NW Ontario begins at the Manitoba/Ontario border (about 1 1/2 hours east of Winnipeg) & continues to approximately Sault (pronounced Soo) Ste. Marie.  Northwestern Ontario is the region within the province which lies north and west of Lake Superior, and west of Hudson Bay and James Bay. It includes most of subarctic Ontario. Its western boundary is the  province of Manitoba.   Total area:  203,233.32 sq mi).  Major communities in the region include Thunder Bay, Kenora, Dryden, Fort Frances, Sioux Lookout, Greenstone, Red Lake, Marathon, and Atikokan. There are also several dozen First Nations in Northwestern Ontario.  Northwestern Ontario is divided between the Eastern Time Zone and the Central Time Zone.   Northwestern Ontario is the province’s most sparsely populated region — 52 per cent of the region’s entire population lives in the Thunder Bay census metropolitan area alone. Aside from the city of Thunder Bay, Kenora is the only other municipality in the entire region with a population of greater than 10,000 people.  The population of Northern Ontario had been in decline over the past decade (1996 – 2006), mainly due to a downturn in the forestry sector.

Pickle Lake is located at the top of the jut into the red space, in line with the tip of James Bay.  This is the area I found myself a part of for over 10 years.  The closest town to us was Sioux Lookout (3 hours drive). It has a population of approximately 5,336.  Sioux Lookout has a small hospital.  If you get sick, you’ll probably find yourself medivaced out to Sioux Lookout (40 mins. by air).  If you’re really sick & may need surgery you will be medivaced to Thunder Bay because the Sioux Lookout Hospital does not have an anesthetist.  If you live in Pickle Lake & need a prescription it is mailed to you from 1 of 2 pharmacies in Sioux Lookout.

Pickle Lake is a township and is the most northerly community in the province with year-round access by road. Located 530 kilometres (330 mi) north of Thunder Bay, (approx 6 hours drive), highway access is via Highway 599, the only access road to the town from the south. More northerly communities rely on winter roads (or ice roads) for access and are cut off to land travel in the summer.  The Township of Pickle Lake has a population of 479 (population varies – it doubles in the summer when all the forest fire fighters are in town) and its main industries are transportation (by air and land) and tourism. Pickle Lake Airport serves as the supply point to northern First Nations communities.  It is a popular fishing and hunting destination. Pickle Lake has its own detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police.  The community is located on the north-east shore of Pickle Lake, from which it takes its name.

Pickle Lake has a Northern Store where you can get socks, underwear, sweat pants, sweat shirts, those red & black checkered hunting jackets, running shoes, boots & outer wear, bedding, small appliances & toys when you go shopping for your groceries or to use the credit union (the only financial institution in town).  You can also order snowmobiles, appliances, furniture, clothing, musical instruments, etc. from their catalogue.  The town also has 2 small general stores, one motel with the only restaurant in town, an old mining hotel with communal washrooms & a bar, a bowling alley (2 lanes) in the community hall which also houses the library which is open from 7 – 8 p.m. on Tuesdays & from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, a post office, 3-4 churches, a thrift store, one garage (you can buy gas at the general stores), a natural ice curling rink, a natural ice hockey rink (they have public skating on this ice as well), a K – Grade 9 school, a doctors office with dental office facilities, an ambulance, a volunteer fire department & an airport.  Doctor services are sporadic & there used to be a dentist who came to town every couple months.

Aerial Photo of Pickle LakeThe only radio station available is CBC Canada which is 90% talk radio except for late night when you might get some jazz or opera.  For entertainment people drive out to the dump to watch the black bears rooting through the garbage.  The fishing is great & you can have your line in the water within a half hour of leaving work, most days you’ll come home with a pickerel (northern) for supper too!  There are almost no fish in the actual Pickle Lake except for a few huge jack fish due to a plane crash into the lake many years ago & the resultant fuel spill.

Pickle Lake has a huge black fly population & you see people doing the “Pickle Lake Walk” everywhere.  This consists of your pant legs tucked into your socks, long sleeve shirt with elastics around the cuffs, a hat (most of the time with a net over your face) & your hand waving in front of your face, even when it’s 90 degrees out.  Black flies love the corners of your eyes, your ears, your nose & your mouth.  When they bite, they take a small patch of skin with them which often causes swelling & itching.  I (of course) was allergic to black fly bites & had to spend most of my summers indoors.

Facts, figures & photos are from either Wikipedia or the Pickle Lake Township web site.  Now you have some background on this little town, my next post will give you greater insight into 10 1/2 years of my life spent here – the highs & the lows.  Watch for Part 2.