Previous Post: Day 1 – Hartley Bay Marina to The Elbow
Day 2 – Down The Main Outlet 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 900 (old #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 672 (old #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 which gives the point its current name.
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 1820s. He was travelling down the river with the then-Governor-General of the British North American colonies, the Earl of Dalhousie. This was sixty years before the main outlet of the French is where the logs were floated down from upriver. Given his watercolour, it promised to be a dramatic sight!
Well, there was some artistic license taken by Woolford! Our first look at the rapids from above did not match his painted view. The use of the name “La Dalle” is also confusing since the actual La Dalle refers to the final set of swifts on what is now the Old Voyageur Channel further to the west.
We’d get a closer look at the rapids 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. The Tramway Point label on the map above should be on the same side of the river as the portage. 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.
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 worth spending some time at.
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.
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.
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
- private residences
French River Village died a slow death after 1910 and the end of the lumber boom; the Queen’s Hotel, once the logging company bunkhouse, burned down in 1917; 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.
The site of the village is on river left (i.e. east side) of the Main Outlet just above Loading Cove. [Note: we did not know this at the time!]
The map above left is included in Kevin Callan’s write-up of a route in his A Paddler’s Guide To Killarney And The French River(2006). It shows the village on the wrong side of the Outlet. He has probably mixed up the location of the actual French River Village with the location of a planned townsite around MacDougal Bay that never happened.
Toni Harting provides this background detail –
…a townsite called Coponaning was surveyed in 1875 at the Main Outlet of the river, just below Dalles Rapids and enclosing MacDougal Bay….The town would only exist on paper. it was never actually built…(Harting, 85)
We beached our canoe at the point on Callan’s map indicated by “Mill site”. The image below shows the remains of a brick wall of that sawmill. From there we walked inland a bit on a rough trail looking for some evidence of the village.
In all, there are only a couple of structures to be seen:
- the collapsed wall of the sawmill that drew us in and
- a lighthouse we saw as we looked south from the plateau the trail led us to.
We did not know it at the time but we had landed a couple of hundred meters too far north of Loading Cove to get a full view of the former village site.
Looking south from my vantage point, I expected to see a flat area where streets once ran down to the water. There is nothing to see – except for the lighthouse which still stands to the south. That should have served as a clue that we were not quite at the village site! Instead, we went away thinking that the terrain you see in the image below was where it had once stood.
After our trip, I kept thinking about the jagged and uneven nature of the terrain that we thought the village had been built on. It just seemed to be an unlikely choice of space on which to put up all those buildings listed above. Rereading the Toni Harting book more carefully helped clarify things.
So too did zooming in a satellite view of the area just above Loading Cove. I was surprised to see buildings since we had seen nothing but the lighthouse tower from our vantage point a couple of hundred meters north!
Historical Images of French River Village:
Another lucky find – the book pictured below – Capturing the French River by Wayne Kelly helped to make sense of what the village actually looked like. [The Mobi/Kindle book can be accessed at Amazon here.] The promotional blurb at the Amazon site presents the book like this:
Capturing the French River introduces a rare collection of exceptional photographs taken along the river between 1910 and 1927 by Doctors J. Ernest Rushbrook and Frank Sherman, whose lifelong friendship was based in part around their mutual love of photography, of nature, of the Canadian wilderness and of the canoe. The collection was a serendipitous discovery by author Wayne Kelly, who immediately recognized the uniqueness of these incredible images.
The CDN$7.99. downloaded copy of the book includes a hundred or so images, a number of which helped me finally see what French River Village looked like in its heyday. Here are a few that you will find as you read through this worthwhile little investment!
There was an elevated tramway that came down to French River Village and Loading Cove from the sawmills. The photo above shows the south end of the tramway near Loading Cove. The carts loaded with lumber would be pulled by horses to the dock where waiting ships would take it to points south.
The images above and below show the Ontario Lumber Company’s bunkhouse. The building served for a short while as a hotel as the lumber business died.
The photo below has the lighthouse, the company store, and the workers’ recreation hall in the foreground. On the left running diagonally up the image alongside the river are the workers’ huts. At the very top right-hand side are the two churches – one Presbyterian and the other Roman Catholic.
The image below shows a paddling group making use of the wooden tramway built around 1907 to haul their canoes and gear from Boiler Point to Dalles Pool. This tramway is the one described by the Toni Harting quote in the discussion of Tramway Point above.
While the village was on its deathbed by 1910, in 1917 the Ontario Lumber Company’s bunkhouse, which by then had become the Queen’s Hotel, was destroyed by a fire. That pretty much sealed the village’s fate. By 1930 most anything of value had been hauled away from the village site and made use of elsewhere in the area.
With our scan of what we thought was the former French River Village townsite done and our morning meditation on the transience of all things over, it was time to move on!
We were headed for the open water of Georgian Bay!
From Cantin Point To the Bustards:
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 Bustards. 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 to find 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 – some upgraded to cottages?- on it. We were in the heart of what was in the 1940s and 50s 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.
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 900 (old #735) – that Rick had mentioned was especially nice when we kayaked through the Bustards a month before. Unfortunately for us on that occasion, 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!
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 900 for multiple tents – with no one feeling like they had gotten the short end of the stick!
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.