Back in the fifties, Elliot Lake was a thriving mining centre. It’s part of the Canadian Shield, an ancient sea bed with vast mineral resources that have helped to make Canada the nation that it is. It is also remote as hell, deadly cold in winter, and filled with moose and bear.
More recently, the town has become something of a retirement community. Land is reasonably affordable, the scenery is lovely, and certain people (like my grandfather) prefer the wilderness to Florida swamps and trailer parks. The town is working hard to keep up that momentum, reversing – in some ways – the downsizing that it experienced when the uranium mine closed decades ago.
It’s been a long time since my brother and I have gone on a good-old-fashioned road trip. Heading north from Toronto, we trucked it up the highway and into the wilderness. We passed through at least three different biomes, eventually making our way onto Highway 17, part of the Trans Canada Highway and a monument to rock cuts and bridges. It is also a land of absurd road signs (“Large vehicles need more space,” like when their hearts are broken, trucks want to be alone to write poetry).
When we got into Elliot Lake proper (ha!) just after nine at night, without taking a single wrong turn, Pappa was still up waiting for us. Mona, his girlfriend, was up as well, and the two of them welcomed us into a home filled with the smell of pot-roast stew, a welcome break from burgers and old coffee on the road.
Disconcertingly, the two of them were grinning like Cheshire cats.
“Should we tell them?” Mona asked Pappa.
“I think so,” he said. “I’d like you to meet the new Mrs. Maki. We just got married today.”
They described their spur-of-the-moment wedding as being “frontier-style,” a quick service in their living room with the neighbours as witnesses. And while they tried to insist that it was mostly for paperwork purposes, it was very clear that the two of them were near giddy with happiness.
The four of us celebrated with a late-night meal and tall-cans of imported beer.
Welcome to Elliot Lake.