A large portion of the Ontario’s Highlands region lies within the Canadian Shield, where lakes and rivers dot the valleys between rolling hills. Back in the mid 1800s, the government enticed immigrants to settle this part of Ontario with an offer of free land, and began building colonization roads such as Opeongo Road in the Ottawa Valley. Most early settlers made their living in the logging or agricultural industries, gathering in small communities where they could warrant a school, general store, and church.
But as they soon found out, the rocky soil of the Canadian Shield was not ideal, and the growing season too short to make a livelihood. Residents of these small towns began to move away in numbers, leaving behind their homes and businesses. Many of these buildings still stand today, some decrepit from the elements that try to reclaim them, others given a second chance.
These ghost towns now serve as a fun road trip destination for curious explorers who enjoy feeling just a little uneasy, especially this time of year. Some of the ghost towns in the region are completely abandoned, whereas others have small populations that are nothing like they once were. When you hit the road in search of these ghost towns please remember to be respectful of private property and do not trespass.
You don’t have to venture far off of Highway 132 in the Ottawa Valley to find Balaclava, a former mill town that was abandoned by its inhabitants in the mid 20th century. The first thing you’ll see is a run-down sawmill from the 1850s, once the lifeblood of the town, but now barely standing. Rumour is there are a few other run-down buildings you can find, but please be aware there are a handful of residents who still live in Balaclava, and the mill is on private property.
One of the largest communities on the old Opeongo Line through the Ottawa Valley was Brundenell, which earned itself a bit of a seedy reputation. The village was settled in the 1850s and several hotels, a church, and a general store were established. Perhaps it was the transient crowd that the hotels attracted, but regardless, the town didn’t last. Today when cruising on Renfrew County Road 512 south of Killaloe, you can pass by the spooky remnants of the town that was known as the “Sin Bin”.
Ontario’s first gold rush began in 1866 when gold was discovered in Eldorado, about 10 kilometres north of Madoc. Word spread quickly of the discovery and prospectors flocked to the area, leading to a huge building boom. The gold rush didn’t last long, and Eldorado’s population dropped from a speculated 10,000 to the 50 or so people who live there today. Many of the original buildings have been repurposed, but the abandoned general store which sits right on Highway 62 is perfect for snapping a creepy shot.
If you’re not in the mood to be frightened, take a drive out to Ormsby, a former ghost town that bounced back. It was the last stop on the Central Ontario Railway, and earned a bit of a wild reputation as a party town before the townspeople established churches, hotels, a school, and businesses. When the railroad was extended to Bancroft in 1900, the town’s lumber industry, along with the residents, started to disappear. 103 years later, the formerly abandoned general store and schoolhouse were restored and now house The Old Hastings Mercantile & Gallery, and the Old Ormsby Schoolhouse & Tea Room, respectively. The Presbyterian church has also been restored, and is open to the public.
Now, if you are in the mood to be frightened, head for the hills in search of Newfoundout. In 1853, 13 families, enticed by the government’s offer of free land, traversed the rocky mountainside and set up homes and farms in the tiny settlement they called Newfoundout. This promised land proved difficult to farm, and the small community was unable to attract schools or shops. In the late 1940s, it was officially declared abandoned when the last of the community members left. Head up to the completely abandoned and disturbingly quiet settlement to explore run-down log homes amongst the trees.
Bonus: Al Capone’s Former Hideout in Quadeville
Quadeville is not necessarily a ghost town but it does have an abandoned home in the woods that draws in explorers due to the rumours surrounding its former inhabitant. Legend has it that in the early 1940s a local man was hired to build a log cabin from an unknown American source. Soon after, the townspeople began to murmur about sightings of American gangster Al Capone and his cronies. This remote cabin, with boarded up windows and doors, supposedly has collapsed tunnels built underneath it. The exact location is a mystery, but word has it if you stop into Kauffeldt’s Grocer and ask, they’ll point you in the direction of this creepy hideaway.