THE MOUNTAINS OF MANITOUWADGE

The heart of a model town . . . In front of the Rec Centre is the traffic circle.

The heart of a model town . . . In front of the Rec Centre is the traffic circle.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

Remember that line from Mission: Impossible? The TV action series ran from 1966 to 1973, and the character Jim Phelps usually closed each episode by uttering that line.

Things came together for me and my siblings last week. We met up in Manitouwadge, where John lives. Grace came from Collingwood, Susanne from Thunder Bay, and I from Greenstone. It was the first time in over fifty years that we four had hung out together without the presence of our respective families and/or friends. It was grand.

Over the three days, Grace explored new territory, Susanne rediscovered old territory, and John and I (for two days) ran around the bush (more on that later). During the evenings and in the mornings, we recounted our adventures to one another.

Manitouwadge Lake, on which the minefinders landed in their tiny plane . . .

Manitouwadge Lake, on which the minefinders landed in their tiny plane . . .

On Thursday, while John guided two naturalists to a secret place dancing with a rare species of orchid, Susanne and I climbed a mountain. Grace begged off, said her metal knees forbade it. She went swimming or something.

Manitouwadge is surrounded by mountains. Not your Canadian Rockies-style of mountains, but very big hills nevertheless. Locals frequently climb Manitouwadge Mountain to get a splendid view of the town, and the landscape that stretches for miles and miles towards the Great Lake Superior.

Susanne and I got directions, parked at the base of the Mountain, and took to the steep, twisty trail. We emerged in a clearing described by John as “the bald spot” and, low down and behold! A diorama unfolded before us. Below us, a model town: “model” in the sense that model railroaders use the term to describe the dioramas they construct for their toy trains, and “model” in the sense that towns are constructed to a plan.

 

View of the lake and town . . .

View of the lake and town . . .

Back in 1955, the first homes sprang up in a bulldozed clearing in the bush. Two years before, two prospectors from Geraldton had persuaded a pilot to fly them into Manitouwadge Lake so that they could poke around. They poked into a mountain of massive sulphides which in turn sparked a staking rush and new copper-zinc-and-lead mines and a new community in the virgin wilderness. The government of the day authorized assistance to the mines to build a “model” town, designed down to the last brick, stick, and futuristic traffic circle.

From our perch on the mountain, Manitouwadge Lake gleamed to our left, and two kayakers crept like water bugs across its placid surface. Deep in the bush, a bank of gray dust signified a logging truck hustling along. Dinky Toys scuttled up and down the streets.   The barking of dogs carried up the mountainside.

 

View of the town panning right . . .

View of the town panning right . . .

Susanne and I slapped at a few bugs, soaked up our drinks, and gazed at the wispy sunshiny clouds drifting in the blue vault.   We looked in vain for the waters of the Great Lake. What a perfect day.

We sauntered down the mountain, inspecting the butterflies and amphibians and wildflowers, and soon we were back in the heart of Manitouwadge. A slow-beating heart, for the mines have long closed, the forest industry is almost moribund, and the pace of life here is . . . well, slow.

You know, when Mission:Impossible had its heyday, the Wadge was having its too. It was a time when everything came together.

Now, Manitouwadge, like us senior citizens, is discovering new pleasures. There’s orchids in them thar hills, folks! And butterflies. And pleasant days on placid lakes.

There are opportunities for 73-year-olds to climb mountains and dream on history.

This could be your mission, should you decide to accept it.

A rare orchid on the Pic River near Manitouwadge . . .

A rare orchid on the Pic River near Manitouwadge . . .

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About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website www.WhiskyJackPublishing.ca
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