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Tourist route for Northern Ontario combines literature, history, culture and Timmins

"The Northern parts of Canada, they're different. It's special. There is a different beauty to the nature'
Award-winning author Jocelyne Saucier.

After months of work on years of stories and centuries of history, 101 Experiences and the Timmins museum have launched In The Footsteps of Jocelyne Saucier, a tourist excursion to take through Northern Ontario by an active drive and informative virtual map.

Saucier's award-winning books often ground themselves in the real experiences and landscape of the area while telling emotional stories of more fictional figures. They established the basis for a literary and historic exploration of the culture and heritage of nine communities in the region, including Timmins.

"The Northern parts of Canada, they're different. It's special. There is a different beauty to the nature, a severe sometimes beauty," said Saucier.

She is hopeful that the project will inspire a spirit of travel for the region and a desire for connection to its identity.

The map itself provides the cities and towns to click on, at which point it offers events and locations to explore, both current and historical, often framed by segments of Saucier's writings.

For Timmins that includes segments on the devastation of the Great Fires of 1911 and the early struggles of labour movements in the area of forestry and mining. But it also includes examples of nature tours, microbreweries, and sites of First Nations murals.

Saucier believes that offering this sort of information by way of exploration can also help newcomers to the region find ways to anchor themselves through culture and history.

"The cultural life is part of the quality of life, and young people are interested in the idea of 'what kind of life can I live up north.'" she said.

The project itself was not just a collaboration between the museum and 101 Experiences, but community leaders, academics and figures throughout Northern Ontario.

"Our communities are so collaborative and based in partnership. There was partnership between all the cities, museums, libraries and organizations like 101. I think that particularly is exemplified here and something that is really big in Northern Ontario is that partnership to come together to create something really awesome," said Abby Cook, 101 Experiences executive director.

Cook views the project as a journey into the richness of identity of the region. 

"I do think it is a really good showcase of not just our communities that were built by immigrants, but our indigenous communities that were here first, and how everything is still growing and growing." she said.

Cook pointed to linking in the Whose Land app so that as people travel, they can understand the full depth of habitation in the area.

"My hope is that it interests people, that they get on the road and come and see it," said Nathalie Dumais, the project co-ordinator.

She is hopeful that the project will bring attention to an area and history of Canada that doesn't necessarily get the same strength of focus as others. She views the mapped-out tour as a way of providing a living history and world, a journey through what is remarkable both yesterday and today.

"These communities, some of them were devastated by fire. Some of the people who came for gold moved on. But the communities rebuilt themselves. So who are they today, and what they are doing to enhance their community now are really interesting as well," said Dumais.

For Saucier, the project helps serves as a reminder of the ongoing draw the North holds for people across Canada.

"Space, and freedom. That's special, that's the North. Two centuries ago they said 'go West young man'. Now they say ' go North.' And that's not only for forestry or mining. It's for those who have dreams," she said.

About the Author: Mark Kay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mark Kay is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter covering diversity issues in Timmins and area. The LJI program is funded by the government of Canada
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