Any Old Port
The first delightful surprise was the ancient concrete dam. After the turn-off, I came upon it 1.5 kilometres down the Hillsport Road.
An ancient sign proclaimed it the property of Marathon Pulp Inc., a company long dead. The concrete was aged and crumbling. The logging company had built this dam well over a half-century ago. Now it was breached where the stream poured through, rushing over a concrete water slide. It had been built and used in the olden days for the river drive.
My second surprise was the Hillsport Road. It was a road, a real road. A first-class two-lane highway of granular “A” gravel and dredged ditches.
About 22 klicks in, I came to a railway crossing. A sign warned motorists about the high speed trains. This CN Rail line is the only cross-Canada route remaining for passenger trains. Hillsport, just a klick beyond, on the railway, used to be a flagstop. Then it became a lumbering community. And now it is a tourist community. For tourists from away. Far, far away.
Hillsport is a haunted community. It is haunted by history. Hillsport used to be a residential community. It is now a cluster of empty houses with broken windows. But in and about the ghost town are three thriving tourist resorts. One uses the old schoolhouse as its lodge. The school closed thirty years ago.
Another lodge houses the post office – mail delivery twice a week.
The third stands in majestic spendour deeper into the forest, rebuilt in the year 2000 with great spruce logs and a cathedral ceiling.
Here and there are private residences. All in all, even before full summer hits, a pretty little community in a green place.
I talked to Clifford, second-generation lodge-owner. They get their water from wells, he said. And their electricity from the power plant. I had to go see the power plant. The diesel generators were enclosed in a house-sized building behind a high security fence.
Who built the marvelous road? I asked. The logging company. And it’s plowed in winter. No Guv’mint money, so far as he knew.
Hillsport was born in 1914 when the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway went through. Arthur J. Hills was Superintendent, and he had the job of naming the stations. Sometimes he had to be inventive. He spelled tamarac backwards, and invented Caramat.
He was running out of names, so he used his own on the last unnamed station. No one will care, he likely thought.
And he was right. No one cares. To this very day.
That explains the Hills. But the port? Well, White Otter Lake is only a cannon shot away. Any old port in the woods, eh?
I lingered, but I could not stay forever in this idyllic spot.
I steered for home.
(Continued in Chapter 7, the Conclusion)