Day 10 – From West To East Across Lady Evelyn Lake
- distance: 18.5 km with a pass by of Garden Island Lodge
- time: 8:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 0/0
- weather: cloudy, overcast, everything from misty to full-on downpour
- campsite: official signed site on Mattawapika Island; 2-3 2p tents, one good 4-P site near the fire pit.
- Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake.
We woke up to light rain. The weather forecast called for an overcast morning with a 40% chance of rain which would increase to 80% by 1:00. Light wind from the SW was also on the menu. We had decided to put in some kilometers before the big rains came; three or four hours would allow us to paddle all the way to the east end of the lake. While a number of the islands are private land – cottages or fishing lodges – there are more than a few campsite choices, as the map below indicates.
The first job – as always – was to put most of the contents that were inside the tent back into their jars, containers, Ziploc bags, compression sacs, etc – and then put everything inside the Watershed duffle that holds all our must-stay-dry things.
While Max took down the tent, I retrieved our food bag and got breakfast ready. Since the tarps were already up from the night before, the tent underneath came down dry and we had a dry spot for breakfast.
We took a last look at our campsite; it is on an elevated section of a gravel/sand deposit left by the last retreating glacier some 12,000 years ago.
Lady Evelyn Before & After The Flooding:
Later when we pushed off from the spit, we took the shot above and wondered if the site was the same as the location referred to as Preacher’s Point on a map at the Garden Island Fishing Lodge website.
We also considered the possibility that the spit we had camped on was the site of the cabin and small garden area belonging to Wendaban, the mid-to-late 1800s Ojibwe owner of the hunting grounds of which Lady Evelyn Lake formed the core. A map drawn by F.G. Speck in 1913 with the input of Ojibwe residents of Bear Island indicates Wendaban’s territory as #24. [See the end of the day’s post for more on the Wendaban story and possible locations of his cabin.]
When it comes to Lady Evelyn Lake, there is one big problem in trying to find shoreline locations like that of Wedaban’s house from 150 years ago – the shoreline has changed dramatically! Looking at Speck’s map from 1913, it is clear that back then, Lady Evelyn Lake was essentially the section of the lake we think of these days as the south arm.
At the south end was Lady Evelyn Falls, where the water tumbled down from Diamond Lake ( previous Ojibwe name – Nonwakaming Lake). Beyond Obisaga Narrows to the east, Speck’s map shows the Lake narrowing significantly as it flows to Mattawapika Falls and the final plunge down to the Montreal River near James Mowat’s farm, which was established around 1900.
This map below was produced by a 1900 Ontario Gov’t sponsored survey team commissioned to explore/survey this part of northeastern Ontario as the first step of opening up the area to the exploitation of lumber and mineral resources and for colonization. It provides a more detailed view of Lady Evelyn Lake; it also labelled the long narrow stretch above the Falls as Mattawapika Lake.
Another map – this one from 1907 – labels things a bit differently. While it only shows the top part of Lady Evelyn Lake, it does show the section from Obisaga Narrows to the Montreal River.
Even a cursory look at a recent map of Lady Evelyn Lake will make clear the impact of the dam. It was constructed at Mattawapika Falls – the first in 1915 was followed by a much higher one in 1925 – and is said to have raised the water level of the lake by 5 meters.
What was a fairly narrow river passage from Obisaga Narrows eastward became a man-made lake rivalling the pre-1925 Lady Evelyn Lake on the west side of the Narrows! The south side was especially affected by the higher water level. However, all the way west to Willow Island Lake, old shorelines disappeared and new bays and lakes appeared.
So too did rapids and waterfalls as the higher water level covered them up!
- Gone, for example, was Willow Island Falls, a 5′ high falls at the north end of the lake.
- Also gone at the south end of the lake, where Diamond Lake’s outflow tumbles into Lady Evelyn, was Lady Evelyn Falls. These days there is a one-foot shelf that involves a short carry-over or a paddle down if water conditions allow.
- Both pre-1925 maps above indicate a Mattawapika Lake. This may be based on a once-set of rapids that made the distinction between the two lakes possible. Those rapids would also have disappeared.
Paddling East on Lady Evelyn Lake:
We passed the north side of Garden Island and looked over at the Lodge, the furthest west of the fishing lodges on Lady Evelyn Lake.
In spite of our expectation of lots of motorboat traffic as we headed east towards the dam, it turned out to be no more than three or four over the day and a half that we were in motorboat territory. Being mid-week in September after Labour Day probably had something to do with it!
There are no signs announcing the fact but as we paddled into Obisaga Narrows we were leaving Obabika River Provincial Park and entering the East Lady Evelyn Lake Conservation Reserve.
The sun captured in the image above was so noteworthy – it lasted for seconds and would be all be got this particular day! – that I had to get a shot. The image also shows a glass-like Lady Evelyn surface – the wind had died down from the afternoon and evening before. It would only pick up again in mid-afternoon.
As we had seen at the south end of Willow Island Lake and in the west bay of Sucker Gut Lake, we now got more charred pine trunks on the north side of Lady Evelyn. You’d think that after 100 years those tree trunks would have rotted or fallen- but apparently not. We have come to think of them as middle finger salutes from the lumber companies responsible.
Our route across the lake after Obisaga Narrows was one that followed the south shore. The mist and light spit of the morning turned into more of drizzle as we were paddling past the long, narrow slivers of sand known as the Obawanga Dunes. Since it was time for a lunch break, we started scanning the tops for a possible place to set up our Helinox chairs. The sign on the tree below – a sign we’d never seen before – drew our attention to the spot. On the sign are what look like a tarp and a tent – we figured it was an emergency shelter spot indication! About a minute after our 10’x14′ silnylon tarp was up it started raining heavily – and then it came down even more heavily! In the next 45 minutes, we got more than a day’s worth of rain while we enjoyed lunch and coffee underneath our tarp. Lucky timing!
As noted above, there are quite a few campsite options at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake. We paddled past the Ellen Island Camp, a fishing lodge made up of six cottages and the main lodge. Then we headed to the south-western tip of Mattawapika Island. The site we found was of the “it’ll do” grade with the earth wet and muddy thanks to the rain and a messy campsite left by some fishing boat party. The only relatively flat spot for our 4-P tent was fairly close to the firepit. Smaller tents will have an easier time of it!
We had just gotten off the water as the wind started to blow a little harder – now it was coming from the northwest. Temperatures were expected to drop to freezing overnight; a new weather system was moving in! One thing that it was forecast to include was much more sunshine than we had seen in days.
Looking at the Garmin inReach’s weather forecast we got the summary you see below. Had that been the forecast two days before we’d have been on Hobart Lake looking up to the Maple Mountain ridge. Instead, thanks to the weather cards we had been dealt, we’d decided to paddle out the next morning.
What’s With All the History Stuff?
Given that I am not into hunting or fishing and prefer butane stove cooking to messy campfires, I still remember the initial hesitation before uploading my first canoe trip report. What could my reports possibly include that would be of use or interest to potential future paddlers? I’d never be able to include a photo of me proudly thrusting the impressive walleye below in my outstretched arms! There’d be no images of a campfire fish fry in my report.
Well, over the years I’ve come to realize that what I am holding in my outstretched arms is not a prize fish but something else that I, a lifelong history nerd and 35-year high school teacher of history-related subjects, find personally fulfilling. Including in my reports what I learn about the history of places paddled or trekked and the stories of the people that live(d) there – that is what I angle for!
While learning about the flooding of the lake definitely helped us make sense of the landscape/waterscape we were seeing, our brief entry into the world of the Ojibwe inhabitants of Temagami provided an added human dimension that enriched our trip down the Lady Evelyn from top to bottom.
It was Wendaban’s story that I found most intriguing. It was finding F.G. Speck’s Report that opened my eyes to the world of the mid-to-late 19th C world of the Temagami Ojibwe. And, as usually happens, in answering a few questions it has brought to light even more that I now need to find answers too!
Click on the title below to access Speck’s report in pdf format:
Family Hunting Territories and Social Life of Various Algonkian Bands of the Ottawa Valley. F.G. Speck. Ottawa: Government Printing Press, 1915.
Wendaban’s Story & The Flooding of the Lake:
Wendaban’s Life – Some Background Information:
Thor Conway’s book Secrets of the Temagami Wilderness includes a chapter on Wendaban, who is presented as a legendary and powerful Ojibwe shaman. Writes Conway:
If you envision Wendaban as Merlin the Druid of King Arthur’s tribal world, you would understand the nature of his powers and his unique position within tribal society.
How accurate a portrayal of Wendaban Conway presents is open to question.
It may be that Conway’s Wendaban is as fictional a character as Merlin was, a handy receptacle for the fantasies of storytellers who made of him what their narratives required. According to Conway, he was born circa 1818 and died in 1894; he was the son of Wabigan and the brother (younger?) of Ke’kek. From their father they inherited their hunting grounds with Wendaban, as noted above, getting the territory contained in #27 and Ke’Kek receiving the larger 24.
This information comes from the report written by F.G. Speck who spent time on Bear Island in 1913 with the Ojibwe community living around the Hudson Bay Company post there. (There is a link to his report a few lines above.)
In the 1840s an Ojibwe by the name of Misabi came up from Lake Nipissing, perhaps from the Shawanaga area. Given that Misabi married Ke’kek’s daughter and his sister married Wendaban, it may be that it was an arranged marriage that drew them both to Temagami. Conway tells the story of their meeting this way –
Wendaban met his wife, Old Misabi’s sister, during his travels to Lake Nipissing or Georgian Bay. She belonged to a Beaver Clan family living at Shawanaga…
Not clear is what business he would have that would draw him away from Lady Evelyn Lake to Nipissing “during his travels”. However, his connection with Nipissing is well attested. Government records show that from 1856 to 1883 Wendaban collected government money in 22 of them as a member of the Nipissing band. He may have made a home with his wife in her community as opposed to them spending all their time in Temagami. Not stated is when his wife died. Conway does tell the reader this –
Despite his powers over fertility and interaction with the replenishment of life for his tribe, Wendaban and his wife did not have children. So, Wendaban’s line died out.
As I read “Powers over fertility and interaction with the replenishment of life” I thought – What can this flurry of words even mean?
The Location of Wendaban’s House:
The map from 1907 below indicates a couple of locations that may correspond to that of Wedaban’s house.
If the “Indian House” located on the north shore of the lake is the location, then it was very near to where our campsite was. Looking at the current map of the area, the campsite seems to fit fairly closely with the location of the “Indian house” although a point just to the east is also possible.
Craig Macdonald’s Nastawgan map (see here) also locates Wedaban’s home in this approximate location. He labels it A-mik Tigwan Ago-ji-Gonay N. which translates as Place of the Hanging Beaver Skulls. Apparently, Wendaban decorated his property with the dangling bones of various animals, including the amik or beaver.
Another possibility is that his homestead could be the “Indian Cabin” located near the entrance of Obisaga Narrows and close to the Temagami Forest Reserve cabin nearby. (The TFR was created in 1898 so the TFR cabin was likely built after that for use by the fire rangers. It would not have been there in Wendaban’s time.)
The Flooding Of Wendaban’s House:
Conway leaves the reader with one last Wendaban story; it is connected to the flooding of Lady Evelyn Lake caused by the dam at Mattawapika Falls.
Early dams were built to assist logging drives. The flooding waters forced Wendaban from his home on an ancient point of land marked by skulls and mystery. According to Madeleine Katt Theriault, Wendaban returned home to find his log home floating a gradually sinking into the lake. Floodwaters covered his gardens causing a loss of important foods meant for storage into the winter months. The old man was driven from his lifelong home on Lady Evelyn Lake.
The earliest account of a dam built at the outlet of Lady Evelyn Lake – i.e. where the Mattawapika Dam stands today – is 1915. (See here for more info.) Its impact was not all that large. It was the 1925 construction of a much higher dam that would alter the nature of Lady Evelyn Lake from the dam all the way west to what became Sucker Gut Lake.
The story of the old yet still feared shaman paddling home only to see his cabin floating and gradually sinking into the lake is heart-breaking. The detail about the flooding of the gardens adds to the pathos of the scene. The story is also false. [To be clear, false as in false memory and not false as in intentional misstatement.]
Conway notes that he got the story from Madeline Theriault (1908-2000). She was born into an Ojibwe family on Bear Island and is the author of Moose To Mocassins, an account of her life in the Temagami area with an emphasis on how she and her family lived the late 1800s version of a traditional “off the land” lifestyle until 1940 when her first husband Alex Mathias died.
Most details ring true and it is clear that she has lived them. A few do not, and the Wendaban cabin story is one of them. The problem is that Wendaban died in 1894, long before the first dam was built (1915). Wendaban did not return home to find his log home floating a gradually sinking into the lake!
What the story told by Theriault does is transfer to the legend of Wendaban the shock and upset that the Temagami Ojibwe obviously felt with the massive flooding of the 1925 Mattawapika Dam. Theriault would have been 17 at the time.
In 1942, another dam was constructed at the outlet of Diamond Lake where it tumbles into the south end of Lady Evelyn. As a result, the lake’s water level rose a few feet and a cabin or two was probably flooded; as well, some pictographs at the site just south of the lake’s outlet were submerged, as well as others just below the lake’s outlet at Lady Evelyn Falls.
Not once in her memoir does she mention the flooding of either Lady Evelyn Lake or of Diamond Lake.
So, the flooding was real; it just did not happen in Wendaban’s time. Without a doubt, Theriault’s occasional retelling of the Wendaban flood story would have evoked the indignation, disgust, and sympathy it was meant to.
Day 11 – From Mattawapika Is. CS To The Dam and Down To Mowat Landing
- distance: 9.4 km
- time: 8:15 start – 9:25 (at dam) – 9:50 (portage done) – 10:05 (Mowat Landing)
- portages/rapids: 1/0; around Madawaska Dam
- weather: cool (1ºC when we got up) but gloriously sunny – the sunniest day so far!
- Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake; 031 M 05 _ Cobalt
We got up to a beautiful morning at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake. The sky was blue, mist was rising off the lake, and the temperature was about 4ºC, which didn’t feel so bad thanks to that sun.
We were on our way by 8:15 and by 9:25 had paddled the seven kilometers to the top of the Mattawapika Dam. One taxi boat passed us but that was about it for traffic. Once at the dam, we were directed from the motorboat launch to the canoers’ take-out spot, which knocked 30 meters or so off our eventual 275-meter portage.
When we got to the landing we met a couple of other canoe parties. Two guys were just setting off for their annual visit to Maple Mountain. They wanted to know how bad we had found Lady Evelyn, thanks to its reputation as a tough slog when the prevailing winds from the SW or NW kick in. We told them things were looking good.
The other group was, like us, exiting and heading to vehicles parked at Mowat Landing. Unlike us, they had spent the two previous days rain-bound at a campsite on Lady Evelyn Lake. While they had intended to paddle to Maple Mountain, the rain had convinced them otherwise. Meanwhile, we had paddled all the way from the South Channel and Willow Island Lake!
It is under two kilometers from the bottom of the dam to the public dock at Mowat Landing. Along the way, we passed White Pine Lodge on the west side of the Montreal River. The red roofs of the lodge’s cabins are visible in the image below – and in the satellite image that follows.
Mowat Landing is named after the Mowat family. It was James Mowat who established a farm on the west side of the Montreal River in the year 1900. The area indicated on the map below is only a 5-acre piece of the original larger farm. His son Charles Mowat (1886-1966) would spend most of his life living there.
Edward F. Mantle wrote up the Mowat family story after a series of conversations with Charles in the late 1950s and early ’60s; read the account at the website here or download an edited pdf file here. The website will also give you access to all sorts of interesting biographical info on the early residents and local history of the Latchford/Mowat landing/Elk Lake area.
After landing at the public dock, we retrieved our vehicle from Mowat Landing Cottages. As mentioned in the initial post, we had camped on their property after driving up from Toronto; the next morning Lisa drove with us in our vehicle to the put-in off Beauty Lake Road where it crosses the Montreal River and then drove the car back to their Mowat Landing Cottages property. The camp spot by the river ($35.), the shuttle ($250.) and the car parking ($60.) solved all of the logistical problems of a canoe trip that is not a loop.
The initial post has information on two other commercial shuttle possibilities. Since they start off 70 kilometers south in Temagami Village or just north of it, they are somewhat more expensive.
Click on the header above to access the Mowat Landing Cottages website – or click here.
It was a gloriously sunny day as we made our way down Highway 11 to southern Ontario. North of North Bay there was already some visible turning in the colour of the leaves but the preponderance of spruce and pine made for a less dramatic show.
For eleven days we had not worried about COVID-19. Now as I stared out of the windshield, I noticed the package of masks on the dashboard, ready for use if we stopped anywhere on the way home.
Some Final Thoughts:
My bro usually does all the word-smithing but I have been asked for a stern report! Here it is.
From the back end (literally) the trip seems to have run smoothly. The Sunday drive from Southern Ontario north was relatively stress free. While CoVid-19 was/is still an issue we found that northerners (anything northish of North Bay – our first stop) were for the most part adhering to public health requirements then in-place re; physical distancing and masks. We kept individual contact to a minimum. While our vehicle is not blessed with a large fuel tank or great range, stops were only required a couple of times, more to ensure that we had enough fuel to get there without having to worry and to minimize contact.
We quickly got sorted as to where we were staying after arriving at the Graydon’s Mowat Landing complex at 4 pm. By 5:30 the tent was up and after a little bit of wandering around the site we settled in for the night. The drive up was non-stressful having left Toronto at 10 a.m. Perhaps being a Sunday had something to do with it. Beats the drive to Wabakimi! Arrangements were made for an 08:30 start the next morning which we missed by about 5 minutes.
The drive was again stress free taking about 90 minutes to the put-in at the Montreal River west of Lady Dufferin Lake. We wondered about the weather though because we had periods of rain and hints of sunshine. After pics and good-byes we were off upriver by about 10:30.
Having done this section 9 years before it is interesting to note what one remembers or not. I think with the passage of time most of it felt ‘new’. However coming into Smoothwater Lake and looking along the north eastward shore with its long expanse of sandy beach brought back memories of our previous trip. Weather was off and on sunny and very windy. We could tell from afar that our previous site was occupied and with the wind direction we opted to stay along the south shore aiming for some indicated campsites. While we looked for them we obviously did not do it well enough and our first challenge was crossing Smoothwater against the swells. We ended up the Miriam Lake portage site which was very breezy even though we were well back on the site. It did have mushrooms though! Do fill in the journal that has been placed there (if, when you go it is still there).
Every trip begins with the desire to start and depending on the trip there is a point where you think to yourself – I wish this were done! That would have been day 2. Low water was a challenge for the upper Lady E river. I think Whitemud Lake suffers as well. One take away which might soften the work is knowing there will be many log overs, the occasional log under, beaver dams and wading. We managed to hit it during a cold spell. Warmer weather would probably be better or is that nicer? Bugs would likely make this section less pleasant because speed is not something you can achieve to out run the pests. Chose your time carefully.
Day to day descriptions are elsewhere in this blog. The trip can be divided into 3 basic sections from above the forks to MacPherson/Katherine Lake, from Katherine down to Willis Island Lake and then from there to Mowat Landing. The first two are the river coming off the height of land. Each section (and day) had its challenges as noted from day 1. Each challenge was a function of section/location – incessant meandering, lifting wading, weather (rain and wetness) and forward progress. I think on day 4 by the end (arriving at Florence Lake by 3 pm) I was suffering from some mild hypothermia as I could just stay warm with the physical activity. This is something solo paddlers would need to be very mindful of. Into the sleeping bag till next morning – no supper!! After a restful afternoon and night I was good to go.
While you can take some short cuts to cut off the lower part of the LE this meandering section is actually quite nice. The current is a help and there were only a few logs/liftovers to impede progress. Be sure you can complete the lower whole section as camping spots to the branch are slim. Below the forks begins the descent section to Willis Island Lake. This had some of the more challenging portages that we have done (age may also be playing a part here) and it provides some of the more spectacular scenery in a series of falls and some rapids. Well worth the price of admission. Once off of the ‘highlands’ onto the 3rd section – it is all lake paddle. The potential for ill winds and weather are always present. We had cold temperatures and with off and on rain almost all the way to Mowat Landing. The last day was however the sunniest of the whole trip – glorious sunshine for the 2 hours it took us to get there! Even though mostly lake there are still some interesting sites to watch out for – sunken tree stands (flooding from the dam), finger islands (again a flood feature or remnant). Having a history buff as a paddling partner does help the journey with some context. Knowing those trees have been standing (flooded) for 100 years, paddling over former rapids and family hunting territories all add to the ‘view’.
So that side of the headwaters of LE River is done – up next the northern branch to change it up? or hop on “The Canadian” for Endogoki Lake? Or will we be 2020’d again?
A Day-By-Day Account of Our Trip:
The following posts cover the entire river from its South Branch headwaters in Apex Lake to its mouth at the Montreal River.