Day 9 – From South Channel to West End of Lady Evelyn Lake
- distance: 20.5 km.
- time: 10:30 – 2:30
- weather: very wet; passing thunderstorm; some torrential downpours.
- rapids/portages: none; only flat water paddling
- campsite: an official signed campsite on a point at the west end of Lady Evelyn Lake complete with “thunderbox”.
- Hunting Grounds: those of Wendaban (#24 on Speck’s map from 1913) from Willow Island Lake all the way to the Montreal River. Wendaban died in the early 1890s.
- Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 01_Obabika Lake; 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake.
The evening before we had accessed the weather forecast for the day with our Garmin inReach Explorer+ device. Some 60 mm. of rain were predicted!
It was raining when we woke up at our customary 6:45 so we ended up sleeping in a bit longer. By 8:30, the pitter-patter on the tarp over our tent had stopped. We decided the day would not be a rain day, that we’d move on even if it was only ten or fifteen kilometers north on Willow Island Lake. The first task was to pack away the contents of the tent – i.e. the sleeping bags, Thermarest pads, spare clothing, and all of our other absolutely- cannot-get-wet stuff. It all goes into the 75-liter Watershed Colorado duffel. It has done the job for the past eight years – never had an issue. One admission – after our first trip, we decided that to prevent possible punctures we would “baby” the bag by putting it inside a rugged MEC ballistic nylon duffel bag. That way we could toss it ashore or drop it on the side of a portage trail without worry. The MEC bag’s extra 2.2 lbs are worth the peace of mind!
While Max took down the tent, I went down to the canoe and the tarp we had set up above it and got the breakfast going. First, I retrieved the food bags from where we had put them the night before – about fifty meters away from our tent near the shore. It has been years since we have bothered to hang our food bag, a change we made when paddling Wabakimi in NW Ontario, where black spruce is just not made for the hanging routine.
Back under the tarp and with the canoe as a tabletop, I got out the butane canister and screw-on stovetop to boil 1.5 liters of water, which had already been filtered with a Platypus 4-liter Gravity Works filtration system. We also make use of a Steripen Adventurer water purifier which uses UV rays to treat the water. While the water was on the way to boiling, I got out the packages of oatmeal mix and ground coffee from the food bag; bowls, spoons, and coffee cups, and coffee filters came out of that red bag you see sitting on the canoe. By the time Max had stuffed away all the tent parts into various sacks, breakfast was ready.
There I sit with my coffee mug to my side; I had just been looking at David Crawshay’s Topo Canada app on my iPhone to get a sense of how far we might get this day, hoping to paddle in between heavy downpours and through light sprinkles of rain.
Everything we have – except for our life jackets and paddles – goes into four bags – our two 115-liter portage packs and two large size duffels. Before we put them in the canoe, we slipped each one into a construction-grade XL garbage bag we bring along for wet days like this.
As you paddle down the narrow channel from South Channel to Willow Island Lake there is some eye-catching vertical rock. Our eyes were especially drawn to a detached vertical slab at the right end of the rock you see in the image above. It reminded us of the so-called Conjurer’s Rock at the east end of Chee-skon Lake, said to be a sacred site to the traditional Temagami Ojibwe because the shape reminded them of the shaking tent. The “tent” is an enclosed cylindrical structure about 2 meters high with an open top and was used by their shamans to connect with the spirit world and receive guidance and medicine.
Lately, I’ve become somewhat skeptical of this Chee-skon stone “pillar” as “shaking tent” interpretation and think it may just be the result of some overly-enthusiastic non-Indigenous person intending to bolster Temagami First Nation land claim arguments by creating “sacred” spots around the Lake Temagami area. Of course, I may be wrong and am always open to evidence to the contrary.
As the map of the Temagami area drawn up in 1913 by the American anthropologist F.G. Speck shows, we were now paddling in the mid-to-late 1880s hunting grounds connected with Wendaban. Around 1840 or 1850 his father had split his hunting grounds into two –
- 27 for one son – Ke’kek- and
- 24 for his other son, Wendaban.
Then, when a fellow Ojibwe named Misabi came up to Temagami, apparently from the Lake Nipissing area, and married Ke’kek’s daughter, Ke’kek gave the southern part of his hunting grounds to Misabi – i.e. 27a. Since Florence Lake, we had been paddling in the hunting grounds associated with Misabi. For the rest of our trip, we’d be in Wendaban’s mid-to-late 1880s territory. (Wendaban died in 1894.)
Wendaban kept a cabin and a small garden at the north end of what is now the south arm of Lady Evelyn Lake. With our 1905 pre-flooding map as a guide, we hoped – maybe even on this day – to come close to the site where the cabin would have stood before the dam changed the shoreline.
The Boundaries of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park:
Now that we had slipped into Willow Island Lake, we were no longer in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park! We were also in a space not categorized as “wilderness” so we could expect fishermen in motorboats from here on all the way across Lady Evelyn.
This is not to say that motorized boats are prohibited within the park:
- At the west end of the park, motorboat traffic is allowed all the way up to and including Smoothwater Lake from the Beauty Lake Road put-in.
- In the South Channel, motorboats are allowed all the way up to the first set of rapids.
The evening before we had seen some fishermen in a boat just a bit east of our campsite and wondered what they were doing there. It turns out they had every right to be there! A wilderness park with motorboat privileges!
Willow Island Lake, Sucker Gut Lake, and the once-main section (but now just the south arm) of Lady Evelyn Lake all belong to Obabika River Waterway Provincial Park, created in 1989 and enlarged a few years later. Since Lady Evelyn empties into the Montreal River, it does seem odd to include it in a park whose waters end up in the Sturgeon River and then Lake Nipissing!
As we headed north on Willow Island Lake, we passed by a group of six canoe trippers. They came out of the woods and to the edge of their elevated campsite and we exchanged some comments about the weather and their decision to stay off the water this day. We all agreed that stay or go, the Temagami we were experiencing made for an excellent character-building exercise. While it wasn’t raining as we had our brief chat, within two or three kilometers of our encounter, we had to get off the water. We had heard the sound of approaching thunder and pulled ashore and hunkered down for about 30 minutes while the storm passed through.
The Way Things Used To Be:
It is about 15 kilometers from the south end of Willow Island Lake to the point where Sucker Gut Lake becomes Lady Evelyn Lake. In spite of our half-hour stop, we made good time since it never really rained hard while we were paddling and the wind, such as it was, was blowing from the south. By 2 we were around the corner and heading east on Lady Evelyn Lake and by 3 our tent was up.
Along the way, we got to see again the charred trunks of the pines standing like mute sentinels in the section of Sucker Gut Lake that stretches westward towards Maple Mountain Ridge. The arrow on the map above shows the spot where we looked west towards the Maple Mountain Ridge; had it not been for the cloud cover and rain we would have seen again the view in the photo below.
On two other occasions, we have paddled that bay to access Hobart Lake and one of our all-time favourite campsites. However, the weather had soured us on a visit to Maple Mountain this time. We looked west towards the ridge – but paddled north!
On our first visit, we had no idea that the Sucker Gut area had been flooded with the completion in 1925 of a dam at Mattawapika Falls, which was where the Lady Evelyn tumbled into the Montreal River. The dam raised water levels on the enlarged lake behind it by 5 meters. It replaced a smaller dam that had been constructed in 1915,
The 1907 map below – drawn 8 years before the first Mattawapika Dam was completed – shows just how much the flooding altered the landscape – and waterscape – of the area we were paddling on this day. The next day’s route would show an even more extensive change to the pre-flooding terrain.
- Thanks to the flooding, it looks like a new lake – Sucker Gut Lake – was created in the area south of Emily (now Hobart) Lake and north of Chris Willis Lake.
- The flooding also completely covered up Willow Island Falls (5’/1.5m) at the bottom (i.e.north) end of Willow Island Lake.
- A 3/4 mile (1200 m) portage into Hobart Lake is indicated on the map. I wonder how often it has been walked in the past 100 years!
We did not take many photos this wet day. We were intent on just moving forward and putting in some kilometers before the predicted big(ger) rains came in mid-afternoon. We almost succeeded. The rain picked again just as we pulled into a signed campsite on the north side of Lady Evelyn Lake.
The satellite image above shows the spot. [ The faint white lines also indicate some private properties (one to the NW of our site and two across from our campsite) and of the Garden Island Lodge to the east.]
The site is located on the flat top of a sandy spit that juts out into the lake. We found signs of use by fishing groups staying at one of the fishing lodges or private cottages/camps on the lake. Three plywood fish-gutting tables, beer cans, and an assortment of other garbage. This site, and the one we stayed at the next night, were the two messiest of the 10 we stayed at. Often we just paddle on when we come to a messy site like this.
This time we stayed. The site is fairly close to the location of the Indian House indicated on the 1907 map above. The next post goes into more detail.
After the wind convinced us that putting up a tarp close to the end of the point was not a good idea, we headed in a bit and found a more sheltered spot. With the tarp up in the rain, the tent was next. Meanwhile, the various packs and duffels were underneath our second tarp. A half-hour later that tarp was also up and we were working on having a lunch that we had let slip by in our failed bid to beat the big rain to a campsite.
While we waited for the water to boil we snacked on Pringle’s remnants and sipped on Gatorade. It was a wet afternoon that stretched into the evening but we had managed that delicate canoe tripper’s balance – moving forward while staying dry!