Around 1965 I travelled to North Bay for the first time. Actually, I hitchhiked from Burk’s Falls to North Bay to visit a friend of mine from camp. His name was Barry Pond and we were councillors at a now long-defunct boys’ camp called Big Doe Camp.
Camp was a big deal for both us; he a Northern boy looking out into the big wide world out there and me a refugee from one of the first entirely planned neighbourhoods in Toronto called Don Mills. We both had good reason to spread our wings and find new horizons, and I think he would agree we both owe a great deal to a mad dog camp owner named Aubrey Rhamey who introduced us and hundreds of others to the concept of being a man and taking responsibility.
The best of that teaching took place on canoe trips, usually through Algonquin Park or another favourite: the rapids along the mighty Magnetawan River to Georgian Bay. At whatever age, if you made it to the end you had grown up another foot.
I learned to sail (and teach it) at that camp and have owned or borrowed a sailboat of one kind or another ever since; and ever since is a long time now.
I’ll never forget those days. I didn’t know it was an introduction to a part of the province that would keep me enthralled for the rest of my life. Heck, I didn’t know what was next at all that summer, but every time we roll back into North Bay for our Northern Ontario Business Awards (every five years) I always take a moment to sit under a tree, close my eyes and remember back to that first time I saw a sunset on Lake Nipissing so many years ago.
This year I brought my bike and, on the day of our awards dinner, decamped to the Kate Pace Way (a fabulous bike and walkway dedicated to one of Northern Ontario’s best known downhill skiers) from the Best Western Conference Centre to bike to our dress rehearsal for the dinner at Nipissing University.
About 24 kilometres and a beautiful fall day. What could go wrong? Well, actually, not much except I had forgotten that Nipissing’s beautiful campus is halfway up a mountain. Well, not a mountain exactly, but a really high place on which there is still a ski hill.
I have no idea how I managed to make it up to the campus. The road is a long curve and there was no way to know just how far it was to the top.
All I knew is that the cars were zooming by at a good clip and stopping seemed unnecessarily experimental.
One of our staff, observing my pathetic gait at the rehearsal, said, “Oh my god; that was you on the bike?” He was incredulous. So was I. There is no better way to see a city than on a bike.
You can cover a lot of ground but at a speed that allows you to BE THERE and experience a community.
North Bay is not just a beautiful city; they work at it. The waterfront is entirely reclaimed and serene, not a football field away from the downtown.
The railway tracks have been removed, much of the industrial applications relocated and the city is connected to its beauty and heritage. A wonderful reclamation.
Our winners this year, as always, are inspiring.
A fabricator that builds bridges around the world, a pipe and rubber coatings company that exports 90 per cent of its product, a First Nations forestry services company that is growing like wildfire, a silviculture business that has innovated time and again to stay ahead of downturn in the forestry industry, a computer services company available to its customers 24/7, a community college with an extraordinary esprit de corps, a technology business focused on alternative energy, a farmer and resort owner who invests profits back every year, a marketing company plugged into creative social media solutions, an international consulting company that has succession planning nailed, and a young essayist who understands the importance of the environment (noba.ca for facts and videos).
This is what is going on in Northern Ontario.
We are very lucky. Take a bike ride around town before the snow flies. You will be surprised at what you see.