Good trips are sparked by an idea. This one to Haileybury fired up with my husband’s online discovery one day, that the author of the Hardy Boys was from there. In Covid 19 times, this is an adventure within the safety of Ontario, beyond the usual “northern” destinations.
At Huntsville, the drive suddenly became one through Group of Seven tableaux, miraculously touched by the paintbrush of autumn. Indeed, the Group of Seven became a recurrent theme on the trip, as they painted much thereabouts. The trip itself was remarkably easy and, after Barrie, traffic free. It was straight up Highway 400, keeping straight onto Highway 11, beyond where the 400 curves west to Parry Sound. In Latchford, we passed over a bridge named for local Sgt. Aubrey Cosens, a winner of the Victoria Cross in 1945. After a few hours of wilderness and few cars (except for a few minutes in North Bay), we simply turned right, right into Haileybury!
The Timiskaming area is where three cultures and languages meet: French, English and First Nations.
First Nations used Lake Timiskaming, which drains out of and into the Ottawa River, as an important route. The Algonquins called it “Temikami” or “Temikaming”, from “deep” and “open waters”, as it is about 700 feet deep. Yes, it comes complete with monster!
On the east, Quebec, side, we visited Fort Témiscamingue, a National Historic Site, built by French merchants to compete with the English on Hudson’s Bay. An attack or two on the English was launched from here. When New France fell, it was re-occupied by independent traders, the North West Company (1788) and then the Hudson’s Bay Company (1821). While little remains of the original structures except for chimneys and fireplaces, suggestions were built of what occupied the site with some life-sized figurines to boot.
North, east and west of Lake Timiskaming lies the Great Clay Belt, where a few hardy souls pioneered farming in the rich soils, establishing New Liskeard and surroundings. Timber was taken from the surrounding heavy forest and floated down the lake to the Ottawa River.
Haileybury itself, incorporated 1904, was started in 1889 by Charles Cobbold Farr, and named after his English school. Farr, an HBC factor, came to the area six years before. Impressed by the Claybelt, he secured a land grant when retired, including the present site of Haileybury, and tried to convince southerners to come north. Due to his campaign about Northern Ontario’s agricultural potential, a team of experts was sent by the Ontario government to examine the possibilities, and subsequently a railroad from North Bay was built to open up local agriculture and forest.
Thus was born Cobalt, now a few minutes away from Haileybury, and full of mining history as we were to discover in its various museums, and self guided “Heritage Silver Trail”. Cobalt is named for one of the minerals found in the area. At “mileage point 103”, the railway passed directly over rich silver veins and one of the world’s biggest rushes was on! Over the first sixty years, total silver produced was more than 420,500,000 ounces. Most mines are close to the surface and small because the veins are shallow. The town literally grew up overnight to about 6,000 persons in a haphazard way. Even today, some older houses there are still built of the wooden dynamite shipping cases because of the lack of any wood for homes! A.Y. Jackson discovered the beauty of the area, famously painted there, and wrote back to his other Group of Seven comrades inviting them to come visit, locals say. Today, the mineral the town was originally named for, creates a modern mining renaissance as a “rare earth”.
Ontario law did not allow selling liquor within 5 miles of working mines and Haileybury was half a mile over that limit. Mining company offices and the hotels and stores were built there. It also became a ‘bedroom community’ that served the needs of miners, the owners and managers. Along the shore of Lake Timiskaming, on Lakeshore Road was built “millionaire’s row”, the stately homes of the latter. The town’s ideal port location on the lake, Cobalt’s silver mines, and agriculture in the Little Clay Belt added development as a centre. Since 2004, Haileybury is part of the City of Temiskaming Shores, created by amalgamating it with New Liskeard, North Cobalt, and the township of Dymond.
Along the waterfront park, a poignant life-sized bronze sculpture in a water garden caught our interest. This depicts a father handing a child to its mother in the water. In 1922, the Great Fire, one of the area’s worst disasters, burnt most of the town (except for millionaire’s row and a few other neighbourhoods), leaving about 3,500 persons homeless. The fire, started by brush fires to clear farmland after a dry summer, scorched 680 square kilometres and killed 43 persons in 18 townships, also burning into nearby Quebec. Many persons saved their lives by jumping into the cold lake, even covering children’s heads with wet diapers and themselves with wet blankets. Only an early October snowfall finally stopped the inferno. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) sent many old streetcars for relief housing and some remained years after.
Our base was the spacious “The Lumber Baron’s House”, part of the Presidents’ Suites in Haileybury. The two main homes which comprise the Presidents’ Suites are remnants of the wealth and history of the area. Built in 1907, The Lumber Baron’s House was the home of the Dunbar Family who owned a saw mill, and it won the Canadian Historical Decor IDEA 2015 Award for Renelle Laliberté’s restoration. “The Villa” was built in 1906, by Arthur Ferland, a hotel owner. Ferland had invested in a mine after a blacksmith supposedly threw his hammer at a fox, discovered a glittering vein, showing a sample to Ferland, who assayed them. He also bought and subdivided land, and developed the entire subdivision around the Villa, including a power plant. His business interests stretched to Toronto and New York, bringing back capital to Cobalt.
The Hardy Boys
So, what does all this have to do with the Hardy Boys series of novels you ask? Leslie McFarlane, who wrote the first nineteen or twenty-one books under the pseudonym of Franklin W. Dixon, grew up in Haileybury! If the books’ setting of a town on a shore with the wealthy homes along “Shore Road” sounds familiar, think Haileybury! Devil’s Rock, now a popular tourism hiking destination, inspired his second book, The House on the Cliff. The Secret of the Old Mill was based on the town’s mill. There are many more local places and people which characterize his books, the local historian informed us.
Food and Drink Plus
Most stores are in nearby New Liskeard. Being a farming area, there is no shortage of specialties and restaurants for foodies. Yves’ Prime Cut Meats is a great place to pick up homemade sausages in a number of flavours, premade salads, and other delicious items to take out or for the freezer at home. Thornloe Cheese takes advantage of the local dairy industry, with its many varieties. Haileybury has L’Autochtone, a restaurant offering Indigenous and North American fusion foods, and Whiskey Jack Beer Co., if you want to ‘tap’ into the local brews and more. Another good restaurant is Dida’s in Earlton, where we had a fabulous locally raised bison burger. Hascaps, berries resembling elongated blueberries gaining popularity in the area, are featured in its sauce. Crossing over to the Quebec side, Ville Marie near the Fort has La Bannik, and Les Chocolats Martine for those with a sweet tooth! Literally minutes away in Lorrainville is local cheese maker Fromage Au Village, besides Savons du Terroir, making organic soaps – including a good one for laundry stains. Cobalt has Laura’s Art Shoppe full of local artisans’ work, and White Mountain Publications, a great bookstore built into a mining head, where men had entered 300 feet down the shaft.
It was a magical week! Haileybury comes without the pressure and marketing of more touristy “cottage country”. This is a place where the fun is opening the subtle pages of its rich history and what it offers in culture, food and the outdoors – far from the madding crowd.
Written by: Diana Janosik-Wronski