Day 11: “Moose Crossing” To Waboose Dam
- distance: 23.5 km.
- time: 10 to 4 with an hour (union-mandated) for lunch
- portages/rapids: none, (well one with no gear!)
- weather: a bit of rain overnight and mix of sun and cloud the entire day; SW wind picked up in the afternoon
- sightings: a 6-man OPG crew at Waboose Dam.
- campsite: at the top end of the portage trail around Waboose Dam
- Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: d’Orsonnens Lake 052 I 16; Mojikit Lake 052 I 09; and Mahamo Lake 042 L 13. These maps all date to 1970 and are in b & w.
- See NRC’s Toporama (here) for its current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
- our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)
We set off around 10 – a late start for us. The goal was a simple one – get to the dam! As we paddled along we were struck – as we had been the previous afternoon – by the sand dunes and the vast expanses of exposed sandy reservoir bottom. After lunch, when we crossed to the north side, there were yet more sand dunes and terminal moraine deposits.
A bit of googling had me reading about the Laurentian Icesheet and the subsequent glacial mega-Lake Agassiz, glacial Lake Nakina, and different types of moraines. It was a mini-excursion into a world I know little about! It also made clear to me yet again that literacy takes many forms. No less than the ability to understand printed text, it also includes being able to read the natural world in any one of its many aspects.
The snippet of a surface geology map (see below) provides a visual record of the Ogoki Reservoir shoreline. The broken red line is our route through this slice of glacial/post-glacial geological history.Just after we passed the entrance to the Mojikit Channel, we started looking for a lunch spot on the south shore. We figured the clump of trees in the image below would provide a bit of shelter from the SW wind. However, given the low water, we had a 40-meter walk to do! Here is what it looks like on the NRC Toporama map –
In higher water years we wouldn’t have had to walk the 40 meters to what would be an island instead of a cluster of trees surrounded by sand in all directions.
After lunch, we headed over to the north shore of the Reservoir in a couple of hours we were approaching the east end of the artificial lake.
As we paddled towards the dam, we noticed the tin shacks on top of the collapsing sand ridge on the point, fronted by a wide sandy beach. Except for the Waboose Dam complex itself, the fishing lodge on the island near Eight Flume Falls, and the outpost on the bay a few kilometers west of Moose Crossing, these are the only buildings on the Ogoki Reservoir. [As you go down the Mojikit Channel there are a couple of outposts and a Wilderness North lodge.]
The closeness of those structures to the edge of the sand ridge is definitely a sign that there has been significant erosion since they were erected in the 1940s or 50s. On our visit, we had to walk about thirty meters across the sand bottom of the Reservoir, to get to them.
From the tin shack, we headed to the right-hand side of the boom stretching across the river. It is there that a portage trail around the dam begins; it is also where we would put up our tent.
The Waboose Dam Portage
We beached our canoe just above the safety boom on the east side of the dam. The spot where Max is standing in the image below is where the tent eventually went up. But first, we figured we’d stretch our legs and walk the portage trail to the bottom. The trail is maintained by an Ontario Power Generation crew and was, all in all, in fair shape. The trees blocking the trail have probably fallen since they went through in May or June. The alders and other low-level bush also need a haircut.
The initial section of the trail soon crosses a clearing which serves as a helicopter landing area. Visible in the image below is also a white storage shed. The door was open as we walked by. Inside six OPG workers were taking a break from the maintenance work they were doing on a concrete section of the dam.
In my best teacher’s voice, I said “Guys, we just dropped by to see if you were getting the job done.” We had definitely startled them. We were bombarded with questions: “What are you guys doing here? How did you get here? . Soon they were offering us coffee, cake, and snacks! We learned that while most lived in Thunder Bay, they were up here for a week and staying at the Wilderness North Lodge in the Mojikit Channel.
They did the 18-kilometer commute to the dam by motorboat each morning. I noted the contrast with the daily commute on the 16-lanes of traffic on the 401 across Toronto and a few of them who had worked in the GTA said they were really glad to be back home in northwest Ontario!
We crossed the clearing and followed the trail back into the bush. It was mostly easy to discern the trail. Along the way, there are a few notices warning the trail users not to leave the trail for the river. When we got to the bottom we realized that this made sense since there is really no water to float your canoe on until the end of the trail.
At the bottom end of the Waboose Dam portage is a sign for those canoe trippers coming upriver from Ogoki Lake. It is about 40 meters from the actual shore of what is left of the Ogoki River water below the dam – i.e. not much!
The Waboose Dam and Waboose Falls
The massive concrete dam at Waboose Falls, as well as a few secondary earthen dams, were constructed to block the flow of the Ogoki River northeastward to merge with the Albany as it tumbles off the Canadian Shield and down to James Bay. The dam is over 500 meters across and 15 meters high. Construction began in December of 1940 and was finished three years later. From the headquarters on the CN rail line at Ferland, supplies and an 820-man crew were flown to the Waboose Falls area.
Peter Annin, in his must-read book on water management of the Great Lakes, provides this explanation in his The Great Lakes Water Wars in a chapter devoted to the Ogoki and the nearby Long Lac Diversions. He writes:
See here for Peter Annin’s very readable account of the construction of the Waboose and Kenogami Dams and their impact on the environment and local communities. Amazingly, few people, even those who live in the areas affected, know anything about this. The 2018 revised edition of Annin’s book is available on Amazon. Click here to access or check your public library for a copy. The Toronto Public Library system has 9 copies of the revised., 7 of the 1st, and an eBook accessible online. (See here.)
Note that another dam – the South Summit Dam – was built to control the water flow as it now passed through a channel blasted across the Height of Land to connect Mojikit Lake to the headwaters of the Little jackfish River. The result – 95%+ of the Ogoki’s water now flows into Lake Nipigon and the Great Lakes water system!
When I first looked at this graph showing the outflow at the Waboose Diversion Dam in cubic meters/sec, I remember thinking the graph was missing the lines to show the outflow rate. Then I realized that both the 2020 and 2021 lines are there! The outflow rates vary from 0 to 4 cubic meters per second! Maybe a graph with a more appropriate lefthand scale would be in order! See here for historical data from 1941-1994. In only five months over that time period did the outflow surpass 400 cubic m/sec. The most common monthly outflow value entered on the chart is 0.00.
Meanwhile, the South Summit Control Dam outflow rate graph looks like this:
See here for the OPG webpage with access to the above data.
When we were at the Waboose Dam in late August this year, for every 2 cubic meters per second continuing down to James Bay, about 80 cubic meters/sec were headed south to Lake Nipigon via the Mojikit Channel and the Summit Control dam.
We got to take a closer look at the dam as we headed back from the bottom of the portage trail.
With our quick look at the dam done – it is not very accessible – we walked back to the canoe. Out came the packs. The first to be emptied contained all the tent parts and it was soon up. Given the weather forecast, we were okay with the exposed nature of the site but we did put up the tarp just in case.
It had taken us two days to paddle from Eight Flume Falls at the west end of the Reservoir to the Waboose Dam at the east end. Before we had set off we thought the wind might be a problem. In the end, the only way we could have been luckier with the wind is if it had blown steady from the northwest as we headed southeast down the 50- kilometer-long artificial lake.
The next morning we would head back to the entrance of the Mojikit Channel and paddle down to the South Summit Control Dam. We would catch a bit of that NW wind! The maps and pics and details can be found in the