Previous Post: Day 1: The Rocher Fendu’s Middle Channel
- distance: 21 km
- time: start – 8:45 a.m. ; finish – 2:50 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 1/8
- – O-R6 C1T 75m LRL then run
- – O-R7 C1 1100 m Ile de Chico / “Mice Rapids” mostly fast flat water
- – O-R8 200 m “Muskrat Rapids” mostly fast flat water
- – O-R9 150m “La Barriere Rapids” fast flat water
- – O-R10 ~200m “Long Rapids” flat water current
- – O-R11 – “Flat Rapids” – flat water current
- – O-R12 – “Chute Mulroney” – flat water current
- – O-R13 1000m “Rapides de Rocher Fendu” fast-moving flat water
- – PRL 750m above dam marked take-out, across highway, through the park, then along Mill Street to Lakeside Hotel lawn.
- weather: Sunny all day
- campsite: CRCS12 – Portage du Fort: Lakeside Hotel – lawn area lots of room for multiple tents
- topos: Cobden 031F/10 (click on titles to access)
So there we were at the start of Day 2. We had done what we figured were half the rapids of the Rocher Fendu. Still to come – Mice; Muskrat; Long; Flat; Mulroney. It sounded like a solid morning’s worth of work. We began with a bit of a walk down the Baie de Letts shoreline in search of some deeper water to put the canoe in.
Across from our camp spot on the Esprit Rafting pick-up area we saw the signs on the trees – as seen in the pic below. We paddled over to see if they perhaps indicated a camp spot. “8 CHASSEURS/KEEP OUT” they read. A private hunters’ club property – so much for that!
Coming up at the bottom of Baie de Letts was our first set of rapids – ones with no name. We easily lined the top chute and then hopped back in for a ride the rest of the way down what was just fast water. We didn’t know it, given all the names of upcoming rapids in our heads, but that would be the day’s biggest challenge until we got to the portage at Portage du Fort.
After an hour we stopped for a Gatorade/Cliffbar break. Thanks to the current we had done six kilometers without really pushing ourselves and other than the short bit we lined at the top of the first set of rapids at the bottom of Baie de Letts we had paddled down everything else. A couple of times we had to check the maps to make sure we were where we thought we were. You mean that bit of Class 0 was Muskrat Rapids? It was mostly all fast water/swifts that we found. Perhaps mid-August had something to do with it although they supposedly maintain the water level on the river at a certain steady level at least for the summer months.
As we paddled past the long narrow strip of rock outcrop in the photo above, an image of the serpent associated with the underwater lynx Mishipeshu came to mind. In the Temagami area across the border in Ontario there are rock formations which are connected with elements of Anishinaabe myth. The Grandparent Rocks on Lake Obabika and the Conjurer’s Rock column at Chee Skon Lake are examples. In this case, however, we were clearly trying too hard to imagine something that wasn’t there. Missing, for example, was anything looking like the two horns the snake is usually depicted with.
We also wondered about evidence of the pre-European presence of the Kitchisippi Anishinaabe (i.e. the Algonquins) in the form of rock paintings and place names. While Oiseau Rock up river near Deep River is a major Anishinaabe pictograph site, we had seen no evidence of them on the entire Coulonge River system.
What is also noteworthy was the degree to which Algonquin names have been replaced by new ones based on more recent non-Anishinaabe history. Perhaps it is an indication of the extent to which the Algonquin population was decimated by the Iroquois in the mid-1600’s at the same time that they were dealing with the new diseases introduced by the French. Those who survived sought refuge at the Jesuit missions along the St. Lawrence River or were assimilated into other tribes. The period of control they had of the Ottawa River – to the point of being able to charge tolls to those passing through – was over. This makes the current resurgence of Algonquin culture and dreams of nation – especially in Ontario with the recent land claim negotiations – all the more remarkable.
Another 9 km or so down Lac du Rocher Fendu and we stopped for lunch on the north tip of a small island in Baie Miller. Across from us was what looked like some sort of industrial site. You can see it on the topo below almost dead center.
Lunch done it was time to finish off the day with a paddle almost straight south to the Chenaux Generating Station near Portage du Fort.
When we were doing the pre-trip planning, we had visited the Ontario Power Generation website where we learned this about the Chenaux Rapids and Portage-du-Fort:
Three hundred years ago, intrepid French voyageurs, making their way down the Ottawa River to the flourishing fur markets of Montreal and Quebec, undertook a long portage just above the swift rapids. They gave the rapids the name “Chenaux” plural for “chenal” or “channel.” Fearing the loss of their precious furs in the seething waters, they favoured the safer course offered by the rigorous trail through the wilderness. The arduous portage was called “Portage du Fort” (portage of the strong) from which the adjacent village derives its name. It was at this point that the adventurers shouldered their canoes and began the long trek overland.
The Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario harnessed the Ottawa River to produce more electric power for the homes, farms and industries of Ontario and the Chenaux station was one of the post World War II developments.
We had gone to the website in search of information about a portage around the dam and powerhouse. While we didn’t find it at the OPG site, we did eventually google our way to this bit of OPG information:
Damn! That would be quite the hoof – 3.8 km. Looking at the map the first thing that comes to mind is that paddlers who follow this portage route are getting off the river way too early. They are also walking on the side of a highway for over half the portage. We had to wonder how that fit in with the OPG motto of “Stay clear, stay safe”. Checking the math we saw that it only added up to 2.8 kilometers. At least it was 1 kilometer shorter than the stated OPG figure!
A look at some satellite views convinced us we could make it even shorter.
Rather than begin the portage at what is really a power boater’s boat launch and not the start of a canoe tripper’s portage, we figured that as paddlers we had more options.The first thought was to paddle into the long bay down from the boat launch on the OPG route. It almost touches the highway 301 and we figured we could carry up to the road from there. While we would still be walking along the highway for a stretch, it would eliminate at least half the length of the carry.
A closer look at the satellite image presented us with a yet better option –
And that is what we did. We paddled past the boat launch, paddled past the long narrow bay and, staying close to the shore, came to the spot shown on the satellite images above. There is absolutely no danger here for paddlers taking out their kayaks or canoes.
The first thing we did notice as we approached is the Danger sign you see in the pic below. It is clearly aimed at power boaters and those with larger motorized craft who might be tempted to moor their boat here or use the spot as a boat launch or extraction point, ripping up the grass in the process or impacting the underwater pipeline. It is not directed at paddlers in 50 lb. canoes or kayaks. And then we saw the sign to the left; it confirmed our analysis of the situation. We were feeling much better!
“FOLLOW PORTAGE ROUTE DOWN MILL STREET” it read!
That was almost as good a greeting as “WELCOME TO PORTAGE DU FORT, PADDLERS”. We moved our gear and canoe up to the tree you see in the image above and set about looking for Mill Street.
Across Highway 301 from the take out is a municipal park. The rustic cabin in the image below is the municipal tourist information center. We dropped in – nobody home. Then we walked over to the roofed information board with the maps on it and saw that Mill Street was the next street over.
Well, so much for “portage of the strong”! While it was still a 750-meter carry, it had turned out so much better than the initial 3.8 km figure we found at the OPG site. We walked down Mill Street towards the boat launch at the other end of the portage. We still did not know where we would be tenting that night but I was under the mistaken impression that the village had a campground.
Forty-five minutes later we were putting up our tent on the grounds of the Lakeside Hotel. You can see our tent in the image below, sitting underneath the tree canopy overlooking the banks of the narrow channel leading into the Lac Des Chats section of the Ottawa River.
While there is no campground in Portage du Fort, a chat with some visitors from Renfrew that we met near the war memorial next to the Lakeside Hotel provided us with a solution. After jokingly pleading with them not to tell us anything about what was going on in the world – one of them had just started on a Donald Trump news item- the topic changed to the hotel in front of us.
One of the aging baby boomers – just like my brother and I, both in our 60’s! – started reminiscing about the Lakeside back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. (Who knows what it was called then! The image to the right was taken in 2005 when it was called River Club Rivière.) It was apparently such a wild place that people came from all around from both sides of the river to party. He remembered fondly and maybe a bit hazily that you could even drop in at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and there would still be people dancing. “Why don’t you ask in the hotel if you can camp on their lawn?” he suggested. I had been thinking exactly that so after our brief chat I headed up to the hotel and the bar. No dancing at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday but a few customers sipping beer at the bar.
I told them how we had gotten here and asked if it would be okay if we put up our tent for the night underneath the tree. The immediate response from the bartender – “Go right ahead. You’re more than welcome!” When I pulled out a $20. from my wallet, the bartender asked me what it was for. “For the tent space,” I said. She insisted that we tent for free so I put money away. Later that evening I did go back and leave the $20., explaining that if they wouldn’t take it as our payment for the tent space, then they could apply it to the next paddlers who showed up and let them tent for free.
In the meanwhile, we spent the afternoon on a short village tour. The map above highlights some of what we saw. We walked up Main Street to Church Street and back over to where we had taken out our canoe. Then we walked back along Mill Street to the Lakeside Hotel taking some pix along the way. We got the impression that back in the day there was more economic activity in Portage du Fort, enough to build some pretty grand homes and churches.
Next to the hotel is the war memorial obelisk you see above and behind it is the boat launch area where we would put our canoe the next morning. Across from the Lakeside is a restaurant but it seems to be closed. A few meters further up Main Street is a coin laundry and then on the corner of Main Street and Church is Thompson Depanneur, a corner store with all the usual as well an outlet of the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec). We took the opportunity to pick up some cold beer.
The one open fast food place in the village is Jaks. Burgers and fries and all the usual. It would provide us with the basis of that evening’s Indian Poutine – a large serving of fries topped with the contents of a pouch of Indian veg curry. (Tasty Bite is the brand; we take their various meals along on all our trips thanks to the ease of preparation. They do, however, weigh twice what a dehydrated Harvest Foodworks meal weighs. I keep intending to make use of that dehydrator my wife bought but have yet to get around to it!
The village has two churches, both on La Rue de L’Église or Church Street. The Roman Catholic one is just after Jaks; the Anglican one is at the far end of Church Street and is just above where we landed our canoe.
Walking past St. James down Church street to the water, we passed by the following two landmarks –
On the corner of Church Street and Highway 301 is the grand house you see below. It is definitely the village’s premier residence.
Across the street from the Connelly House is St. George’s Anglican Church. It is closed and boarded up and perhaps waiting for someone to repurpose it as a home or as a restaurant. In better economic times this would probably have happened already.
We walked back down to the water at the point where we had landed a few hours before and commented that things had turned out very nicely given the question marks we were facing as we paddled that last stretch across the river from the Chenaux G.S. and dam.
This post should eliminate all the mystery for future paddlers while assuring them that landing where we did is not only perfectly safe but sanctioned by the municipality given the “FOLLOW PORTAGE ROUTE DOWN MILL STREET” sign. We returned to our Lakeside Hotel camp spot at the end of Mill Street, taking time to look at stuff we had missed earlier thanks to the hauling we were doing.
Coming up, a 30+ kilometer day on the Lac Des Chats section which did not get us to the end of it! But we would fluke another great campsite and score a beautiful sunset! And to think I used to dismiss sunset photos as cliché!