Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir – From “Moose Crossing” To The Waboose Dam


Previous Post: Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir – From Eight Flume Falls To “Moose Crossing”

Day 11: “Moose Crossing” To Waboose Dam

  • distance: 23.5 km.
  • time: 10 to 4 with the usual one hour for lunch
  • portages/rapids: none.
  • weather: a bit of rain overnight and a mix of sun and cloud the entire day; SW wind picked up in the afternoon
  • sightings: a 6-man OPG crew at Waboose Dam.
  • campsite: at the top end of the portage trail around Waboose Dam
  • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps:  d’Orsonnens Lake 052 I 16; Mojikit Lake 052 I 09; and Mahamo Lake  042 L 13. These maps all date to 1970 and are in b & w.
  •  See NRC’s Toporama (here) for its current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
  • our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)

Day 11 – 23,5 km east on the Ogoki Reservoir from “Moose Crossing.”

We set off around 10 – a late start for us. The goal was a simple one – get to the dam!  As we paddled along, we were struck by the sand dunes and the vast expanses of exposed sandy reservoir bottom as we had been the previous afternoon.  After lunch, when we crossed to the north side, there were more sand dunes and terminal moraine deposits.

post-glacial Lake Agassiz

A bit of post-trip googling had me reading about the Laurentian Icesheet and the subsequent glacial mega-Lake Agassiz, glacial Lake Nakina, and different types of moraines. It was a mini-excursion into a world I know little about!   It also made clear to me yet again that literacy takes many forms.  No less than the ability to understand printed text, it also includes being able to read the natural world in any one of its many aspects.

The snippet of a surface geology map (see below) provides a visual record of the Ogoki Reservoir shoreline.  The broken red line is our route through this glacial/post-glacial geological history slice.

our canoe route down the Reservoir[See here for a pdf copy of the entire map and the essential explanatory text.]

Just after we passed the entrance to the Mojikit Channel, we started looking for a lunch spot on the south shore. We figured the clump of trees in the image below would provide some shade and shelter from the SW wind. However, we had a 40-meter walk to do given the low water! Here is what it looks like on the NRC Toporama map –

lunch island on the Ogoki Reservoir

In higher water years, we wouldn’t have had to walk the 40 meters to what would be an island instead of a cluster of trees surrounded by sand in all directions.

miles of sand on both sides of the Ogoki river as we head for Waboose Dam

After lunch, we headed over to the north shore of the Reservoir, and in a couple of hours, we were approaching the east end of the artificial lake.

Waboose Dam/Falls Portage [Waboose is Ojibwe for “rabbit”; the Cree word is wâposo.]

As we paddled towards the dam, we noticed the tin shacks on top of the collapsing sand ridge on the point, fronted by a wide sandy beach.  Except for the Waboose Dam complex itself,  the fishing lodge on the island near Eight Flume Falls, and the outpost on the bay a few kilometers west of Moose Crossing, these are the only buildings on the Ogoki Reservoir. [As you go down the Mojikit Channel, there are a couple of outposts and a Wilderness North lodge.]

tin shack and nearby storage shed near Waboose Dam

The closeness of those structures to the edge of the sand ridge is definitely a sign of significant erosion since they were erected in the 1940s or 50s. On our visit, we had to walk about thirty meters across the sand bottom of the Reservoir to get to them.

Ogoki Reservoir tin shack on top of an eroding sand foundation

the main cabin – near the Waboose Dam

storage shed next to the tin shack

From the tin shack, we headed to the right-hand side of the boom stretching across the river.  It is there that the portage trail around the dam begins; it is also where we would put up our tent.

approaching the Waboose Dam

Waboose Dam area – camping area at the top and portage trail to the bottom

The Waboose Dam Portage

We beached our canoe just above the safety boom on the east side of the dam. The spot where Max is standing in the image below is where the tent eventually went up. But first, we figured we’d stretch our legs and walk the portage trail to the bottom. The trail is maintained by an Ontario Power Generation crew and was, all in all, in fair shape. The trees blocking the path have probably fallen since they went through in May or June. The alders and other low-level bush also need a haircut.

our tent site at Waboose Dam

the start of the Waboose Dam portage trail

The initial section of the trail soon crosses a clearing which serves as a helicopter landing area. Visible in the image below is also a white storage shed.  The door was open as we walked by. Inside six OPG workers were taking a break from their maintenance work on a concrete section of the dam.

In my best stern teacher’s voice, I said, “Guys, we just dropped by to see if you  were getting the job done.” We had definitely startled them.  We were bombarded with questions: “What are you guys doing here? How did you get here? .  Soon, they were offering us coffee, cake,  and snacks! While most lived in Thunder Bay, we learned that they were up here for a week and staying at the Wilderness North Lodge in the Mojikit Channel.

They did the 18-kilometer commute to the dam by motorboat each morning. I noted the contrast with the daily commute on the 16-lanes of traffic on the 401 across Toronto, and a few of them who had worked in the GTA said they were happy to be back home in northwest Ontario!

We crossed the clearing and followed the seldom-used trail back into the bush.  Along the way, there are a few notices warning the trail users not to leave the trail for the river. When we got to the bottom, we realized that this made sense since there is really no water to float your canoe on until the end of the trail.

a short stretch of the Waboose Dam Portage below the dam

At the bottom end of the Waboose Dam, portage is a sign for those canoe trippers coming upriver from Ogoki Lake. It is about 40 meters from the actual shore of what is left of the Ogoki River water below the dam – i.e. not much!

the bottom of the Waboose Dam portage

a view of the Lower Ogoki from the end of the portage trail

The Waboose Dam and Waboose Falls

The massive concrete dam at Waboose Falls and a few secondary earthen dams were constructed to block the flow of the Ogoki River northeastward to merge with the Albany as it tumbles off the Canadian Shield and down to James Bay.  The dam is over 500 meters across and 15 meters high.  Construction began in December of 1940 and was finished three years later. From the headquarters on the CN rail line at Ferland, supplies and an 820-man crew were flown to the Waboose Falls area.

In his must-read book on water management of the Great Lakes, Peter Annin provides this explanation in his The Great Lakes Water Wars in a chapter devoted to the Ogoki and the nearby Long Lac Diversions. He writes:

See here for Peter Annin’s very readable account of the construction of the Waboose and Kenogami Dams and their impact on the environment and local communities. Amazingly, few people, even those who live in the areas affected,  know anything about this. The 2018 revised edition of Annin’s book is available on Amazon. Click here to access or check your public library for a copy. The Toronto Public Library system has 9 copies of the revised., 7 of the 1st, and an eBook accessible online. (See here.)

Note that another dam – the South Summit Dam  – was built to control the water flow as it now passed through a channel blasted across the Height of Land to connect Mojikit Lake to the headwaters of the Little jackfish River.  95%+ of the Ogoki’s water now flows into Lake Nipigon and the Great Lakes water system!

The Outflow Rate Graphs:

1. The Waboose Diversion Dam

When I first looked at the graph below showing the outflow at the Waboose Diversion Dam in cubic meters/sec, I remember thinking the graph was missing the lines to show the outflow rate.  Then I realized that both the 2020 and 2021 lines were there!  The outflow rates vary from 0 to 4 cubic meters per second!  Clearly, a graph with a more appropriate outflow range would be in order!

See here for historical data from 1941 to 1994.  In only five months in 53 years, the outflow surpassed 400 cubic m/sec. The most common monthly outflow value entered on the chart is 0.00.

Waboose Dam outflow rate in cubic meters per second

Update: In March of 2022, I took another look at the outflow graph at the OPG site and was pleasantly surprised to see that they have posted a new graph with a much more realistic scale.  Here is what it looks like –

Waboose Dam Outflow rate – Jan 2021 to March 2022

From a 0 to 650 cubic meters per second scale to one with a 0.0 to 10 range – quite the change, eh!

—————-

2. The South Summit Control Dam

The Ogoki River Diversion changed Jackfish Creek into the Little Jackfish River. It went from a creek with a 4 m3/second flow to the one we know today.  A study of the proposed LJR Hydroelectric Project had these stats on the Little Jackfish –

Since 1943, the Long Term Average (LTA) flow in the LJF River has been approximately 122 m3/s. The diversion works (Summit Control Dam and various channel improvements to the LJF River) were designed for a maximum flow of 283 m3/s. (See here for source)

The South Summit Control Dam outflow rate graph has a much more appropriate lefthand scale than the first Waboose Dam graph above. It looks like this:

Summit Control Dam outflow in cubic meters per second

See here for the OPG webpage with access to the above data.

When we were at the Waboose Dam in late August this year, for every 2 cubic meters per second going down to James Bay, about 80 cubic meters/sec were headed south to Lake Nipigon via the Mojikit Channel and the Summit Control dam.

We got to take a closer look at the dam as we headed back from the bottom of the portage trail.

a view of the backside of the Waboose Dam

looking down at today’s Ogoki River by the Waboose Dam

another view of the Ogoki River below Waboose Dam

With our quick look at the not-very-accessible dam done,  we walked back to the canoe.  Out came the packs.  The first to be emptied contained all the tent parts, and it was soon up. Given the weather forecast, we were okay with the exposed nature of the site, but we did put up the tarp just in case.

our tent up at the top end of the Waboose Dam portage

It had taken us two days to paddle from Eight Flume Falls at the west end of the Reservoir to the Waboose Dam at the east end.  Before we had set off, we thought the wind might be a problem. The only way we could have been luckier with the wind is if it had blown steady from the northwest as we headed southeast down the 50- kilometer-long artificial lake.

The next morning we would head back to the entrance of the Mojikit Channel and paddle down to the South Summit Control Dam.  We would catch a bit of that NW wind!  The maps and pics and details can be found in the

Next Post: Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir – From Waboose Dam to Summit Dam

Paddling The Ogoki Reservoir From Waboose Dam To South Summit Dam

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Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir: From Eight Flume Falls to “Moose Crossing”

Previous Post: Down The Ogoki From Whiteclay Lake to Two Mile Bay

We spent 3 days on the Ogoki Reservoir, first paddling from Two Mile Bay to Eight Flume Falls and then the almost  50 km. to the east end of the reservoir at Waboose Falls (and Dam) before heading to the South Summit Dam south of Mojikit Lake.

 

Day 10: From Eight Flume Falls To “Moose Crossing”

    • distance: 28 km
    • time: 7.5 h
    • portages/rapids:  0/0
    • weather: overcast, cloudy with little wind for most of the day.
    • campsite: ~60m from shore, possible multi 1 x 2p sites plus a couple 1 x 4p
    • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: Whiteclay Lake 052 I 15  and d’Orsonnens Lake 052 I 16.
    • See Toporama (here) for NRC’s current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.

Day 10 of our trip – and the first full day on the reservoir

We left our Two Mile Bay campsite (the only one we did not take a photo of and one that neither of us can even describe!) and headed west to check out Eight Flume Falls. On our way, we would paddle past more reminders of the impact of the Waboose Dam some fifty kilometers downriver. As we have seen at the top of Two Mile Bay, there were more remnant stumps on the land that had been flooded in the early 1940s.

taking in the 80-year-old stumps in the Ogoki Reservoir at the bottom of Two Mile Bay

Eight Flume Falls

We had come down the Two Mile Bay route because of what seems to be the general view that it is an easier – and safer – entry into the Reservoir.  The previous post describes the Two Mile Bay route; while it is also quite scenic and perhaps “safer” since there is no whitewater to deal with, I am not so sure about the “easier” part.

Eight Flume Falls and Two Mile Bay Portages

As we paddled towards the bottom of Eight Flume Island, we saw a couple of beached canoes. Fellow canoe trippers – a Toronto-area YMCA Pine Crest group of eight mid-teenagers with a couple of leaders in their early to mid-20s! They had come down the northeast arm of Whiteclay Lake from the Witchwood River the day before and then took the Eight Flume route while we were doing the two portages into Two Mile Bay!

They were all veterans of previous Pince Crest canoe trips and were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. Other than the father/daughter combo fishing at the bottom of the first set of rapids out of Whitewater Lake, they were the only paddlers we saw in our 14 days out.

YMCA Pine Crest canoe at the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls campsite

It is always great to see a new generation of wilderness trippers doing what we love to do!  This day was one they had made into a rest day, a great choice since they got to enjoy a very scenic slice of Wabakimi. Some of them had plans to run the bottom rapids later on in the day.

[A few days later we would meet the Pine Crest crew  again on Stork Lake below the South Summit Dam!]

a satellite image of Eight Flume – high water conditions / red line indicates portage trail

We walked through the edge of their campsite and up the portage trail as far as we could. The closer we got to the top the worse the shape of the trail, perhaps due to the fact that

  • it is really a high-water portage trail and
  • is used by very few paddlers in any given year.

Here we were in late August of a low-water year and descent via the right channel looked to be pretty straightforward – certainly not the “hazardous” that may apply with early-season high-water conditions.  Given that Eight Flume Falls is within the Wabakimi Park boundaries, perhaps an occasional visit by a Park portage trail maintenance crew would be in order!

the right and left channels on the east side of Eight Flume Island

To give you an idea of what it looked like,  I’ve arranged the images below starting from near the top (the north end) of the right channel down to the bottom and finally over to the bottom of the left channel.

as far as we went up the Ogoki Eight Flume Falls portage trail

a chute  at the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls

panorama of the bottom stretch of Eight Flume Falls’ right channel

Eight Flume Falls area – beached canoes on the right channel

the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls – the final drop on the right channel

The Natural Resources Canada Toporama website provides a.s.l. (above sea level) figures. While Whiteclay Lake is at 329 meters, the Ogoki Reservoir a.s.l. is given as 327 meters. If the figures are accurate, there is a mere 2-meter drop at Eight Flume Falls.  Contrast that with

  • the 6-meter drop from Whitewater Lake to Whiteclay Lake or
  • the 8-meter drop from Wabakimi Lake to Kenoji Lake!

Admittedly the 2-meter drop at Eight Flume comes in a more compressed space – and we did get the sense that the 2-meter NRC figure is a bit of an underestimate. By chance, I was looking at a surface geology map superimposed on a topo (Map 23 “Thunder Bay”)  put out by the Ontario Dept of Lands and Forests in 1963. It has the following figures: Whiteclay at 1094′ and the Ogoki Reservoir 1079″ for a difference of 15′ or 4.6 meters.

the campsite a the bottom of the right channel of the Ogoki’s  eight flume falls and the end of the channel coming in from the left

In any case, coming down the Ogoki to Eight Flume Falls would put you exactly where you would want to be – a great campsite at the bottom of the Falls and an entry point to The Ogoki Reservoir that would probably require less effort than the Two Mile Bay route. If we are ever back this way, it will be the route we choose.

In the meanwhile, if you have been down via Eight Flume, any comments you care to share would be appreciated and make more clear what is involved. I will note that we were seeing it at the end of August in a low-water year. Coming down in early July some other year might present paddlers with a different-looking stretch of whitewater, rapids, and falls.

the bottom of the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls right channel and the left channel in the distance

two Toronto-area  YMCA  Pine Crest canoes at the bottom of the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls

Hello, Ogoki Reservoir – the bottom of Eight Flume Falls

With our quick tour of the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls right channel and the portage trail done, we said goodbye to the Pine Crest crew and headed over to the bottom of the left channel for a different perspective.

Checking Out the Left Channel at Eight Flume Falls

This aerial image from the north shows the left and right channels as they come down to the Reservoir. On our late-August visit, the water was low enough for us to be standing on the rock outcrop ledge at the bottom of the left channel. In the image below it is under water!

the image is from a Mattice Lake Outfitters web page. They have a lodge not far from Eight Flume.

Looking at the left channel in the aerial photo above, it looks like an even easier entry route to the Reservoir than going down the right channel.  Again, water levels and current would be key.  On our visit, it was quite doable, given a combination of float, line, and lift over.

the bottom of the Ogoki’s left  channel at Eight Flume Falls

the bottom of the Ogoki’s left  channel and the bottom of the right channel in the background

the Ogoki’s Eight Flume Falls – left channel and right channel merging at the bottom

The Area Flooded by The Waboose Dam:

If the name “Eight Flume” is older than the Ogoki Reservoir, it is possible that some of those flumes – another word for “channels” –  may have been submerged with the rising water blocked by the dam.  However, given the following map with the grey areas showing what was flooded, it would seem that the area around Eight Flume Falls and Two Mile Bay were less affected. [Then again, see here for some of what we saw at the top of Two Mile Bay the previous day.]

We would see some of the lingering evidence of that flooding over the next two days as we paddled down the reservoir to the Waboose Dam.

At about 10 a.m. we paddled away from Eight Flume and embraced what we knew would be a long slog down a narrow and shallow Ogoki Reservoir.  A half-hour later we stopped for a Clif Bar/Gatorade break just to the east of the Mattice Lake Outfitters island lodge.

We were now no longer in Wabakimi Provincial Park; until we got to the bottom of the South Channel Dam we would be in Mojikit Lake Conservation Reserve, a protected area set up in 2003.

the Mattice Lake Outfitters island lodge not far from Eight Flume Falls

The water was remarkably calm.  Over the next six hours, we made easy progress 25 km. down the reservoir, stopping occasionally to stretch our legs and – at the 14 km. count for the day – for a 1 1/4 hr. lunch break in the shade.  Here is the beach area where we set up our Helinox chairs and sipped on coffee.  Listen to my rain pants as I shuffle along the beach trying to keep the iPhone steady!

A few days later we would meet the Pine Crest campers below the South Summit Dam. They came down the Reservoir on the following day and thanks to the wind and their sails, they said that they did the 34 kilometers to Mojikit Channel in an easy day. Given that winds are usually from the NW or SW, the Reservoir west-east orientation makes it an ideal place to harness that wind!

“Moose Crossing”:

Near the end of our day’s paddle, we passed through a narrow section of the reservoir where the north and south shores almost meet.  As we scanned the shoreline for a potential campsite, we saw the Moose Crossing sign that someone had erected.

Day 10 CS – halfway down the Ogoki Reservoir

The sign is perhaps whimsical but it could be the legit local name for the spot!  That moose would make use of the almost-touching opposite shores to cross is not hard to believe. Earlier we had paddled past a bay with a Wilderness North outpost called Moose Crossing perhaps because it is fairly close (7 km) to this narrowing of the reservoir.

Then again, moose are strong swimmers and given how shallow much of the reservoir is (or was in late August 2021) they could cross anywhere. In any case, the sign caught our eyes in a fairly desolate landscape. For some reason, the line “The land that God gave to Cain” streamed through my mind a number of times this day and the next as we paddled our way to Waboose Falls!

Moose Crossing sign on the south side of the Ogoki Reservoir

While we noted a fire pit near the sign, we moved on, figuring something better – i.e. more sheltered – would come up. Less than a kilometer later,  we approached a set of massive boulders on the south shore. Behind them was a wooded area that looked promising. In the image below you can see what we came up with – there is a bit of apple green tarp visible in the bush about 60 meters in from the shore.

Moose Crossing campsite – the Three Boulders On the Shore

We hopped out and checked it out.  Within 45 minutes the tent was up and the canoe was set up to serve as a windscreen for our butane stoves.

our Day 10 CS on the Ogoki Reservoir’s south shore near “Moose Crossing”

our campsite just one kilometer east from “Moose Crossing”

The Three Boulders – where we stopped for the night

dead tree stumps along the south shore of the Ogoki Reservoir near our campsite

We were happy with the way the day had turned out: we had visited Eight Flume Falls and then paddled halfway down the Ogoki Reservoir. That meant that we would be camping at the  Waboose Dam the next day! The next post has the pics and maps, including our walk to the bottom of the portage trail around the totally neutered Waboose Falls.

Next Post: Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir – From “Moose Crossing” To Waboose Dam

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Down The Ogoki – From Whiteclay Lake (NE Arm) To The Ogoki Reservoir (Two Mile Bay)

Previous Post:  Day 8 – From Ogoki Falls To Whiteclay Lake’s NE Arm

This post – Day 9 summary: We went with the wind up the northeast arm of Whiteclay and then turned into it all the way down to the beginning of what we were expecting to be a very easy carry into Two Mile Bay.  It turned out to be a bit more complicated!

Day 9 – Whiteclay Lake (NE Arm) to Two-Mile Bay (Ogoki Reservoir)

  • distance: 16 km
  • time: 8 hr.
  • portages/rapids: 2/0  140 m boulder dance back to some water, then 230 m into 2 Mile Bay
  • weather: 10 ˚C to 23 ˚C; morning wind from S to afternoon from NW; clear, overcast, short rain shower
  • sightings: none …no boats, no people
  • campsite: marked site on FoW map at the bottom of Two Mile Bay
  • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: Whiteclay Lake 052 I 15 (b & w 1970). See Toporama (here) for NCR’s current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
  • Our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)

from Whiteclay Lake (NE Arm) to Two-Mile Bay (Ogoki Reservoir)

We left our campsite around 9. Thanks to the wind blowing from the south, progress was easy.  An hour later we were rounding the corner and heading south to the portage into Two Mile Bay and the Ogoki Reservoir.  This would be our last full day in Wabakimi Provincial Park; we were on its eastern edge.

break time on the Ogoki after we rounded the corner from Whiteclay’s NE arm

Max’s flower pic of the trip – the Ogoki shore as it bends south from Whiteclay’s NE arm

As we headed south we noticed a couple of things:

  • the wind was no longer a tailwind! We made use of the occasional coves to take a break from the gusts blowing up the channel.
  • we were unexpectedly paddling down a dramatic gorge-like channel that prompted various versions of the WOW concept.

a small stretch of the dramatic vertical rock on the Ogoki as it runs down to Eight Flume

We had an unconfirmed report of a pictograph site on river right and a vague location.   However, not included was an indication of exactly how many images there were or of what.  Given the headwind, it was not really prime time to be looking for iron oxide on rock. We did paddle extra close to the rock face a couple of times, pulled in by lichen that looked promising from further away.

We also wondered just who would have come up to this spot to leave a pictograph. It would have been a very long way from any spring/summer band gathering spot like one at the top of Lake Nipigon. So while we can’t say for sure that there is no pictograph site, the vagueness of the report left us skeptical.

lichen which looked like a caribou pictograph from a distance

Still, the long stretches of vertical rock face reminded us of another Wabakimi lake that is indeed one of the great pictograph sites on the Canadian Shield. That would be Cliff Lake on the Pikitigushi River system. It could be accessed from Windigo Bay on Lake Nipigon in a couple of days by Anishinaabe vision questers or shamans keen on receiving favours or medicines from the maymaygweshiwuk, the spirits who lived in the rock.

The Pictographs of Wabakimi’s Cliff Lake – Selwyn Dewdney Takes Us On A Tour!

more dramatic vertical rock on the Ogoki at the top of the narrow channel

vertical rock wall on both sides of the Ogoki as it heads down to Eight Flume Falls

the Ogoki river as it heads to Eight Flume Falls and the Reservoir

It is a four-kilometer paddle from the top of the narrow river channel to the bottom, which is where you have a choice to make.  You can enter the Ogoki Reservoir via:

  1. the portage into Two-Mile Bay
  2. the portage around Eight-Flume Falls

We had no information about Eight-Flume Falls and of its portage or any idea of what shape it would be in if it even existed.  Since more than one person had mentioned the Two Mile Bay route as the obvious way to go, that is what we ended up doing.  The thought was – take the easy way and then paddle over to Eight-Flume and check it out the next day.

The Two Mile Bay/ Eight Flume Falls Area

Into Two Mile Bay From Whiteclay Lake: 

From the Natural Resources Canada topo, we figured the following – a 575-meter paddle to the end of the narrow bay and then a quick carry into Two-Mile Bay. Easy peasy! A satellite image from the Ontario Government “Make a Topo” website confirmed our choice of this route instead of what we thought would probably be a more complicated Eight-Flume one.

two route choices to access Ogoki Reservoir

As we paddled into the narrow bay we saw something else!  We were staring at a massive collection of boulders blocking our progress. Evidence of what must once have been an impressive boulder bed of a sub-glacier stream, it was not showing on either the above topo map or the satellite image!  We wondered if Ogoki water levels above the Reservoir were really down so much that the boulders were exposed.

approaching the first portage into Two-Mile Bay from the north

We pulled the canoe up on the rocks and hopped out to see what we would have to do to deal with this unexpected problem. It was evident that some work would be required to get around – actually, over – the boulders and back into some water, which we could see in the distance.

the stretch of boulders on the way to the portage into Two-Mile Bay

When I carried the first load to the other end of the portage, I stopped to take a photo of the 140 meters of rounded boulders I had just walked across. Still to come – the canoe and one more pack.

looking back at the canoe and pack from the boulder portage put-in

We spent about 45 minutes hauling everything over the rocks and back to the water. After an initial carry on the left side of the ancient boulder riverbed, we just ended up carrying the rest of the gear and canoe straight down the middle, stepping carefully from boulder to boulder.

the put-in at the south end of the boulder portage on Whiteclay Lake

With our canoe loaded and floating again, within five minutes we had paddled down the stretch of water you see in the image above.  Now we were looking at another collection of boulders with bush behind it and, on the right, a vertical rock wall sloping up to a plateau on top. The image below was later shot from that plateau above the boulder landing.

a view of the take-out spot for the portage into Two-Mile Bay from the north

We were soon in portage-finding mode.  Remembering our pathetic attempt to find the portage into Secret Lake from the Ogoki Lodge,  we were going to do a better job this time. Given the low water conditions, we’d surely find the trail twenty or thirty meters further into the bush at the top of the bay. Ten minutes later we gave up on that idea – no trail to be found!

We looked over to the plateau above the vertical rock wall and Max went to take a look. The cairn he found was a positive sign and moments later the piece of blue prospector’s tape lying on the ground a few meters further on confirmed that this was what we were looking for!

looking for a portage trail into Two Mile Bay from the north

I walked the trail to the end and took a look at Two Mile Bay at the other end. As I started the return walk – it was about 230 meters – I pulled out my iPhone for a rare (for me) video of the lightly used yet visible trail. Covering the lens with the tip of my index finger meant I had to edit the initial bit out – but here is at least some of the portage trail from  Two-Mile Bay back to the Ogoki. The trail mostly makes use of the gently sloped rock outcrop; a steep initial section – see the pic below – is followed by a relatively flat middle section and then a gradual incline down to the water.

After all the packs, duffels, and paddles were up on top, we were left with the canoe. Max stayed at the bottom while I went up top. With his push and my pull, the canoe soon joined the rest of the gear and the most awkward part of the portage was done.

the initial hoist of the canoe up to the top of the plateau

canoe and gear up on top of the Two Mile Bay portage – now time for a wee break

With everything at the other end – i.e. the top of Two Mile Bay – it was time for lunch, which coincided with an hour’s worth of light drizzle. We set up the tarp, got out the Helinox chairs and the lunch bag, and celebrated the fact that the portage was done. We did wonder if the people who had recommended this entry into the Ogoki Reservoir over the Eight Flume Falls option, had done this portage in the past decade or if they had even done it at all.

the put-in at the Top of Two Mile Bay on the Ogoki Reservoir

looking down Two-Mile Bay – Max waiting while I get just the right perspective!

After we finished lunch, we walked the trail and put up some new orange marking tape to make things a bit more obvious for the next crew coming through. Then it was time to move on…

a last look back at the top of Two Mile Bay and our portage put-in

As we paddled down Two Mile Bay to a campsite noted on our Wabakimi Project map, we had a sense of deja vu.  On Willow Island Lake and Sucker Gut Lake in Temagami, we’ve canoed through a flooded area with a number of tree stumps still sticking out of the water. It was the 1925 construction of the Mattawapika dam at the outlet of the Lady Evelyn River system that raised water levels by an estimated 4 meters and caused the flooding.

Now, as we went down Two Mile Bay, we saw the first of the dead tree trunks, standing like mute witnesses to the early 1940s flooding which had created the Ogoki Reservoir.

the impact of the Waboose Dam on the low-lying area on the Ogoki

A massive dam at Waboose Falls was constructed to block the natural flow of the Ogoki River northeastward to merge with the Albany as it tumbles off the Canadian Shield and into James Bay. Another dam – the South Channel Dam  – was built to control the water flow as it now passed through a channel blasted to connect Mojikit Lake across the Height of Land to join the Little jackfish River.  The result – 95+% of the Upper Ogoki’s water now flows into Lake Nipigon and the Great Lakes water system!

See here for Peter Annin’s very readable account of the rationale behind the creation of the Ogoki Reservoir and its impact on the environment and local communities.  The chapter also deals with the Long Lac diversion. Amazingly, few people, even those who live in the areas affected,  know anything about this. The second edition of Annin’s book is available on Amazon. See here for the details.

the flooded low-lying area of the Ogoki River 50 km. above Wabosse Dam

In less than a half-hour, we had paddled the 2.3 km down to the campsite.  It was the only day of our trip when we did not take a shot of our home for the night.

The next morning we paddled over to Eight Flume Falls.  The following post has some pix of one of Wabakimi Provincial Park’s most scenic spots,  one you could spend a couple of days at. Given all the negative ions you’d inhale during that time, it’s the canoe tripper’s version of a natural high!

Next Post: Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir –  From Eight-Flume Falls To “Moose Crossing”

Half-way Down the Ogoki Reservoir From Eight-Flume Falls

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Down The Ogoki – From Above Ogoki Falls To Whiteclay Lake’s NE Arm

Previous Post: A Two-Day Paddle Across the Ogoki’s Whitewater Lake

This post – Day 8 summary: We left our okay exposed beach campsite not too far below the first set of rapids out of Whitewater Lake.  After a bit more narrow river paddling and some time spent at Ogoki Falls,  we would move down Whiteclay Lake to a campsite on the northeast arm of the lake.

Whiteclay Lake is the third in a sequence of large lakes in the Ogoki River system. My curiosity about the name was piqued even more when I found this map of Northwest Ontario from 1900. It shows how incomplete the understanding of the terrain was 120 years ago. It also names Wabakimi Lake White Earth Lake.

So…from White Earth to White Water to White Clay!

The Ogoki River from Wabakimi Lake to Ogoki Lake …from a 1900 Ontario Govt Map

  • distance: 30 km
  • time: 8.5 h
  • portages/rapids: 1/0 Ogoki Falls;  ~280 m
  • weather: cool! 10˚ to 23 ˚C; clear all day
  • sightings: no one around – no boat traffic on Whiteclay
  • campsite: slim pickings, flattish rock slab; yay! sleeping pads
  • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: Whiteclay Lake 052 I 15 (b & w 1970). See Toporama (here) for NCR’s current interactive coloured mapping and print what you need.
  • Our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)

From above Ogoki Falls to the NE arm of Whiteclay Lake

The eighth day since our start at Endogoki Lake, the river’s headwaters,  and our biggest one so far – at 31 kilometers quite the change from the three days that we had spent boreal bushwhacking while moving less than 15 km. downriver.

In the image above, the packs have been retrieved from their overnight storage spot at the bottom left (about 50 meters from our tent).   The tent itself is packed away, and our coffee mugs sit on the overturned canoe.  As he walked back to his cup of coffee, Max noticed this faded bear footprint in the sand. It is the closest we came to a bear sighting on the trip; we also did not see any moose in our 14 days in the Park.

bear paw print on the Ogoki beach

We did find the water to be pretty low and occasionally had to backtrack in our search for enough water to float the canoe down the narrow section of the river to Whiteclay.  A half-hour into the day, we came to a tin shack with a smaller side building. It sits on river right about 1 kilometer above our one portage of the day, the carry around Ogoki Falls.

Post-trip googling revealed that it is a federal government-run hydrometric station, the only one in the Wabakimi area. See here for more info.

tin shack on the Ogoki above the FallsAn Ogoki Frontier boat and fuel can sit at the top of the portage. Ogoki Frontier owns a couple of outposts at the west end of Whiteclay Lake.  This boat may be intended for those clients who come up to the bottom of Ogoki Falls, leave their boat there, and then continue up to the other rapids on this one.

Ogoki Frontier boat at the top of the Ogoki Falls portage

The 280-meter trail is in good shape, and within fifteen minutes, we were at the put-in at the bottom of the falls.

a section of the decent Ogoki Falls portage trail

After a Clif Bar/Gatorade break, we grabbed our cameras and headed over to the bottom of the falls. It took little effort to walk up the falls to the top, and we worked on a few different perspectives of an impressive gush of water. Along with Granite Falls and Brennan Falls on the Allanwater River, it is one of the most impressive waterfalls we’ve seen in Wabakimi Park.  Here are a few of the shots we came away with –

, one of Wabakimi’s most impressive waterfalls

Ogoki Falls panorama – late August in a low water year

looking over at river left of Ogoki Falls

a sizeable drop on river right at Ogoki Falls

We spent a half-hour taking in the view and inhaling the negative ions that the cascading water produces. It is like the canoe tripper’s version of a meditation center. There is no need to assume the Buddha pose, but inhale those negative ions and feel the positive energy that being here gives you!

With our session with the Falls done, we continued on. The rest of the day would be flatwater paddling as we made our way east on Whiteclay. Looking back at the Falls, we could see the put-in at the lefthand side of the image below.

Ogoki Falls from the bottom – portage trail on river right

We did not face any headwinds this day, not a big surprise since it usually comes from the NW or SW. It was 6 km. (an hour’s paddle) down to where the lake opens up and then another 6 km. to our lunch spot. We chose it because on the Wabakimi Project map it is indicated as a campsite. When we got there, we found the picnic tables, which we figured were put there by the various lodges for their clients to use for lunch fish fries.

our beached canoe at our south shore lunch stop on Whiteclay Lake

three generations of picnic tables at our south shore lunch stop

From our lunch spot on the south shore, we looked northeast to where our map told us there was an outpost.  Max’s Sony HX80 with its 720mm reach came in handy. He got the following image which – given that it was handheld and we were 6.2 km. away – is pretty impressive.

Ogoki Frontier Whiteclay west outposts

During our afternoon on Whiteclay Lake, we did not see or hear any boat traffic.  Like Whitewater Lake the previous two days, it was very quiet.

We crossed over to the north shore before we came to the mouth of the Raymond River. A few years ago,  we had come down the NE arm of  Whiteclay Lake from the north.  We had been up on the Albany River and were headed up the Raymond River to get to the height of land and then down the Pikitigushi River towards Lake Nipigon.

Up Wabakimi’s Raymond River to Cliff Lake

Just beyond the mouth of the Raymond River is another outpost.  Once a Mattice Lake Outfitters property, this one now belongs to Boreal Forest Outfitters.  

We made the turn into the northeast arm of the lake and started looking for a campsite. After checking out a couple of lacklustre spots, we paddled by the spot in the image below. At first glance, it looks pretty lacklustre too! However, we cleared away the dead tree, moved the rocks aside, and – voilá…our home for the night.

Our Whiteclay tent spot – the before pic!

As noted about our Whitewater campsite, which was also on a flat rock, an inflated Thermarest pad makes almost anywhere an acceptable place to bed down for the night!

tent up on Whiteclay Lake NE Arm

adult moose and calf footprints on our Whiteclay NE arm beach campsite

panorama of our camp on the NE Arm of Whiteclay Lake

Next Post: Day 9 – From Whiteclay Lake’s NE Arm To the Ogoki Reservoir (Two Mile Bay)

Down The Ogoki – From Whiteclay Lake (NE Arm) To The Ogoki Reservoir (Two Mile Bay)

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A Two-Day Paddle Across the Ogoki’s Whitewater Lake

Previous Post: Bushwhacking the Ogoki Headwaters: Days 3 and 4

From The Headwaters To Whitewater L.

We landed on Ogoki’s Whitewater Lake late in the afternoon of Day 5, having decided to give up on our attempt to bushwhack and paddle the rest of the Ogoki’s first forty kilometers from Endogoki Lake to below Tew Lake.

  • The very low late-season water conditions,
  • the energy-sapping 30º+C daytime temperatures,
  • the fact that we were somewhat soft after a year and a half of COVID restrictions
  • the relentless complications of one river obstacle after another …

let’s just say we were looking forward to some water to dip our paddles into!

Day 5 afternoon – west end of Whitewater Lake

After being dropped off by the De Havilland Beaver,  we were not far from the outpost at the west end of the lake.  A decade ago we had camped somewhere nearby but the extra exposed beach gave things a different look this summer. Given the overnight weather forecast, we felt safe in setting our tent up on the totally exposed beach.  An almost-flat slab of rock outcrop is where we ended up putting up the tent; our Thermarests took care of the rest!

Whitewater Lake – west end beach campsite

dusk on Whitewater Lake – the west end

dusk on Whitewater lake – rocks and water

Development On Whitewater Lake:

Whitewater Lake is located close to the center of Wabakimi Provincial Park and is in some ways its heart. It is the park’s largest  lake and has the most development of any of them, having more  than the four outposts on Brennan Lake on the Allanwater River system. [How many are actually open is another matter.]

WN – west end

At the west end of the lake, not far from where we were camped is a Wilderness North property, a mini-lodge with a few structures.

Ogoki Lodge

The Ogoki Lodge property is located at the south end of a narrow channel; we would pass by the next morning. After being abandoned for years it has been taken over by Wilderness North.  Exactly what the plans are for this property is unclear, given the other WN holdings on the lake. There can’t be enough demand to support all of them and the covid pandemic has severely impacted the number of U.S. visitors these lodges depend on to stay afloat.

Striker’s Point

At the east end of the lake is another Wilderness North holding, Striker’s Point Lodge. Connected to it is an outpost a short walk away.

Thunderhook Lodge

At the south end of the lake are a couple of other developments.  On the south shore of the lake is a former Mattice Lake Outfitters lodge now owned by Thunderhook Fly-Ins. Now far away on the southwest shore is a property owned by Whitesands First Nation. It includes a half-dozen cottages and a large community-size hall.

Whitesand F.N.

During the two and half days we spent on the lake, we did not see or hear any boat traffic and only saw four people, all at the Wilderness North lodge at Striker’s Point or at the solitary outpost connected to it.

Not mentioned in all this is another Whitewater Lake attraction, the three cabins on Best Island built by Wendell Beckwith, an eccentric American recluse.  He lived there for almost twenty years (from the early 1960s to 1980) conducting what he considered “pure research” into the great questions of the universe of which he was able to determine that Whitewater Lake was the very center. We would visit his Best Island retreat on our first day’s paddle across the lake on our way down to Whiteclay Lake.

 

Day 6: Ogoki Lodge and Beckwith Cabins

  • distance: 27 km
  • time: 9 hr.
  • portages/rapids: 0 / 0
  • weather: hot, 18˚ to 32˚ max. humidex ~34˚); mostly clear all day, wind 9 kph SW
  • sightings: none – no boat traffic
  • campsite: Best Island sites, flat, sheltered, picnic table room for multiple tents
  • Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps: 052 I 14Grayson Lake  ( b&w 1970).
  • See Toporama (here) for NCR’s up-to-date, interactive, and seamless coloured maps and then print what you need.
  • Our Garmin inReach-generated GPS track (here)- (Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand corner)

our day 1 Whitewater route – about 26 km.to Best Island

A Return Visit To Ogoki Lodge:

Keen to get paddling, we were on the water by 8:15.  We enjoyed the cool of the morning as we paddled NE down the lake.  Making the big turn led us down the channel on the west side of the island that leads to the Ogoki Lodge.

Shortly after 10 a.m., we pulled up to the shore by the property. Back in 2010 and again in 2011 we had come this way and checked out the lodge and the other buildings; of all the lake properties this one has the largest number of buildings.

Ogoki Lodge complex

We soon focussed on the No Trespassing sign affixed to the deck fronting the property where we had lunch a decade ago.  Too early for lunch this day – and given the sign – we did not even get out of the canoe.

an internet-sourced image whose URL I did not record – if it’s yours let me know if I can keep it here with proper credit or if I should remove it.

Apparently, Wilderness North, a local fly-in lodge and fishing outpost company, has taken ownership of the property. In a way, we were happy to see the notice; it meant that the lodge’s gradual decay might be halted and that it might be brought to life again.

the Ogoki Lodge – the two-storey motel late-1980s addition on the edge of the property

The two-storey late 1980s addition to the property was boarded up. On our previous visit, the doors to most units were open and the interiors looked like they had been ransacked. It couldn’t have been much fun cleaning things up given that people had even crapped in some of the rooms.

The Ogoki Lodge – under new ownership

buildings next to the tipi main structure

The fact that it was 10 in the morning meant that we were aiming our camera lenses into the morning sun, always a great way to get that special effect! Ignoring the sign and walking up to the main building for s shot from the east side would have been the solution!

the main Ogoki Lodge structure – the tipi

Here is a better shot of the lodge’s main building from 2011. It still seems to be the one in the best shape.

2011 shot of the main building at the Ogoki Lodge

The first half of this older post  –Ogoki Lodge and The Beckwith Cabins: “All Things Must Pass”- has more details about and images of the Ogoki Lodge and the story of its construction.  The comments at the end of the post include some from the architects involved as well as former owners and managers of the lodge.

Ogoki Lodge – view from the east end of the property

We paddled along the shore and snapped a few more pics before we decided to head off for our one portage of the day – the carry into Secret Lake.  We had used the portage on our previous visits; it is a shortcut route to what was our next destination – Best island and the Beckwith Cabins.

The Portage Trail into Secret Lake:

A half-hearted (if that!) effort to locate the start of the portage had us deciding just to paddle around via the north end of the lake.  In retrospect, we should have put more effort into finding it!  The low water conditions meant that the trailhead was thirty or forty meters further in than we bothered to walk in our search.

A Mild Case of Picto Fever: 

The Wabakimi area is not especially rich in pictographs.   The obvious exception is Cliff Lake on the Pikitigushi River system,  which hosts one of the Canadian Shield’s largest collections of Anishinaabe rock paintings.  (See here for an introduction to  Cliff Lake.)

The Pictographs of Wabakimi’s Cliff Lake – Selwyn Dewdney Takes Us On A Tour!

However, we still make a point of getting close to promising vertical rock surfaces.  As we paddled east from Ogoki Lodge we passed by the rock face in the image below. From afar, I thought I saw a caribou image!  Max was skeptical but figured the best cure to picto fever was just to get closer to the rock in question, so closer we went.

some vertical rock face on Whitewater Lake – caribou pictograph?

The rusty brown”paint” used by the shamans and vision questers back in the day – i.e. two or three or more hundred years ago – was composed of iron oxide (haematite) powder and fish oil.  It would be applied to the surface with a finger or two; most pictographs are fairly small – with lines 1.5 cm wide and 8 or 10 cm long. Canoes, moose, caribou, or clan totems are the most common images.   Artery Lake on the Bloodvein River system has the most impressive collection of rock paintings that we have seen.

lichen on rock -but pictograph in my mind!

As is often the case, we were looking at lichen on rock and that caribou figure I had seen was nowhere to be found!

It was about noon when we got to the northernmost point of our roundabout route to Best Island.  Taking a dip in the water gave us some relief from the heat of the day and the hot sun.  A shady lunch spot and an extra cup of coffee – no wonder when we got back into canoe mode, the next GPS track reads 2:08 p.m.!

The Beckwith Cabins in 2021:

The first time we set out to see the three Beckwith cabins we paddled right by them since we did not know their exact location.  We were expecting them to be visible from the shoreline. We had better luck the next summer, having gotten a clear map location.

Beckwith himself has also been made the subject of a recently-released documentary that explores what brought him to Best Island.  The insightful interviews with people who played an integral part in his life during the two decades he spent on the island are among the highlights of the film.

Click on the header or here to access the documentary. It is definitely worth watching.

Best Island – north end with Beckwith Cabin Location

We landed on the beach on the north side of the mini-peninsula. [It was there that Beckwith suffered a heart attack and died in 1980.] There is a path that leads from the beach to the first of the cabins which Beckwith built. However, a recent blowdown means that visitors will now have to crawl over the fallen tree which blocks the path.

deadfall blocks one path up to the Beckwith cabins

A bit further up the path, we came to the incongruous sight of fairly freshly cut logs piled neatly on the side of the path just before the first cabin. We wondered just who had bothered – and why.

log pile on the side of the path going up from the beach to the Beckwith cabins

It had been a decade since we were last on the Beckwith site. We would soon see that things have gone downhill since then, especially for the Main Cabin. When we were there in 2011, there was a large blue tarp – apparently put there by a local outfitter, Jim Pearson  – that covered the portion of a roof that a falling tree had smashed into and broken open. Satellite images still show a speck of blue when you zoom in to the cabin site. (See the sat image above!)  However, the cabin roof is now gone and so too is the tarp, with only bits and pieces of it still visible

The Main Cabin:

The Main Cabin is the first one that Beckwith built with the help of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) who lived in the area and had a spring/summer fishing camp in the vicinity.  Its centerpiece is the dramatic stone fireplace which makes up most of the end wall of the cabin. Beckwith would eventually decide that it was not really all that effective at heating the cabin.

a side view of the Main Cabin on Best Island

Somewhere under the debris from the fallen roof and walls are the remains of an icebox and the cool underground cavity into which it was lowered.

exterior view of the Main Cabin on Best island – view from the other side

the front of The Main Cabin on Best island

a view of the front of Beckwith’s Main Cabin from behind

The fireplace in Beckwith’s main cabin on Best Island

Looking into Beckwith’s Main cabin from the front

The Guesthouse (Rose’s Cabin):

The second cabin that Beckwith built is known as the Guesthouse.  After Rose Chaultry moved to Best Island in the late 60s, this is where she stayed. They would add a wing to the cabin to give it an L-shape; the wing would serve as Chaltry’s bedroom. [Chaltry’s reminiscences are a  highlight of the documentary mentioned above.]

a view of the entrance of The Guesthouse (Rose’s Cabin) on Best Island

The Beckwith Guesthouse on Best Island

exterior view of the bay window of the Beckwith Guesthouse on Best island

interior shot of Beckwith’s Guesthouse with bay window and alcove with a bed

interior view of the Guesthouse on Best island

interior shot of the Beckwith Guesthouse cabin – desk and the other bay window

The Snail:

The last of the cabins built by Beckwith – he apparently started it around 1975 and finished it in 1978 – makes use of the hillside for one of its walls.  His aim was to create a living space that was easier to keep warm in the winter. He would not get to enjoy it very long. In 1980 he suffered a heart attack and died on the beach on the north side of the mini-peninsula on Best Island, which he had somehow determined was the “center of the universe”!

Beckwith’s “The Snail” cabin

Beckwith plaque in front of the Snail cabin

the front window area of Beckwith’s  Snail cabin

the east side wall of The Snail on Best Island

the rear wall of Beckwith’s Snail cabin on Best Island

the roof of The Snail on Best Island

a loose plaque in front of the Snail – a sign from better days

On our previous visit, we wondered why the Wabakimi Park officials did not do something about the decaying state of the Beckwith cabins. We eventually realized that the money required to preserve them – and the relatively few visitors who would get to see them – meant that they had just decided to let nature take its course. The Main Cabin is already done; the other two are on their way. The Snail’s roof is in worse shape and it will be the next to go.

We did see a sign of the Park approach to the management of the site. You can see it nailed to the tree to the right of the Snail in the image below –

The Snail cabin and Park notice

The Camping Area:

With our visit to the site done, we walked back to the beach and paddled our canoe around to the other side of the mini-peninsula. Just above the sloped rock outcrop is a path that leads to The Snail, the third of Beckwith’s cabins, and to a large tenting area, which comes complete with a picnic table and a firepit.  It may be that local outfitters have put the table and the grill there for the use of their lodge or outpost guests for shore lunches.

the tenting area near the Beckwith cabins on Best Island Whitewater Lake

It was nice to be able to push our tent pegs into some actual earth instead of gathering boulders to secure the tent.

The creaking sound of the skinny black spruce surrounding the tent site had us a bit concerned. [A park crew should cut down the clearly rotten ones!]

If you want to see more pix or details about the Ogoki Lodge and the Beckwith Cabins, check out this earlier post, which includes some interesting comments from people who visited the two sites over the past forty years.

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

Day Two on Whitewater Lake:

  • distance: 23 km
  • time: 9 hrs.
  • portages/rapids:  0/2; ran the first one; lined and ran and lined the second
  • weather: 18˚ to 31˚ max. humidex ~34˚); partly cloudy all day; wind S 20 kph +
  • sightings: no boat traffic; bush plane and two people on Striker’s Point dock; two paddlers (a father/daughter combo)  fishing below the first set of rapids out of Whitewater Lake
  • campsite: river left ~600m from the end of portage; grassy flattish area; definitely a fair-weather campsite but …it did the job given slim pickings

There was a bit of a drizzle when we woke up. However, we had put the tarp over the tent so we were able to take the dry tent down and then make use of the tarp as a dry spot for our gear and our breakfast. There we sit with our cups of coffee waiting for the ten-second timer to trigger the shutter!

breakfast on Best Island with a bit of a rain shower

This day of our two-week trip may have been the one with the most wind and rolling waves from the south.  We would have to deal with them until we got east of Striker’s Point, where Whitewater Lake narrows as it makes its way to a set of rapids.

Along the way, we hunkered down on the east side of Best Island for an hour while a heavy downpour with yet more wind passed through.  Our Helinox chairs and another cup of coffee helped pass the time as the rain pounded the tarp above our heads.

our mid-morning stop to sit out a one-hour shower

The thirty-minute paddle took us the 3 kilometers across open water to the windscreen of an island on the west side of Striker’s Point. As we passed the point, the location of a Wilderness North Lodge on the south side and a solitary outpost on the north side, we saw our first people on Whitewater Lake.  At the dock on the north side was a couple standing in front of a bush plane. We waved as we continued on to a beach area on the other side of the bay.

Striker’s Point – east end of the Ogoki’s Whitewater Lake

our Whitewater lunch spot across from Striker’s Point

We draped some of our wet gear over the bushes and found a sheltered wind-free lunch spot on the other side of the spit. The following video shows the extensive sand beach and spot where we ended up putting up our Helinox chairs.

The Rapids Out of Whitewater Lake

After lunch and a siesta, we did a mini-carry across the spit to avoid the still rolling waves and wind. An easy 10 km. of paddling over the next 1 1/2 hours brought us to the top of a couple of sets of rapids.

first set of rapids at the east end of Whitewater Lake

We paddled through the easy C1 set at the top of the bend and then headed down on river left to get a closer look at the rest.  The late-season low water conditions made for an impossible boulder garden to navigate. We would spend an hour mostly lining our way to the bottom on river left.

considering our options on a set of shallow Ogoki rapids

When we got to the bottom of the rapids we rounded the corner. Standing there was some guy fishing! He and his daughter had set up camp a few meters down and were just as surprised to see us. A few minutes of conversation and we had to go – it was after 6 p.m. and we needed a campsite.  After checking out a couple of spots that just didn’t cut it, we came to an exposed but flat grassy area on river left. Up went the tent and the tarp and out came the supper fixings. We were home for the night!

Stashing The Food Bag Overnight:

The image below shows what canoe tripping in Wabakimi has done to our overnight food pack location. Given the scarcity of trees with a 3-meter high branch that is sticking out about 3 meters and can bear the weight of a 20-kilogram food pack, we instead walk the bag maybe 50 meters downwind from our tent. We slip it into a construction-grade garbage bag to protect it from possible rain.  Over the past decade, we have never had our food bag touched by any animal large or small.

food bags stash and tent on the banks of the Ogoki above Ogoki Falls

Next Post: From Above Ogoki Falls  To Whiteclay Lake’s NE Arm

 

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The Ogoki River From Top To Bottom

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

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

This will be our fifth visit to the Wabakimi park area over the past decade. This time our route will take us from the Ogoki River headwaters in Endogoki Lake down to the Ogoki Reservoir. As the map below illustrates, the Upper Ogoki watershed makes up the park’s core.

The park stretches as far east as the western end of the Reservoir, the artificial lake created as a result of the completion in 1942 of a massive dam at Waboose Falls that stopped the water from following its natural course down to the confluence with the Albany River. The dam diverted 99% of the Ogoki’s flow south across the Height of Land to what became the Litle Jackfish River and on to Lake Nipigon and the Great Lakes system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Upper Ogoki River – from headwaters to Lake Nipigon

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

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

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

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

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

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


We start our journey down the Ogoki on August 16, a Monday morning. The following website will provide an up-to-the-minute track of our location and progress.

https://share.garmin.com/albinger

[Click on View All Tracks at the top right-hand side of the page.]

The Next Post: Bushwhacking The Ogoki Headwaters – Days 1 and 2

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Day-By-Day Reports:

Bushwhacking The Ogoki Headwaters – Days 1 and 2

Bushwhacking The Ogoki Headwaters – Days 3 and 4

A Two-Day Paddle Across the Ogoki’s Whitewater Lake

Down The Ogoki From Above Ogoki Falls To Whiteclay Lake’s NE Arm

Down The Ogoki From White Clay Lake’s NE Arm To the Ogoki Reservoir’s Two Mile Bay

Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir – From Eight Flume Falls To Moose Crossing

Canoeing The Ogoki Reservoir – From Moose Crossing To The Waboose Dam

Canoeing the Ogoki Reservoir – From Waboose Dam To South Summit Dam

Paddling Down The Little Jackfish River to Zigzag Lake

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

A Paddler’s List Of Wabakimi’s Top Six

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

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Down Wabakimi’s Allanwater River To Whitewater Lake and “The Center of the Universe” – Introduction, Logistics, Maps

For more specific info and  detailed maps showing rapids, portages, and campsites, see

Day-By-Day Trip Report: Allanwater to Caribou

The Route:

Allanwater River-Wabakimi Lake-Whitewater Lake-Smoothrock Lake – Caribou River-Little Caribou Lake

One thousand miles of road faced our canoe-topped car as we set off to visit Wabakimi Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. This is where we would find the island paradise of an eccentric American inventor who had acted as the island’s custodian until he died in 1980.

Quetico and BeyondThe island itself is called Best and it was, according to the personal mythology of its custodian Wendell Beckwith, the veritable “center of the universe.” A chapter in Kevin Callan’s book Quetico and Beyond had first pointed us in the direction of the wilderness of Wabakimi Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. In the book, Callan spends a chapter recounting his visit to Beckwith’s retreat on Whitewater Lake and describing the region in terms of canoeing possibilities.

We had never even considered paddling there – distance may have had something to do with it –  but Callan’s narrative hooked us. We had two weeks for our adventure –  ten of actual paddling and four to get there and back.

In the end, “the center of the universe” proved to be an elusive point, and here we are, back on the circumference, a little like Jason without the Golden Fleece but still richer for the journey. Read on to find out what happened!

standing by Brennan Falls- one of the highlights of the trip

Where Is Wabakimi Provincial Park? 

Created in 1983 and enlarged in 1997, Wabakimi P. P. is greater in area than several U.S. states and the Canadian province of P.E.I. In Ontario, only Polar Bear Provincial Park is larger.  It sees a small fraction of the canoe tripper traffic found in easier-to-access and tamer parks like Quetico, Killarney, or Algonquin. 

This Google map puts Wabakimi Provincial Park into perspective.

Armstrong Station is at the north end of Highway 521 from Hwy. 17 near Thunder Bay and serves as the main gateway to Wabakimi Provincial Park.  It gets the name “Station” from the Cold-War-era Pinetree Line radar station once located there and run by NORAD in the late 1940s and into the 50s. It was shut down permanently in 1974.  See here for a brief historical account.

These days it is a passenger stop on VIA’s The Canadian train service from Toronto to Vancouver on tracks belonging to Canadian National Railway. Armstrong also services nearby First nation communities, especially the Whitesand First Nation located just to the north of the settlement.

Armstrong Station

Getting To Armstrong Station:

No matter where you’re starting from, to access Wabakimi your road will first take you to the outskirts of Thunder Bay.  In our case, the total road distance from southern Ontario (London and Toronto) via Highways 69 and 17 was about 1850 kilometers.  We left Toronto at 7 a.m. and were at Marathon on top of Lake Superior twelve hours later. The Airport Motel right off Hwy 17 is a decent place to stop for the night.

getting the canoe ready for the Grand Portage to Wabakimi

The next morning we knocked off the final third of the ride. The road from Marathon to Nipigon along the north shore of Lake Superior has dramatic elevated views that rival those on the B.C. coast. Once near the north side of Thunder Bay, we left the Trans-Canada Hwy. for Highway 521, a well-paved stretch of secondary road. Three hours later, we were in Armstrong Station.

The Grand Portage was done!

a moment of the two-day portage to Armstrong from southern Ontario

Armstrong Station has a grocery store, a couple of restaurants, a hotel, and a gas station. Just south of Armstrong Station are three outfitters ready to supply you with what you need- maps, canoes, park permits, gear, fly-ins, etc. See here for a satellite view.

waiting with our gear at the “train station” (since torn down!)

Before we left Armstrong Station, we had arranged with a local – Clement Quenville – to leave our vehicle at his place and then for him to leave our car at the take-out point on the morning of Day 10. Our car was waiting for us when we got there. Clem does shuttles and rents out canoes and related gear. [wabakimiclemq@outlook.com

Allanwater Bridge is 90 kilometers from Armstrong Station.  We chose it as the start of our first Wabakimi canoe trip because it seemed that the river, which flows from the bridge down to Lake Wabakimi, was the most popular route to the heart of Wabakimi Provincial Park. We figured the portage trails would be in better shape because of more frequent use, and the occasional sets of Class 1/class 2 rapids would mean the chance of doing some whitewater.

Backcountry Camping Permits:

Ontario Parks is responsible for Ontario’s provincial parks. See here for the 2021 Wabakimi backcountry fee schedules – one for non-residents of Ontario and another for residents.

Non-Residents:

Residents of Ontario:

When it comes to Wabakimi, you are not actually reserving a campsite; you are instead registering for a specific number of days that you will be overnighting in the park. It took a phone call to the Park Super for me to figure out how to make an online booking for Wabakimi since it does not appear in the list of parks under Backcountry.

To register online, go to the Ontario Parks website here. On the top of the page, clicking on Reservations will open the window to various options.

  • Choose Reserve Online; the Ontario Parks Reservations page will open with some options.
  • Choose the one at the far right of the page – Backcountry Registration – clicking on it will open a list of parks, including Wabakimi. Enter the required info, and you are done!

We have usually stopped at Mattice Lake Outfitters and purchased our permits there. On one occasion, I spoke directly with the Park Superintendent and we did the transaction over the phone.  He emailed me the receipt a few minutes later.

The current Park super is: Shannon Lawr – Phone (807)475-1634

From Armstrong Station to Allanwater Bridge:

To get from Armstrong Station to the put-in at Allanwater Bridge, there are a couple of options:

  • fly in from the Mattice Lake bush plane base south of Armstrong Station or
  • take the train from Armstrong Station.

wabakimi-provincial-park.png

The De Havilland Beaver/Otter Option:

Mattice Lake Outfitters and Wabakimi Outfitters have air bases on Mattice Lake, a few kilometers south of Armstrong Station. Also nearby on Mackenzie Lake is Wilderness North.

While the first two have smaller (and cheaper to hire) Beavers for fly-ins, WN has an Otter for larger groups. Expect to pay about $800. for a Beaver insertion at Allanwater Bridge.  It is the no-fuss, most efficient way to get to the start of your Wabakimi adventure. It would also give you an excellent bird’s eye view of your home for the next two weeks! 

The Train Option:

Since there is a cheaper option than the $800. plane ride, we went with the train ride. It was $21 a person in 2010 with an extra charge for the canoe. (The 2021 price for 1 adult is $23. with $50. for the canoe.)

canada-10-dollar-polymer-bill-2013

The back of the new 2013 $10. bill with The Canadian featured

The VIA train is called The Canadian and runs through Armstrong Station from Toronto to Vancouver three times a week. Tickets need to be purchased at least 48 hours in advance since Armstrong Station is not a scheduled stop. You can buy the tickets online at the VIA website; local outfitters will probably arrange them too.

Click here to look at the VIA Canadian timetable from Toronto to various Wabakimi insertion or exit points (Armstrong Station, Collins, Allanwater, Flindt Landing).

Make sure your VIA schedule is current!  The VIA Canadian train schedule underwent a significant change in 2019.  Older trip reports may have out-of-date info if they have not been updated. 

the train leaves Winnipeg  at 23:45 the night before

the train leaves Toronto at 09:45 the  day before

 

Stuff being unloaded from the baggage car at Armstrong Station-

Note: As of 2020, canoe trippers will be leaving Armstrong Stn at 9:17 a.m.  (ET) and arriving at Allanwater Bridge about an hour and ten minutes later – i.e. at 9:26 a.m. CT. When we made the canoe trip in 2010, the VIA schedule had the train arrive at Armstrong Stn. at 8:30 p.m.  There we stand in the dark waiting for a train almost three hours late!

With the new schedule, you can set off down the Allanwater on arrival instead of wondering where to camp until daylight!

waiting for the westbound VIA train at Armstrong Station- take it as a bonus if it is on time!

When the train pulled in, canoes and gear were hoisted into the baggage car in record time – everybody was pitching in to speed things up. The ride lasted about 80 minutes or so, and by 1:00 a.m., we were at Allanwater Bridge. As our good luck would have it, we were not the only paddlers to board the train this evening.

Allanwater Bridge VIA Stop:

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 7.23.12 PM

Back in Armstrong Station, we met Tim and Sandy Eaton (the owners of the canoeing.com website) and chatting with them about canoe trips past and coming up definitely made the wait go by faster.

Now we sat with them on the way to Allanwater Bridge, where they had arranged accommodation at the Wabakimi Canoe Outfitters outpost. The outfitting business is owned and operated by Bruce Hyer, the man most responsible for establishing Wabakimi Provincial Park in the 1980s.

The train stopped in front of the outpost on the west side of the bridge and we got off with them. It was pitch dark and about 1:00 a.m. as we made sure all of our gear got tossed off the baggage car!

wabakimi.com header

And then the train pulled away, and Tim and Sandy headed down the trail for the outpost.  On the other side of the tracks was what looked to be an abandoned building (perhaps the old schoolhouse?).

Allanwater Bridge Lodge header

We had arranged to stay on the Jelinski AWB Lodge property for the night. The cost was $20. a person to tent on the lodge grounds until the morning with a shower as a part of the deal.  Renting one of the six or seven cabins on the property is another option. The next year we did just that for $50.

Of course, I had not asked for directions to The Allanwater Bridge Lodge, so we didn’t know where it was! We really could have used the satellite image below – and some daylight!  It turns out it was only 250 meters down the tracks!

All we knew was that the Wabakimi Outfitters’ outpost was right there and it was 1:15 a.m. In the end, Tim and Sandy’s hospitality solved the problem for us and that’s where we ended up for the night. The image below is a shot of the outpost you’ll find on their website.

See here for the webpage where I found the image.

Wabakimi Outfitters also makes the outpost grounds available to campers for $15. (plus tax) a person. Their outpost also sleeps at least 12, and it is available for anyone looking for a plush entry into the wilds of Wabakimi.

the rail-level view of Allen Water Bridge the next morning  – a few minutes later we paddled under it on the way down the river

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Maps And Route Info:

This was the last canoe trip where we brought along the actual paper 1:50000 topo maps issued by the Government of Canada’s Natural Resources Department.  Since then, we learned that the maps are available for free download, and we just print off the material we need.

Federal Gov’t. 1:50000 Topos (archived)

The following  archived 1:50,000 Topos cover our route from Allanwater Bridge to Whitewater Lake and then back to our exit point at the south end of Little Caribou Lake Just click on the particular map title to access the tif file from the Gov’t of Canada server:

The Atlas of Canada – Toporama

Do note that the above topos are mainly from the 1970s to the 1990s.  Natural Resources Canada now maintains an online and current version of the topos at the following website – click on to access.

The Atlas of Canada – Toporama

While the government topos are essential, they do not have information on portages and campsites.  The following four sources will provide you with the info you need.

Ken Kokanie’s Map Set 

We had Ken Kokanie’s excellent annotated trip map in our map case.  It outlines a route he did down the Allan Water River to Wabakimi Lake and then heading south to Lower Wabakimi Lake to exit at Little Caribou Lake.  (Click here to access an 8 Mb pdf file.)

Friends of Wabakimi Maps

Wabakimi Project header

We also had additional soon-to-be-published info courtesy of Phil Cotton,  mapmaker Barry Simoni and the Wabakimi Project volunteers, who had just done the river a few weeks before.  The maps have since been published and can be found in Volume 3 of the Wabakimi Project’s comprehensive maps on the Wabakimi Area. (Click here for Volume 3 info.) They are absolutely worth it for the level of detail they provide on the rapids, falls, and portages you will encounter.  However, they are not meant to be your only map source. They need to be supplemented at least with the 1:50000 topographical maps from NRC mentioned above.

Wabakimi Maps by Laurence Mills

We were not aware of the maps produced by Laurence Mills before our Allanwater trip. However, the next summer, we purchased his Kopka 2 canoe route package. We found it detailed and accurate for the rapids, portage, and campsite info the set of laminated 8.5″x11″ sheets provided.  As with the Wabakimi Project maps above, having reliable information allows for better planning, saves energy, and decreases the chance of making bad decisions! Definitely worth the C$20.  Mills has two Allanwater packages – Allanwater I is the shorter one that heads to Caribou Lake via Lower Wabakimi Lake, while Allanwater II is the exact route that we did as our “Introduction To Wabakimi”!

Click here to access the Wakakimi Maps website. See Day 1 below for a sample of Mills’s maps for dozens of Wabakimi-area trips.

Paddle Planner

Click on the header above to access the site.

In the decade since this report was written, a new source of canoe route info has appeared on the internet. Its creators have collated all the available information from the sources above – and yet other trip reports and info submitted to them by fellow trippers.

It is the same approach as the now-defunct Jeff’s Maps and the current Unlostify maps available for some Ontario destinations. Of the data, the Paddle Planner website includes this reminder:

Wabakimi is a real wilderness area and has the challenges that wilderness brings. Portages and campsites are not as well-maintained as in other canoeing areas such as the Boundary Waters. A route may not have been traveled for years, so portages and campsites may be overgrown, hard to find, and/or may not exist anymore. All locations are approximated.

Access the site here.

Note: there is a $20. cost to access all of the useful features of the site, a minor investment that will repay itself by having the most up-to-date info on what is coming up in terms of rapids, portages, and campsites.

If you access the old Paddle Planner website, you can get a full-page view not available for free at the new site. See here.

Google Earth View

The image below is a screenshot of a Google Earth kml file of our canoe route. Satellite images provide a different perspective and sometimes useful extra information about challenging stretches of the route.

Click on the link below to access the kml file in my Dropbox folder. Then use the browser-based or stand-alone Google Earth to open and view. Note – you need to sign in to import the file from your computer.

kml file –  Allanwater To Little Caribou Via Whitewater Lake 

See the day-by-day trip reports with maps, portage, campsite information, and more detail.

Day-By-Day Allanwater to Whitewater Trip Report

Down Wabakimi’s Allanwater River To Whitewater Lake and “The Center of the Universe” – Day-By-Day Trip Report

For yet more Wabakimi, see our admittedly subjective.

A Paddler’s List Of Wabakimi’s Top Six

 

 

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The Rice Lake “Serpent Mound” – Chronology, Sources, And Cases Of Mistaken Identity

Related Post: The Peterborough Petroglyphs: Building Over An Ancient Algonkian Ritual Site

Table of Contents:

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Rice Lake: Location and Background History

The Archaeologist David Boyle comments on Rice Lake in 1897:

Hundreds of acres of its surface are covered with wild rice, and it has thus been always a favourite resort for water-fowl. Fish, too. were formerly abundant, and no doubt deer and other large game were plentiful. As the Indians also used (and still use) the rice, it will be seen that all the conditions of primitive life in the neighbourhood were extremely favourable. Add to this the fact that the lake formed an important link in one of the two great canoe routes between the upper lakes and the St. Lawrence, and more especially between the Huron country and Lake Ontario, and we have another reason for  this having been a desirable Indian resort.

Halfway between Toronto and Kingston above the north shore of Lake Ontario sits RiceTrent-Severn Waterway Lake, a 30-kilometre long and narrow lake. As the quote above notes,  it was part of a thousands-year-old water highway used by Indigenous Peoples to travel from Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario.

These days Rice Lake is a section of the Trent-Severn Waterway, a 386-kilometre canal whose final lock was completed in 1920.

During the period from 1650 to 1700, one of five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (thought to be Cayuga) had a village on the north shore of Rice Lake. Before that, as the map below indicates, the Wendat, another Iroquoian people better known as the Huron, lived on Lake Ontario’s north shore and included Rice Lake as part of their territory.

Further back in time, other Indigenous cultural groups would have been familiar with the Rice Lake area and used it at least on a seasonal basis. Going back 2000 years, those peoples may have included those from the Algonkian (i.e.Anishinaabe) cultural family, which we associate with the Canadian Shield.

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Hiawatha First Nation:

These days, the Hiawatha First Nation can be found on the shores of Rice Lake. The map below indicates their territory – about 2145 acres in all. It is located on the north side of the lake,  across from the Alderville First Nation. The members of this First Nation are Mississauga Ojibwe and belong to the Algonkian/Anishinaabe family.

This recorded testimony (The Story of Paudash) would date their settling in the Rice Lake area around 1700 at the end of the Algonkian/Iroquois World War. The Mississaugas took over land abandoned by the Iroquois, who retreated to their Haudenosaunee heartland across Lake Ontario.

A map showing the extent of the original reserve set aside for them would undoubtedly show how much their territory has shrunk over the past 200 years.

Rice Lake Hiawatha First Nation and Serpent Mounds Park

Given that Hiawatha was a legendary/historical Onondaga chief and an Iroquoian hero, it is puzzling that this Anishinaabe First Nation is named after him. Longfellow’s 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha is the cause of the confusion; he used the name Hiawatha for his clearly Ojibwe hero, whom he had initially wanted to name Manabozho (his spelling of Nanabush or Nenebuc, the mythic Anishinaabe hero). Mistakenly thinking that the two names were synonymous, Longfellow called him Hiawatha instead! See here for a full explanation. Despite Longfellow’s mistake,  the First Nation perpetuates it by hanging on to the name.

Hiawatha First Nation territory includes an area on the north shore above Roach Point  (some old maps name it Roche’s Point) which is significant as the location of what is said to be the only serpent effigy mound in Canada. In a statement from 1904, the then-chief Robert Paudash said this about the burial mound site –

At Rochis Point there was a Mohawk village in front of the former site of this is a mound in the shape of a serpent, having four smaller mounds about its head and body in the form of turtles. These mounds are a pictorial representation of the Mississaugas in memory of the occurrence, and of the Mohawks. It has been supposed by some to mean more than this, but my father has so stated it. [See here for the source.]

The serpent presumably represented the Iroquois, known by the uncomplimentary name Nadoways (the big snakes) to the Anishinaabe;  the smaller mounds represent the Mississauga and their clan totem. If Chief Paudash is correct, the mounds date around 1700 C.E. and were built by his not-too-distant ancestors to commemorate their recent defeat of the “big snake.” However, the archaeological evidence indicates the mounds are much older, i.e. older by at least 1400 years.

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David Boyle and the Serpent Mound Site:

David Boyle, the first archaeologist to examine the site, drew this conclusion in his 1897 report on the site:

… for the construction of the mounds cannot be attributed to any people with whom Europeans have come into contact. It is not recorded that the Huron-Iroquois were mound-builders, and we must therefore regard the earthworks in question as the product of a people who preceded them.

While their ancestors were not the builders of the burial mounds, the current members of the Hiawatha First Nation have become caretakers of the site.

vintage (the mid-1960s?) postcard image of Serpent Mounds Park – see here for the reverse side

The Canadian Encyclopedia summarizes the site’s significance this way –

Serpent Mounds, situated on a bluff overlooking Rice Lake near Peterborough, Ont, is the only known effigy mound in Canada. It is a sinuous earthen structure composed of six separate burial locations and measuring about 60 m long, 8 m wide and 1.5-1.8 m high. Excavation indicated that the mounds forming the effigy were gradually built up between 50 BCE and 300 CE. This would suggest that Serpent Mounds was a sacred place, visited periodically for religious ceremonies. Although pieces of grave furniture were not plentiful, their distribution shows they were restricted largely to individuals of higher status within the community. Those individuals were buried either at the base of the mounds or in shallow, submound pits. The commoners were randomly scattered throughout the mounds’ fill. See here for the source.

While the site is referred to as Serpent Mounds, only one mound is in the shape of a serpent (Mound E on the David Boyle sketch of the site). The other eight mounds are oval or circular and smaller than Mound E.  All nine were burial mounds, as indicated by the skeletal remains uncovered by various archaeological teams.

Boyle’s sketch of the Rice Lake mounds in 1896 with some of the mounds

Here is Boyle’s account of his realization that what he was examining was a serpent mound:

At frequent intervals during the excavation of the oval mound, I travelled backwards, forwards, and around the long zig-zag embankment, now that I began to feel certain as to its origin, puzzled to account for its configuration, and its relation, if any, to the more easterly structure on which we were at work. On one of those occasions, when standing on top of the ridge some fifty feet from the westerly extremity, it struck me as being strange that this end of the bank should taper so gradually that its terminating point could not be distinguished accurately within a foot or more. This suggested the idea of a mere beginning, or of failure on the part of the builders to complete their work, and the next thought was to examine the other end. Here, however,  there was a very marked dissimilarity, for the bank rose at a sharp angle to a height of four feet and was much more expanded than any other portion of the mound. In the course of another walk along the earthwork I was struck with the thought that this was a serpent mound, but the idea seemed absurd to one who, on account of frequent disappointments, is prone to cast doubt on fanciful resemblances of every kind.

Still, there was the broad, abrupt head – there was the tapering tail, and between these were three well-marked convolutions – the zig-zags hitherto without meaning – not so prominent as those of the Adams County mound in Ohio, but, as I now think, much more natural.

Given Boyle’s account of his “discovery,” it does not sound like someone else told him it was a serpent. Like the tale of Archimedes in his bathtub shouting “Eureka,” we have Boyle, hesitant at first but soon surrendering to the realization that he was standing on a serpent effigy mound! And even more – seeing the Egg some forty feet away!

Some locals, Indigenous and non-, thought the mounds were built for defensive purposes during the Algonkian-Iroquois War of the late-1600s. Others, like Robert Paudash, quoted above, also identified the central mound as a serpent a few years after Boyle. In the Paudash account, the smaller mounds represented turtles. He said they had been built as a memorial to victory over the upstate New York Iroquois in the great war.

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Key Dates in the Serpent Mound/Rice Lake Story:

B.C.E. (Before the Common Era)/C.E. (Common Era) …replacing B.C./A.D.

 300 B.C.E. -700 C.E.  Point Penisula culture (a version of Hopewell Culture) was dominant in the eastern Lake Ontario area’ period labelled Middle Woodland in the archaeological literature.

circa 300 B.C.E.  the Ohio Serpent Mound was constructed by an Adena culture (according to some of the evidence)

 50 B.C.E. -300 C.E.  approximate timespan when the Serpent Mound and other burial mounds were built and enlarged during nearby seasonal (spring/summer) occupation by a hunting/gathering culture.

900 C.E.-1400 C.E.  the estimated period when the nearby Stony Lake petroglyphs were created by  an Algonkian (i.e. Anishinaabe) people

1000 – 1550   Iroquoian Wendat settlement of the area

circa 1100 – an Ancient Fort cultural group constructs the Ohio Serpent Mound (given some of the radiometric evidence)

1647-1649   Iroquois completely destroy Wendat (i.e.Huron) communities north of Lake Ontario; Huronia is no more (see here)

1650-1700  Iroquoian Cayuga villages in Rice Lake/Otonobee River area after the defeat of the Wendat in 1649.

1700  (circa) Mississaugas took over the lands on the north shore of Lake Ontario after their decisive victory in a drawn-out all-out war against the Iroquois, who retreated south to their Haudenosaunee homeland.

1818   Treaty 20. The Rice Lake Treaty was signed at Port Hope by six Mississauga chiefs on behalf of 240 Mississaugas. See here for a map of lands surrendered for £740 annually

1820    land set aside on the north shore of Rice Lake as an Indian reserve

1848   the Adams Country, Ohio Serpent Mound site first reported

1855  the publication of Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha.”

1886-1890  Frederic Ward Putnam conducts extensive archaeological work on the Ohio Serpent Mound site, whose purchase for the Peabody Museum he had arranged in 1885.

1896    David Boyle, considered Canada’s pre-eminent archaeologist at the time, visited the Rice Lake site and conducted the first “professional” examination of the site

1897 Boyle’s report on the Serpent Mounds was published by the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Education

1904    Robert Paudash, chief of the Mississaugas in the Rice Lake area, attributes the building of the mounds to his ancestors after their defeat of the Mohawk in the great Anishinaabe-Iroquois War. He described the collection of mounds in terms of a snake and turtles.

1910    Henry Montgomery’s Recent Archaeological Investigations in Ontario, a report on his previous summer’s excavation of the Serpent Mounds appeared in the Transactions of the Canadian Institute  Vol. IX, Part 1, June

1923   Williams Treaties were signed by the governments of Canada and Ontario and by seven First Nations of the Chippewa of Lake Simcoe. They included the following: Beausoleil, Georgina Island and Rama, and the Mississauga of the north shore of Lake Ontario (Alderville, Curve Lake, Hiawatha and Scugog Island).  

1957  Serpent Mounts Provincial Park opens with the Ontario Government leasing the land from the Hiawatha First Nation

1955-60   Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto conduct a five-year archaeological examination of the Serpent Mounds under the direction of Richard B. Johnson.

1968  Royal Ontario Museum publishes Johnson’s The Archaeology of the Serpent Mounds Site, an edited version of his 1961 Ph.D. thesis.

1982   The serpent mounds were designated a National Historic Site along with other nearby mounds including the Alderville Site, Island Centre Site, East Sugar Island Site, and the Corral Site

1985   Serpent Mounds Provincial Park Management Plan released by the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

1986   Mounds of Sacred Earth: Burial Mounds of Ontario published by the Royal Ontario Museum. Its author, Walter Kenyon, dies that same year.

1987   The Mississauga Ojibwe lands on Rice Lake became officially known as Hiawatha First Nation

1995    Hiawatha First Nation takes over the management of Serpent Mounds Park

2009   Hiawatha First Nation closes the park due to a lack of visitors and decaying tourist infrastructure

2011    Census count – Hiawatha First Nation population of 362, down from 483 in 2006

2018 Williams Treaties revisited and revised –  First Nations and the Governments of Ontario and Canada reached a final agreement, settling litigation about land surrenders and harvesting rights. The Seven affected First Nations receive $1.1 billion. Hiawatha First Nation’s share was $154 million (see here)

2021   Serpent Mounds site remains closed to visitors.

Hiawatha First Nation population – 235

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Is It Even A Serpent?

It was David Boyle who came up with the notion that what he was looking at was an effigy mound depicting a serpent and an egg. His drawing shows a somewhat serpentine figure with the “egg” just to the left of the mouth of the snake. The “serpent with egg” effigy is what Putman claimed to have found in Ohio a few years before, and Boyle would have been aware of it. It may have influenced how he interpreted what he saw at this burial mound site above Rice Lake. In turn, his serpent/egg interpretation has also determined what most people ever since are conditioned to see when they visit the Rice Lake site or read articles about it. To paraphrase St. Augustine – “Believing is seeing”!

Note: Following Boyle, I added in letters E and F for the “serpent” and the “egg”

Note: Boyle’s sketch is deceiving. The “serpent’s” head points in a northeasterly direction, not west, as in the illustration above. Here is another sketch of the site and some of the other mounds showing their correct orientation:

Rice Lake Serpent Mound – the source of the image here

While the sketch above presents the correct orientation, it also copies the exaggerated zigzag shape of Boyle’s serpent and the overly narrow profile and the extended tail.

Henry Montgomery’s 1909 Excavation

In 1909 Henry Montgomery (see here for a brief bio) and a team of diggers did some archaeological work on the “serpent mound.”. The following year his report Recent Archaeological Investigations in Ontario appeared in the journal Transactions of the Canadian Institute  (Vol. IX, Part 1, June ). In it,  he expressed doubt about Boyle’s serpent interpretation and offers a plausible alternative explanation:

This is the earthwork to which the name “serpent” was given by Mr. Boyle. That it was intended by its builders to represent a serpent in shape is somewhat doubtful, there being little evidence in support of the view. There are but two convolutions in it ; whereas there are seven convolutions in the Adams County serpent mound of Ohio which latter is also more uniform and natural in form. It is possible that this Peterboro County mound may be an aggregation of ordinary burial mounds erected in this way at different times for convenience’ sake.

A page later, he does seem to equivocate when he writes this –

Although irregular, and in length relatively short, its shape is such that it might be regarded as the beginning of an unfinished serpent.

Among the measurements he provides is of a 40-foot stretch of the mound, which he states is 37 feet wide, about one-fifth of the length. These are not the proportions that come to mind with a serpent!

To appreciate a truly serpentine effigy mound, we turn to Adams Country.

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The Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio

The Ohio serpent mound stretches 411 meters (1348′) from its coiled tail to its open jaws, which hold an oval shape, which was interpreted by Putman to be an egg, though it could be a frog or something else entirely.

He decided that the mound represented a serpent with an egg in its jaws. He believed it demonstrated a connection between Serpent Mound and various Old World cultures. Other archaeologists have documented parts of the mound that Putnam ignored, such as a wishbone-shaped earthwork that wrapped around the far side of the so-called egg. Evidently, Putnam felt this earthwork made no sense if the mound actually represented a serpent and an egg, so he didn’t restore it.  [See here for the source of the quote]

Given the association of the mound with the Ancient Fort culture, which constructed it around 1000 years ago, approaching the mound’s meaning through the worldview and beliefs of the actual builders would be the way to go. [See here – and here! – for a couple of head-shaking examples of how people have explained the Ohio mound’s meaning and purpose!]

The mound is from 30 to 100 cm. high and 6 to 6.5 meters (20 to 25′) wide. Unlike the Rice Lake site, it was not a burial mound and served some other ritual purpose. The Rice Lake serpent is just as wide (an average of 6.5 meters) yet is 1/7th as long. The proportions are quite different; what we have at Rice Lake would be a short and very wide serpent!

serpent mound site – Ohio’s Adams County

Comparing the two mounds makes it fair to question Boyle’s interpretation. While one clearly and undeniably looks like a serpent, the other could be a tadpole! And while the Ohio one definitely has an oval shape which may be an Egg or something else within what one could interpret as its jaw, it is a stretch to interpret the Rice Lake mound as another rendition of a Serpent with Egg – and one that Boyle imagines is “much more natural”!

Richard Johnson – ROM/U of T  1955-1960

The most thorough examination of the Serpent Mounds site was done from 1955 to 1960 by a Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto team led by Richard Johnson. His report became his Ph.D. thesis a year later. The shortened version was published by U of Toronto Press as a ROM book in 1968. It is the essential source of information on the mounds.

The following sketch from the book provides a detailed view of the site and its various mounds. In their fieldwork, the ROM/U of T team noted two mounds (G and H) not recorded by previous visitors.

Johnson. serpent Mound site plan

Look at the shape of the  Mound E in the late 1950s/early 60s sketch and without having been told that the shape you are looking at is a snake, you would not likely have offered that up as an answer.

Johnson 1960s sketch of burial mound E

Noteworthy is that on the first page of Johnson’s study of the site, he twice states that it is not a given that Burial Mound E is a serpent and that “the name of the mound and site is regarded as entirely speculative.” However, the name “Serpent Mound” was so ingrained by the mid-1960s that Johnson felt he had to stick with it despite his severe reservations about its validity!

Here is the first page of the Johnson study of the site – the entire book can be accessed via a link below.

The ROM team conducted carbon dating at various points along the length of the burial mound. The dates ranged from 128 to 300 A.D. and, as Johnson wrote, “favour the assumption that construction continued intermittently over several years.” This is hardly a situation you would expect of a 194-foot-long effigy mound that could be created in a summer or two if that was the actual intent.

Walter Kenyon Still Sees a Serpent!

Walter Kenyon’s excellent summary Mounds of Sacred Earth: Burial Mounds of Ontario was published by the Royal Ontario Museum in 1986. In it, Kenyon provides a history of the sites and a history of the archaeological work that went into uncovering them. Over half the report is spent on the burial mounds of southern Ontario; Rice Lake and its outlet, the Trent River, is where most of them are found, including the ones at Roach Point.

From Walter Kenyon. Mounds of Sacred Earth: Burial Mounds of Ontario.1986.

The brief booklet might be the best introduction to the specifics of the burial mounds on the north shore of Lake Ontario. [The second half of the report deals with the Rainy River area mounds.]  Two decades after Johnson and his reluctance to call Mound E  a serpent – without even bringing in Mound F as the Egg! – Kenyon begins with this –

Kenyon unexpectedly begins by reinforcing Boyle’s burial mound as a serpent effigy! The site sketch he chose to use in his book is Boyle’s, with its exaggerated serpentine look and a slimmed-down width. The work of his ROM colleagues seems to have escaped his view.

He had started work at the ROM in 1956, just as Museum began its fieldwork on the Rice Lake Site at Roach Point. You’d think that over thirty years, the specific nature of the largest Rice Lake mound would have come up in the staff lunchroom in the ROM basement during winters spent examining artifacts from the various mounds and middens!

More recently, J.V. Wright, in his comprehensive A History Of The Native People of Canada [Volume II (1,000 BC – AD. 500)], summed up what I assume is the consensus view this way –

The Serpent Mounds site (Boyle 1897; Johnson 1968) consists of nine earth burial mounds, the most striking of which is the so-called Serpent Mound. The Serpent Mound appears to be more of a crooked linear mound that actually being intended to represent the form of a serpent….the mound represents a series of construction events that took place between AD 200 and 250. (Wright 675)

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Some Sources on the “Serpent Mounds”:

The first trained archaeologist to examine the site and make public his findings was David Boyle in 1897 his report of the previous summer’s visit. Boyle was at the time perhaps Canada’s top archaeologist and had spent years focussing on the Indigenous cultures of Ontario. From 1896 to his death in 1911, he was also the director of the Ontario Provincial Museum, which morphed into the Royal Ontario Museum the following year.

David BoyleAnnual Archaeological Report 1896-1897 submitted to Minister of Education Ontario.

Click on the cover image or the title above to access the full report. [It is a 22 Mb pdf file.] The Serpent Mounds section can be found on pages 19 to 26. See here for the entire Ontario Government Report from which I extracted the Boyle archaeological report.

Before a visit to the Diamond Lake pictograph site in Temagami,  I read Boyle’s brief comments in a 1906 report on the site by W. Phillips, a “temporary assistant” working for Boyle and the Museum. (See here for Phillips’s report and Boyle’s comments.)

Boyle’s analysis proved to be mostly off-the-mark and showed little understanding of the purpose of pictographs in the culture of the Anishinaabe. Instead, he proposed an interpretation at variance with the facts.   For a more in-depth consideration, see the following post –

A Return Visit To Diamond Lake’s Pictograph Site

Boyle was one of the first to grapple with the pictograph tradition and should probably be cut some slack!

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Henry Montgomery’s report on his work on the Serpent Mound Recent Archaeological Investigations in Ontario in  Transactions of the Canadian Institute  Vol. IX, Part 1, June 1910 [Click on the title or the cover image to access the 3.1 Mb pdf file.]

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Richard B. Johnson/Royal Ontario Museum.The Archaeology of the Serpent Mounds Site. 1968. (Click on the title to access the text.)

The Internet Archive site has a copy of the thorough and detailed examination of the Serpent Mounds sites conducted over five years in the late 1950s by a Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto team led by Richard Johnson. In 2012 the ROM funded the inclusion of the digital version of the text in the Archives. The 150-page book includes at least 100 photos of stone, bone, and metal artifacts dug up, and the skeletal remains of some sixty humans interred at what was essentially a burial site. Such an excavation would likely not happen in these more sensitive times.

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 Serpent Mounds Provincial Park Management Plan. a document released by the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources in 1985. Click on the title to access the report. It provides some background to the site’s history and includes some useful sketches.

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Walter Kenyon. Mounds of Sacred Earth: Burial Mounds of Ontario. [Click on the book cover to access a pdf copy of the book.]

Kenyon summarizes the archaeological work done by Boyle (1896), Montgomery (1909), and the Johnson team (1955-1960). The 8 Mb pdf file of the book can also be downloaded here.

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J.V. Wright. A History of the Native People of Canada.

  • Volume I (10,000 – 1000 B.C.)
  • Volume II (1,000 B.C. – A.D. 500)
  • Volume III (A.D.500 – European Contact)

A three-volume set that sifts through and synthesizes the massive amount of details from the archaeological record to reveal the history and the various cultures of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples before European contact. While it is comprehensive in its approach,  Wright clearly has the non-archaeologist in mind and clearly explains critical terms and concepts. While not light reading, it shows how archaeologists have contributed to a better understanding of Canada’s Native PeopAfterfter he retired from The Natural Museum of Canada in 19Wright took on the writing 91, after thirty years of archaeological fieldwork and research for the institution. In his summary of 12,000 years of archaeological evidence in his bid to tell the story of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, he wrote –

it is unacceptable that the 12,000 years of native human history in Canada prior to the arrival of the Europeans has been largely ignored simply because there are no pre-European written records. History based upon archaeological evidence has severe limitations but that is no reason for the record of past human behaviour to be ignored or rejected as irrelevant. (See here for the source)

Volume II’s chapter 23 (pp. 607-702) Late Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Culture provides the necessary background and context for the site at Rice Lake.

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Serpentine. Andrew King.

Andrew King provides some speculative alt-history à la History Channel for those who like some fantasy with their dates and facts. See here for what seems to be a digital copy of the above book. His WordPress site can be accessed here. It is also where I found the coloured site image I used above.

In the first few pages, I read this –

…right here in Ontario, just a few hundreds kilometres west of Ottawa, there is another massive ancient serpent structure, but it remains closed off to the public. It is the only one of its kind in Canada but has been studied without current technical advances in archaeological resources. 

This large snake effigy on Rice Lake, south of the village of Keene in Peterborough County, was constructed thousands of years ago, yet its greater purpose remains unknown. (bold face is mine)

The brief passage raises several obvious objections –  

  • “Massive ancient serpent” is certainly hyperbole for a 60 m x 6 m mostly linear earth structure.
  • To state that “it remains closed off to the public” without explaining that it was the Hiawatha First Nation’s decision suggests an attempt to keep us – the public –  from finding out some more profound truth about the mounds.
  • More hyperbole in the statement that the archaeological work that has been done on it is somehow very dated. It also does not mention that further excavation work has been forbidden, thus limiting any possible future analysis to non-invasive techniques acceptable to the Hiawatha community.
  •  “Thousands of years ago” puts an unnecessarily distant past spin on what archaeologists agree is an Adena/Hopewell culture like the Point Peninsula culture of 1800 years ago in the eastern Lake Ontario region.
  • As for its greater purpose remaining unknown, is its importance as a site where one of the four essential lifecycle rituals was conducted not enough? [The others being birth, puberty, and marriage…]  

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satellite view of Roach Point on Rice Lake’s north shore

Visiting The Serpent Mounds in 2022?

For a look at what the Serpent Mounds site looks like these days, this Youtube video from 2018  (the only clip I found about the site) will give you an idea. The commentary is from two guys showing a fuzzy understanding of the site’s significance. Their choice of title for the video says it all! A trailer park!

As I watched it,  I thought – How could Ontario Parks have supposed it was okay to set up a campground and children’s play area on a burial ground? Still unclear to me is if this was the idea of the leadership at Hiawatha First Nation or of the  Ontario Parks people.

The Historic Site was taken over by the Hiawatha First Nation in 1995. By 2009 it was decided to close the park to visitors. It has remained closed ever since. Perhaps private visits can be arranged via a visit to or communication with the nearby First Nation. The author of Serpentine got permission to visit the site while researching material for his book.

Trip Advisor Forums and Comments: 

Doing a search for “Serpent Mounds” and “Serpent Mounds Park” in the Tripadvisor Forum’s Ontario section turned up nothing… not one question or recommendation or comment. Given the site has been closed for 12 years, it seems to have slipped out of any discussion of southern Ontario Indigenous historic sites.

Tripadvisor has a few comments about Serpent Mounds Park,  most sad because of the closing and the deteriorating condition of the site.

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εφήμερος – A Late-April Snowfall in Toronto’s Riverdale!

The Greek word εφήμερος (ephēmeros) translates as “lasting a day”.  It came to mind as I stood by the patio door and watched as our Icelandic sheepdog Viggo returned from his morning yard duty.

a late April snow shower in Toronto

Overnight a couple of centimeters (i.e. an inch) of snow had fallen and the effect was a surprise winter wonderland in late April. Even if this is not that unusual, it still makes you look at things a bit differently!  By tomorrow it will all have melted – ephemeral indeed! – and we’ll be back to April showers. In the meanwhile, I figured I would frame some images before the snow disappeared.

In my attempt to include Viggo in an image, I tossed a treat in the location where I wanted him to pose. Well, he couldn’t find it – and now he was looking at me for an explanation – and another treat!

From the backyard, we headed out into our Riverdale neighbourhood for our morning walk. The iPhone came along to capture more of the “here today, gone tomorrow” collision of snow and spring.

a light dusting of snow covers our backyard

We stopped for a quick pose at the front of the house – no tossed treat this time! – and then we were off.

 

Viggo’s morning ramble – short version

One of our usual morning hikes involves a walk around the old Don Jail and the new hospital and then a walk up to the Adult Learning Center on the Danforth before we turn around and head back home.  It is a 3.5 km. walk that takes us about an hour or so, depending on how much sniffing Viggo feels is necessary and how many other dogs we bump into.

About 150 meters to our right as we walked our trail the Don River flows down to Lake Ontario. However, between us and the river runs the Don Valley Parkway, an unused railway line, and a string of Ontario Hydro power lines. Time has dulled their presence in my mind and for a Zen moment or two, I forget that I am smack dab in the middle of six million people!

We are heading for our daily rendezvous with Mr. Tree, probably the oldest living thing (including me!) in the surrounding area. Up the path in the image we walk and then turn left, heading twenty meters towards the river – and that highway!

There is a path that loops around the tree in a circle.  I follow the Tibetan Buddhist custom which has pilgrims go around the stupa in a clockwise direction. As we walk by,  I always touch one of the burls!

Then it is up to the Adult Learning Center on the other side of the footbridge.  Across the Don Valley Expressway ramp, we go. Behind the school, we meet the white fluffball of a dog – I think he’s a Maltese – that Viggo likes.  After they exchange sniffs, we begin our return home, this time walking through the bush on the hillside above the trail we had walked earlier. Yet more sniffing is on tap!

For me, walking forest trails definitely brings back fond memories of a childhood spent playing in the bush that was a couple of streets away from the Noranda Mines company house on the edge of the town that I grew up in.  It was where we spent hours playing, imagining, building, pretending…the year round.

I had to laugh the other day when I saw an explanation of the benefits of spending time outdoors in the urban forest. This statement of the obvious even has a theory attached to it – Attention Restoration Theory! (See here for the article if you need a chuckle too!) Who knew I was engaging in Restorative Environment therapy all the while!

Out of the woods and now we were on the top of the east side of the Don River valley with its fine view of downtown T.O. You can see the CN Tower tucked behind the copper-colored skyscraper.

one of Bike Share Toronto’s 625 stations scattered across the city

As we walk south along Broadview I looked back to get a shot of one of Toronto’s most popular tobogganing hills and beyond that the wooded area we had been walking in.  There were a few youngsters with their plastic sliders and parents watching over them up top. There really wasn’t enough snow and it was fairly wet and sticky so the sliding was not the best!

The Broadview Tobogganing Hill

Given that students are at home and in-class instruction is not happening, a break from online instruction and independent learning is always appreciated!

We left Broadview and its grand views of the Don Valley and downtown and headed down our residential street, stopping every once in a while to see how the budding flowers had fared.  Get ready to see daffodils, grape hyacinths, and tulips shivering in a blanket of snow!

Here is what I learned from a Weather Network article posted this afternoon:

Bulb-based plants such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, will likely fare just fine, as they’re a hardy lot.  More delicate plants, such as your blossoming magnolia tree, won’t be so lucky, and may see a premature flower drop, robbing passersby of their normal glory. As for perennials, some may experience a late-season winter burn, and there may be some browning and die-off, depending on the plant. See here for the article.

And that was it for our morning walk in the snow, not quite the five centimeters forecast but still a nice touch!  Tomorrow morning I’ll redo the shot in the image above.  It is a safe bet that the snow will all have disappeared. εφήμερος!

As soon as we got home, Viggo picked up his favourite fetching toy, and on we moved to the next activity in his daily program!  See the post below for a replay of how it goes –

Playing Fetch With  Viggo On A Rainy Day In Toronto – Nov. 30

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Georgian Bay’s North and East Coast – Paddlers’ Eye Candy

As longtime canoe trippers on the rivers and lakes of the Canadian Shield, it has only been in the past six years that the possibility of paddling the northern and eastern shores of Georgian Bay drew the attention of my brother and me.  It began with a four-day trip around Philip Edward Island at the north end of the bay with the La Cloche Mountain range of Killarney as the backdrop to some stunning coastal scenery, memorable campsites, and day after day with something novel – no portages!

The Essential Book On Paddling and Hiking The G’ Bay Coast:

Kas Stone

Essential to our preparation for that first trip and often consulted since is Kas Stone’s 2008 guidebook Paddling and Hiking The Georgian Bay Coast.

In it, you’ll find detailed descriptions of over thirty excursions, each complete with maps, info on access points and the natural and cultural history of the area, and a list of key points to visit for each excursion.  The stunning photographs included in the book will convince any reader to begin their own exploration of the G’Bay Coast. The book is an investment, and it will add to your understanding and appreciation of a somehow overlooked corner of Ontario that would draw Canadian travellers if it was anywhere else but in their own backyard!

looking north to the La Cloche range from Big Bay Rock on Philip Edward island

My brother and I came back from our PEI teaser of an introduction to the Georgian Bay coast and were already planning a return visit, something a bit longer and more ambitious than our PEI tour.

heading down a channel on the north shore of the Georgian Bay coast

The fact that this paddlers’ paradise is less than three hours from the urban sprawl of the Toronto area is remarkable. You leave the city at 7 a.m., and at 10, you are paddling down the east side of Franklin Island or on your way to the Minks or McCoys!

Hincks Island stop at the bottom of Beaverstone Bay

The one significant objective danger on Georgian Bay is potentially rough water if the wind – often from the SE –  is blowing hard.  Lack of sound judgment is the one significant subjective danger!

If you’re a paddler other than a beginner – i.e. at least an advanced novice – you should be okay as long as you know when to

  • change the route that you spent all that time planning,
  • get off the water in the face of difficult weather conditions
  • make use of some of those 30,000 islands as windscreens as you paddle your way
  • wear your life jacket at all times!

It will be the weather that dictates the route; as paddlers, we listen and adapt.

the now-closed Georgian Bay Fishing Camp on the north shore of Georgian Bay

our beached canoe on Used To Be Island

An open canoe – even one without a spray skirt – is fine most of the time when paddling the coast. Since our first visit, my brother and I have spent another 20 days or so on various canoe trips along the shore of the Bay and have only experienced seriously rough water once. That time it prompted us to scrap a much-anticipated return visit to the Bustards, a collection of some 600 islands and rocks at the bottom of the French River delta. After passing by the fishing camp pictured above,  we headed for the mainland shore and a quieter day’s paddle behind various islands, thanks to the 30+ km/hr. winds out in the open water.

A kayak is, without a doubt, the safer option for a paddling adventure on the Bay.

  • A much lower profile,
  • a lower center of gravity,
  • a fully enclosed cockpit –

the advantages are there. I would get to find that out myself on an eight-day trip down the coast from Killarney to Snug Harbour, just outside of Parry Sound. [See here for a map.]

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

The coastal waters can be busy with boat traffic during the prime summer months, especially on the weekends and in the stretch from Parry Sound down to Port Severn.  Our solution has been to stay north of Parry Sound and go in June before Canada Day or after Labour Day in September.  We rarely see other paddlers and only a few fishing boats out there, and getting a great campsite is never an issue.

signs of new growth on lower Fox Creek after the fire of 2018 started by the wind turbine construction crew

lichen on red granite on Georgian Bay

our sheltered campsite in Fox Bay on an overcast afternoon

sunset on the Bustards in Georgian Bay

approaching the Bustard Rock lighthouses

beaching our canoe near the main Bustard Rocks lighthouse

campsite on Tanvat Island in the Bustards

sunrise over Byng Inlet

my kayak front deck – calm water in Hangdog Channel Georgian Bay

portrait view of the sunset from Pickerel Bay CS633

a view of the Pointe au Baril lighthouse from the dock

Henvey Inlet wind turbines from 20 km. away

our tents on the rocks – Garland Island northern Minks

dawn-on-garland-island-late-august

a paddler in Franklin Island Channel

paddlers savouring the end of another day – the sun sets over the Minks and McCoys

A Region Rich In Geological and Human History:

Not only is the coast an open book of geological ages, but it is also saturated with layer upon layer of cultural history.

  • The Anishinaabeg (i.e. Algonkian-speaking peoples) have made this area their home for perhaps two thousand years. The names of many lakes and rivers, and bays along the coast are witness to their enduring presence.
  • The echoes of the fur trade – the coureurs de bois and the later voyageurs in their ten-meter-long NorthWest Co. canots du Maître – can still be heard.
  • The lumbermen who came in the late 19th C also left their mark, as did the fishing crews and the fishing stations they built on islands along the coast.

In the photo below, we would paddle around that island in Black Bay to the west end of the Voyageur Channel and beach our canoe at a spot we now know as la Prairie des Français. We had paddled by the flat open area a few times but did not know the story. This is where the voyageurs would set up camp for the night after their one-day descent of the French River from Lake Nipissing!  Toni Harting’s book The French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers alerted us to the history of the area and added an extra dimension to our “explorations”!

  • a Group of Seven moment as we paddle up Batt Bay to Black Bay

Tanvat Island Portage in the Bustards  – west side

Snug Harbour – the end of the quieter northern half of the coast

Georgian Bay – A U.N. Biosphere Reserve Since 2004

Meanwhile, more reading makes clear how little I knew about G’Bay and its natural and cultural history.  It is a Biosphere Reserve whose significance was recognized by the United Nations UNESCO branch in 2004. As the website states in its webpage dedicated to the Bay –

The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve comprises the largest island archipelago of the North American Great Lakes. Known locally as ‘The Thirty Thousand Islands’, it consists of a complex association of bays, inlets, sounds, islands, and shoals lying along the edge of the Canadian Shield bedrock, whose low lying hills and ridges characterize the adjacent mainland. This topography supports a rich mosaic of forests, wetlands, and rocky habitat types with associated biodiversity. It is also noted for its extraordinary scenic views which attract large numbers of summer residents, cruising boaters, and seasonal visitors.

While the boundaries of the Biosphere do not include the north shore of the Bay and its many islands  – i.e. the stretch up from the French River delta to Beaverstone Bay and Philip Edward Island – what is found within the lines on the map above more than lives up to the description. The north shore from Key Harbour offers more of the same and has less boat traffic than the section from Parry Sound to the Severn River and Midland.

Georgian Bay & The Group of Seven 

While the Georgian Bay coast may be paddlers’ eye candy, the region also attracted some members of the Group of Seven. From the La Cloche Mountains and Killarney in the north to Go Home Bay and points south, these painters found inspiration in their travels up and down the Bay.

Thanks to Jim and Sue Waddington’s  35-year quest to stand in the very spots where these painters set up their easels – places they arrived at through a lot of detective work and on-the-ground searching –  we get a book like their  In The Footsteps of the Group of Seven.  It includes dozens of fascinating examples of their camera perspective matching the painter’s eye. While their search led them all across the country, in Georgian Bay they found many locations whose scenery inspired Group members to put it to paint.  Here are a few from the Go Home Bay area –

Tom Thomson. Cottage on a Rocky Bay. 1914.

Fred Varley. Stormy Weather Georgian Bay. 1921.

Franklin Carmichael. A Grey Day. 1916.

Planning Your Own G’ Bay Kayak or Canoe Trip:

If you are looking for a one-week escape this summer, then a Georgian Bay kayak or canoe trip with a put-in at Chikanishing, Snug Harbour, or Hartley Bay may be the answer!

The following trip reports include maps and information on

  • logistics,
  • shuttles,
  • gear rentals,
  • campsite locations,
  • cultural history

and other aspects of the adventure that should help to organize your own Georgian Bay adventure.

A Four-Day Canoe Trip Around Philip Edward Island:

Philip Edward Island canoe trip route

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

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

From Killarney’s Chikanishing Creek to Snug Harbour 

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

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 French River Delta and the Bustard Islands:

overview of our 110 km. Ramble in the Delta

Logistics, Maps  & Day 1 (Hartley Bay To the French River’s “The Elbow”)

Day 2 – From The Elbow to the Bustards

Day 3 – From the Bustards To Eagle Next Point (West boundary of Park)

Day 4 – From Eagle Nest Point to East of the Fingerboard

Day 5 – To Bass Creek And The Park’s East Side

Day 6 – From the Georgian Bay Coast Up To Pickerel Bay (The Elephants)

Day 7 – From Pickerel Bay To Hartley Bay To Recollet Falls To Home

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