Road Chippin’: 7 Essential Chip Stands in Northern Ontario

Every chip truck comes with its own story. One artistic couple captures the quirky beauty of these Ontarian icons on a fry-focused road trip.
A watercolour illustration by Chantal Bennett and Joel Kimmel of the Riverview Snack Bar Chip Stand, a small wooden building tucked amongst some green trees, with signs and cartoon characters decorating the sides.

If you’re driving through Mattawa, Ontario you might think about visiting one of their two or three chip stands for a summer road trip meal.

One of their most well-known and consistently reliable chip stands, Turcotte’s, is simply known as “The Chip Stand” to locals. It’s been in business since 1944 and has passed down its chip-frying recipes and trade secrets through three generations. Other options, occasionally open, have bookended the town in previous years, with the Riverview Snack Bar to the south once greeting visitors and seagulls, and a yellow and purple school bus by the Earl Lake Motel to the north as another option.

A watercolour illustration of the Riverview Snack Bar, Ice Cream and Gift Shop" sign, surrounded by grass and next to a wooden statue.
The Riverview Snack Bar that once operated in Northern Ontario // photo credit: Every Chip Stand

Mattawa is just the beginning of a journey up Hwy. 17 from chip stand to chip stand through Northern Ontario; a journey my wife, Chantal, and I have been on throughout all of Ontario for nine years as we try to document these chip stands through paintings, drawings and other media.

While the chip stand, chip wagon, fry truck, chip truck or casse-croûte may not immediately be thought of as the subject of a landscape painting, to us it seems like the perfect structure to capture and record. We’re not looking for the best French fry or the best poutine, we’re trying to capture some of Ontario’s history through chip stands as a part of our country’s landscape in a project we call Every Chip Stand.

Joel Kimmel and Chantal Bennett in front of a stone wall overlooking a countryside vista on a sunny day. They are both smiling and wearing sunglasses.
Every Chip Stand artists Joel Kimmel and Chantal Bennett

While many chip stands come and go, some of them, like Turcotte’s, have a long history in the area and have become iconic in the region.

Driving north from Mattawa you’ll find Le Riv in Sturgeon Falls, a veritable institution. They have been frying up delicious fresh cut fries since 1973. These are fried in beef tallow for a premium flavour, and their menu also includes an impressive number of other items including various desserts.

Directly across the street is Larry’s where you’ll also find pogos and poutine. How does one decide which of these two chip stands to visit? If you’re a local, the decision may have been made by your parents or grandparents, and your allegiance may lie with your family’s tradition. Would you dare cross the street and risk being seen ordering food from the competition? Chantal’s Franco-Ontarian mother and aunts were patrons of Larry’s and only Larry’s, which opened in the early 1960s. When a few years ago Chantal and I decided to finally try “Le P’Tit Riv” we felt we were committing some kind of infidelity to the family and we could never speak of it, even if it was “research” for the project. If the threat of a family feud sways you, there are other options in town as well.

An illustration in black, white, grey and red, featuring two simple but realistic line drawings of two chip stands, designed to look like a boxing fight poster. There are red banners under the chip stands saying "Le P'tit Riv Chip Stand versus Larry's Chip Stand". Above them reads "Fry Brawl in Sturgeon Falls", with more information at the bottom about the times the stands are open.
 Fry versus fry in Sturgeon Falls // photo credit: Every Chip Stand

It is the whimsy and the idiosyncrasies of the chip stand that have drawn us to illustrate more than 100 of them in the last 9 years, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of Ontario’s chip stands.

What’s in a Chip Stand?

When we started this project we thought of the chip stand as a very Canadian way to serve french fries, poutine, hot dogs, hamburgers, and fried foods of all kinds. In our research and travels we have discovered the chip stand as we know it is mostly an Ontario establishment. In no other province will you find nearly as many chip stands as we’ve illustrated, let alone the amount we still have left to illustrate.

Northern Ontario is certainly not at a loss for chip stands. In a Sudbury parking lot you can find a charming chrome Airstream trailer reflecting the summer sky on its gleaming exterior. The Silver Bullet is a perfect symbol of a chip stand to us. Retrofitting an old trailer is just the kind of quirkiness we love for our project; fun to look at and even more fun to paint. It has been running for over 25 years as a chip stand and it’s fun to wonder what kinds of adventures were had in the old Airstream before it became a vessel for fried foods, the fragrant smell of fried potatoes and vinegar now blasting through the exhaust vans?

a watercolour illustration of the Silver Bullet Chip Stand near Mattawa, Ontario. It is a small, tidy chip stand composed of a rounded silver Airstream trailer with a white wooden booth in front. The artists have captured it using soft grey, green and blue tones and there is a sweeping blue sky with clouds overhead, giving the picture a summery, windswept appearance.
Sudbury's Silver Bullet in a retrofitted Airstream // photo credit: Every Chip Stand

In Ontario, we can find chip stands in all kinds of vehicles from school buses to outmoded Canada Post trucks, from double-decker buses to antiquated train cabooses. These are the chip stands we love to draw, the vehicles that never go anywhere, and never will because they can’t, unless they’re towed away. They look as though they’ve been there for 50 years. The grass grows up between the wheels and the old wooden decking has floorboards that have been replaced dozens of times, but never properly.

The best ones seem as though they’re glued together with grease. Hand-painted signage has faded to white or light blue, and the menus have had their prices changed so often there are layers of white stickers pasted over each other from year to year, the new cost scribbled in with black marker.

Along the waterfront in Killarney, Ontario, an old school bus has been painted white with a red roof. Canada flag bunting is draped from the front to the back and within sight of the order window, small boats are tied to the pier and drift gently on the water from the Killarney Channel. Offering up fresh fish and chips, the old Herbert Fisheries chip wagon must have been a sight for sore eyes for hungry campers emerging from the woods after a camping trip. The school bus chip stand is no longer there, having been replaced by a fully indoor restaurant a few years ago. When we heard that news we were relieved that we had documented its history with a watercolour painting; its white and red reflected in the water, a stand of autumn coloured trees in the background.

A watercolour illlustration of the Herbert Fisheries Chip Stand by Chantal Bennett and Joel Kimmel. The chip stand is a white and red school bus with a wooden awning attached, parked at a dock next to two rowboats on a lake. Green and red autumn trees, a Canada flag on a flagpole, and soft blue sky are in the background.
The Herbert Fisheries chip stand is now a full-service restaurant in Killarney. // photo credit: Every Chip Stand

The Northern Drive for Fries

By the time you get to Spanish, your appetite may have returned. Lucky’s Snack Bar is an old school shack with a pointed roof and an expansive menu. It’s been operating in Spanish since 1969 and is well worth the stop if you have the appetite. Admittedly, we haven’t illustrated this one yet, but with its fun shape, multitude of textures, signage and flags, it is on our to-do list (which is long), and our to-visit list (which is just as long).

Just up the road a yellow GMC food truck once housed Nibbler’s Fish and Chips (temporarily closed), a tall lighthouse constructed on its roof appealed to our artistic sensibilities. With a good amount of artistic licence, Chantal’s painting of Nibbler’s depicts it sitting on a rocky outcrop by the water of the North Channel in Georgian Bay. A crowd of gulls swoop and dive around the chip stand, with white clouds on a windy watercolour sky, you can feel the cool air off the water.

On your next road trip through Northern Ontario you may see a new chip stand in a small town, or notice your favourite one has disappeared. One thing is for sure, Hwy 17 is never short of them.

A watercolour illustration of Nibblers Chip Stand in Spanish, Ontario. It is a large yellow delivery van converted into a chip stand, parked on a rock bank next to a wooden lighthouse that says "Nibblers Fish and Chips" on it. Seagulls swoop overhead in a light blue sky.
Nibbler's (temporarily closed) is a cheery beacon to hungry roadside travellers. // photo credit: Every Chip Stand

An Essential Part of Northern Ontario Cuisine

However, the old way of things is disappearing from the chip stand landscape and we are trying to capture it before it’s gone. We drive the country roads and miss seeing the old trucks that have been towed away, unable to move themselves, a patch of hard earth left behind, long grasses grown tall framing the shape of what was once there.

The chip stand is a highlight of a summer road trip. We smile in anticipation of seeing an old A-frame sign that is almost falling in the ditch, or a hand-painted “fresh cut fries ahead – 200 metres,” or the two-by-fours painted to look like French fries. It’s like discovering a part of our history.

A watercolour illustration of a yellow school bus converted into a chip stand near Mattawa, Ontario. It is parked tucked into some green trees and bushes and has a wooden awning attached to the front witha a sign overhead that says "Fresh Cut Fries". The sky is grey and the trees have windswept look.
The Chip Bus near the Earl Lake Motel  - On Highway 17

Follow @everychipstand as we continue to add to the long list of chip stand illustrations. Prints and other poutine merchandise is available for purchase in their online Etsy shop

Northern Ontario Chip Stands to Visit

About Every Chip Stand

Every Chip Stand is an independent project by illustrator couple Chantal Bennett and Joel Kimmel to illustrate every chip stand in Ontario and Canada. Chantal and Joel currently live with their two beagles in Westport, ON and work in a studio behind their house.  

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