2 friends embark on adventure that takes them to Ontario’s 4 ‘corners’

Listiyo Ridawer

A trip that led two friends to the geographic centre of Ontario inspired an adventure that brought them to each “corner” of the province, and eventually got them in a close encounter with a polar bear.

Bill Steer, the founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre near Mattawa, Ont., and his travelling partner Brian Emblin, of Timmins, Ont., met through a common love of the outdoors.

For one of their first trips together they trekked to Ontario’s geographic centre, near the northern Ontario township of Hornepayne. 

“During that expedition we said, ‘You know, maybe we should include the actual four corners that make up the province,'” Emblin said.

By those four corners they meant Ontario’s most eastern, southern, western and northern points.

A man standing near a residential lawn with a small monument in the foreground.
Brian Emblin stands at Ontario’s most eastern point, where a monument in a person’s yard marks the border with Quebec. (Submitted by Bill Steer)

They went east for the first point, near the town of Bainville, Ont., where a small monument in a person’s yard marks the border with Quebec.

“It’s funny, you’re in between two homes,” Emblin said.

“There’s a road, one house on the left is in Ontario, one house on the right is in Quebec, and there’s a little monolith.”

During the same weekend, they went to Ontario’s, and Canada’s southernmost point near Pelee Island. 

“The boundary there is actually out in the water,” Steer said.

“But we went as far as you can go legally. There is a small island but you’re not allowed to land on it because it’s a bird sanctuary.”

A sign that says ' Pelee Island Winery.'
Pelee Island is near Ontario’s most southern point. The island’s climate makes it a good location for a winery. (Submitted by Bill Steer)

The next two legs of their adventure proved to be more challenging, and much more remote.

Lake of the Woods straddles the borders of Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota, and is located more than 1,700 kilometres from Pelee Island. 

To access a small slither of land at the western edge of Ontario they had to start in Manitoba, cross the border into Minnesota, and then take a boat up part of the lake and a small river.

But it was the northern leg that proved to be the greatest challenge.

“The guide was king,” Emblin said. “If you didn’t have a guide you don’t go.”

Their guide was George Kakekaspan, from the fly-in community of Fort Severn First Nation.

From Fort Severn they drove all-terrain vehicles 155 kilometres to reach the northernmost point of the province.

Two men crouched at a small monument.
Guide George Kakekaspan and Brian Emblin crouch at a small monument that marks Ontario’s most northern point. (Submitted by Bill Steer)

“There’s a vast land of tidal estuaries, and rivers, and old beachheads, and sand dunes, and cool weather, and terrain that was foreign, but new and exciting,” Steer said. 

Close call with a polar bear

Steer said he would have been happy to see one polar bear, but they saw 21 during their trip.

Most of them were a safe distance away, but he recalled one early morning when they heard a loud bang against the wall of a small hut they stayed in, made of plywood.

“I thought Brian had fallen out of the bunk or at least was coming out of a dream state and kicked the side of the wall,” Steer said.

But their guide Kakekaspan had a better guess as to the cause of the sound. Armed with a Remington .308 rifle, and with his headlamp on, he stepped out of the hut and took a shot in the air.

“We went back out again and that was the last we saw of the bear,” Emblin said.

Despite the close call with North America’s largest land predator, Steer said the long journey was worth it.

“I can say you’re in awe when you see them and get up close,” he said.

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