of a soldier and child and is part of a memorial to Hearst's fallen soldiers.
Another stop is a very unusual lake. Is it blue-green Kool-Aid powder that is helicoptered up and dropped into the lakes causing the normal dark colours to turn into a vibrant sheen of emerald? No.
Sudbury geologist Mark Hall offers a thorough explanation.
“The clarity of the 'Windex' lakes is, like the Caribbean or Georgian Bay, is mainly due to the lack of 'stuff' in the water," he said. "In the case of the oceans or the Great Lakes, the suspended sediment (clay, silt particles etc.) have had the opportunity to settle out of the water. As the sediment enters the larger body of water, the turbulence of the water decreases, and consequently the ability of the water to keep small particles suspended. As the speed, movement and turbulence of the water decreases, the particles settle to the bottom of the lake, to form layers of clay/silt/mud. These can be seen in the rocks or soils as 'varved' clays."
One of these lakes is Rabbit Lake. It is on the south side of Highway 11, just after the Constance Lake First Nation turnoff, west of Hearst and just before the Hornepayne Highway #631 turnoff and it is a great detour especially on a hot day.
Nearby Arnott and Big Skunk Lakes and others on Highway 631 are also examples of 'Windex' lakes and something to see.
“Good thing you did not ask this question in winter or I would be longing to travel,” Hall said when asked about the lakes.
We have to go back to high school chemistry to understand how the 'Windex' lakes get their colour, he said.
“So that (lack of turbulence) gets the mud out of the water. Next, there are all the little critters and plants that like to drift around in the water as well, which can affect the clarity. If the pH (indicating basicity or acidity of a solution on a scale of 0 to 14) is high or low, the aquatic life has a harder time of living in the water.
"This happens in acidified lakes around Sudbury, such as Wolf Lake, that you are familiar with. But you do get naturally occurring high/low pH lakes. This may be due to the mud in the lake, or the host geology.
“If you have a lake in barren bedrock, it has less material to balance the pH of the water. For instance, having a lake in Killarney, the bedrock often being composed of quartzite, essentially glass, there is little to balance the pH and little in the way of nutrients to provide for life in the water, less mud, flora and fauna, clearer water.
"Then you may have bedrock geology that is high or low in sulphur or other elements or compounds that affect the ph. For instance, the limestones in southern Ontario make the water basic or high pH.
"You will often see that flooded quarries are “Windex” lakes. There is high pH and little to no sediment in the water. Or, you may have a lake in bedrock in a greenstone belt, that often hosts acid-generating rocks. Then you get a low pH you have naturally acidified lakes. And of course, when you take everything out of the water, the natural colour of the water is the lovely blue you see on the white sand beaches in the Caribbean.”
Now we know. Go and have a look.
Wood Waste Burners
They’re quickly disappearing from the Northern Ontario landscape but you can see two of the relics in Hearst.
Wood waste burners, known as a 'teepee burner', 'wigwam burner' or 'beehive burner,' because of their shape, are free-standing conical steel structures usually ranging from ten to twenty metres (30 to 60 feet) in height.
They have an opening at the top that is covered with a steel grill or mesh to keep sparks and glowing embers from escaping. Sawdust and wood scraps were delivered to an opening near the top of the cone by means of a conveyor belt or Archimedes' screw, where they fall onto the fire near the center of the structure.
Jan from Living Gold Press, a heritage potpourri-oriented website shared some information about wood burners.
“These burners are used to dispose of waste wood in logging yards and sawdust from sawmills by incineration. As a result, they produced a large quantity of smoke and ash, which is vented directly into the atmosphere without filtering, contributing to poor air quality," she said. "The burners were considered to be a major source of air pollution and have been phased out in most areas.”
“I remember them fondly circa 1970 (they were still in use) when I moved 'up north' from Southern California.
"There came a point where they wanted to use more of the log and not burn so much as waste, plus the air quality of course.
"Many disappeared back when the price of scrap metal was sky high a few years back. I used to remember when we were younger the orange glow on the spark arrestor at night, it was pretty neat to see.
"As well, often in the morning, we would have flakes of grey ash on the snow.”
The use of wood waste burners ended with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 (USA).
The burner at the operating mill behind the Super 8 Hotel ceased operations a few years back. It can be seen safely from the plant’s railway track crossing. There is an older one to the west on the west side of Fontaine Drive.
Fushimi – Value Added
Having a difficult time making a reservation at a park? Try nearby Fushimi Provincial Park and its interior lake sites. The park is 41.2 km or 33 minutes west of Hearst, north on Fushimi Road.
Recently, Back Roads Bill completed a series of stories looking at provincial parks in this area and throughout northeastern Ontario.
Park Superintendent, Kevin Wilson talked about 'the Fushimi Vibe.'
“The staff are proud of a vibe many people get when they visit Fushimi Lake Provincial Park. It’s a combination of things that will leave you feeling good.
"It’s those big Boreal skies. It’s that big blue lake. It’s the feeling you get when a big fish pulls on your line.
"The feeling you get when you hear kids splashing in the water and having a great time at the beach, or when you hear the loon call. It’s also the smiles and waves you get from park staff.
“Fushimi Lake lies completely within the provincial park, and while the lake may look small on the highway map, it feels huge when you’re on it. The provincial park has a day-use area that’s perfect for families, with an uncrowned sandy beach and canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals. There are change room facilities for swimmers and lots of space for picnics.”
Fushimi Lake Provincial Park has seven sandy beaches in total, so those inclined to paddle or take a motorboat out onto the lake will find many idyllic spots to relax during their trip around the lake.
He said to take a rod and reel out with you – the fishing is quite good, with northern pike, walleye, yellow perch and whitefish on offer. A fish cleaning station is also available to make things easy at the end of your fishing trip.
Here is a back roads tip if you have a canoe, kayak or small boat; especially if you are a beginning 'tripper' and just want to 'get away from it all.'
Wilson says to choose from twelve interior shoreline or those coveted island water or beach-accessible campsites. They are well maintained with designated fire pits, picnic tables and pit privies. Here is the number ask for the map, 705-372-5909.
Hearst is celebrating you can too.
There’s always more to see and do on the back roads. See the map link for all mentioned sites above and further afield if you are up for an adventure see this epic Hearst area story northwards on the Kabinakagami (Kabina) River.