Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 10 & 11 – From Georgian Bay To Hartley Bay Marina

Last revised: September 22, 2021.

Previous Post: Days 8 & 9 – Across The French River Delta From East To West

Day 10 – Up To Robinson’s Bay From the West Side of French River Prov. Park

  • distance: 20.6 km
  • time: 8:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/lining: 1/0/1: 
    • 75m – very fast water; lined on high ridge river right; tree dancing (passing the painter around obstructions and trying not to slip down the slope).  The 25ft line was ‘just’ enough
    • 75m – across island river right of Mill’s Falls
  • weather: a mix of cloud and sun all day
  • campsite: CS690 (old #707) w/TB – on Robinson’s Bay (across from the only cottage on the bay!); 1 x 4 person plus room for 1 or 2 2-person tents; nice elevated veranda view to, yes, the cottage; aged bear scat visible on the trail to the box toilet
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)
  • Day 10 – From Georgian Bay To Robinson’s Bay (CS 690)

It was Day 10 of our 11-day French River Descent and Delta Ramble and we were on our way back to Hartley Bay and our vehicle.  Another time and a few more days and we might have considered the following alternative:

Along The Georgian Bay Coast Or Along Collins Inlet To Chikanishing Creek

From our CS838 (old #822) at the western end of French River Provincial Park, it is only a 5-kilometer paddle to Grondine Point. Another 5 km. and there you are at the east end of the collection of islands called The Chickens with a couple of possibilities –

  1. If Georgian Bay is calm, you can paddle along the south coast of Philip Edward Island all the way to South Point.  Campsites are plentiful and the “eye candy” scenery level is dialed up to 11.
  2. if the wind is an issue, you can paddle up Beaverstone Bay and then head west along the sheltered Collins Inlet on the north side of the island. You’ll be doing something the voyageurs themselves did in their canots du maitre laden with trade goods if the Bay water was too rough.  Campsites are more scarce and it is a quieter and not quite so scenic experience compared to the one on the south side of P.E.I.,  but it does have its own charms. There is also a pictograph site you can check out as you head west from Mill Lake.
  3. The take-out spot is at the Chikanishing Creek parking lot. It is a one-kilometer paddle up the creek from the bay. An arrangement would have to be made for your vehicle to be waiting for you there.

See the following post for more map and campsite info, as well as pix –

Kayaking the Georgian Bay Coast: Logistics and Days  1 and 2- Chikanishing Creek To Solomon Island to Grondine Point

The Georgian Bay Coast from the west end of FRPP to Chikanishing Creek

  1. [You can download the Natural Resources Canada topo map sheet 041 H 14 Collins Inlet here.]

For more info on the Philip Edward Island area, our two posts below will help you get your own trip started –

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two


Up Batt Bay To Black Bay:

CS822 French River Provincial Park – room for many tents

Mulling over our return route via the Voyageur Channel to Hartley Bay the night before when I should have been sleeping, I factored in the high water level and the faster than usual current we had faced coming up the Lily Chutes channel.  I worried about what the Voyageur Channel would be like, given the narrowness of the sections where the rapids were.  We would find out soon enough!

CS 822 – looking south towards the open Georgian Bay

We set off for Black Bay, paddling up the west side of Batt Bay. Just north of 838, there is evidence of a recent small fire that has burned trees along a 100-meter strip of the coast.

recent fire damage on the west side of Batt Bay between CS 837 and 836

a Group of Seven moment as we paddle up Batt Bay to Black Bay

Group of Seven moment …same, same – but different

At the top of Batt Bay and the west end of the Voyageur Channel is a site identified by Eric Morse and Toni Harting as a favourite stopping place of the fur trade brigades after their descent of the French River from Lake Nipissing.

Morse writes in Fur Trade Routes of Canada/Then and Now:

They usually did the French River in one long day and then met at this spot – called  La Prairie des Francais – before continuing on to Georgian Bay and the journey along the Lake Huron coast to Sault Ste. Marie and beyond.

La Prairie at the top of Batt Bay in the French River Delta

We’ve paddled by La Prairie a few times in the past without knowing anything about its significance.  Toni Harting’s book – undoubtedly drawing on the earlier Eric Morse work – first alerted us to the location’s history. This is but one example of how his essential book on the French opens up an extra dimension to any French River canoe trip.

La Prairie – a voyageur fur brigade resting stop at the bottom of the French River

We spent fifteen minutes at the site, taking in the views and snapping a few photos. Max would eventually get to the patch of devil’s paintbrush you see in the panorama of the site below.

a view of La Prairie from the north

As we paddled up the tail end of the Voyageur Channel we passed by a building that may not have been there in 2017, at least not in its present form. We were somewhat surprised to see new construction going on in a provincial park but undoubtedly there is some loophole that makes it okay.  In this case, the smaller cottage to the right may have been there already, though it looks like it is also in the same stage of construction as the palace. It could be the boathouse!

a new cottage at the top of Batt Bay in the French River delta

close up of new cottage on Batt Bay French River

A Morning of Mis-Takes!

On we went to Black Bay.  First, we were going to get some pix of the so-called Fort on the NE tip of the island we had paddled by the afternoon before (the green track). [See the previous post for details about the “Fort”.]  Well, astoundingly we missed it!

Max’s eTrex 20 has such a tiny screen that it does not always provide the context necessary. This can be a problem in the maze of channels and islands that is the Georgian Bay coast! He may not have been paying full attention either and was not exactly sure where The Fort was.  How else to explain the 90º turn to the south at the west end of Fort Island?  Yikes! And the guy in the bow watching the shoreline zip by? Also clueless! In retrospect, we should have “waypointed” the spot before we set off from 838!

Fort Island – Voyageur Channel French River

And that is how we missed getting some shots of the jumble of rocks named The Fort!  I kept scanning the terrain to my right thinking we’d pass it soon. In the meanwhile, when we passed it, it was on the left! See here for the only possible reaction!

The Voyageur Channel:

On maps, the Voyageur Channel looks tempting as a possible canoe route as it is shorter than the others. However, this channel is very hard to access at low water levels, especially using large canoes. It seems, therefore, somewhat out of place to call this the Voyageur Channel since it is unlikely that fur-trade freight canoes would have used this channel on a regular basis given the great difficluties that would have been encountered. [Toni Harting, 32]

Off to the questionable call of the morning!  We paddled up to the top of Black Bay and what we remembered as one easy lining job at the Washer Woman and one messy portage at the top of the Voyageur Channel.  We had gone up the channel in September of 2017; here is the topo that shows what we dealt with on that occasion –

Sept 2017 Going up the French River’s Voyageur Channel

What we found this year did not fit at all what we remembered!  Clearly, the higher water levels had created something very different.  A comment in Toni Harting’s book on the French River makes this point –

At high river water level the Washer Woman shows a considerable hydraulic step that can be difficult to negotiate when travelling upstream. If the Georgian Bay level is very high its water can go up into Heron Bay and fill the Voyageur Channel, making this channel navigatable even if the river water level is very low.[Harting, 32]

Unlike 2017, this June we were facing the first situation – high river water levels.  Forget the notion of tracking our canoe up – it would require a portage on channel left to get above the Washer Woman. After we paddled into the bay, Max waited while I looked around for a portage trail.  There were no markers to indicate one and I bushwhacked my way to the top of the rapids. That is where I met the party of three canoes just pulling into to the top of the portage. They noted that it would be a real challenge to get further up given the strong current.  My thoughts of the previous evening about the problems with high water levels coming down the narrow channel at the top seemed to be confirmed.

As I walked back to Max sitting in the log-jammed bay, the thought of doing the Washer Woman portage just to return after being unable to get to a take-out for the messy portage at the top of the Channel had me decide to just turn back and go up by another of the many channels in the Western Outlet. We’ll never know what it really would have been like…

Instead, we paddled back down Black Bay and rounded the corner and entered the west cross-channel that goes all the way to Devil’s Door Rapids.  We had done the short portage around Devil’s Door a couple of days before; we would not be going that far on this day.

As the map below shows, we passed by the south end of the Old Voyageur Channel and then headed up another channel- Toni Harting has its name as Mills Channel –  that connects with the Old Voyageur Channel at the north end.

When we got to the top of Shannon Bay, we entered the channel. It is quite narrow at first and when the paddling against the current became too much, we tracked the canoe about 75 meters.

Scampering on channel right on the top of the rock ridge that lines the channel, we had a few awkward moments thanks to our barely-long-enough-for-this-job 25′ (7.6 m) lining ropes and badly-placed tree growth on the rock face!  This was one of those occasions when 50′ (15 m) would have been nice!  In ten minutes we were at the top of the swifts and paddling north to the next challenge.

old Voyageur Channel and Mills Channel immediately  to the east

Down below is a more detailed satellite view of the area from Boston Falls down to the unnamed falls (let’s call it Mills Falls after the channel the water dumps into!) that we paddled by.

We entered a small bay to the north of Mills Falls and I took a walk up towards  Boston Falls. While there may be an actual portage trail, I did not see it.  We could have bushwhacked it but it would have been ugly.  Toni Harting’s comment in his book on the French explains why!  He writes- “Boston Falls narrow and difficult portage on the west shore.” We were on the east side of Boston Falls!

rapids/falls  coming into Mills Channel  from the left; Boston Falls up to the right

It turned out to be a good thing that we were!  A couple of minutes of looking around led us to a much shorter and easier carry to the top side of the Mills Falls.  The satellite image below shows roughly what we ended up doing.

Satellite view of Boston Falls and Unnamed Falls

Here is a view from the north side of Mills Falls looking south down Mills Channel.

looking down Mills Channel from above Mills rapids/falls

After a lunch break at the end of our 50-meter portage, we continued north.  Swifts at the top end of the Old Voyageur Channel meant a couple of two-minute sessions of vigorous paddling – and then it was an easy paddle up the Western Channel.  On some maps, this stretch is labeled Robinson Bay.

Cottages on Robinson’s Bay and designated campsites – Note: the cs numbers are the old ones – see here for the list of  CS numbers as of 2021.

It was a late- afternoon when we pulled into the bay where CS690 (old #707) is located.  We found a nice spot amidst a stand of oak trees for our four-person tent.  Last fall’s leaves covered the ground and it looked like we were the first campers of the year to have stopped there.

our tent at CS707 in the middle of a stand of oak trees

Across Robinson’s Bay from the campsite is a cottage.  Had it been a Thursday we would not have expected the arrival of what looked like a father/son combo at about 7:30. Their weekend at the cottage was about to begin.  We had somehow picked the campsite on Robinson’s Bay closest to a cottage. The fact that it was a Friday made it that much more likely that the owers would be motoring in for a weekend stay.

It did not take too long for them to get that water generator going and the sound of the motor filled the neighbourhood. Thankfully they put the thing off some time after 9 p.m. and things quietened down again!

CS707 on Robinson’s Bay above the Old Voyageur Channel

Day 11 –  Undecided: East to the Pickerel To See the Fire Damage Or Head To Hartley Bay and our Vehicle?

  • distance: 19.5 km
  • time: 8:45 a.m. to 12:25 p.m.
  • portages/rapids/lining: 0/0/0: 
  • weather: cloudy; light rain; rain; cloudy
  • campsite: home, sweet home!
  • GPS tracks – 2019 French River (3.2Mb Dropbox file)

Day 11 route – back to Hartley Bay

Luckily the rain did not start until we had packed away the tent and put all of our essential gear into the dry bag.  We set up one of our 2.5m x 3.5m silnylon tarps so that it covered our breakfast table and our seating area.

watching the rainfall at CS 707

We still were undecided about what we would be paddling this day. We had two options –

  • head east to our favourite French River Park campsite at 633, put up the tent, and then go over to the Pickerel River to check out the fire damage
  • end the trip this day with an indirect route to our vehicle at Hartley Bay

The weather would help us decide!  The morning would prove to be wet with intermittent drizzle and coolish temperatures.  The weather forecast I accessed on my Garmin inReach called for more rain overnight.  Spending it in our tent on the scenic but exposed campsite on Pickerel Bay did not make much sense.

departure time from campsite 690– Robinson’s Bay

We paddled up the top end of Robinson’s Bay, stopping to take a quick look at campsite 688 (old 706) on Crombie Point. We agreed that had we known what it looked like we would have kept on paddling for a few more minutes the day before! See below for a shot looking towards the sheltered site.

a view of the campsite 706 at Crombie Bay Point on the French River’s Western Channel

As for paddling east to 634 (old #633) – it was a “no”!  Instead, as we came up to the east end of Pig Island and the collection of cottages there, we decided to turn north towards Thompson Bay and the mouth of the Wanapitei River. As if to tempt us to reconsider our choice of route, the rain stopped right around then and we got to paddle up the mouth of the Wanapitei on water that looks as calm as it does at the river mouth in the photo below!

paddling north up the mouth of the Wanapitei River

It turned out to be a beautiful way to end a French river/Georgian Bay canoe trip. For the next eight kilometers, we had the feeling we were paddling in a deciduous southern Ontario forest and not past the rock formations of the previous few days. As a bonus –  still no rain!

Thompson Bay to Hartley Bay – 12.5 km.

Along the way, we passed a couple of canoe parties, the second in two days but other than that the only ones we had seen since Lake Nipissing some eleven days before.  The almost-emptiness of French River Provincial Park before Canada Day and after Labour Day is one reason we keep coming back in mid-June or mid-September!

And then it was the home stretch, the 4.5 kilometers from Kentucky Club Island to Hartley Bay Marina.  Somehow we had knocked off 19 kilometers in a morning. We had left Campsite 690 at 8:30; it was now 12:30 and we were cruising towards the marina dock.

unloading the canoe at Hartley Bay Marina dock

Over the 45 minutes or so we got the following things done:

  • One of the Marina staffers drove our vehicle to the loading area from the parking lot at the marina where it had been sitting for the past 11 days. Valet parking – priceless!
  • We hauled all the gear and the canoe up from the dock to our vehicle and loaded everything in or on the car.
  • We went to the Marina office and paid the bill.  Included were the following: the shuttle from Hartley Bay to Sucker Creek Landing on Lake Nipissing’s West Bay ($140.); parking our vehicle at the marina for 11 days @ $10. a day = $110.  We had already paid the overnight camping fee on Day 1 when we first arrived at the reception desk.  We camped at FRPP sites on 10 of the 11 nights we were out.  Total bill for the two of us (both seniors) = $8.14 x 20 =  $162.80.   See below for the fee schedule …

  • we changed into the non-tripping clothes that we had left in the vehicle – nothing like slipping into clean stuff after a week and a half of living in the same clothes and haphazard washing up!

French River Visitors’ Center:

Once we got to Highway 69 and turned right for the 3 1/2 hour ride back to Toronto, we had one more stop to make.  the last time we had been up at French River we had gone to the Visitors’ Center, only to find it closed. [It was a Wednesday in mid-September.] We would have better luck this time!

We spent about forty-five minutes checking out the exhibit, which focusses on the river from various perspectives; Indigenous Peoples,  European missionaries and explorers, fur traders and voyageurs, geologists, artists  … it is definitely worth stopping and you come away having added context and history to your experience of the river, no matter how it was that you spent time with it.

entrance to French River Interpretive Center’ display area

birchbark canoe on display at the French River Center

Group of Seven-like painting of French River scene

Blake Richardson’s classic view of the French River looking south from Hwy 69 draws you in with an image that is more than initially meets the eye, with elements not so much hidden as embedded in the surface view we all see. the artist explains his process here.

a Blake Richardson  interactive painting at the French River Interpretive Center

Click on the header below to see more of this Canadian artist’s work.

Our French River from top to bottom was done.  We headed south figuring that our timing was pretty bad – we would be hitting the 401 at the top of Toronto around 4 p.m.on a Friday!  Somehow it turned out to be not so bad and by 5 p.m. we were sitting in my Riverdale kitchen.  Living in southern Ontario,  both my brother and I love a canoe trip that only requires about four hours of driving to the put-in and yet has a wilderness feel about it.  We may have been to the French a few times – but we’ll be back again for more!

If you are interested in getting to know the French River, check out the following series of reports we’ve put together over the last five years –

The French From Top to Bottom:

The French River Delta and the Bustards:

Philip Edward island:

Philip Edward Island canoe trip route

From Killarney’s Chikanishing Creek to Snug Harbour 

Kayaking Georgian Bay  – From Killarney To Snug Harbour – Intro & Logistics

Days 1 & 2  Chikanishing Creek To Solomons Island to NE of Point Grondine

Days 3 & 4  Point Grondine To The Bustards’ Tanvat Island To S of Byng Inlet

Days 5 & 6  S of Byng Inlet To Hangdog I. Channel To Garland Island (Minks)

Days 7 & 8  Garland Island to Franklin Island To Snug Harbour

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6 Responses to Canoeing The French River From Top To Bottom: Days 10 & 11 – From Georgian Bay To Hartley Bay Marina

  1. Daniel White says:

    Always enjoy your canoeing trip descriptions. Planning a trip on June 9 on the French River starting/finishing at Hartley Bay for one weeks time. What are the black flies like at this time of year. If they are bad, when do they taper off to manageable?

    • true_north says:

      Daniel, on our last two mid-June trips – one in the Chapleau area and the other down the French River – we planned for the worst. We brought along our Eureka NoBugZone as a refuge from the black flies; as always, we also treated our paddling clothes with permethrin. We ended up only putting up the bug tent a few times, and that was mostly to figure out how to put it up quickly if we needed to! The black flies weren’t that bad – and out on the bay they were barely there.

      Other than the bugs, you’ll have the place to yourself! Enjoy!

  2. Andrew says:

    I’ve been avidly reading your posts as we are planning our first excursion to the French with our three kids, ages 13, 11 and 8. We have canoes booked from Hartley Bay for three nights just before Labour Day weekend. Is Bass Lake a good spot to spend a couple of nights if we can find a good spot? It would be nice to have one night where we don’t have to move camp. Thanks, Andrew

    • true_north says:

      Andrew, Bass Lake does not have any official campsites on it. The area below the lake is quite picturesque and is worth a visit. As an alternative, I would suggest CS633 on Pickerel Bay. It sits high above the water; the views are terrific and there is lots of room for your kids to ramble around and explore. Swimming and diving off the rock would also be possible. With 633 as your base camp you could go on day trips down to Fox Creek (one or two portages depending on how far you want to do down) or down the Pickerel a few kilometers – again, scenic and narrow. One potential problem – the site might be available. CS632 just north of it is mediocre and not what you want. There are other sites in the vicinity but they are not as atrractive as 633, perhaps our favourite one in the park.

      If you’re keen on Bass Lake/Bass Creek corridor, there are some campsites on the Bay – 717, 718. It is one easy 100-m portage from Bass Lake.

  3. I love the French River! I see you posted a piece of my EarthArt above. There are over 100 Images that I have defined in that piece. I’m not hiding images. I am studying the photograph for imagery and then subtly defining what I see with paints on the surface of the photograph.

    • true_north says:

      Blake, I had to revisit the post to see what you were referring to. We did visit the interpretative center at the end of our trip. I am assuming one of the two images I took a photo of is yours – was EarthArt the one with the animals embedded in the image? Nicely done and perfect for the French River Center and its visitors old and young.

      After a visit to your website – WOW…more great images! – I’ve added your name to the photo and provided a link to your website so that anyone who reads to the end of my post and sees EarthArt can check out your other work.

      Re: The French River. It is easy to love! I think the delta area is one of the most scenic places on the planet that I have been lucky to visit!

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