Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 8 & 9 – Across the Delta From East To West

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Day 8 – From Fox Bay CS920 To CS723 W of Whitefish Bay

  • distance: 15.4 km
  • time: 8:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
  • portages/rapids: 0/0:
  • weather:  a drizzly morning with some sun in the afternoon; a strong wind (20+ km) from the WSW
  • campsite: CS723 – good shelter for 1 x 4-person; possible for 2-3 x 2- person tents; on the cross channel side of the delta; there is room for more, depending on how fussy you are for a ‘flat’ or sheltered spot.
  • NRC topo sheet: Key Harbour 041 H 15
  • our GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)
Day 8 - From Fox Bay To W of Whitefish Bay

Day 8 – From Fox Bay To W of Whitefish Bay

The big rainstorm we had been expecting the afternoon and evening before never did happen. Instead, we got more of the low-grade drizzle of Day 7 with one added element – a strong wind blowing from the southwest.  We had planned to spend a couple of days in the Bustard Islands but the whitecaps on the waves that we saw rolling our way made us change our plan.

Cantin Point to the Bustard Islands

The crossing at its shortest (i.e. from Cantin Point to Tarpot Island)  is 1.7 kilometers. There are a number of smaller rocks and shoals that can shorten this distance a bit. Given the 25 km./hr.  wind and the waves, even a half-hour in an open canoe to do the crossing was taking a needless risk.  There certainly wouldn’t be any passers-by to help if things went south!

one last shot of CS920 as we head out on a windy morning

So –  a new goal! Instead of a couple of days out on the Bustards, we’d aim for the westernmost campsite in the Park and make use of the many islands en route to provide us with some shelter from the wind.  As we headed west from CS920 in Fox Bay, we made a point of paddling past the abandoned Georgian Bay Fishing Camp.

Georgian Bay Fishing Camp- – an abandoned look

The Fishing Camp – actually quite the complex consisting of a marina, lodge, restaurant, cabins, a store, boat rentals –  closed in 2016, two years after the death of the owner, Dave Bulger.  Bulger had owned and run the camp since the 1980s.  His son Matt tried to keep it open but was unsuccessful.  It had been in operation since 1928.  With its demise, the closest similar camp is probably Camp McIntosh on the French River’s Main Channel.

docks in front of the main service building of the Georgian Bay Fishing Camp

In September 2017 we had paddled by Dock Island just a half-kilometer NE of the Fishing Camp.  Sitting on the south shore of Dock island was a dock and I made a wrong connection between the two.  A reader of that post did write to let me know that the dock actually belonged to the Fishing Camp and had drifted across.

Georgian Bay Fishing Camp – main service building

Georgian Bay Fishing Camp – main dock area and gas pump

Georgian Bay Fishing Camp – dock and gas pump

Our brief paddle visit along the Fishing Camp shoreline brought home the transient nature of all things. If time itself is not the ultimate destroyer, then a changing culture and different notions of leisure time make casualties of things like fishing camps and, I hate to say it, wilderness canoe tripping and camping!  Other than maybe ten fishing boats we saw no one on our ten-day trip down the French and across the delta! Maybe parks need to provide free wi-fi and more designated selfie viewpoint spots to lure potential users in!

a last look back at the Georgian Bay Fishing Camp buildings.

We would spend the next hour and a half dealing with a strong WSW wind by deking behind a string of islands and making our way along the Georgian Bay coast to the French River’s Main Channel at Bluff Point. The reward: 5.5 km. of forward progress!

French River Delta – Georgian Bay

Crossing the Main Channel to the west side. we took advantage of the protected passage provided by the long narrow islands which run parallel to King’s Island.  Once past Sand Bay, a couple of times we got blown into bays that looked like channels.  By 1 p.m. we were just west of Whitefish Bay and at CS723.

our tent spot at CS723 on Georgian Bay

We have used this site before and like the tucked-in and sheltered nature of the tent site combined with the easy walk to the exposed shore of Georgian Bay.  Thanks to this year’s high water, that walk was much shorter than it was two years ago!  The wind continued to blow hard all afternoon.

The Bustard Rocks Lighhouses – so close!

In my hands, I have a Sony HX80 with a 24-720mm reach!  I had bought at it Henry’s for $160 CDN for a trip I did to Tanzania.  It came in very handy there on the short safari I did after my walks up Meru and Kilimanjaro.  On this French River trip, I left behind all the heavy gear – the Sony A77, even the Sony A6000 — and just took the HX and my Sony RX100.  I kept the RX100 in a Pelican case and the HX 80 inside two medium-sized Ziploc bags. Max had his Canon SX280 with its 25-500 reach, also in a Pelican case.  Maybe like the Fishing Camp my huge DSLR has seen its day!

Unfortunately, the Bustards were not a part of this year’s ramble. However, if you find yourself anywhere near the islands and the wind and waves are agreeable, the time you spend there will be among the highlights of your trip. See the following post for some background on the Bustard Rock lighthouses on the west side of this group of islands.

Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta:  Day 3 – The Bustards To Eagle Nest Point

It is 3.5 kilometers from where CS723 is to the Bustard Lighthouses. We walked to the east end of the island we were on and were amazed to see something else.  Well, we could barely make anything out of it but here is what popped up on our camera viewfinders when we zoomed in!

We counted about fifty wind turbines (of a total of 87 planned) on the Henvey Inlet First Nation land some twenty kilometers away!  It was the turbine construction crew working on this project in July 2018 that caused the massive fire labelled Parry Sound 33 thanks to their continued blasting in tinder-dry conditions in mid-July.

While in the long run the energy generated by the wind turbines will be a “plus”, for some reason the notion of corporate responsibility for the costs of the fire has never become an issue.  See this CBC report by David Seglins for more background –

Why it’s difficult to make industry pay when it’s accused of starting costly wildfires

Day 9 –  To The West End of French River Prov. Park

  • distance: 17.7 km
  • time: 8:20 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/linings: 3/1/1: 
    • 22m – empty the canoe, liftover and repack
    • 60m – over the hump around Devil Door Rapids
    • 40m – short 20-meter  La Petite Faucille portage; repack canoe and line for a few meters
    • 40m – high water level meant very fast water, lined short section to by-pass worst of it.
    • 130m – fast water section above the real ride!
    • 230m – all in less than 2 minutes!! looks rough but rides nice, vigilance still required
  • weather: sunny all day
  • campsite: CS822 – last ‘official” campsite at the west end of FRPP; lots of room for multiple 4 person tents; a couple of nicely sheltered spots, the rest are more open.
  • Natural Resources Canada Topo Sheet – Key Harbour 041 H 15; Collins Inlet 041 H 14.
  • our GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)
  • Unlostify: West French River covers the river from a few kilometers east of Highway 69 to Georgian Bay. It has all the official park campsites indicated.  Click on the title for access to a free digital download – or buy the $20. waterproof copy.  Note: do not rely just on the Unlostify map – make a paper copy of the relevant bits of the topos above for the detail you will need.

The French River Delta East Cross-Channel:

Just a couple of kilometers in from the Georgian Bay shore is an interior passage that allows you to make progress on days when the full force of the wind and waves are hammering the coast.  It presents few difficulties and some incredible scenery to paddle through.

  • The 4.4 km. East Cross-Channel goes from Whitefish Bay to the bay below Devil’s Door;
  • the 3.2  km. West Cross-Channel stretches from Devil’s Door Rapids to Black Bay.

We had done the entire Cross-channel a couple of years ago from west to east; now we would be doing at least a part of it – the East Cross-Channel in reverse. At Devil’s Door Rapids we would be at the bottom of the French River Delta’s three Western Outlets:

  1. the Bad River Channel
  2. the Old Voyageur Channel
  3. the Voyageur Channel

The plan was to go up the Bad River Channel via Lily Chutes all the way to the beginning of the Old Voyageur Channel.  Then we would come down the Old Voyageur Channel to the end of the West Cross-Channel and paddle down the Voyageur Channel to Batt Bay and our campsite at 822.

And that Plan B  – Plan A had been a visit to the Bustards – is what we ended up doing!

a slice of the East Cross Channel in the French River Delta

The map below shows the East Cross-Channel route from 723 to Devil’s Door Rapids and Portage and then the turn into one of the Bad River Channel’s sub-channels.

East Cross-Channel – French River Delta

Fifteen minutes into the day’s paddle and we just had to stop. We were paddling through a very scenic section of the cross-channel when we spotted what looked to be an excellent campsite somewhat elevated from the surrounding terrain.  A minute later we had assigned a grade of A to the site and agreed that if a quieter interior site was what you wanted instead of our CS723 of the night before with its access to Georgian Bay, then this would be an excellent choice.  [Note: I have since learned that camping at FRPP sites other than official designated ones is illegal and subject to a fine. Proceed with caution!]

the view from a potential East Channel campsite – French River delta

We also paddled over to the other side of the channel from the above ‘campsite’ location and found another pretty decent one.

a view of the above campsite from the other side of the channel

Shortly afterwards we faced our first mini-portage of the day – a 10-meter lift-over which the image below somewhat captures!

a 10-meter lift-over on the East Cross-Channel French River Delta

As we approached the bay below Devil’s Door Rapids, we saw our first bit of graffiti since Gibraltar Point on Lake Nipissing.  We did not go up to take a closer look but some of the letters already seem to be fading.  Hopefully next year it will be all but gone.

some graffiti on the sloping rock near the west end of the East Cross-Channel French River

And then it was a paddle into the bay before Devil’s Door Rapids. As we came to the end of the east cross-channel I noticed a No Camping sign on the NE point, a first anywhere in the park. Perhaps it is aimed at sailboaters or larger watercraft that might park in the bay for shelter? There was a sailboat anchored in the bay as we paddled by but no one seemed to be around.

Devil’s Door Rapids (Falls)

We approached the bottom of Devil’s Door Rapids. There was the 1.5-meter drop we remembered from our last time there.  Then we headed to the north side of the bay for the take-out spot for the 40-meter carry around the rapids.  The higher water level meant that the landing we used last time was under water!

Devil’s Door Rapids – a shot from the east

The portage trail was somewhat overgrown and we spend a few minutes trimming the junipers to make it more obvious.  Typical for the park’s portages, neither end of the trail is indicated by a portage marker.

the turtle on the Devil’s Door portage trail

There is a stupendous viewpoint on the rock overlooking the rapids and we spent some time up there taking in the neighbourhood.  Here is a view looking east to the rapids, the bay, and that anchored sailboat.

Devil’s Door Rapids – a shot from above

We turned around and looked west up the cross-channel; it goes all the way to Black Bay and the south end of the Voyageur Channel.  However, the plan this day was to head north up one of the Bad River Channels – the one with Lily Chutes at the bottom. The map below shows our route.

looking west from the great viewpoint above Devil’s Door Rapids

The Bad River Channel was probably named as such by the voyageurs thanks to the larger number of rapids and chutes they would have had to deal with and explains why they avoided its various options.

We did a lift-over and then lined the canoe up Lily Chutes and then were able to paddle up to the top of the Old Voyageur Channel.  Along the way, we did encounter some stretches of fast water coming our way that required some intense bursts of paddling to make forward progress.  We rounded the corner (see the map below) and began our descent of the Old Voyageur Channel.

The French River’s The Old Voyageur Channel

The Old Voyageur Channel runs 3.2 kilometers from top to bottom with only one portage.  Along with the French River’s Main Channel a bit to the east, it would have been the one most used by the voyageurs of old.

Toni Harting’s The French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996, Boston Mills Press) is by far the best book out there on the French River. It takes you from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay and covers everything from geology to history and canoe-specific topics. Included are useful maps, as well as some excellent photos, both colour and black and white.

Of the Channel, Harting writes:

…the Old Voyageur Channel was probably only used by the voyageurs at quite high water levels and by the big brigades of fur trade canoes. Smaller fur-trade canoes and specialized big canoes carrying only passengers, mail, and other important cargo would also have used this channel. These express or light canoes had less weight to carry and therefore enjoyed more freeboard to run rapids and shallow parts. [110]

At the top of the channel are some swifts. A bit more than half-way down you come to a set of rapids named La Petite Faucille.  These rapids were until recently mistakenly identified with the set of rapids depicted in a Paul Kane painting titled “French River Rapids”.  Harting writes:

The existence of the Petite Faucille is mentioned a few times in the notes of the old travellers. The artifacts found in the late 1960’s on the river bottom below the drop are another indication that this route was used by the fur traders. In his 1845 painting, French River Rapids, Paul Kane gives a curious artist’s impression of what presumably is the Petite Faucille. [109]

Harding’s use of the word curious is fitting because the location does not really look like the one that Kane painted!

[In 2006 Ken Lister located the actual site some 830 kilometers to the west in northwestern Ontario between Lake Superior and Rainy River. See here for his account.]

The painting a part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s collection.

Here are a couple of shots of La Petite Faucille – the first is the section below the rapids and the second continues the view up to the top.

La Petite Faucille Rapids on the Old Voyageur Channel

Other than the short 20-meter or so portage around La Petite Faucille there is little to deal with.  Above these rapids are some swifts; below the rapids is a 100-meter stretch of fast water known as La Dalle before you reach the West Cross-Channel.  We enjoyed the ride as we zipped down, hitting a top speed of 11 km/hr. for a few seconds according to our GPS track data!

looking east on the French River Delta's West Cross-Channel

looking east on the French River Delta’s West Cross-Channel

We stopped for lunch on the southeast corner of the island at the bottom of the Old Voyageur Channel and then continued our way westward along the southwest end of the channel referred to as the Voyageur Channel.

Not far from our lunch spot we passed by a landmark identified by Harting as The Fort, a supposed ambush site used by Indigenous pirates to rob the voyageurs of their trade goods.  The site is a jumble of rocks that may or may not look like a fort depending on how much you want it to be one!  Again, to quote the best book written about the French River:

On the south shore of the West Cross Channel, close to Black Bay, there is a peculiar collection of tumbled-down rocks where several circular openings seem to have been constructed. This was possibly used as a shelter by Natives lying in ambush for the treasure-filled fur-trade canoes that would pass down the channel, which is quite narrow at this point. This could well be the “Fort” talked about in some old reports and after which the Fort Channel is named. [Harting 32]

The story itself left us skeptical. How often could it have been used as an ambush site before the fur brigades would clue into the fact that there would be trouble up ahead? It is no more amazing an ambush site than a multitude of others that they could have picked.

Just which Indigenous tribe would be doing the hold-up? If it was an Algonquian (i.e. Anishinaabe) people, they would only be ticking off their many fellow tribesmen who worked with the French?  If it was an Iroquois tribe from upper New York State area, it would seem a long way to come to steal goods that could be taken much closer to home. It would also date its use to the 1600s when the Iroquois were still a military power.

Update: By chance, while reading the  Journal of a John Macdonell in a collection titled Five Fur Traders of the Northwest, I came across this entry from June 26, 1793:

Click here for the online text of Macdonell’s Journal – and of the other fur traders in the collection

It puts a different spin on the story than Harting does. For one, it sounds like a one-off ambush and not an oft-used spot; it makes clear who the attackers were – and also how unsuccessful they were!

As for a photo of the jumble of rocks – as we passed by I figured we would get one the next morning on our way back.  The next morning we amazingly missed it!  Lesson: get the shot while you can!  If you have a photo of the site you’d be willing to share, I would love to insert it right here!  Email me at true_north@mac.com Also another reason/excuse to perhaps revisit the Delta in the future.

Given the still-blowing southwest wind, we made as much use as possible of the numerous island in Batt Bay as we headed to CS822.  Along the way, we passed by another voyageur landmark identified by Harting. It was known as La Prairie. As with the Fort, we did not stop to take any pix. Unlike the Fort, we did spend fifteen minutes at the site the next morning! [See the next post for what we found!]

FRPP CS822 – the furthest west campsite in the park

822 is the westernmost campsite in French River Provincial Park.  It is easy to imagine it as a stopping place for the fur brigades at the beginning or end of the French River part of their journey.  There is ample room for many tents.  Behind the flat rock outcrop are a number of sheltered sites. We were able to peg our tent down, a novelty at a Georgian Bay campsite.

Next Post: Day 10 – Heading Back to the Western Channel From Georgian Bay

 

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4 Responses to Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 8 & 9 – Across the Delta From East To West

  1. Mike Williams says:

    I love your trip reports. Haven’t been to the French in years, and thinking that maybe next summer will be our return. Thanks again for the inspiration.

    Mike

    • true_north says:

      Of all the places my bro and I have paddled, we think the delta area has the most beautiful day-after-day views and campsites. The layers of history add something to the mix too. June or September will be less busy than July-August but I’m sure even when it is busy it is not like Algonquin! Hartley Bay Marina makes for an excellent start point. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Bill and Karen Procknow says:

    hello again.great to see you made it back to the french.concerning the no camping sign on the cross channel.Further up the hill was another sign stating the site was being rehabilitated.Looked like too much usage,and little vegitaton left.My wife and I were up there in September and the water level above Devils Door was the same as the bay.Always love your articles and photos.Happy canoeing.

    • true_north says:

      The French River – especially the Delta – does have an allure! It is also nice to be able to put the canoe in the water a few hours after leaving downtown Toronto – as opposed to spending a day or two driving way up north or west! Interesting to hear about September’s Devil’s Door water level – it seems to vary greatly from season to season. Thanks for the positive review of our post!

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