One of the few surviving wilderness areas in the middle of the North American continent that is accessible by driving lies on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. This area sits on 3 billion year old bedrock and lies about 700 km south of the most southern extension of the Arctic Ocean, James Bay. These features, combined with Superior’s enormous size (the planet’s largest lake, by surface area), impart the region with a number of features that make it gorgeous and unique.
The region is home to two types of forest that support not only populations of native animals and plants but also human activity. The northern-type forest, or boreal forest, lies north of a line approximately midway up the lake and hugs the lake shore for about 1 km south of that line. Inland (east) of the boreal strip is a mixed hardwood forest. Both of these forests provide timber and paper pulp, the precursor for the drug taxol, and support populations of mice, chipmunks, beaver, flying squirrels, ground squirrels, wolverine, fisher, marten, lynx, bobcats, deer, moose and bear. Enormous populations of birds inhabit the area: the loon, the national bird of Canada, the pileated woodpecker (the largest known woodpecker), Canada geese, sandhill cranes, several species of herons, and many migratory songbirds. Some of the songbirds winter as far south as the amazon (!) and travel to these woods for the abundant food to raise their broods. The food that some bird species specialize in are specific insects, which are abundant in early summer. Many of these visitors return south with the disappearance of the insects in late summer.
The forest also provides an excellent watershed for fishing. The river valleys are V-shaped and they have provided excellent basins for forming hydroelectric facilities. The peak populations of the area occurred during the years when these facilities were run manually with workers on-site.
Two consistent and sustainable human activities in the region are fishing and harvesting timber, and Lake Superior has a fishery for whitefish and lake trout that is managed and sustainable. One of the treats of living in the middle of the continent is the availability of these fish, which are spared the pollutants that threaten fisheries found near populated areas.
The last link in the trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 17) was opened between Montreal River Harbour and Wawa in 1957 (?), and keeping this highway open throughout the winter is one of the consistent activities of the region. Without this highway, train would be the only practical means of linking the east and west of Canada.
The Wisconsin glacier about 10,000 years BCE carved the bedrock of the region into hills and valleys, making the countryside into rolling hills with a number of 300-600 m high peaks. Exposed rocks have a wide variety of color and shape and add to the beauty of the area. Deposits of heavy metals (iron, copper, nickel, gold, silver) occur in the area, and in the late 1800s mining started on an industrial scale for iron, copper and nickel. The vicinity of Marathon has large underground gold mines that are active at present. One of the rock treasures of the area is the Agawa Pictographs, designs made by native people hundreds of years ago on the bedrock facing Lake Superior in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
Native people (Ojibway) and European-descendents live here and they seem to share an equal love for ‘the bush’. The European settlement started in the mid 1600s with trappers. In the 1800s commercial fishing became possible by the innovation of using ice to preserve the catch during shipment to market. Present-day people come here for camping, hiking, winter sports, fishing, hunting, and many city dwellers own cabins in the region.