Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top to Bottom: Day 2 – From Smoothwater Lake To An “It’ll Do” CS  On Lady Evelyn’s South Branch

Previous Post: Day 1 – To The Put-In And Up the Montreal River To  Smoothwater Lake

Day 2From Smoothwater Lake To An “It’ll Do” CS  On Lady Evelyn’s South Branch

  • distance: 19.5 km
  • hunting ground: that of Djakwunigan (of the Kingfisher clan) see map here
  • time: 8:45 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:   2/ 0 rapids run;
  • P1 – 770 m (50 min) [listed as 700m]
  • P2 – – 800 m (1h:30m including lunch) [listed as 700 m];  also many submerged logs, deadfall, beaver dams as liftovers between Whitemud Lake and Jerry Creek outlet
  • weather: cool; overcast
  • campsite: makeshift site on the upper stretch of L.E.’s south branch; a much nicer one was a mere 260 meters downriver (as we found out the next morning!)
  •  1:50000 NRC Topo Map: 041 P 07_Smoothwater Lake

Looking for Mishipeshu’s Cave:

The Nanabush/Mishipeshu story was told in communities across the Anishinaabe world – from the Algonquins along the Ottawa to the Chippewa in Minnesota. To no surprise, the story reflected locations familiar to the listeners. Instead of Smoothwater Lake, the Ojibwe of Bawating heard of Gitchi Kumi (Lake Superior). Instead of a cave on the west side of Smoothwater, the Ojibwe of Manitoulin Island believed that Mishipeshu’s cavern den was accessed by a hole on the bottom of the lake near the dock at Manitowaning.

Mishipeshu image at Agawa Rock pictograph site on Lake Superior

We started our day with a paddle over to the west side of the lake. The Ottertooth map of the lake (see here) indicated a “small cave (possible site of Temagami First Nation creation story)”.  We wanted to see what sort of a cavity someone had found that (s)he was then able to connect to the Flood caused by the underwater beings in response to Nanabush’s killing of the Great Lynx Mishipeshu.

As the account given to Speck made clear, the cave figures very prominently.  [See the end of the previous post for the story’s beginning.] We read this from the written report Speck published by the Department of Mines in 1915:

As he went along the shore [of Smoothwater Lake], the next morning, he heard someone singing and shaking a rattle. Nenebuc (i.e. Nanabush) stood there wondering and waiting, and pretty soon he saw an old woman making the song. So he went across to see her, and when they met, he asked her, “What are you doing?” “I’m a doctor,” she answered.  “The queen of the Lions has been shot by Nenebuc and I am going to cure her.”

She didn’t know that it was Nenebuc to whom she was talking, for she was too old. So Nenebuc told her, “Let me hear you singing. Is that what you are going to do to cure her?” “Yes,I will sing and then pull out that arrow.”  The Lions had sent for her at the foot of the lake to cure the queen. Nenebuc pulled out a club and killed her,  saying, “You are no doctor (mackrki-‘winini’k’we ‘medicine-person woman’) at all.”

Then he discovered that she was no person at all, but a big toad(oma’kak’iS). So he skinned her and put on the skin. The skin had a hole in the groin, and as he had no needle to sew it up with, his scrotum hung out when he put it on himself. This did not worry Nenebuc, for he thought, “It will be all right unless they notice me too closely.” So he walked past the cave in which the Lions lived and kept singing and rattling all the time.

When the young lions heard him, they said, “There’s the old medicine woman coming.” They were very glad to think that their mother would be cured. So they opened the door in the rock and Nenebuc went in, and one of the daughters came to meet him and siad, “Come in,  old woman.” They were very much pleased. Nenebuc said, “Don’t shut the doors. Leave them open, as the queen needs plenty of fresh air!”  Then he said, “I’ve had a long walk and I’m tired.” Then they gave him a good meal first. While he was eating, he sat with open legs and the children cried out, “Look at the old woman with testicles hanging out!” But the older ones told them to be silent, as they thought some old women had testicles.

When he had finished eating, Nenebuc said, “Don’t watch me. I’m going to pull out the arrow point. You will hear her suffering and me singing, but don’t look until you hear her stop suffering. Then she will be cured, and the arrow point will be out. So don’t look, for I am going to cure her.” Then he began rattling and singing, and, as he did so, he shoved the arrow point farther into the wound of the queen in order to kill her. When she yelled, her people thought that the hurt was caused in pulling it out. At last one of the little lion children peeped and saw Nenebuc pushing the arrow farther in. He told his sister, “That’s Nenebuc himself inside!” Then Nenebuc ran outside and the Queen Lion was dying. Nenebuc had difficulty to clear himself. He pulled off the toad skin and tried to climb up the rock.

(g) The Giant Lynx Causes the World Flood and Gathers the Animals on a Raft; Muskrat Dives for Earth, which Nenebuc Transforms into a New World.

As soon as the queen died, a giant stream poured out of the cave and the lake “That is to flood the world began rising. going and be the end,” said Nenebuc. So he cut trees and made a kind of raft.  [See Speck’s report  here (pp.35-36) for the Ojibwe Flood story, the outcome of Nanabush’s killing of the Great Lynx in the cave.]

  • Smoothwater Lake – west side cave search

    As the map above shows, we paddled over to the west side of the lake and then along the shore across from our Day 1 campsite, looking for anything that could pass as the mythic cave of the Nanabush/Mishipeshu story. We saw no sign of previous paddlers on the same quest, no strip of prospector’s tape as evidence we were close; it was mostly low-grade rock rubble along the shore.

the west side of Smoothwater Lake in the vicinity of the supposed cave of Mishipeshu

I was left wondering who the fantasy-prone individual was,  who after accepting the literal truth of the myth, was able to find a “cave”.  It would not be the only time on our trip down the river that this happened.  A few days later on Florence Lake, I looked at “Table Rock” and was left skeptical about the explanatory note found on the Ottertooth map.

rounding the corner after our search for a cave on Smoothwater Lake’s west side

As we came to the top (i.e. the south) end of the lake,  I hopped out to do a quick check of a potential campsite just up from the sand beach.  It was okay – but not as nice as ours from the night before or the other one further north on the east side beach.

Max waits while I check out a potential campsite at the south end of Smoothwater Lake

Then it was on to our first portage of the day, the 770-meter haul from Smoothwater to Apex.   The way our portages usually work is like this – Max takes one 110-liter Hooligan pack (50 lbs.) and a duffel (25 lbs.) and bundled paddles the full distance while I carry the other Hooligan (45 lbs.) and duffel (30 lbs.) halfway. I drop it off and head back for the canoe (60 lbs.) and my camera bag (7 -10  lbs.) and, if we have figured out halfway correctly, Max is just arriving to pick up the bags I have left as I am approaching with the canoe.

the start of the portage from Smoothwater to Apex – and possible in a pinch campsite

A rare splash of red in a Temagami landscape that is overwhelmingly green – I had to stop and get a shot before moving on with the pack/duffel carry.  Temagami in the fall is definitely not as colourful as Algonquin!

a rare splash of red off the portage trail to Apex

The trail to Apex from Smoothwater is a good one with a bit of up and down to deal with but no real mushy spots.  We were able to ‘git ‘er dun’  in 45 minutes and were soon paddling across a glassy calm lake.  I am not sure how rare this is but Apex Lake seems to be the headwaters of both the Montreal River system and of the Lady Evelyn’s south branch.

looking west across Apex Lake from the start of the portage trail to Whitemud Lake

The Wilson guidebook has a rare slip-up on portage directions. The portage trail into Whitemud definitely starts at the east end of Apex, one bay up from the portage down to Scarecrow Lake and the Sturgeon River.

When we got there, got we decided to revisit the take-out spot for the first of a series of carries that takes you into Scarecrow and the Ishpatina Ridge trail.  We had done it back in 2009 on our trip down the Sturgeon before paddling up the Obabika River to access Wawiagama Lake. Then it was back to the east end of Apex.

a short section of boulders on the portage trail to Whitemud from Apex Lake

The second portage to Whitemud from Apex is flatter but a bit rougher than the one from Smoothwater to Apex; it starts nice and smooth, but is then followed by a short section of boulders (none of which had a flat surface for totally secure footing!), and then finished with a mix of rock and earth.

the glacial river bed connecting Apex to Whitemud

Running alongside the portage trail on your righthand side is the impressive bouldered river bed, visible evidence of a glacial stream that flowed down from Apex to Whitemud thousands of years ago.

Yet when I went to the Toporama website (the Natural Resources Canada online map source meant to replace the archived 1:50,000 topos from the 1970s and 80s), here is what I found –

  1. no water flow between Apex and Whitemud;
  2. Whitemud as the headwaters of the south branch of the Lady Evelyn.

the headwaters of the south branch of the Lady Evelyn – Apex or Whitemud?

When we got to the far end, we took some time for lunch before paddling down the length of Whitemud Lake and moving on to the afternoon’s challenge – the first few kilometers of the south branch.

As we sat there on the top end of Whitemud Lake, we glanced over and saw a trickle of water coming into the lake. Proof that Apex Lake was feeding Whitemud? Just a small unrelated water source?

the top end of Whitemud – a small stream trickles in from Apex

Then it was on to the afternoon’s challenge – maps of the river warn paddlers of complications they can expect on the initial stretch of the South Branch. The Ottertooth map (see here) notes this – Spring Travel Only – numerous obstacles, including mud shallows, deadfalls.

Well, it was early September so we were definitely out of season!  How bad could it be?

the Whitemud end of looking down Whitemud Lake from the end of the portage trail from Apex

Into Whitemud Lake we went, spared the hopping from one cluster of grass to the other that some trip reports describe.  There was just enough water – i.e. about six inches – that we were able to pull our way down the lake with half-paddle-blade strokes.

Our GPS track indicates speeds of up to 1.5 km./hr.!  I think it was here that Max pushed his paddle down into the mucky bottom – and it all but disappeared!  We were left wondering what would happen if someone fell in and did not have something to grab on to!

An Afternoon of Obstacles

1:00 p.m. – leaving Whitemud Lake for the initial river section

It took us roughly 4 hours to do the initial five-kilometer stretch of the LE’s upper South Branch. Max’s and my combined age is getting close to 140; a younger crew may get it done faster.  The water conditions at the time will also factor in, as will how rough you are willing to be with your canoe bottom as you haul it over yet another obstacle.

The map below will give you some idea of our slow progress as we made our way to the Jerry Creek outlet.  We didn’t know it at the time but after we reached that point we were through the worst of it.

1:08 p.m. – the remains of a log bridge on the LE’s south branch near Whitemud

approaching the end of a fairly easy stretch of the upper South Branch of LE

1:45 p.m. – low water and a boulder garden on the upper Lady Evelyn South Branch

We took no pix for three hours as we dealt with all the usual obstacles of going down the headwaters stretch of a small river.  You have to accept that your feet will get wet as you haul your canoe over yet one more log. There is a psychological fatigue that sets in alongside the physical one as you look ahead and see more trouble coming!

Doing this on a sunny summer day is obviously preferable – but one good thing about our choice of early September was the absence of bugs.

4:40  –  upper lady Evelyn south branch – approaching Jerry Creek outlet

After Jerry Creek,  progress came more easily; it took only 30 minutes to do a 3.3 km. stretch from the Jerry Creek outlet to the view in the image below.  It was also getting a bit late and we started scanning the shore for a potential campsite.

5:30 and 3.3 km. down from Jerry Creek

It was getting close to 6 p.m. and we were flagging after the afternoon workout.  When we came up to a clearing on river right seen in the pic below, I hopped out of the canoe and took a quick look. Max hopped out too and scanned the area. Our decision – “it’ll do”.

upper Lady Evelyn south branch – campsite search

After a bit of site clearing,  up went the tent and the tarp; out came the Helinox chairs and the food bag. By 7 we were having supper and celebrating our passage down the south branch’s upper section.  Hearing some rain shortly after dark, we did crawl out of the tent and put our second tarp over the tent, partly to keep the tent and fly as dry as possible and also to make tent take-down the next morning easier if it was still raining.

tent up at the end of a day on the upper south branch of the Lady Evelyn River

a tarp over our eating area – CS02 on the Lady Evelyn

Had We Only Known!

The next morning – minutes into the day’s paddle to Florence lake – we would round the corner and see on river left a rare piece of rock outcrop and on the flat top of the slope a fire pit and a ready-made tent spot that was somewhat sheltered from the wind and yet provided great views of the river from its elevated vantage point.  We had missed it by 260 meters!

On rereading the Hap Wilson guidebook after the trip, I realized that the site he describes below is the one that we came so close to at the end of Day 2! He writes:

LE-SB Makeshift CS and an A+ one 260 meters downriver!

If you are planning a trip down the LE’s south branch from Smootwater, then this campsite described by Wilson makes an excellent reward for a couple of 700+meter portages and a half-day of slogging down the first few kilometers of the river.   See the next post for some pix of the site and compare it to the one we stayed at!

Next Post: Day 3 – From Our “It’ll Do’ Campsite to Florence Lake

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Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top to Bottom: Day 1 – To The Put-In And Up River To Smoothwater Lake

Previous Post: The Lady Evelyn From Top to Bottom – Intro, Route Options, Maps, Logistics, And a Bit of History

A. Getting To The Put-In:

Picking Up Our Shuttle= Driver

We drove up from Toronto the day before the put-in and camped on the east shore of the Montreal River as it passes by Mowat Landing, which is where our shuttle would begin and where our trip ended eleven days later.  After the 3.5-hour ride from Toronto to North Bay on Hwy 11, we had less than two to go –

  • 1 hour to Temagami,
  • then 20 minutes to Latchford,
  • and another 30 minutes to Mowat Landing.

Mowat Landing is about 40 kilometers from Latchford. After you leave Hwy 11,  the first half is paved and the gravel half that follows is in decent shape. This is not the often-terrible Red Squirrel access Road down by Temagami!

Trevor and Lisa Graydon are long-time owners of the Mowat Landing Cottages; Lisa would come along to the put-in with us the next morning and then drive our vehicle back to their property.

the Mowat Landing Cottages property – a view from their dock

As mentioned in the previous post, the shuttle cost was $250. + HST;  we also paid $60. for leaving our vehicle on their property and $35. for our camp spot.   We could have parked the vehicle for free on the side of the road leading to the public boat ramp; we saw dozens of vehicles there at both ends of our trip. The Graydons did say that our vehicle would be safe if left on the side of the road.

camping at Mowat Landing Cottages

Those who have backcountry camping permits are requested to leave a copy on the dashboard. It indicates the dates for which you are covered.  However, not everyone will have a backcountry camping permit displayed since many are making use of fishing lodges on Lady Evelyn Lake itself and in that case backcountry permits are not required. Any park official checking permits would not know the difference.

In the end, letting everyone know exactly how long you are going to be out is perhaps not the wisest thing. “Forgetting” to put a copy of your park permit on the dashboard – or leaving the vehicle on Mowat Landing Cottages property – seem like better options.

The Road To the Put-In:

the Montreal River put-in off the Beauty Lake Road

We left Mowat Landing around 8:45 and two hours later we were already paddling up the Montreal River to its headwaters.  We had made use of the Bartle Lake Access Road to get to Hwy 65 which took us to Elk Lake. Then it was west on Hwy 560 and a left hand turn onto the Beauty Lake Road after we reached Longpoint Lake.

Day 1-From Montreal River Put-In to Smoothwater Lake

  • distance: 16.6 km (as the canoe paddled)
  • paddling through the late 1800’s  hunting grounds of Djakwunigan (of the Kingfisher clan)
  • time: 10:40 a.m to 2:30 p.m. – a half-day paddle!
  • portages/rapids: 0 
  • weather: sunny at first, then overcast; then sunny again towards late afternoon; very windy with 1-2 foot swells/whitecaps on Smoothwater Lake (SW wind) and in stretches where the wind was channelled through
  • campsite: at the Marina Lake portage; lots of room for pitching – we found the one ‘good’ spot for a 4-person tent. Could easily accommodate 5 or 6 or more 1-2 P tents; the surrounding area was a veritable mushroom emporium!
  •  1:50000 NRC Topo Map: 041 P 07_Smoothwater Lake

at the put-in on the Montreal River

2009 put-in point – the Hooligan and the MEC duffel are still in service!

We had been at the put-in before!  Back in 2009, we did a trip down to the Sturgeon River via Scarecrow Lake and then paddled up the Obabika River to Wawiagama Lake and on up to Maple Mountain before returning to our vehicle at the end of the Central Access Road. We put together our first canoe post after that trip – you can see the somewhat disorganized results here!

Temagami Canoe Country: Paddling From Ishpatina To Maple Mountain To Bear Island

Our first day on the water was an easy one, only complicated by a strong wind from the southwest and some whitecaps.  It was overcast and coolish weather for the most part with intermittent sunshine.

Looking back at the Montreal River bridge and put-in

When we got to Smoothwater Lake, we first headed to a campsite on the west side of the lake. Unimpressed, we looked for the other one nearby but not finding it (it was one bay further south than we thought!), we decided to paddle over to the beach area on the east side of the lake. Campers were already at the site we had stayed at a decade ago so we landed a bit further south and looked for a possible site. Not finding anything suitable, we paddled south along the shore to the start of the portage to Marina Lake.

central Smoothwater Lake Campsite Options

We found there a great campsite – the #1 site on the lake! – with more possibilities than the sites further up:

  • a decent flat spot for our four-person tent;
  • a rustic log table to put our stuff on,
  • a canoe tripper’s sign-in book to peruse, and
  • a wide portage trail to Marina Lake, as well as
  • a forest floor that was covered with more varieties of mushrooms than we had ever noticed before.

It is always nice to have a site where you can ramble around a bit! We were home for the night.

Smoothwater east side beach near Marina Lake portage

Archaeological Site CiHd-1

We only found out later that not only had we landed at an excellent campsite but that it also is in the archaeological records thanks to work done by John Pollack in the early 1970s.  He was working on his M.A. in Anthropology at McMaster U at the time and the Smoothwater site (Borden # CiHd-1)  was one of a number he examined for his 1975 paper entitled The Culture History of Kirkland Lake District, Northeastern Ontario. [Click on the title to access the paper.]

He dated the use of the site back to the late Shield Archaic cultural period around 1000 B.C.E.  Uncovered were all sorts of stone artifacts as well possible evidence of a 10′ x 12′ tent ring structure with a central hearth.  See here for a 9.7 Mb pdf file of the Smoothwater section of his technical paper; it includes images of many of the stone implements uncovered – scrapers, projectiles, and choppers among them. Also found were three fragments of pottery that Pollock assigned to the Laurel Complex culture period (300 B.C.-800 A.D.).

Knowing the significance of the site only makes it more special to have spent the late afternoon and night at the spot where the creek from Marina Lake comes trickling down into Smoothwater.  It was a lake layered with mythical significance to the Anishinaabeg of old who made the region their homeland.

Marina Lake from the portage trail from Smoothwater Lake

The Garmin inReach Comes In Handy:

After an early supper, we walked north along the shore to where the other campers were.  It turned out that they were friends of the two paddlers we had met downriver from Smoothwater Lake earlier that afternoon.  They were on their way to their vehicle by the take-out at the bridge. They had asked us to relay a message of “all good” if we passed by their three friends who were a bit behind.

Meanwhile, the waves on Smoothwater had been bad enough that their friends had capsized. The three of them had decided to stop, dry out, and wait for better weather the next morning.  I made use of our inReach Explorer to send their two buddies an email to let them know what had happened and that their friends would join them the next day.

Smoothwater Lake looking west from the east side beach

Smoothwater Lake looking west from the east side beach

Nanabush and Mishipeshu On Smoothwater Lake!

As we stood on the shore of Smoothwater and looked west at the awe-inducing light show my thoughts turned to the Anishinaabe trickster/culture hero Nanabush (aka Nanabozho, Nenebuc, etc.).

According to a story told to the American anthropologist, F.G. Speck, in 1913 during his two-week stay with the Ojibwe locals living on Bear Island around the Hudson Bay Co. post, this beach was the setting of mythic events. Here is what Speck recorded –

He (Nanabush) had his bow and arrow with him, and as he went along he saw a great snake.He shot it with his arrow. He came to a big lake with a nice, sandy shore, where he saw Lions (mici”bi- zi’w “giant lynx”). He couldn’t shoot them with his arrow as they were too far away, nor was there any place where he could hide himself until they came to sun themselves by the shore when they felt too cold in the water. Finally, he hit upon a plan. He took some birch bark from a rotten stump, rolled it into a hollow cylinder, and placed it, like a wigwam, near the shore. He got inside and made a little hole in the bark through which to shoot and kill the Lions.

This big snake referred to in the first sentence would become a part of the high rocky Ishpatina ridge on the portage to the south of Smoothwater Lake. The “nice, sandy shore” was the one we were standing on!

Mazinaw Rock at Bon Echo Park – Mishipeshu and the Canoes panel

As for the Lions – a better translation would be Great Lynx, known in Anishinaabe mythology as the underwater being Mishipeshu (click on his name to read a bit more about him!). In this account there seem to be a number of lynxes. A flight of fantasy had me thinking that maybe the fire pit was where Nanabush’s hollow cylinder had stood!  The story continues –

When the Lions saw the thing on the beach, they grew curious to find out what this strange thing was on the beach that was not there the day before. So they sent a big snake to twist around it and to try to upset it, but the snake did not succeed in doing this, for Nenebuc (i.e. Nanabush) stood too firm. So the Lions came ashore upon the sand and Nenebuc shot one of them with his arrow a she-lion, the wife of the Lion chief. He did not kill her, but wounded her badly in the side, and the flint arrow point stayed in the wound. She was very badly wounded and went back to a hole which led to a cave in a big rock where she lived. Nenebuc was sorry that he had not killed the Lion queen.

That cave was, according to Speck’s footnote, “in a high bluff on the west shore of Smoothwater Lake”.  The image above includes that western shore.   We would begin Day Two with a search for a rock feature that might be associated with that cave.

Click on the cover above – or the title below –  to download the entire Speck booklet. Pp. 34-36 have the Nanabush-Mishipeshu Smoothwater story.

Myths and Folk-lore of the Timiskaming Algonquin and Timagami Ojibwa by F.G. Speck 1915

The Nanabush story is perhaps the essential Ojibwe myth and was told from one end of the Ojibwe world to the other, from southern Ontario and Temagami to Minnesota. Needless to say, there were many variations of the myth to fit particular local settings and individual storytellers or audiences. Christopher Vecsey has summarized the basic story, highlighting eight key episodes that most versions share.  You can read his useful account here –

The Myth of Nanabush – The Eight Key Episodes Of His Life (C. Vecsey)


Day 2 would also involve a couple of 700-meter + portages to get into the narrow and shallow beginnings of the Lady Evelyn River.  It would end with a makeshift campsite on the south branch of the Lady Evelyn River after a half-day of dealing with beaver dams, submerged logs, deadfall and deep mud. We can’t say we didn’t know what was coming! It is the late-season entry fee for a trip down an epic little river!

The next post has the details!

Next Post: Day 2 – From Smoothwater Lake to An “It’ll Do” Campsite on the Lady Evelyn’s South Branch

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Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Introduction and a Bit of History

Related Post: Route Options, Maps, Shuttles, Permits, And More

This first post introduces the Temagami region and provides a bit of historical background, mostly focusing on aspects of the story I learned about in researching for this canoe trip.  You can skip history class and get right to the trip maps,  route options, and planning by clicking on the link below –

The Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Route Options, Maps, Shuttles, Permits, And More

Temagami & The Lady Evelyn River:

Temagami is the region to the north and west of North Bay in northeastern Ontario. In the Anishinaabe language of the Algonquin and Ojibwe people whose hunting grounds it had been for some time before the newcomers arrived, the name refers to the region’s largest lake and means “deep waters”.

Temagami’s isolation would end in 1905 when a newly-built rail line, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway,  reached the top of the NE arm of the lake from North Bay. The following year an 18-year-old Archie Belaney, an English adventurer stepped off the train and into a new life as a fur trapper and wilderness guide before gradually morphing into Grey Owl, the world-famous Ojibwe environmentalist.  Twenty-five years after the rail line, a rough gravel road from North Bay further connected the region to southern Ontario.

The GTA – The Greater Temagami Area

Having grown up in the Abitibi region 150 kilometers to the northeast of Temagami and having made both that train ride and road trip up from North Bay to Noranda many times, it took a while for my brother and me to see Temagami as a possible wilderness canoe tripping destination.

To us, wild meant downriver to James Bay;  Temagami was the scenic cottage country we passed through on our way to Toronto!  However, a few Temagami canoe trips over the past decade have opened our eyes to the area’s rugged beauty and almost-wilderness.  This September we headed back for a fifth visit.  Our goal was to paddle the length of the Lady Evelyn River system.

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park

Created by Ontario’s provincial government in 1983, Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park is Algonquin Park’s wilder cousin. If Algonquin is where you introduce someone to canoe tripping and camping, then Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater in Temagami is the next step. It is a bit further from southern Ontario, it is rawer, more rugged, more scenic, with less signage and fewer paddlers.

Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park and Algonquin Park

Don’t let Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park’s relative size compared to Algonquin on the map above fool you – it is the centerpiece of a hodgepodge of crown land, fifteen other parks, a dozen wilderness zones, and various other designations of public land. This Ottertooth map (here) shows the actual size of Temagami canoe country –  and it is larger than Algonquin!

The Lady Evelyn River:

If the park is the heart of the Temagami wilderness area, then the Lady Evelyn River is the spine running right through it from west to east.  The River begins on the high plateau between Ishpatina Ridge (Ontario’s highest point) to the SW and Maple Mountain to the NE. Five of the top fifteen highest points in Ontario are within 20 kilometers of the river’s headwaters! (See here for more ON high points info.)  By the time it reaches the Montreal River below the Mattawapika Dam, the Lady Evelyn River drops about 120 meters or so in altitude.


The map below shows the various sections that make up the Lady Evelyn River system:

  • The North Branch has its headwaters just south of Beauty Lake.
  • The South Branch begins in Apex Lake, one portage from Smoothwater Lake on the Park’s western edge.  A bit further down, Florence, considered one of Temagami’s most beautiful lakes, feeds into this branch as it meanders its way to The Forks where it merges with the North Branch.

The Lady Evelyn River system – from top to bottom

From The Forks down to Katherine Lake, there are a dozen sets of rapids.  The time of year will determine how paddlers deal with them – portage, wade & line, or run. Katherine Lake was once also known as Divide Lake – and for good reason.  At the bottom end of the lake, there is a choice to be made:

  • The North Channel with the three sets of waterfalls that make up The Staircase empties into Sucker Gut Lake to the north.
  • The South Channel, a bit longer and with more waterfalls and challenging portages ends at Willow Island Lake at the bottom of the channel.

Then it is north and east through Obisaga Narrows and across the enlarged expanse of the Lady Evelyn Lake created when the Mattawapika Dam (1925) significantly raised lake water levels. Given the park’s status as a “wilderness” park, Lady Evelyn Lake itself, as Willow Island and Sucker Gut Lakes, are not a part of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park! The fishing lodges (click on the link to see their locations) and motorized boat traffic put them in different categories – natural environment zone or conservation reserve!

An easy 200-meter portage around Mattawapika Dam brings the paddler to the mouth of the Lady Evelyn River as it merges with the Montreal River, the one that those who accessed the Lady Evelyn from the South Branch paddled up to reach Smoothwater Lake.  From the Lady Evelyn River’s Apex Lake headwaters to the mouth there is about a 116- meter drop (387m to 271m).

On the east side of the Montreal River is Mowat Landing, one possible endpoint of the trip.

Note: The planning post has all of the above in much more detail. Click here to see.

Hap Wilson: Temagami Guidebook and The Cabin

When it comes to canoe tripping in Temagami, Hap Wilson’s Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise is the book – the essential source.  It was the first of a number of guidebooks he has written over the past forty years.  His guidebooks to the Missinaibi, the Rivers of Manitoba, and the Upper Ottawa Valley all sit on my bookshelf and have served me well. Route suggestions, detailed sketches of rapids, and advice on portages and campsites, as well as local history…it is all there and still mostly relevant and useful forty years after the first edition!  The book is an investment that will repay itself many times over as you inevitably return for more of Temagami after your first visit. It points out things that will save you time, aggravation, or worse!

Temagami was first published in 1979 and has seen a number of reprints and editions.  The one pictured is the second edition from 2011. [See here for an Amazon.ca copy of the book for $25. You may also find it at your public library. The Toronto Public Libary has 8 copies of the 2nd ed. See here for the details.]

Another Wilson book that is worth checking out is The Cabin: A Search For Personal Sanctuary (2005).  It is really his autobiography. It moves from –

  • his childhood obsession with creating an isolated and secret space to which he could retreat from his dysfunctional family
  • to his discovery of Temagami and wilderness canoe tripping in the early 1970s,
  • to how he came to be the owner of what he has turned into an Eco-Lodge at Cabin Falls on the South Channel of the Lady Evelyn River.

The book needs some detailed maps to illustrate the geography that is at its core.  Given that Wilson is clearly obsessed with maps and does an incredible job creating them,  the book disappoints with its one map. On it, the Temagami area is the size of a postage stamp with none of the detail that would often help the reader make sense of what is being described and narrated.  You end up having to put down the book and access other maps to get the full picture.

Wilson will also have you wincing at his over-use of Brobdingnagian synonyms and often not-quite-appropriate words when simpler ones would do just fine.  However,  there are more than enough Temagami-related nuggets of information and insight to persevere.

A digital version of most of the book is also available at the Google Books site.  The Preamble: Transformation and Chapter One are both available. [See here.]  They are recommended reading before a trip down the Lady Evelyn; both will make you look at things a bit differently than usual.

  • The Preamble: Transformation recounts the local version of the Ojibwe Flood Myth with Nanabush (referred to here as Nenebuc) taking on Mishipeshu, the Lynx-like creature of the deep waters and the ensuing flood and recreation of earth. And it all begins on Smoothwater Lake!
  • Chapter One is Wilson’s account of his own mythic journey from Smoothwater Lake to Cabin Falls on the South Channel of the Lady Evelyn in the company of a friend or client to whom he is revealing his Paradise at Cabin Falls.

A Bit of Historical Background:  

Speck’s 1913 Hunting Grounds Map:

The lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield country we are drawn to were already the home and native land of the Anishinaabeg before the Europeans arrived.  With respect to Temagami, in 1900 there was a small Ojibwe community on Bear Island.  See the map below for its location.

1900 map with locations of the old and new HBC.  posts and of Bear I.”Indian Village”

It was the transfer of the Hudson Bay Co. to Bear Island from its initial location at the south end of nearby Temagami Island in 1875 which created an Ojibwe trading post community there.   The trading post itself would operate until 1974 when the HBC sold the property to the Zufelt family.

With the Canadian Government’s purchase of  Bear Island from the Ontario Government in 1971, it became Bear Island 1 Reserve or what is now called Temagami First Nation. By 1981 TFN had purchased the HBC post from the Zufelts.

trading post complex on Bear Island in 1910. See here for the source of the image

The most graphic and detailed analysis that I found of the Ojibwe presence in the Temagami area was a map drawn up by the American anthropologist F.G. Speck in 1913 during his stay with the Ojibwe families living on Bear Island. He numbered this community at 95 that year.

From his conversations with family heads over a two-week period, Speck concluded that an original group of twelve families had moved into the Temagami area from Lake Huron/Lake Nipissing around the year 1800 in search of new hunting grounds.

Bear Island. 1913. Frank Speck photo

The result of Speck’s visit was a brief study for the Canadian Government’s Department of Mines entitled  Family Hunting Territories and Social Life of Various Algonkian Bands of the Ottawa Valley, (Click on the title to access the document.) In it, Speck writes –

For two weeks, while at Bear island, I had the heads of the families themselves engaged in marking their territories on the map which is here reproduced. The results are shown upon the map itself. It is believed that the territorial bounds there defined are as correct as it is possible to make them.The Indians themselves realized the importance of the subject, and, probably for the first time in their lives, settled matters in black and white which had formerly been merely entrusted to memory. [Click on the title above to access the document, p.13]

The map below of the Temagami area showing the hunting grounds of the dozen or so Ojibwe families who lived there at the time was the result of those meetings with the various family heads.

Speck gives enough detail that had we been doing a Lady Evelyn canoe trip in 1913, we’d have known whose family hunting grounds we were paddling through.  Speck also notes this about entering the hunting grounds belonging to other families.

When it was necessary in travelling to pass through another family territory, permission was generally sought at the owner’s headquarters before passing on, and if by necessity game had been killed to sustain life, the pelts were carried to the owners or delivered to them by some friend. This gave the proprietors the right in the future to do the same in the territory of their trespassers. [Speck, 4]

Our trip down the Lady Evelyn took us from its headwaters near Smoothrock Lake to its mouth below what was then Mattawapika Falls where it spills into the Montreal River.  Along the way, we would pass through the hunting grounds associated with the following mid-to-late 1800s family heads (with Speck’s note about how many lived in each to the right) – 
  • 30 – Djakwunigan (of the Kingfisher clan)       1 person living there
  • 27 – Ke’kek (of the Rattlesnake clan)               17 people living there
  • 24 – Wendaban (of the Rattlesnake clan)       no one interviewed (Wendaban died 1894)
  • 27a -Misabi (of the Beaver clan)                       5 people living there

Not only were Ke’kek and Wendaban of the same Rattlesnake clan, but they were also brothers. Their combined hunting grounds were once the possession of their father Wabigan, who gave Ke’kek the lands encompassed by 27 and 27a and Wendaban 24. From their relative sizes, it may be that Wendaban was the younger son.

Apparently, Wendaban married a Nipissing woman and spent many winters (the hunting time) on Lake Nipissing instead of in the Lady Evelyn Lake area. Wendaban and his wife had no children and he is said to have died in 1894. Speck did not speak with or record the presence of anyone from hunting ground #24 during his stay.

To the south of the brothers Ke’Kek and Wendaban was the hunting ground of Misabi, still alive and almost 100 years old when Speck was at Bear Island in 1913.  He had come up to Temagami from Georgian Bay – one source says from the Shawanaga area of Georgian Bay – as a young man and, having married one of Ke’kek’s daughters, was given 27a as his hunting ground. That would mean he had arrived around 1840 or so. On a side note, the Nipissing woman mentioned above as Wendaban’s wife – Thor Conway states that Wendaban married Misabi’s sister. If so, this would explain why he  spent much of his time in the Shawanaga area and not specifically on Lake Nipissing.

To think that we are talking about a hunting grounds map drawn up only 110 years ago and reflecting the local realities of the late 1800s.  Given that my father was born in 1914 and my mother in 1922,  and I was born in the Abitibi to the northeast of Temagami in 1951,  this is not exactly ancient history!

Knowing some of the backstories of those Anishinaabeg who lived in Temagami a century or two before us makes the journey on the rivers they knew that much more meaningful.

The Ontario Government’s Exploration Survey Report:

In the summer of 1900, an  Ontario Government-sponsored exploration survey party (#3) crisscrossed the Temagami and Matagami regions, paddling up and down rivers in an epic summer of canoeing.  Already a railroad was pushing north from North Bay to Temagami; the government needed a better idea of the exploitable resources they would find. The survey party’s report covered lumber, mineral, hydro-electric, and farming potential.  Along the way, the survey party also noted features of the waterways they travelled.

Here is what the report said about the crew’s ascent of the Lady Evelyn River from the Lake.

A click on the title will take you to a copy of the report –  Report On The Survey and Exploration of Northern Ontario. Survey Party #3’s report begins on p. 83. It makes for interesting reading: among other things, it sometimes uses the earlier Algonkian language names of lakes and rivers. Lady Evelyn is not one of them!

 The name Lady Evelyn was first applied just to the lake by Robert Bell in 1888 when he did survey work in the area for the Geological Survey Department of Canada’s Federal Government. [Bell was responsible for naming over 3000 Canadian geographical features; he is also the one who gave nearby Maple Mountain its name.] 

Only later did someone in the mapping department in Ottawa use the same name for the river coming into the Lake at the bottom of the falls at the outlet of Willow Island Lake. [The falls disappeared in 1925 with the massive flooding caused by the construction of the Mattawapika Dam.]  Before that the river was known locally as “The Trout Streams”, a translation of the Ojibwa, namegos (trout) + zibbins or sippi (stream or river). See here for a use of Lady Evelyn River in the Ontario Government Northen Ontario Report mentioned above.

So – in 1888 Bell found himself with a large lake below The Trout Streams and no Anishinaabe name to give it.  This was not his preference. As he had written in an earlier survey report of the Nipigon region in 1870:

Since the lake needed a name and the local Ojibwe either did not have one or Bell did not find it distinctive enough, he came up with the name Lady Evelyn. Craig Macdonald, the creator of a Temagami map based on the pre-1925 topography and using Ojibwe names does label Lady Evelyn as Monskawnawning Lake. (Ojibwe translation: Haunt of the Moose).  If that name was actually being used by locals 100 years before Macdonald compiled the map, why Bell did not make use of it?   Given his clear preferences stated above,  it is as much of a mystery as who Lady Evelyn was!

If you need to know more about possible Lady Evelyns Bell may have had in mind,  click here (Lady Evelyn: Whom Did Robert Bell Have In Mind?).


Next Post: The Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Route Options, Maps, Shuttles, Permits, And More


For day-by-day maps and route descriptions:


Some Of  Our Other Temagami Trips: 

Since my brother and I grew up in the Abitibi region of northwestern Quebec it took us a long time to realize that there was some great paddling country that did not slope down to James Bay on the Quebec or Ontario side!

It has really just been the last decade that Temagami has become an option for an almost-wilderness canoe trip. The fact that we can put our canoe in the water six hours after leaving Toronto is definitely a factor, but the main draw is Temagami itself – rugged, scenic, with layers of history to contemplate, and some great campsites to discover.  While we have not returned to Algonquin since the late 1970s, as we get older Temagami may well become our go-to canoe tripping slice of the Canadian Shield.

Here are a few trip reports of Temagami visits over the past decade –

Temagami: Paddling From Peak to Peak (Smoothwater Lake to Ishpatina Ridge to Maple Mountain To Temagami Island)

detailed map of our paddle to Ishpatina and Maple Mountains and then out

Early Autumn Canoeing In The Heart Of Temagami

 A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

Paddling To Temagami’s Maple Mountain






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Wabakimi Canoe Trip: Days 11 to 15 – From Smoothrock Lake To Collins Via The Boiling Sand River

Previous Post: Days 9 and 10 – From The Mouth of the Grayson River, South To Smoothrock Lake Via Whitewater Lake and McKinley Bay

Day Eleven: Smoothrock Lake Central To S end of Smoothrock West Arm

distance: 25 km. 

We would hear some boat traffic around wake-up time on our little island at the hub of Smoothrock Lake.  There is a fishing lodge located on the east arm of the lake about 4.5 kilometers from where we were camping:

The fly-in fish camp is made up of twelve cabins and the main lodge building and,  if the half-dozen boats in the fishing armada that passed by were any indication, is doing okay in attracting guests. The Smoothrock Lake location is one of a number owned and operated by Thunderhook Fly-Ins a U.S-owned fishing lodge company with a real stake in fishing/hunting camps in northwestern Ontario, including

  • 13 different outposts,
  • a four-cabin operation on Whitewater lake, and
  • the twelve-cabin complex on Smoothwater Lake.

Later that morning when we headed towards the west arm of the lake, we would paddle by the stationary boats as the guys inside tried various lure combinations.  All were from south of the border with Michigan being the #1 state they were from.  They were having a great time fishing in Wabakimi Provincial Park.  Those fishing outposts all existed before the Park was established and have been allowed to continue and – truth be told – bring in more revenue to the park and locals involved in the tourist industry than the few canoe trippers who spend time (and very little money) in the area.

We arrive complete with all our food and gear, get dropped off on the side of the railway line at Flindt Landing, paddle around the park for two weeks, and then hop on the train at Collins and head back south to Toronto. Not a lot of money there for the local tourist economy – except for the camp park permits we paid for over the telephone while chatting with the park super.

we sit out an afternoon shower at our campsite on the west arm of Smoothrock Lake.

We got close to the bottom of the West Arm of the lake and, when we passed the twenty-kilometer mark,  started looking for a campsite.  We stopped when there was a sudden change in the weather and got the tent up just in time.  We’d get a thunderstorm and some rain for a couple of hours before things cleared up again and the sun came out.

looking east from our island campsite on the west arm of Smoothrock Lake

a post-supper cup of tea on the rocks- the afternoon storm has come and gone

sunset on the water

more end-of-day reflections

Day Twelve: Smoothrock West Arm to Boiling Sand R. (Tamarack L.)

distance: 19 km. 

We had three days before our train ride back to Toronto from the Collins VIA stop on the morning of the 4th day. Collins was only 30 kilometers away and,  if pressed, we could have knocked it off in one day. Instead, we had to stretch it out to fill three!

Day 12- CS to Boiling Sand River

Our day up the Boiling Sand River would be the last of the normal tripping days. We left our island campsite around 9:00 and by 11:00 had paddled the 10 kilometers to the mouth of the Boiling Sand River, the last three kilometers up Smoothrock Lake’s narrow southeast arm. Coming up were the last two longer potential portages.

There we would have to deal with our last major potential portage (P42); some trip reports indicate a 500+ meter carry here on river left.  (See here.)

Our Spot Connect track 646 shows us at the bottom at 11:10 and close to the top ten minutes later.  Not having kept notes and unable to recall exactly what we did here, I can only conclude that we tracked the canoe upriver.  Your experience may be different.  Drop me a line on how you dealt with it.

Once beyond the constriction at its mouth,  the river widens and takes an S-shaped curve up to the next portage (P43), the one into Tamarack Lake.  We would spend about thirty minutes on the river left (our right-hand side since we were coming up) portage. The trail showed signs of some use.

Portage into Tamarack Lake -Boiling Sand River – satellite image

After P43 we stopped for lunch on the side of the river.

lunch break on the Boiling Sand River- we had three days to do about twenty kilometers! Easy does it!

Then we paddled for a bit up Tamarack Lake  to what looked like a decent campsite.  It was only 2:00  but we decided to end the day here.  We were right across from an outpost (Mattice Lake Outfitters?). We were also 11 kilometers from Collins Via train stop.

fresh coffee being made at our Tamarack lake campsite

the evening view from our Boiling Sand River campsite just north of Tamarack Lake

Our tickets for that VIA train ride back to Toronto’ Unions Station had a fixed date.  We now had two days to kill at the top of the Boiling Sand River.  Not being fishing aficionados, we contented ourselves with taking photos, drinking coffee,  and picking blueberries, lots and lots of blueberries!

With blueberries all around and lots of time to kill, we start picking- and eating.

In our youth in the Abitibi, in the summer we’d go into the bush surrounding the mining town we grew up in and pick blueberries – and then knock on doors with our four-quart baskets hoping to make a sale that would get us Spiderman comics and creamsicles.  25¢ for a basket!!

However, on days 13 and 14, there were no potential takers – other than the bears we did not want to tempt to our campsite – for the ridiculous amount of blueberries we picked! Still, it was a soothing thing to do – Zen and The Art of Picking Berries! – and brought back memories!

Days 13 & 14: Tamarack Lake to Gnome Lake To Bath Lake

distance: 8 km. + 3 km. = 11 km.!

From Tamarack Lake to Collins Lake, there are four short portages.

  • P44 90 meters from Tamarack Lake into Gnome Lake
  • P45 175 meters from Gnome Lake upriver (still the Boiling Sand)
  • P46 105 meters into Bath Lake
  • P47 200 meters from Bath lake across the CN tracks into Collins Lake

teepee poles on the side of a portage trail

We’re suckers for shoreline reflections.

morning on the Boiling Sand River

a public service announcement on a rock face near the boundary of the park

our second-last campsite

the bit of food we had left was up in the tree and down in the bay were the eight quarts of blueberries. We wanted to keep them cool- we just managed to get them wet!

sunset on the second last night

same sunset a few minutes later!

failed attempt at drying out 15 liters of blueberries- we would later dump them all into Bath Lake! It was a painful experience!

our handiwork on display- all for naught

Day Fifteen: Bath Lake To Collins

distance: 5 km. 

We got up a little early this day just to make sure we’d be at the Collins VIA stop on time. I  really should have found out how to indicate where we wanted to be picked up at the side of the tracks on the portage from Bath Lake. However, the VIA rep in Montreal that I spoke to did not have a clue and, unfortunately, I did not pursue the matter.  Here is the information I should have had – the mileage marker for Bath lake –

Wabakimi VIA Mileage Markers for Canoe Insertion/Extraction[      See here for the source of the above information and more background.]

What I needed was the mileage marker for Bath lake – i.e. 19.3 – when I bought the tickets. Not having the mileage marker and not wanting to risk standing on the side of the tracks and having the train blow past as we flagged it down, we paddled into Collins Lake and up to the small settlement on the north side of the lake.

the rail line runs past Bath Lake from Collins- we would portage over it the next morning. We should have just arranged to meet the train at the portage point instead of paddling to Collins!

Collins [a community without official Band Status but with the name Namaygoosisagagun First Nation]  is a railside Anishinaabe community of perhaps forty people that would have shifted from being a summertime settlement to a permanent one after the railway line came through in the 1880s.   [See here for the Collins community’s web page. It does include the statement that “Namaygoosisagagun has been in existence since time immemorial “.]  Band Status would presumably give the community leaders access to government funds and powers that their current non-status does not.

Collins, Ontario – satellite view

The community is made of up families who are registered to one of the following Treaties – Treaty #3, the Robison-Superior Treaty, and Treaty #9.  Those families living on the north shore of Collins Lake itself at that time would have been included in the Robinson-Superior Treaty of 1850 since Collins Lake is a part of the Superior drainage basin. Its outlet at the south end of the lake – the Collins River – drains into the Kopka River system which ends up in Lake Nipigon.  Any Indigenous families living a few kilometers northeast on the Boiling Sand River or Smoothrock Lake would have been registered to Treaty No. 9 (signed in 1905) since they were in the James Bay drainage basin.

On the beach where we landed, were three unoccupied tourist/visitors’ cabins. A local came down the road on his ATV while we were carrying our gear from the beach up towards the VIA waiting room – perhaps the most dilapidated building in the entire community, it looked like local youth had taken it over and turned it into a clubhouse!  See the images below. It was also one of those closest to the tracks and most likely to be seen by those VIA passengers staring out of their windows.

the Collins signpost on the side of the tracks  – the waiting room behind

the waiting room at the Collins unofficial I.R. VIA rail stop

We waited for the eastbound VIA train for an hour or so and, once we got the canoe and the gear into the baggage car, hopped on board and headed for the dining car and our first non-oatmeal breakfast in two weeks!  A day later – just a couple of hours late – we would be rolling down the Don Valley and into Toronto’s Union Station.

the eastbound VIA- just a little bit late!

the breakfast table in the VIA dining car – plush!

Check out the other two parts of our account of our 2011 Wabakimi Paddle. There is one post that focuses on the fires we paddled into- and another post that looks at (mostly) the Beckwith Cabins on Best Island and the Ogoki Lodge just to the south of Grage Island on Whitewater Lake.

Smoke Over Wabakimi – Canoe Tripping In A Season of Fires

Wabakimi’s Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

If you have any questions about the logistics of the trip, suggestions on how to make the post more useful or corrections we need to make, or general comments on what you’ve read,  please drop me a line at true_north @mac.com


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Wabakimi Canoe Trip: Days 9 and 10 – McKinley Bay to Smoothrock Lake

Previous Post: Days 7 and 8 – From The Grayson River To Best island Via Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins

Day Nine: Best Island To Lonebreast Bay of Smoothrock lake – Bussey I. 

distance: 22 km. 

paddling south on McKinley Bay at 6:00 a.m., intent on leaving Thunder Bay 57 behind

We got up at 5:00 the next morning and were into McKinley Bay by 6 a.m., intent on paddling away from the new fire and way down into Lonebreast Bay to the south by 11:00.

Portages from Whitewater lake To McKinley Lake

After knocking off the first three portages of the day –  we finally made a one-hour breakfast stop on a flat elevated rock in the middle of the lake after P38. None are difficult although it was our second time through and we still had trouble finding P36! The bay is quite reedy so it can be a challenge to find the trailhead if you are the first party through in a while.

Below is our breakfast rock! We had left Best Island without even a cup of coffee thanks to those sandflies!

a late breakfast in the middle of  the nameless lake between McKinley and Laurent Lakes

We continued south after breakfast to the next portage.  Just as we got to the end of P 39, it started to rain – not the torrential downpour we had seen on Grayson Lake but still a nice long soak which was sure to cool down the bush around us. We had arrived at 11:15; we didn’t leave until 1:00 p.m.!

me getting instant feedback on a shot I’ve taken while sitting under the tarp at the end of the portage – this was the first canoe trip where we were happy every time it started raining!

We spent over an hour sitting under that tarp, sipping on coffee, taking too many pix and celebrating the downpour. It washed away the tension of the previous day and a half and, except for a whiff that we got the next night at our Smoothrock Lake camp, that would be it for smoke and fire.

This is what I was looking at in the above shot! I wasn’t sure if the raindrops would be sharp enough.

With the portage from Laurent Lake into Lonebreast Bay, that would also be it for portages and rapids for a couple of days. Other than the initial difficulty of finding the portage trail at the south end of McKinley Bay, the six carries from McKinley Bay to Lonebreast Bay are quick and easy.

We paddled down Lonebreast Bay for an hour and pulled ashore on Bussey Island.  There is an established campsite there – tucked away and nicely sheltered. Also on site was a plaque left by friends of a deceased paddler who had spent time on the island. One note about the campsite – not everyone found it as we did. Here is a Canadian Canoe Routes forum member’s account of what he found –

Bussey Island when I went to scout it was a trash heap.. The water full of dead fish skins.. The island trashed with tp and propane ( 10 lb ) bottles. I went on. There is another campsite on the south shore about 2 km west of Bussey. Best for soloist. mccr source

There is a fishing lodge down the main part of Smoothrock Lake which may explain the mess found.  Lodge guests and their guide probably use the island for fish fry lunches.

our campsite on Bussey Island in Lonebreast Bay Smoothrock Lake Wabakimi

Day Ten: Lonebreast Bay To Smoothrock Lake Central

distance: 11 km. 

the breakfast table on the beach- notice the coffee filters for the real coffee we brought along for the first time. From now on, no more instant coffee!

After a leisurely two-cups-of-coffee start to the day, we headed south on Lonebreast Bay. Our objective for the day was to hit Smoothrock Lake Central and then find a campsite that would put us in a good position for the next day’s paddle down the west arm of the Lake.

Smoothrock Lake – Bays and Arms

a stretch of beautiful shoreline on Lonebreast Bay as we paddle south

We found our spot on a small island at the hub of Smoothrock Lake, an elevated spot with a flat top, some trees to provide shade and a windscreen and a nice breeze on the rock sloping down to the water.  We set up our tent and hung our sleeping bags on a line we set up to take advantage of the sun and wind.

All in all, it was an easy day after the 5 a.m. get-up the day before on Best Island’s South Beach.

a terrific campsite on a small island at the top of Smoothrock Lake

the same spot- a different angle!

Next Post: Days 11 to 15 – Killing Time on Smoothrock Lake’s West Arm and The Boiling Sand River

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip: Days 7 and 8 – The Grayson River and Whitewater Lake

Previous Post: Days 5 and 6 – Down The Ogoki, The Palisade, and the Grayson Rivers

Day Seven: Grayson River To Whitewater 

distance: 9 km. !

The next morning we got up later than usual and had a leisurely breakfast while all of our wet gear was spread out in the sun.  We were feeling better now that we had turned the corner on Thunder Bay 50 and with every stroke south and east, we would be getting further away! We were also entering water we had just paddled the summer before.

The goal for the day was a modest one – a campsite on one of the small islands just to the west of Porter Island.  A short carry over P34 and we were at the mouth of the Grayson River.  Once on Whitewater Lake, a look back north confirmed that the fire was still smoldering but we were heading in the right direction.

paddling into Whitewater Lake with the smoke of Fire Thunder Bay 50 about 10 km to the NW

We found a nice tucked-away-from-the-wind campsite on the east side of a small island on the west side of Porter Island.  We had moved nine kilometers – but we were fine with it!

a sheltered campsite on a small island on the west side of Porter Island

The sunset that evening was impacted by the ash particles in the air.

setting sun obscured by smoke from Thunder Bay 50

the end of day on our sheltered island campsite- time to look for Group of Seven photo ops!

dusk and we walk by a quiet little bay on our circuit of the island

Day Eight: Whitewater Lake west end to Best Island (South Beach)

distance: 22 km. 

With breakfast done,  we paddled down the west side of Porter Island and over to the channel on the west side of Grange Island that leads right to the Ogoki Lodge.  We had visited the property the year before but dropped in for another look. You can read the entire story about the Lodge and how it came to be in this related post –

The Ogoki Lodge And The Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

the main Ogoki Lodge building and the dock

Then it was down into Secret Lake and back east into Whitewater Lake again.  There is one easy portage to get you into Secret Lake. Then it is a turn to the east and back to Whitewater Lake, dealing with some shallow water and probable canoe hauling in spots if the water is low. (It was both times we’ve gone through here.)

water is in short supply as we do that last stretch leading from Secret Lake back into Whitewater Lake

Once back into Whitewater Lake from the Secret Lake short-cut, it was time to head down to the Beckwith Cabins on Best island.  The year before we had somehow missed them on our way down the west shore of the island since we weren’t exactly sure where they were. We were better prepared this time.

the south end of Whitewater Lake in  Wabakimi P.P.

the blue tarp covering the broken roof of one of the Beckwith cabins

We would spend some time on the island checking out the various structures that an American recluse built in the 1970s and 80s.  We ended up putting together an entire post on our visit to the Cabins, as well as to the Ogoki Lodge Complex. Click on the title for more pix and info on two interesting Wabakimi stories:

The Ogoki Lodge And The Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”

looking into one of the Wendell Beckwith cabins during our visit to Best Island…see the section titled Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins for more photos.

A trail leads from this sandy beach to the Beckwith cabins. Apparently, Beckwith himself died on this beach in 1980.

Near the beach is a fairly large flat area where groups of paddlers have tented. We decided to camp at the south end of the island instead.

While there is a campsite on the beach near the cabins, we decided to push on. We had something new to factor in – something troubling that we had noticed in the bush about five kilometers west of  Best Island. It was another fire! More smoke!  (We would later learn that it was given the name Thunder Bay 57.)

a new fire to worry about- Thunder Bay 57 just to the west of  Best Island and the Cree cottages

Thunder Bay 57 to the west of the Ojibwa cottages

the cottages in the southwest corner of Whitewater Lake – property of Whitesand First Nation?

We headed to the south end of Best Island, across from the Mattice Lake Outfitter Lodge where we found a tent spot. Nearby is also a collection of a half-dozen cottages probably belonging to the Whitesand First Nation at Armstrong Station. We figured that it would be a safe place to be even in a fire situation given the amount of property nearby that would surely be protected!

The Caribbean-like sand beach goes on for a couple of kilometers on the south end of Best island. (Good luck with the sandflies if you decide to tent there!)  BTW it is a bit hazy because of a second fire – Thunder Bay 57 –  just west of our campsite.

Whitewater Lake Wabakimi – south end properties

MLO fishing/hunting lodge and cabins on Whitewater Lake – Note: in 2020 the lodge had a new owner

The sand flies, however, would make the half-day we spent here our #1 worst campsite in thirty years. It took over this ranking from the previous #1, our tent spot at the start of the portage trail going from the Missinaibi River to Brunswick Lake.  We wore our rain gear to protect most of our bodies; my cheeks were numb for the next day thanks to all the bites!

The air was thick with smoke and ash from the fire was falling onto our tent.  Seeing a helicopter land at the outfitters’  lodge across the water, we went over and chatted with the crew foreman about the situation.  They were there to set up the hoses to create a water sprinkler perimeter and get the water pump motors running.  He said we should have no problem paddling south into Lonebreast Bay the next morning.

Next Post: Days 9 and 10 – From Whitewater To Smoothrock Lake Via McKinley Bay

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing To Collins: Days 5 & 6 – The Ogoki, Palisade, and Grayson Rivers

Previous Post: Days 3 and 4 – Down The Flindt and Across Wabakimi Lake

Day Five: River Bay To Mouth of the Palisade River 

distance: 24 km. 

We left our River Bay CS after breakfast knowing that we’d be paddling right into some rapids and portages as Wabakimi Lake tumbles down into Kenoji Lake.

The drop from River Bay to Kenoji Lake happens in three stages, three sets of rapids over a 4.5 km. distance.  The three steps take you down – according to

  • our Garmin Topo Canada map set, 8 meters from Wabakimi lake’s 357m to Kenoji’s 349m.
  • The archived NRC topos have a more dramatic figure, a 12-meter drop going from 360+/- to 348+/-.

Having gone through this section of the river twice, we do not recall anything that significant!  Here is a look at the tracking data from this morning – and my attempt at reconstructing what we did. Without notes or images, it is sometimes even difficult to picture the various campsites, let alone particular sets of rapids after you’ve done 43 of them!  We were not taking notes on this trip and the photos are not always on point!

See here for the Topo Canada View.

break time on Kenoji Lake – a Clif Bar and some Gatorade while sitting on the south side of the lake after the last set of rapids.

The portages done, we sat on the rocks on the south side of Kenoji for a wee break. We still did not smell any smoke. We decided that instead of redoing the Ogoki River section from Kenoji down to Whitewater Lake, we would stick with a least the main part of our route plan – that is, paddling up the Palisade River to the Slim Lake turn-off.  Then we would go east to Grayson Lake before coming back down to Whitewater via the Grayson River.

As we paddled into the Palisade River, we met our first paddlers in five days at the campsite where they had spent the night.  The day before they had come down the Palisade and said the smoke would quite noticeable if we paddled ten or twelve kilometers further up.  They were now heading south for Lower Wabakimi and Smoothrock Lake.

lunchtime – peanut butter on Wasa bread to go along with the Thai noodle soup and a cup of tea – on the Palisade at the spot  where we would later camp for the night

Within twenty minutes they pushed off for the portages into Wabakimi Lake and we had ourselves a campsite!  We had lunch – the classic peanut butter on Wasa bread with a cup full of Thai noodle soup – while we discussed our options, thanks to the new information we had received.

paddling alongside the wall-like edge of the Palisade River up towards the source of the smoke near Burntrock Lake…definitely worth the effort to see them

After lunch, we decided not to put up the tent just yet and decided to paddle a bit further up the Palisade to get a better handle on the situation.  We also wanted to see what some trip reports described as the gorge-like section of the Palisade up near the turn-off to Slim Lake. Note:

Below is a map indicating not just one but four supposed pictograph sites in that stretch of the Palisade we paddled up and down and back up again the next morning without seeing a thing!  Many rock paintings are so faint and sometimes obscured with lichen that without previous knowledge of their presence they are very easy to miss.

Two years after this trip we found out that there is a pictograph site on that bit of rock behind my brother in the image below!  It is the topmost site on the map above and is at the point where you turn right for Slim Lake and the way to Grayson.

paddling past the stretch of vertical rock  on one side of the Palisade River

definitely smoke in the air near the turn-off from the Palisade River to Slim Lake

smoke is visible at this point on the Palisade- the next morning we would return to this point and turn east (right) into the channel in the middle of the picture

We paddled back down the Palisade towards its mouth and camped that night at the spot vacated by the two paddlers from Toronto we had spoken to earlier. We were definitely in the presence of a bit of history!

Crown Land marker from 1925 at our campsite on the Palisade River

But it was the smoke from Thunder Bay 50 that was most on our minds.  What to do?

early evening smoke while we got supper ready

8:45 p.m. and the smoke seemed to be gone- or helped make dramatic clouds

We had to pick one of these two choices:

  • follow the ranger’s first suggestion and continue down the Ogoki River into Whitewater; we had done that stretch of the river the year before.
  • paddle back up the Palisade River to the Slim Lake turn-off and the route across to Grayson Lake. We would obviously scrap the side trip to Burntrock Lake.

Day Six: The Epic Day – Palisade River to Grayson River near Whitewater Lake

distance: 33 km. 

We were on the water early, figuring to put some distance between us and the smoke in the early morning before things warmed up. By 8:15 we had paddled up the Palisade and turned right into the narrow channel that took us into Slim Lake. So far, so good!  As we left Slim Lake for Scag lake, we dealt easily with the following –

a portage into Scag Lake

Once on Scag Lake, the headwaters of the Grayson River system, we headed over for the lake outlet – aka the start of the Grayson River.  We found a very shallow and almost-not-there river!  We did the carry on river left. the first of the portages – if that is what it was! –  was not even visible. The second one felt more like a trail that someone had once used!

the top of the Grayson River…all it needed was some water!

From Scag Lake To Arril Lake – Grayson River headwaters

As we walked our gear on the top portage we looked over into the bush to the west and saw some smoke.  A very small fire had broken out on the banks of the Grayson, perhaps sparks from Thunder Bay 50. The image below is what we saw.

a small smouldering fire on the west side of the Grayson River as we passed by

We spent an hour and a half dealing with P28 and P29 and stopped for lunch on a point of the south side of the river within ten minutes of having finished them. It was about 3:00 when we pulled into a campsite on the river just before it widens out into Arril Lake.

We had just put up our tent on river right just before the river widens out into Arril Lake. Returning to the shore for the rest of our gear, we saw what you see in the images below.  Yikes!

smoke to the west of Kenoji- afternoon winds whipping up Thunder Bay 50

The first view of big smoke!

As we watched in amazement at the size and ferocity of the smoky spectacle in front of us, we were thinking only one thing – get out of there quick!   This meant crossing Arril Lake and getting into Grayson Lake to the east.  We figured we’d paddle until we got to Whitewater Lake and had put fifteen kilometers between us and the fire.  It was now 3:25 p.m. Here is what motivated us for the next while-

looking back at the fire and smoke from the NE end of Arril Lake

Once we got to the east end of Arril lake we sat on the sand beach for a while and looked west.  The fire was definitely being helped by a strong wind from the northwest as the movement of the smoke shows.

looking back west into the heart of the fire and the visible flames

the scene at the NE end of Arril Lake at 4:00 p.m.

the awe-full beauty of the fire- it was amazing to be there and watch

After maybe forty-five minutes of sitting on the beach and taking in the incredible scene, we left Arril Lake and headed towards the much bigger Grayson Lake.  There is a portage that takes you from one lake to the other at the far east end of Arril.

Arril Lake To Grayson Lake Portage – P30

The winds were still quite strong and were whipping up the fire but it was great to put some distance from it.

looking north towards Arril Lake

An hour and a half later and we were entering the main channel of Lake Grayson. Now, all we had to do was head down the southern channel and we’d feel a lot better. As we started our way down, we watched a helicopter land on the east shore. We pulled in and sat onshore and took in the happenings.

Grayson lake – Rendezvous Point!

looking across Wabakimi's Grayson lake as a helicopter lands

looking across Wabakimi’s Grayson lake as a helicopter lands


helicopter monitoring the fire and putting on perimeter water spraying for a nearby outpost

When the helicopter took off leaving one man still onshore – and waving his arm at us to come over to his side – we hopped back into the canoe and paddled across.  It turned out that he was a Parks Canada official from Saskatchewan who had been assigned to work on this fire because of its size.  He had come in with the helicopter crew who had come to set up a water perimeter system around the outpost property to protect it from the fire.

He also filled us in on what the Parks people thought about the fire. Naïve that we were, it was a bit of a shock to hear that they were just going to let the fire burn itself out.  He told us that this corner of the park actually needed a good fire to get rid of all the deadwood that had been accumulating for years.  And there we had been, looking into the sky for the water bombers!

While all this was going on, we were also treated to a perfectly timed weather event. For the next 35 minutes, there was one hell of a solid downpour that dumped a massive amount of water on the neighbourhood.  Okay, so there would be no water bombers but it was still such a relief to see that water come down and drenching the boreal forest that was being eaten up by Thunder Bay 50. We were soaked but relieved!

We gave the Parks Canada guy our personal info and were reassured to hear that we were headed in the right (i.e. south) direction. The sky was now filled with the smoke of the doused fires.

Lake Grayson after the 30-minute downpour put a damper on the fire!

It was like a fog had settled down on the area but it did make for some dramatic photos.

Down we went to the south end of Grayson Lake and a few portages to put even more water and distance between us and TB50!

The epic day was almost done.  We had started at about 6:45 from the bottom of the Palisade River and now we were leaving Grayson Lake for the last 7-km. stretch of the Grayson River before you hit Whitewater Lake.

Last Grayson River Portages before Whitewater Lake

We hit the portage trail and walked through this: it felt like we were in a scene from the Lord of the Rings movies – there was something eerie about being there.  It was also getting late and we had been on the move for almost fourteen hours.

smoke hung in the air as we walked this portage trail

There had probably been a lightning strike within the past couple of hours.

signs of a recently doused fire were all around us

One more impossible-to-find portage trail – that would be P32 on the map above! In the end, we just bushwhacked our way to the other side. Thankfully, it was not very far – and then we headed for the tent site indicated on the Wabakimi Project map.

We were so beat that we didn’t even bother with supper that night.

Max paddling into a bay where I think there is a portage trail- I may have been wrong! We bushwhacked.

Next Post: Days 7 and 8 – Down Whitewater Lake to The Ogoki Lodge, the Beckwith Cabins, and Best Island’s South Beach

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing: Days 3 and 4 – The Flindt and Ogoki Rivers

Previous Post: Days 1 and 2 – From Flindt Landing Down the Flindt River

Day Three: Flindt River to Wabakimi Lake

distance: 20 km. 

This day was one of those when we decided to put in some kilometers on the water before having breakfast.  We set off at 8:00, dealing immediately with the two sets of rapids just below the campsite.  We ended up lining the canoe through both; the water was not quite high enough to be able to run.  We stopped about 45 minutes later on a small island and took out the breakfast bag and spent an hour enjoying our coffee in the morning sun.

On the map below, our campsite is in the center of the page; the red pins show that there were a few sets of rapids to deal with before we got to Tew Lake and Wabakimi Lake.


After our island breakfast stop, we headed on to the next series – P13,P14, and P15. We ran and lined P13, lined P14 on the left side of the island, and then lined/ran P15. In all, we spent about an hour dealing with all three.  There was more to come!

It would take us an hour and a quarter to deal with the next three sets of rapids.  We portaged P16 – no fuss there!  Then we lined & ran through P17 on river right.  After taking a quick look, we also floated past P18.  We were now in Tew Lake, a part of the Ogoki River System. Bye, bye, Flindt!. About a half-hour later we pulled ashore on river right. It was almost 2:00 and definitely time for lunch!

Max reading the ripples while the canoe sits in a cove behind him

Lunch over, we headed for the east end of Tew Lake.  Our maps showed one last bit of work for the day.  The three red pins on the overview map below set the stage!

Day 3 P19 to D3 CS – West end of Wabakimi Lake


One thing that happens as you spend more time on the river is that all the basic routines become more and more efficient and everybody knows exactly what it is that they should be doing. Our portage routine was coming along nicely, thanks to the Flindt.  We would knock off the next three carries – the first two were admittedly fairly short – in a bit more than an hour.

Flindt – P20, 21, 22 Satellite View

We were now in Wabakimi Lake, the lake at the center of Wabakimi Provincial Park. (See the map for Day 4 below.) It is 16 kilometers long from west to east but the west half is fairly narrow; it does widen out on the eastern half. We found a decent campsite on a point on the south shore not too far from where we had come into the lake. Up went the tent and the tarp; Day 3 was in the books!

our canoe with Wabakimi Lake and the northern shore in the background

our Day Three campsite on the south side of Wabakimi Lake – see map above for exact location!

dusk view of a small bay from our campsite

Day Four: WabakimiLake (W end) To Ogoki River Bay

distance: 23 km. 

Lake Wabakimi on a windy day can be a bit of struggle – and that is what we had a bit of on this day.  We started off at 8:00, hoping to benefit from the calmer conditions one finds earlier in the morning. Easy paddling east down the narrow section of the lake with a light SE wind that picked up as the day progressed.

By 9:00 we were on the north side of the lake and heading for the string of islands off the northern shore, making use of them as windscreens as we made our way east. 11:15 found us at the east end of those islands and heading into some choppy water towards River Bay and the outpost.

break time on the north shore of Wabakimi lake as we paddled through the maze of islands, using them as windscreens!

Max getting a handle on the best route through the tangle of islands on the north side of Wabakimi Lake as we deal with the impact of strong winds

a very scenic stretch of Wabakimi Lake on the north shore

We did paddle up to the outpost to get the shot you see below; there was nobody home.  We had hoped to get some news on the wildfire situation that had started about ten days before. After some deliberation and the advice of the park superintendent and other paddlers, we had decided to go ahead with the trip.  So far we had not smelled any smoke or even thought of the fire that much. That would be changing in the next day!

a fishing lodge at the east end of Wabakimi Lake just as you enter Ogoki River Bay- nobody home!

Shortly after we paddled back out into the bay, we spotted a Wabakimi Parks bush plane. It landed in front of us and we paddled over.  The ranger was checking fishing permits!  He asked us for our camping permit.  As luck would have it, it was tucked deep inside our one super-waterproof bag – the one with our sleeping bags and other need-to-keep-100%-dry stuff.  Digging it out of the bag while bobbing on the choppy water of River Bay was not going to happen. So – I gave the guy our names and addresses and told him to check with the park super since I had gotten and paid for the permits from him over the telephone.

We also asked him about the fire situation.  He said the fire, labelled Thunder Bay 50,  was currently  around the Burntrock Lake area, about 20 kilometers from River Bay.)

He made two route suggestions:

  1. paddle down the Ogoki River into Whitewater lake
  2. paddle/portage back to Wabakimi Lake and go into Lower Wabakimi Lake

As our map for Day 4 shows, we kept on going to the east end of River Bay before stopping for the day and putting up our MEC Wanderer 4 tent.  Still not decided was what to do the next day.  The original plan had been to paddle into Burntrock Lake and spend a couple of nights there before turning back to Slim Lake and Grayson Lake.  The developing fire had obviously changed things!

our humble campsite on the south side of River Bay- see the map above for exact location

We were struck by the amount of deadwood and blowdown behind our tent site on the south side of River Bay.  It had not yet occurred to us that the parks people might be happy with a burn in the area!

the bush behind our tent – lots of deadwood ripe for burning

It is almost 9 p.m. as we gaze westward towards the soon-to-be setting sun.

Next Post: Days 5 and 6 – Up The Palisade River and Down The Grayson

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing To Collins Via The Flindt,: Days 1 & 2 – Flindt River

Previous Post:  Wabakimi Canoe Trip – From Flindt landing To Collins – Intro, Logistics, Maps

Day One: Flindt Landing To Flet Lake

distance: 25 km. 

We started a bit late on our first day out, still tired from that 27-hour train ride! Nice sunny weather and no wind made for a nice introduction.  Within three hours we were 16.5 km. down Heathcote Lake, one of the main wider sections of the Flindt River system. It stretches a kilometer or so to the south of the CN rail tracks and is the river’s headwaters. The Flindt eventually merges with the Ogoki River at Tew Lake, just before Wabakimi Lake.)

We would stop for a leisurely lunch on the far side of P01. Including the short carry, we spent an hour and a half here, enjoying the shade and very fact that we were finally in trip mode.

Flindt P01, P02, P03

We portage when we have to, run or line & run when we can, always making sure to check things out beforehand.  Sometimes the carry is actually more efficient than an attempt at lining the canoe down a difficult stretch of river.

P02 was one of those we lined and ran without difficulty.  P03 was a quick carry and we were back to cruising speed.

our canoe waits while we scout some rapids on the first day out.

my brother Max double-bagging it on the portage trail

Flindt – P04, 05, and Day 1 CS

P04 was a portage that took us about a half-hour; we lined and ran through P05 in about ten minutes.  Then it was time to look for a campsite, given that it was already 6:20. (We had moved the hour hand back by one when we entered the Central Time zone somewhere near Collins on the train in.)  We found our spot in the small bay on the west side of Flet Lake indicated above; we were done for the day.

Late-ish start and late-ish finish to Day 1 but it felt great to be back in Wabakimi!

rockin’ reflections in the mid-afternoon

the east side of Flet Lake at 8:00 p.m. from our campsite

Day Two: Flet Lake To NE Corner of Big Island on the Flindt River

distance: 26 km. 

we got to share our portage trail with this local.

P06 RR 110m – a 35-minute hauling job

We did a bit of this during the trip- here is Step one! The new L.L. Beans boots passed the test as we lined our canoe.

It is great when there is somewhere to walk on the side of the river!

Almost through – although I need to pay more attention to my rope!

This morning we lined through P07 in ten minutes and did the same with the next set of rapids. When we came to the rapids indicated by P09 we did a carry.  P1o we paddled right through.


a portage trail that had that Lord of the Rings look about it

We did waste some time this day! When we got to the south end of Big Island, we took the left-hand turn and paddled up for about forty minutes. Not having a complete map view of the island,  we thought we had paddled into a long narrow bay! Back we went to the bottom of what we only later realized was an island.  Back home in Toronto my wife just happened to be monitoring our progress at this time and having a WTF moment as she tried to figure out what was going on!

our Wanderer 4 tent in the background and our Woods Pack replacement, the Hooligan, in the foreground

We paddled down the right-hand side of Big Island to a decent campsite just above a set of rapids. It was 6 p.m.

our front yard at the end of Day Two on the Flindt River

Next Post: Days 3 and 4 – Down The Flindt and Ogoki Rivers Into Wabakimi Lake

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Wabakimi Canoe Trip- From Flindt Landing To Collins Via The Flindt, Ogoki, Palisade, Grayson, and Boiling Sand Rivers – Intro, Logistics, Maps

Related Posts: Smoke Over Wabakimi – Canoeing In A Season Of Fires

The Ogoki Lodge And The Beckwith Cabins: “All Thing Must Pass”

If you really want to get away from the crowds, then Wabakimi Provincial Park in NW Ontario is an obvious choice.  For every hundred paddlers churning up the waters of Algonquin or Killarney or Quetico, there are maybe one or two in Wabakimi. But for us, there is a price to pay- and that is the time needed to get there.  I should add that we live in southern Ontario (London and Toronto)  so Armstrong Station is a long way; if you live in Wisconsin or Minnesota or Thunder Bay the park is almost on your doorstep!

Take a look at the Google map below to see where Wabakimi Provincial Park is in the bigger picture.

Our 2010 visit to Wabakimi Provincial Park very definitely gave us every reason to go back for more and that is what we did the next year.  (Check out our trip report “Discovering Wabakimi: Paddling to the Center of the Universe for more info.)

Our Wabakimi Itinerary:

Flindt Landing – Flindt river – Wabakimi Lake – Kenoji Lake – Palisade River – Grayson Lake – Whitewater Lake – Smoothwater Lake – Boiling Sand River – Collins

  • July 23 – we left Toronto Union Station at about 10 p.m. (Note: In 2019 the schedule was changed: the train now leaves at 9:30 a.m. twice a week. Due to the COVID epidemic, it is not running during the 2020 season.)
  • July 24 – spent all day on the Via Canadian train and got to Flindt Landing around midnight

heading for the portage trail at dusk on the Grayson River

  • Day 1 – 25 km – from Flint Landing cabin to campsite on a bay off Flet  Lake
  • Day 2 – 26 km – from Flet Lake to campsite on Flindt River by portage on NE end of Big Island
  • Day 3 – 20 km – from lower Flindt River camp to Wabakimi Lake west end
  • Day 4 – 23 km – to River Bay South shore after an encounter with a park ranger
  • Day 5 – 24 km – to the start of Palisade R. after paddle up to turn-off to Slim Lake and back (9 km)
  • Day 6 – 33 km – to a campsite on Grayson River before Whitewater Lake
  • Day 7 – 9 km – small island at top of Whitewater just to the west of Porter island
  • Day 8 – 22 km – to a sand fly-infested beach on the south end of Best Island on Whitewater Lake –
  • Day 9 – 22 km – halfway down Lonebreast Bay to Bussey Island campsite (one with memorial)
  • Day 10 – 11 km – to island at the north end of Smooth Rock Lake
  • Day 11 – 25 km – to campsite down near the south end of the west arm of Smoothrock Lake
  • Day 12 – 19 km – to Boiling Sand River campsite across from Mattice Outfitters Lodge
  • Day 13 – 8 km – to Boiling Sand River  after Gnome Lake
  • Day 14 – 3 km – to Bath lake just before the portage over the railway tracks
  • Day 15 – 5 km to Collins and board the east-bound VIA Canadian train  8:50 a.m. CT
  • Aug 09 – the Via train pulled in to Toronto’s Union Station at about 10:00 a.m.

Maps And Related Resources:

Federal Government 1:50,000 Topographic Maps

Natural Resources Canada

The Federal Government 1:50000 topos will provide you with greater detail and more context of the route to go along with the Wabakimi Project maps.  You can find the topos you need at the Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada website and print them out yourself.  Clicking here will take you to the 052  folder where you will find all of the following 1:50,000 topos in either the J or the I sub-folders.  Each map folder contains three choices; I download the prt.tif file. Do note that a few of these maps are in black and white.

The maps below are the ones you’ll need –

  1. Seseganaga Lake 052 J 01
  2. Wilkie Lake  052 J 08
  3. Neverfreeze Lake 052 J 09
  4. Wabakimi Lake 052 I 12
  5. Burntrock Lake 052 I 13
  6. Grayson Lake 052 I 14
  7. Goldsborough Lake 052 I 11
  8. Onamakawash Lake 052 I 05
  9. Armstrong 052 I 06

Toporama Canada:

The Natural Resources Canada mapping division has moved on from the above-archived maps, which have not been updated since at least the 1990s. Many go back to the 1970s.  The source of the most up-to-date maps from NRC is the Toporama site. Click here to access. It provides a seamless view of the entire Canadian landmass; you can print off what you need.  Not only are the maps more up-to-date, but they also are all in colour!

Google Earth – Satellite View:

The Google Earth satellite view provides revealing views of the route and it is worth spending a bit of time getting the satellite perspective.  A web version can now be accessed within the Chrome browser.  Click here for the KML file (163 kb) of the every-ten-minutes-while-it-was-on tracks recorded by our Spot Connect during our two-week trip. Import the file into Chrome’s web-based Google Earth app as a New Project and you should see all 730 tracks. All that is missing is the first three hours’ worth – we were still learning how to use the device!

Ontario MNR map website

As well, the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests has its own online map service (see here) which often provides more up-to-date and detailed maps than the Federal Government’s maps listed above.  It is worth looking at them too – and even printing out certain sections. If you go into Map Layers you can access their satellite imagery, which is often better than the one in Google Earth.

None of the above provides detailed information about rapids, portages, and campsites. For that, you will need to sources like the Friends of Wabakimi.

Wabakimi Project Maps:

volume-three_v1To get a handle on possible routes, campsites, and portages we purchased Volume 3 of the Friends of Wabakimi (formerly Wabakimi Project)  Canoe Route Maps series.

We already had Volume 1 from the previous summer’s Wabakimi trip and had found those maps quite useful.  The $40. for the Wabakimi Project maps is an investment – and not a splurge!  It will get you the campsite and portage information you need;  it will also help this volunteer organization to pay for the cost of flying in people who give a week or two of their time in the summer to clear and mark the portages, create the campsites, and do the mapping work that makes the route maps possible.

Garmin Etrex:

Finally, we had a Garmin GPS unit (an Etrex) along for the ride as back-up and occasional solution to those head-scratching “where-the-heck-are-we?” moments!  We also used it to record our daily track and features like potential campsites and outposts and rapids.

The Spot Connect:

If you want to see the SPOT Connect waypoints of our trip click here to download the 266k file.   You’ can import the file into Google Chrome’s web version of Google Earth and see the GPS trail that the SPOT recorded.

iPhone and SPOT Connect

The first few kilometers from Flindt Landing down through Heathcote Lake are missing.  We were still learning how to use the thing!  I am really glad we brought it along.  It provided the folks at home real-time info on our location and the email messaging option came in handy for sending brief okay or more personalized notes back home at the end of each day (45 characters max).  It does this by pairing up with your smartphone (I use my iPod Touch).

The Spot also provides excellent post-trip data, in particular the amount of time we spent in certain spots along the way. It records a track every ten minutes so if there is a one-kilometer distance between two successive tracks, you will know we were motoring. If you see progress in meters, it will mean some serious lining or portage is in progress!

Update: The Spot Connect was discontinued in 2017.  We ended up getting a Garmin inReach Explorer+ in 2018 because of its two-way communication feature. You can receive emails as well as daily weather updates on the inReach,  as well as do all the usual tracking and emergency contact stuff.

The Train Ride There:  A Day On The Rails!

Hornepayne, Ontario VIA stop

VIA runs Canada’s passenger train service on lines it rents its presence on from Canadian National Railways (CN for short).  The train is a great way to get to Wabakimi from southern Ontario if you are okay with the following:

  • the loss of flexibility with respect to the exact day when your trip ends
  • the good chance that the train will be quite late on arrival and return thanks to the fact that CN’s freight service takes precedence over VIA’s passenger service!

VIA’s The Canadian runs from Toronto to Vancouver two or three times a week. It is a 4 day 4500-km. epic train ride; the section to Wabakimi is about one-quarter of that. We left Toronto’s Union Station at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday; we got to Flindt Landing around midnight a bit more than a day later! Given the very poor on-time performance of VIA trains since the mid-2010s, we can actually be thankful to have arrived almost on time!

the view from the outside of the train at Hornepayne

the dome car- a great place to take in the passing Canadian Shield scenery

Stuff being unloaded from the baggage car at Armstrong Station- about two hours east of our exit at Flindt Landing.

Catching The Train Back To Toronto:

At the other end of the trip, the logistics were also a bit different.  Instead of ending the trip at Little Caribou Road about 6 km from Armstrong, we paddled to Collins at the north end of Collins Lake on the last morning and were at the railway tracks which pass through the non-reserve status Ojibwa settlement of perhaps 200 people by 8:30 a.m. waiting for the train’s 9:30 arrival.

the VIA stop at Collins

the eastbound VIA- just a little bit late!

We had arranged for the eastbound VIA train to pick us up on a Monday (August 8).  (There are three eastbound trains passing through the Wabakimi area each week- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.) [See the new schedule below!]  Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to!  Within thirty minutes of boarding, we were in the dining car having a breakfast other than oatmeal for the first time in over two weeks. We were on our way home- and a day later we would be!

Flindt Landing – VIA Stop and Lodge

We got off the train at Flindt Landing around midnight. The lodge owner was up but was not expecting us.   A confirmation call by me a day or two before would have been a good idea!  Someone cleared the cabin on the island quickly and we had our home for the night.

At $80. – or was that $100.? – it was a bit steep for the ten hours we’d be there.  However, the alternative – looking for a place to pitch our tent at midnight either near the lodge or on the other side of the lake – was worse, especially since we had no information on actual camp spots that we could use.

Note: With the revised VIA schedules you now arrive at Flindt Landing from the east in the morning (9:42) so the problem of accommodation is solved. You can paddle until you find a decent spot on Heathcote Lake. (See here for the new schedule.)


a satellite view of Flindt landing and the Lodge on the north side of the tracks. The guest cabins are on the small island and are accessed by a wooden bridge.

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