Wawa is a small town in Northern Ontario, located north of Sault Ste Marie. It lies nestled by the shore of beautiful Wawa Lake, mere minutes inland from the shoreline of Lake Superior. Wawa means wild goose in the native Ojibwe language, with both the native people and the wild geese having lived here for thousands of years before the first white man arrived in 1622.
The Wawa area first appeared as Michipicoten Bay on Samuel De Champlain’s map of 1632. Down through the centuries since then, each of the major threads that sewed Canada together passed through here. From the earliest canoe-ways and the fur trade, to our national railway, roadway and air-way, Wawa has played a role.
The earliest explorers knew this place as “Carrefour du Nord,” or “Crossroads of the North.” It is here the major canoe routes crossed, making Wawa a noted stopping place for the men who opened up our country. Radisson and Groseilliers, Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, David Thompson and the rest would all stop here.
A French fur trading post was established at Michipicoten in 1725, followed later by posts for the Nor’Westors and the Hudson Bay Company. For almost two hundred years Michipicoten remained a hub of fur trade activity, even being chosen by the Hudson Bay Company as its administrative center for all fur trade on Lake Superior’s north shore.
In 1883, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was delayed by the severe terrain north of Lake Superior. To speed up the building of Canada’s first trans-continental railroad, Wawa was utilized as a critical supply point. Seventy-five years later, that same terrain hindered the building of the Trans-Canada Highway, with the Wawa link being one of the most difficult, most expensive and final sections to be completed.
The mid-point of the entire Trans-Canada Highway is situated just east of Wawa, in a section of roadway considered one of Canada’s top-ten scenic drives. The area scenery is dominated by the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior, the big lake they call Gitchee Goomee, the largest body of fresh water in the world.
The first version of the Wawa Goose monument was unveiled at the opening of the Trans-Canada in September, 1960. The present goose was introduced in 1963 and faces a nearby navigational beacon used by Air Canada. The Wawa Goose has become one of the most photographed icons between St John‘s and Victoria, and Canada Post will feature it on a 2010 postage stamp.
Sir James Dunn, an incredible figure in Canadian history, built the mine that gave Wawa its heyday. From 1939 – 1998, Wawa’s Algoma Ore Division provided iron ore for the steel plant in Sault Ste Marie. Sir James Dunn favoured this area so much that in 1949 he built his Eagle’s Nest residence high on a hill overlooking Wawa and the surrounding area.
Today though, the Eagle’s Nest stands empty, as Wawa suffers a fate shared by many other rural Canadian areas – job losses and a declining population. The mine and numerous area mills have closed; tourism and the service sector have become the mainstay.
But after years of dealing with environmental concerns, an open-pit aggregate mine is set to begin operation. Local diamond discoveries and rising global gold prices have prospectors exploring the Wawa bush like modern-day coureurs du bois. The pioneer spirit lives on”.
Lastly, Fort Friendship actually existed, created by long-time Wawa citizens Agnes and Al Turcotte. It was a museum-like re-creation of a fur-trading post, built by Mickey Clement on the bank of the Michipicoten River. Fort Friendship flourished in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and even included a small church made of glass bottles – The Church of the Departed Spirits. Today, both the property and the remnants of the fort belong to the Clement family.