Ontario Northland Rail
August 27, 2009 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I've been thinking of taking a trip on the Ontario Northland Railway from Toronto to Moosonee on the foot of James Bay. Help me plan.

I've been interested in taking this train trip up all Summer and I'll finally have the chance at the end of September. I know the train trip of this government owned railroad is a bit rough as the tracks are poorly maintained, but that's part of the allure. That and the fact it and flying are the only way to get to tiny Moosonee.

Can anyone comment on the experience? Did they have to book someplace to stay in Moosonee ahead of time or can I just get off and walk in somewhere (the place is very small)? Is camping possible? What are some of the fun things to do? Should I bring my own meals on the train or are the meals provided satisfactory?
posted by hylaride to Travel & Transportation around Ontario (3 answers total)
I did this trip years and years ago. I think I was 12 or 13 years old... Moosonee was a very small, somewhat boring and very depressing place. Think "impoverished small town", rather than "quaint small town." But things may have changed in the last 20 years.
posted by hammurderer at 10:21 AM on August 27, 2009

Ha! My dad dragged us up there in the late '70s. I vividly remember being attacked by deer flies the minute we stepped off the train, and running, screaming for the "hotel", which was a couple rooms above the bar. I don't remember much else, but we did take a tour boat out into James Bay proper, so we could say we'd been in Arctic Waters. Like hammurderer said above, think "impoverished [Native People's reservation]". But that was years ago, maybe things are better now.

(Sorry I don't have more current info for you. Knowing my dad, we probably didn't have shit lined up, and we survived ok. Food was pretty bad, irrc, but didn't kill us. I'd check out the town's web site pretty thoroughly before you go.)
posted by Bron at 10:45 AM on August 27, 2009

I have ridden this train, but only in the reverse direction (Moosonee->Cochrane), at the end of a canoe trip.

I do remember (at least back when I checked it out) that you will need to stay overnight in Cochrane when you switch from the polar bear express / little bear to the northlander - they are separate trains. This is probably true for the way up as well. I ended up arranging a pickup in cochrane to get around this issue.

The train trip is beautiful, but fairly slow. The scenery is fantastic - there is a distinct shift from hudson bay lowland to upper canadian shield which adds some interest.

I was on the little bear (polar bear express is more luxury I think) but the food was fine and there were some interesting people to talk to.

There are actually two communities once you get up there, Moosonee as well as Moose Factory. Moose Factory is on an island and has a cree reservation as well. You can take a water taxi between the two.

I have heard complaints about the availability of fresh food from people who have lived there, but there are at least a couple of restaurants there. Depending on when you go, there will probably be game meat of some sort available (goose / moose / deer - I don't remember what the seasons are).

You can camp at tidewater provincial park. At that time of year you could easily be getting light snow overnight though.

hope that helps!
posted by aquafiend at 12:51 PM on August 28, 2009

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