Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta:: Day 3 -The Bustards To Eagle Nest Point

Previous Post: Day 2 – From the Elbow  To The Bustard islands

Day 3 – From The Bustards To Eagle Nest Point

  • distance: 17.9 km
  • time:   8:35 a.m.; finish 2:20 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1  (75 m – Tanvat I.)
  • weather: sunny and hot; some SW wind; overnight rain showers;
  • campsite: CS 931 on Eagle Nest Point; multiple 2-person & two  4-person tent spots

It was 6:45  and we were up with the sun. Given our east side of the Bustards location,  we took a few shots of the brightening horizon before we turned to the tasks at hand – packing away the tent and everything that was inside it and getting breakfast going.

This day we  were headed to the west end of French River Provincial Park  and figured on about twenty kilometers of paddling. A few would be over fairly open water but, if it was really windy and the waves were up,  there was always  the shelter provided by some of the 30,000 islands that Georgian Bay is known for.

The good weather would continue and we got to spend the day without a worry. Paddling around the south end of the Bustards and towards the Bustard Rocks lighthouses? No problem!

However, we had something else in mind! We decided to check out the reported Bustard Islands Portage. Just SW of our campsite there is a narrow land bridge which connects the two halves of Tanvat Island.  When we got to the take-out we found a cairn at the start  of a 75-meter “path” over and on the south side the rock outcrop. At the far end was another cairn.  Now we know! Different weather conditions would make it quite useful.

the east end of the Tanvat Island Portage

looking east over the Tanvat Island Portage

We put our canoe into the water pictured below and continued on through the Bustards,  made up of some 600 islands and rocks of various size.   After two days of very scenic paddling we just had to say it again – “Man, this is so incredibly scenic!”  It would not be the last time we verbalized some version of this thought! For pure sustained “eye candy” I don’t think anywhere we’ve paddled in the Canadian Shield rivals what is here!

Tanvat Island Portage – west side

paddling through the Bustards to the lighthouse

We were heading for the Bustard Rocks from the east!  A month before Rick, Ken, and I had approached them by kayak from Point Grondine with water conditions much like we were facing this morning.

From the south end of Gooseberry Island we got a nice view of the three lighthouses, the main one in the middle  and the two smaller by a third ones.

approaching the Bustard Rocks light towers from the east

beaching our canoe near the main Bustard Rocks light tower

We pulled our canoe up on some flat rock just south of the main tower and hopped out to pay our respects! Out came the cameras as we walked around looking for interesting angles to frame.

the Bustard Light towers – a view from the South

the top of the main Bustard lighthouse

Bustard Rocks – concrete foundation of the light keeper’s cottage

The lichen-covered concrete foundation just  north of the main light tower once had the keeper’s hut sitting on it.  When the lights were automated in 1951, the keeper left and the hut deteriorated badly until it  was finally demolished in the mid-1960’s.

A bit of googling did turn up an undated  image – perhaps from the 1930’s or 40’s –  of  what was once there. In the photo a boardwalk to the small south beacon is visible, as are the keeper’s cottage and another building to the north of it.  Apparently the keeper Tom Flynn and his wife, who manned the lighthouse from 1928 to their retirement in 1951, brought bucket loads of earth to the rock and created a productive vegetable garden. None of this is evident today – there is only the stark beauty of the three light towers with some knee-high bush on the Bustard Rock.

looking at the main Bustard Lighthouse from the keeper’s hut foundation

Bustard Rocks view to the south-west

If you want to see a few more shots of the Bustard Rock lighthouses, check out this post from our kayak trip down the coast the month before.

Kayaking the Georgian Bay Coast: Days 3 & 4 – Point Grondine To The Bustards

one last close-up of the Bustard light towers from the west

One last look at the lighthouses as we paddled away on the west side and then it was a half hour – from 10:30 to 11 – to do the slightly more than three kilometers over to  the collection of small islands and rocks known as the Fingerboards.  A bit more dreamscape paddling through a maze of rocks and islands and we started looking for  a shady spot for an early lunch.  The image below shows what we found.

Out came our Helinox camp chairs – the ultimate luxury for two canoe trippers who obsess about the weight of everything! – and out came the lunch bag. On the day’s menu was the usual Thai soup and Wasa bread with – well, it is usually peanut butter but this day it would be mushroom paté. We enjoyed the reprieve from the sun as we took in the scenery.

our shaded lunch spot on an island in the Lodge Channel

looking over the rocks in Georgian Bay’s Lodge Channel

the Bay side of our Lodge Channel island lunch spot

We took no more photos until we got to our campsite for the day at the west end of the Park boundary.  There are a number of designated campsites available but we liked the sound – and the location – of “Eagle Nest Point” so that was our target.

When we got there we found – no, not the eagle’s nest! – but a fantastic site (CS 816) with great views out towards White Rock and Georgian Bay as well as the rock island-speckled bay to the north. There were a number of sheltered tenting options for our four-person tent, as well as an excellent take-out spot for our canoe.  We were home for the day!

Eagle Nest Point and Surrounding Area

looking over Green Island Bay from our Eagle Nest campsite

Green island Bay view from our campsite CS 816

taking in a sunset at Eagle Nest Point on Georgian Bay

Day 4 - From Eagle Nest Point To CS 723 E of The Fingerboards

Day 4 – From Eagle Nest Point To CS 723 East of The Fingerboards Is.

Next Post: Day 4 – From Eagle Nest Point To CS 723 (east of The Fingerboards Is.)

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Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Day 2 – From The Elbow to The Bustards

Previous Post: Day 1 – Hartley Bay Marina to The Elbow

Day 2 – From The Elbow To The Bustards

  • distance: 13.7 km
  • time:   9:00 a.m.; finish 2:25 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1 
    • P18 – 240m Dalles Rapids
  •  weather: sunny and hot; some SW wind; overnight rain showers;
  • campsite: CS 735 on the Bustard Islands; multiple 2- or 4-person tents

It had rained a bit overnight and the tarp was wet when we crawled out of the tent around 6:45 along with the just-appearing sun.  However, the tarp had done its job and the fly and tent were dry as we stuffed everything back into their compression sacs for the day.  By 9 we were finally on the water, having dallied a bit in the early morning sunshine with our cups of coffee on the flat rock point to the side of the campsite.

This day would involve a bit of history, the part of the French River story dealing with lumbering and fishing. Just 1 kilometer down from CS 624 was the only portage of the day, a 240-meter carry around Dalles Rapids.

As we neared the rapids we came upon the rusting boiler of one of the tugboats that used to pull the log booms down river to the rapids and towards the sawmills of French River Village another kilometer or so downriver.

In the image below you can see a canoe and the portage sign to the right of the boiler.

an artifact from the lumber era on river left of the French River’s Main Channel

And then the Dalles Rapids. In my thoughts was a painting of the chute done by the English landscape painter John Elliott Woolford in the early 1820’s. He was traveling down the river at the time with the then-Governor-General of the British North American colonies, the Earl of Dalhousie.  This was sixty years before the main channel of the French became the outlet for timber floated down from upriver.  Given his watercolour, it promised to be a dramatic sight!

John Elliott Woolford. Rapid of La Dalle, French River, Ontario.

Well, there was some artistic license taken by Woolford! Our first look at the rapids from above did not match his painted view.  We’d get a closer look from the bottom after our 240-meter carry over a well-used path on river left around the Rapids.

Wondering about the origins of the name Tramway Point, I found a passage in Toni Harting’s book which provided an explanation.  I’d also find out that the map above has the point on the wrong side of the river!  Harting writes –

In about 1907, a narrow-gauge tramway was constructed south of Dalles Rapids (roughly following the still existing fur-trade portage trail connection Boiler Point Bay to Dalles Pool) to transport all the material for the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge being built over the French river, 1 kilometer downstream from Dry Pine Bay. The logging companies used this tramway for a while to transport supplies but in the long run it did not meet their demands and was subsequently abandoned. (86)

While we did see a few remnants of this logging past, the tramway itself is not there.

After an easy carry on a woodlands-like trail we paddled upriver to the bottom of the rapids and scampered up the banks for a closer look.  More confident canoe trippers with

  • barrels instead of traditional canoe packs and
  • maybe a spray skirt and
  • with another canoe or two in their party

may well have run these rapids, mostly characterized by a high volume of water. We tend to err on the side of caution.

French River Main Channel – Dalles Rapids panorama

We spent a half-hour at Dalles Rapids, walking up towards the top and framing a number of images. It is definitely a scenic spot and one worth spending some time at.

Max heading for the top of Dalles Rapids

a view of Dalles Rapids from river left – French River Main Channel

an embedded metal spike at Dalles Rapids – a remnant of the lumber era

We did find an unofficial campsite on top of the bank where we landed our canoe; it would make an excellent spot to stop for the day and would allow you to spend more time at Dalles Rapids in changing light conditions.

river left below Dalles Rapids on the French River

an unofficial campsite below Dalles Rapids

Moving on, we saw the ripples of Little Dalles Rapids up ahead.  Perhaps it is the higher water levels this year – up two feet according to the locals – but the rapids were no more than swifts.  We paddled right through. On our right we passed Camp McIntosh, a fishing resort with six rental cottages and a number of other buildings, including the owner’s winterized residence.

Camp McIntosh below Dalles Rapids on the French River’s Main Channel

More artifacts from the heyday of the lumber era popped up along the shore as we continued downriver.  We were approaching the location of French River Village, for thirty or so years (mid-1870’s to 1910)  the boomtown home of 300 that included (as listed in Kas Stone’s book):

  • two sawmills
  • two churches
  • three hotels
  • a post office
  • warehouses
  • private residences
  • stores

Callan map of Dallas Rapids:French River Village AreaThe site of the village is on river left of the main Channel.  Unfortunately, the map included in Kevin Callan’s write-up of a route in his A Paddler’s Guide To Killarney And The French River (2006) has the village on the wrong side of the Channel!  He seems to have mistaken the Camp MacIntosh buildings indicated on the topo map (see above) for the remains of the village site?  You have to wonder how many paddlers have stood on the west side of the channel with a copy of his map in their hands.  Hopefully they didn’t think the fishing camp was it!

However, it is not as if they are missing much since the actual location of the used-to-be village on the other side does not have much more!

iron ring on the banks of the French River’s Main Channel

There are only a couple of structures to be seen – and one is in ruins!  French River Village died a slow death after 1910 and the end of the lumber boom; the post office closed in 1922 and the last person moved out in 1934.  Other than the occasional rusted piece of machinery, the one substantial ruin to be seen on the site is not far from where we beached our canoe.

three-meter high brick wall – the ruins of French River Village

The remains of a sawmill and its crumbling stone chimney still stand in silent witness to the village’s fate. We followed the semblance of a trail behind the ruins and scampered up to a ridge.

brick remains of one of the sawmills at the once French River Village site

Looking south from my vantage point, I expected to see a flat plateau where streets once ran down to the water.  There is nothing to see – except for the lighthouse which still stands to the south of the village site. The uneven ground made it difficult to imagine how the village had been laid out.

the location of French River Village and the lighthouse

Just to the north of where we were standing surveyors in 1875 mapped a future townsite to host the booming lumber industry; its name was to be Coponaning. Writes Toni Harding in his essential French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996):

Coponaning was also intended as a major terminal for rail and ship transportation. The town would only exist on paper; it was never actually built. (Harting, 85)

Instead it was French River Village that expanded – and died.  Our morning meditation on the transience of all things done, we moved on! We were headed for the open water of Georgian Bay.

We stopped for a Gatorade/energy bar break at Cantin Point.  It is 2 kilometers from the Point to Tarpot Island, the northernmost of the Bustards. Subtract another kilometer for the various rocks and small islands that stretch south from Cantin Point and you are left with no more than a kilometer of open water.  This is the shortest crossing route over to the islands.  We couldn’t have had nicer conditions and in 20 minutes we were paddling into the Coral Channel between Tarpot Island and Tie island.

The Channel gets its name from the early 1900’s sinking of the Coral, a wooden sailboat, at the entrance of the channel between the two islands.  We did look for bits of the wreckage – according to Kas Stone easy to find –  as we paddled towards the entrance of the channel but did not see anything.  Intent instead on finding a lunch spot after our morning of sightseeing, we did not linger to see if we could locate the debris.

As for the channel, in 2017 it was paddle-able!  Stone  (2008)  noted that

“accumulations of rock and sand, and falling water levels, have blocked its northern outlet completely.” (76)

The high water is back and even if it wasn’t, a short lift-over and you would be into some water you could float on!

We paddled down the channel and found a spot to the north of an island named Highland Home which has a few fishing shacks  – maybe upgraded to cottages?- on it. We were in the heart of what was in the 1940’s and 50’s a thriving fishing station that involved dozens of families. (See the Kas Stone book Paddling and Hiking the Georgian Bay Coast for the complete story!)

The harbour is also well-known to Georgian Bay sailors as a safe shelter from the waters of the Bay when they turn rough. No boats were at anchor the day we paddled through.

a few simple camps on Highland Home, an island  in the northern Bustards

After lunch we paddled past Highland Home and Pearl Island and east down the channel between Strawberry Island and Tanvat Island. There are a few designated campsites along the east side of Tanvat island. (See here for a map with approximate locations.)

We were heading for a campsite – CS 735 – that Rick had mentioned was especially nice when we kayaked through the Bustards a month before. Unfortunately for Rick and Ken and I there was already a tent up as we approached so we kept on paddling south.  Max and I had better luck! Being here in late September may have had something to do with it!

FRPP – CS 735 east side of the Bustards panorama – our tent is on the extreme right

looking east towards our campsite and Georgian Bay

the bent pine at the point of CS 735 in the Bustards

another view of our tent spot on the Bustards

The campsite proved to be everything we were hoping for. We found a  sheltered and flat spot for our four-person tent, a scenic point overlooking the waters of Georgian Bay, a walkable island site that we could ramble around for different views.  There is room at CS 735 for multiple tents – with no one feeling like they had gotten the short end of the stick!

a swirl in the rock at island CS 735

setting up my tripod at dusk on he Bustards

sunset on the Bustards/Georgian Bay

An early stop this day – shortly after 2!   While we had only covered 14 kilometers,  the time we spent at Dalles Rapids and the remains of French River Village, as well as our paddle down the Coral Channel into the Bustards Harbour by Highland Home were reminders that distance is not the only thing that canoe trippers should focus on!  The next day would provide us with the same lesson as we headed to the west end of the Park.

Day 3 - from the Bustards to Eagle Nest Point

Day 3 – from the Bustards to Eagle Nest Point

Next Post: Day 3 – From The Bustards To Eagle Nest Point

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Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Logistics, Maps, & Day 1

Related Post: Kayaking Georgian Bay – From Killarney To Snug Harbour


The French River Delta and the nearby off-shore islands of Georgian Bay are a part – the most scenic part – of Ontario’s French River Provincial Park.  The Park was created in 1989 to protect and promote a river which was once an integral part of a water highway that stretched from Montreal to the Canadian Rockies via the Ottawa River, the Mattawa River, Lake Nipissing, the French River, and the Great Lakes to the west.

Samuel de Champlain Map from 1618 – Lake Nipissing is at the top left

[Note that on Champlain’s map, he names the entire river stretch from Montréal to Lake Nipissing La Rivière des Algoumequins. The river would only come to be associated with the Odawa in the late 1600’s after the Algonquian-Iroquois War and its devastating impact on the Algonquin.]

Stretching 110 kilometers from the southeast end of Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, it was used as part of a trans-continental trade route by both Indigenous Peoples and, after 1600, by French and Canadien and (after 1763) British fur traders and missionaries. The river system’s integral connection with Canada’s early history meant that when the newly formed federal government program The Canadian Heritage Rivers System  named its first river in 1986, it was the French River that was chosen.

Canadian Heritage Rivers plaque – French River Visitors’ Center off Highway 69

I had already paddled the upper French River a couple of times in the mid-1980’s – once with my wife Laila and another with my friend Cyril.  On both occasions, we started off in Restoule Provincial Park and paddled down the Restoule River to where it meets the French.  Both times we also headed south at Highway 69 and then paddled back up the Pickerel River system to a take-out at Port Loring.

This September I finally got to see the river below Highway 69.  The intervening years also meant that there was much more information out there to add to my understanding of the challenges presented by the river, as well as an appreciation of the history and the natural beauty of the area.  Toni Harting’s French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers (1996)  was one great find; so too was the map put out by the Friends of French River.  However, I am still waiting for my copy of Kevin Callan’s Killarney and the French River (2006) from the Toronto Public Library!   I was hoping to read his account before the trip.  I was #14 in the waiting line when I reserved the book in early August; it is now early October and I am eighth on the list!  While my copy of his 1996  Up The Creek has a couple of pages on a figure-eight route from Hartley Bay, it will be interesting to see what else he added and changed a decade later.

Kas Stone’s Paddling And Hiking The Georgian Bay Coast (2008) is an essential guidebook for anyone spending time on the G’Bay Coast. It is a well-researched combination of history and practical paddling advice, as well as numerous maps and some great colour photos.  Earlier this summer I had gone through the book in preparation for our kayak trip down the coast from Killarney to Snug Harbour near Parry Sound. See chapter 6 – “The French River Delta And The Bustards”.


See here for a live interactive Google map of the area

Where To Start:

Well, at least the put-in spot was certain!  Hartley Bay Marina is at the end of a 14-kilometer gravel road from Highway 69.  It is a 2 1/4 hour drive from downtown Toronto to Parry Sound and then north another 1 1/4 hour to get to the marina.

Hartley Bay Marina header

We were going up on a Wednesday in late September so we knew it would be pretty quiet in the park.

The plan:  leave our car at the Marina for a week. The cost: $10. a day for parking + $10. for a canoe launch from their dock.  Valet parking – no extra charge!

The Hartley Bay Marina put-in/take-out is the best choice if the French River delta is your goal; another option is the Key Marina Resort off Highway 69.  However, it involves a 13-kilometer paddle down the Key River to get to Georgian Bay (and one you’ll have to redo on your return).

Given the usual motorboat traffic on a Key River with no escape, it can become tedious in a hurry!  Once you pass Key Harbour, you are at the far east end of the delta!  Better to leave from Hartley Bay Marina – 13 kilometers brings you to The Elbow, the heart of the various French River channels to the Bay.

Getting A French River Provincial Park Camping Permit:

Hartley Bay Marina also handles the park camping permits. I got the senior rate for six nights of “backcountry camping”; Max got to pay “regular”!

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.08.38 PM

We only stayed at designated campsites on this trip; we did note a number of spots where we would definitely have pitched our tent had it been later in the day.  Our three favourite sites?

  • CS 735 on the east side of the Bustards
  • CS 816 at Eagle Nest Point – west end of the park
  • CS 633 on Pickerel Bay (The Elephants)

Even the worst one – CS 624 on our first night – would be pretty good anywhere else!

The Route:

When we left Toronto for Hartley Bay we were still unclear about how to let the following seven days unfold.  In doing some pre-trip reading,  I had created a list of spots to include in our one-week ramble. They were –

  • the remains of French River Village
  • Dalles Rapids
  • the Bustard Lighthouses
  • The Elephants in Pickerel Bay
  • Eagle Nest Point
  • the Pickerel River
  • the Bass Creek portages
  • the Old Voyageur Channel
  • Devil’s Door Rapids
  • the Cross Channel From west to east

FRPP Map with campsites

a 3rd edition came out in June 2017

By the time we got to the Marina, our route had somehow been fleshed out. The 110-kilometer route indicated on the overview map above is  what we came up with to hit all those spots listed above.

The numbers 1 to 6 show where we camped at the end of each day. They were all designated French River Provincial Park campsites as shown on the map first published in 2006 by The Friends of French River volunteer group. My copy was the second edition from 2012 pictured here.

The campsites are available on a “first come” basis with no need to pre-book as you do with other parks like Killarney.  The waterproof map is not only a good investment; it provides the Friends with a bit of money to keep on doing their work.  I still remember when we had a Provincial Government department taking care of parks and maintaining portages!

We were able to make the route happen, thanks to very favourable wind and wave conditions.  The paddle out to and back from the Bustards, for example, could not have been on calmer water.  We also had a string of seven sunny days and occasionally complained about the lethargy induced by the stifling heat. It was July weather in late September!

Other Maps:

Along with our copy of the above map, we also had Max’s Garmin Etrex 20 GPS device with the Garmin Topo Canada 4.0 map set installed.  There are times when the paper map just does not provide enough topo detail and the Etrex helped.

I also brought along my iPhone 6 with David Crawshay’s Topo Canada app and the required topos installed. On a few occasions as we paddled through a maze of channels and islands, I fired it up to see where we were.  I did not, however, leave it on all day; it would eat up battery like crazy compared to the Garmin device!

If you want to download and make your own paper copies of the relevant bits from the Natural Resources Canada 1:50,000 topos check out these links from the Government of Canada’s geogratis site –

Note: the Federal Government provides the maps for “free” but is no longer in the map printing business.  Some entrepreneurs have stepped in and set up businesses to print the maps.  Most are using a plastic material instead of paper.

Cell Phone Coverage:

Bell Cell Phone Coverage - French River Delta

See here for the Bell network coverage map

Given the map above, making a cell phone connection in the French River delta seems unlikely.  However, we were able to phone home from all of our campsites except the on Day 1.  On one of the days we could hear the other end clearly but our voices sounded garbled.  We did not try phoning from our Day 6 campsite.  It may be that locations on Georgian Bay are able to make a connection more easily than spots in the interior.

Day 1 – From Hartley Bay Marina to “The Elbow”  On The French River’s Main Channel

  • distance: 12.7 km
  • time:  4:15 p.m.; finish 6:50 p.m..
  • portages/rapids:  0
  • weather: sunny/cloudy periods;
  • campsite: room for multiple 2 person tents, 1 x 4 person spot

We loaded the two Hooligan canoe packs and the two duffels and pushed off from the Hartley Bay Marina dock shortly after 4:00 p.m.  While an earlier start would have been nice,  we did have enough time before the 7 p.m. sunset to get closer to Georgian Bay.  Our target was a designated tent site in The Elbow area.

A Wednesday afternoon in late September would explain the lack of motorboat traffic. We saw maybe two during the 2 1/2 hours it took us to get to The Elbow junction.  Given the poor review of CS 622 –  too many badly placed “thunderboxes” (box toilets)! according to the person at the marina front desk – we left it off our list of possible tent spots.

French River - The Elbow campsites

CS 624 with its southern exposure was where we ended up.  As we reached the site we saw another canoe on the far shore; they were nearby campers out for an evening paddle.

The daylight was already fading as we put up the tent.  We also put up the über tarp. (Some rain was forecast overnight and we wanted to ensure a dry tent and easy take-down if it was still raining the next morning.)

Out came the headlamps as we prepared our supper. We had cut it a bit close!

We took very few pix this first afternoon, so intent were we on living up to the Albinger Bros. motto of  gittin’ ‘er dun!  In days to come, we would up the chill level and the pic count!

The pix here would be among the few with the colour of deciduous tree leaves in them. The closer you get to the Bay the fewer maples and birches there are; the pines and cedars and spruces take over completely.

looking out at the Main Channel of the French River at The Elbow CS 624

Day 1 – with its 4 p.m. start – had been a bit of a rush. Still, we had managed to put in 13 kilometers.  As we sat on the rock patio on the side of our tent spot and sipped on our post-supper whiskey in the dark, we were already easing into that canoe trip groove.  Day 2 with its great weather and eye-popping scenery would complete the transition.

Day 2 - from The Elbow (Main Channel French River) To The Bustards

Day 2 - Cantin Point To the Bustards

Next Post: Day 2 – From The Main Channel’s The Elbow To The Bustard Islands

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Kayaking The Georgian Bay Coast: Days 7 And 8 – Garland I. To Franklin I. To Snug Harbour

Day 7 – Garland Island To Franklin Island

dawn on Garland Island in Georgian Bay

When I crawled out of my tent into the awesome sunrise you see in the photo above, Rick was already up and standing at the spot where we had our butane cook stoves. He had moved them into a more sheltered nook thanks to the noticeable wind blowing from the south-east.  While we munched on our various oatmeal concoctions for breakfast, we turned our backs to the wind and to the most ruffled water we’d seen since Day 1. (Spoiler alert – it wasn’t really that bad!)

We considered the two following options –

  • paddle the 7.5 km. down to the bottom of the Mink Islands into the wind all the way and then make the 5-km. crossing to the south end of Franklin Island
  • do the 6.5-kilometer crossing to the southern tip of the Oak Islands right away while we were fresh and then enjoy a  sheltered paddle down to the south end of Franklin Island.

As the map below makes clear, we went with #2.

Days 7 and 8 – from Garland I. To Franklin I. To Snug Harbour

We left Garland Island before 9 and by 11:30 we were coasting in to the sand beach you see in the photo below – the site of our campsite.  Two things to note –

  1.  The high water levels this summer had flooded what was a fire pit now a foot deep in water!
  2. Until my shot of the flooded fire pit, I did not take a single photo after that sunrise shot above. I was definitely focused on getting the open crossing done and was probably obsessing about the still-uncomfortable back of my kayak seat.

In any case, it was nice to crawl out of the kayak and check out the camp site.  For a moment we considered just finishing off the trip that very afternoon.  After all, we were a one-hour paddle from our vehicles around the corner at Snug Harbour.  It is something that my brother and I have done on some of our trips – only to ask the next morning – “Why were we in such a hurry?”

In the photo below it is just a bit past noon and the tents were up; we had resisted the siren call of Snug Harbour!

As for the site, it was amazing.  It had all the features of an interior woodlands campsite that I like – the shelter of trees and higher ground on the wind side of the site, at least six inches of earth for the tent pegs to sink into, and – though not immediately evident – excellent G’Bay views to the west.  It even had a thunderbox (i.e. toilet box)..

Actually it had four different toilet boxes if you count the demolished one that I found within 30 meters of the tenting area.  The best one was located off the side of the trail going up to the Bay viewpoint rock.  It was far enough away from where people put up their tents.

On the other hand, there was the monstrosity you see in the two images below. It sat there,  tilted and big enough to have a second toilet seat.  It was maybe ten meters and in plain view from the tenting area.  You have to wonder who decided that this would be a great spot to put a third toilet box on the site!






The people whose  boat was anchored off the island just to the north of us would also be spending the night in the neighbourhood.

Rick returning from his leisure paddle around the neighbourhood

I grabbed my camera kit and my Helinox chair and headed for the scenic Bay-side lookout. On the horizon was the Mink archipelago and to the south of that the Red Rock Lighthouse, its presence a mere dot.  While it would have been nice to have added the Minks to our route, they would have to wait for another trip.

a view of Red Rock Lighthouse and the Mink Islands from our Franklin I. camp site

See here for a very readable summary of the history of the Red Rock Lighthouse and its predecessor on what is now Old Tower Island.

I left my comfy chair and scrambled around the edge of the island looking for striking vantage points. I was looking for the Zen of that “Group of Seven” moment!  It is easy to see what those painters found so beguiling in the Georgian Bay landscape though their inspiration may have come further down the coast to the south of Parry Sound.

We finished Day 7 with a meditation on the setting sun and an expression of gratitude for the way the day – and the entire trip! – had unfolded.

savouring the end of another glorious day on Georgian Bay

looking west from Franklin Island

Day 8 – From Franklin Island To Snug Harbour

It is about 4 kilometers from the west side of Franklin Island to Snug Harbour.  We were emptying our kayaks of bags by 10:00 a.m., having paddled the route shown on the map below. One more lighthouse to greet us at the entrance to the inner harbour and then it was on to the public dock where we beached the kayaks.

Day 8 – Franklin I to Snug Harbour

While Rick and Ken went off to get their cars from the Gilly’s Marina parking lot, I packed away all my stuff into the two duffel bags I had brought along.  A half-hour later the kayaks – two on Ken’s car top – were strapped down securely and we set off for White Squall Kayaking Center to return my rental kayak.

Snug Harbour To White Squall To the 400

White Squall is probably the single largest supplier of rental kayaks and canoes in the Georgian Bay area.  I rented a one of their kayaks for a Minks & McCoys trip back in 1996 so it is great to see that twenty years later they are still there and by all appearances doing well.  They certainly have enough stock on hand. I should have taken a photo or two of their extensive kayak collection!

What a contrast!

One evening we are sitting on an island rock on the edge of Georgian Bay; a 2 1/2 hour drive down the 400 and along the 401 and we are back in North America’s fifth largest chunk of urban sprawl.

We in the GTA are so lucky to have what the north-east corner of Georgian Bay offers.  It is definitely a corner of Ontario worth getting to know.  And once experienced, by all accounts, it seems to be one that paddlers like my kayaking buddies Ken and Rick keep coming back to because of the countless different possibilities which the area’s share of those reputed 30,000 islands offers to keen paddlers.

In fact, this week my brother and I will sample in more depth one little slice of NE G’Bay. We are heading up to the French River Delta and the Bustards and have a week to explore some of the channels and outlets of the French River.  From my latest visit to the Weather Network website, it looks like we will get another serving of the great weather we had for this trip.

Stay tuned for more G’Bay vistas!

Click here for the Google Maps link


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Kayaking The Georgian Bay Coast: Days 5 And 6 – Byng Inlet To Hangdog I. To Garland I. (The Minks)

Previous Post: Days 3 & 4 – From The Bustard islands To South of Byng Inlet;

Our Day 4 campsite to the south of Byng Inlet was an interior one away from G’ Bay;  it faced east towards Marjory island and the mainland so we missed out on a sunset.  We were, however, treated to a beautiful sunrise as we crawled out of our tents shortly after 6:30 the next morning.

sunrise over Byng Inlet – August 26 6:40

Day 5 – From S of Byng Inlet To The Hangdog Island Channel

  • distance: 17.5 km (about half of Day 4’s paddle!)
  • weather: another great day on the Bay

Day 5 paddle – first half

By 8:30 we had left our campsite (pictured below) and were making our way to another of Rick’s favourite little spots –  a small island on the south side of Norgate Inlet and across from Duquesne Island with its rebuilt lodge.  He kept the specific nature of the stop a secret until we actually got there!

our Day 4 S of Byng Inlet campsite the next morning

one of Rick’s surprise stops – just S of Duquesne Island Lodge

Well, it turned out that this was the Jumping Rock  – or, at least, one of them! Rick and Ken took advantage of the rock and the warmth of the morning and dived in for a little swim. Meanwhile I – not really a keen swimmer! – walked my Canon Elph 330 p&s around to frame the scene from different vantage points!

the view N to Duquesne island

Rick goes for a ritual jump from his tour stop south of Duquesne island

looking S from the Jumping Rock near Duquesne Island

a refreshed Rick ready to paddle

After our little break we’d spend the next hour and a half heading down the coast and not feeling the need to stay especially close to the shore – the water was that calm. By 11:30 as we crossed Charles Inlet it was time to check out another spot from Rick’s special tour map.  He called it an art installation but Ken and I were not quite sure what that could be. When we saw the piece of whimsy pictured below we couldn’t help but express our approval.

Unfortunately the image I framed does not do justice to the clever adaptation of a random slice of nature. Not clearly shown are the two legs of the fisherman being swallowed by the sea monster! The lack of a viewfinder and the washed-out LCD screen meant I was shooting blind.

whimsical Georgian Bay art installation! – the dragon and the fisherman

creative use of rock in Charles Inlet

As the map below shows, we paddled through a maze of islands across Bayfield Inlet all the way down to our early stop for the day on Hangdog Island and another terrific campsite.

We had stopped so early that we actually had lunch when we got to the camp site! Day 5 – another in a string of memorable days paddling the north-east coast of Georgian Bay!  The next day would have enough “eye candy” and history to be perhaps the best single day of the trip!

from Jarrad island to Hangdog Island

our Hangdog Channel landing

8 p.m. end of August sunset on Georgian Bay

Day 6 – From Hangdog I. to Garland I. (just N of Elmtree I.)

  • distance: 22 kilometers
  • weather: sunny with little wind
  • campsite – Garland island, the northernmost of the Minks Islands group

The shot below shows the deck of my rental kayak and the waterproof  (well, IPX7) Pelican case that I kept my Canon Elph 330 in. The p&s was always accessible for quick shots and the results are usually acceptable.  Ripple-free water this morning, eh!

We left the camp site at about 8:30 … an hour later we were approaching Pointe Au Baril (it is pronounced Point O’ Barrel with no French twist to it at all!). Before the trip,  I had taken a closer look at the topos of the Pointe au Baril area between Highway 69 and the Bay. I have gone past a hundred times over the years but never knew that it was such a popular cottage destination. So – given that it was a Sunday in prime time cottage season – we did see the most boat traffic and cottages of our entire trip this morning as we travelled through the maze of islands pictured on the map above. It was not really as bad as I had expected!

We had another diversion this morning – a visit to the lighthouse and its keepers at Lookout Point. It was at this point that fur traders found a barrel of brandy – or was it whisky? –  one spring in the 1870’s (a suspect date which seems a hundred years too late!) that had been lost by another crew the year before.  Some serious partying ensued and the point had its name!  As we approached I pointed my p&s Canon east at the barrel and the morning sun.  The reward was the blown-out image of the barrel on a stick you see in the photo below!

Pointe Au Baril lighthouse at Lookout Point – note all the cottages nearby!

the Barrel on a pole at the entrance of Pointe Au Barrel Harbour

A few years after the barrel was installed at the point,  a mariner’s light was added.  Over time increasingly permanent structures were built.  We would spend a half-hour checking out the current lighthouse, built around 1900. It is a tapered square wooden structure with a light at the top which was automated in the early 1980’s. Attached to the light tower is the keeper’s cottage; in our visit we met meet the legendary current keeper, Emmaline Madigan.

a view of the Pointe au Baril lighthouse from the dock

a panorama of the Pointe au Baril lighthouse and outer harbour

Pointe au Baril panorama – click on to enlarge!

I framed a shot of the anchor, a pice of marine salvage found by the keeper’s daughters in the 1990’s while trolling nearby and brought back here. It is thought to belong to the steamship Asia which sank in September of 1882.

Pointe au Baril – the lighthouse

An interesting article on Madigan and her life can be accessed here  (The Ojibwe Hotel Historical Preservation Society website).  Also, check out the Youtube video below for more background on Madigan’s life and her sixty-year-plus connection with the lighthouse.  After being dismissed when the lighthouse was automated in 1983, she was invited back in 2000  after local authorities took over management of the lighthouse.  She is in her beloved lighthouse from May to September and visitors are welcome to tour the structure and chat.

looking out to Georgian Bay from the Pointe au Baril lighthouse

We were glad to have stopped in this Sunday morning to meet Emmeline and her new partner Bill Puglsey.  The climb up to the top of the tower was a bonus!

Back in the kayaks, it was southward.  it would have been nice to paddle a bit east to check out the old Ojibway Hotel – now a sailing club but with a public restaurant – but that will be another for another trip!  We did take a brief break on some flat rock just across from Kishkadena Island and its huge residence.  A bit of googling a few days later turned up more information on the property, the Kishkadena Island Beach House,  a 4-acre property  with a 5000 sq. ft. cottage.  It recently sold for the asking price ($3,950,000.) See here for the details.

stretching our legs on a piece of Georgian Bay rock

Our lunch stop would be at the north end of Big McCoy Island. It was a sunny day and shade was at a premium but we did find a few trees that provided some respite from the sun.  Lunch done, we headed west on the channel between Big McCoy and  Agassiz Islands.

the channel between Big McCoy and Agassiz Islands

a view from the north end of Big McCoy I.

Then we paddled to the west side of the island and down the east side of Chippewa Island. Our goal was Elmtree Island and a campsite that Rick had used before but as we approached we could see that there were already people there. So instead, we pulled ashore on the island one up from it –  the northernmost of the Mink Islands.  That would be Garland Island, our home for the night.  It allowed for an opportunity to ramble around and access different views of the rockscape and seascape that makes G’ Bay so special.

Day 6 – from Big McCoy to Garland I.

We arrived at Garland Island shortly before 4 and, as always, the tents went up first before we switched into a more relaxed mode.

kayaks on shore at Garland Island – the day is done

Garland Island camp site

A carpet of sunburst lichen (Xanthoria elegans) covered the horizontal rock face along the shore.

sunburst lichen along the shoreline of Garland Island

small natural garden in a rocky nook of Garland Island

more sunburst lichen on Garland island

life in the cracks of the rocks of Garland Island

my tent on Garland Island – well-anchored!

On the first two days I had tried to set up my tent in sheltered spots with a bit of earth underneath that I could push my tent pegs into.  I would learn that this is often not possible – or even ideal – on a G’Bay trip! The shot above shows my obsession with securely anchoring my tent. There must be two hundred pounds of rocks weighing the tent down!

looking east from Garland Island – on the distant horizon perhaps the Oak Islands

Our trip was nearing its end and we had been given almost ideal weather for most of our trip.  Our vehicles were at Snug Harbour, less than twenty kilometers away.

We planned to spend one more night on the Bay on the south end of Franklin Island before an easy morning’s 4-kilometer paddle to the dock at Snug Harbour. Still to be determined was our exact crossing point.  There were two options –

  • We could head for the north end of Franklin I. the first thing in the morning or
  • we could paddle down the Minks and then cross over to the south end of Franklin.

While we were hoping for the second option, it would be the  wind and the waves that would determine our choice.

Days 7 & 8  Garland Island to Franklin Island To Snug Harbour



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Kayaking The Georgian Bay Coast: Day 3 And 4 – Point Grondine To The Bustards To South of Byng Inlet

Previous Post: Days 1 & 2 – Killarney (Chikanishing Creek) To Solomons island

Day 3: Point Grondine To the Bustard Islands  

  • weather: sunny with little wind
  • distance: 22.5 km.
  • campsite: east side of The Bustards

Day 3 Route – from Point Grondine to Tanvat Island in The Bustards

By Day 3 we were getting into the groove of things. Everybody was okay with the 6:45 get up time; it meant that by 8:30 we were on the water and continuing our paddle along the coast.  The three following photos were taken at an island stop about ninety minutes later as we stretched our legs after an easy start to the day. We were just south of Bottle Island at the bottom of the French River delta.

break time on the way to the Bustards lighthouse

beached – or is that rocked? – kayaks in Georgian Bay

turtle back rock

Thanks to the fairly placid water we were able to take a direct route to the Bustard Rocks and its three lighthouse towers across an open and exposed stretch of the Bay.  Thirty minutes later we were paddling our way into the image below. The main tower at 11.3 meters and the two smaller ones at 8.2 meters are square and painted white.

The shorter front light towers – for the inner and outer ranges – were retired in 1999 but the main one still flashes out a beam every ten seconds.  It was electrified in 1951 and a couple of years later the Coast Guard took over its upkeep.  In 1965 the old lightkeeper’s cottage was removed; all you see now is its concrete floor.

We stopped at the Lighthouse for lunch,  getting comfortable on the west side of the main lighthouse. What wind there was going from the east/south-east.

a shot of the Bustards lighthouse from the foundations of a house which one sat there

The cottage of the lighthouse keeper – pictured in a 1930’s or 40’s image below along with another building to the north – are gone, as is any evidence of the garden that the keeper Tom Flynn (he served from 1928 to 1951) had established there by hauling earth from some of the other islands and the mainland.

Georgian Bay Bustards Rock – lighthouses

historical photo from the 1930’s or so

a shot from the concrete platform  of the cottage which once sat near the main lighthouse

The above cement platform also makes for an excellent landing pad!  See here for a shot of a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter sitting there while the lighthouse is getting serviced.

Bustard Rocks – one of the two smaller and retired lighthouses

From the Bustard Rocks on the west side of the Bustard Islands group (apparently made up of some 600 islands and rocks) we headed up the channel between Long island and Burnt island towards the Gun Barrel channel, well-known to sailors for supurb anchorage spots at its east end. Then it was further east down the channel between Strawberry Island and Tanvat island.

Rick had noted a campsite on his well-worn map at the north-east corner of Tanvat but as we neared it other campers came into view.  However, there are a number of good camp sites as you paddle down the east side of Tanvat so we headed for the next one.

The Bustards – from the lighthouse to Northeast Point

the east end of the Bustards’ Burnt Island on the way to Strawberry Island

calm waters on the east side of Tanvat Island in the Bustards

Sumac near our camp site in the Bustards

kayak at rest at the end of Day 3

east side of The Bustards’ Tanvat island – tent spot

Another good day on the water – and another great camp site at the end of it!  I was liking the rhythm of our exploration of  Georgian Bay’s wildest and probably most scenic stretch of rock and water!  Below is one of the few small wood fires we made during the trip!

campsite on Tanvat Island in the Bustards – my Grey tent and Ken’s golden one

Day 4: The Bustards To S of Byng Inlet   

  • weather: another sunny day with manageable winds
  • distance: 33 km. (our single biggest)
  • campsite: an island campsite south of Byng Inlet

sunrise on Tanvat Island in the Bustards

Day 4 – first half – Bustards to Besener Rock

We began Day 4 – again, at about 8:30 – with a paddle across some open water to Dead island to the east before spending the rest of the day heading in a south-easterly direction past Byng Inlet to a camp site a few kilometers to the south. It proved to be our single biggest day of paddling – 33 kilometers – and it felt great to crawl out of my kayak at the end of it.  The problem I was having with the back of the seat and the resulting pain in my lower back may have had something to do with it! I never did feel 100% comfortable in that kayak.

After leaving Tanvat, we did beach our kayaks on the southern tip of Dead Island for a half hour. The satellite image below shows the island and our route.

Dead Island – a brief mid-morning break

The Kas Stone book Paddling And Hiking the Georgian Bay Coast has a brief section on Dead Island. I thought about her write-up as we munched on our energy bars and sipped our water and checked out the map as we sat on the southern tip of the island.

As the story goes, in the 1800’s and before the island was used by an Ojibwe band living nearby as a place to leave the corpses of their dead,  either in the trees or under piles of rocks to keep animals from getting at them. Supposedly in the late 1880’s these remains were stolen by people involved with the Chicago World’s Fair and keen on having the remains of indigenous Americans on display.  Given that the corpses were not mummified or intact – we are not talking Egyptian mummies here – it seems an unlikely occurance. Then again, stranger things have happened.

the southern tip of Dead Island

A couple of hours later it was another sculpted horizontal rock face and time for lunch.  Given the scarcity of good camp sites to the north of Byng Inlet, we knew that we’d be paddling a bit further. It would turn out to be another six kilometers south of the McNab Rocks at the mouth of the Inlet.

lunch stop on another bit of Georgian Bay rock

Rick had an island site marked on his map that he had apparently camped at before so that was our target.  We got there around 3:30, early enough for a swim and some time to wash up.  At the site was a picnic table – perhaps a sign that the spot was used by fishing groups for shore lunches.  However, mould covered the table and it did not look like it had been used yet this year.

Day 4 – second half from Besener Rock to island Camp site

It was at this site that we would spot the only bear of our trip.   A curious cub in the bush behind us watched us for a moment or two as we were setting up our tents at about 4:00 p.m.  As the cub took off into the woods, we did wonder where momma bear was.

our away-from-the-Bay campsite – south of Byng Inlet

And now that I look at the images I clicked on this Day 4 I see that I took very few.  Clearly I was focussing on the paddling and not on photo ops!  As darkness came I looked over to the far shore and saw the lights in the two cottages there. While there are a few cottages and camps all down the coast, this would be the only night that they would be so close.

cottages on the shore across from our Day 4 camp south of Byng Inlet

Next  Post: Days 5 & 6 – Byng Inet To Hangdog I (N of Pointe Au Baril) To Garland Island In The Minks



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Kayaking The Georgian Bay Coast: Logistics and Day 1 and 2 – Chikanishing Creek To Solomon I. To Point Grondine

Previous Post: Kayaking Georgian Bay – Killarney To Snug Harbour

The Logistics:

Unless your trip is a loop and you paddle your way back to where you started, the biggest logistical issue is getting back to your vehicle!  The two basic options are :

  • Jockeying cars so that one is at each end. It is the cheap solution but it can be a bit of a downer at the end of a trip.  Cost: time. In our case, 5 to 6 hours of driving.
  • arranging a shuttle. On the plus side,  it eliminates the drive back to the put-in to retrieve the vehicle.  Cost: money. In our case, $650.!

We decided to go with the shuttle option.

Click on the White Squall header to access their web page.

White Squall rents kayaks and canoes. Not having my own, I rented a Boreal Designs composite sea kayak for eight days at $42. a day.  White Squall also provides a shuttle service. This included the use of their vehicle to transport the three kayaks.  Using your own vehicle and having the shuttle driver drive it back to the end point would presumably cost a bit less.  Cost for us: $650. shared by the three of us.

My rental kayak was already on their vehicle when we arrived before 10 a.m. After loading the other two onto the White Squall truck, the driver followed our two vehicles to Snug Harbour.  It was his last day on the job.  Later, as he drove us up to Killarney we briefed him on our route and he filled us in on his upcoming move out west to Kamloops and his Outdoor Education program at Thompson Rivers University. Lots of anticipation all around!

Gilles Marina and Restaurant

We had arranged with the folks at Gilly’s Marina to leave our cars in their parking lot, paying $7.50 a day for the nine days we figured it might take us to paddle back to Snug Harbour from our Chikanishing put-in point. Then we headed up to Chikanishing in the White Squall vehicle.  We were getting ready to put in at Chikanishing about four hours after heading for Snug Harbour from the White Squall Center.

A the end of the trip – waiting for us at Snug Harbour were our vehicles; we would drop off my rental kayak at White Squall on the way out to the 400 and the ride back to Toronto. Given how little the trip down the coast cost, the $220. per person for the shuttle was easy to rationalize!

To make sure we’d get to White Squall early, we had driven up from Toronto to  Ken’s family cottage on Victoria Harbour the night before.  We were treated to the warm glow of sunset as we sat on the patio. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next day called for major rainfall at least until the early afternoon.

Victoria Harbour at the south end of Georgian Bay

Before getting to White Squall at 9:30 we drove through a torrential downpour or two and watched another one from the Jolly Roger restaurant just south of Parry Sound where we had stopped for breakfast. After that it seemed to clear up a bit – but not completely.  At Chikanishing as we were loading our kayaks with our various bags, there was one more badly timed downpour.  We did not know it at the time but after that wet send-off,  we were to have seven days without any rain!

heavy rain on the way to White Squall

Day 1: From Chikanishing Creek To Solomons Island

The Chikanishing Creek Road turn-off from Highway 637 is just 1.4 kilometers past the Killarney Park Info Center. It ends in the large parking lot pictured in the satellite image below. It is a popular parking spot for kayakers and canoeists off on their Georgian Bay paddle trip. (It costs $14.50 a day to park there; you pay at the Park office.) We drove to the grassy area just above the put-in and within a half-hour were ready to go. The bonus downpour probably speeded things up a bit!



The Chikanishing Creek put-in

Day 1 – Chikanishing Creek To Solomons island

Given that it was 1:45 when we set off we knew that we would not get far, maybe ten kilometers or so. It would all depend on the wind and the waves.  The NW wind pushed us down the Bay side of Philip Edward Island after we rounded South Point and we zig-zagged our way through the maze of islands along the coast.

The water would be a bit choppy as we made our way east along Philip Edward Island. As the map shows we made major use of the islands as wind blockers. Happy just to be on the water, we were not obsessing about the distance covered on this first day.   We would make a couple of stops – one for lunch and another to stretch our legs and check out the views. The stretch of water above Le Hayes Island would be about the most turbulent we would see during the entire trip!

lunch stop on the Bay side of Philip Edward I.

lunch stop over – packing up

squeezing through a normally impassable channel

water, rock, and pine with Ken and his Current Design kayak

It was about 4:30 when we passed by what looked to be a possible campsite.  I thought I recognized the island from the hill behind the camp area. The previous summer my brother and I had stopped for lunch on the south side of an island and then gone for a ramble up the hill behind us for fine views all the way east to Big Rock.  This looked like it – but, then again, it was not the same!

Solomons I, Used To be I. and the Foxe

While Ken and Rick landed their kayaks I paddled around the point to the south side, thinking I would see something that fit in better with what I remembered.  Unsuccessful, I turned back and checked out the spot that we decided would be our home for the night.  It was only when I got home and took a look at the GPS track on my computer screen that it became clear that the Used-To-Be Island that I had convinced myself we had camped on was actually Solomons Island.  Both islands do have fine viewpoints – as the snippet of Jeff’s Killarney map makes clear!

a panoramic view from Solomon I. hilltop – enlarge with a click!

a view of the La Cloche Hills from Solomons I.

Both Rick and Ken, pros at Georgian Bay kayaking and camping,  pitched their tents on flat rock surfaces.  I chose a more sheltered spot tucked in among the trees on the left where I was able to make use of my tent pegs.

Day 1 – in spite of the bad weather in the morning – had been a great start to our trip down the Georgian Bay coast.  We had covered about 8 kilometers. Day 2 would add another 20+ and have us paddling through more of that Bay “eye candy” that makes kayaking there so incredibly rewarding.

Day 2: Solomons I. to Past Point Grondine 

Day 2 – Solomons Island To Island NE of Point Grondine

Given the myriad of possible routes of a trip down the Georgian Bay coast,  the map above illustrates just one thing – what we were comfortable with on Day 2 given the lack of wind and waves.  Another day and the route would be adapted to suit the different conditions.  Thanks to an almost windless day and calm water, we paddled long stretches across open water, not feeling a need to stay really close to the shore or use islands to break the wind.

Rick and Ken have done  several trips down the Bay coast over the years so it was fantastic to be able to tag along and benefit from their experience – and their collection of great places to stop and have a break, have lunch, have a swim, or set up camp. It was all there on Rick’s heavily annotated map! As we passed by the above rock face I recognized – just a tad late – a photo-op. Out came the little point and shoot and a view that did not quite capture what I had wanted to.

Luckily the spot – Family Island – was on Rock’s list of special places so as we rounded the corner – just over an hour into the day! – we beached our kayaks and made ourselves at home.  I even got out my Helinox chair! I’ll admit, though, that I spent most of the next hour rambling around the island with my camera and lenses. While I never did get that shot that had originally drawn my eye to the island, I got a bunch of others from an equally enchanting perspective!

Family Island – mid morning break

Family Island rock

pools on the rock face of Family Island

lichen on red granite on Georgian Bay

Back to the kayaks and there was Rick studying his map and a horizontal Ken taking in some of the warmth of the sun.

chillin’ on Family Island – a sunny day on the Bay

passing by some cottages on the way to Beaverstone Bay

By 11 we were approaching Beaverstone Bay, passing some cottages on the way. South of Popham Point is a collection of islands and rocks known as The Chickens with Hen Island on the south-east looking over them!  We found a flat rock to beach our kayaks and then hopped over some rocks to find a  spot sheltered from the wind that had picked up a bit since our start at 8:30.

lunch stop on Georgian Bay in the Chickens near Hen Island

lunch spot in the Chickens in Georgian Bay

Chickens Island lunch stop

Some canoe tripping parties make a rushed affair out of lunch. Day 2 and I was liking what I was seeing – these guys took their time and even let their engines idle for a bit after lunch.  My brother and I have always spent an hour or so on our midday break; Rick and Ken were doing the same!

panorama – Ken’s tent at island camp NE of Point Grondine

After lunch we rounded Point Grondine and headed up to some islands north of Horseshoe Bay.  (Jeff’s Killarney map does show a couple of island campsites just north of the point but we were headed a bit further up.)  Since the mainland (Point Grondine Reserve #3) is a part of Wikwemikong First Nations territory, no camping is allowed. We made sure that we were indeed on an island before we called it a day!

Still in the category of Crown Land are the islands offshore of the reserve – i.e. the Chickens and the islands on the east side of Point Grondine where we were looking for a camp site.  Current negotiations may change the status of those islands, as well as Philip Edward Island (P.E.I.) and the Foxes and the Hawks island groups south of P.E.I. The map above shows the proposed settlement to the land claims issue with pink and yellow indicating lands under discussion.

tents up at Georgian Bay/Point Grondine campsite #2

jeff’s Killarney map with a number of indicated campsites on the east side of Point Grondine

Our campsite choice was not on Jeff’s Killarney map but it more than fit the bill as an excellent stop thanks to its flat tenting spots and fine views.

kayaks at rest – Day 2 campsite near Point Grondine

horizontal rock face on Day 2 campsite island near Point Grondine

fire pit on an island on E side of Point Grondine

Day 2 dusk on Georgian Bay

Day 2 – another great day on the water and on the rocks and islands!   This Georgian Bay kayak tripping is easy to take.  This canoe tripper,  used to rapids and beaver dams and sweepers on the rivers of the interior boreal forest,  was not missing the portages! Coming up – two very satisfying days where we covered almost 60 kilometers in more great paddling weather.

Days 3 & 4  Point Grondine To The Bustards’ Tanvat Island To S of Byng Inlet

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Kayaking Georgian Bay – From Killarney To Snug Harbour – Intro and Logistics

Georgian Bay’s La Cloche Mountains in the distance from an island hilltop view

I pick up the rented Epsilon C200 at White Squall north of Parry Sound on Tuesday and then one of its drivers shuttles us up to the north end of Georgian Bay for the start of what will be a memorable paddle down the coast of “the sixth Great Lake”!

Boreal Design Epsilon C200 – 17′ long and about 2′ wide!

It has been a quite a while since my one and only major kayak trip!  Back in 1995 five of us from southern Ontario – we had three solo kayaks and one tandem –  paddled along the northeast shore of Lake Superior from Hattie Cove on the west side of Pukaskwa National Park back to Michipicoten. (That’s Puck a saw if you’re wondering!)

It was incredibly beautiful – and occasionally quite intimidating as I watched my fellow kayakers disappear as two-meter waves rolled in.  A couple of days we just sat out as the strong wind blew and waves pounded the shore. Lake Superior is a big open lake – the largest freshwater lake in the world – and when that wind is blowing from the southwest there is nowhere to hide! As Lightfoot sings in The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald – “It’s the lake they call Gichi Gumi“!

Georgian Bay overview map

This time it will be the northeast shore of a somewhat more gentle Georgian Bay (Champlain named it “La Mer Douce” on his 1618 map) that will provide the stunning seascape and island scenery.   Last summer’s four-day canoe trip with my brother Max around Philip Edward Island at the top end of the bay was my introduction to the area.

We came back raving about the beauty of the Bay and the pleasure of paddling past and down channels created by the countless islands (some bare rock and looking like whalebacks and others partially treed and with great campsites).   We were also reassured by the way those islands – supposedly 30,000 in all  – can serve as wind breaks and safe passage when the wind picks up.

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

This week Ken, Rick, and I will put in on the banks of  Chikanishing Creek in Killarney Provincial Park.  The starting point is about ten kilometers east of the town of Killarney and eliminates some open and exposed paddling in favour of a more gentle start. Rick has done several trips on Lake Superior and Georgian Bay; Ken is a lifelong sailor with lots of Caribbean big water experience. And me with my summers spent canoeing the interior lakes and rivers of the Canadian Shield? I figure I’m the kayaking rookie and in pretty good hands!

The weather forecast for August 22 – August 30 looks excellent – all except for some rain on the very first day/   Maybe it will be over by the time we set off!

During that timeframe, the plan is to paddle the 150 kilometers down to Snug Harbour at the entrance to Parry Sound.  On the way we’ll make our way east on the Bay side of Philip Edward Island and past the mouth of the French River, the very first river to make the list of Canadian Heritage Rivers thanks to its association with the voyageurs and the fur trade from the early 1600’s to the 1820’s.

Then we cruise by the mouth of the Key River and the entrance to Byng Inlet – lots more history, this time of the lumber industry and railroads.   Nearing Point Au Baril as the weekend approaches we may see some boat traffic, because of the increasing number of cottages the further south we head.

Both Dillon and Snug Harbour are popular start and end points for Georgian Bay kayak trips.  While both are close to Franklin Island, Snug Harbour is closer to the many excellent camp sites at the south end of the island. Before getting shuttled up to the start of the trip at Chikanishing, we will park our vehicles at Snug Harbour.

The Gilly’s Marina parking lot makes for a convenient – and safe – spot. They charge $7.50 a day for the service.  The Dillon Cove Marina up at the north end of Franklin charges a similar fee.

West Fox’s gravel beach on the W side of the island

It will be non-stop photo ops as we make our way through some incredible “eye candy”!  Most of the shots will undoubtedly be taken from land but I plan to have my Fuji x20 on board inside a waterproof Pelican case as we are paddling so I can get the occasional shot from the water.

approaching the Bustard Rock lighthouse

Bell Cell Phone Coverage - Georgian Bay

Bell Cell Phone Coverage

We have set aside nine days to do the 150-kilometer journey.  If we don’t need the extra wind days, then we’ll get it done in a day or two less!

It is amazing that this beautiful slice of nature –  wild, even if not completely devoid of signs of “civilization” – is within a three-hour drive from Toronto and the G.T.A.,  North America’s fifth largest bit of urban sprawl! Except for the first day or two, we’ll be close enough to Highway 69 to be in cell phone coverage range for the entire trip!  Last year phone calls were even possible in the Philip Edward Island stretch at the top end of the route.

inReach Explorer+

iPhone & SPOT Connect








Mostly just to get to know how it works,  I am taking along our new Garmin inReach Explorer+ GPS tracker and two-way communication device. It replaces our previous GPS tracker and SOS transmitter,  the Spot Connect pictured on the right. We decided to make the switch to the Garmin inReach because it not only sends out messages but can also receive them. The Spot can only send brief 45-character messages; it also requires a smartphone to be functional while the inReach can function on its own.

We also made the switch because of an incident where the Spot initiated an SOS call without our input! It was a total energy-sapping fiasco which, like it or not, came to define the trip.  You can read all about it by scrolling to the tail end of this post dealing with Day Two of a recent canoe trip –

Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Day 2 – From Ramhill Lake To Below Rawhide Lake

Both devices provide real-time tracking information – the GPS location –  which is posted at the respective company-maintained website.    Below is a screen shot of the page as it looks right now – i.e. empty!

Check in after 2:00 on Tuesday, August 22 –  by then our kayaks will be in the water! Until then – some last-minute packing to do.  Cramming everything into the kayak’s two main hatches in little waterproof bags will be a novelty to this canoe tripper used to organizing everything in two large-size Duluth packs and two duffel bags!

Stay tuned for what should be some nice shots of Georgian Bay!

a protected channel near Hincks Island in Georgian Bay – a shot from last summer

Update: A fantastic paddle down the Bay coast!

Check out the following posts for info, maps, and pix of our paddle down the coast. Click on the following link to see our route – unfortunately I deleted the first and last days but you can see the remaining 140 kilometers of the route!


Days 1 & 2  Chikanishing Creek To Solomons Island to NE of Point Grondine

Days 3 & 4  Point Grondine To The Bustards’ Tanvat Island To S of Byng Inlet

Days 5 & 6  S of Byng Inlet To Hangdog I. Channel To Garland Island (Minks)

Days 7 & 8  Garland Island to Franklin Island To Snug Harbour

The weather – i.e. the wind and the waves – determined our route.  Safety first! Most days I wore the Farmer John wet suit that I had bought at MEC in 1995 for that Lake Superior kayak trip. I’m glad I hadn’t given it away in the meanwhile!

Our route down the Bay

Went like this.

Another time…

different conditions…

and it would have been

another route!

campsite on Tanvat Island in the Bustards


Posted in Georgian Bay, kayaking, wilderness canoe tripping | 8 Comments

The Little Missinaibi River From Top To Bottom – Intro, Maps, and Logistics


Flowing 65 kilometers from its headwaters in Sunset Lake to its mouth at Whitefish Bay in Missinaibi Lake, the Little Missinaibi is not a long river. A little past its halfway point it widens out with shallow bays that reach in all directions. The result – Little Missinaibi Lake, a renowned fishing (northern pike and pickerel) destination served by a couple of fly-in outposts on islands at the north end of the lake and another on Cam Lake, one lake over.

The river – and the lake – are within the 7000 square kilometer Chapeau Crown Game Preserve,  which is the world’s single largest animal sanctuary since no hunting or trapping is allowed.  The potential for wildlife sightings – especially moose and bear  –  is said to be high.

The area is also the ancestral homeland of the Anishinaabe, indigenous peoples who speak one of the Algonkian languages. They are still more commonly referred to by names like Cree and Ojibwe. (Click here for a map showing the locations of  the area’s various First Nations communities, the total population of which is currently about three hundred.) An exception to the hunting ban within the Game Preserve is made for these Treaty members of the Indigenous communities in the Chapleau area, some of whose ancestors were removed from the Game Preserve on its establishment in 1925.

close up of main panel at Little Missinaibi Lake Picto Site #2

Other than fishing and wildlife viewing, another major attraction is a series of pictograph sites on both Little Missinaibi Lake and on Missinaibi Lake itself.   These ochre rock paintings are hundreds of years old and are expressions of traditional Anishinaabe culture. They are the work of shamans or vision questers at sites associated with the manitous who could grant favours or medicines to those who came to ask.  Many of these pictographs are badly faded and all but indecipherable; enough still remain to make the visit worthwhile. Paddling by these sites is an easy way to elevate an already-excellent wilderness canoe trip to an even higher level.

a view of Little Missinaibi Lake’s  “Pothole” pictograph site from the south

The very word Missinaibi has its roots in the  Anishinaabe language. This quote from Selwyn Dewdney, the person most responsible for initiating the study of the native pictographs of the Canadian Shield,  makes clear its probable origin –

Dewdney on Missanabie and Missinaibi

Mazinahbikaung – or Mazinawbikong – shares its roots with another Ontario lake famous for its pictographs, Mazinaw Lake in Bon Echo Provincial Park.

another view of the core of the Pothole site

another view of the core of the Pothole site

missinaibi WilsonThe last section of the river – the one from Little Lake Missinaibi on down to Whitefish Bay and Missinaibi Lake –  is well-documented.  Online trip reports and published material like Hap Wilson’s Missinaibi: Journey to the Northern Sky: From Lake Superior to James Bay by Canoe provide paddlers with useful information on rapids, portages, and campsites, as well as points of interest like scenic lookouts and the location of the pictograph sites.

What has been lacking is any information on the forty- five kilometer upper stretch of the river before it reaches Lookout Bay at the south end of Little Missinaibi Lake.  We saw our canoe trip as a chance to do some reconnaisance and fill in the blanks!

Overview - Missanabie to Chapleau

Overview – Missanabie to Chapleau

Approaches To Little Missinaibi Lake & Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake:  

You don’t need to paddle down the upper stretch of the Little Missinaibi River to access Little Missinaibi Lake!  Any of the first three options described below will get you there while providing some great paddling, classic Canadian Shield campsites, and a chance to see the mentioned pictograph sites. And, to no surprise,  there are a few portages along the way!


Getting To Little Missinaibi Lake – three of the options

The first two options approach Little Missinaibi Lake from the mouth of the Little Missinaibi River in Whitefish Bay and work their way up to Little Missinaibi Lake – i.e. through the back door!

Option #1 – From Barclay Bay

  • distance:  12.5 km. to Whitefish Bay + 11 km. to above Admiral Falls
  • time: one long day or two shorter ones

This is the most common way to get to Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake and to Little Missinaibi Lake.  After an eighty-eight kilometer gravel road drive from Chapleau to the Barclay Bay campground of Missinaibi Provincial Park (see the first map above), you paddle up Missinaibi Lake for 12.5 kilometers to Whitefish Bay. If there is a southwest wind blowing it can get interesting!

At Whitefish Bay is the beginning of a 1000-meter portage to access the Little Missinaibi River. It may take you a day going upriver – and you will use the Trump Lake by-pass (another 1000 meter portage) to avoid some of the rapids of the Little Missinaibi from  the Trump Lake portage take-out spot up to Admiral Falls.

From Trump Lake, it is a portage into and a paddle down Elbow Lake and Creek. You are now at the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake 1.5 kilometers south of Admiral Falls!

Option #2 – From Missanabie

  • distance:  40 km. to Whitefish Bay + 11 km. to above Admiral Falls
  • time: two long days or three shorter ones
  • map – route to Whitefish Bay marked in red on the map; Trump Lake by-pass in orange

Over twice the paddling distance of Option #1, it starts with 15 km. of lake paddle to the east end of Dog Lake. Up next is a 300-meter Height of Land Portage into Crooked Lake and another 15 kilometers down the lake to a 330-meter carry into Missinaibi Lake.  If the winds are agreeable, a visit to Fairy Point on the way to Whitefish Bay is a good idea. Otherwise, you can hope that it will be calmer on your return! From Fairy Point it is an hour’s paddle to Whitefish Bay where you begin the up-the-Lil -Miss section described in #1.

Option #3 – From Bolkow Lake

  • distance: about 33 km. to the mouth of Elbow Creek at the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake
  • time: two long days
  • map – route to north end of Little Missinaibi Lake marked in purple on the map;

Rather than come at Little Missinaibi Lake from Whitefish Bay, this option is the side door route!  Hap Wilson’s Missinaibi guide-book (1995) has a brief description and map with the basic information. The info has certainly encouraged a few canoe trippers to make the journey.

A very useful and recent (2016) trip report of the Bolkow route was posted by Paul Hudson at the Canadian Canoe Routes website.

Paul Hudson. 2016 Trip Report – Shumka to Missanabie Via the Little Missinaibi River

He and his crew dropped off their canoes and bags at Bolkow Lake, drove their vehicles to Missanabie and left them at Ernie’s Campground and then caught that morning’s VIA train (9:00 a.m.)  from Missanabie back to Bolkow and their canoes. They then paddled back to Missanabie over a seven-day period. They spent two on the Bolkow Lake to Little Missinaibi Lake section.

All of the above options leave you at the north end of Little Missinaibi Lake at the mouth of Elbow Creek. It is 18 kilometers to the south end of the lake (13 as the crow flies), another day’s paddle during which you could visit the various pictograph sites on the lake. Then it would be another day to paddle back north for the return trip via the Tupper Lake exit or down the Little Missinaibi itself from Admiral Falls.

Option #4 – From Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay

  • distance: about 45 km. to Lookout Bay at the south end of Little Missinaibi Lake
  • time: three and half  days
  • map – route to south end of Little Missinaibi Lake marked in blue on the map.

There is something special about doing a river from its headwaters to the very end.  It was   the forty-five kilometer upper part of it that flows from its headwaters in Mackey Lake into Lookout Bay from the south that piqued our curiosity.  It would certainly simplify our trip.

Coming into Little Missinaibi Lake from the south would eliminate the need to travel its length from north to south to see the various rock painting sites  and then paddle all the way back north – as is the case with the first three options outlined.  With the VIA stop at Missanabie as our end point it would also mean we would not need to duplicate the return paddle of Options #1 and #2.

The only problem was there was no information out there on the upper section of the river from its headwaters to Lookout Bay.  Reading Wilson’s mention of the upper section of the river in his guide-book had me looking for the details.  It became clear that he what he had in mind was the section from Admiral Falls to the start of the Trump Lake Portage – i.e. the top part of  the lower third of the river.

Accessing the Headwaters From Healey Bay 

The VIA Sudbury to White River Train 

We chose Healey Bay as the put-in point for our trip down the Lil’ Miss. You get there from Chapleau on the 28 kilometer Esher-Healey Road. The Happy Day Lodge is located on the bay and we tented on their property after a ten-hour drive from southern Ontario. We left our car there while we paddled to the take out point at Missanabie on Dog Lake and on the White River- Sudbury rail line.  The return from Missanabie was a breeze thanks to the 1 1/4 hour VIA train ride back  to our car.

Healey Bay is a stop ‘on request’ between the stops at Musk and Esher. It can be accessed from anywhere on the VIA rail line from White River to Sudbury.  If you didn’t want to drive to Healey Bay you could leave your vehicle at the most convenient spot on the line (e.g. White River, Missanabie, Chapleau, Sudbury) and take the train to the put-in.  The VIA train service from Sudbury to White River and back to Sudbury which passes through Chapeau and then Healey Bay follows a regular time schedule.

From Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay it is a quick paddle from the lodge  to the CPR tracks and the bottom of Little island Lake.  (If you are not starting from the lodge,  you can request that the train let you off just before the bridge and walk the canoe down to Little Island Lake).

Here is the Federal Government 1:50000 topo view of the general area.

Fed Govt topo Healey Bay to Sunset Lake

Fed Govt topo Healey Bay to Sunset Lake

And so the journey begins. Here, in brief, is what we found about the upper section of the Little Missinaibi – some FAQs if you will.

‘Is it do-able?

The short answer to this would have to be a yes!, followed quickly by a  but…  Review the day by day blog posts about our recent trip to get a better sense of the ‘but’; this overview will help you decide if you want to do it.

Perhaps the overriding factor will be water level. We completed the trip during mid-to-late June with the assumption that levels would be higher than later in the season. It will also govern how difficult the first roughly 40 km of travel will be.

What are the obstacles?  How many portages are there?

The Healey Bay to Mackey Lake section will likely be least affected by lower water levels. Some additional marsh walking might be necessary. Beaver dams should help provide canoeable levels similar to what we experienced. Lower levels in Mackey Lake would make the short river section between the Austin Rd and the lake more challenging due to the significant dead fall. (We had to do a fair bit of branch trimming to allow us to ride/pull/push over the logs.  After that section the going should be easier.

The next obstacle is the portage into Sunset Lake. We had the good fortune of at least having a short “river” section with enough water to float/line the canoe. Lower water levels would certainly increase the carry distance.  We had some blockages and rough spots after the lining part but these would likely be ‘avoided’ by doing a longer ‘full’ portage – an extra 600m plus the 250m we did.

After a short 90m portage around a set of rapids at the north end of Sunset Lake the progress  is relatively easy to the end of Rawhide Lake.  We opted to camp at the south end of Ramhill Lake by an old road crossing and continued our journey to Rawhide Lake the next day.

The tail end of our second day and most of the third day presented us with the most work.  At the bottom of Rawhide Lake we opted to do a 1.7 km portage around a section of the river that seemed rather impenetrable. (See Day 2  for pics and map). The portage ending at Key Lake Creek was made easier because after a 120-meter slog through the bush it was 1.5 km of the Woods Lake gravel Road.

Now let the fun begin! The roughly 7 km from the bottom of Key Lake to about 2 km above Mukwa Falls was one long day of deciding whether to stay on the river and canoe haul or try to find portages around the obstructions.  Not necessarily difficult to do but  just time-consuming. A younger crew will have an easier time dealing with the obstacles!

In places we would empty the canoe for a short 2 m portage, reload and paddle a bit.  Then it would be a bit more tree trimming to make an easier portage or trimming log/sweeper branches before hauling over and in some cases under.

Perhaps the highlight of Day 3’s eight kilometers of progress was an unexpected waterfalls which we named “Animiki” Falls for its thunderous sound. ( A closer look at the Google Earth satellite image does show some ‘white’ water.)  See the Day 3 pics for a couple of shots. Of the river’s four sets of waterfalls it ranks as the second-most spectacular.  The portage is on river left and we left it well-marked! In hindsight we should have found a campsite nearby and spent some time at this falls.

Is it a viable alternative to the Bolkow route?

We figure that if the stretch of the river from its headwaters had been included in Hap Wilson’s book twenty-five years ago, it would be an easier paddle these days. Successive groups of canoe trippers would have done some work on the sweepers and  log jams;  the portages would be a known commodity.  We are hoping that this post – and the day-by-day trip report – will encourage future trippers to go down a forgotten but totally do-able river.

Whitefish Falls – the emphatic end point of the Little Missinaibi River

On-Line Map Sources:

1. Federal Government 1:50,000 Topographic Maps –

Natural Resources Canada, a ministry of the Canadian Federal Government in Ottawa, provides free access to all government-produced topographical maps, both 1:250,000 and the more useful 1:50,000.

While some of them date back to the 1970’s, they are nevertheless a valuable resource for canoe trippers.  See here for the folder which contains all of the Topo Canada map material.  Choose either the 50 k pdf or tif folders and then find the maps using the numbers and letters below.


Or – just click on the following map titles for the ones you will need for the Little Missinaibi River trip.

David Crawshay‘s free Topo Maps Canada app works on your iPhone or iPad to let you view the topos you have downloaded.  Since we both had our Garmin GPS units and the installed Canada Topo 4.0 mapset, the Crawshay app and the relevant maps came along just in case.  If you don’t have a GPS unit your smart phone with its GPS capability would do the job as an occasional check on location.  We still travel with a paper map set in a waterproof holder.

The Atlas Of Canada’s Toporama website

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s  “Make a Topographic Map” website

Google Earth is also worth a look. The satellite images are more recent than the topos and capture detail not shown on the government maps.

Links To Some Related Web pages:

Little Missinaibi Lake has a couple of fishing outposts, each located on an island at the north end of the lake. The  Outpost Camps Inc  website has a map of the lake with points of interest. See here. The other outpost is owned and run by Hawk Air Fly-In Vacations.

Bill Steer (aka Backroads Bill) has a nice write-up of the pictographs at Fairy Point on Missinaibi Lake and includes gps co-ordinates  and details on how to get there. Check it out at The Rock Fairies – Spiritual Pictograph Site

Day-By-Day Posts –

Windermere Lake’s Healey Bay to Missanabie

The following series of posts provide detail – maps and photos and discussion – of  the 120-kilometer trip from Healey Bay to Missanabie.  We had two main goals –

  1. to paddle the entire length of the Little Missinaibi River;
  2. to see the seven pictograph sites.

We got it done and had a great time doing it, even if Day Two’s “incident” weighed heavy on our minds.

Day 1 – From Healey Bay To Ramhill Lake

Day 2 – From Ramhill Lake To Below Sunset Lake/Key Lake

Day 3 – From Below Rawhide Lake To Mukwa Falls (Woods Lake Rd Crossing)

Day 4 – From Mukwa Falls To Little Missinaibi Lake

Day 5 – From Little Missinaibi Lake To Admiral Falls

The Pictographs of Little Missinaibi Lake

Day 6 – From Admiral Falls To Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake

Day 7 – From Whitefish Falls on Missinaibi Lake To Red Granite Point

The Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites of Missinaibi Lake

Day 8 – From Red Granite Point To Crooked Lake Island Site

Day 9 & Day 10 – From Crooked Lake To Missanabie/ From Missanabie Via Train  To Healey Bay and On To Southern Ontario



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Canoeing The Little Missinaibi River: Days 9 & 10 – From Crooked Lake To Missanabie to Toronto Via Healey Bay

Previous Post: Day 8 – From Red Granite Point To Crooked Lake Island Site

Day 9 – Crooked Lake To Missanabie

  • distance: 18.5 km
  • time:   9:10 a.m.; finish 1:45 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  1 
    • P18 – 240m Height of Land – Arctic watershed to Superior watershed
  •  weather: sunny /cloudy periods; strong SW wind; overcast by day’s end but no rain;
  • campsite: Ernie’s Campground uptown Missanabie

From our Crooked Lake campsite it was a half-hour paddle to the Height of Land Portage. We set off just after nine and by two were in Missanabie. One thing we did not do is take any pix.

Well, Max took one! As we paddled away from the put-in on Dog Lake he turned around for a shot of the easternmost point of Dog Lake and the bush between it and Crooked Lake.

Crooked Lake feeds into Missinaibi Lake and the Missinaibi River system; its water ends up in James Bay after merging with the Moose River. Meanwhile, we were now in sprawling-in-all-directions Dog Lake. Its outlet, the Michipicoten River,  ends up in Lake Superior. We were paddling in the Atlantic watershed!

What deeper meaning lies in the outline of Dog Lake looking ….well,  like a dog sitting with his front legs forward and his head up!

After the almost complete absence of headwind for the entire trip,  a solid breeze from the southwest during our last two hours on the water would have us digging in extra hard on certain exposed stretches. The one from Km 110 to the narrows was one of them.

On passing the island at Km 112 we stopped for a bit of a breather at a dock on the sheltered NE side. We met there a couple almost at the end of their Dog Lake island vacation. He was curious about the rivers we had paddled and we, in turn, were impressed that not only had he done them too, but some of them like the Bloodvein he had done more than once! We were definitely talking to a kindred spirit!

From our island chat we paddled through the narrows between Fifty Seven Bay and Hay Bay. Then we headed north to Dog Lake Narrows, the channel over which highway 651 crosses. More into-the-wind paddling and we finally arrived within sight of Missanabie.

Ever since I  read Selwyn Dewdney’s account of how the hamlet got its name I have been pronouncing it “Miss Anabie” in my mind!  Dewdney writes –

Missanabie is not even spelled the same way as the Lake and river system – strange.

As to how to pronounce it, we have said Miss in ah bee with a soft “i”, a soft “a” and a stress on the third syllable for almost forty years. I asked Julie at the Missinaibi Park office in Chapleau how she pronounces it and she said – Miss in ay bee, with a hard “a” sound. When we got to Missanabie I would ask Ken Martel the same question. He pronounced it the way we have been all these years!  Now that we have this issue settled(!), there remained just one more to deal with – where to put up our tent for the night.

The last time we had been in Missanabie was in 1983 and – Duh! – things had changed! Thirty-four years ago there wasn’t much else there (that we could remember) other than the hotel. As we approached the docks and a beach area on the waterfront we were amazed by all the trailers and cottages.

While doing pre-trip research I had seen a Northern Walleye Lodge indicated on the Google map of Missanabie. The plan had been to ask the lodge if we could camp on its grounds for the night – we figured $20. would do it –  and then be very near to the train stop the next morning. Well, the Lodge does exist but it is on Dog Lake about ten kilometers south of Missanabie. In Missanabie all they have is a parking lot where guests leave their vehicles; they are then taken to the lodge by motor boat.

Missanabie waterfront in front of Ken’s Bait Shop and Ernie’s Campground

another view of Missanabie landing in front of Ernie’s and Ken’s

However, in our chat with the island couple, we had learned of Ernie’s Cottages and Campground. It was the answer we were looking for!  We paddled up to the concrete boat launch pad just to the right of the fish cleaning shack. We walked up the dirt road to a couple of guys standing in front of a store – the sign read Ken’s One-Stop Bait Shop.When we said we were looking for Ernie one of them said we’d found him!  Introducing himself as Ken Martel, Ernie’s son, he assumed correctly that we were looking for a tent site and within a minute we were walking towards an area thirty meters away that he had pointed at. He told us to come back later and pay – it was $20. (tax included) for the night. We left thinking – “Man, that was easy!”

Ernie’s Campsite – and Ken’s One Stop Shop at Missanabie

As well as lots of tent space, Ernie’s has a number of cottages (cabins) available. They also rent space on the property to people who show up with trailers. Some park them for the entire season. The photo below from Ernie’s website has an aerial view of the property. It is a shot from 2009 so things look a bit different in 2017!

a shot of Ernie’s campground from 2009 – see here for image source

The tail end of the trailer you see in the photo below – right to the left of our tent space – belonged to someone who had yet to be up in Missanabie this year. On the upper right of the photo is the Gazebo, an enclosed cooking/eating area with running water and a fridge and stove. We were the only ones to use it during the time we were there. Another twenty meters to the right was a double washroom/ shower facility. It felt good to stand under a stream of hot water after a few days of haphazard cleanliness!

our camp spot at Ernie’s in Missanabie – right next to the Gazebo

In the panorama shot below our tent was up under that clump of trees you see on the left. The fish cleaning shack is on the extreme right of the image.

a panorama of the campgrounds and the docks and boat launch ramp

We had a few hours to kill so we decided to do an in-depth tour of Missanabie. We could also figure out where to haul our canoe and gear for the next morning’s train ride back to our starting point at Healey Bay. (Missanabie – population 40 or so – no  longer has a train station or waiting room.)

We walked to the entrance of Ernie’s Campground. At the entrance sits a building with all sorts of heavy equipment outside – dump trucks, tractors,…all the stuff you need for road building. It is Martel Contracting. It does road works, welding, tire repair, and more. We never did find out if this business – like Ken’s Bait Shop and Ernie’s Restaurant which we would soon visit – belongs to the same family.

the entrance to Ernie’s Campgrounds and Cottages – Missanabie

There is a dirt road named Curran Street that runs parallel to the CPR tracks. As we walked down Curran we came to the hotel. It was apparently purchased by Americans some time ago, renovated, and turned into a private residence or two. Next to it is another building – one in need of some attention before it collapses.

the old Missanabie Hotel – now an American-owned residence

dilapidated building in Missanabie

We crossed the rail tracks – there are two sets – and headed for the junction where Highway 651 comes to the tracks. This is where we ended up waiting for the train the next morning, flagging it as it approached from the northwest. (The conductor already knew he would have two passengers to pick up since we had purchased the tickets beforehand.) We walked down Highway 651 from the tracks – it is labeled as First Street on the above map. Now we were in downtown Missanabie. As we approached Ernie’s we stood under the awning of the establishment and looked back at the tracks – a CPR freight train was coming through.

CPR freight train moving through Missanabie

The next morning we would be reminded of the #1 rule of railway travel in Canada – when two trains want to use the same track at the same time, freight takes precedence over passengers every time!

Ernie’s Lounge/Restaurant/LCBO Outlet

If Missanabie has a community heart it would have to be Ernie’s.

  • It is a lounge with a large TV screen; the Blue Jays were on when we visited.
  • It is also a restaurant; it specializes in hamburgers and french fries.
  • Also attached to it is an LCBO outlet – i.e. a place you can buy bottled alcohol to take away.
  • There may also have been a small tuck shop there which sells sundries like cigarettes and pop and chips.
  • the community’s mailboxes are located at the front of the building.
  • If you are driving into town and need accommodation or a place to put your trailer, Ernie in the restaurant will have the answer!

the LCBO outlet on the side of Ernie’s Restaurant and Lounge

We spent some time in the restaurant/lounge munching on some French fries and chatting with Ernie and his helper. He had opened the restaurant in the mid-1970’s after moving up to Missanabie from Dalton where he was born and grew up. (Dalton is down the CPR tracks a few kilometers.) The closing of the nearby mine in the community of Renabie in 1991 must have been difficult for businesses like Ernie’s in Missanabie; so too the closing of the lumber yard in town. The restaurant and the thriving Campground and Cottages show that Ernie Martel and his son Ken are making a good go of it.

the front of Ernie’s on First Street Missanabie

Across the street from Ernie’s is the Fire Hall. The sign seems new enough to indicate it is still in operation. Set some distance behind and to the left of the Fire Hall is the  Missarenda Consolidated Public School run by the Algoma District School Board. We were left wondering how many children in what age range go to the school and whether those from the nearby First Nations reserve would be among them.

the Missanabie Fire Hall with the public school behind it

Fire Hall and Ernie’s on First Street, Missanabie – Dog Lake in the background

Missanabie’s public school – Missarenda Consolidated

Something we did not notice in the village of 40 to 60 inhabitants is an OPP post -.i.e. a police station.

We spent the afternoon wandering up and down the roads of town taking pix and checking stuff out. Back at the campground, we made use of the shower facilities and then headed to the Gazebo for supper. It was a soft end to our canoe trip, one that had begun with a couple of difficult days on the upper section of the Little Missinaibi River. Occasionally in the days since we still heard the sound of that SAR helicopter from CFB Trenton hovering over our Day Two campsite at 2 a.m. We knew we would be talking – and explaining – and apologizing – for days to come about that helicopter visit when we reached home.

Day 10 – From Missanabie To Healey Bay By Train

  • distance: 66.8 km
  • time:  8:00 a.m.; finish 10:45 a.m.
  • portages:  1     335m – Campground to the trackside train stop
  • weather: sunny
  • campsite:  we were back in Toronto at 8 p.m. after a long ride from Healey Bay with a quick stop at the Swift Georgian Bay outlet to drop off our canoe!

Healey Bay on the east end of Lake Windermere was our starting point;  it was the closest we could get to the headwaters of the Little Missinaibi. The Happy Day Lodge there was a convenient place to leave our vehicle while we did our nine-day paddle to Missanabie. And now that the trip was over it was also an easy place to return to.

Running through Missanabie – and past Healey Bay – is a VIA-run passenger service on the CPR tracks that run from Sudbury to White River. Three times a week it runs one way; the other three it makes the return trip. It was Friday morning in Missanabie and, after a breakfast and coffee in the gazebo, we did our last portage, a 335-meter carry up to the stop on the side of the tracks at the end of Highway 651.

The map below shows the 66-kilometer route from Missanabie to Healey Bay. While we would have our stuff by the tracks by 8:15, it was scheduled to arrive at 9.

Click here for a pdf file of the train schedule for the Sudbury-White River – Sudbury service.

one last look at our landing spot at Missanabie – off to catch the train

The train arrived on time!  On board after handing up our canoe and gear to someone in the baggage car, we found we were two of five passengers that morning. (The passenger capacity is 95!)  The fare for each of us was $20. which is why I was surprised to be told that the charge for the canoe would be $50. My understanding was that the canoe fee could not be higher than the passenger fee – i.e.$20 – so I did point that out – to no avail.

Missanabie train stop – with the old Missanabie Hotel across the tracks

Somewhere along the line, we stopped to pick up two Americans and their sons; they were on their way back to their vehicles in Chapleau after a week of fishing at an outpost not far from where they caught the train. Twice we waited for ten to twenty minutes on a sidetrack while freight trains moved through.

Healey Bay stop on the rail line

Healey Bay is between Musk and Esher; when I purchased the tickets I just paid for the fare to Esher, the next stop. The train will pick you up – and drop you off – wherever you request. All it takes is a bit of arm waving!

Back at Healey Bay Max went to get his car while I sat with the gear on the side of the tracks. It was about 10:45. By 11:00 we would have the four bags, paddles, and life jackets inside and the canoe strapped down. It was now time for Le Grand Portage, the ten-hour drive back to Toronto! We weren’t even sure if we would make the entire distance in one day,  thinking that we might camp somewhere south of Sudbury and then finish the drive on Saturday morning.

However, Max was relentless behind the wheel. First, we knocked off the ride from Healey Bay south to Iron Bridge. That took over three hours. We stopped for some gas and some junk food and kept on going.

The next target was Sudbury, another two hours and 200 kilometers to the east. It was about 4 p.m. as we skirted south of the town on the by-pass and started heading south. We knew that another four hours and we’d be home – so we pushed on.

Rather than drive into Parry Sound to our usual gas station we saved another ten or fifteen minutes by pulling in to a roadside Shell station just north of the Sound. And a bonus – it was a full-serve station so while the tank was being filled we were emptying ours! And it was time for more junk food!

We also had another reason for our haste – we wanted to get to Swift Canoe‘s Georgian Bay outlet at Waubaushene before they closed at 8 p.m. Before the trip I had enquired about dropping off our canoe for a repair/paint job on the bottom of the canoe. Not only had we added more scratches and scrapes to the bottom on this trip;  in our numerous log and beaver dam haul-overs, we had also stressed the bottom enough to cause a long crack line. Truth be told, our 40-lb. composite Kevlar/carbon fiber canoe, an excellent tripping canoe, was not meant to take the kind of abuse it was subjected to on the Little Missinaibi!

Still, we were happy to have done the trip with our Swift Dumoine and know that hauling a 70-lb. Royalex or Tuff Stuff canoe over those same obstacles would have been an even bigger challenge. We need to reward our refurbished Dumoine with a nice, easy trip when we pick it up!

Update: that “nice, easy trip”?  It was a totally delightful one-week ramble in the French River delta and the nearby islands of Georgian Bay.  See here for the first of the posts –  Canoeing Georgian Bay’s French River Delta: Logistics, Maps, & Day 1

We dropped the canoe off shortly after 7.  By 8:15 we were on the Danforth in my Toronto neighbourhood picking up a few bottles of wine and by 8:45 we were sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and a visiting friend. To no surprise, they wanted to hear the helicopter story – the story of the SAR team rappelling down to our tent site at 2:00 a.m. in response to the SOS message we never sent!

I guess that is how the trip down the Little Missinaibi is fated to be remembered – though our posts have hopefully made it clear that it was about so much more too!

Related Post:  The Little Missinaibi From Top To Bottom – Intro, Maps, & Logistics

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