Previous Post: Paddling Around Philip Edward Island – Part One
Day Three: From Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (26 Km.)
Day Three route – Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (Collins Inlet)
The first thing we did after our late get-up (7:45!) was climb back up to the top of Big Rock for some morning shots of Georgian Bay to the south and west and of Big Rock Bay immediately below us. It was a beginning of a sunny day with next to no wind and the paddling would prove to be easy.
Georgian Bay’s Fox Archipelago as seen from Big Rock Bay top
While we were up there we would see the only other paddlers of our four-day trip pass by below. They were headed west towards the Fox Archipelago.
canoe heading towards the Foxes
looking over Big Rock Bay from the summit view-point
looking towards the La Cloche Range from Big Bay Rock top
Before leaving home I had gone though my copy of In The Footsteps of the Group of Seven by Jim and Sue Waddington to see if any of the sites they identified were in the area where we would be paddling. While I didn’t find any mention, it was still easy to imagine a Group of Seven painter sitting with paints and board up on top of Big Rock and taking in the scene. Jim Waddington would later confirm that the group never made it up to the Philip Edward Island area with this comment –
Although Tom Thomson and the group seem to have explored much of Georgian Bay, I haven’t found anything that they did between Killarney and the French River. (Thomson sketched at the mouth of the French and paddled up it.) They usually travelled by train and then canoe so they would not have had a convenient way to Philip Edward Island. Too bad. [See here for the source.]
Georgian Bay view from Big Rock Bay viewpoint
Before leaving our campsite, we did get a shot of it and the Big Rock top where we had spent some quality time. In the pic below the campsite is on the middle right and Big Rock is on top left. Then it was time to move on.
a view of Big Rock Bay campsite and the Big Rock behind it
cottages on the way to Hincks island
Given the tranquil water we found ourselves paddling across open stretches that we would normally have avoided in favour of a more protected route behind the scattered rocks and islands. We were treated to more Georgian Bay eye-candy as we paddled into one great photo op after another.
heading down a protected channel near Hincks island on Georgian Bay
one stern paddler at work
Hincks Island stop
We went for a ramble on Hincks Island, checking out potential tent spots and putting our Helinox chairs together so we could sit while we enjoyed a Gatorade and Clifbar break. It was 11 a.m. and we had reached the east end of Philip Edward Island. We could have stopped at Hincks and chilled for the day – it certainly was scenic enough. However, we would prove once again that at heart we are canoe trippers as opposed to canoe campers. We decided it was way too early to stop and figured that lunch at the top of Beaverstone Bay and then maybe a campsite near there would make more sense. So off we went, making easy progress.
The Coast Guard boat leaving Beaverstone Bay for Collins Inlet
By 12:30 we had paddled the eight-kilometers to the top of Beaverstone Bay and stopped for lunch. We watched a Coast Guard boat chug by and enter Collins Inlet while we sat in the shade and sipped on our Thai noodle soups and munched on our Wasa bread with peanut butter.
Coast Guard boat passing by at the top of Beaverstone Bay
Then it was time to find a campsite. There was one indicated across from the used-to-be lumber mill community of Collins Inlet. We figured it would make for a good spot. I was also expecting to see a marina there and meet boaters passing through the Inlet; I even suggested that we could have a second lunch at the restaurant!
The state of the village dock in the image below was the first clue that my expectations were pure fantasy! The village of Collins Inlet died in 1917 when the lumber mill burned down; some of the pillars of the dock are amazingly still standing after 100 years of ice and thaw.
the remains of Collins Inlet village dock – 100 years later
The Mill Lake Lodge sits directly cross from the remains of the dock. The Lodge consists of six cabins and the main building; it looks to be well-maintained and is definitely open for business. While we did not see anyone as we paddled by, that could be because the fishermen it caters to were all out for the day.
Mill Lake Lodge across from the Mahzenazing Lodge
Mill Lake Lodge dock and buildings
Across from the Mill Lake Lodge is Mahzenazing Lodge and the remains of the once-thriving community of Collins Inlet. When the mill burnt down the site was essentially abandoned until someone turned what was left into a fishing and hunting lodge. The 49-acre property is surrounded by the Grondine Indian Reserve on three sides and is billed as boat-access-only.
Mahzenazing Lodge:Mill Lake Lodge area
As we paddled towards the mouth of the Mahzenazing River and the entrance to the Mahzenazing property we noticed the billboard below, complete with a realty sign affixed to it. A bit of research after I got home turned up some info on the property – it is listed for sale at $749,000. by Narozanski North Realty Inc. From the unkept look of the site it is clear that it has not functioned as a lodge for a few years. Abandoned machinery sat there and at least a half-dozen “Private Property/No Tresspassing” signs told us we were not welcome but nobody seemed to be around to reinforce the message.
Boundaries of Mahzenazing Lodge Property
And that marina and restaurant – as if! Only in my imagination!
the rock face just to the west of the mouth of the Mahzenazing River and the entrance to Mahzenazing Lodge
looking down to the mouth of the Mahzenazing R – the building on the right served as the bait house when the lodge was open
end of our paddle up the Mahzenazing R.
Leaving the Mahzenazing Lodge property, we paddled back out to the Inlet. Not having seen the campsite supposedly just east of the Mill Lake Lodge, we paddled west and continued our search. We had as our guide Jeff’s Killarney Map which indicated a few spots along the Inlet and down into Mill Lake. Our eventual conclusion after a few futile searches: what makes up a campsite may depend on whether you use a tent or a hammock and, if a tent, whether it is a 1, 2, or 4-person one.
campsite hunting on Collins Inlet – Max waiting for the word
Over the next hour we paddled down Mill Lake as far as the south end of Green Island and checked out three different marked sites and a couple of unmarked ones that at first glance looked promising. Each time we refused to believe that was the best we could do. Finally, we admitted defeat and paddled back to the site directly across from the continuation of the Inlet on the west side of Mill Lake. We’d rate it a notch or two above “it’ll have to do”!
Collins Inlet campsites on Jeff’s Killarney map
A bit of work and our four-person MEC Wanderer was up for the night. There was also room there for another tent – a two-person. Not shown in the pic below is the flat rock on the shore that made for a nice exposed eating area. That night – with no wind and no sound of the waves – would be the quietest of the three we spent!
Collins Inlet campsite – the best of five we looked at
Mill Lake shoreline by our campsite
Day Four: From Mill Lake to The Chikanishing River Take-Out Point
The home stretch – the 16 kilometers of Collins Inlet back to the Chikanishing parking lot. This “inside passage” from Beaverstone Bay all the way across the north side of Philip Edward Island was a favourite of the voyageurs of old, as it gave them a brief respite from the potentially turbulent waters of Georgian Bay.
We were actually a day early and in retrospect should perhaps have spent another day on the Georgian Bay side relaxing on Hincks Island.
Collins Inlet – stretch of rock with pictographs -enlarge to see arrow indicators!
Just beyond Ambush Narrows, said to be the site of an Ojibwe ambush of invading Iroquois warriors during the Algonquian/Iroquoian War of the mid-1600’s, we paddled up to the Collins Inlet pictograph site. On the rock face are five faded red ochre rock paintings left by Ojibwe shamans or vision questers sometime in the last three or four hundred years.
looking west at the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs
The pictograph site is made up of one panel with four pictographs, one on top of the other. About two feet to the left of this vertical panel is a lone thunderbird image, barely discernible. See the image below.
Collins Inlet Pictographs
Here is a sketch from Selwyn Dewdney’s classic Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes.
Dewdney sketch of Collins Inlet
Of the more than 260 sites he would eventually visit, the Collins Inlet site was #39; he was there early in the summer in 1959, having been at Mazinaw Lake (#37, #38) in the days just before. He would go from Collins Inlet up to Temagami to see the Diamond Lake site (#40) afterwards. Of this site he writes –
The Collins Bay site is in the conventional red again, on the rock-lined inner passage that the voyageurs used when Georgian Bay got too rough for comfort. Here is an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site. Here again is our ubiquitous — though somewhat battered — thunderbird, and tally marks, I should judge, rather than the alternative canoe.
(Click on the blue title above to access a copy of the book. See pp. 92-93 for the Collins Inlet coverage.)
Dewdney describes the bottom pictograph as a row of tally marks; I count twelve lines in his sketch. As he mentions, an alternative explanation is of a canoe with riders, indicated by the vertical lines. I’d go with the canoe. A calcite vein interrupts the canoe but you can see the continuation on the bottom right of the image below with four more riders indicated. This canoe image is a common one in the Canadian Shield pictograph country and is often interpreted as a war canoe with a number of warriors and as a symbol of strength and power. This may be why it appears so close to Ambush Narrows.
Above the canoe is an image which most will assume is that of the Christian cross. However, if it is indeed a cross it should also be noted that the cross was used as an Ojibwe symbol before the arrival of the Jesuits. More likely is that it is a stylized and simple representation of Animikii, the Thunderbird if that is a beak indicated at the top of the vertical line. From Dewdney’s comment about a “ubiquitous – though somewhat battered – thunderbird” it would seem he went with this interpretation. This seems to be the right way to look at it.
Above the Animikii or cross image is what appears to be the body of an animal, probably a moose. It may also be a crude representation of Mishipeshu, the underwater lynx. Missing is a head!
horned snake picto at Diamond Lake
The zig zag lines at the very top of this small panel – well, who can say. In Dewdney’s sketch they are not even indicated. Perhaps the pictograph depicts the two-horned snake (Mishiginebig in Ojibwe) often depicted along with Mishipeshu. Its head and horns would be at the right side – i.e. the part of the rock painting that Dewdney did capture. It is the horned snake image at Diamond Lake in Temagami that I thought of as I tried to make sense of the zig zag lines here.
These pictographs face south and are quite exposed. Given all the human activity in the Inlet since they were painted here with the mixture of ground hematite and fish oil some three hundred years ago or so, it is nice to see that their presence has been respected by non-Indian passerby going all the way back to Samuel de Champlain in 1615 (unless his trip down the Inlet pre-dated their painting).
the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet
N.B. Some of the above analysis I provided may be totally off the mark! While Animikii, Mishipeshu, and Mishiginebig are indeed figures from Ojibwe myth and were common subjects to be painted, the human mind has a knack for finding – imposing – meaning and connection on random events and markings.
In the end we just appreciate the fact that we can sit in our canoe in the same spot that an Ojibwe shaman sat or stood in as he dipped his fingers in the ochre liquid and reached out for the rock face intent on drawing specific images taken from his culture’s mythological image bank.
To the left of the vertical panel is a lone painting seen in the image below. Without a doubt it is of Animikii and is done in classic style. Looking at Dewdney’s sketch of the image, he did not capture much of it the day he was there. The angle of the sun, the possible lichen covering part of the image…who can say why!
Collins Inlet – lone Thunderbird pictograph
There is some minor evidence of graffiti a few feet west of the pictographs. In the image below you can see the initials J.P. in the middle. Just above them is the year number 1939 and more initials.
graffiti on the rock face to the west of the pictographs
As we paddled down the Inlet away from the pictographs our thoughts turned to something more mundane – fish and chips at the “World Famous” stand/restaurant in Killarney! Now we were motivated to finish off our canoe trip and drive into town, a few kilometers from the Chikanishing Road parking lot.
Blue skies and almost-ripple free water provided ideal paddling conditions. We did note a good campsite or two on our left (the P.E.I. side) as we got closer to the mouth of the Chikanishing River.
looking east down Collins Inlet
As we approached, a party of five or six canoes were heading out in the Bay; we caught the first two as they waited for the others. It was a Thursday; they would have more fabulous weather right through the weekend as they did their island hopping among the Foxes and the Hawks.
kayakers coming out of the mouth of the Chikanishing River
It was my first visit to the fish and chips place. My brother’s memory of the place went back to the 1980’s when it was simply a stand and not the elaborate building you see below.
Fish and Chips Place in Killarney
Immediately across the street from the restaurant is an empty corner lot. Just as we pulled into the parking lot the drums of the powwow starting beating; members of the Wikwemikong First Nation of Manitoulin Island and their guests were just beginning a celebration. (The Grondine Reserve north of Philip Edward Island is part of the greater Wikwemikong community.)
Speeches by Members of Parliament and elders were followed by a circle dance, some of which I captured on video below.
Killarney Powwow participants
Taking in the speeches and watching the dancing provided a great ending to our fantastic four-day paddle. The wind and waves we had spent the days leading up to the trip worrying about proved to be fairly benign and we got to experience a beautiful little slice of our province.
Six hours after leaving Killarney we were on the shores of Lake Ontario – beautiful in itself and in its own way – but also a world away from the beauty of Killarney and the isolated north shore of Georgian Bay.
If You Want To Do this Canoe or Kayak Trip:
The most useful bit of writing on Philip Edward Island and the loop around the island is Chapter 4 in Kas Stone’s Paddling and Hiking The Georgian Bay Coast. An excellent overview map and a list of some twenty major sites to visit as well as a detailed natural and cultural history which puts everything into context makes it an essential read before you go. I have a copy on my bookshelf. We brought a photocopy along for the ride.
Kevin Callan has a chapter on Philip Edward island loop in a couple of his books. I found it in his Top Fifty Canoe Routes of Ontario. It is also in A Paddler’s Guide to Killarney and the French River. It has less detailed info than the Stone chapter but does provide the usual Callan drama and humour to entertain the reader. It’s worth checking out to see what he emphasizes in his account.
If you want a bit more history then a recent Callan book – Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer has brief chapter on P.E.I. and Collins Inlet. You can read it (pages 99-102) on-line here at the Google Books website.
Killarney Outfitters has a useful webpage that will probably answer any question you might have about the logistics of a canoe or kayak trip in the waters of northern Georgian Bay. See here for their trip planning advice.
Your best single map for this trip is Jeff’s Killarney & The Georgian Bay Coast map. A waterproof plastic version of the map can be found at a MEC outlet or at the George Lake Park Shop where you also pay for your parking permit. Or – you can download a copy and print out the bit that you need yourself. See here for the for various file download options – jpg, kmz (Google Earth), Garmin GPS, and iPhone and Android options.
Another good map is the ChrisMar map Philip Edward Island & Area, also waterproof. However, it does not give any campsite info or pictograph locations.
We also brought along our Garmin GPS devices. Given the maze of islands that you’re paddling through a gps device with the Topo Canada maps (version 4.0) is definitely useful. If you don’t have a dedicated gps device, your iPhone will probably do just fine.
They were not really necessary but we also printed off the bits of a couple of topo 1:50,000 Federal Government topographic maps. You can access them at jeffstopos.com Look for Collins Inlet– 041H14 – and Lake Panache – 041I03.
If you have Google Earth installed on your computer here is the 2.8 mb kml file of our trip.
Mad About The Bay, a book of perhaps thirty photographs by William Harris and text by Elizabeth MacCallum and John Fraser, was published in 2004. I found it in the public library two years later and it prompted a one-week canoe trip in Massassagua Provincial Park that very summer. Using the latest technology, Harris provided a modern take on the Group of Seven’s vision from the 1920’s and 30’s. I wanted to capture some of the feel of Harris’ digitally-enhanced Georgian Bay images. While I wasn’t successful, on the plus side I was now aware of the Georgian Bay coast as a fantastic paddling destination and as a great place to frame beguiling images in my viewfinder!
Our Massassagua Park visit was done in August with way too many people around. Also, we got to paddle in a thick ugly smog that had blown all the way up from the Ohio Valley via southern Ontario. No escape that summer! I will admit that the greater isolation of the Killarney area, the better weather we had this year, and the fact that we were there just before the summer holiday season during the week made for a much better trip.
Mad About The Bay shows up on the Amazon site – see here for its current status. If you are a Toronto Public Library card holder, the system has ten copies available. You can reserve your copy here.
The Future Status of Philip Edward Island:
Currently P.E.I. and the other small island archipelagos south of Collins Inlet and Beaverstone Bay are Crown Land and open to all. The map below shows the southern boundary of Killarney Park and of the Point Grondine Reserve (since 1968 a part of the Wikwemikong First Nation which is located on the east side of Manitoulin Island). Free camping is not allowed on Point Grondine land; however, in August of 2015 Point Grondine Park opened with day and overnight hiking trails developed with the help of Killarney staff. There are two designated campsites in the Killarney P. P. stretch of Collins Inlet. You can camp for free on the other side of the inlet on P.E.I.!
A Toronto Star article from September 10, 2015 provides some basic information about the planned change in land ownership: Access To Pristine Land At Stake In First Nations Deal.
A post last August in the Canadian Canoe Routes forum alerted readers to the potential change in the status of Philip Edward Island. Depending how things unfold, it may become a part of the Wikwemikong First Nation and what that would mean to its accessibility to the paddling community is unclear. Click on the blue link below to read some informed and passionate responses from fellow paddlers to the land claims issue – Important Message about Philip Edward Island & area