Discover the surprising French culture in these 6 Ontario towns

If you're heading up north and looking for unique culture you can't get anywhere else in Ontario, check out these guided city tours by Balado Discovery.

The popular Balado Discovery app now features guided tours highlighting 6 historically French-speaking Northeastern Ontario towns and villages.

From Temiskaming to North Bay—visitors to the region can now easily learn about the vibrant Franco history that makes these towns so interesting. Discover gourmet French cheeses, the history of the snowmobile, and the location of one of Ontario's first public high schools. 

How do the Balado Discovery tours work?

Visit Balado Discovery online or download the mobile app for Apple or Android to learn all about the French history in Northeastern Ontario. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Visitors can launch the app and choose from various tours—each has 8 to 10 points of interest including photos, and a bit of history about the stop. We won't tell you all the secrets of these interactive guided tours here. Plan your trip now and experience the tours for yourself!

Choose your city tour to get started. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Download the app for Apple and Android and explore these Franco-Ontario towns on your next road trip!

1. Greater Sudbury: the Birth of New Ontario

Looking to the future: Place des Arts will honour Sudbury's Franco heritage with a state of the art cultural centre. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Sudbury (N'Swakamok in Ojibwe) was formed in the late 1800s and Francophones were there from the start. From Sainte-Anne des Pins Parish to Place des Arts to Frenchtown (the flour mill), the traces of Sudbury's Francophone past is everywhere. It is here that the cultural revolution of the 1970s—known as C'est l'temps—took place. This protest movement resulted in French-language rights being enshrined throughout Ontario. It's also here that the Franco-Ontarian flag was designed and flown for the first time—at Laurentian University and the University of Sudbury, respectively.  

Length of walk: 2.6 km, with a downtown walk

Try: Stroll downtown and see the beautiful murals created each summer during the Up Here arts festival. 

2. On the shores of Lake Temiskaming

Enjoy the views as you enjoy the Temiskaming Tour. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Temiskaming Shores is the culinary heartland of Northeastern Ontario: here you'll find farmland, a beautiful deep lake, valleys, and cliffs (be sure to hike Devil's Rock). Because of its location along the Quebec border and its proximity to Matachewan First Nation and Timiskaming First Nation, the region is often referred to as the meeting place between three cultures: Ojibwe, French, and English. The history of Temiskaming is fascinating and this guided tour is a testament to that. Visit the old trading posts, taste the succulent haskap berries the region is famous for, and see the richness of the soil. Here, you will meet master chefs, rich miners, farmers, and artists!

Length of the route: 43.23 km, with walks in Haileybury and New Liskeard

Miss Claybelt is a not-to-be-missed stop on the Temiskaming Discovery Tour. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Try: If you're looking for a place to stay, the Presidents' Suites and their glamping Farr Island are popular. For local beer, Whiskeyjack has some great brews named after local landmarks (and French expressions!). 

Try a sampler of local Whiskeyjack brews.

3. Kapuskasing and Hearst Regional History

A monument commemorating the Reesor Siding Incident of 1963. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

The history of Kapuskasing and Hearst is based on logging, but there are also some surprises in store: the effects of the First and Second World Wars were felt here more intensely than anywhere else on the continent due to the large number of local casualties—and it was also the site of a bloody conflict that had a profound effect on Canadian labour history. And what about that entrepreneurial spirit! 

Length of the route: 112 km, with a walk around the neat Riverside Park in Kapuskasing

Try the cheeses from the Kapuskoise Cheese Factory, named after local rivers and lakes! If you're looking for more ideas of what to do in Kap, check out the best things to do in Kapuskasing.

4. North Bay: Eat, Pray, Love 

Downtown North Bay is lined with historic buildings where you'll discover modern restaurants and boutiques. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

North Bay is a gourmet city. Exciting restaurants, a vibrant arts and music scene, and of course, the outdoors. This tour is inspired by the movie Eat, Pray, Love and will introduce you to the region's producers, as well as the historic buildings that evoke the region's history, from the birth of the Dionne quintuplets to the Algonquin School—one of the first public high schools in Ontario.

Photo credit: Balado Discovery

To try: The White Owl Bistro is a North Bay favourite with locally sourced meats and produce. For a taste of the land, this is the place to go! Ask for a seat on the lakefront patio, where you can watch the sunset over Lake Nipissing.

5. Cochrane by snowmobile

Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Cochrane was home to the first snowmobile dealership in Ontario and the town boasts access to some of the best snowmobile trails in all of Canada. In fact, only the third Bombardier ever sold in Canada was sold right here. Because of Cochrane's rich history with these innovative machines, it makes sense that the Cochrane tour is done by snowmobile. Visit the popular Abitibi Canyon, discover the history of its dam, and visit the amazing snowmobile museum.

Length of the route: to be done by snowmobile.

Try: Pick up some polar bear cookies at the local bakery (corner of 4th Street and 6th Avenue). A great snack to have on the side of a trail! 

6. West Nipissing mural and sign tour

Explore all the vibrant murals across West Nipissing. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

In West Nipissing, where around 68% of residents are bilingual, you're invited to play a game of I Spy: on each mural, visitors can try and spot a number of animals, objects, and important local figures. Explore the murals in Lavigne, Field, Sturgeon Falls, and find them all!

Note: Be sure to learn more about Sturgeon River and its "Black Gold" boom of the 1900s. The local sturgeon caviar that was harvested here makes for an unusual (and delicious) slice of history! 

The sturgeon played an essential role in the history of Sturgeon Falls. // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

To try: Poutine, again! The rivalry between local patateries is well known throughout Ontario, especially in the North. Prefer coffee? Go to Minnehaha Bay and visit Twiggs. In season, pick your own fruit at Leisure Farms!

Upcoming tours

Once you’ve explored the towns above, you can look forward to some upcoming tours including one exploring the historic community of French River—coming early in 2022.

Bonus tours 

If you're heading out of Northeastern Ontario and up to Algoma and Sunset Country, definitely check out the following two tours.

A Guide to historic Dubreuilville

St. Cecilia's Church with its unique rounded roof is just one of the stops on the city tour.  // Photo credit: Balado Discovery

Dubreuilville is a village founded by five brothers (the Dubreuil) who followed the timber contracts and dreamed of founding a French Canadian village in the middle of the forest. Needless to say, they succeeded. Learning the history of this community will make you smile as well as admire the innovative spirit of its founders. It was even the subject of a play in the 1970s. All around, there are traces of history that have almost disappeared—sites that will appear to any urban explorer: there's even an abandoned gold mine. 

Length of the route: 24 km, with a walk in the village

Try: Stay at the popular Relais Magpie, where they don't skimp on customer service. If you need some good winter boots, stop by the local Home Hardware and try out the boots Dubreuilville is famous for!

Pick up a pair of the famous cow fur Nakiuk boots sold in Dubreuilville.

Thunder Bay: the French period

If you're heading out of Northeastern Ontario and up to Thunder Bay, definitely check out this tour. Thunder Bay is a jewel box of history. The city's name comes from the Ojibwe tradition and has been shaped by French explorers, such as La Vérendrye and Duluth, followed by the missionaries and the Voyageurs, who stopped at the head of the lake before going to the continent. TBay is a great meeting place, then as now!

Length of route: 150 km, with a good walking portion in downtown Thunder Bay. 

Try: Take a sunset sailboat cruise on Lake Superior with Captain Greg Héroux of Sail Superior

more about Balado Discovery tours

If you're not familiar with Balado Discovery, now is the time to check it out. 

Balado Discovery Tours can be read online or you can preload each of the routes onto your mobile device for offline viewing.

Download the Balado Discovery app on Apple or Android. You can also discover all the guided tours they have on offer by joining their Facebook page.

The app offers 255 French-language tours in Canada, including about 50 in French-speaking communities in Canada outside Quebec. You can also take tours in many cities and villages like Whitehorse, Saint-Malo, Cacouna, Halifax, Old Orchard, Mashteuiatsh, Sainte-Julie or Sainte-Adèle, Rouleauville (Calgary), Edmundston, and Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

About Andréanne Joly

A freelance journalist and travel writer, Andréanne Joly has been exploring and sharing her attachment to Northern Ontario and its French culture for 20 years. Northern Ontario's destinations are beautiful, diverse, and incredible!

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