Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Days 9 & 10 – From Crooked Lake To Missanabie to Toronto Via Healey Bay

Previous Post: Day 8 – From Red Granite Point To Crooked Lake Island Site

Day 9 – Crooked Lake To Missanabie

  • distance: 18.5 km
  • time:   9:10 a.m.; finish 1:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1 
    • P18 – 240m Height of Land – Arctic watershed to Superior watershed
  •  weather: sunny /cloudy periods; strong SW wind; overcast by day’s end but no rain;
  • campsite: Ernie’s Campground uptown Missanabie

From our Crooked Lake campsite, it was a half-hour paddle to the Height of Land Portage. We set off just after nine and by two were in Missanabie. One thing we did not do is take any pix.

Well, Max took one! As we paddled away from the put-in on Dog Lake he turned around for a shot of the easternmost point of Dog Lake and the bush between it and Crooked Lake.

Like the Little Missinaibi River system, Crooked Lake feeds into Missinaibi Lake and the Missinaibi River system.  Its water ends up in James Bay after merging with the Moose River. Meanwhile, we were now in sprawling-in-all-directions Dog Lake. Its outlet, the Michipicoten River,  ends up in Lake Superior. We were paddling in the Atlantic watershed!

Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada came across this height-of-land portage in 1875 on his way to Michipicoten from James Bay. His report has this brief description:

The lake he refers to as Mattagaming is the one we know as Dog.  He notes its T shape but you can see something else!  It looks like a Labrador Retriever sitting with his front legs forward and his head up! The Ojibwe word for “dog” is animosh so what the matta part of Mattagaming means is unclear unless it is related to mattawa meaning fork. The lake splits with one section to the north and the other to the southern outlet.

After the almost complete absence of headwind for the entire trip,  a solid breeze from the southwest during our last two hours on the water would have us digging in extra hard on certain exposed stretches. The one from Km 110 to the narrows was one of them.

On passing the island at Km 112 we stopped for a bit of a breather at a dock on the sheltered NE side. We met there a couple almost at the end of their Dog Lake island vacation. He was curious about the rivers we had paddled and we, in turn, were impressed that not only had he done them too, but some of them like the Bloodvein he had done more than once! We were definitely talking to a kindred spirit!

After our island chat, we paddled through the narrows between Fifty-Seven Bay and Hay Bay. Then we headed north to Dog Lake Narrows, the channel over which Highway 651 crosses. More into-the-wind paddling and we finally arrived within sight of Missanabie.

The Origin of the Name Missinaibi

Ever since I  read Selwyn Dewdney’s account of how the hamlet got its name I have been pronouncing it “Miss Anabie” in my mind!  Dewdney writes –

Missanabie is not even spelled the same way as the Lake and river system – strange.

As to how to pronounce it, we have said Miss in ah bee with a soft “i”, a soft “a” and a stress on the third syllable for almost forty years. I asked Julie at the Missinaibi Park office in Chapleau how she pronounces it and she said – Miss in ay bee, with a hard “a” sound. When we got to Missanabie I would ask Ken Martel the same question. He pronounced it the way we have been all these years!  Now that we have this issue settled(!), there remained just one more to deal with – where to put up our tent for the night.

Missanabie Village:

2019 image of Ernie’s Campground Missanabie – see here for the image source – the “village” is on the top left and out of the picture

The last time we had been in Missanabie was in 1983 and – Duh! – things had changed! Thirty-four years ago there wasn’t much else there (that we could remember) other than the hotel. As we approached the docks and a beach area on the waterfront we were amazed by all the trailers and cottages.

While doing pre-trip research I had seen a Northern Walleye Lodge indicated on the Google map of Missanabie. The plan had been to ask the lodge if we could camp on its grounds for the night – we figured $20. would do it –  and then be very near to the train stop the next morning. Well, the Lodge does exist but it is on Dog Lake about ten kilometers south of Missanabie. In Missanabie all they have is a parking lot where guests leave their vehicles; they are then taken to the lodge by motorboat.

Missanabie waterfront in front of Ken’s Bait Shop and Ernie’s Campground

another view of Missanabie landing in front of Ernie’s and Ken’s

However, in our chat with the island couple, we had learned of Ernie’s Cottages and Campground.  [See here for their Facebook page.] It was the answer we were looking for!  We paddled up to the concrete boat launch pad just to the right of the fish cleaning shack. We walked up the dirt road to a couple of guys standing in front of a store – the sign read Ken’s One-Stop Bait Shop. When we said we were looking for Ernie one of them said we’d found him!  Introducing himself as Ken Martel, Ernie’s son, he assumed correctly that we were looking for a tent site and within a minute we were walking towards an area thirty meters away that he had pointed at. He told us to come back later and pay – it was $20. (tax included) for the night. We left thinking – “Man, that was easy!”

Ernie’s Campsite – and Ken’s One Stop Shop at Missanabie

As well as lots of tent space, Ernie’s has a number of cottages (cabins) available. They also rent space on the property to people who show up with trailers. Some park them for the entire season. The photo below from Ernie’s website has an aerial view of the property. It is a shot from 2009 so things look a bit different in 2017!

a shot of Ernie’s campground from 2009 no longer accessible at their website

The tail end of the trailer you see in the photo below – right to the left of our tent space – belonged to someone who had yet to be up in Missanabie this year. On the upper right of the photo is the gazebo, an enclosed cooking/eating area with running water and a fridge and stove. We were the only ones to use it during the time we were there. Another twenty meters to the right was a double washroom/ shower facility. It felt good to stand under a stream of hot water after a few days of haphazard cleanliness!

our camp spot at Ernie’s in Missanabie – right next to the gazebo

In the panorama shot below our tent was up under that clump of trees you see on the left. The fish cleaning shack is on the extreme right of the image.

a panorama of the campgrounds and the docks and boat launch ramp

We had a few hours to kill so we decided to do an in-depth tour of Missanabie. We could also figure out where to haul our canoe and gear for the next morning’s train ride back to our starting point at Healey Bay. (Missanabie – population 40 or so – no  longer has a train station or waiting room.)

We walked to the entrance of Ernie’s Campground. At the entrance sits a building with all sorts of heavy equipment outside – dump trucks, tractors,…all the stuff you need for road building. It is Martel Contracting. It does road works, welding, tire repair, and more. We never did find out if this business – like Ken’s Bait Shop and Ernie’s Restaurant which we would soon visit – belongs to the same family.

the entrance to Ernie’s Campgrounds and Cottages – Missanabie

There is a dirt road named Curran Street that runs parallel to the CPR tracks. As we walked down Curran we came to the hotel. It was apparently purchased by Americans some time ago, renovated, and turned into a private residence or two. Next to it is another building – one in need of some attention before it collapses.

the old Missanabie Hotel – now an American-owned residence

dilapidated building in Missanabie

We crossed the rail tracks – there are two sets – and headed for the junction where Highway 651 comes to the tracks. This is where we ended up waiting for the train the next morning, flagging it as it approached from the northwest. (The conductor already knew he would have two passengers to pick up since we had purchased the tickets beforehand.) We walked down Highway 651 from the tracks – it is labelled as First Street on the above map. Now we were in downtown Missanabie. As we approached Ernie’s we stood under the awning of the establishment and looked back at the tracks – a CPR freight train was coming through.

CPR freight train moving through Missanabie

The next morning we would be reminded of the #1 rule of railway travel in Canada – when two trains want to use the same track at the same time, freight takes precedence over passengers every time!

Ernie’s Lounge/Restaurant/LCBO Outlet

If Missanabie has a community heart it would have to be Ernie’s.

  • It is a lounge with a large TV screen; the Blue Jays were on when we visited.
  • It is also a restaurant; it specializes in hamburgers and french fries.
  • Also attached to it is an LCBO outlet – i.e. a place you can buy bottled alcohol to take away.
  • There may also have been a small tuck shop there which sells sundries like cigarettes and pop and chips.
  • the community’s mailboxes are located at the front of the building.
  • If you are driving into town and need accommodation or a place to put your trailer, Ernie in the restaurant will have the answer!

the LCBO outlet on the side of Ernie’s Restaurant and Lounge

We spent some time in the restaurant/lounge munching on some French fries and chatting with Ernie and his helper. He had opened the restaurant in the mid-1970s after moving up to Missanabie from Dalton where he was born and grew up. (Dalton is down the CPR tracks a few kilometers.) The closing of the nearby mine in the community of Renabie in 1991 must have been difficult for businesses like Ernie’s in Missanabie; so too the closing of the lumber yard in town. The restaurant and the thriving Campground and Cottages show that Ernie Martel and his son Ken are making a good go of it.

the front of Ernie’s on First Street Missanabie

Across the street from Ernie’s is the Fire Hall. The sign seems new enough to indicate it is still in operation. Set some distance behind and to the left of the Fire Hall is the  Missarenda Consolidated Public School run by the Algoma District School Board. We were left wondering how many children in what age range go to the school and whether those from the nearby First Nations reserve would be among them.

the Missanabie Fire Hall with the public school behind it

Fire Hall and Ernie’s on First Street, Missanabie – Dog Lake in the background

Missanabie’s public school – Missarenda Consolidated

Something we did not notice in the village of 40 to 60 inhabitants is an OPP post -.i.e. a police station.

We spent the afternoon wandering up and down the roads of town taking pix and checking stuff out. Back at the campground, we made use of the shower facilities and then headed to the gazebo for supper. It was a soft end to our canoe trip, one that had begun with a couple of difficult days on the upper section of the Little Missinaibi River. Occasionally in the days since we still heard the sound of that SAR helicopter from CFB Trenton hovering over our Day Two campsite at 2 a.m. We knew we would be talking – and explaining – and apologizing – for days to come about that helicopter visit when we reached home.


Day 10 – From Missanabie To Healey Bay By Train

  • distance: 66.8 km
  • time:  8:00 a.m.; finish 10:45 a.m.
  • portages:  1     335m – Campground to the trackside train stop
  • weather: sunny
  • campsite:  we were back in Toronto at 8 p.m. after a long ride from Healey Bay with a quick stop at the Swift Georgian Bay outlet to drop off our canoe!

Healey Bay on the east end of Lake Windermere was our starting point;  it was the closest we could get to the headwaters of the Little Missinaibi. The Happy Day Lodge there was a convenient place to leave our vehicle while we did our nine-day paddle to Missanabie. And now that the trip was over it was also an easy place to return to.

Running through Missanabie – and past Healey Bay – is a VIA-run passenger service on the CPR tracks that run from Sudbury to White River. Three times a week it runs one way; the other three it makes the return trip. It was Friday morning in Missanabie and, after breakfast and coffee in the gazebo, we did our last portage, a 335-meter carry up to the stop on the side of the tracks at the end of Highway 651.

The map below shows the 66-kilometer route from Missanabie to Healey Bay. While we would have our stuff by the tracks by 8:15, it was scheduled to arrive at 9.

Click here for a pdf file of the train schedule for the Sudbury-White River – Sudbury service.

one last look at our landing spot at Missanabie – off to catch the train

The train arrived on time!  Onboard after handing up our canoe and gear to someone in the baggage car, we found we were two of five passengers that morning. (The passenger capacity is 95!)  The fare for each of us was $20. which is why I was surprised to be told that the charge for the canoe would be $50. My understanding was that the canoe fee could not be higher than the passenger fee – i.e.$20 – so I did point that out – to no avail.

Missanabie train stop – with the old Missanabie Hotel across the tracks

Somewhere along the line, we stopped to pick up two Americans and their sons; they were on their way back to their vehicles in Chapleau after a week of fishing at an outpost not far from where they caught the train. Twice we waited for ten to twenty minutes on a sidetrack while freight trains moved through.

Healey Bay stop on the rail line

Healey Bay is between Musk and Esher; when I purchased the tickets I just paid for the fare to Esher, the next stop. The train will pick you up – and drop you off – wherever you request. All it takes is a bit of arm-waving!

Back at Healey Bay Max went to get his car while I sat with the gear on the side of the tracks. It was about 10:45. By 11:00 we would have the four bags, paddles, and life jackets inside and the canoe strapped down. It was now time for Le Grand Portage, the ten-hour drive back to Toronto! We weren’t even sure if we would make the entire distance in one day,  thinking that we might camp somewhere south of Sudbury and then finish the drive on Saturday morning.

However, Max was relentless behind the wheel. First, we knocked off the ride from Healey Bay south to Iron Bridge. That took over three hours. We stopped for some gas and some junk food and kept moving.

The next target was Sudbury, another two hours and 200 kilometers to the east. It was about 4 p.m. as we skirted south of the town on the by-pass and started heading south. We knew that another four hours and we’d be home – so we pushed on.

Rather than drive into Parry Sound to our usual gas station we saved another ten or fifteen minutes by pulling into a roadside Shell station just north of the Sound. And a bonus – it was a full-serve station so while the tank was being filled, we were emptying ours!  And it was time for more junk food!

We also had another reason for our haste – we wanted to get to Swift Canoe‘s Georgian Bay outlet at Waubaushene before they closed at 8 p.m. Before the trip, I had inquired about dropping off our canoe for a repair/paint job on the bottom of the canoe. Not only had we added more scratches and scrapes to the bottom on this trip;  in our numerous log and beaver dam haul-overs, we had also stressed the bottom enough to cause a long crack line. Truth be told, our 42-lb. composite Kevlar/carbon fiber canoe, an excellent tripping canoe, was not meant to take the kind of abuse it was subjected to on the Little Missinaibi!

Still, we were happy to have done the trip with our  Swift Dumoine and know that hauling a 70-lb. Royalex or Tuff Stuff canoe over those same obstacles would have been an even bigger challenge. We need to reward our refurbished Dumoine with a nice, easy trip when we pick it up!


Update: that “nice, easy trip”?  It was a totally delightful one-week ramble in the French River Delta and the nearby islands of Georgian Bay.  See here for the first of the posts –

 Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Logistics, Maps, & Day 1

We dropped the canoe off shortly after 7.  By 8:15 we were on the Danforth in my Toronto neighbourhood picking up a few bottles of wine and by 8:45 we were sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and a visiting friend. To no surprise, they wanted to hear the helicopter story – the story of the SAR team rappelling down to our tent site at 2:00 a.m. in response to the SOS message we never sent!

I guess that is how the trip down the Little Missinaibi is fated to be remembered – although our posts have hopefully made it clear that it was about so much more too!


Related Post:  The Little Missinaibi From Top To Bottom – Intro, Maps, & Logistics

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