North Bay (pop. 51,533; “Gateway to the North”) was originally a fur-trading post that boomed after the 1882 arrival of the railroad. These days North Bay is still a trade and transportation center, and its fur auctions are among the largest in the world. Many tourists use the city as a jumping-off point for wilderness expeditions.
Just southeast of town, Hwy-17 joins Hwy-11, which runs south to Toronto. The main attractions of North Bay line up along the Lake Nipissing waterfront park. From here, the Chief Commanda II cruises (705/494-8167) follow the old voyageurs’ route across the water. In midsummer, the guided tour will likely tell you all about the locally famous shad flies, mouthless, fish-smelly bugs (also known as mayflies) that swarm out of the water and make a nuisance of themselves on North Bay sidewalks in their short 24-hour lives.
Most of the motels are along Main Street and Lakeshore Drive, as are fast-food burger bars, pizza places, and a wide range of international places. Besides the good Indra’s Curry House (454 Main St. E., 705/478-6000), check out Lebanese, Japanese, Thai, and more, all within a few blocks of each other.
Mattawa and the Ottawa River
East of North Bay, Trans-Canada Hwy-17 runs through its wildest and least populated stretch: scenic country largely empty of human habitation. The road hugs the riverside while rolling over steeper hills, past birch and pine forests and many lakes and ponds. In the midst of all this wilderness, the attractive and relatively large town of Mattawa (pop. 1,993; “There Is a Story Here Where Rivers Meet”) lies at the confluence of the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers. Surrounded by dense green forest, the riverfront is lined by a pleasant park (with free hot showers), and the town center is quaint and quiet, with two blocks of brick-fronted buildings along the river just north and west of the main highway.
The Mattawa River is the focus of the expansive Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park (705/744-2276), which offers campgrounds, canoeing, and hiking trails.