If you're like a lot of Northerners who spend time in the outdoors, you probably enjoy seeing the arrival of fall colours at this time of year.
From the Quebec border near Mattawa all the way to the Manitoba border near Lake of the Woods, the forests are ablaze with spectacular colours. And the Algoma District which surrounds Sault Ste. Marie is smack in the middle of all that spectacularity (yes, it's a word!).
But like a lot of Northerners — and Lindsay Ambeault of Sault Ste. Marie is one of them — you might also take those fall colours for granted because you just grew up surrounded by spectacular maples, poplars, birches and elms.
"Absolutely. I don't think it was until I started working for the tour train that I realized how lucky we are to have that,” Ambeault said. “And we do take it for granted. We sit in our backyards and the colours are all around us. But we have people that travel across the world just to see those colours that are right there beside us."
Ambeault is the operations representative for the iconic Agawa Canyon Tour Train that travels north out of Sault Ste. Marie every day from August to October 10, to show off the fall colours in the Algoma District. The train line is now owned by Watco, a transportation service company, but was formerly the Algoma Central Railway. She said she has to thank her mother for her appreciation of the wilderness provided by the train tour. Ambeault said her mom has been working on the railroad for more than 30 years. She herself began working the train six years ago.
These days she laughs about how her attitude towards nature has changed.
“Absolutely, yeah. Everything about it, the train, the wilderness, the colours, I absolutely took it for granted. I thought it was boring when I was a kid."
Ambeault said while the falls colours are amazing to see, the other big attraction is the four-hour train ride to the canyon itself through the wilderness in a beautiful part of Northern Ontario that features postcard-like scenery through the big train windows every few minutes. It's no wonder that Canada's famed Group of Seven once documented this part of the country with their artwork.
Ambeault said it is her good fortune to be able to travel the tour train at least once a week. Along with her work requirements, Ambeault said her favourite thing is seeing the different variety of maple trees gradually change from green to yellow to orange to red. She said this kind of scenery is what people love the most and despite the many marketing campaigns, this is what people talk about.
"A lot of it, honestly, is word of mouth. People from other countries come because they don't have the luxury of having maple trees that turn colours. So to them, it's a really amazing thing. They literally come here for the train to see the maples. They travel all this way. Some from China, South Korea, Germany, Scotland, Finland, you name it. They've come here just to see the maples," she said.
Ambeault said the one common thing is that everyone tells her they love the scenery.
"They just love it, everybody. I mean, the only non-great comment is they wish they had more time when they got to Agawa Canyon Park, okay, which is not really a negative thing. People just want more time," she said.
The train did not run in the first year of the pandemic, and ran only a half tour in the second year in 2021.
"This year has been a great year, especially coming out of COVID people that are just, wanting to do things and so they're extra happy that they get to do it."
Ambeault said from her observations about two-thirds of the visitors are from Canada and the United States. The rest are visitors from other countries around the world.
Once the train arrives at the actual canyon site, there is a park where passengers can get off the train and spend 90 minutes enjoying the scenery. This includes some local hiking trails as well as a 300-step jaunt to a high lookout area.
She added that most of the daily 900-seat train tours are sold out, but there are usually last-minute tickets sold every morning. The Agawa Canyon Tour Train departs from the newly built station at 99 Huron Street in Sault Ste. Marie’s historic Canal District, which is close to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site. There is also free parking nearby. Train riders are advised to show up 30 minutes before the 8 a.m. departure time.
If you're wondering when is the best time to get out and see the trees, you can check out the Ontario Parks website which has a fall colours guide to let you know where to go and when.
Tickets for the tour train can be purchased online.
If you miss the train or cannot book tickets, don't worry, you can still do a fall colours drive through most parts of Northern Ontario.
Len Gillis is a reporter at Sudbury.com. Bold is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.