Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Day 5 – To Bass Creek and the Park’s East Side

Previous Post: Day 4 – From West to East – Up, Down and Across the FR Delta

Day 5 – To Bass Creek to French River Prov. Park East Side

  • distance: 19.4 km (includes a side trip to Bass Lake and some hill scrambling)
  • time:   8:30 a.m.; finish 2:15 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1 / 1
  • P1 – 115m – side lake up to Bass Lake and then back again later
  • L/O – high water lift over or paddle/push/pull through or low water lift over
  •  weather: sunny and hot; some wind;
  • campsite: CS 913 in the delta; multiple 2 or 4 person tents, 1 nicely sheltered spot

By 8:35 we were on the water for another day of paddling through the maze of rocks and islands along the Georgian Bay coast.  We had as our target the east end of French River Provincial Park and maybe – if we could find a good one –  a campsite in the Outer Foxes.  If not, there were a number of designated campsites nearby that we could check out.

But first – a reconnaissance mission!  We wanted to see for ourselves the Bass Creek portages and the route up to Bass Lake. Once there had been a tramway; then there was a boardwalk.  We wanted to see what was there now!

NB. All maps and images enlarge with a tap or a click or two.

looking west towards our last night’s G’Bay campsite

On the way, we did stop on Macoun Rock to stretch our legs and fuel up on Gatorade and a Clifbar.  It was just after nine and we were already feeling the heat!  To the north of us was Hershel Island, whose east side we paddled along a few minutes later.

break time on Macoun Rock just S of Hershel I.

canoe beached at Macoun Rock

By 10:00 we were past Flat Island and nearing Bass Creek.  After a 400-meter  paddle up the creek from its mouth,  we came to the floating dock and the take-out for the 115-meter portage.  (See the image below.)  Ditching our bags in the bush at the start of the portage trail,  we carried the canoe and paddles – and camera bag –  to the other end. We’d be coming back in about an hour.

the dock and portage take-out spot on Bass Creek

As we paddled away from the put-in at the south end of a narrow lake, we looked back and noted the portage signs.  They were just two of perhaps eight or nine signs indicating a portage that we would see on our visit!  Some – like the ones in the photo above – look like official park signs; others were probably put there by the landowners at the other end who are tired of paddlers tramping across their property looking for a boardwalk that no longer exists!

Kas Stone’s Paddling And Hiking the Georgian Bay Coast provides some history to make sense of what was once there and what is there now. Of the original tramway, complete with rail tracks and a flatbed car, she notes this –

The line was built in 1912 by the Pine Lake Lumber Company, which had just purchased the abandoned sawmills at French River Village and wanted to move them upstream to a new location on the Pickerel River.  Subsequently the tramway was maintained by the provincial Department of Lands and Forests for transporting firefighting equipment back and forth and also used by local cottagers and fishing camps to move their boats, building materials, and even their guests between the French River and Georgian Bay. Indeed, Rainbow Camp was built in the early 1920’s at the top end of the tramway to allow its guests easy access to fishing in both the bay and the river. (Stone, 71)

Eventually (no date was given) the tramway was taken apart and the rails were removed. It was replaced by a 240-meter-long boardwalk.  Stone’s book was published in 2008;  at that time the boardwalk was still in use. She writes –

Although the land around Rainbow Camp is privately owned,  the tramway [i.e. the boardwalk!] itself is available for anyone to use.

1990’s Federal Govt topo with the boardwalk portage indicated – N.B. no longer in use!  Use the signed portages instead.

However, some time since 2008 the boardwalk has been dismantled after falling into disrepair. The apparent reason: the owner of the land it crossed was afraid of getting sued by someone who hurt themselves using it.  How that fits with Stone’s above comment I am not sure! Googling “Rainbow Camp Bass Creek” turns up no information!  There is a Rainbow Camp on the French River but it is near Noelville on the North Channel on the east side of Highway 69.  The Bass Creek property likely has been turned into a private cottage.

I was surprised to see the boardwalk recommended as part of a route in Kevin Callan’s recent (May 3, 2017) article at the Explore website – 6 Northeastern Ontario Paddle Trips to Get Stoked On.   In the section on The French River, he gives canoe trippers some outdated information. Of the Bass Creek Tramway he writes –

The return trip to the access at Hartley Bay Marina is by way of the Eastern Outlet and the Bass Creek Tramway. This 240-metre boardwalk, originally constructed of rails mounted on large timbers, was first established as a way for the lumber companies to move their mills off Georgian Bay and move them more inland.

There is no boardwalk anymore. There is one easy portage at the south end and a lift-over at the north end!

the portage markers on the east side of the Bass Creek Portage

After our carry from the dock, we did the short paddle up the narrow lake to the second “portage”.  On the official park map it is marked as “10 meters”.  What we found was a shallow and narrow channel – and maybe the beginnings of a beaver dam! –  that we pushed our way up. We may have stepped out of the canoe to move it along.  The higher water levels in 2017 – two feet higher, according to locals – explains the missing portage!

The 5-meter lift-over into Bass Creek – we paddled up and back down

We were now in Bass Creek again and looking at another collection of signs indicating the portage location.  Whoever put them there clearly want you to head for the narrow channel we had just come up and not look for a boardwalk that no longer exists!  The broken-line trail indicated on that 1990’s vintage Natural Resources Canada topo map above does not help matters! In the image below you can see what may be the remains of some of that boardwalk in front of the cottage.

private property on the east side of Bass Creek

We paddled south on Bass Creek past the property and soon beached the canoe and scampered up that hilltop you see in the photo below.

Max on top of Viewpoint Rock on Bass Creek – stupendous spot!

looking north up Bass Creek from the hilltop

Bass Creek – looking north and east

a grand view of Bass Creek – looking south

looking northeast up Bass Creek

a view from the top of Bass Creek

looking down Bass Creek

We spent a half-hour enjoying the views from our hilltop viewpoint and expressed the “wow” concept several times in different ways!  This was an unexpected bonus thrown in on top of what was already a fantastic scenic paddling trip.  I’m glad we took the time to get out of the canoe and scamper up the rock.  Sometimes my brother and I can get too focused on getting those kilometers in!

paddling back to the portage from our visit to upper Bass Creek

Then it was back the way we came – down the narrow lake through the reedy part at the north end, over the portage trail and back to our canoe packs and duffels which we had left behind – and finally, back down Bass Creek to the Georgian Bay coast.

If there is an “easiest” route from Hartley Bay to the Georgian Bay coast, one involving the least portaging, this route down Bass Lake and Bass Creek must be it.  Easy for canoers, it would not be that bad for kayakers either.  

As we headed east we paddled along the south side of Dock Island and wondered about the dock pictured in the image below and if it was the reason for the island’s name.

We looked south and saw the buildings of the Georgian Bay Fishing Camp, a full-service lodge that looks a lot grander than its name!

dock on the south shore of Dock Island across from Georgian Bay Fishing Camp

We soon stopped for lunch in Beacon Rock Bay.  Not far away were the Outer Fox Islands. In the image below Max is examining the map for the best way of getting over there for a tour of the small archipelago. Also on our mind was finding a possible campsite on one of the islands if it had some tree shelter and a flat spot for a four-person tent. If not, as the map below shows, there were several designated French River Provincial P ark campsites that we could check out.

Our visit to the Outer Foxes provided yet more great views and scenic small channel paddling – but, after checking out a couple of likely spots,  we did not find our campsite for the night. We decided to aim for CS 913, given its location and its proximity to Genessee Bay since the next day we’d be paddling up the Pickerel River.

The site proved to be a good choice.  It had a sheltered and flat spot for the tent with the earth floor being a bonus. A dozen tents could be pitched nearby depending on how fussy you were! As well, the rock outcrop running along the shore up the bay meant that we could do some exploring later on.

We did walk up the shore of the bay to the next campsite – CS 914. It was not as nice a site and, at first, I could not even see its marker. The blue sign finally caught my eye as I looked over at the fallen tree trunks in the photo below. The wind or a beaver – or maybe both – had done the job!

CS 914 marker

There is a boaters’ channel that runs along the coast. As we sat there and looked out into Georgian Bay we did see two boats make their way between Dead Island and the point we were camping on. It was a Sunday afternoon and we thought it might be busier, especially given our proximity to Key Harbour. However, since it was late September it was much more tranquil than during prime summer. As for fellow paddlers, during our first five days out we had only seen four kayaks – all in one group –  and four canoes.  We basically had the park to ourselves!

At the end of the day, we packed up the food bag and took it for a 100-meter walk down the shore. It has been a few years since we did the nightly “dangling the food bag from the branch of a tall enough tree” ritual.  Partly it was because the terrain we were paddling in often did not have the trees required to hoist our forty-pound bag up.  These days – no more bear piñata!  Now, we slip the food bag – one of our two tough nylon Hooligan Canoe Packs – inside a large garbage bag and put a log over it and walk back to the tent. Never an issue since 2012!

On tap for the next day was our trip back towards Hartley Bay and our vehicle.  While we could easily have done the entire distance in one day, we had decided to stop for the day just a bit short of the end-point.  Given the number of campsites in Pickerel Bay, that was what we were aiming for.

Next Post: From N of Dead Island to Pickerel Bay (The Elephants)

This entry was posted in Georgian Bay, wilderness canoe tripping and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s