The FRENCH CONNECTION between the towns of Hearst and Dubreuilville, Ontario, goes back to the 70s when an informal tradition of “Carnival Swapping” took place. Back in the day, you could ride the Snow Train and load your snowmobile on a special freight car. The trip between the two communities was usually a one-way snowmobile ride for the most part. You picked the day you were “riding up” or “riding down” depending on your destination, Dubreuilville or Hearst, and you checked with the Algoma Central Railway engineers to see what their train schedule was. You placed your snowmobile skis between the train tracks and you rode to Oba on cruise control as it was pretty difficult to get out between the tracks once you got settled in. You stopped for lunch in Oba and then continued on to Dubreuilville or Hearst depending on which Carnival you were attending that weekend.
The tradition was to ride the rails one-way and return on the Bud Car, load up your snowmobile on the attached Freight or Bud Car and recoup from the weekend. You rode back on the train…not because you could not use the tracks but because of the "headache" that was handed down and shared by Carnival Weekend in the host community. This was repeated twice per winter, once per community.
The strong bond between these two French Canadian communities continues today. Snowmobile riding trips take place most every weekend. There are a few different rider types and distinctive groups; the BackCountry Boys, such as Marc Gosselin (Gus), Patrice Lacroix, Mario Blouin to name a few, are hardcore riders.
They load up two five-gallon tanks and a third reservoir on each of their snowmobiles, they leave Hearst in the morning and cut through the bush, lakes, logging roads and trappers’ trails until they reach their Dubreuilville destination. These guys are the real thing when it comes to backcountry riding in Algoma. Their route is kept secret and only shared with an exclusive few. We have yet to break that <French Connection Code> to get access...
The other groups that travel between the two communities make up a more traditional snowmobile trail rider profile. Their distinction, they ooze energy, cheer and enthusiasm for the sport of snowmobiling, these groups are usually made of couples, everyone rides their own snowmobile, they follow the OFSC trails from Hearst as they head to Hornepayne for lunch and then arrive in Dubreuilville before 5pm. The return trip is very similar. They check themselves in at the Magpie Relay Motel & Resort and park their noble steeds in the heated garage for the night. They get ready for dinner and jump into the Free Shuttle that will take them to the local LOL Resto Bar.
When they return, they usually jump into the outdoor hot tub or sauna to sooth their muscles, and once refreshed, they all regroup in the famous Magpie Relay Motel & Resort ManCave where they hang out, talk about the days’ adventure, watch their Go-Pro videos or shoot pool, play shuffle board and foosball while they relax and enjoy each others company. Snowmobile Commeraderie at its best...it’s a personal Carnival again.
These groups usually arrive at their destination full of energy because they have just travelled what some have nicknamed the I-75 (the D108A trail) of Northern Ontario, one of the best snowmobile corridors Algoma has to offer. Rolling hills, wide swooping trails and undisturbed wilderness often offering a glimpse of a lynx, wolf or moose on the trail. The distance, 300 km or 186 mi is one that most snowmobilers remember forever. The trail has “Warm Up Shacks” where you will find a shelter stocked with wood, a small wood stove and an outhouse/washroom for the quick bio-break and rest. The sites usually have a large map indicating where you are, in addition to displaying the local businesses where you can obtain supplies or services.
The Hearst to Dubreuilville corridor is easily rideable in one day, it offers every type of riding and will deliver one of the most memorable riding experiences. It is one of the best French Connection Secrets around...the locals know...they will only share with you, en Français, so brush up on your French, get on your sled and follow the locals...they know where to ride in Algoma.