Wawa, Ontario

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Municipality (single-tier)
Municipality of Wawa
Township of Michipicoten (pre-2007)
Wawa as seen across Wawa Lake
Wawa as seen across Wawa Lake
Wawa is located in Ontario
Coordinates: 47°59′35″N 84°46′25″W / 47.99306°N 84.77361°W / 47.99306; -84.77361Coordinates: 47°59′35″N 84°46′25″W / 47.99306°N 84.77361°W / 47.99306; -84.77361
Country  Canada
Province  Ontario
District Algoma
Established 1899
 • Mayor Ron Rody
 • Federal riding Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing
 • Prov. riding Algoma—Manitoulin
 • Land 417.78 km2 (161.31 sq mi)
Elevation[2] 287 m (942 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Total 2,975
 • Density 7.1/km2 (18/sq mi)
Time zone Eastern Standard Time (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (UTC-4)
Postal Code P0S 1K0
Area code(s) 705
Website www.wawa.cc

Wawa is a township in the Canadian province of Ontario, located within the Algoma District. Formerly known as the township of Michipicoten, the township was officially renamed for its largest and best-known community in 2007.[3]

The township also includes the smaller communities of Michipicoten and Michipicoten River, which are small port settlements on the shore of Lake Superior.


Fur Trade Days[edit]

Fort Michipicoten was located five miles southwest of the town at the mouth of the Michipicoten River. It was at the junction of the main fur trade route from Montreal westward and the route to James Bay via the Missinaibi River.

Michipicoten, 1897
Community of Michipicoten River

The French were in the area by at least 1681, and built the post in either 1725 or 1727.[4] By 1729, it was an outpost of Fort Kaministiquia in Vérendrye's Postes du Nord. When the British conquered Canada in 1763, it was abandoned. Four years later, it was re-opened on the same site by Alexander Henry the elder and Jean Baptiste Cadotte. The route from James Bay was explored by Edward Jarvis (1775) and Philip Turnor (1781). In 1783, it was taken over by the Northwest Company. In 1797, the Hudson's Bay Company built a rival post on the north bank. With the union of the two companies in 1821, the Lake Superior trade was diverted from Montreal to Hudson Bay via Michipicoten. This lasted until 1863, when the arrival of steamboats and railways made it unnecessary. From 1827, the fort was the headquarters of the Superior Division and several annual meetings were held here. It was a centre for fishing, boat-building and small-scale manufacture and repair, and it served as a base for missionaries and surveyors. It was closed in 1904. The site was on the south bank of the river, opposite the mouth of the Magpie River. As of about 1980, the area has been mainly a grassy clearing, some foundation stones and the remains of the dock.[5][6]


Wawa's history is rich in mining, forestry, and the fur trade. Although mining attempts began as early as the late 1660s, it wasn't until 1896 that gold was discovered on nearby Wawa Lake, leading to a rush to the area. The population grew from only a handful of people to approximately a thousand.

In 1898, the town site at what is now called "the Mission" was registered as "Michipicoten City." In 1899, Wawa was surveyed and plotted into a town and registered as Wawa City. In the latter half of the 1950s, the town's name was temporarily changed to Jamestown in honour of Sir James Hamet Dunn, but it was later changed back to Wawa at the request of the community's residents.

Gold production had slowed by 1906, but as mining technology improved, additional amounts began to be extracted from the area. Gold mining in the Wawa area prospered and receded several times in the 20th century, and it continues today.

Iron ore extraction has also been an important industry in the area. The search for the elusive precious yellow metal during the Michipicoten gold boom led to the unexpected discovery of iron ore in 1897. Rock samples made their way into the hands of Francis Hector Clergue, an American entrepreneur who immediately recognized the ore for its potential in the form of a steel company in the industrial future of Sault Ste. Marie. The community then came to be served by the Algoma Central Railway.

The first supply of ore extracted form the Helen Mine was shipped to Midland, Ontario, in July 1900 and thus became the "first boat shipment of Canadian iron ore to a Canadian port." The mine produced high-grade iron ore until 1903, when operations shut down due to financial difficulties that were confronting Clergue and his company. By 1904, the mine had returned to full production capabilities and was mining a thousand tons of hematite ore a day. From 1900 to 1918, the Helen Mine had the largest production of any iron mine in Canada.

In 1909, a second hematite ore deposit was uncovered near the Magpie River, twelve miles north of the Helen Mine. The Algoma Steel Corporation, organized between 1904 and 1909 in Sault Ste. Marie, bought up the claims and operated both the Magpie and Helen mines for the next decade.

The Helen Mine continued ore production until 1918, when the company felt the reserve of hematite ore was finally depleted. The same fate followed the Magpie Mine in 1921. The Census of Canada records that the population of the Michipicoten region in 1921 experienced a drop from 1,001 in 1911 to 101 just ten years later.

It was not until 1937, with the threat of war in Europe and the emergence of a profitable market for Canadian iron ore, that the Helen Mine was reopened. A sintering plant was constructed on the northern bank of the Magpie River, two miles west of the mine, to treat the siderite ore before it was shipped to the blast furnaces at Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie. The plant became the centre for a small community called Sinterville, composed of workers and their families.

The Helen Mine remained an open pit operation until 1950, from which point on all production came from underground mining. In 1960, the new George W. MacLeod Mine went into production adjacent to the Helen Mine. The ore was transported on an aerial tramline that consisted of over 280 steel three-ton buckets travelling underground and then surfacing three-quarters of a mile west of the 2,066-foot vertical MacLeod Shaft. The tramline then continued the remaining two miles to the sinter plant on overhead cables. This system was replaced in 1979 by the latest in underground mining technology, the highest-lift single-drive conveyor in the world.

During the summer of 1971, Wawa hosted an archaeological field camp known as the Wawa Drop-In Project or the Big Dig,[7] for young hitchhikers travelling along Highway 17. The project was directed by Professor K.C.A. Dawson.[8] and supported by the federal government as part of its youth employment program. The results of fieldwork at several important sites were never published, although all the records are currently held by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.[9]

Throughout the 1990s, Wawa and the Algoma Ore Division continued to be challenged by international market problems that plagued both the gold and iron mining industries. In December 1997, Algoma Steel announced that it could no longer support the high cost of extracting low-grade iron at Algoma Ore Division. Even though Wawa's mountain of iron ore still had more to give, operations were shut down in June 1998, a hundred years after iron was first discovered in this remote corner of northern Algoma.

Wawa suffered a population decline after the Helen Mine and the Algoma Ore Division sinter plant shut down, leaving its main industries as forestry and tourism. In recent years, diamond prospecting and proposals to create a trap rock mine on the shore of Lake Superior have been developed; however, no mining activities of any kind have yet been established.

In another blow to the town's economy, Weyerhauser, which operated an oriented strandboard mill 30 kilometres east of the town, announced an indefinite shutdown of its mill in October 2007. The final production shift ran at the end of December 2007, and with the ongoing demand for wood products being very low, the likelihood of the mill reopening was marginal at best. Since the shutdown, Wawa's economy has suffered a near complete collapse, as the closure resulted in over 135 lost jobs and led to even more residents moving away. This subsequently had a spinoff effect on other businesses and on the town's population, which peaked at close to 5,600 in the 1990s but has since dropped to under 3,000, according to the 2011 Canadian census.

The collapse of the forestry industry in the first decade of the 2000s not only impacted Wawa, but the neighbouring communities of Dubreuilville and White River. Wawa, the area's largest settlement, has consequently faced grave difficulties in attracting new industry to the community and region.

Most of the movie Snow Cake (2006) was filmed in Wawa.


Population trend:[13]

  • Population in 2011: 2977
  • Population in 2006: 3204
  • Population in 2001: 3668
  • Population in 1996: 4145
  • Population in 1991: 4154


Wawa is home to English and French language schools. The Algoma District School Board is responsible for offering English language instruction and operates Sir James Dunn Public School, offering kindergarten to Grade 8 classes, while Michipicoten High School offers Grades 9 to 12. The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board provides French immersion language instruction for junior kindergarten to Grade 7 at St. Joseph French Immersion School. In the 2014-2015 school year St. Joseph School will expand its French immersion program to include Grade 8.

Exclusive French-language instruction is offered by two school boards. The Conseil scolaire du Grand Nord offers public school instruction at Ecole publique l'Escalade for students in kindergarten to Grade 8. The Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario offers Catholic instruction at Ecole élementaire et secondaire catholique St-Joseph.

Tourism and attractions[edit]

Goose sculpture in Wawa overlooking Highway 17

The community is known for its 8.5-metre (28-foot) metal statue of a Canada goose, which was built in 1960, and dedicated to the community in 1961. Wawa takes its name from the Ojibwe word for "wild goose", wewe. Wawa was defined as wild goose in The Song of Hiawatha. On July 5, 2010, Canada Post made a commemorative stamp of the Wawa Goose as part of its Roadside Attractions collection.[14]

The town is also known for snowmobiling and sport fishing. The Voyageur Hiking Trail passes through the town. One notable shopping location[according to whom?] is Young's General Store, home of the locally famous Pickle Barrel.


The municipal council is composed of one mayor and four councilors. The current mayor is Ron Rody and the councillors are Tamara Liddle, Bill Chiasson, James Neufeld, and Yvan Besner.


Highway 17, the main route of the Trans-Canada Highway, passes through the township, although the primary townsite is located on Highway 101, two kilometers east of the junction with Highway 17. Sault Ste. Marie is located 227 kilometers to the south. Lake Superior Provincial Park is located just south of the town.

In October 2012, the town was forced to declare a state of emergency after severe flooding washed out several roads within the municipality, including sections of both Highway 17 and Highway 101.[15]

Wawa is located 24 kilometres west of Canadian National Railway's Hawk Junction station on the rail line from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst. The line, formerly known as the Algoma Central Railway, provides tourist operations, as well as passenger and freight service to communities in northern Ontario.

A dial-in/demand response transit system has been available since February 2006. The service is provided by a single bus that can accommodate 12 passengers plus up to two wheelchairs.[16]


Wawa has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfb) that is significantly moderated by Lake Superior. Winters are cold and snowy with a January high of −7.7 °C (18.1 °F) and a low of −20.2 °C (−4.4 °F) and temperatures below −20 °C (−4.0 °F) occur 45 days per year.[2] Snowfall totals are heavy, averaging over 319 centimetres (126 in) due to lake effect snow from Lake Superior as cold air from the northwest passes over the warmer lake.[17] Summers are cool and mild due to cool, dry air masses from the northwest and the cooling of warm air from the south as it passes Lake Superior.[17][18] As a result, temperatures above 30 °C (86.0 °F) are rare.[2] August is the warmest month with a high of 20.8 °C (69.4 °F) and a low of 9.8 °C (49.6 °F), showing a slight seasonal lag. The average annual precipitation is 970 millimetres (38 in), which is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year though the months of July to October see a peak in precipitation.[2]

Notable people from Wawa[edit]

Wawa is home to former NHL hockey players Chris Simon and Denny Lambert, as well as comedian Pete Zedlacher.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Wawa census profile". 2011 Census of Population. Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Wawa Airport". Canadian Climate Normals 1981–2010. Environment Canada. Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Annual changes to census subdivision codes, names and types, between 2006 and 2011, by province and territory, and by year". Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 2011. Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  4. ^ Morton, page 168: 1727, Losey,page 44:1725
  5. ^ Arthur S Morton, "A History of the Canadian West",no date
  6. ^ Elizabeth Browne Losey,"Let Them Be Remembered:The Story of the Fur Trade Forts",1999
  7. ^ Special,1971, June 29, Small Time Mecca for Transient Youth, The Globe and Mail, p31
  8. ^ "Prof. Kenneth (K. C. A.) Dawson, CD, MA". anthropology.lakeheadu.ca. Lakehead University. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2011-08-25. 
  9. ^ "Catalogue Db query". catalogue.civilization.ca. Canadian Museum of Civilization. 
  10. ^ "2011 Community Profiles". Canada 2011 Census. Statistics Canada. July 5, 2013. Retrieved 2012-02-16. 
  11. ^ "2006 Community Profiles". Canada 2006 Census. Statistics Canada. March 30, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  12. ^ "2001 Community Profiles". Canada 2001 Census. Statistics Canada. February 17, 2012. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  13. ^ Statistics Canada: 1996, 2001, 2006 census.
  14. ^ Canada Post Stamp Details, July to September 2010, p 8, Volume XIX, No. 3
  15. ^ "Northern Ontario flooding may cause millions in damage". CTV News, October 27, 2012.
  16. ^ Wawa Transit, retrieved 2007-10-28.
  17. ^ a b "NATURAL PROCESSES IN THE GREAT LAKES". Us Environmental Protection Agency. 25 June 2012. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  18. ^ "Physical Geography of Ontario" (PDF). Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  19. ^ Wawa Boy Hits It Big. The Algoma News, October 4, 2010.

External links[edit]