Day 10 – From West To East Across Lady Evelyn Lake
- distance: 18.5 km with a pass by of Garden Island Lodge
- time: 8:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 0/0
- weather: cloudy, overcast, everything from misty to full-on downpour
- campsite: official signed site on Mattawapika Island; 2-3 2p tents, one good 4-P site near the fire pit.
- Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake.
We woke up to light rain. The weather forecast called for an overcast morning with a 40% chance of rain which would increase to 80% by 1:00. Light wind from the SW was also on the menu. We had decided to put in some kilometers before the big rains came; three or four hours would allow us to paddle all the way to the east end of the lake. While a number of the islands are private land – cottages or fishing lodges – there are more than a few campsite choices, as the map below indicates.
The first job – as always – was to put most of the contents that were inside the tent back into their jars, containers, Ziploc bags, compression sacs, etc – and then put everything inside the Watershed duffle that holds all our must-stay-dry things.
We have yet to embrace the 60-liter barrels that have gradually taken over since the mid-1980s when some Ottawa-area canoe trippers, including Wally Shaber, first started using discarded olive barrels instead of the traditional clunky wannigans or the cotton canvas Duluth-style packs that were popular at the time. Shaber’s involvement in the paddling gear center Trailhead and the canoe tripping outfit Black Feather helped to popularize the blue barrels.
While Max took down the tent, I retrieved our food bag and got breakfast ready. Since the tarps were already up from the night before, the tent underneath came down dry and we had a dry spot for breakfast.
We took a last look at our campsite; it is on an elevated section of a gravel/sand deposit left by the last retreating glacier some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
Lady Evelyn Before & After The Flooding:
Later when we pushed off from the spit, we took the shot above and wondered if the site was the same as the location referred to as Preacher’s Point on a map at the Garden Island Fishing Lodge website.
We also considered the possibility that the spit we had camped on had once been a ridge above the cabin and small garden area belonging to Wendaban, the mid-to-late 1800s Ojibwe owner of the hunting grounds of which Lady Evelyn Lake formed the core. A map drawn by F.G. Speck in 1913 with the input of Ojibwe residents of Bear Island indicates Wendaban’s territory as #24. [See the end of the day’s post for more on the Wendaban story and possible locations of his cabin.]
When it comes to Lady Evelyn Lake, there is one big problem in trying to find shoreline locations like that of Wedaban’s house from 150 years ago – the shoreline has changed dramatically! Looking at Speck’s map from 1913, it is clear that back then, Lady Evelyn Lake was essentially the section of the lake we think of these days as the south arm.
At the south end was Lady Evelyn Falls, where the water tumbled down from Diamond Lake ( previous Ojibwe name – Nonwakaming Lake). Beyond Obisaga Narrows to the east, Speck’s map shows the Lake narrowing significantly as it flows to Mattawapika Falls and the final plunge down to the Montreal River near James Mowat’s farm, which was established around 1900.
This map below was produced by a 1900 Ontario Gov’t sponsored survey team commissioned to explore/survey this part of northeastern Ontario as the first step of opening up the area to the exploitation of lumber and mineral resources and for colonization. It provides a more detailed view of Lady Evelyn Lake; it also labelled the long narrow stretch above the Mattawapika Falls as Mattawapika Lake.
Another map – this one from 1907 – labels things a bit differently. While it only shows the top part of Lady Evelyn Lake, it does show the section from Obisaga Narrows to the Montreal River.
Even a cursory look at a recent map of Lady Evelyn Lake will make clear the impact of the dam. It was constructed at Mattawapika Falls – the first in 1915 was followed by a much higher one in 1925 – and is said to have raised the water level of the lake by 5 meters.
What was a fairly narrow river passage from Obisaga Narrows eastward became a man-made lake rivalling the pre-1925 Lady Evelyn Lake on the west side of the Narrows! The south side was especially affected by the higher water level. However, all the way west to Willow Island Lake, new bays and lakes appeared as old shorelines disappeared.
So too did rapids and waterfalls as the higher water level covered them up!
- Gone, for example, was the 1.5 meter Willow Island Falls at the outlet of Willow Island Lake where it once tumbled into Lady Evelyn Lake.
- Also gone at the south end of the Lady Evelyn Lake, where Diamond Lake’s outflow tumbles into Lady Evelyn, was Lady Evelyn Falls. These days there is a one-foot shelf that involves a short carry-over or a paddle down if water conditions allow.
- Both pre-1925 maps above indicate a Mattawapika Lake. This may be based on a once-set of rapids that made the distinction between the two lakes possible. Those rapids would also have disappeared with the higher water level.
Paddling East on Lady Evelyn Lake:
We passed the north side of Garden Island and looked over at the Lodge, the furthest west of the fishing lodges on Lady Evelyn Lake.
In spite of our expectation of lots of motorboat traffic as we headed east towards the dam, it turned out to be no more than three or four over the day and a half that we were in motorboat territory. Being mid-week in September after Labour Day probably had something to do with it!
There are no signs announcing the fact but as we paddled into Obisaga Narrows we were leaving Obabika River Provincial Park and entering the East Lady Evelyn Lake Conservation Reserve.
The sun captured in the image above was so noteworthy – it lasted for seconds and would be all we got this particular day! – that I had to get a shot. The image also shows a glass-like Lady Evelyn surface – the wind had died down from the afternoon and evening before. It would only pick up again in mid-afternoon.
Why Was The Mattawapika Dam Built?
As we had seen at the south end of Willow Island Lake and in the west bay of Sucker Gut Lake, we now got more charred pine trunks on the north side of Lady Evelyn. You’d think that after 100 years those tree trunks would have rotted or collapsed – but apparently not! We have come to think of them as middle-finger salutes from the companies – mining or lumber-related – responsible.
Electricity and Compressed Air For Cobalt-Area Mines
While I have been unable to find any information online about who specifically constructed the Mattawapika dam, a reader of my Temagami posts did provide me with a basic explanation of why it was built – and why it remains in place almost 100 years later.
The dam was put in by mining companies operating in the area to supply water for power plants on the Montreal River. A canoe trip on the Montreal River below Latchford will have you pass over and around all of these ancient dams and compressor plants that used to be there to supply air to the mines of the area.
These days the dam holds back water to help operate the string of hydro plants on the Montreal. Many of these plants are peaking plants that operate only intermittently. The water on Lady Evelyn Lake gets drawn down over the winter to supply hydro operations.
If you go to Lady Evelyn Lake in the early spring, as soon as the ice is gone, the lake level with be about 15 feet lower than in the summer months. The water level has to be raised by May 15 or so to permit cottagers and others to enjoy the lake.
The Cobalt silver mining boom of the early 1900s created an instant and insatiable demand for cheap energy.
This excerpt from Charles Dumar’s excellent Cobalt- area blog provides all the detail –So, harnessing the hydro power of the Montreal River in the stretch of the river below Latchford for electricity and for the production of compressed air was the motivating factor for building the Mattawapika Dam. Like the flood control dam built at Latchford in 1913, it allowed greater control of water supply for those facilities like
- the hydro-electric station at Hound Chute (1910) and
- the water-power compressed air plant at Ragged Chute Dam (1910).
The Dumar source linked above has an explanation of how the air compression plant worked. It was definitely an engineering marvel. Click on Cobalt Mining Legacy to access more of Dumar’s write-up of a little-known-by-most period of Canada’s history.
Easier Access To Logs Around Lady Evelyn Lake:
Higher water levels on Lady Evelyn Lake also eliminated a number of rapids and allowed easier access by the lumbermen. Winter cutting would be followed by spring log drives, making use of an “alligator” boat to move the log booms downstream to the log chute by the Mattawapika Dam.
The lumber company most associated with logging in the Lady Evelyn area was the A.J. Murphy Lumber Company. An article by Edward F. Mantle, who was a Fish and Wildlife Supervisor in Sault Ste. Marie District, provides lots of excellent detail. Titled A MONTREAL RIVER PIONEER it appeared in the Ontario logging journal YOUR FORESTS (Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1976), it is based on interviews Mantle did with Charlie Mowat of Mowat’s Landing. Details include the following –
The most recent and longest continuous logging operation in the area commenced in 1916. It was founded by Mr. A. J. Murphy. Known first as the Conkey and Murphy Lumber Company, the name was later changed to the A. J. Murphy Lumber Company, the name which the firm bore until its dissolution in 1960.
The Murphy limits were very extensive and stretched from the Montreal River far west to Lady Evelyn Lake. Large camps operated annually for many years in the area around Lady Evelyn Lake and every spring there was a huge drive through Lady Evelyn Lake and the Montreal River to the Murphy Mill at Latchford. This mill, located on the river southeast of Latchford, was destroyed by fire on June 22, 1957. It was later rebuilt on Bay Lake a short distance north of town.
On Lady Evelyn Lake during the drive, Murphy’s operated a large steel-hulled “alligator” tug, and two scows with sleeping quarters and kitchen facilities
See here for the entire article
Lunchtime In The Obawanga Dunes
Our route across the lake after Obisaga Narrows was one that followed the south shore. The mist and light spit of the morning turned into more of a drizzle as we were paddling past the long, narrow slivers of sand topped with tree growth known as the Obawanga Dunes. Since it was time for a lunch break, we started scanning the tops for a possible place to set up our Helinox chairs. The sign on the tree below – a sign we’d never seen before – drew our attention to the spot. On the sign are what look like a tarp and a tent – we figured it was an emergency shelter spot indication! In retrospect, a more likely interpretation would be a tent icon with a slash mark through it! Odd that the circle and slash mark would have so completely faded! The premise is that the dunes are too fragile to allow paddlers to camp on them – even though their impact would be considerably less than the wake created by the motorized fishing boats zipping up and down the lake. There are too many fishing lodges on the lake to even question the impact of that boat traffic on the Obawanga Dunes!
About a minute after our 10’x 14′ silnylon tarp was up it started raining heavily – and then it came down even harder! In the next 45 minutes, we got more than a day’s worth of rain while we enjoyed lunch and coffee underneath our tarp. Lucky timing!
As noted above, there are quite a few campsite options at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake. We paddled past the Ellen Island Camp, a fishing lodge made up of six cottages and the main lodge. Then we headed to the southwestern tip of Mattawapika Island. The site we found was of the “it’ll do” grade with the earth wet and muddy thanks to the rain and a messy campsite left by some fishing boat party. The only relatively flat spot for our 4-P tent was the area we tidied up fairly close to the firepit. Smaller tents will have an easier time of it!
We had just gotten off the water as the wind started to blow a little harder – now it was coming from the northwest. Temperatures were expected to drop to freezing overnight; a new weather system was moving in! One thing that it was forecast to include was much more sunshine than we had seen in days.
Looking at the Garmin inReach’s weather forecast we got the summary you see below. Had that been the forecast two days before we’d have been on Hobart Lake looking up to the Maple Mountain ridge. Instead, thanks to the weather cards we had been dealt, we’d decided to paddle out the next morning.
What’s With All the History Stuff?
I still remember the initial hesitation before uploading my first canoe trip report. What could my reports possibly include that would be of use or interest to potential future wilderness paddlers? There’d be no machismo river running feats à la Adam Shoalts! Imagine me writing –
“Paddling through the rain, I approached the start of the whitewater in my canoe. They were deep rapids, free of visible rocks, but with big standing waves that could easily swamp a canoe. Naturally I decided to canoe right through them. from the chapter on the Thelon in Beyond The Trees
Yeah, right! I’d also never be able to include a photo of me – a vegan since 1990 with a lifelong aversion to hunting and fishing – proudly thrusting the impressive walleye below in my outstretched arms! There’d be no images of a campfire fish fry in my report.
I’ve come to realize that just as other people write trip reports that suit the way they relate to “wilderness”, I could do the same. My outstretched arms hold not a prize fish but something else that I, a lifelong history nerd and 35-year high school teacher of world religions, social science, and history-related subjects, find personally fulfilling.
Including in my reports what I learn about the history of places paddled or trekked and the stories of the people that live(d) there – that is what I angle for! The problem, of course, is that while the walleye can be weighed and is pretty much cut and fried, “history” depends on who is holding it out and how (s)he chooses to weigh the “facts”.
While learning about the flooding of the lake definitely helped us make sense of the landscape/waterscape we were seeing, our brief entry into the world of the Ojibwe inhabitants of Temagami provided an added human dimension that enriched our trip down the Lady Evelyn from top to bottom.
It was Wendaban’s story that I found most intriguing. It was finding F.G. Speck’s Report that opened my eyes to the world of the mid-to-late 19th C world of the Temagami Ojibwe. And, as usually happens, answering a few questions has brought to light even more that I now need to find answers to!
Click on the title below to access Speck’s report in pdf format:
Family Hunting Territories and Social Life of Various Algonkian Bands of the Ottawa Valley. F.G. Speck. Ottawa: Government Printing Press, 1915.
Wendaban & The Flooding of the Lake
Wendaban’s Life – Some Background Information:
While Speck provides the essential background to the world that Wendaban (also spelled Windabin,Windahbin, and other transliterations of Anishnaabe sounds into Roman letters! ) lived in, Thor Conway sketches a more detailed picture of the Ojibwe story. It is based on thirty years of work and contact from the 1970s onward as an Ontario Government archaeologist in the Temagami and Sault Ste. Marie area and later as an advocate for and advisor to the Temagami First Nation.
Thor Conway’s book Secrets of the Temagami Wilderness, slated for a 2017 release but not yet published, includes a chapter on Wendaban. It is the sample chapter available on Conway’s website (see here). In it, Wendaban is presented as a legendary and powerful Ojibwe shaman. Writes Conway:
If you envision Wendaban as Merlin the Druid of King Arthur’s tribal world, you would understand the nature of his powers and his unique position within tribal society.
How accurate a portrayal of Wendaban Conway presents is open to question.
It may be that Conway’s Wendaban is as fictional a character as Merlin was, a handy receptacle for the fantasies of storytellers who made of him what their narratives required. According to Conway, he was born circa 1818 and died in 1894; he was the son of Wabigan and the brother (younger?) of Ke’kek.
From their father they inherited their hunting grounds with Wendaban, as noted above, getting the territory contained in #24 and Ke’Kek receiving the larger 27 and 27a. Given the size of their father’s hunting territory, Wabigan may have been among the twelve Ojibwe family heads that had moved into the Temagami area from Lake Nipissing/Georgian Bay area around the year 1800.
This information comes from the report written by F.G. Speck who spent time on Bear Island in 1913 with the Ojibwe community living around the Hudson Bay Company post there. (There is a link to his report a few lines above.) Conway’s view is that the Temagami Ojibwe have lived there for many thousands of years.
In the 1840s an Ojibwe by the name of Misabi (he is named David Missabie in other accounts) came up from Lake Nipissing, perhaps from the Shawanaga area. Given that Misabi married Ke’kek’s daughter and his sister married Wendaban, it may be that it was arranged marriages that drew them both to Temagami. Ke’kek gave Misabi a part of his hunting territory to seal the new relationship.
As for Wendaban and Misabi’s sister, Conway tells the story of their meeting this way –
Wendaban met his wife, Old Misabi’s sister, during his travels to Lake Nipissing or Georgian Bay. She belonged to a Beaver Clan family living at Shawanaga…
Unstated is what business drew him away from Lady Evelyn Lake to Nipissing “during his travels”. If it was to cash in a winter’s supply of fur pelts, then the nearby HBC post on Lake Temagami would make the most sense. Even the post at the top of Lake Temiskaming was closer than the one on the Sturgeon River near Lake Nipissing.
However, his connection with Nipissing is well attested. Government records show that from 1856 to 1883 Wendaban collected government money in 22 of them as a member of the Nipissing band. He may have made a home with his wife in her community as opposed to them spending all their time in Temagami. While Wendaban apparently died in 1894, there is no record of his wife’s death year. Conway does tell the reader this –
Despite his powers over fertility and interaction with the replenishment of life for his tribe, Wendaban and his wife did not have children. So, Wendaban’s line died out.
As I read the words “his powers over fertility and interaction with the replenishment of life” I thought – What can this flurry of words even mean?
Some time spent at the archive.org site did turn up an interesting passage in a May 1901 issue of Field and Stream & American Angler magazine. Included in an account of a ten-day fishing trip in the Temagami area was this:
If the guides provided accurate information about Lady Evelyn Lake’s history and inhabitants, then Wendaban’s widow was living in the cabin after his circa-1894 death. Not mentioned is if they actually met her. These guides presumably also told the tourists he was a Chief, perhaps misunderstanding his supposed reputation as a renowned shaman. The guides, hired in Haileybury, were:
- Billy Fiddler, identified as a recent settler in the area and
- George Friday, in his early 20s, of the Friday family living across from Bear Island on Lake Temagami.
[Field and Stream Source: p. 158]
The Location of Wendaban’s House:
The map from 1907 below indicates a couple of locations that may correspond to that of Wedaban’s house. One has the label “Indian House” and the other “Indian Cabin”.
If the “Indian House” indicated on the north shore of the lake is the location, then it was very near to where our campsite was. Preacher’s Point is a current name that appears on some maps, like one from the Garden island Lodge above. The name may allude to Wendaban and his shaman status, though “preacher” is really not the greatest English equivalent!
Craig Macdonald’s Nastawgan map (see here) also locates Wendaban’s home in this approximate location. He labels it A-mik Tigwan Ago-ji-Gonay N. which translates as Place of the Hanging Beaver Skulls. Apparently, Wendaban decorated his property with the dangling bones of various animals, including the amik or beaver.
Found on the Toronto Public Library website was another map from 1900 attributed to the Lumsden Steamboat Line. Oddly, a further note says “Specific date (year) of map is unknown”. However, given that the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad, completed up to New Liskeard from North Bay in 1904, does not appear on the map, it is safe to assume the map predates that year. At the northwest corner of then-Lady Evelyn Lake, we see the label “Windabin’s House”!
Access the entire map “Temiskaming, Temagami & Keepawa lake country” here.
A Possible Location Of The Cabin:
To the NW of our tent site is a bay that does not exist on the pre-flood maps of the area. It is one possible location of Wendaban’s cabin. Other options include what are now small bays to the east of the campsite on top of the esker. They would have had the added advantage of providing more shelter from the NW winds.
The Flooding Of Wendaban’s House:
Conway leaves the reader with one last Wendaban story; it is connected to the flooding of Lady Evelyn Lake caused by the dam at Mattawapika Falls.
Early dams were built to assist logging drives. The flooding waters forced Wendaban from his home on an ancient point of land marked by skulls and mystery. According to Madeleine Katt Theriault, Wendaban returned home to find his log home floating and gradually sinking into the lake. Floodwaters covered his gardens causing a loss of important foods meant for storage into the winter months. The old man was driven from his lifelong home on Lady Evelyn Lake.
The story of the old yet still feared shaman paddling home only to see his cabin floating and gradually sinking into the lake is heart-breaking. The detail about the flooding of a garden area adds to the pathos of the scene. The story is also not true; the event never happened.
Conway notes that he got the story from Madeline Theriault (1908-2000). She was born into an Ojibwe family on Bear Island and is the author of Moose To Mocassins, an account of her life in the Temagami area with an emphasis on how she and her family lived the late 1800s version of a traditional “off the land” lifestyle until 1940 when her first husband Alex Mathias died.
[From May to September they would live near the Hudson Bay Co. post on Bear Island as members of the 100-or-so Ojibwe community and take on wage labour jobs – guide, kitchen help, cook for the various tourist lodges – as they came up. At the end of the tourist season in September/October, they would head to the hunting grounds on the Lady Evelyn River above Katherine Lake. Macpherson Lake is mentioned as one wintertime base camp location; so too is a cabin on Diamond Lake.
The problem with the flooded cabin story is that Wendaban died in 1894, years before the Cobalt silver miners and the first loggers arrived and before even the first smaller dam was built (1915). What the story told by Theriault does is transfer to the legend of Wendaban whatever shock and upset that the Temagami Ojibwe who accessed Lady Evelyn Lake felt with the massive flooding caused by the 1925 Mattawapika Dam. Theriault was 17 at the time and living on Bear Island. Strangely, not once in her memoir does Theriault mention the flooding of Lady Evelyn Lake.
[In 1942, another dam was constructed at the outlet of Diamond Lake where it tumbles into the south end of Lady Evelyn. As a result, Diamond Lake’s water level rose a few feet and a cabin on the lake was flooded. As well, a few pictographs at the site just south of the lake’s outlet were submerged. Theriault does mention this flooding in her memoir through her placing it in the 1930s is problematic since there is no record of a dam before the early 1940s. By then she was no longer staying at Diamond Lake at the winter cabin her first husband had built in 1933. He had died in 1940. See here for her account from Moose to Mocassins.No mention is made of other cabins on the lake before the dam’s construction.]
So, the Lady Evelyn flooding was real; it just did not happen in Wendaban’s time. Without a doubt, Theriault’s occasional retelling of the Wendaban flood story would have evoked the indignation, disgust, and sympathy it was meant to. This may also be why Conway includes it in his account of Wendaban’s life and perhaps embellishes it even more.
The Field and Stream passage noted above also has the cabin still occupied around the year 1900 by Wendaban’s widow.
A 2004 document – Temagami First Nation Report On Water Management Planning For the Montreal and Matachewan Rivers – includes a testimonial statement attributed to Theriault. She had died in 2000; the testimonial is borrowed from an earlier report. It does provide an account that sounds more factual than the one above:
In this account, the cabin is untouched until the 1925 or 1926 flooding. This explains why it appears on the 1900 map above. Still, some details seem off. She notes, for example, that she “could recall waking up in the morning to find water rising out of the floor of the cabin”. This would imply that she was living in the cabin (with Charlie Taylor?) in 1926 when the flooding occurred! In 1923 at the age of 15, she had married Alex Mattias and they would have been living on Bear Island during the spring and summer.
The detail about the compensation for the lost cabin is also notable. It may be an editorial comment added by whoever included her “testimonial” in the report. Given that it is the “white man” who gets the compensation, it is easy to understand the point being made!
All of the above is proof that uncritical acceptance of accounts of the past told by those who draw them from their pliable and fallible memories can lead to problems with the actual facts.
Day 11 – From Mattawapika Is. CS To The Dam and Down To Mowat Landing
- distance: 9.4 km
- time: 8:15 start – 9:25 (at dam) – 9:50 (portage done) – 10:05 (Mowat Landing)
- portages/rapids: 1/0; around Mattawapika Dam
- weather: cool (1ºC when we got up) but gloriously sunny – the sunniest day so far!
- Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake; 031 M 05 _ Cobalt
We got up to a beautiful morning at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake. The sky was blue, the mist was rising off the lake, and the temperature was about 4ºC, which didn’t feel so bad thanks to that sun.
On some early 1900 maps, the eastern half of what we now call Lady Evelyn Lake was labelled Mattawapika Lake. It suggests a pre-dam set of rapids – perhaps at Obowanga Narrows – to mark the transition from one lake to the other.
Mattawapika has a number of other spellings – Mattawabika is the most common. This Grand Trunk Railway postcard from 1909 uses Matawabika – google one or the other and you get different websites listed!
We were on our way by 8:15 and by 9:25 had paddled the seven kilometers to the top of the Mattawapika Dam. One taxi boat, presumably with clients from one or more of the fishing lodges on the lake, passed us by but that was about it for traffic. Once at the dam, we were directed from the motorboat launch to the canoers’ take-out spot, which knocked 30 meters or so off our eventual 275-meter portage.
When we got to the landing we met a couple of other canoe parties. Two guys were just setting off for their annual visit to Maple Mountain. They wanted to know how bad we had found Lady Evelyn, thanks to its reputation as a tough slog when the prevailing winds from the SW or NW kick in. We told them things were looking good.
The other group was, like us, exiting and heading to vehicles parked at Mowat Landing. Unlike us, they had spent the two previous days rain-bound at a campsite on Lady Evelyn Lake. While they too had intended to paddle to Maple Mountain, the rain had convinced them otherwise. Meanwhile, we had paddled all the way from the South Channel and Willow Island Lake!
Now I regret not taking the time, after we loaded our canoe and paddled away from the put-in below the dam and across the Montreal River, to frame a shot that would have captured the perspective of this circa 1905 postcard issued by the Grand Trunk Railway!
Mattawapika is an English phonetic approximation of an Algonquin place name. Mattawa or matawa means “narrows where the waters meet”; pika or bika translates as rocky. It does describe the spot below the falls nicely!
It is under two kilometers from the bottom of the dam to the public dock at Mowat Landing. Along the way, we passed White Pine Lodge on the west side of the Montreal River. The red roofs of the lodge’s cabins are visible in the image below – and in the satellite image that follows.
Mowat Landing is named after the Mowat family. It was James Mowat who established a farm on the west side of the Montreal River around the year 1900. The area indicated on the map below is only a 5-acre piece of the original larger farm.
An Ontario survey crew passed by the new Mowat homestead in the summer of 1900 on their way down the Montreal River. J.Parsons of Survey Team #3 recorded the following information:
Ten miles below this is what is called Rennebester Settlement where a Mr. Mowat lives. He was for many years in charge of Fort Matachewan, and after leaving the employ of the Hudson Bay Company settled at this spot, where he has a comfortable cabin, a very substantial barn, several head of cattle and quite a large clearing. [See REPORT OF THE SURVEY AND EXPLORATION OF NORTHERN ONTARIO, 1900. p.112 for the quote.]
His son Charles Mowat (1886-1966) would spend most of his life living there. Edward F. Mantle wrote up the Mowat family story after a series of conversations with Charles in the late 1950s and early ’60s; while his website is now down, you can read a reformatted pdf file here.
Note: the one glaring absence from Mantle’s Mowat write-up is any mention of the Anishinaabe (including Wendaban and his brother Kekek) who mostly had the land to themselves before 1850. After that, the initial trickle of fur traders, trappers, prospectors, lumbermen, farmers, miners, and outdoors enthusiasts (fishermen, hunters, canoe trippers, and more genteel lodge guests) eventually became a flood.
The website will also give you access to all sorts of interesting biographical info on the early residents and local history of the Latchford/Mowat landing/Elk Lake area. While I have focussed heavily on the Ojibwa inhabitants who, if Speck is correct, arrived in the area around 1800, the nearby Algonkin, the fur traders, prospectors, loggers, and settlers who came somewhat later is something I need to look at to fill out the story.
After landing at the public dock, we retrieved our vehicle from Mowat Landing Cottages. As mentioned in the initial post, we had camped on their property after driving up from Toronto. The following morning Lisa drove with us in our vehicle to the put-in off Beauty Lake Road where it crosses the Montreal River and then drove the car back to their Mowat Landing Cottages property. The camp spot by the river ($35.), the shuttle ($250.), and the car parking ($60.) solved all of the logistical problems of a canoe trip that is not a loop.
The planning post has information on two other commercial shuttle possibilities. Since they start off 70 kilometers further south in Temagami Village or just north of it, they are somewhat more expensive.
Click on the header above to access the Mowat Landing Cottages website – or click here.
It was a gloriously sunny day as we made our way down Highway 11 to southern Ontario. North of North Bay there was already some visible turning in the colour of the leaves but the preponderance of spruce and pine made for a less dramatic show.
For eleven days we had not worried about COVID-19. Now as I stared out of the windshield, I noticed the package of masks on the dashboard, ready for use if we stopped anywhere on the way home.
Some Final Thoughts:
My bro usually does all the word-smithing but I have been asked for a stern report! Here it is.
From the back end (literally) the trip seems to have run smoothly. The Sunday drive from Southern Ontario north was relatively stress-free. While CoVid-19 was/is still an issue we found that northerners (anything north of North Bay – our first stop) were, for the most part, adhering to public health requirements then in-place re; physical distancing and masks. We kept individual contact to a minimum. While our vehicle is not blessed with a large fuel tank or great range, stops were only required a couple of times, more to ensure that we had enough fuel to get there without having to worry and to minimize contact.
We quickly got sorted as to where we were staying after arriving at the Graydon’s Mowat Landing complex at 4 pm. By 5:30 the tent was up and after a little bit of wandering around the site we settled in for the night. The drive up was non-stressful having left Toronto at 10 a.m. Perhaps being a Sunday had something to do with it. Beats the drive to Wabakimi! Arrangements were made for an 08:30 start the next morning which we missed by about 5 minutes.
The drive was again stress-free, taking about 90 minutes to the put-in at the Montreal River west of Lady Dufferin Lake. We wondered about the weather though because we had periods of rain and hints of sunshine. After pics and good-byes, we were off upriver by about 10:30.
Having done this section 9 years before it is interesting to note what one remembers or not. I think with the passage of time most of it felt ‘new’. However, coming into Smoothwater Lake and looking along the northeastward shore with its long expanse of sandy beach brought back memories of our previous trip. The weather was off and on sunny and very windy. We could tell from afar that our previous site was occupied and with the wind direction we opted to stay along the south shore aiming for some indicated campsites. While we looked for them we obviously did not do it well enough and our first challenge was crossing Smoothwater against the swells. We ended up at the Marina Lake portage site which was very breezy even though we were well back on the site. It did have mushrooms though! Do fill in the journal that has been placed there (if, when you go it is still there).
Every trip begins with the desire to start and depending on the trip there is a point where you think to yourself – I wish this were done! That would have been day 2. Low water was a challenge for the upper Lady E river. I think Whitemud Lake suffers as well. One takeaway which might soften the work is knowing there will be many log overs, the occasional log under, beaver dams, and wading. We managed to hit it during a cold spell. Warmer weather would probably be better or is that nicer? Bugs would likely make this section less pleasant because speed is not something you can achieve to outrun the pests. Choose your time carefully.
Day-to-day descriptions are elsewhere in this blog. The trip can be divided into 3 basic sections from above the forks to MacPherson/Katherine Lake, from Katherine down to Willis Island Lake, and then from there to Mowat Landing. The first two are the river coming off the height of land. Each section (and day) had its challenges as noted from day 1. Each challenge was a function of section/location – incessant meandering, lifting wading, weather (rain and wetness), and forward progress. I think on Day 4 by the end (arriving at Florence Lake by 3 pm) I was suffering from some mild hypothermia as I could just stay warm with the physical activity. This is something solo paddlers would need to be very mindful of. Into the sleeping bag till next morning – no supper!! After a restful afternoon and night, I was good to go.
While you can take some shortcuts to cut off the lower part of the LE this meandering section is actually quite nice. The current is help and there were only a few logs/liftovers to impede progress. Be sure you can complete the lower whole section as camping spots to the branch are slim. Below the forks begins the descent section to Willis Island Lake. This had some of the more challenging portages that we have done (age may also be playing a part here) and it provides some of the more spectacular scenery in a series of falls and some rapids. Well worth the price of admission.
Once off of the ‘highlands’ onto the 3rd section – it is all lake paddle. The potential for ill winds and weather is always present. We had cold temperatures and off-and-on rain almost all the way to Mowat Landing. The last day was however the sunniest of the whole trip – glorious sunshine for the 2 hours it took us to get there! Even though mostly lake there are still some interesting sites to watch out for – sunken tree stands (flooding from the dam), finger islands (again a flood feature or remnant). Having a history buff as a paddling partner does help the journey with some context. Knowing those trees have been standing (flooded) for 100 years, paddling over former rapids and family hunting territories all add to the ‘view’.
If VIA’s “The Canadian” is running next summer, we may take it from Toronto to Savant Lake for a paddle down the top half of the Ogoki River fromEndogoki Lake. If not, we may return to the north end of the Temagami region and the northern branch of the lady Evelyn to complete our Lady Evelyn experience.
A Day-By-Day Account of Our Trip:
The following posts cover the entire river from its South Branch headwaters in Apex Lake to its mouth at the Montreal River.