Saturday, April 10, 2010

The even farther far-flung edge of the Universe

If Northwestern Ontario were the South Pacific, Thunder Bay would be Australia, Dryden and Kenora would be Tahiti and Fiji, Fort Frances would be Singapore, and Pickle Lake would be Easter island . . . one of those how-did-humans-get-here kind of places. Upsala would be a nameless speck of an island that mariners pass on their way somewhere else. But today, I'm extolling the remoteness of Pickle Lake.

Pickle is not one of those places that you pass on your way somewhere else. If you end up in Pickle Lake, you either really wanted to go there, or you're really lost. Pickle is at the very tippy-top end of a three or four hour drive up Highway 599. It's the most northerly community in Ontario that has year-round access by road.

Upsala is 100 km from the nearest Mutual Aid. Pickle is 300. Chief Dalzell, who is a friend of mine, knows if Santa doesn't send his his flying pumper and fire elves from the North Pole, no one is coming to help at his fire.

Until today, I never really understood how a place like Pickle came into existence. Upsala, marginally far-flung as it is, at least lies on two transportation arteries: Canadian Pacific Railroad and the Trans-Canada Highway. Upsala just kind of happened. Rail workers, exhausted from a day of driving spikes, laying rails, and slogging swamps, pitched their tents here one night, and a new whistle stop was born. Pickle, on the other hand, was a deliberate creation, carved into the bush purposefully, way out there in God's country where the North Pole is a local phone call.

I always wondered . . . if they were hell-bent on building in a wilderness paradise with unimaginable fishing and hunting, why didn't they stop at kilometre 50 or 30 or even 20? Why did they have to go to kilometre 300?

The answer is gold. Gold does strange things to people, like compelling them to build a road through 300 km of swamp, muskeg, and Canadian Shield. Gold was discovered near the current town of Pickle Lake in 1928. And gold is the reason that many people go to Pickle Lake. Of course others go for the unimaginable fishing and hunting.

The Fire College's travelling road show has never bushwhacked it's way to Pickle, I'm not a miner, and I've found my own awesome fishing without driving to Santa's back yard . . . so I've never been to Pickle. I have met a number of their gutsy fire department crew, though. They regularly take the intergalactic express to Dryden or Kenora or Thunder Bay to attend various and sundry types of training.

Unlike my April Foolish claim about Upsala, Pickle was not voted North America's top tourist destination in 2009, but you still might want to check it out. If you happen to be driving through Upsala from Thunder Bay, just drive another 100 km west to Ignace, then 300 km north and you'll be there in no time.

If you aren't up for the drive, you can take a digital journey. Here a few links: Township of Pickle Lake, Wikipedia's interpretation of Pickle Lake, and a map of the area.

Just don't forget your virtual fishing pole.

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