Photographs of northern Ontario artifacts on display at North Bay Museum
He’s a professor and the founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre, but to many people, Bill Steer is known as an avid adventurer.
Nicknamed 'Back Roads' Bill, Steer has found and photographed northern Ontario ruins for decades. His stories, along with photos of his discoveries, are on display at the North Bay Museum.
“People tell me things and then I’ll do research,” he said.
To Steer, there’s a hidden find everywhere. Over the years, he’s discovered ruins of all types.
“There are so many gems on the backwaters and backroads to find,” he said. “It’s ongoing. The beauty of northern Ontario is out there in the hinterland.”
One of his favourite finds is the Red Rock. It’s an Indigenous waterway marker made by the Anishinabek peoples. It was found in northwestern Ontario on Mooseland Lake and took Steer four attempts to reach it.
“When I look at the photo of that Red Rock, I think of how long it’s been there. More than 300 years and how important it is to indigenous people,” he said.
Steer has been uncovering the past for 30 years, finding remnants of building and engineered structures.
The exhibit is called 'Ruins in the Trees: The Work of Back Roads Bill.'
Museum Director Naomi Hehn said the exhibit is all about inspiring other adventurers to explore the great outdoors and uncover the past.
“Exploring those things can really open up doors and it gets people outside finding these ruins and enjoying northern Ontario that way,” Hehn said.
For Steer, he still wants to uncover a few Hudson Bay Company trading posts.
He also discovered the remains of a downed Cold War fighter jet north of Constance Lake. The pilot was killed in the crash. Through dedicated digging, he found the pilot’s son in Colorado Springs.
“He’s going to come here when COVID is over and I’m going to take him to where his father died in that fighter jet bomber crash in the Cold War," Steer said. "That will be my next adventure.”
Steer’s exhibit will be on display all winter until May. He calls it a chance to inspire others to track down hidden northern Ontario stories.