Road Trippin’ the Opeongo Line

Last July, after the world locked down and travelling internationally became impossible (and then later just extremely inconvenient and expensive), we decided to do a short, fairly local, road trip down the Opeongo Line. The Opeongo Line was a historic route that was to travel straight from Ottawa to Algonquin Park – geology and terrain be damned! – that now has “ghost towns” and historic buildings dotted along its route and is paved with stories of hardship and heartbreak.

Most of Ontario is the ancestral and unceded land of the Algonquin people. But in the mid-1800’s it was settled by only the hardiest European farmers and settlers, as the Canadian government ignored the land treaties of the time and parcelled off the land to the poor and unsuspecting Europeans looking for an easier life. The name Opeongo means “a safe place to cross; a shallow at the narrows” in Ojibway and the Line is named after the river, near Algonquin Park.

Our first attempt last July didn’t work out so well. I had found this Ottawa Valley Tourism site that seemed well put together. Unfortunately, the three major parts of this site – the very basic map, the simple itinerary and the audio file don’t intuitively match up and this was cause for enormous frustration in our vehicle for almost the entirety of our trip. So this July, I did it again and this time, I got almost all the pieces we missed the first time. This road trip is more story-based than site-based, to be honest. There just isn’t a lot left to see. But if you are a history buff, love road trips (especially in the fall!), enjoy abandoned building or would like to get away for a quiet weekend, then maybe this is for you.

After we returned, I created a Google Map of the entire audio file. This post follows the narration and this Google map and are far more detailed than the basic itinerary and simple map found on the Ottawa Valley website. If you wish to see some of Ontario’s early European history, using this post and my map, you’ll have an easier time of it than we did. We spent much of the time on our first attempt retracing our steps and looking for the correct road. I’ve tried my best to compile accurate historical information from a variety of sites but any mistakes are entirely my own. This is the first time I’ve written a road trip itinerary and I hope it is easy to follow.

This audio file, called Up The Line, is narrated by Barney McCaffrey, a musician and storyteller who settled in Wilno in the 60’s and passed away in 2012. It is the best compliation of historical information I found about the Opeongo Line and McCaffrey is indeed an engaging storyteller and well worth the listen.

Things to Know Before You Go:

1: The Map: There are so many points of interest that the driving directions are split into three sections. Make sure you download it for offline use because there are times on route that there is no cell service. Keep it handy. You’ll need it.

2. The Audio File: This mp3 file was originally made in CD format so the whole one hour and twelve minutes plays as one track. I’ve also included the time (which you’ll find in brackets) that each location is discussed so that you can easily find it when you need it. Park the car and listen to the narration instead of listening and driving at the same time. It’s interesting and engaging and usually the sections aren’t that long. It will save you time in the long run because you may otherwise drive past a site while still listening to the audio. The driving directions in the audio file aren’t that detailed and often name roads by names not listed on Google Maps or road signs. Which is why downloading the above Google Map is essential.

3. Driving Conditions: The roads are rough and sometimes not paved. A sign outside Foymount warned of rough road for 5 km and my first thought was, “I think someone forgot the 0 after the 5.” If you are a city driver, please exercise caution when driving in the country. Do not pass unless you have a clear line of sight (of which there are very few), be patient with farm vehicles, watch for deer, turtles and other wildlife, and WATCH. YOUR. SPEED. I drive a Jeep, and I’m used to country driving on gravel and dirt roads, but there were times when the road conditions surprised even me. (Though sadly, I still managed to get a chip in the windshield. Argh.) All that being said, you don’t need a hardy vehicle, you just need to drive cautiously.

4: Stops Along the Way: There is only one public bathroom (and it’s a privy at a beach with no sink) along the route from Renfrew to Wilno. The small communities you drive through, from Renfrew to Wilno, have no stores to look in, no restaurants to grab a bite to eat and there are no gas stations so make sure you fill up before leaving Renfrew. Be prepared with a picnic lunch, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and a full tank of gas.

5: How Long Does it Take? While the audio file is only one hour and twelve minutes, and driving directly to Barry’s Bay from Ottawa takes just over two hours, this road trip takes a much more interesting and meandering route. If you also want to stop for a picnic lunch or take photos, plan for the whole day. Both times, this road trip took us over five hours from Ottawa to Barry’s Bay. I recommend driving it one day and staying overnight in the adorable little town of Barry’s Bay or continuing on to Algonquin Park to camp.

Let’s Hit the Road!

Leaving from Ottawa, this road trip starts in Castleford (A on the Google Map), which is approximately an hour from Ottawa. It was a wet and gray morning but we didn’t really mind. It was the first time we’d be out of Ottawa since the pandemic started. The purpose of this trip was The Opeongo Line but our destination was the other side of Algonquin Park, camping in Huntsville.

And we’re off!

The settler road of the Opeongo Line was originally to run from the Ottawa River to Algonquin Park so that lumber and other goods and newcomers landing at Farrell’s Landing could “easily” travel westward. As the settlers who came looking for parcels of farmland found out, there is nothing easy about traversing the rocky and hilly Canadian Shield through mud and over sizeable boulders, not to mention coping with this land’s unpredictable weather.

We arrived in Castleford (A; 6:32 on the audio file) and found the blue historical plaque at Farrell’s Landing that is the first stop (B; 11:00). This marks the start of the Opeongo Line and the start of this driving tour. The rivers were of incredible importance to the lumber industry but also as a mode of transportation for new settlers. From here, they would start their journey west along the Line. As you travel this route, you’ll notice how the names change ethnicity. As they built the Opeongo Line, settlers from all over Europe came at different times. Here, the Scottish were the first to arrive.

From here, drive north until you reach the 20 again. Turn west and you’ll drive straight to Renfrew. You can listen to the narration (12:00) while you drive 10 km to Renfrew.

This area was a French colony until 1763 and the French had more of a mutual arrangement with the indigenous populations than other colonial governments and were not interested in colonizing the area. Some of those French settlers stayed and after 1763, it was the United Empire Loyalists (from America) and the Scots (ex-soldiers) who started settling in the area, as you can see from the names around – Braeside, Lanark, Burnstown, McDougall, and McNabb, for example.

Highway 20 will take you into the north end of Renfrew and you will soon come to Arthur Avenue. Turn left down this street to the McDougall Mill Museum. Even if you don’t go into the Museum, that’s where the swinging bridge is (C) and it’s pretty cool to see. This bridge was originally built in 1895 to allow the mill workers easy access to their jobsite and was rebuilt in 1983 and is quite safe to walk across.

Renfrew (17:25) was then and is now an urban center, though significantly larger now. When it was founded in 1820 it had 21 people; today it has over 8000. Shortly after it was founded, it had a cobbler, a tanner, a carriage shop, a blacksmith, a brewery, post office and a doctor’s office. Today, Raglan Street, the main street, is filled with small gift shops, cafes selling local coffee and crafts, and family-run restaurants. The historic buildings still proudly display their date of creation atop the modern storefronts. Drive through downtown, park and explore. This year, I decided to stop for delectable coffee and a gluten-free treat at the Ottawa Valley Coffee for the next leg of the road trip. Before leaving Renfrew, make sure you have used a washroom and filled up on gas. There won’t be another opportunity for a while. Continue driving through town and turn right (west) on Opeongo Road.

When you find and turn onto Opeongo Road, continue until you come to Hwy 132. Turn left on the 132 and then turn again at your first left onto Ferguslea Road, which is called Admaston Road #8 in the audio directions, which is not listed on any map or sign. Pull over where it is safe to listen to some history. At 18:45 in the audio recording, the narrator explains the original plan for the Opeongo Line. We found Barney McCaffrey’s narration very informative and entertaining and it’s well worth it to pull over and listen to it so you can absorb all the history included in it.

After turning onto Ferguslea Road, keep driving for about five minutes, after the pavement ends and the gravel starts, until you get to a T-junction which is where the hamlet of Ferguslea (E; 21:15) was once bustling with a woolen mill, a hotel and a train station. The Kingston-Pembroke (the K&P Trail) rail line eventually became defunct and is now a snowmobiling route in winter and a hiking trail through the other three seasons. The trail crosses the road at the bottom of the hamlet. After a few more minutes, the pavement reappears and you’ll be back at the intersection with the 132.

After turning onto Hwy 132 again, you’ll be driving towards Shamrock (F). This area was the start of the mostly Irish immigration. While this area was certainly not great farmland, it promised a far better life for the Catholic Irish than in their native country. It was during this time – the mid-1800’s – that Canada’s population more than doubled.

The audio file says to “play the next track when you reach the hamlet of Shamrock.” But in fact, the only thing you will notice about Shamrock is the sign. There are some farms along the way but no hamlet to speak of. Pull over somewhere safe for only a few minutes to listen to the narration (25:17).

Mt. St. Patrick Road

Continue driving until you come to Mt. St. Patrick Road (which is called Admaston Road #15 on the audio file), only 2.5 km from Shamrock (10 km from Ferguslea Rd), and turn left. After 5km, you’ll come to Mt. St. Patrick. Just before the old cemetery, we noticed a sign for a holy well (G), which gets barely a mention in the audio file. Well, on a road trip exploring this area, we certainly couldn’t just drive by. We had to go explore!

We carefully made our way down Holy Well Road and through a newer cemetery. We followed the signs and found a tiny chapel amidst a clearing. It wasn’t locked despite this being the first summer of the pandemic so we went in to investigate.

I have to say, of all the things we expected to see on this road trip, I never imagined we’d find something like this. But I guess it makes sense when you realize that this area was settled by the Irish and holy wells are an Irish tradition. After researching the well, we learned that the spring behind the well was blessed by Father McCormack in 1869, the same year the St. Patrick’s church nearby was built.

As you get back to Mt. St. Patrick Road, turn right and turn into the church parking lot to have a bite to eat, take some photos and listen to the next section of the audio file (28:00) about the village of Mount St. Patrick (H). The village of Mount St. Patrick existed twenty years before the Opeongo Line and once had a hotel. T.P. French, the Crown Land agent for the Opeongo Line lived in this hamlet for a time. Can you imagine this smattering of houses had once been bustling with settlers and travellers? This church is the oldest Roman Catholic community in the county. The original cemetery, which is located beside the church has some of the original Irish settlers buried here.

The church, the cemetery, the hall, and the well are obviously lovingly looked after and are a source of pride I’m sure to those who still reside here in this tiny hamlet. We packed up our lunch and hopped back in the Jeep. We continued down Mt. St. Patrick Road, keeping right over a small, one-lane bridge.

This bridge crosses over Constant Creek, which you will not see on a map or hear anything about on the audio file. But I think it’s interesting to note, that this small creek is the creek that runs past the holy well to the east and eventually meanders its way north to Balaclava, where this road trip will be going shortly, and was the main source of water for the sawmill there.

Turn right on the first road you can. This is Flat Road, though if you can find a sign, you have a better eye than I do, and it will take you back to Hwy 132, at Dacre (B on the second set of directions). Dacre (pronounced Daker), was the largest hub of its time. Constant Creek provided power and a route for trade and commerce. Today it seems to be nothing much more than an intersection but it used to have a church, school, two hotels and stores.

After pulling over and listening to the short historical interlude about Dacre (30:00), continue driving straight and cross Hwy 132 up Scotch Bush Road a little less than 3 km to Balaclava, (C).

Balaclava is considered by some to be a “ghost town” because of its abandoned mill and general store (which are kitty corner to each other). But there are still a few residents there and many who show up to fish in Constant Lake. This hamlet is home to a fabulously decrepit saw mill, built in 1855, that once upon a time made Balaclava a bustling mill town. A grist mill was also built downstream and in 1911, a pollution-based lawsuit – one of the first in Ontario – was brought against the sawmill, complaining that the sawdust was disrupting the gristmill, that the sawmill’s waste was being emptied into the river, and that the quality of the water was markedly declining due to the amount of debris the sawmill produced. The machinery from the mill now resides in the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. When walking across the bridge, you can also see what remains of the old dam. There is a small boat launch parking lot you can park in while you listen to the audio file at 34:12.

The rainy day made for an eerie photo of this abandoned sawmill.

When you are finished in Balaclava, you are going to continue driving north along Scotch Bush Road. The narrations says to play the next track when you turn off Hwy 513. Again, we did not see any signs to tell us that where Hwy 513 was, but Scotch Bush Road IS Hwy 513. You will be turning left off of Scotch Bush Road (Hwy 513) onto Constant Lake Rd. You can play the next one-minute section of the audio file (36:05) when you turn onto Constant Lake Road and listen to it while you drive. After this short narrative section, it says to play the next section when you turn west on the Opeongo but the narration is longer than the drive to your next location so don’t play it again until you reach Esmonde (D) and St. Joseph’s Church.

When you reach Hwy 41, turn left (south) and then right when you have reached the Opeongo Road again, heading west to St. Joseph’s Church, the first church on your right, after about 4 km. It is somewhere near the 41 and Opeongo Road that the audio file mentions a line fence and a picnic area, neither of which we found and we took several passes.

This area starts to become hillier and rockier and T. P. French, the land agent who was trying to persuade settlers to farm this land had to be very creative in his advertisements. To be fair, he and many of his counterparts really had no idea what the land was like to farm (almost impossible) and the settlers who had come before had already warned their families back home not to fall for the too good to be true description of the land. So T.P. French had to start advertising elsewhere. It is in this area that we begin to see more German and Polish names.

St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Esmonde.

When you reach St. Joseph’s Church pull in to listen to the audio file at 37:00. This section retells the history of Esmonde, Newfoundout Road (E), and Clontarf (F) and Sebastapol (G).

The church here in Esmonde was built in 1890 and the community of Esmonde had a school, a hotel, post office, a shingle mill and some stores. It never had more than 25 people and when the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway was opened in 1893, north of here, there was no need for travellers to pass through Esmonde (and the other Opeongo Line towns) anymore.

Just 1.5 km ahead, you’ll find Newfoundout Rd. (40:55), a now abandoned settlement. This road is narrow and rocky but it still has some beautiful old split rail fences as well as some of the old settlement buildings. Thirteen families settled here and there were no services or commercial buildings. They eked out a living, farming this impossible land until the 1940’s when everyone left and the settlement was considered officially abandoned. The pastures are still used for grazing cattle. After a few minutes of driving and some photos, we decided to simply find a place with adequate space to make a 36-point turn and headed back out to the Opeongo Road.

In just a few minutes drive after you turn back onto the Opeongo Road, due west, you’ll come to the sprawling community of Clontarf (41:15). I’ve marked Clontarf as being at the green store (no longer in business) across from McGrath Road. But Clontarf actually spreads from St. Clements Chapel to St. John’s Lutheran Church.

This hamlet was originally named Sebastapol and T.P. French changed the name to Clontarf in 1860. It is made up of French and Irish settlers mostly. It didn’t really have a central hub and it only existed because of the lumber trade. It had a blacksmith, a cobbler, a post office and there was also a hotel further up towards Vanbrugh. When the lumber industry declined, so did Clontarf.

Continuing along Opeongo Road, you will eventually come to the Sebastapol Heritage House/Stopping Place (G). This house was actually moved to this location in 2004 from its original location on Wentland Road, which is off of McGrath Road that you just passed (across from the green store). The land that it is on now was historically owned by T. P. French, the land agent, and since all settlers would have to stop by the land agent’s office, the Sebastapol Heritage and Historical Society found it to be a logical move to preserve that part of the area’s history. There is a ball diamond, a picnic table, and no washrooms. It’s a good place to park to listen to the next section about Sebastapol (46:10).

As you continue west along the Opeongo Road, you will see St. John’s Lutheran Church on your right, and the beginning of the “Prussian Line”. Here the names become markedly more Germanic. The township is also called Sebastapol and just after you see St. John’s Lutheran Church, you will come to a left-turning road marked with a white cross and two signs, one for a baptist church and one for a historic fence. Approximately 2km down this road, you will come to the adorable Sebastapol Baptist Church. (Everything was locked up so no photos of the inside, I’m afraid.)

Continuing down this road, you’ll eventually come to a fork in the road, with another sign pointing left to the historic fence. Drive about 2 km and you will see the historic stone fence on your right. Two kilometres doesn’t seem like a very far distance but we found that when we were driving on some of these isolated backroads, time seemed to travel at a different speed. We completely missed this site the first time we drove this route and the second time, I started to feel like I would never find it. But indeed, once I did find it, I knew I could never have missed it.

The historic stone fence is really quite impressive. It was built by a landowner around 1890 from the rocks that were cleared from the surrounding land. This fence goes to show how terrible this land was for farming. Many settlers eventually gave up but this hardy and determined German family persisted for a couple of generations before farming became completely unsustainable and returned to the Crown in 1976.

Once again, after taking some photos, try to find a spot where you can turn around without getting stuck in a ditch and head back out to the Opeongo Road. Turn left onto the Opeongo Road.

Driving west on your way to Foymount, you will be passing through an area known as Vanbrugh. There’s really nothing here anymore except a few private homes but on your left, after about 5 km, you will pass the large property of the Kosmacks (50:54). This family was one of the original settler families and the sign outside their farm proudly states their farm was the location of the Vanbrugh post office from 1874-1922. This farm is now run by the fourth generation. Apparently there is an old log schoolhouse in the area as well though I didn’t see it either time I drove this tour.

Eventually, the Opeongo Road meets Hwy 512. Just before you reach the junction, right after the crest of the hill (so be ready for it) there is an information board and a lookout of the Bonnechere Valley that you can stop and take your picture at. It marks the highest populated point in Ontario. The view is disrupted by the nearby trees but you can see Golden Lake in the distance. This might be the highest point in Ontario but I think it really just shows how flat Ontario (mostly on the Canadian Shield) is if THIS is the highest point.

When you come to the junction, turn right towards Foymount (A on the third set of pins). Turn left into Foymount and drive up Sebastapol Drive to get to the abandoned CRS (Canadian Radar Station) base, that was used in the 1950’s to detect Soviet bombers coming from the north. Find a place to park (there is an oddly-placed playground on your way back down into the town) and listen to the audio file (51:53).

We tried several times to find the Blackwater Designs, mentioned in the narration and on several websites, located at 144 Sebastapol Drive, but there was no sign of it on our 2020 road trip or this year’s.

Fans of abandoned buildings and ghost towns love this place. It’s not really a part of the history of the Opeongo Line but it is an interesting part of modern history. Of all the “ghost towns” you’ll pass on this road trip, the base at Foymount probably has the most authentic feel since it is a lot of abandoned buildings in disrepair, removed from the quaint residential part of the town below. But the small town of Foymount has about 3000 residents and while it has no commercial buildings to speak of, it’s certainly not a ghost town.

I should mention, if you are interested in urban exploration of derelict buildings, this site has a lot of photos of CRS Foymount, inside and out, as well as other abandoned buildings all over Ontario. Please understand that many of these sites are located on private property or could be hazardous to explore. We did not enter into any building to explore or trespass on obvious or marked private property.

After completing the loop around the town and coming back to the 512, turn left, due west and drive 8 km to another “ghost town” – Brudenell (C). In fact, Brudenell has a few residents and so again, is not a true ghost town but it does have some picturesque derelict historical buildings.

When you get to the Brudenell, you can pull over in the public works yard just after the intersection with Hwy 512 and Hwy 66 and listen to the wild and crazy history of Brudenell (52:58). Brudenell began as a stopping place for the lumberjacks on their way to Algonquin Park. It was also the center of trade in the 1850’s and by the 1860’s boasted three hotels that served liquor, a racetrack, a school, carpenters, blacksmiths and had also earned quite the rough and rowdy reputation. It had a population of 300 but of course felt like more with all the travelers passing through. By the 1890’s, the railroad had been completed which bypassed Brudenell and business began its steady decline. It still has a few residents and Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church just a bit farther on still has regular mass for the community.

This was at one time the town hall and also a hotel of Brudenell.

Continuing straight on what has turned into Hwy 66, which is also the Opeongo Line, you’ll come to the Church of Our Lady of Angels. You might want to pull in and take some photos. While you’re here, you can listen to the next section of the narration but honestly I would wait until you get at least to Gorman Lake Beach (54:58). When you leave, turn left towards Rockingham on Letterkenny Road (called Peterson Road in the audio), which is just 500 m farther.

Once you turn onto Letterkenny Road, you’ll soon see the public beach at Gorman Lake. You can stop for a swim, a picnic and maybe more importantly, a bathroom break! It’s a privy and there’s no sink but it’s still a step up from trying to find a place to pull off and go in the woods.

After you’ve had a bite to eat, and perhaps even a quick dip, and a second pee break to make sure your bladder is completely empty, continue on your way to Rockingham (55:27). You’ll come to a fork in the road, and a sign pointing you to Rockingham to the right. If you continued straight, you would eventually reach another historical settlement called Letterkenny. The Letterkenny United Brethren Church, erected in 1902, still stands and holds an annual mass at 3pm each Labour Day Sunday. If you continue along this road to Quadeville, there is apparently a log cabin (on private property so please don’t trespass) that Al Capone is said to have used from 1943-47. However, I don’t know the exact location. These sites aren’t on the audio narration but I found them in my research and thought they might be interesting to add.

Rockingham (E) was settled in 1859 by John Watson, who was sent to Canada as punishment for marrying a maid. He was a nobleman and marrying beneath his station was a scandalous outrage. His father gave him a large sum of money and banished him to Canada. He settled here and named the settlement after his home. The tiny hamlet thrived under Watson, using the power of the falls that are apparently just off of John Watson Road. (I can’t tell you where as I wasn’t looking for them.)

You can see the general store in the distance. (No, I wasn’t driving when I took this.)

When you reach Rockingham, St. Leonard’s Anglican Church, built in 1867, a true historical gem, is on your left, atop a hill. I parked in the general store’s small parking lot so I could check out the church. There is a small cemetery around it and in non-COVID times, it is open to visitors. Oh…the stories this wee chapel could tell. Looking in the windows, my heart ached to get inside and touch that old woodstove, to sit in the original pews and to imagine what life was like a hundred years ago.

The church is across from what used to be a general store. I don’t know if it still is because it really looked like apartments now and you just never know what has befallen these tiny places in the recent past.

In front of “the general store” is John Watson Road and this road is how you’ll get back to the Opeongo Road (Hwy 66). Considering this road is named after the founder of the settlement, you might think it would be a bit more established than it is. It starts as a paved road but then quickly turns into a dirt road that honestly looks more like someone’s laneway. This road is very dusty and very winding and at one time, rounding a bend that seemed no wider than one lane and had no shoulder to speak of, I felt the vehicle slide a bit on the gravel, which made me drive even more cautiously. It’s 8 km back to the Opeongo Road but it feels a lot longer.

You can listen to the history of the area (58:46) you will be driving toward while you drive. Stop the narration after the song. You will be driving into Polish territory. The Polish settlers who arrived in 1859 were the last settlers to arrive from Europe to settle the Opeongo lots that T.P. French was giving away. They came from the Kaszuby region of Poland and to the west (not on our driving tour) the township was named Kaszuby after their homeland. They were also the most successful at cultivating the rocky land and this area – Kaszuby and Wilno – became the oldest Polish settlement in Canada and still retains that heritage today.

When you reach the Opeongo Road again from John Watson Road, turn left (west). In about 2.5 km, the paved road swings to the right and is now called Wilno Road. You will eventually be coming back to this intersection and driving down the dirt road to continue along the Opeongo Line but visiting the Polish community of Wilno is worth the side trip, if not for lunch at the Wilno Tavern, then to use the washroom at the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum and Craft Store.

Follow Wino South Rd for an interesting side trip to Wilno before returning here to continue down Opeongo Road.

The history of Wilno starts at (1:03:18). After just a couple of minutes driving, you’ll come to a four-way intersection, before you get to the village. To see the St. Stanislaus pioneer cemetery (F), turn right onto Mountain View Road and then a left onto Church St. I missed this opportunity both times so I don’t have any photos.

After leaving the cemetery, continue along Church St. until you come to Hwy 60. The main part of the village is left. But the lookout (G) and St. Mary’s Church are both to the right. When we went to the lookout in 2020, we couldn’t see anything for the growth of trees in the way – in fact, we drove past it, not even thinking it could possibly be a lookout – and I didn’t go back there this year to see if it as any better.

St. Mary’s Church is the church that was built after the original church near the pioneer cemetery burn down in the 30’s. Mass is still celebrated today in both English and Polish.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Wilno

Driving west on the 60 will bring you to the Wilno Tavern, bakery and Heritage Museum. Sadly, we were unable to enjoy any food in Wilno as things hadn’t really opened up yet. I was happy that at least the public washroom at the museum was open. When you are finished exploring this hamlet, turn down the 66 (Wilno South Road) and head back to the intersection with the Opeongo Road and turn right onto the gravel road (even though it looks like it might be someone’s property).

As soon as you turn onto this road, there is a lumber yard on your left. After that a log farmhouse built in 1860 and was once a roadhouse and tavern. Shortly after, you’ll see a sign and trail that heads into the bush. This trail – a hiking trail now called the Opeongo Heritage Trail – is the original Opeongo Line that went straight up and over Yantha Mountain instead of the road that you are now on which goes around it. The trail is about 5 km and goes up to the top of the mountain. According to AllTrails review, there isn’t a view in the summer. This road is very scenic but even though you are almost at the end of this tour, please continue to drive carefully.

As soon as you turn onto this road, there is a lumber yard on your left. After that a log farmhouse built in 1860 and was once a roadhouse and tavern. You can listen to the short section of narration starting at 1:05:05 but I’ve summarized it here. Shortly after, you’ll see a sign and trail that heads into the bush. This trail – a hiking trail now called the Opeongo Heritage Trail – is the original Opeongo Line that went straight up and over Yantha Mountain instead of the road that you are now on which goes around it. The trail is about 5 km and goes up to the top of the mountain. According to AllTrails review, there isn’t a view in the summer. This road is very scenic but even though you are almost at the end of this tour, please continue to drive carefully.

When you reach Hwy 60 again, turn left towards Barry’s Bay. Barry’s Bay is a small picturesque heritage town of approximately 1300 residents. It is a popular tourist town in the summer due to its proximity to Algonquin Park and the many lakes and cottages. The Opeongo Line extended for a few miles west of Barry’s Bay but this was the final populated area. The railroad (which brought about the demise of the Opeongo Line) also made it here in 1895 and the train station is now the Visitor Information Centre. The original plan for the Opeongo Line was to go straight to Opeongo Lake and then on to Georgian Bay. As the settler families moved to more sustainable farmlands, the Opeongo Line became a part of history.

Both times, we were happy to make it to Barry’s Bay. From Renfrew to Wilno, we felt like we were driving down forgotten roads and we saw hardly another soul. Driving into Barry’s Bay was a relief, a long-awaited oasis amidst the Ontario wilderness, as I’m sure it was also for the settlers. We were tired (as you can see from my wobbly photos) and looking forward to some food and a bathroom with running water. We opted for the first place we came to – Charlie D’s – which was a glorified chip truck in a restaurant due to COVID protocols but it had a complete gluten-free menu, including gluten-free fish and chips. And I have to say, the absolute BEST gluten-free hamburger I have ever had in my life. (Bob said the regular one was amazing as well, just FYI.)

After having lunch at a picnic table, we headed into the center of the town to stretch our legs. Both years the driving continued on to Huntsville. But this is the end of the Opeongo Line and therefore, the end of this post.

If you decide to drive this route, I hope you enjoy it. If you have other interesting locations along the way, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Of course, if you find any mistakes or inaccuracies either in the history or the route, please leave a comment below and let me know so I can update it.

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