TRAVEL: BIG LIFE IN A BIG COUNTRY; Harriet Tolputt Takes the Tourist Train and Samples the Enormity, Attractions and Diversity of Northern Ontario, Canada
Tolputt, Harriet, The Birmingham Post (England)
Perhaps the most fitting way to describe the northern part of Canada's Ontario is that it is truly, quite unforgettably big.
In fact, everything about it is big - big landscape, big animals, big food.
And the only way really to appreciate the beauty of this immense sprawl of lakes, forests and beautiful nothingness is to trek into the heart of it. (Of course, you could always be a bit sneaky and just charter a plane).
Ontario is so enormous that it would be impossible to grasp all of its attractions in one visit. However, for a taste of what's on offer, the city of Saulte Sainte Marie makes an ideal base.
With a population of just 80,000, the city is really more of a big town.
Known locally as 'The Soo', it offers a surprising variety of hotels and motels and a shopping mall to buy your essentials before heading off into the wilderness.
The Soo is also the start of the Algoma Central Railway which travels north to the remote logging town of Hearst.
The tourist train offers a first class diner and observation seats - at extra cost - and takes you 114 miles north through the Canadian Shield to the floor of the Agawa Canyon.
There you can enjoy lunch, before scrambling 250 feet up the canyon wall to the lookout. The view can only be described as astonishing, especially after climbing the 300 plus steps.
Certain trains on the line can also be flagged down - so if you run out of steam in your canoe, you can throw the kayak in the luggage hold and catch a lift home.
The train is also the only way into the remote Errington's Lodge, a collection of pretty log cabins set on an island.
Each is completely self sufficient and are equipped with stove, barbecue and your own motor boat to get around.
For those who don't manage to catch their dinner in one of the surrounding lakes, there is a restaurant in the main lodge which should mean that you won't ever starve if the fishing is slow.
To be honest, once you get accustomed to the silence and total darkness that rules after sun-down, living in the wilderness can be whatever you want it to be - relaxing, romantic or a laugh with your friends.
Of course, an interest in fishing is an advantage, although the chance of spotting wild moose and bears keeps most people occupied for a day or two.
Local bears are often fed with scraps from the restaurant, so the early riser has a better than even chance of coming within a few metres of these huge and impressive animals. …