Moosonee Ontario – the complete travel guide

Moosonee Ontario – the complete travel guide

The only saltwater port in Ontario Located at the edge of the arctic


Moosonee Ontario is a small isolated northern community known as “The Gateway to the Arctic” as it serves as a transportation and supply hub to many more northerly communities.

Located on the left bank of the Moose River across from nearby Moose Factory on Moose Factory Island it sits about 19 kilometres (11.5 miles) inland from James Bay and has the unique aspect of being the only saltwater port in Ontario.

Annie Hardisty and her two daughters originally settled the site of Moosonee Ontario in 1900 but in 1903 a party of 21 people from the Revillon Frères fur company arrived and set up operations. Calling the settlement Moose River Post it quickly became the centre of the company’s plan to set up a chain of fur-trading posts across the north in direct competition with the already established Hudson’s Bay Company.

The small community prospered and grew but suffered due to its isolation. While not really that far north (it is at the same latitude as Calgary, London England and Berlin Germany), it was located in the middle of a huge wilderness area and was only reachable by boat a couple of times a year as there was no direct land link.

This all changed in 1932 when a spur line of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway was constructed between Cochrane and the community which re-named itself: Moosonee (from a Cree word meaning “at the Moose River”). In 1936 Revillon Freres pulled out of Canada and sold its operations to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). The HBC also pulled out of Moosonee Ontario and the small community morphed from a fur trading community to the transportation hub it is today.

Moosonee Ontario was officially incorporated as a town in 2000 and as of today there are about 3500 people living in the general vicinity of which 85% are from the Cree First Nation.

Location of Moosonee:

Getting to Moosonee Ontario:

There is no direct road access to this remote community as the nearest road system is located approximately 149 kilometres (92.5 miles) south at the small community of Otter Rapids. There is however a winter road connecting Moosonee to Otter Rapids built across the frozen rivers and lakes. During the frigid winter months it has been reported that it takes about 6 hours to make the drive from Moosonee to Timmins Ontario.

Winter ice roads are also constructed across the Moose River to Moose Factory and over frozen water to the small coastal communities of Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Kashechewan but these mainly serve the mining industry. For the most part, do not plan on getting to Moosonee Ontario by vehicle.

By Public Transport:

As Moosonee Ontario is inaccessible by road there is no bus services available.

This is the main method of reaching Moosonee Ontario since the establishment of a rail link in 1932. The Ontario Northland Railway runs a regular passenger and freight service from the City of Cochrane called the Polar Bear Express (don’t expect to see polar bears though).

Polar Bear Express

The Polar Bear Express is a regular train service run by the Ontario Northland Railway company that began service in 1964 and runs 6 trains per week during the summer and 5 trains per week during the winter with the 300 kilometre (186 mile) journey usually taking about 5 – 5.5 hours to complete.

Leaving early in the morning from Cochrane there are 6 scheduled stops on the line but a unique aspect is that due to its route through the remote wilderness it will stop to pick up passengers when flagged by people along the line.

It also has special cars that allow passengers to carry freight such as canoes, snowmobiles, ATV’s and even cars and trucks. While used by many tourists during the summer months the train is utilized mainly by residents of northern communities that travel back and forth to Moosonee to make the journey further south as for most this is their main direct link to the outside world.

For more information visit: Polar Bear Express

For a community so small Moosonee Airport is much busier than anticipated as it does handle almost all passenger and freight traffic to more isolated and northerly communities. There is regular scheduled passenger service from Kingston and Timmins and then on to Fort Albany, Peawanuck, Waskaganishm Attawapiskat and Kaskechewan.

Private operators also utilize the Moosonee Water Aerodrome for chartered fishing and hunting adventures.

Moosonee Ontario attractions and activities

For many visitors it is the trip through the muskeg of the James Bay Lowlands on the Polar Bear Express and the fact that they are at the edge of the arctic that is the main reason that they dedicate a weekend or more to make the long journey to Moosonee.

There is however more to Moosonee Ontario than the journey itself including the beautiful Moose River views and spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

Moose Factory

No trip to Moosonee Ontario would be complete without a trip across the Moose River to nearby Moose Factory, Ontario’s oldest English speaking settlement. Visit my Moose Factory page for more information.

To put it quite simply, the fishing in the region is phenomenal. The waters of the Moose River and nearby James Bay are teaming with trophy-sized fish and it is one of the primary reasons that many people make the long journey this far north. A large network of tributaries feeds the Moose River basin and it has for the most part remained pristine and unchanged since the 1600’s when European explorer’s first arrived.

Many fly-in fishing operators offer packages to remote camps both in the interior and farther north and the entire region offers quite a variety of fish species that can be caught including:

  • Walleye
  • Sturgeon
  • Northern Pike
  • Whitefish
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Brook Trout

For more information contact one of the operators below:

Claude’s Fishing and Sightseeing Tours
Phone: 705 336-3612

Polar Bear Lodge
Phone: 705 336-2345

Ice Fishing

While not really a tourist draw during the long harsh winters, ice fishing in the Moose River basin has long played a part in the local inhabitants daily lives as a source of food. As such, ice fishing is not as much a sport as a necessity but for visitors it can provide an extremely enjoyable means of experiencing some of the best ice fishing the world has to experience.

The remote northern location of Moosonee Ontario is teeming with wildlife and as the name entails, especially moose. Many outfitters operate in the region as some of the best moose hunting in the world is found in the Moose River basin. Hunters arrive by either flying-in or along the Polar Bear Express. Moose hunting season runs from September 17th until December 15th.

While moose hunting is definitely the main draw other species hunted in the region include:


Canoes have always been the main means of transportation along the Moose River and its tributaries since the first days of human penetration. Originally by the First Nations peoples and then by the explorers, voyageurs and fur traders that followed. Today it is still a well-used mode of transport and many people from across the world make the trip to this isolated outpost just to participate in the pastime in one of the most pristine wilderness’s in the world.

Please note that this is wilderness country at its best so only experienced paddlers or those using a guide should attempt to travel along the Moose River. Additionally the Moose River widens immensely at its mouth and small canoes and or kayaks should not attempt to navigate its choppy waters.

At least one local outfitter has attempted to re-create the voyages of the past and offers a guided tour from Smooth Rock Falls to Moosonee Ontario along the Abitibi River 1430 kilometres (78 miles) away.

Wildlife Viewing

Fur trading is what first drew explorers into the region and today it is the abundance of wildlife and the expansive open spaces that continue to lure travelers today.

Visitors have a chance to see many species including:

  • Moose
  • Black Bear
  • Deer
  • Woodland Caribou
  • Marten
  • Fox
  • Beaver

Do not however expect to see any Polar Bears. While they do on occasion wander into the area it is more by mistake than anything else. Sightings are very, very rare.

Moose River Bird Sanctuary

Located at the mouth of the Moose River where it meets James Bay is the Moose River Bird Sanctuary that includes Ship Sands Island. This 15 sq. kilometre (6 sq. mile) tidal flats is a protected wetland complex that lies along a significant migratory path for waterfowl that is one of the most important in the world. Each autumn it teems with many species of birds including:

  • Lesser Snow Geese
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Common Snipe
  • American Black Duck
  • Dabbling Duck
  • Short-billed Dowitcher
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Green-winged Teal
  • American Golden Plover
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Dunlin
  • Red Breasted Merganser

The mudflats, marshes and shoals are also important breeding grounds for quite a few species including:

  • Yellow Rail
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Le Contes Sparrow
  • Nelsons Sharp-tailed Sparrow
  • Northern Harrier

Other species that can also be found in the area include:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Common Loon
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Lapland Longspur
  • Snow Bunting

The salty arctic coastal waters of James Bay are also abundant in marine life and attract many visitors to the area with the best time of the year to spot them being spring and the fall.

Species commonly sighted include:

Local guides can be hired for the day to take you on an excursion on a freighter canoe downriver to the mouth of the mighty Moose River where it meets James Bay but costs tend to be quite expensive.

M.V. Polar Princess

You will see some information online regarding tours about the M. V Polar Princess cruiser. I have tried contacting the company that operates the tours and it seems it is no longer in business. My suggestion is to disregard any information you find about tours offered by this company online.

In the winter months Moosonee Ontario is also connected to Cochrane along a 366 kilometre (224 mile) groomed snowmobile trail. A few outfitters offer a guided service for a return trip along this trail. Please be forewarned that it is recommended that ONLY a guided service be utilized if you intend to partake in this adventure, as you will be traveling through remote uninhabited wilderness.

Once in Moosonee you will find that for most locals the snowmobile or dogsled is the only means of transportation available for winter travel.

Dog Sledding

The groomed snowmobile trail is also utilized by dog sleds but be forewarned that not much traffic passes along its length and it will be an isolated and lonely adventure to traverse its length.

Camping was available at Tidewater Provincial Park just offshore in the middle of the Moose River but the Ontario government decided not to operate any facilities in the park in 2013 as they felt the costs were not justified by the minimal visitors the park attracted. It remains to be seen whether they will ever reopen the campground for overnight use.

Wilderness camping is available on the shore of the Moose River but is not really recommended as there are no facilities, weather can be unpredictable and safety is always an issue.

Railway Car Museum

This small unique museum is located on First Street and is housed in an old baggage car of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway Company. Only open during the height of the “tourist season” in July and August it has artifacts and displays highlighting the rich cultural history of the Moosonee Ontario area.

Almost every visitor that makes the trek to the area invariably makes a quick stop at the museum and it should only take about 10 minutes off your time to go through.

MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) Interpretive Centre

Located on Revillion Road in the local office of the Ministry of Natural Resources it features video vignettes and displays of the local wildlife and geographical features to be found in the region surrounding Moosonee. Only open in July and August it is worthy of a short visit and expect to spend only about ½ hour visiting.

Revillon Frères Museum

This now closed museum featured the history of the Révillon Frères Company, at one time one of the largest fur companies in the world. Housed in the oldest home in Moosonee displays included artifacts from Moosonee, Hudson Bay and James Bay and photos of Moosonee’s development and the importance of the fur trade to its existence.

At one time the headquarters on the companies North American fur trading operations local leaders are trying to have the museum re-opened as the companies importance in the development of the community is undeniable.

Christ the King Cathedral Church

While not on the scale of some of the great cathedrals I have visited around the world the Christ the King Cathedral is still worthy of a visit for its historical importance. Located on First Street it was opened in 1938 and is the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Moosonee.

Anglican Church

Located on Revillion Road the church is important in local history as Anglican missionaries first forayed into the area in the 1780’s to work with local First Nations peoples from the Cree and Ojibway nations.

The Diocese of Moosonee was created in 1872 with headquarters in nearby Moose Factory and today it is the second largest Anglican Diocese in Canada with its headquarters in Timmins Ontario.

Northern Lights

Being devoid of any pollution in its clear skies this is one of the best places in the province to see this amazing natural phenomenon. They are however unpredictable and you cannot be guaranteed to see them on your northern journey.


Don’t expect 5 star hotels in this remote community. The following options are available for overnight stays: