French River

Rest stop on Highway 69 at the French River

A rail bridge, a road bridge, a snow-mobile bridge, a canoe route, a hiking trail and long history of fur trade. Where else would these co-exist, but in northern Ontario?

Road bridge on the French river

Last weekend, I drove with some friends to the little town of Iron Bridge in Northern Ontario. On the way, we took a break at the site where the French River crossed Highway 69. Ontario Parks has facilitated a wonderful visitor experience by building a visitor centre next to a gorgeous steel suspension bridge which, to my pleasant surprise, turned out to be a “snowmobile highway”.

Suspension bridge. I love the geometry and crisp angles of steel suspension cords that make this bridge.

Until few years ago, I had no clue that one could traverse through major cities in Northern Ontario (and all over Canada, in general) during peak winter thanks to a comprehensive network of snow mobile trails. Ontario alone has about 39,000 km of snow mobile highways! I drove briefly on one of these trails when I went to Timmins couple of winters back.

You may know that I love bridge architecture in general – not the ugly concrete ones but the old style wooden or metal truss or suspension bridges. What I loved about this place was the fact that you could see three bridges (rail, road and snow mobile) right next to each other. In addition, I like visiting places where man-made structure coexist (somewhat) in harmony with nature. So, when I saw a canoe paddling through the thickly vegetated banks of this river, under the road bridge, I thought to myself, Thats it! I am doing a long canoe trip here! Perhaps I could get two weeks off this summer to explore this French River provincial park.

I am always impressed and I feel very proud to work for the Government of Ontario. Universal accessibility is one of our topmost priorities. This sign is at the French River rest stop on Highway 69 This is the largest Snowmobile bridge in the world. The snowmobile highway network is extensive in the north and there is a whole different set of signage on these highways for use exclusively during the snowy winters.

The award-winning visitor centre building itself is an architectural beauty. It features a combination of 200-year-old artifacts and contemporary exhibits showcasing the park’s natural heritage, the culture of the Aboriginal people who travelled the French River and the fur trade.

Distance markers on the snow mobile highways. The signs are miniature versions of those seen on regular roads.

This rest stop is on Highway 69, one of the major segments of the Trans-Canada highway that runs across the country. This segments connects Sudbury (the second largest city in Northern Ontario) to Parry Sound, a city on Highway 400 that leads to Toronto. The French River is part of the Canadian Heritage River System an initiative for the conservation and protection of Canada’s river heritage and history. Rivers were primary modes of transport using which the Europeans explorers connected with the native peoples of the region.

French River water way. I imagine canoeing through this water channel during autumn would be breathtaking.

So, the next time you are driving on Highway 69, make sure you stop and checkout this place.

Check out more pictures and stories on Norman’s blog, Snowmobile blog, Connected in Motion blog.