I attended a book publishing workshop at the Travel Media Association of Canada conference not long ago. Ron Brown was one of the presenters. We had just received a copy of Backroads of Ontario from Firefly Books and I was anxious to hear what Ron had to say.
According to his website ‘Nobody knows Ontario like Ron Brown’ and I’m beginning to think that’s correct. Ron describes himself as a geographer, but he wears many hats and has been at one time or another a community planner, historian, tour guide, movie location scout and consultant, as well as the author of over 20 books since the 1970s. He specializes in Canada’s historic buildings, main streets, trains, railway stations and ghost towns. I use his large-format, softcover books to guide some of my travel fantasies, or as actual guidebooks that get kicked around the back seat of the car or stuffed into backpacks on excursions of discovery.
Through a series of 24 planned routes with maps and pictures, Backroads of Ontario takes us from Neptune’s Staircase on the Niagara Escarpment to the Silver Mountain Road west of Thunder Bay, and from Manitoulin Island to the Opeongo Pioneer Road. What usually happens on a trip is that we get lost (maybe on purpose) and rarely (if ever) complete one of Ron’s carefully planned tours. Sorry Mr. Brown.
Backroad driving in a place like Ontario is a relaxing way to discover the history and stories of people you wouldn’t normally meet. A pastoral, rural place today might have been a scene of tragedy and despair in colonization times not that long ago. Mining, lumbering and farming have shaped the province and her people in ways not immediately obvious. Ontario is a very large place and the geography can go from calm to violent and back around each bend in the road. This book gives us an informed and elegant introduction to many of these places.