Eleven hours North

From my explore Canada travel series | Read other chapters – See photo gallery

Snow might have melted in Toronto, but it was still winter up north.

↑ Gravenhurst train and bus station, 160km north, looked pretty with a with a mix of cloudy sky and bright sunshine.

I left work early yesterday, barely making it to Toronto’s bus station in time. I was going to Timmins, a small city about 700km from Toronto, in my first ever bus journey that far north of Toronto. The journey lasted for 11 gruelling hours through long stretches of rural highways and large farm lands that had just started thawing under soft rays of the spring sun.

At the beginning of the trip, the bus moved so slowly on the highway in Toronto that I was convinced the entire city was trying to get out for the Easter long weekend. Rush hour traffic and repair crews on the road forced us to spend over an hour simply trying to get out of the city. A student from the university of Toronto sat next to me and upto Barrie, the next big town, but after that I was (thankfully) by myself. Sitting behind me were two young early 20-somethings. A male soldier from the Canadian armed forces and a female student from North Bay, both strangers when the journey began. The soldier was obviously trying to strike a conversation with her and she didn’t seem very impressed or interested.

↑ Ontario Northland bus at Gravenhurst. This was the first leg of my bus journey which began in the afternoon.

After making a brief stop in Barrie, the northernmost city where you can still identify yourself as being from Toronto, the bus exited highway 400 and entered highway 11, the second longest highway in Ontario (1,800km). We meandered around the western shores of Lake Simcoe to Orillia, the last city in Simcoe county, before the road dropped into soft hills forming the Canadian shield. Large patches of snow started appearing as the bus hit the snow belt outside the city. Huntsville was the next town close to the Algonquin provincial park and our bus made a brief halt here at a small corner store that doubled as a bus station. I saw a row of flags of various countries which I think were erected during the controversial G8 summit of 2010. This summit, along with the G20 summit in Toronto, had turned into over a billion dollar financial scandal (and a potential violation of democratic norms via the imposition of special police laws) that Stephen Harper’s conservative government is shamelessly refusing to be held accountable for.

The bus cruised silently along highway 11 and I could hear the soldier sitting behind talking to the girl next to him. We cut through vast expanse of the countryside with nothing but large farmlands on both sides for kilometers at stretch. I could practically see all the way to the horizon and observe the sun setting next to a large grain silo in the middle of an empty farm that looked rugged and golden in the evening glow. The vividness of colours and duration of sunsets and sunrises increase as you move northwards. I really like that.

↑ North Bay station signboard. This is one of the major transportation hubs in the region and has a train and bus station.

After a long wait outside the city of North Bay due to road closure during which a person on the adjacent seat annoyed me by rummaging through his belongings trying to find his sunglasses, the bus finally pulled into the terminal. The driver cheerfully announced our arrival at North Bay bus station and that seemed to have made many people happy, particularly the soldier who was successful in getting the girl’s phone number by now.

Thanks to couchsurfing, I found a place to sleep over in North Bay last night. My hostess picked me up from the bus station and we ended yesterday with an interesting mixed drink – beer + orange juice. It isn’t as weird as it sounds. After a nice sleep, I was ready for the second leg of my journey starting this morning at 5am: North Bay to Timmins.

↑ North Bay Train/Bus terminal. I reached here at sunset and light from the setting sun had illuminated the entire terminal

The morning was dark and freezing when I entered my next bus which had foggy windows. I grabbed a spot next to an elderly woman who tightly held on to her purse, which I fantasised was filled valuable things like jewellery and a map to find treasures. I was tempted to rob her just to bring her fears alive, but instead (and since I am such a charming guy) in no time we ended up chatting like old friends. Our morning coffee break was at the little town of Englehart, at a shack that had a corner store and a small Francophone eatery manned by a young guy with a cute French accent, and an enticing smell of eggs, bacon and toast (and youth) lingering in the background.

A clear stream of water filled the trenches along both sides of the highway, collecting water that poured out of fields as the soil started yawning and stretching after a long winter hibernation. Trees in this part of the countryside don’t grow much tall, the reason being exactly opposite of why the trees in tropical areas grow taller. The birch trees looked white, dry and lifeless as ever, while the poplars were starting to signal the arrival of spring through tiny leaves which had started to pop out. The terrain looked overwhelmingly white, brown and green, dominated by the evergreen pines and random patches of snow on the road sides. It was quite romantic.

↑ Rail tracks at North Bay. It’a almost the end of April and there is still snow…

Each time the bus stopped for five minute breaks, smokers spilled out of the bus holding cigarettes and lighters in their hands, a scene that reminded me of Donald duck cartoons with its ants emerging from ant hill to eat Donald duck’s snacks and running back to the hill with the booty.

A train track runs along the highway almost throughout the journey. I would have preferred to take the train but timings weren’t convenient. Perhaps some day I could take a train ride to Timmins although strangely both trains and buses take the same amount of time to travel. Hello Canada.

So finally, after spending 11 hours in the bus, I arrived at my destination Timmins, Shania Twain’s hometown, and saw my partner waiting there to greet me. Hope you enjoyed reading my experience.

↑ Matheson train station. These goods carriages are designed to carry timber. Logging is one of the biggest industries in this area.

मोठ्या नकाशात Toronto to Timmins पहा

From my explore Canada travel series | Read other chapters – See photo gallery