Mo & Terry Smedley


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Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst and Cochrane
Derailment (not ours) Changes Plans!

Friday morning, we crossed over the border back to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and boarded the Algoma Central Railway's scheduled passenger service bound for Hearst, Ontario.  But things didn't work out quite as planned.  There was a derailment on the tracks ahead of us that forced the Algoma Central to cancel our train.  Unfortunately, none of this happened until we were already on the train and our bus was well on its way to meet us at Hearst.  After lots of hard work and phone calls by our escorts and the Rail Travel Center office, the bus was turned around to pick us up in Sault Ste. Marie.  The bus then took us to Hearst, where we arrived at about the same time as the train would have gotten there.  

It's disappointing not to be able to ride the Algoma Central through the Agawa Canyon, and the remote backcountry on the way to Hearst.  But our disappointment surely doesn't match that of the Boy Scout Troop that had loaded canoes and camping gear into the baggage car for their long-planned weekend outing at one of the wilderness lakes along the roadless areas of the route.  So we'll roll with the punches, and look forward to our upcoming train ride on the Ontario Northland's Polar Bear Express on Sunday.   Our bus driver treated us to mid-day wine and cheese, and the group has been pretty resilient about the unavoidable change in plans.

The bus trip to Hearst was uneventful.  We passed through miles (kilometers?) of unpopulated forestland, but the highway doesn't feel anywhere near as remote as when you pass through similar, but unroaded, areas on the train.  Hearst is primarily French speaking.  Mo and I enjoyed an after dinner walk through town and had fun trying to read the signs in storefronts.  The sunset  was spectacular, although I have no pictures of it to show.

Saturday morning, we departed by bus for Cochrane.  On the way we stopped at a new community museum in Kapuskasing.  One of the exhibits was an impressive collection of clay sculptures by a local artist, a very few of which are shown in the photos.  An enthusiastic curator gave us a quick but interesting history of the area.  We arrived at Cochrane about noon, and had lunch provided by volunteers at the Polar Bear Conservation Center.  We got to see polar bears in an unusual rehabilitation habitat.  There were also fun exhibits of early life in the North country.   Mo and I enjoyed walking around the town before and after dinner.

Our hotel for the night is in the train station!  Our room is directly above the waiting room, and it overlooks the tracks in front of the station.  Tomorrow morning, we just have to walk out our door, down one flight of stairs, and we'll be ready to board the Polar Bear Express for a ride through unroaded wilderness to Moosonee.  

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Sign about dogs in French.  Look carefully at the interesting graphic of the dog walker. Here's the derailment that caused our train to be cancelled.  Not really.  This bus was pulled onto the tracks on a dead-end spur to provide food service for the Pooh celebration in White River. You can tell you're in the North Country when you see garbage cans labeled like this.  Snowmobiles are in evidence everywhere, even at this time of year.  This was just outside the door of our hotel in Hearst. This is one of 37 sculptures in a collection titled "I still remember" by local artist Maurice Gaudreault.  The collection is on display at the museum in Kapuskasing. 
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The entire set of 37 sculptures was completed in ten months.  Each sculpture details an event from the everyday life of Northern Ontario pioneers.   Mo is looking over one of the display cases with the sculptures. The museum curator, Julie Latimer, gave us a brief but very enthusiastic history of the community.
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The museum has a nifty "web cam" kiosk that lets you snap your picture and e-mail it to any address as a postcard from Kapuskasing.  I sent one to Dad. When we arrived at the Polar Bear Conservation Center, the photographers lined up to get pictures of one of the three bears here. There are three bears at the Center.  Nakita (pictured here) and Aurora are twin sisters, and Nanook is an older male.  The Center is not a zoo, but does house bears that are being rehabilitated for eventual return to the wild. Volunteers from the Center hosted us for lunch.  The fresh blueberry pie was outstanding!
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On display at the Heritage Village is a reciprocating saw from the early 1900s, powered by a "one lunger" gas engine.   The International Harvester one-lunger. This is Aurora, who loves to swim and has to be coaxed out of the water.  She is without most of her outermost white fur layer, and her dark skin looks unusual for a polar bear.  She is healthy, and the white fur is beginning to return.
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Aurora circled past the viewing windows constantly during our visit. Nakita looks bored as Aurora does the backstroke.  She looks so gentle and playful, it is difficult to remember that these are large, ferocious animals - who will eat their young if food is scarce.    
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  At feeding time, Nakita finally gets in the water. Nakita is tearing apart a frozen "salad" tossed into the water, while Aurora works over food that has been tossed outside the pool (to entice her to get out of the water). Just across the street from our motel is another museum, which includes a memorial to Tim Horton, who grew up in Cochrane.  Canadians (and visitors) know the Tim Horton name from the very popular chain of donut shops.  He was a championship hockey player.
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When we booked our tour, we had a choice of standard or upgraded rooms.  We saved a few dollars with the standard rooms, like this one we checked into in Cochrane. Just kidding - here is our motel that is now part of the Ontario Northland train station in Cochrane. Polar bears are an integral part of Cochrane tourism.   This is a sculpture at the entrance to the town. Here is another sculpture just outside our hotel.
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Even putt-putt golf has a polar bear theme! Street signs. Third or troisieme, fourth or quatrieme, depending upon your preference.