Up the Great North Road: The Story of an Ontario Colonization Road


160 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55046-421-3
DDC 971.303





Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



The struggle to carve a foothold in the harsh Ontario wilderness is
described with thoroughness and care in this professional-quality local

The small town of Parry Sound is the southern point of the Great North
Road that was cut through the inhospitable northern woods during the
period from approximately 1860 to 1920. You can practically smell the
horse and human sweat, choke on the wood smoke, and swat the mosquitoes
as you experience the evocative text and study the masses of archival
photos. Building the Great North Road was a battle against poverty and
isolation, as well as a war against a desolate land of rock, mud, bears,
deer, lakes, and dark forests.

Macfie’s work looks at many aspects of the opening of a new frontier:
methods of travel and communication; the early shelters and clearings;
and the gradual building of homesteads, churches, hotels, and schools.
His appreciation for the hardships endured by the early road builders
and first settlers is evident, yet he doesn’t shelter the reader from
the stark crudeness of life in this rough place and time. The emphasis
is on individuals, their everyday life, and their role in the overall
settlement efforts, not on politics or government. It’s not an
official history, but rather a very well-written look at ordinary people
taking a chance on winning a subsistence living from a hard land that
made them fight with their lives for every small gain.


Macfie, John., “Up the Great North Road: The Story of an Ontario Colonization Road,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14590.