Day 9: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
In the morning we quickly dress and motor into town. We have tickets for the Agawa Canyon tour train, a hundred-mile ride up among the granite valleys and pristine lakes of the Canadian Shield country, aboard the Algoma Central Railway. We board the waiting train and soon enter 22,000 square miles of uninhabited recreational wilderness known as Algoma Country, densely forested and liberally dotted with beautiful northern lakes and streams. There are very few roads through this rugged country, and the Railway is the only means of access to private camps and cottages in this remote region.
There is an even earlier, passenger-service train each day, which mainly hauls local backcountry residents and those venturing into the woods for hiking, fishing, and hunting. On a couple occasions several years ago, my family loaded camping gear and two canoes onto the train’s baggage cars and rode up to Mile Marker 92, where a spectacular steel trestle spans the Montreal River. Here we yanked the signal cord running through our car and the train stopped while we quickly off-loaded our stuff by the side of the tracks. As we lugged the gear down to the water, the train tooted its horn and continued on its way northward, not caring whether it ever saw us again. We paddled fifteen miles or so up the wide flowage and camped and fished on a remote backwoods island. We saw not another soul until we returned to the tracks a week later and flagged down the daily train for a ride back to Sault Ste. Marie.
This passenger-service train is often filled with local backwoods residents who live year-round in scattered cabins and shacks, shaggy and aromatic Yukon Cornelius types, perhaps on their once-a-month sojourn into the city for more cornmeal, gunpowder, hamhocks, and guitar strings. Heck, maybe even their monthly hot bubble-bath …
But today we ride in comfort and style on the plushly appointed Tour Train, loaded with dozens and dozens of elderly sightseers wearing oversized sunglasses. Turns out the old guy seated across from us is from Toronto, and in his youth flew Hawker Hurricane fighter planes for the British Royal Air Force during World War II. He saw plenty of action in his day, pursuing Messerschmitts through the skies of France, but now he is mesmerized by the golden forested scenes rolling past our window.
Mid-day we arrive at Agawa Canyon Park and disembark for a two-hour lunch layover in a beautifully rugged setting. We hike up one of several trails, some leading to spectacular waterfalls, spry ninety-year-old ladies in white sneakers elbowing their way past us up the stairs. We finally arrive at the uppermost deck and enjoy a grand view of the canyon from hundreds of feet above the river while we catch our breath, then race the old gals back down again.
We vow to return for the Algoma Central’s wintertime Snow Train excursion, when this rugged country is draped in the ample snowfall from nearby Lake Superior. Just before nightfall, we return to the depot in Sault Ste. Marie and spend another night at the KOA.