Adventure by bike to Northern Ontario historic places
Cycling provides a sense of adventure and opens your eyes to the undiscovered world in your own backyard. Can you think of a more intimate way to escape the day-to-day and to learn and live history, than by exploring the distinctive and revealing landmarks and historic sites Ontario has to offer by bike?
Pedal the paths of pioneers, miners and more. Put these seven unique Northern Ontario historical sites on your biking bucket list.
Magnetawan: The Old Nipissing Road
Begin your exploration of historic sites in Northern Ontario as the pioneers did, via the Rosseau Nipissing Development Road, which joins the ghost town of Seguin Falls and the historic village of Commanda, south of Lake Nipissing. As you cycle this 70 kilometre route, imagine travelling a century ago, intent on seeking a better life in Northern Ontario as a farmer and homesteader, or hoping to find employment in a lumber camp or mine.
Begin your ride in the ghost town of Seguin Falls, 1 kilometre south of Hwy 518 on Nipissing Road West. This site was originally the intersection of the Nipissing Road and the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway, which has been transformed into the Seguin Recreational Trail, part of the Park-to-Park Trail between Georgian Bay and Algonquin Park’s west gate.
The ride north from here to Magnetawan is great for beginners, utilizing wide gravel roads and quiet paved rural roads suited to gravel bikes, hybrids and mountain bikes.
The section of the Old Nipissing Road north from Magnetawan to Commanda will provide a more authentic sense of pioneer travel, as it narrows and becomes more rugged, providing a scenic challenge suitable for experienced gravel and mountain bikers.
Pass through the long-abandoned hamlets of Spence, Mecunoma and Rye, before arriving in Commanda. Marvel at the Commanda General Store, a historic, two-story colonial work of art built in 1885 that has survived intact to this day and is now a museum.
Plan your trip
- This historic bike ride can be done as a 70 kilometre, end-to-end ride, or you can ride it in segments using the town of Magnetawan as an easy, well-serviced tour base. Both will have you enjoying nature’s solitude away from the crowds.
- If you’re starting in Magnetawan, find the Trans Canada Trail Kiosk and parking.
- Magnetawan seamlessly balances an outdoor adventure lifestyle with history and small-town friendliness. Learn about the history of Magnetawan, the Old Nipissing Road and local pioneer life at the Heritage Centre.
- Stay a few days and explore the many local cycling trails and routes. Rest up from your adventure at these bike-friendly accommodations: A Touch of Grace Bed & Breakfast, Tanner’s Inn & Dining and Quiet Bay Inn & Cafe.
- Enjoy a great meal or brew at one of the local restaurants: Tanner’s Inn & Dining and Magnetawan Grill & Grocery.
Cobalt: The Silver Heritage Trail
Cobalt, a National Historic Site of Canada, is a fascinating spot that offers many unique experiences and cycling opportunities. Silver was discovered in Cobalt in 1903, and by 1911 annual production surpassed 31,000,000 oz, putting Northern Ontario solidly on the world map and encouraging significant mining and development in Canada’s north.
Cobalt’s Heritage Silver Trail is a 24 kilometre vehicle and bicycle route that brings to life the mining industry of 100 years ago.
Cobalt also boasts the Bunker Hill Military Museum, which at 5,600 square feet is one of the largest historic galleries in Northern Ontario. With thousands of artifacts from many countries dating back to the Boer War, including documents and correspondence, the museum’s mission is not to glorify war, but to remember the sacrifices made by so many people from all walks of life.
Begin your ride on Galena Street in downtown Cobalt, the location of Site 1 on the Heritage Silver Trail: the Townsite Mine. From here, follow the site listings and directions provided by a downloadable map found on the Cobalt Historical Society’s website.
As a bonus, during the ride you’ll pass by the Bunker Hill Military Museum at 24 Prospect St. Cyclists of all levels should feel comfortable on this route, but note: everyone is warned that only numbered sites are approved for public access.
Plan your trip
- Parking and orientation are easiest if you begin in the downtown core as stated above. The route stays within a relatively compact circle, so cyclists are never far from refreshment services, and any type of bicycle is suitable.
- The City of Temiskaming Shores—the 2004 amalgamation of New Liskeard, Haileybury and Dymond Township—is just 15 minutes away. Consider combining this city and Cobalt into a multi-day investigation of local history via bicycle.
- If needed, bike services are 15 minutes away in Temiskaming Shores at Howie Bros and Active 1 Source for Sports.
- Nothing’s better than a post-ride local brew at Whiskeyjack Beer Company.
- The City of Temiskaming Shores has many restaurants, rated four stars out of five or better.
- Accommodations are plentiful in Temiskaming Shores.
- Spend an afternoon leisurely touring Cobalt’s fine historic buildings.
- Learn the history of the devastating Great Fire of 1922 at the Haileybury Heritage Museum.
- Lots of additional road cycling routes and long-stay accommodations are offered by Presidents' Suites.
- Bag some photos of distinctive nearby Ontario historic plaques such as the Arctic Watershed and historic Ferguson Highway.
Kenora: The Former Rat Portage
It’s hard to believe the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario were fighting over a tiny settlement called Rat Portage in northwestern Ontario in 1884.
Better yet, after just being incorporated by Manitoba in 1882, Rat Portage tried to elect members to both provincial legislatures a year later. Why not? Both provinces had jails in town and issued mining and lumbering licenses. The town officially became part of Ontario in 1889 and was renamed Kenora in 1905.
As an independent-minded cyclist searching for quirky Ontario landmarks and historic sites, you have to love Kenora. Learn all about it at The Muse—home to the Lake of the Woods Museum and Douglas Family Art Centre (admission fee applies).
The Lake of the Woods Museum is located at 300 Main St S in downtown Kenora, across from the courthouse. You can ride there on a designated bicycle route beginning at the Lake of the Woods Discovery Centre just a few kilometres west at 931 Lakeview Drive—just follow the coloured dots on the bike route signs. Any type of urban or road bike works, and Kenora’s bike-friendly routes are suitable for all levels of riders.
Plan your trip
- First thing, hit the Discovery Centre for all the information you need, including bike routes.
- Next, check the city’s website for details on bike routes, a map of the Trans Canada Trail (now called The Great Trail), and information about recreation trails.
- Lastly, find the best accommodations and eateries to enjoy.
- Have a thirst-quenching Forgotten Lake Blueberry Ale at Lake of the Woods Brewing Company.
- Check out the Lake of the Woods Railroaders Museum, the Mather-Walls House and all 21 heritage Townscape Murals by bicycle.
Sault Ste Marie: Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site
You could spend a week, riding any type of bicycle, discovering all that Sault Ste. Marie has to offer cycling history buffs. Choosing just one National Historic Site to explore in the Soo is difficult, but there’s no better reason to mount a bike than to visit Fort St. Joseph, and locate where Canada launched its first offensive strike in the War of 1812. For a historic double-header, and to fully understand the history of the island, the St. Joseph Island Museum will round out your ride.
There are options for this ride. It’s 60 kilometres from Sault Ste. Marie to Richards Landing at the entrance to St. Joseph Island, and the ride around the island including the National Historic Site is approximately 70 kilometres.
Option 1: Ride to the island using the well-signed Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and stay overnight on St. Joseph Island. This is an easy two- or three-day getaway for experienced cyclists. Take the Waterfront Trail to MacLennan Road and then travel south, then head east on Hardwood Drive to Hwy 548 which you’ll take south onto the island.
Option 2: Drive to Richards Landing, or a starting point of your choice, and ride the island in one or two days, leisurely entering a world of your own. This is an excellent choice for beginners wishing to enjoy the island’s rural charm and shoreline landscapes.
Plan your trip
- St. Joseph Island offers a variety of accommodation choices including Stonefield House B&B, lakeside Maria’s Cabins, Hilton Beach Inn and Island Bar & Grill and The Clansmen Motel.
- Discover waterside eateries in the small villages as you ride.
- A bike repair station and pump is available at Richards Landing Municipal Marina.
- Try Fannie’s On the Island for deliciously fresh farm-to-table meals.
- The Sault Cycling Club is extremely active in the community and offers tons of urban and country road bike routes, plus many kilometres of gravel and mountain bike exploring.
- Don’t miss the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site and interactive Heritage Discovery Centre in the Soo.
- Whitefish Island was an Aboriginal settlement, trading post and fishing base dating back 2,000 years. Visit the National Historic Site by bike.
Sioux Lookout: The Mini-Hub for Northern Canada Air Travel
Cycling is about travel, exploration, adventure, and gear for many of us. This must have been how Jack Elliot and Harold Farrington felt when they flew a Curtiss JN4 “Jenny” from Sioux Lookout to Red Lake in 1926.
Gold discoveries in the north proved the need for quick, alternative transportation to the farthest corners of Ontario, and Sioux Lookout’s airport became a mini-hub for much of Canada’s northern and transcontinental air travel. In 1933 it was the second busiest airport in North America (after Chicago)—an astonishing accomplishment!
The Ontario historic plaque commemorating Canadian Airways Limited, one of Canada’s pioneers of bush-flying, is located in Hudson, 25 kilometres from Sioux Lookout. Go back in time with these amazing 1930s photos of the planes in Sioux Lookout, Chapleau and Hudson.
Sioux Cycling, a local club, hosts an annual ride to Hudson and back during Blueberry Festival weekend, with all welcome. Visit anytime and get the route from them, or join one of their other local rides.
Weekday rides are approximately 30 kilometres and beginners are encouraged. Weekend rides are longer at 60 to 70 kilometres.
Plan your trip
- Al’s Sports Excellence, located at 84 Front Street, is the place for bikes, service and local knowledge.
- Accommodation choices from lakeside lodges to in-town motels and hotels can be found.
- Want to get the same view of Sioux Lookout the aviation pioneers did? Bearskin Airlines is partnered with Air Canada and takes sports baggage, enabling you to fly yourself and your bike to Sioux Lookout rather than drive.
- Sioux Lookout Museum offers more insight into this vibrant Northern Ontario community.
- Check the events calendar and explore the Discover the Hub section of Sioux Lookout’s website to find attractions in the area.
- Learn more about Canadian bushplanes with an online visit to Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.
Thunder Bay: Tourist Pagoda National Historic Site
Parks Canada calls the Thunder Bay Tourist Pagoda National Historic Site of Canada a “novelty design,” and that’s putting it mildly. Built right at the Port Arthur commercial waterfront in 1909, the Pagoda's job was to promote the city’s tourism and financial opportunities. It is certainly eye-catching with a mix of Canadian and Asian architecture, highlighted by a carved beaver over its entrance.
Thunder Bay has a mother lode of Canadian and Ontarian historic sites, delightfully wrapped in new bike lanes. The city has 56 km of multi-use trails, and 42 kilometres of bike lanes and shared lanes.
The Pagoda is located at North Water Street and Red River Road, the latter of which links up with the Court Street bike lanes. These bike facilities are suitable for riders of all skill levels on any type of bike. Download the map and use it to find your way from wherever you might be staying.
Plan your trip
- Thunder Bay has many quality bike shops, including Petrie’s Cycle & Sports, Rollin’ Thunder, Fresh Air Experience, 3RIDE Bicycle Co. and Atmosphere—all ready to assist with service or rentals of road, fat, mountain, hybrid or BMX bikes.
- The Thunder Bay Cycling Club lists and shares many routes in the area.
- Thunder Bay offers plenty of accommodations in all price ranges, and is home to some of the best camping facilities in Canada.
- The Fort William Historical Park is one of the largest living history attractions in North America—don’t miss it.
- Choose from three great day rides (or ride them all!), as laid out by Go Biking. These routes include visits to Silver Harbour Conservation Area, Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park and Thunder Oak Cheese Farm.
- The City of Thunder Bay Heritage Register includes 25 formally designated municipal heritage properties and 49 listed heritage properties.
Manitoulin Island: Sheguiandah Archaeological Remains
The discovery of this site, a dig adjacent Sheguiandah First Nation land on northeastern Manitoulin Island, rocked Ontario’s archaeological community in 1951. Nestled next to a quartzite ridge was an ancient quarry containing artifacts that proved at least five sub-cultures have habituated the area, beginning in the Paleo-Indian Period from 11,000 B.C.E.
While you currently can’t visit the archaeological site, NEMI is working on getting guided tours set up, with hopes they will begin in the spring of 2021. Until then, you can view artifacts, fossils and an interactive exhibit dedicated to the National Historic Site of Sheguiandah at the nearby Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah. There are plenty of historic landmarks and attractions located in the town of Sheguiandah, offering a significant historical reason to take advantage of the glorious cycling opportunities on Manitoulin Island.
The options for cycling to the museum—located just off Hwy 6—and the other historic landmarks in the town of Sheguiandah are many. The scenic routes along Hwy 6, although sometimes busy, offer wide, paved shoulders and are known to be well-travelled bike routes suitable to road and hybrid bikes.
Arriving from Espanola in the north is beautiful as riders wind through the Canadian Shield along the North Channel. Follow this 60 kilometre route.
Coming from South Baymouth (where the terminal for the Chi-Cheemaun ferry is located), choose the direct route for 55 kilometres along Hwy 6, or enjoy the rolling hills and quiet roads of the interior along this 95-kilometre route.
Plan your trip
- The Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates group has all the information you’ll need to put together a most memorable bike trip to Sheguiandah and the island. Visit their site for maps, lodging, events and where to eat.
- Ontario By Bike is another great resource for locating bicycle-friendly businesses on Manitoulin, including bike shops, and provides nine established routes linked to Strava.
- Arriving by the Chi-Cheemaun only makes this trip more special. Reserve your spot.
- Learn about the archaeological site before you arrive.
- The island is home to many Anishinaabe First Nations, and the Indigenous art galleries are exceptional.
- Visit Manitowaning, the first European Settlement on Manitoulin Island.
- Try to time your visit with one of the many events and festivals happening throughout the year on Manitoulin.
Last updated: February 21, 2023