Photos by Marilyn Warren
It’s Thursday afternoon and the conversation among the guys at work turns to, “Where do we head with our sleds this weekend?” Single day, or weekend rides, especially late in the season, are popular with lots of snowmobilers. Deciding where to go often rests on the services and experiences available along the route. The rural General Store becomes not only a gas stop, but becomes the destination for the day’s ride.
On a recent Saturday afternoon in the western portion of Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s territory, dozens of sledders were spotted at destination general stores. The first visited was Cardiff General Store in the Paudash Lake Trail Blazer’s territory at the intersection of the 615 and E110 trails. The establishment features the typical convenience store, full service gas pumps, and small café at the left end of the building.
That is where Valdis and Cathy were spotted enjoying lunch. Their attire made it apparent that they were out for a ride, and sure enough, their helmets were sitting on the conveniently provided helmet rack at the entrance to the restaurant. Valdis and Cathy are seasonal residents on nearby L’Amable Lake and come to the area from the GTA almost every weekend in the winter to ride. Other general store destinations that they love to visit are in Cloyne and McArthur’s Mills. They typically cover about 100 miles in a day’s ride, and these three stores make great halfway points for those adventures.
It was just a few minutes later that Scott and Sherri from Uxbridge pulled up to the gas pumps. Attendant Brian was out to assist them promptly. While chatting with Scott and Sherri, Brian said that about 80% of the store’s weekend gas sales, and well over 50% of the café’s business, were snowmobile-related in the winter season. It turns out that Scott and Sherri are also cottagers, and had ridden in from the Haliburton area.
About 30 km to the northwest of Cardiff is Harcourt. On that same sunny Saturday afternoon, the parking lot at the Harcourt General Store and South Algonquin Cookhouse restaurant had 50 or more sleds parked in it. Stuart, from Hawkstone, Ontario was at the gas pumps with several friends filling their tanks. Stuart said that he and his friends ride that area several times a month, and the South Algonquin Cookhouse was a favourite stop in that area on the major east-west trail through Ontario, the “E” trail. Inside the store, proprietor Lisa was very busy ringing up fuel sales and selling sundries to a constant stream of riders coming through the store. Several sledders talked about how busy the Harcourt location is, as it is the only food and fuel stop for many kilometres on the E trail in that area, just south of Algonquin Park.