Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Day 2 – From The Elbow to The Bustards

Previous Post: Day 1 – Hartley Bay Marina to The Elbow

Day 2 – From The Elbow To The Bustards

  • distance: 13.7 km
  • time:   9:00 a.m.; finish 2:25 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1 
    • P18 – 240m Dalles Rapids
  •  weather: sunny and hot; some SW wind; overnight rain showers;
  • campsite: CS 735 on the Bustard Islands; multiple 2- or 4-person tents

It had rained a bit overnight and the tarp was wet when we crawled out of the tent around 6:45 along with the just-appearing sun.  However, the tarp had done its job and the fly and tent were dry as we stuffed everything back into their compression sacs for the day.  By 9 we were finally on the water, having dallied a bit in the early morning sunshine with our cups of coffee on the flat rock point to the side of the campsite.

This day would involve a bit of history, the part of the French River story dealing with lumbering and fishing. Just 1 kilometer down from CS 624 was the only portage of the day, a 240-meter carry around Dalles Rapids.

As we neared the rapids we came upon the rusting boiler of one of the tugboats that used to pull the log booms down river to the rapids and towards the sawmills of French River Village another kilometer or so downriver.

In the image below you can see a canoe and the portage sign to the right of the boiler.

an artifact from the lumber era on river left of the French River’s Main Channel

And then the Dalles Rapids. In my thoughts was a painting of the chute done by the English landscape painter John Elliott Woolford in the early 1820’s. He was traveling down the river at the time with the then-Governor-General of the British North American colonies, the Earl of Dalhousie.  This was sixty years before the main channel of the French became the outlet for timber floated down from upriver.  Given his watercolour, it promised to be a dramatic sight!

John Elliott Woolford. Rapid of La Dalle, French River, Ontario.

Well, there was some artistic license taken by Woolford! Our first look at the rapids from above did not match his painted view.  We’d get a closer look from the bottom after our 240-meter carry over a well-used path on river left around the Rapids.

Wondering about the origins of the name Tramway Point, I found a passage in Toni Harting’s book which provided an explanation.  I’d also find out that the map above has the point on the wrong side of the river!  Harting writes –

In about 1907, a narrow-gauge tramway was constructed south of Dalles Rapids (roughly following the still existing fur-trade portage trail connection Boiler Point Bay to Dalles Pool) to transport all the material for the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge being built over the French river, 1 kilometer downstream from Dry Pine Bay. The logging companies used this tramway for a while to transport supplies but in the long run it did not meet their demands and was subsequently abandoned. (86)

While we did see a few remnants of this logging past, the tramway itself is not there.

After an easy carry on a woodlands-like trail we paddled upriver to the bottom of the rapids and scampered up the banks for a closer look.  More confident canoe trippers with

  • barrels instead of traditional canoe packs and
  • maybe a spray skirt and
  • with another canoe or two in their party

may well have run these rapids, mostly characterized by a high volume of water. We tend to err on the side of caution.

French River Main Channel – Dalles Rapids panorama

We spent a half-hour at Dalles Rapids, walking up towards the top and framing a number of images. It is definitely a scenic spot and one worth spending some time at.

Max heading for the top of Dalles Rapids

a view of Dalles Rapids from river left – French River Main Channel

an embedded metal spike at Dalles Rapids – a remnant of the lumber era

We did find an unofficial campsite on top of the bank where we landed our canoe; it would make an excellent spot to stop for the day and would allow you to spend more time at Dalles Rapids in changing light conditions.

river left below Dalles Rapids on the French River

an unofficial campsite below Dalles Rapids

Moving on, we saw the ripples of Little Dalles Rapids up ahead.  Perhaps it is the higher water levels this year – up two feet according to the locals – but the rapids were no more than swifts.  We paddled right through. On our right we passed Camp McIntosh, a fishing resort with six rental cottages and a number of other buildings, including the owner’s winterized residence.

Camp McIntosh below Dalles Rapids on the French River’s Main Channel

More artifacts from the heyday of the lumber era popped up along the shore as we continued downriver.  We were approaching the location of French River Village, for thirty or so years (mid-1870’s to 1910)  the boomtown home of 300 that included (as listed in Kas Stone’s book):

  • two sawmills
  • two churches
  • three hotels
  • a post office
  • warehouses
  • private residences
  • stores

Callan map of Dallas Rapids:French River Village AreaThe site of the village is on river left of the main Channel.  Unfortunately, the map included in Kevin Callan’s write-up of a route in his A Paddler’s Guide To Killarney And The French River (2006) has the village on the wrong side of the Channel!  He seems to have mistaken the Camp MacIntosh buildings indicated on the topo map (see above) for the remains of the village site?  You have to wonder how many paddlers have stood on the west side of the channel with a copy of his map in their hands.  Hopefully they didn’t think the fishing camp was it!

However, it is not as if they are missing much since the actual location of the used-to-be village on the other side does not have much more!

iron ring on the banks of the French River’s Main Channel

There are only a couple of structures to be seen – and one is in ruins!  French River Village died a slow death after 1910 and the end of the lumber boom; the post office closed in 1922 and the last person moved out in 1934.  Other than the occasional rusted piece of machinery, the one substantial ruin to be seen on the site is not far from where we beached our canoe.

three-meter high brick wall – the ruins of French River Village

The remains of a sawmill and its crumbling stone chimney still stand in silent witness to the village’s fate. We followed the semblance of a trail behind the ruins and scampered up to a ridge.

brick remains of one of the sawmills at the once French River Village site

Looking south from my vantage point, I expected to see a flat plateau where streets once ran down to the water.  There is nothing to see – except for the lighthouse which still stands to the south of the village site. The uneven ground made it difficult to imagine how the village had been laid out.

the location of French River Village and the lighthouse

Just to the north of where we were standing surveyors in 1875 mapped a future townsite to host the booming lumber industry; its name was to be Coponaning. Writes Toni Harding in his essential French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996):

Coponaning was also intended as a major terminal for rail and ship transportation. The town would only exist on paper; it was never actually built. (Harting, 85)

Instead it was French River Village that expanded – and died.  Our morning meditation on the transience of all things done, we moved on! We were headed for the open water of Georgian Bay.

We stopped for a Gatorade/energy bar break at Cantin Point.  It is 2 kilometers from the Point to Tarpot Island, the northernmost of the Bustards. Subtract another kilometer for the various rocks and small islands that stretch south from Cantin Point and you are left with no more than a kilometer of open water.  This is the shortest crossing route over to the islands.  We couldn’t have had nicer conditions and in 20 minutes we were paddling into the Coral Channel between Tarpot Island and Tie island.

The Channel gets its name from the early 1900’s sinking of the Coral, a wooden sailboat, at the entrance of the channel between the two islands.  We did look for bits of the wreckage – according to Kas Stone easy to find –  as we paddled towards the entrance of the channel but did not see anything.  Intent instead on finding a lunch spot after our morning of sightseeing, we did not linger to see if we could locate the debris.

As for the channel, in 2017 it was paddle-able!  Stone  (2008)  noted that

“accumulations of rock and sand, and falling water levels, have blocked its northern outlet completely.” (76)

The high water is back and even if it wasn’t, a short lift-over and you would be into some water you could float on!

We paddled down the channel and found a spot to the north of an island named Highland Home which has a few fishing shacks  – maybe upgraded to cottages?- on it. We were in the heart of what was in the 1940’s and 50’s a thriving fishing station that involved dozens of families. (See the Kas Stone book Paddling and Hiking the Georgian Bay Coast for the complete story!)

The harbour is also well-known to Georgian Bay sailors as a safe shelter from the waters of the Bay when they turn rough. No boats were at anchor the day we paddled through.

a few simple camps on Highland Home, an island  in the northern Bustards

After lunch we paddled past Highland Home and Pearl Island and east down the channel between Strawberry Island and Tanvat Island. There are a few designated campsites along the east side of Tanvat island. (See here for a map with approximate locations.)

We were heading for a campsite – CS 735 – that Rick had mentioned was especially nice when we kayaked through the Bustards a month before. Unfortunately for Rick and Ken and I there was already a tent up as we approached so we kept on paddling south.  Max and I had better luck! Being here in late September may have had something to do with it!

FRPP – CS 735 east side of the Bustards panorama – our tent is on the extreme right

looking east towards our campsite and Georgian Bay

the bent pine at the point of CS 735 in the Bustards

another view of our tent spot on the Bustards

The campsite proved to be everything we were hoping for. We found a  sheltered and flat spot for our four-person tent, a scenic point overlooking the waters of Georgian Bay, a walkable island site that we could ramble around for different views.  There is room at CS 735 for multiple tents – with no one feeling like they had gotten the short end of the stick!

a swirl in the rock at island CS 735

setting up my tripod at dusk on he Bustards

sunset on the Bustards/Georgian Bay

An early stop this day – shortly after 2!   While we had only covered 14 kilometers,  the time we spent at Dalles Rapids and the remains of French River Village, as well as our paddle down the Coral Channel into the Bustards Harbour by Highland Home were reminders that distance is not the only thing that canoe trippers should focus on!  The next day would provide us with the same lesson as we headed to the west end of the Park.

Day 3 - from the Bustards to Eagle Nest Point

Day 3 – from the Bustards to Eagle Nest Point

Next Post: Day 3 – From The Bustards To Eagle Nest Point

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2 Responses to Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Day 2 – From The Elbow to The Bustards

  1. Hermann Reisach says:

    great, your Dallas rapid panorama, great.
    hermann

    • true_north says:

      Hermann, I’ve done canoe trips all over the boreal forest area of the Canadian Shield. The French River area is not only the most accessible; it also has the most day-after-day beautiful scenery and very little portaging is needed as you paddle around. Dalles Rapids was one of those rare portages – and also one of those many beautiful spots we stopped at to savour.

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