Northern Ontario's Ghost Towns Revealed

Tour the faded ghost towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country with Andrew Hind's new book.

The idea of a town as a ghost is enticing. Towns have spirits, personalities, structures. When they die, as many do, more than expected, they leave their bones behind. Andrew Hind’s Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country (Dundurn Press, 2023) is not interested in the bones so much as the stories of thirteen “unsuccessful towns” across the Ontario region loosely known as cottage country. Whether you’re exploring a new-to-you area at a cottage or imagining the past of a place where you’ve always lived, learning about ghost towns is a satisfying route.


Stories of Settlers' Grit, Determination, Vision

In his introduction, Hind confesses to a lifelong obsession with faded communities and a mission to collect the dramatic tales of villages survived only by buildings and foundations. While Hind nods here to the experiences of the Anishinaabeg and Nipissing First Nations on these lands, Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country prefers to lean into the details of Ontario’s expansion and colonization of the land. Sharing stories of settlers whose grit, determination, vision and sheer bloody-mindedness (not to mention their taste for the free parcels of land the government offered to anyone willing to cultivate it) forged these towns, which peaked in the 19th and early 20th century then declined.

Milberta first school 1899
Milberta's first school circa 1899

First-hand recollections like those Dan Jarvis shared with the Little Claybelt Homesteaders Museum in 2020 fuel nostalgia. Recalling growing up in 1930s Spence, a ghost town midway between present-day Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay, Merv Brown says “[His] dad, John, like most young boys at that time…at age 13, left home to drive a team of horses in a lumber camp.” As my own grandfather, Fred Cooper, drove a team of horses in a lumber camp in the area in the first half of the 20th century, I find such memories enlivening, a glimpse into the challenges of my ancestors’ lives.

The Towns that Lumber Built

Milberta Road Building Courtesy Brian Dobbs
Milberta Road Building Courtesy Brian Dobbs

Also fascinating is reading about the industries built up in each town, especially those around lumber, and how a key aspect of a town’s success was its possession of a schoolhouse and a post office. Receiving a post office from the government was a mark that a town was thriving. The removal of the post office often signalled a town’s last breath.   

Of particular interest are the common reasons a town dies, as Hind puts it, through “a slow sagging of fortunes” (25). Fire was a huge factor as was being left off the path of a railway. Centralized schooling was another sign that a town was nearing its end as was people moving away because the hundreds of acres of free land gobbled up by their ancestors proved too stony and sandy to farm adequately and the isolation became overwhelming.

Unluckiness and tragedy abounded: fires, illness, hunting accidents to name some, but people persisted. One story that stands out is the tale of Falkenburg Junction, spurned by the Northern and Pacific Junction Railway when it built a station three kilometres to the south and called it Falkenburg Station. In a clever act of survival, Falkenburg Junction’s St. George’s Anglican Church “was carefully dismantled and sledded down to Falkenburg Station where it was rebuilt.”

Readers will find Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country user friendly, each town’s journey told like a story with a focus on noteworthy settlers like William Arthur White of Whitehall, who along with his sons, “chose a lot in Concession 11 to homestead. The men spent the next two years building a cabin of pine logs, clearing land, and working spring through autumn.” White’s three eldest sons claimed their own nearby plots as did his wife. One son, Arthur White, built a public hall on his property around 1885, earning the settlement its name.

Desaulniers 1928 Camille Lafrance Collection
Desaulniers in 1928, Camille Lafrance Collection

Andrew Hind’s clear and entertaining way of weaving tales into the larger fabric of a ghost town’s trajectory make Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country a seamless read. To add to its user-friendly presentation, photographs of buildings and people pepper the book. Each chapter ends with a handy box describing how to find the remnants of each ghost town—a novel idea for those looking for Northern Ontario day trips. 

Andrew Hind
Author Andrew Hind

Recommended Articles

The Agawa Rock Pictographs

Discover ancient Indigenous art on Lake Superior.

See the Leaves Change: Fall Colour Report Ontario 2023

Autumn in Ontario is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Here’s how to plan a spectacular viewing experience.

Say spaaaah!

8 Northern Ontario spas where you can treat yourself 

9 Amazing Glamping Destinations in Northern Ontario

A wilderness of luxury awaits.

10 Awe-Inspiring Natural Wonders in Northern Ontario

The biggest gorge, the bluest lake, and a whole bunch of waterfalls.

What family tradition will you start this year?

From Brampton to Northern Ontario by plane, train, and boat—getting to this Ontario fishing lodge is half the fun.

Deeper Into Canada

Travel spots way off the beaten track.

When Your Internship Turns Into an Amazing Career in Tourism

Sequoia Wemigwans talks Science North, Science Communication, and Cultural Connections

Pride Events in Northern Ontario 2024

Northern Ontario celebrates its 2SLGBTQI+ community this summer. Here's your calendar for everything Pride-related in the region.

My 10 Day Ontario Road Trip Itinerary: Toronto to (almost) Thunder Bay

Group of Seven landscapes, butter tarts, the Wawa Goose, and epic Lake Superior views.

Ontario Travel in the Time of Covid

Put your passport away and look to Ontario

POV: Switching Industries Mid-Career Like a Boss

BYO enthusiasm and skillset – there’s a job in Tourism just for you

Got deer?

A complete guide to backyard deer feeding made easy—what to feed them, how often, and why it's so much fun

7 Neat Town Slogans in Northern Ontario

Gardens, gold, and the North's prettiest village—these Northern Ontario towns are known for some unusual things!

7 Interesting Place Names in Ontario

Ever wonder how Haileybury got its name? What about Noëlville? The answers may surprise you!

Surf Northern Ontario

Bring your board and learn what the Great Lakes have to offer.

Live Your Best Outdoor Life with a Job in Tourism

Mani Cuza's summer job turned into a year-round opportunity to flex soft skills and build connections in her field.

The World's Smallest Record Store Is Not Where You'd Expect

In a converted meat trailer off the Trans-Canada Highway lies a tiny record store named after a walrus penis.

10 Essential Stops on Ontario's Antique Trail

Turn back time (literally—the end destination is in the Central Time Zone!) by exploring these Northern Ontario antique shops.

List of Ontario Government Covid Health Measures Starting Jan 5 2022

Can I still travel? What's open? How many people can gather indoors? Your questions answered here.