Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fort Vermilion Then & Now

by Anita Mae Draper

I love comparing pictures and seeing how a place changes over the years, and last year when I drove Highway 17 in Northwestern Ontario I had a chance to photograph changes to a structure I've watched progress over the past forty years. 

While growing up we used to pass this huge fort structure in Vermilion Bay, yet it wasn't until October 1976 when Nelson and I drove from North Bay, Ontario (north of Toronto), to the prairies to tell our folks of our engagement, that we stopped for gas across the highway and then decided to take time to check out what appeared to be the shell of a fort or fur trading post. 

Map of Ontario, Canada courtesy of Wikipedia

There were no gates, so we walked through the gate opening to find that the interior was being used as a picnic and playground area. The fort consisted of 13-foot stockade walls with parapets, or walkways, running along the inside wall and connecting two of the four block houses at the upper level. 

Here's what Fort Vermilion looked like in 1976...

Nelson Draper, Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 1976

Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 1976

Nelson and I returned to our postings at Canadian Forces Base North Bay where we married a couple months later -- yes that will be 40 yrs this December. :)

Sixteen years and several moves later, we stopped in Vermilion Bay on our move from Ottawa, Ontario, to Cold Lake, Alberta. It was July 1992 and this time we were traveling with 13 yr old Crystal and 18 month old Jessie and the fort would be the perfect place for us to rest and the girls to play. 

Crystal & Jessie Draper, Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 1992

That was the last time we stopped at the fort. Then last summer, my sister, Bonnie, accompanied me for part of my trip east and we stopped at Vermilion Bay for gas and to grab something to eat on the way. But across the street, the old fort beckoned with inviting signs like this...

Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 2015

Bonnie doesn't drive, and so by that time, I had been driving for 12 hours and needed to rest my eyes a bit, so we decided to see what The Tree House Cafe had to offer.

Main Gate, Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 2015

What a treat! Sitting on a patio in the shade with a cool drink and delectable wrap was just the thing for the hot day. Most of the trees in the fort had been cleared away and in their place the playground had expanded with safe and modern equipment. In the center was a pavilion with picnic tables and BBQ pit with an authentic birch bark canoe hanging from the ceiling. A path through the back gate led to hiking trails, a side gate to an 18-hole mini-golf course, and other attractions were all within reach. 

Pavilion, Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 2015

I thought I'd taken a photo of the menu because I really wanted to post about it, but the only thing I can find other than the outdoor photos is this post card I snagged on my way out...

Post Card, Fort Vermilion, Vermilion Bay, Ontario 

The post card really says it all because for years we had passed the fort while wondering what was behind the walls and then when we finally stopped we were so glad we did.

Although Fort Vermilion in Vermilion Bay, Ontario isn't an authentic fur trading post, the Hudson's Bay Company files refer to an 1881 Vermilion Station on the shores of Eagle Lake which was used to house crews constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway. (Source: Wikipedia)

Your turn - Have you ever passed something several times before checking it out, and then wished you'd checked it out earlier?


Anita Mae Draper's stories are written under the western skies where she lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, published in A Cup of Christmas Cheer, Volume 4, Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Present, Guideposts Books, October 2014, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her first novella, Romantic Refinements is found in Austen in Austin Volume 1, WhiteFire Publishing, Jan 2016. Discover more at


  1. I love seeing "then and now" photos. So interesting!

    I've passed many places where I wish I could stop, but I can't think of an instance where I finally did and wished I'd stopped earlier.

    Fun post!

    1. I don't know about others, but I'm always worried I'm trespassing on someone's property if I don't see clear signage. It's a bit of a fear of the unknown, too, because I don't want to waste time, or money, on something I may not like.

      Thanks, Susie.

  2. I'm sure I've passed places like this that I intend to stop at. I was overwhelmed again about the size of Ontario. My gosh. It could eat small European countries for a snack. As you know, I live very close to Ontario, but Vermillion Bay is WAY THE HECK west! Loved the photos!
    and that canoe especially.

    1. Thanks, Deb. Yes, the canoe was quite stunning. I took photos of the best side, and yet now I wish I had also taken some of the damage on the bow as it would show the construction and breakage of a birch bark canoe. It must have hit a rock while shooting the rapids.

      As for're so curious I'm sure you've passed oodles of places you'd like to stop but since you've always got a plan, you haven't taken time. Am I right? :D


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