What happened? Photographer captures abandoned places along Trans-Canada Highway

A photographer from Montreal, Que., says she was curious about why so many hotels and gas stations were abandoned along Highway 17 in northeastern Ontario, which prompted her to create the photo project called Slow 17.

Cheyenne Jenkins says hotels, gas stations abandoned because Canadians stopped travelling cross-country by car

A picture taken by photographer Cheyenne Jenkins of an abandoned motel along the Trans Canada Highway in Heyden, Ont, north of Sault Ste. Marie. (Cheyenne Jenkins)

A photographer has created an exhibit which focuses on a part of northern Ontario that tends to get overlooked.

Last summer Cheyenne Jenkins of Montreal, Que., took a road trip with a friend. It was her first time travelling in northern Ontario. While they were driving along the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 17), Jenkins started to notice abandoned motels and gas stations.

She says she was curious about why the owners of these businesses would just pick up and leave. That's when she grabbed her camera and started taking pictures.

That's how Jenkins' photo project, Slow 17, was created.

After the road trip, Jenkins says she was still curious so she did some research.
Cheyenne Jenkins is a photographer in Montreal, Que. Her photo project Slow 17 shows abandonment along Highway 17 in northeastern Ontario. (Cheyenne Jenkins)

"In the 60s a lot of people would travel up that way and while they were travelling they would stay in these hotels, and there were lots of things for them to do."

She explains it a little further. "It's about what we used to do. Things —like us as Canadians, like hobbies— that us as Canadians use to have and we don't have anymore."

'Fall of road trip culture'

"I guess with the fall of road trip culture people didn't want to do that anymore. So these hotels ended up becoming abandoned because no one was staying in them. People are flying to travel now," Jenkins says.

Her exhibit features pictures of both exterior and interior of abandoned motels and gas stations between North Bay and Heyden, just north of Sault Ste Marie.

Jenkins says she hopes those who see her work will think about taking a road trip across the country.

"It might be interesting to think about things that we can do within Canada, like instead of travelling abroad maybe we can explore our cities and our country more."

Photographing emptiness

Jenkins calls many of the abandoned sites she photographed 'creepy', and says she thought she was going to fall through the floor at many of the locations.

There are two abandoned motels across from one another in Heyden.  
One of the photos from Slow 17, a photo project by Cheyenne Jenkins of the abandoned sites along Highway 17 in northeastern Ontario. (Cheyenne Jenkins)

Jenkins says at what used to be the Heyden Motel it looked like the owners just got up and left one day.

"They had left all their things out. There was still margarine in the kitchen. I was just shocked that they would just leave their stuff," Jenkins says.

The other motel, across the street was the one she found the most scary. Part of the structure had been burned out by a fire.

"I was so creeped out in this place. There happened to be a door that was slammed shut in there because of the wind. It made me so nervous, I just ran away."

Different perspectives

Jenkins realizes that not everyone will get her artwork or her perspective on why the businesses were left empty.

"I think a lot of people were a bit argumentative with me ... about the reasons that these abandoned buildings were there. People were saying there were a million reasons that it happened."

She plans to continue the project later this summer, heading further north along Highway 17 to Thunder Bay.

"I think it's important for me to go again and try and get it from other perspectives."