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Visiting French River, at Ontario Highway 69: Remembering Historic Explorers

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Provincial flag of Ontario

Provincial flag of Ontario

Recalling Pierre-Esprit Radisson and other explorers at a "Gateway to Northern Ontario"

[My journey to this locality occurred some years back; currently a new bridge is under construction.]

Ontario's Highway 69 crosses the French River at a steel bridge dating from 1957. This structure, sometimes referred to as a 'Gateway to the North', is a two span structure for the highway, with the south-bound span measuring 97.5 metres and the north-bound span measuring 21.3 metres. The ground in the locality is very rocky and bridging the river has taken considerable engineering skill.

Close to the span for north-bound traffic is an historical marker recalling the past presence of French explorer Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636/40-1710)(see photo of drawing, below). An explorer and fur trader who at various times was in both French and English service, Radisson is historically noted as a Co-Founder of the Hudson's Bay Company; he also had extensive — at at times complex — relations with the Ojibwa people (2).

Other explorers known to have passed through the district included Samuel de Champlain (c.1567-1635) and Étienne Brûlé (c.1592-c.1633) and, later, Alexander Mackenzie (1762-1820) and Simon Fraser (1766-1862).

The Ojibwa people have known the river by the name of Wemitigoj-Sibi.

The French River flows from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, and has a course of 110 kilometres.

The Municipality of French River / Rivière des Français, in Sudbury District is named for the river, which passes through the Municipality, which is 38% Francophone.

Geographically, the river is known somewhat informally as the southern boundary of Northern Ontario. Here, Highway 69 is also part of the Trans-Canada Highway, and certainly once one has arrived in Northern Ontario distances seem multiplied between significantly populated places (3).

The Recollet Falls are located not far from Highway 69's crossing of the French River.

The wider area is within French River Provincial Park.

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April 2, 2020


(1) See also: ; ;

(2) Towns in Quebec and Saskatchewan are named for Radisson, as is Radisson, Wisconsin, USA. A hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota was named for Radisson in 1909, and this business eventually expanded to became the Radisson Hotels international chain.

(3) Indeed, the midpoint of the Trans-Canada Highway is commemorated by a monument north of Sault-Ste-Marie, Ontario.

Also worth seeing

In Sudbury (distance: 67.4 kilometres), the Big Nickel is a 9 metre monument at Dynamic Earth, the earth sciences branch of Science North; the Bell Mansion houses the Art Gallery of Sudbury; Ramsay Lake is a scenic presence within the boundaries of the city.

Sault-Sainte-Marie , Ontario (distance: 368.5 kilometres) has many visitor attractions, including the Sault-Ste-Marie Canal National Heritage Site, the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and the terminus for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train of the Algoma Central Railway. Visitor attractions in neighbouring Sault-Ste-Marie, Michigan, USA include the reconstructed Fort Brady and the Old Federal Building.


How to get there: Airlines flying to Greater Sudbury Airport (distance from French River: 91.6 kilometres) include Air Canada, from Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections. Car rental is available at Greater Sudbury Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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