The Ogoki River From Top To Bottom

Last revised on November 17, 2022.

Table of Contents:


The Ogoki River & Wabakimi Provincial Park

My brother (and longtime canoe partner) and I are heading back to northwestern Ontario’s Wabakimi area! The heart of this canoe trippers’ boreal dreamscape is Wabakimi Provincial Park, next to Polar Bear Park, the largest in Ontario. It sees a hundredth (if that!)  of the canoe traffic that easier-to-access parks like Quetico and Algonquin do.

Ontario’s Largest Parks By Area – #1-Polar Bear; #2-Wabakimi; #3 Algonquin; #4 Quetico.

This will be our fifth visit to the Wabakimi park area over the past decade. This time our route will take us from the Ogoki River headwaters in Endogoki Lake down to the Ogoki Reservoir.

As the map below illustrates, the Upper Ogoki watershed makes up the park’s core.


Robert Bell And the Name Ogoki

The name Ogoki was given to the river system by Robert Bell of the Geological Survey of Canada, a point made in the Report of the Survey and Exploration of Northern Ontario published in 1901.

After passing the height of land on the Wabinosh route the canoe route descends through various lakes and rivers to the river to which I have given the through name of Okokesibi although known to the Indians and traders by a different name for each of the stretches between lakes and which is actually the outlet of Wahbahkimmug or Savant Lake of the plans. The Okokesibi is the river called Ogoki by Dr. Bell in 1870, and flows easterly almost parallel to the height of land, emptying into the Albany River, about forty miles below Martin’s Fall. [Party No.7, the Surveyer H.B. Proudfoot’s Report, p.174]

Bell had gone down the Albany and come back up via what we now know as the Ogoki. He used the name the local Anishinaabeg (Cree or Ojibwe) probably used for the last section where it merges with the Albany.

This map from 1857 by Thomas Devine predates Bell by twenty years and has a different name – Tickameg River – for what looks like the river we now know as the Ogoki. The Cree word for “whitefish” is atihkamek (ᐊᑎᐦᑲᒣᐠ) when translated into Engish using Roman letters, so that could be where the name comes from. Perhaps Bell figured there were already enough Whitefish Rivers and Lakes and went for a name not yet used?

Thomas Devine map from 1857

Given the importance of the Albany River route to the Hudson Bay Co. traders, it is drawn with some accuracy. Other parts of the map are way off! White Earth Lake – our Wabakimi Lake – is misplaced, and Whitewater and White Clay Lakes are missing.

The map below was published in 1901 and was based partly on the survey work done by Survey Crew #7 led by H. B. Proudfoot.  On it, the Ogoki was drawn fairly accurately and all the way upriver to White Earth Lake.

Ontario Government map published in 1901

By 1914 and the construction of what became the CN rail line across northern Ontario, the picture becomes even more clear. All that is missing from the Rand McNally map is the name Ogoki from the accurately drawn river system! It extends the Ogoki River system to west of White Earth or Wabakimi Lake.

Rand McNally map 1914

While an online Ojibwe-English dictionary search turned up nothing on the word ogoki, okoki, or okoke, the transliteration ogoke appears with the meaning “bait” or “lure.”

More googling led to this comment on an Agoke Development Corp. web page:

In the true spirit of reconciliation, the Agoke board is setting out to change the name of the forest from the MNRF’s word ‘Ogoki’ to ‘Agoke’, named after the corporation. The name ‘Agoke’ came from an elder and is the Ojibwe word for the area meaning “hidden land”. (dead link since I visited the page)

If the elder was correct, it should be Ah instead of Oh.  So – Agoki or Agoke. The word may be a fusion of two Ojibwe words. The following Ojibwe root words would result in the “hidden land” meaning –

  • hidden from view – aagaw
  • earth or land –  aki

A follow-up letter to the Agoke Development Corporation in charge of managing and harvesting the Ogoki Forest got this further explanation –

…the hidden land concept is what the elders have said it means.  The “Ah” Goki spelling  was done to correct the proper pronunciation of the the word by a former chief of Marten Falls.

Bell seems to have made a real effort to consult with the locals and record the names they knew. Here is what he had to say about his approach: in his 1870 Report:

If both Bell and Proudfoot were misinformed or misheard, it wouldn’t be the first time newcomers and British colonizers recorded the local name incorrectly. Consider these examples from elsewhere: Bombay instead of Mumbai, Peking instead of Beijing,  or Rangoon instead of Yangon!


The Upper And Lower Ogoki Rivers

Wabakimi Park stretches as far east as the western end of the Ogoki Reservoir. The artificial lake was created as a result of the completion in 1942 of a massive dam at Waboose Falls that stopped the water from following its natural course down to the confluence with the Albany River.

The dam diverted 99% of the Ogoki’s flow south across the Height of Land to what became the Litle Jackfish River and on to Lake Nipigon and the Great Lakes system.

[Access Peter Annin’s readable account of the Ogoki and Long Lac Diversion Dams here.]


The Headwaters of the Ogoki River

The trip begins in the rarely (if ever) paddled headwaters section of the river from Endogoki Lake to just below Tew Lake. The initial 40- kilometer stretch of the river is on Crown land west of the boundary of Wabakimi Provincial Park. Recent satellite images and portage information gleaned from

  • Canoe Atlas of the Little North
  • and our Wabakimi Project Volume 1 map set

should see us through the three days we figure it will take us to do this initial stretch of the river.

Wabakimi Project map – portages from Savant Lake To Tew Lake Via Ogoki River


Other Highlights of Our Trip Down The Ogoki

At the other end of the river, we plan to paddle down to the Waboose Dam, walk the portage trail to the bottom, and see how much of the Ogoki now comes down below Waboose Falls. Also on our to-do list are

  • return visits to the Ogoki Lodge and
  • the Beckwith Cabins on Whitewater Lake, as well as
  • a two-day run down the Little Jackfish River, now the Upper Ogoki’s actual outlet.

The Upper Ogoki River – from headwaters to Lake Nipigon

We leave tomorrow for the day and a half (and 1800 km) drive up to Mattice Lake, just south of Amstrong Station. That’s where we will have our canoe strapped to one of the pontoons of the De Havilland Beaver that you see below. It is a 90-kilometer flight NW up to Endogoki Lake just east of Savant Lake.

We plan to cover the 300-kilometer distance in 12 or 13 days. While most of the time we’ll be on the river, the route also includes 40 or so potential portages around rapids and waterfalls.

Parts of the Ogoki we have already done on other trips – e.g. the stretch from Tew Lake to Whitewater Lake. Other parts will be new and could be challenging depending on water levels. Sunny wind-free days – or days with the wind blowing in the direction we’re headed – would be nice!


The Weather Forecast

The rest of August’s weather looks excellent for the most part. Here is the Weather Network’s most recent 14-day forecast. We’ll take it!


The Boreal Forests On Fire

An increasing concern over the past few years is the possibility of wildfires thanks to bone-dry soil and lightning strikes. The Ontario Govt. The Wabakimi area has so far been spared of any burns of note.

Click on Ontario forest fires and select the interactive fire map for the latest information.

We start our journey down the Ogoki on August 16, a Monday morning.


Update: The  Day-By-Day Reports

The following posts provide a day-by-day account of our trip down the Ogoki. To paraphrase Robbie Burns,

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

And leave us with nothing but grief and pain

Instead of promised joy.

While “grief and pain” may be pushing it, let’s just say that things did not turn out quite how we had planned. It was still a great trip!


If you’re curious about Wabakimi as a canoeing destination, the following introduction to the region may get you to head to the north of Lake Superior too!

A Paddler’s List Of Wabakimi’s Top Six

See the Canoe Tripping folder for lots more on Wabakimi and other canoe-tripping possibilities.

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