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Building the Dream

Northeastern Ontario Snowmobile Adventures

How owner Mike Brazeau used his Northern Ontario roots to recreate Timmins' Horwood Lake Lodge as a four-season power sports playground.



Being a Northern Ontario “kid” is very unique. And connecting with other adults (big kids, if you will) who grew up living the Northern Ontario life is always a meaningful experience. Meeting Mike Brazeau, owner of Horwood Lake Lodge, and having the chance to write this piece about him and his passion gave me a much-appreciated opportunity to revisit my roots.

The truth of the matter is this: many of us from Northern Ontario share the same outlook on life, and we love each other without judgement because we share the same needs and wants—and recreation! But as binding as that love for Northern Ontario is, the harsh reality is that we all know employment is a true key to success, and it’s a real struggle in the area. It’s inspiring to meet people who have made it work, and Mike Brazeau is a great example of one such person. 

Northern Ontario is all about the geography 

Let’s start at the beginning: getting to know the area. Northern Ontario is geographically huge at 802,000 square kilometres (310,000 square miles). It’s covered in extremely dense bush, with a large variety of tree, animal, and fish species. There are approximately 250,000 lakes in Ontario, most of which are in the North. And most importantly, it’s ruggedly covered in the largest formation of exposed Precambrian rock in the world, thanks to the glaciers getting stuck on our “mini-mountains” and deep lakes. Our elevations range from sea level to 2274 metres (7460 feet). So, Mountain Riders, our OFSC trails, like many of our roads, are crazy winding and have many treacherous dips and hills — far from flat! 

The reality of our employment options

Being from the vast area of Northeastern Ontario could mean you come from a small community of only hundreds like Pointe au Baril or a larger centre like Timmins, which has a population of 43,000, or even relatively larger spots, like North Bay (population: 51,000) or Sudbury (population: 160,000). 

Snowmobiling past the now defunct MacIntyre Mine Shaft just outside of Timmins, Ontario

Many communities, smaller towns and larger centres alike, rely on tourism, and the major spin-off areas of employment from this are carpentry and cottage-building. In larger communities, many depend on resource-based employment like forestry and mining, and a lucky number of people have jobs supporting and supplying to those industries. But those resource-based jobs have been very volatile over the last few decades; for folks of my generation, our entire lifetime. The municipal, provincial, and federal government also employ a number of people, although we all know they have their pros and cons as well.

Cold-weather cottage construction in the north

Leaving home... so that we can return

There is another path that many find themselves having to choose to pursue education and careers: leaving our beloved Northern Ontario for big cities. Many do this with deep regret, all the while dreaming of returning to our childhood home — where we can play without being bothered, where the traffic is lighter and drivers pull out of the fast lane (if there is one), where people wave, are friendly, and still hold the door and say thank you. For a lot of us, our hometowns are where our hearts remain, regardless of whether or not we’re able to stay. 

Horwood sweet home winter scene photo courtesy of Brad Wood

The lead-up to our Horwood Lake Lodge trip

Weeks before heading to Horwood Lake Lodge, Mike started excitedly tagging my amazing friends on the What a Ride team and me in a bunch of his Facebook posts. It was clear he was enthusiastic about us joining his barn burning party.

I’m sure he knew that having our What a Ride Team there would have a positive impact on his social media feeds, but it was obvious that he truly wanted us there to experience what he’s been building for the last four years. It felt like we were already old friends, ramping up to meeting up for an epic weekend. And that’s exactly how we experienced it.

I’m a “go with the flow” kind of guy and trusted my gut. Even though I knew I’d be writing this, I didn’t research the lodge, its history, or Mike before the trip—I just wanted to go and experience it first. In my mind, Mike was going to be high-energy, driven; a good-natured crowd-pleaser with a big heart. This prediction was spot on! Mike is a big kid and a dreamer. His ultimate goal is bringing people smiles to people’s faces and helping them build memories to hold onto forever. His work includes many charity events and introducing kids who might not have otherwise had the chance to experience the good life.

a Northern Ontario Boy living his dream

Born and raised in Timmins (shout out to South Porcupine High School RMSS), Mike spent the first 30 years of his life fishing, hunting, camping, sledding, and so on. It goes without saying that it was hard work and sacrifice to live that life. At 14, he worked with a small plumbing company; his boss would pick him up after school and he’d work for five hours and then again on weekends.

Like many of us, he did an apprenticeship (I’m a licensed marine tech by trade) and became a licensed plumber. To advance, he knew he had to educate himself. So in the early '80s, he left Timmins for Toronto, to attend George Brown College, where he earned a diploma in mechanical technology. He worked hard to become a certified tradesperson in plumbing, HVAC, and pipefitting. 

Horwood Lake Lodge owner, Mike Brazeau

Mike worked for Placer Dome (the company has since been bought out by Barrick) and travelled around the world, building new mines in several different countries: Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Tanzania, Australia — all so that he could make his return to the Timmins area.

In 2001 he sacrificed the “Nordern” Ontario life and left Timmins entirely. A permanent position allowed him to be with his family, which he’d been wanting: he no longer had to travel abroad for work. For 10 years, his family was settled in their new home in Kitchener/Waterloo (on account of which he recognizes all the trucks and had a particular bond with Katie Erb of Erb Transport when she arrived.)

The author, Katie Erb, Mike Brazeau and Mike Jacobs getting acquainted at the start of the weekend

Hard work and history in the making 

In 2013, while searching the web for a plastic water storage tank for his greenhouse in Kitchener, he stumbled across an advertisement that Horwood Lake Lodge was for sale. He took a gamble, made an offer, and — only then, he tells me — asked his wife, Jaana, if she wanted to move back to Timmins. She was silent for a couple of weeks (I’m sure some readers will sympathize), after which they made the move back, spread out over one year. Suffice to say it was a big change for the whole family, but sacrifice in hopes of an amazing life ahead. 

Boating and fishing paradise at Horwood Lake Lodge

Mike and his team have accomplished so much in four short years. First off, Mike realized he needed to live at the lodge; he did not want to buy a home as well. But, Horwood was built in 1952 and had never opened in winter, so the first step was razing every building and building heated and insulated foundations.

Next, he installed permanent heating systems — a 50,000-watt solar heating system to operate the entire facility, backed up by a 60,000-watt diesel generator — this is a sight to see, and dry your gear in! A water well was drilled so that there was year-round water. New roofs, siding, windows, and doors had to be put in, the whole works. The driveway is 3.5 km long, so he had to buy a plow truck — special thanks to Christian Cowell for his hard work! 

Horwood Lodge now: its offerings and future plans

Four years in, and there’s much to show from Mike and company’s efforts, and always more in the works. To date the lodge offers:

  • Eight cottages with 55 permanent beds and 18 additional ones
  • Three tipis (each can sleep four), and six more on their way—spring additions should bring them to 137 beds
  • Pontoon boat rentals specifically set-up for fishing (on the beautiful 14,000-acree Horwood Lake). The lake is home, most notably, to Walleye, Northern Pike, and Perch. 
  • Wheelchair access docks and pontoon boats
  • Honda 450 Quad rentals starting in June
  • Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry crossover snowmobile rentals starting in winter 2018
  • Amazing home cooked food

 … and most of all, an unforgettable experience for all visitors! 

Sledding and quadding

Mike wanted his private trails to lead to the OFSC trails. He bought his own New Holland groomer and drag and went to work. They now have over 180 km of private trails and play areas to rip around on!

To get this done, he had to forgo his Ski-Doo Renegade rental fleet of 12 sleds for 2017. But don’t worry, after he rode a Renegade Backcounty and watched me break in that Summit-X 850, he ordered his rentals! Many thanks to Mikey’s Team in Timmins for the extra sleds that weekend.

So, what does it take to draw people to Northern Ontario?

Besides lots of energy and drive, beyond a positive attitude and a big heart — what does it take to draw people to a beautiful peninsula deep in the woods of Northern Ontario? The answer is passion. Specifically, a passion to create a unique experience, to be surrounded by good people, and to give them the experience of a lifetime. What sets Mike apart is that he genuinely wants you to come enjoy the best that life has to offer — it’s not just a business to him, it’s his home, and his heart and soul is in it, as anyone who has the chance to talk to him or hear his story can tell. 

Our What a Ride team was blessed to meet some amazing people at Horwood Lake Lodge. Everyone there shared our passion for the bush, for privacy, bonfires, discussions on wrenching on sleds and mods, growing up in Northern Ontario, and so much more. And although we used our phones and camera equipment a bit to document, we really were mostly disconnected from the world in the best of ways. 

So, what do you do on your hard-earned weekends? 

This is “Random” Ryan Tarrant saying thanks for reading! Check out and like my Facebook Page if you’re interested in more upcoming content, please & thank you.

And thanks to Virgil Knapp for making us all look so good in the photos!!!

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