Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Day 1 – Lake Nipissing’s West Bay

Last revised on June 22, 2022.

Previous Post: Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Intro, Maps, and Logistics

Day 1 – Lake Nipissing From Shuswap Camp to Lafleche Point

We left downtown Toronto at 6:40 a.m., and by 11, we were at the reception desk at Hartley Bay Marina.  Another hour and we’d be unloading our canoe and gear at the dock at the Shuswap Camp at Sucker Creek Landing, ready to slide our canoe into the water of Lake Nipissing’s West Bay.

Compare that to the previous year’s Cliff Lake/Lake Nipigon trip, which had started with a 1600-kilometer drive over two days and was capped off with a thirty-minute bush plane ride to get to the put-in point!

Canoeing From The Pikitigushi’s Cliff Lake To Echo Rock on Lake Nipigon

This year we’d also be spared the two-day return journey to southern Ontario!  Instead of last year’s four solid travel days, this year, there would only be two easy half-days.  Nice!

Hartley Bay to Shuswap Camp

It is a one-hour drive from Hartley Bay to the Shuswap Camp at Sucker Creek landing. Our shuttle driver Mike – an old guy, maybe 70  or so (i.e. even older than our 65 and 68!) – hopped in our car and off we went. [An aside: “It’s weird being the same age as old people!”]

It became clear that our passenger was quite knowledgeable about the French River area and he certainly had some stories to tell.  I asked him if he did odd jobs for the Marina, thinking that it was a good way for him to make some extra cash in his retirement years. He admitted that he did and then matter-of-factly added this kicker – “Actually, I’m the owner.”   Mike Palmer!

Hartley Bay Marina header

The Palmer family has been running the Marina since 1952. According to their website, its original version was actually a restaurant and welcome center for rail passengers arriving from down south.  The Palmers had started their business more than a decade after Mike’s father first came to the Hartley Bay area in 1939.  The rail track that passes by brought in camp owners and other visitors from southern Ontario at a time when the road did not yet exist. These days Mike’s son James carries on the family business – but the restaurant is no longer a part of it. Now they have five cottages for rent and provide a full marina service for boaters. Canoe rental and route advice are also available for those planning a trip.

The Shushwap Lodge dock – ready to go!

Mike dropped us off at the water’s edge by Shuswap Camp and then drove our vehicle back down to Hartley Bay.  After we loaded the canoe, we headed to the restaurant for lunch.  Bad timing meant there would be a bit of a wait as the cook tried to catch up to an order from a group of 12 seniors whose ATVs we had noticed parked outside. There were also – to no surprise – no vegan options on the menu so while Max munched on some toast, I had a cup of coffee with the last of the soy creamer I had brought up from T.O. We ended up postponing lunch until after a half-hour of paddling when we came to a shady spot to set up our Helinox chairs.

an overview of the Shuswap Camp


Day One: West Bay Lake Nipissing – Shuswap Camp To W of Lafleche Point

  • distance: 11 km
  • time: 12:40 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Portages/rapids: 1/0: ~20 m – a nice easy start to the trip, from car to water!
  • weather: sunny, cool overnight, overcast with some rain the next morning,
  • campsite: room for a 4-person and/or multiple 2-persons, sheltered from wind in most directions, ok veranda
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)
  • Natural Resources Canada 1:50,000 topoNoelville 041 I 01

Lake Nipissing (West Bay) – Day 1 Sucker Creek to Lafleche Point

a look back at Shuswap Camp

the mandatory trip photo of Max, the stern paddler!

Just east of Shuswap is another lodge – Saenchiur Flechey.  While the first one uses the “up North” word “Camp” to describe itself, the latter bills itself as a “Resort.”

Saenchiur Flechey Resort – east of Shuswap West Bay Lake Nipissing

It was a sunny and windless afternoon, and as the overview map above shows,  we paddled by one little island after another on our way to the day’s target, Lafleche Point. I used the Google Earth satellite view to get a preview of the area, and it looked promising. I focussed on the area at the west end with the exposed rock outcrop and figured we’d find something there.

After checking it out, we ended up paddling back around the point to the Lake side and setting up our tent in a nice sheltered spot surrounded by some tall pines – and one that had been blown over in the past year or so.  It makes for a “good enough” campsite at the end of an easy first-day start.  The next morning we would find out that we had stopped 400 meters too early and that Lafleche Point had far nicer views and tent sites.  That’s how it goes sometimes!

Day 01 CS Lafleche Point campsites

our Day 1 Campsite just before Lafleche Point

Max phoning home from Day 1 CS Lake Nipissing

nearing dusk on Lake Nipissing – our campsite

end of the day on Lake Nipissing – CS 01

Day 1 was in the books – from 7:00 a.m. driving up the DVP near Eglinton to 4:00 p.m. putting up our tent on Lake Nipissing.  Quite the transition!  No paddlers sighted but a couple of motorboats on West Bay.

Next Post:  Day 2 – Lake Nipissing From Lafleche Point To Canoe Pass

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2 Responses to Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Day 1 – Lake Nipissing’s West Bay

  1. Keenan says:

    Just wanted to say that we appreciate the time and effort you put into making these blogs. Very well done!

    • true_north says:

      Keenan, thanks for the positive review! I prepare for our canoe trips the way I used to (over)prepare for my history/social studies classes as a high school teacher! If all my detailed posts make potential canoe trippers feel more confident about taking on a particular river that would be best of all. The French River serves as a terrific introduction to canoe tripping – not too difficult, portages where needed, not too isolated and yet still having the feeling of almost wilderness, and layers of history to contemplate and appreciate.

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!

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