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 his death 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 a number of U.S. states and the Canadian province of P.E.I. In Ontario, only Polar Bear Provincial Park is larger in size.  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 major gateway to Wabakimi Provincial Park.  It gets the name “Station” from the Cold-War-era Pinetree Line radar station 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 twelve hours later were at Marathon on top of Lake Superior. 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. Just to the north 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 itself has a grocery store, a couple of restaurants, a hotel, and a gas station. Just south of Armstrong Station are a number of 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. [

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.


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 do 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 a number of options.
  • Choose the one at the far right of the page – Backcountry Registration – clicking on it will open a number of parks including Wabakimi near the very end. 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.


The De Havilland Beaver/Otter Option:

Mattice Lake Outfitters and Wabakimi Outfitters both 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:

Given the $800.+ cost of the plane ride, and since there was a cheaper option, 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.)


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 on its way 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 for a 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 major 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 did the canoe trip in 2010, the VIA schedule had the train arrive at Armstrong Stn. at 8:30 p.m.  This explains why we are standing in the dark in the image below waiting for a train that was almost three hours late!

The new schedule also means 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 had met Tim and Sandy Eaton (the owners of the 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 the establishment of Wabakimi Provincial Park in the 1980s.

Tim asked for the train to stop 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 make sure all of our gear got tossed off the baggage car! 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 have a clue about 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


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 mostly 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 any information on portages and campsites.  For that, the next four sources will provide you with the info you need.

Ken Kokanie’s Map Set 

In our map case, we had Ken Kokanie’s excellent annotated trip map.  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 very next summer we purchased his Kopka 2 canoe route package and found it to be 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 the maps that Mills provides 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. What its creators have done is collate 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 that of 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 certain 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 here for the day-by-day trip reports with maps, portage, and 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.

The Archaeologist David Boyle on Rice Lake in 1897

Hundreds of acres of its surface are covered with wild rice, and it has thus been always a favorite 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 neighborhood were extremely favorable. 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 that, as the quote above notes,  was part of a thousands-year-old water highway used by Indigenous Peoples to travel from Georgian Bay to Lake Ontario via the Kawarthas and the Otonabee and Trent Rivers.

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, it was one of five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (thought to be Cayuga), who had a village on the north shore of Rice Lake. Before that, as the map below indicates, it was the Wendat, another Iroquoian people better known as the Huron, who lived on the north shore of Lake Ontario 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 made use of 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.


Hiawatha First Nation:

These days it is the Hiawatha First Nation that can be found on the shores of Rice Lake. The map below indicates their territory – about 2145 acres in all –  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 the year 1700 at the end of the Algonkian/Iroquois World War.  The Mississaugas took over land abandoned by the Iroquois who retreated across Lake Ontario to their Haudenosaunee heartland.

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 named him Hiawatha instead!  See here for a full explanation.  In spite of 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 would presumably represent the Iroquois, known by the uncomplimentary name Nadoways (the big snakes) to the Anishinaabe;  the smaller mounds would represent the Mississauga and their clan totem. If Chief Paudash is right, 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.

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.


The Rice Lake Serpent Mound Site:

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, there is only one mound said to be in the shape of a serpent (Mound E on the David Boyle sketch of the site). The other eight mounds are oval or circular in appearance; they are also 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 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, both Indigenous and non-, thought the mounds had been built for defensive purposes during the Algonkian-Iroquois War of the late-1600s. Others, like Robert Paudash quoted above, would a few years after Boyle also identify the main mound as a serpent. In the Paudash account, the smaller mounds represented turtles.  He said that they had been built as a memorial to victory over the upstate New York Iroquois in the great war.


Key Dates in the Serpent Mound/Rice Lake Story:

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

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

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

1000 – 1550   Iroquoian Wendat settlement of the area

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 take 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 retreat south to their Haudenosaunee homeland.

1818   Treaty 20. The Rice Lake Treaty 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,  visits the Rice Lake site and conducts the first “professional” examination of the site

1897    Boyle’s report on the Serpent Mounds published by 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 describes 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 archaeological work on the Serpent Mounds appears in the Transactions of the Canadian Institute  Vol. IX, Part 1, June

1923   Williams Treaties signed by (imposed by would be more accurate) the governments of Canada and Ontario and by seven First Nations of the Chippewa of Lake Simcoe (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 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 becomes 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 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 came to 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


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 exactly what had been 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 head of the “serpent” actually points in a northeasterly direction and not west as it appears to in the sketch 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, as well as the overly narrow profile and the extended tail.

In 1909 Henry Montgomery (see here for a brief bio) and a team of diggers did some archaeological work on the “serpent mound”.  The next 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, that is, 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.


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 thought to be an egg. The mound is from 30 to 100 cm. high and from 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

When you compare the two mounds, it seems fair to question Boyle’s interpretation.  While one clearly and undeniably looks like a serpent, the other could well be a tadpole!  And while one definitely has an oval shape within what is easy to interpret as its jaw, it is certainly a stretch to interpret the mound that Boyle examined as another rendition of a serpent with egg.

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, whose 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 very 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 in spite of 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 a number of 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, as well as 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 a thirty-year period the specific nature of the largest of the Rice Lake mounds 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)


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 Boyle. Annual Archaeological Report 1896-1897 submitted to Minister of Education Ontario.

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

I should note that before a visit to the Diamond Lake pictograph site in Temagami,  I read his brief comments contained in a report about the pictographs submitted 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 of the Canadian Shield. Instead, he proposed an interpretation that is 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 I should probably cut him some slack!


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.]


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 a five-year period 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, as well as of 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.


 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 history of the site and includes some useful sketches.


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.


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 unfold the history and the various cultures of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples before European contact. While it is detailed and comprehensive in its approach,  Wright clearly has the non-archaeologist in mind and explains key terms and concepts clearly. While certainly not light reading, it is essential for anyone wanting to get a deeper understanding of how archaeologists have contributed to a better understanding of Canada’s Native People.

Wright took on the writing after his retirement from The Natural Museum of Canada in 1991, after thirty years of archaeological fieldwork and research for the institution. Of 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.


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 made use of 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 a number of obvious objections –  

  • “Massive ancient serpent” is certainly hyperbole for a 60 m x 6 m mostly linear earth structure, 
  • “but it remains closed off to the public” without explaining that it was the choice of the First Nation to do so suggests an attempt to keep us from finding out some deeper truth about the mounds.
  • more hyperbole in the statement that the archaeological work that has been done on it is somehow very dated.
  •  “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 key lifecycle rituals was conducted not enough?  [the others being birth, puberty, and marriage…]  


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

Visiting The Serpent Mounds in 2021?

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 who show a pretty 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 thought 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 when he was 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 possibilities of paddling the northern and eastern shore 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 quite 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 as well as the natural and cultural history of the area, 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

On Georgian Bay itself, the one significant objective danger 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 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 from down the coast from Killarney to Snug Harbour, which is 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 especially the stretch from Parry Sound down to Port Severn.  Our solution has been to stay north of Parry Sound and to 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


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 the last 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!  It was Toni Harting’s book The French River: Canoeing The River of the Stick Wavers that alerted us to the history of the area and in so doing 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

In the 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 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 – spots 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 that of the painter’s eye. While their search led them all across the country, in Georgian Bay they found a number of 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 – vaccinated or not! – then a Georgian Bay kayak or canoe trip with a put-in at Chikanishing or Snug Harbour or Hartley Bay may be just 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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Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Route Options, Maps, Shuttles, Permits, And More

Previous Post: Temagami & Lady Evelyn Canoe Trip: Introduction and a Bit of History

Route Options:

The Lady Evelyn from top to bottom – route choices

Both headwater branches of the Lady Evelyn can be accessed by vehicle. After a short ride west along Hwy 560 from Elk Lake towards Gowganda, you take the gravel road on the south side of the highway to Beauty Lake.  The map below illustrates the basic route and the two options you have once you approach the north end of Beauty Lake –

  • go left and you will be on the former Liskeard Lumber Road.  You can put in at a number of points on the North Branch of the river along the way.
  • go right and you will hit the Montreal River and the put-in to access Lady Evelyn’s South Branch;

See here for the full Parks Ontario map, which shows park boundaries as of 2007

The North Branch:

From Beauty Lake

The headwaters of Lady Evelyn’s North Branch (LE-NB) is the lake just south of Beauty Lake –  Headwater Lake. Some paddlers put in at Beauty and work their way down through a string of small lakes – Island, Paddle, and Carmen – followed by a 1500m portage and then to another possible put-in at the north end of Gooseneck Lake. Weekend Lake, the one after Kaa,  is the first lake within the Park’s boundaries.

By now, even those Type A paddlers (like me) who insist on completing everything to the nth degree are wondering why they didn’t just spare themselves the probable drudgery of this initial stretch which often involves too-shallow water and the stream running right alongside the gravel road.

From Gamble Lake

The common solution: driving down the Liskeard Lumber Road, marked in green on the map.  Note that the section inside the park is not always in the best shape thanks to flooding and maintenance issues.  A put-in at Gamble Lake is the start of many a trip down the Lady Evelyn.

If your choice is the North Branch, the two Ottertooth maps below should be in your map case.  They are clear, up-to-date (2017), and annotated with useful information.  Click on these two titles:

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Beauty Lake Road Access

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Trethewey (takes the paddler down below Gamble lake)

See below for possible shuttle arrangements.

The South Branch Option:

Via Smoothwater Lake (Montreal River Put-In)

The headwaters of Lady Evelyn’s South Branch (LE-SB) lies to the southwest of Beauty Lake.  Instead of taking the left fork at the top of Beauty Lake, follow the right fork until you come to the Montreal River and the bridge.  From the put-in, it is a fifteen-kilometer paddle up the Montreal River to  Smoothwater Lake, a lake with a renowned beach on the east side

A 650-meter portage into Apex Lake at the south end of the lake (the same portage used by paddlers on their way to Scarecrow Lake and Ishpatina Ridge) and you are in the river’s headwaters.

At the east end of Apex Lake, another carry takes you into Whitemud Lake, which is where some possible difficulties await.  We thought of it as the mandatory entry fee as we dealt with the first few kilometers of an often-shallow stretch of river blocked with beaver dams and deadfall that can wear you down with their frequency.  This is not really the place to bring your kevlar/carbon fiber 40-lb. canoe!

Via Lakefield Air to Florence Lake

There is a way of avoiding the potential slogfest of the very top of the SB.  In 2020, $800 will get you a bush plane ride from Lakeland Air on the Temagami waterfront to Florence Lake.  The lake is about a day’s paddle SE of Whitemud Lake and makes for an easier entry point to a canoe trip down the Lady Evelyn River.  Florence is one of Temagami’s most scenic lakes and its relative inaccessibility – either a fly-in or a paddle in from LE-SB or from Solace P.P. – makes it even more attractive.  After a night or two on Florence Lake,  you paddle down the outlet river to access LE-SB.

Florence Lake to Lady Evelyn River South Branch

There is an excellent map at the Ottertooth site which lays out the details of accessing the LE-SB.  It takes you from the put-in on the Montreal River almost down to Florence Lake.

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Smoothwater

Another Brian Back/Ottertooth map continues where the Smoothwater map ends and goes as far as The Forks, the point where the NB and the SB merge.

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Florence

See below for more on maps.

The Forks To Katherine Lake:

The Lady Evelyn – From The Forks To Katherine Lake

The Forks is where the two branches of the LE merge and for the next twelve kilometers the LE is one flow – i.e. the main channel.  From 358 meters a.s.l. at the Forks, a dozen sets of rapids and falls will take paddlers down to 333 meters on Katherine Lake. There are some great campsites along the way,  a chance to spend some time at your very own Shangri-La,  and a possible side trip up to Dry Lake.  Then it is down another two kilometers to the bottom end of Katherine Lake – once known as Divide lake because it is here that the river splits in two again.

Another Ottertooth map and accompanying description cover this stretch of the river:

The Forks-Lady Evelyn River – Macpherson Lake

Katherine Lake To Lady Evelyn Lake:

Katherine Lake – aka Divide Lake – is where another choice has to be made.  There are two channels, both characterized by dramatic waterfalls and rough portage trails, that await the paddler. The south channel is a bit longer – perhaps 7.5 km as opposed to 6.5.

No matter which one you choose there will be a significant drop – from 333m on Katherine Lake to 282 m in Sucker Gut Lake.  Portage trails are marked in red.

Lady Evelyn’s North Channel:

Of the two channels, the six-kilometer stretch of the North Channel (NC) is the more popular, perhaps because the portaging is easier or because of better campsite possibilities. As the map above shows, there are three major falls to deal with, as well as a couple of portages as you leave Katherine Lake.  Once below Frank Falls, you are in Sucker Gut Lake and close to a side trip to Maple Mountain or east to Obisaga Narrows and the paddle across Lady Evelyn Lake to Mowat Landing.

Lady Evelyn’s South Channel:

The longer South Channel (SC) also involves three major waterfalls and a few portages. While the Natural Resources Canada topo has the NC falls named, this is not the case for the SC’s, perhaps an indication that it has historically been less travelled than the NC.

The channel widens into Willow Island Lake, at the north end of which there used to be a waterfall before the 1925 Mattawapika dam raised the water level of Lady Evelyn Lake by an estimated five meters.  See this Ottertooth page for some background on the SC.

Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

Detailed descriptions of the various portages and things to watch out for can be found here.

For those planning to continue to Diamond Lake, the bottom of the SC puts them at the start of the “two-miler” portage into Diamond Lake and a possible exit at Ferguson Bay or the end of the Temagami Access Road further down on Lake Temagami.

Across Lady Evelyn Lake:

As you paddle down the north end of Sucker Gut Lake, you enter what we now think of as the south arm of Lady Evelyn Lake.  It stretches all the way south to Diamond Lake. At the west end of the lake is a site marked on a 1905 map as “Indian House”.  It refers to the cabin and small garden of Wendaban, whose hunting ground the Lady Evelyn Lake area was until his death in 1894. The 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 meters) rise in the water level of the lake caused by the completion of the Mattawapika Dam in 1925 makes it difficult to figure out the exact location of the cabin – but we did look around for any evidence that time or water have not erased.

from Sucker Gut Lake to the mouth of the Lady Evelyn/Montreal River

Crossing the Lady Evelyn from west to east should not present the paddler with the same difficulties that those heading west often face – i.e. prevailing winds from the NW or SW. It took us a day to paddle from one end of the lake to the east end; we spent two hours the next morning going down the final narrow stretch of the river to the Mattawapika Dam and then the short paddle across the Montreal River to Mowat Landing and our vehicle.


Approximate Kilometer Count:

North Branch Option: 

  • 110 km            from Beauty Lake to Mowat Landing
  •    20 km               Beauty Lake to Gamble Lake
  •      9 km               Gamble Lake to the Forks

South Branch Option:

  • 130 km            from Montreal R put-in to Mowat Landing via S Channel
  •   19  km            from put-in to the south end of Smoothwater Lake
  •    19 km             from Apex to the mouth of the Florence River (including portages)
  •    21 km             from the mouth of the Florence R to The Forks

From The Forks To W End of Lady Evelyn Lake

  • 15 km             from the Forks to the bottom of Katharine Lake
  • 26 km              from Katharine Lake to the N end of Sucker Gut Lake
  • 20 km              from W end of Lady Evelyn Lake to Mattawapika Island
  • 10 km              from Mattawapika Island to Mowat Landing

Side trips to Florence Lake, Dry Lake above Katharine Lake, and Maple Mountain above Tupper Lake will add to the kilometer count.


Our Route Choices:

We decided to come down the river’s South Branch.  It allows a vehicle shuttle to the put-in on the Montreal River and we got to paddle up Smoothwater Lake again.

We had briefly considered a Lakeland Air insertion on Florence Lake but for us, there is something about doing the whole river that made it a second choice.  The price of entry via the SB late in the season is a four-hour slog between Whitemud Lake and the Jerry Creek/LE-SB confluence.

A  bonus of a South Branch entry is that it allows for an easy side trip to Florence Lake. We spent a couple of nights there.  A scramble up to the viewpoint on the southwest corner of Florence Lake was a trip highlight.

Day 1 – To The Put-In and Up River To Smoothwater Lake

Day 2 – From Smoothwater  to an “It’ll Do” CS on the South Branch

Day 3 – From Our Makeshift South Branch CS To Florence Lake

Day 4 – On Florence Lake

Day 5 – From Florence Lake To The Forks (And A Bit Beyond)

Day 6 – From Just Below The Forks to Macpherson Lake Island CS

Day 7 – From Macpherson Lake To The South Channel’s Bridal Veil Falls

After negotiating a dozen sets of rapids from The Forks to Katherine Lake,  The South Channel was our choice of descent to Willow Island Lake, leaving the North Channel for another possible visit.

Day 8 – From Bridal Veil Falls To The Bottom of the South Channel

The paddle across Lady Evelyn Lake proved to be uneventful. Given the prevailing winds, it is usually those paddlers crossing the lake from east to west that have problems.

Day 9 – From The South Channel To The West End of Lady Evelyn Lake

Days 10 & 11 – From The West End of Lady Evelyn Lake to Mowat Landing

The trip ended with an easy portage around  Mattawapika Dam;  from there we paddled across the Montreal River to our vehicle parked at the Mowat Landing Cottages property.

Shuttles: Four of the Options

A put-in for either the north or south branch of the river will mean some shuttle arrangements.

1. Self-shuttle with two vehicles:

If you have two vehicles, you can do it yourself, leaving one at the put-in and one at the take-out at Mowat Landing.  It would be free but there is a cost – i.e. about four hours spent jockeying cars back and forth. We did notice a few vehicles on the side of the road in a small parking area off Beauty Lake Road at the put-in on the Montreal River.

At Mowat Landing, on Labour Day weekend the small parking area was full and vehicles lined the side of the gravel road for 100 meters.  Many of them belong to people who have gone up to the fishing lodges on Lady Evelyn Lake and those people do not require permits to leave their vehicles there.  Your vehicle would not stand out if it did not have a permit. We went with the worry-free option and left our vehicle on the Mowat Landing Cottages property; there is a $40. a week charge for the service.

2. Temagami Outfitting Co.

Their website has the following information as far as cost is concerned –

 +1 416-835-0963

If you decided to end the trip at Mowat Landing, you would also have to make an arrangement for the outfitters to leave your vehicle there.  If doing the entire river was not that important to you, the alternative is to paddle back to your vehicle in Temagami village via Diamond Lake and Lake Temagami once you got to the bottom of the North or South Channels.

3. Smoothwater Outfitters   


Smoothwater Outfitters is located 15 kilometers north of Temagami Village just off the west side of Hwy 11 on Smoothwater Road.  I sent an email regarding shuttle options and got this detailed response –

The best drive-in access for the Lady Evelyn River is Gamble Lake. The alternate route from Smoothwater Lake (using the Montreal River access point) adds distance and involves significantly more effort, as there are a few long portages between Smoothwater Lake  and Gamble Lake. So, I’m suggesting that you will want to start at Gamble Lake, but that’s your choice to make. The shuttle cost to the Montreal River access point is $395. The shuttle cost to Gamble Lake is $450.

While on the way to either access, we can drive into Mowat Landing to leave your vehicle there for an additional $100.

Lots of good advice along with the cost of the various options. Interestingly, going down the south branch from Apex Lake is not considered but the brutal series of portages from Smoothwater to Gamble is!

4. Mowat Landing Cottages:

+1 705 647 2550

Mowat Landing – and the Cottages property – is located 70 kilometers north of Temagami with the final 20 km. stretch on Hwy 558 from Hwy. 11.  The long-time owners are Trevor and Lisa Graydon.

Mowat Landing ended up being our shuttle choice. For $250 + HST we got a shuttle to the Montreal River put-in; another $60 paid for leaving our vehicle on their property for 11 days instead of on the side of Hwy. 558 near the public boat ramp; we also spent another $35 to camp on one of their tent sites by the river the night before the shuttle so that we could get going fairly early – 8:30 – the next morning.

By 10:45 a.m. we were already paddling up the Montreal to Smoothwater Lake!


Fed. Gov’t. `:50,000 Topographical Maps:

The Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada 1:50.000 Topographical Map sheets. The first five maps were produced in 2010 and include the following note:

  1. 041 P 10 Gowganda   
  2. 041 P 07_Smoothwater Lake 
  3. 041 P 02_Pilgrim Creek (south    section of Florence Lake) 
  4. 041 P 01_Obabika Lake (bottom part of Lady Evelyn South Channel) 
  5. 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake  
  6. 031 M 05__Cobalt   1996  

The above jpg files are 5 Mb in size and on my WordPress server.  You can access the original tif or pdf files at the Natural Resources Canada website here by using the map sheet i.d. above to access the correct folders and sub-folders.  The size of the NRC tif files is in the 20 Mb range.

David Crawshay’s Topo Canada iOS App for iPhone enables you to download all of the above to your iPhone.  While leaving the iPhone on all day to use as your primary GPS device would eat up battery power like crazy, it is very useful to make a quick confirmation that you are indeed where you think you are! Download Crawshay’s app here.

Toporama Canada Online Map:

Toporama is NRC’s modern version of the archived topo sheets.  It is essentially a seamless map of the entire country and allows you to extract from and apply to the map all sorts of additional information and features.

The Ottertooth Website Maps: 

The Brian Back/ Ottertooth maps are the most up-to-date and informative maps available for a good chunk of a trip down the Lady Evelyn.  They take you right to the bottom of the North and South Channels of the river below Katherine Lake.

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Beauty Lake Road Access

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Trethewey (takes the paddler down below Gamble Lake)

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Smoothwater

Temagami’s Canoe Atlas: Florence

Gray’s River (the bottom of the map has the LE Main Channel from the Forks to Macpherson)

Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

Chrismar Temagami Maps:

Two maps in  Chrismar Mapping’s Adventure Series cover the Lady Evelyn River from top to bottom. [See here for coverage.]

They are  Temagami 4 (2011 vintage) and Temagami 1.  (Mine is from 2008 but there has been a refresh since, mostly with updated contact info.)

The 1:80,000 scale maps show campsite locations, all rapids and falls; portages are marked and calculated to the nearest ten meters. The backside is covered with related information and could serve as all the bedtime reading you’ll need!

In conjunction with the 1:50,000 NRC topos and the Ottertooth maps (both free downloads), and the essential Wilson maps mentioned below, you’d be more than all set!

Hap Wilson: Temagami Guidebook and The Cabin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilson’s Maps from the book:

We are obsessed enough about the weight that we leave guidebooks behind, only scanning and printing what we need.  Wilson’s notes and maps on the Lady Evelyn route are scattered throughout his book [p.58; 92-93; 112-115].

First, we scan the relevant information and then rearrange it in trip order;  we also enlarge some of the maps to make them easier to read while we’re on the move.  In this case, the result was a printed 13-page pdf file that went inside our map case,  along with a Chrismar map [Temagami 4 or 1]  and one day’s worth of 1:50,000 NRC topo map.

Backcountry Camping Permits:

Ontario Parks backcountry fees structure for parks in the Temagami area –

See here for the source.

For some reason, the Temagami-area parks have gone to a per campsite fee instead of a per camper fee.  In Algonquin, it would cost my brother and me – both seniors – $10 each per night or $20 combined.  In Lady Evelyn P.P. we get to spend an extra $10. a day per campsite, thanks to the fact that there are only two of us.  The larger the group, the more of a deal it becomes – and the more stress to that campsite!

“Streamlining” Camping Fees by Quadrupling Them For Solo Canoe Trippers! 

As for the solo canoe tripper who is not yet a senior –  $37 per campsite! This is absurd to the point of encouraging paddlers to skip the fees altogether and hope for the best – or paying for as many days as they would have under the old fare structure.  This would leave solo or party-of-two paddlers with a few days of no coverage. However,

  • Given how few park officials there are to check camping permits,
  • given the isolation of the top stretch from Florence or Beauty Lake to the bottoms of the two channels below Katherine Lake,

it may be worth the gamble. Apparently, the fine is $125. if you have no permit at all and $75. if your permit does not cover all your nights.

See this thread on the Canadian Canoe routes forum for Jonathan Kelly’s articulate and thoughtful initial post – and all the others which followed.

“Ontario Parks Quadrupled Rates for Soloists in Some Parks”

This petition also deals with the issue.

Hugh Carey started the petition. He introduced it this way –

Click here to access the webpage,  sign your name to the petition addressed to the Ontario Minister of the Environment Jeff Yurek,  and perhaps make a contribution.

Fishing Permits:

While I have never enjoyed fishing, for some it is an essential part of a canoe trip.  The following links should provide those canoe trippers who are also avid fishermen/women with what they need to know before they set off:

Fishing Licence – Canadian Residents

Fishing Licence – Non-Canadian Residents

Zone 11 Information – Regulations and Limits

I had no idea it was so complicated – and expensive! – for non-residents!  Any comments on the Lady Evelyn as a fishing mecca will be appreciated by some readers keen to know the whereabouts of any great fishing spots. Leave your tips in the Comments section below!

Deforestation In the Temagami Area:

In July of 2018, there was a huge wildfire in the area to the northeast of Lady Evelyn Lake. The map below shows its extent, with the red representing the most recent forest loss. [Note that another reason for some of the other areas of forest loss may be logging activity and not fire.]

Check out this website (here) if you want to take a closer look at the Temagami area (or any other!) as you plan your route.  It provides an extra layer of context to the journey!

Current Fire Situation:

We paddled down the river during the last two weeks of summer.  No fires to report!  In late August there had been one small fire reported in the Trethewey Lake area.  One thing we can expect is that if there was a fire, officials will be doing all possible to put it out.

This would contrast with our experience during a Wabakimi canoe trip.  We kept expecting to see water bombers appear to put out the flames that we could see from a few kilometers away.  We were informed by the park official who got out of the park helicopter and beckoned us across the river that sometimes parks management will happily let a fire burn decades of accumulated deadfall while still trying to protect outposts and lodges.

Ontario Forest Fire Map

Cellphone Coverage:

In short – we were not expecting any except on the last day as we paddle down to the Mattawapika Dam.  The various lodges at the east end of the lake seem to have cellphone coverage. Other than that, you are basically off the grid.  [Update: no cell coverage for us even at the east end of LE.]

We brought along our Garmin inReach Explorer+; it can send an emergency notice, as well as send and receive emails.  The real-time tracking feature which lets the folks at home know where we are is a bonus, as is the weather forecast feature, with info supplied to Garmin by Dark Sky, recently acquired by Apple and slated to become its de facto weather app.

cell phone coverage – Temagami Canoe Country


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


See also – 

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

Day 3 – From Our “It’ll Do” Campsite To Florence Lake

Day 4 – On Florence Lake

Day 5 – From Florence Lake To Just Below The Forks of the Lady Evelyn

Day 6 – From Just Below The Forks to Macpherson Lake Island CS

Day 7 – From Macpherson Lake To The South Channel’s Bridal Veil Falls

Day 8 – From Bridal Veil Falls To The Bottom of the South Channel

Day 9 – From The South Channel To The West End of Lady Evelyn Lake

Days 10 & 11 – From The West End of Lady Evelyn lake to Mowat Landing

Posted in Anishinaabek World, Temagami, wilderness canoe tripping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Rainy Day in Toronto: Nov. 30, 2020.

See Viggo’s Den for more on our engaging Icelandic Sheepdog Viggo.

The weather forecast for the next three days is not good. Rain, rain, and more rain – and maybe a bit of snow too! On the map, it looks like we are being side-swiped by a weather system coming up from the U.S. mid-west.

Viggo was not too keen on stepping out this morning! I had to grab the big umbrella and go out with him so that he could get his business done!

Then it was right back inside. No five-kilometer walk this morning! Instead of a walk in the rain,  we played our first game of fetch much earlier than usual.  We may be doing this more often over the next few days.

I sit on the floor by the couch in the living room and toss the stuffed jelly bean to the far end of the kitchen at the other end of the house. It used to be a rubber ball but after he had 14 teeth taken out six weeks ago we changed to something softer on his mouth! He gets a treat each and every time he delivers the bean. [He has trained me well!]

Here he is waiting for the toss –

And here he is bringing it back for that treat!

The 15-to-20 toss game over, Viggo hopped up on the bolster pillow stuffed between the back of the couch and the front window and looked outside.  I surf into another weather app to see when I can go for a bike ride next.

Meanwhile, my thoughts returned to the opinion piece I had read a few minutes earlier in today’s NY Times – Jochen Bittner’s 1918 Germany Has a Warning for America.  

It draws alarming parallels between the

  • the myth of the Stolen Election, the Big Lie perpetrated by Trump and enabled by the Republican Party and
  • the German “Stab in the Back” myth of 1918 that Hitler was able to exploit in his rise to power.

The extent to which the ongoing political/social/cultural/economic disaster to the south of us has taken over my consciousness day after day is depressing. It may turn out that in this year of the double virus, the Trump Virus will have a more devastating long-term effect on the USA than Covid-19.

“Just focus on something else,” my mind tells me. “Maybe try focusing on Canada’s problems instead!”.  And on top of everything, we then throw covid-19 into the mix!   Viggo provides brief Zen moments of relief.  A lifelong history, news, and politics junkie, I really need to go on a complete news detox for a while – and walk Viggo more!

Viggo keeps guard at the front window and lets us know if anyone dares to step onto our front porch. Advert flyers, Amazon boxes, FedEx deliveries, Canada Post mail are all announced with a series of sharp barks. How can this little guy make such noise?

Later on this afternoon – rain or not- we will step out for a short walk.  I’ll slip on his rain jacket;  that should keep at least 50% of him dry as he sniffs his way down the street and around the neighbourhood.

Right now though – it is time for another round of Fetch!

The Adventures of Viggo In “Roverdale” has more of our little hooligan!

Viggo stirring up the snow

Posted in Ramblin' With Viggo | 2 Comments

 Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top to Bottom: Days 10 and 11 – Across Lady Evelyn Lake To Mowat Landing

Previous Post: Day 9 – From The South Channel To The North End of Lady Evelyn Lake

Day 10 – From West To East Across Lady Evelyn Lake

  • distance: 18.5 km with a  pass by of Garden Island Lodge
  • time: 8:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.
  • portages/rapids:  0/0
  • weather: cloudy, overcast, everything from misty to full-on downpour
  • campsite: official signed site on Mattawapika Island; 2-3 2p tents, one good  4-P site near the fire pit.
  • Maps: NRC 1:50,000 –  041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake.

We woke up to light rain.  The weather forecast called for an overcast morning with a 40% chance of rain which would increase to 80% by 1:00.  Light wind from the SW was also on the menu. We had decided to put in some kilometers before the big rains came; three or four hours would allow us to paddle all the way to the east end of the lake. While a number of the islands are private land – cottages or fishing lodges – there are more than a few campsite choices, as the map below indicates.

campsites at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake

The first job – as always –  was to put most of the contents that were inside the tent back into their jars, containers, Ziploc bags, compression sacs, etc – and then put everything inside the Watershed duffle that holds all our must-stay-dry things.

We have yet to embrace the 60-liter barrels that have gradually taken over since the mid-1980s when some Ottawa-area canoe trippers, including Wally Shaber, first started using discarded olive barrels instead of the traditional clunky wannigans or the cotton canvas Duluth-style packs that were popular at the time. Shaber’s involvement in the paddling gear center Trailhead and the canoe tripping outfit Black Feather helped to popularize the blue barrels.

the campsite scene in the morning – tent already down

While Max took down the tent, I retrieved our food bag and got breakfast ready. Since the tarps were already up from the night before, the tent underneath came down dry and we had a dry spot for breakfast.

the front area of our campsite on the point – west end of Lady Evelyn Lake

We took a last look at our campsite; it is on an elevated section of a gravel/sand deposit left by the last retreating glacier some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

a last shot of the campsite on the point – Lady Evelyn Lake

Lady Evelyn Before & After The Flooding:

Later when we pushed off from the spit, we took the shot above and wondered if the site was the same as the location referred to as Preacher’s Point on a map at the Garden Island Fishing Lodge website.

We also considered the possibility that the spit we had camped on had once been a ridge above the cabin and small garden area belonging to Wendaban, the mid-to-late 1800s Ojibwe owner of the hunting grounds of which Lady Evelyn Lake formed the core. A map drawn by F.G. Speck in 1913 with the input of Ojibwe residents of Bear Island indicates Wendaban’s territory as #24. [See the end of the day’s post for more on the Wendaban story and possible locations of his cabin.]

When it comes to Lady Evelyn Lake, there is one big problem in trying to find shoreline locations like that of Wedaban’s house from 150 years ago – the shoreline has changed dramatically!  Looking at Speck’s map from 1913, it is clear that back then, Lady Evelyn Lake was essentially the section of the lake we think of these days as the south arm.

At the south end was Lady Evelyn Falls, where the water tumbled down from Diamond Lake ( previous Ojibwe name – Nonwakaming Lake). Beyond Obisaga Narrows to the east, Speck’s map shows the Lake narrowing significantly as it flows to Mattawapika Falls and the final plunge down to the Montreal River near James Mowat’s farm, which was established around 1900.

This map below was produced by a 1900 Ontario Gov’t sponsored survey team commissioned to explore/survey this part of northeastern Ontario as the first step of opening up the area to the exploitation of lumber and mineral resources and for colonization. It provides a more detailed view of Lady Evelyn Lake; it also labelled the long narrow stretch above the Mattawapika Falls as Mattawapika Lake.

Lady Evelyn Lake – 1900 map

Another map – this one from 1907 – labels things a bit differently. While it only shows the top part of Lady Evelyn Lake, it does show the section from Obisaga Narrows to the Montreal River.

Lady Evelyn Lake – the north end to Montreal River – 1907 map – see here for the source

Even a cursory look at a recent map of Lady Evelyn Lake will make clear the impact of the dam.   It was constructed at Mattawapika Falls – the first in 1915 was followed by a much higher one in 1925 – and is said to have raised the water level of the lake by 5 meters.

What was a fairly narrow river passage from Obisaga Narrows eastward became a man-made lake rivalling the pre-1925 Lady Evelyn Lake on the west side of the Narrows!  The south side was especially affected by the higher water level. However, all the way west to Willow Island Lake, new bays and lakes appeared as old shorelines disappeared.

So too did rapids and waterfalls as the higher water level covered them up!

  • Gone, for example, was the 1.5 meter Willow Island Falls at the outlet of Willow Island Lake where it once tumbled into Lady Evelyn Lake.
  • Also gone at the south end of the Lady Evelyn Lake, where Diamond Lake’s outflow tumbles into Lady Evelyn, was Lady Evelyn Falls. These days there is a one-foot shelf that involves a short carry-over or a paddle down if water conditions allow.
  • Both pre-1925 maps above indicate a Mattawapika Lake. This may be based on a once-set of rapids that made the distinction between the two lakes possible. Those rapids would also have disappeared with the higher water level.

Paddling East on Lady Evelyn Lake:

Garden Island Lodge

We passed the north side of Garden Island and looked over at the Lodge, the furthest west of the fishing lodges on Lady Evelyn Lake.

In spite of our expectation of lots of motorboat traffic as we headed east towards the dam, it turned out to be no more than three or four over the day and a half that we were in motorboat territory. Being mid-week in September after Labour Day probably had something to do with it!

There are no signs announcing the fact but as we paddled into Obisaga Narrows we were leaving Obabika River Provincial Park and entering the East Lady Evelyn Lake Conservation Reserve.

a brief moment of the sun over Lady Evelyn Lake – it was not to last!

The sun captured in the image above was so noteworthy – it lasted for seconds and would be all we got this particular day! – that I had to get a shot.  The image also shows a glass-like Lady Evelyn surface – the wind had died down from the afternoon and evening before. It would only pick up again in mid-afternoon.

Why Was The Mattawapika Dam Built?

As we had seen at the south end of Willow Island Lake and in the west bay of Sucker Gut Lake, we now got more charred pine trunks on the north side of Lady Evelyn. You’d think that after 100 years those tree trunks would have rotted or collapsed – but apparently not!  We have come to think of them as middle-finger salutes from the companies – mining or lumber-related – responsible.

charred tree trunks in Lady Evelyn – reminders of the Dam Flooding

Electricity and Compressed Air  For Cobalt-Area Mines

While I have been unable to find any information online about who specifically constructed the Mattawapika dam, a reader of my Temagami posts did provide me with a basic explanation of why it was built – and why it remains in place almost 100 years later.

The dam was put in by mining companies operating in the area to supply water for power plants on the Montreal River. A canoe trip on the Montreal River below Latchford will have you pass over and around all of these ancient dams and compressor plants that used to be there to supply air to the mines of the area.

These days the dam holds back water to help operate the string of hydro plants on the Montreal. Many of these plants are peaking plants that operate only intermittently.  The water on Lady Evelyn Lake gets drawn down over the winter to supply hydro operations.

If you go to Lady Evelyn Lake in the early spring, as soon as the ice is gone, the lake level with be about 15 feet lower than in the summer months.  The water level has to be raised by May 15 or so to permit cottagers and others to enjoy the lake.

The Cobalt silver mining boom of the early 1900s created an instant and insatiable demand for cheap energy.

This excerpt from Charles Dumar’s excellent Cobalt- area blog provides all the detail –

Power To The Mines – see here for the source [Note: the site itself is dead as of July 2021 but it has been archived at the Wayback Machine]

So, harnessing the hydro power of the Montreal River in the stretch of the river below Latchford for electricity and for the production of compressed air was the motivating factor for building the Mattawapika Dam. Like the flood control dam built at Latchford in 1913, it allowed greater control of water supply for those facilities like

  • the hydro-electric station at Hound Chute (1910) and
  • the water-power compressed air plant at Ragged Chute Dam (1910).

The Dumar source linked above has an explanation of how the air compression plant worked. It was definitely an engineering marvel. Click on Cobalt Mining Legacy to access more of Dumar’s write-up of a little-known-by-most period of Canada’s history.

Easier Access To Logs Around Lady Evelyn Lake:

Higher water levels on Lady Evelyn Lake also eliminated a number of rapids and allowed easier access by the lumbermen. Winter cutting would be followed by spring log drives, making use of an “alligator” boat to move the log booms downstream to the log chute by the Mattawapika Dam.

The lumber company most associated with logging in the Lady Evelyn area was the A.J. Murphy Lumber Company.  An article by Edward F. Mantle, who was a Fish and Wildlife Supervisor in Sault Ste. Marie District,  provides lots of excellent detail. Titled A MONTREAL RIVER PIONEER it appeared in the Ontario logging journal YOUR FORESTS  (Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1976), it is based on interviews Mantle did with Charlie Mowat of Mowat’s Landing.  Details include the following –

The most recent and longest continuous logging operation in the area commenced in 1916. It was founded by Mr. A. J. Murphy. Known first as the Conkey and Murphy Lumber Company, the name was later changed to the A. J. Murphy Lumber Company, the name which the firm bore until its dissolution in 1960.

The Murphy limits were very extensive and stretched from the Montreal River far west to Lady Evelyn Lake. Large camps operated annually for many years in the area around Lady Evelyn Lake and every spring there was a huge drive through Lady Evelyn Lake and the Montreal River to the Murphy Mill at Latchford. This mill, located on the river southeast of Latchford, was destroyed by fire on June 22, 1957. It was later rebuilt on Bay Lake a short distance north of town.

On Lady Evelyn Lake during the drive, Murphy’s operated a large steel-hulled “alligator” tug, and two scows with sleeping quarters and kitchen facilities

See here for the entire article

Lunchtime In The Obawanga Dunes

Our route across the lake after Obisaga Narrows was one that followed the south shore. The mist and light spit of the morning turned into more of a drizzle as we were paddling past the long, narrow slivers of sand topped with tree growth known as the Obawanga Dunes. Since it was time for a lunch break, we started scanning the tops for a possible place to set up our Helinox chairs. The sign on the tree below – a sign we’d never seen before – drew our attention to the spot.  On the sign are what look like a tarp and a tent – we figured it was an emergency shelter spot indication!  In retrospect, a  more likely interpretation would be a tent icon with a slash mark through it! Odd that the circle and slash mark would have so completely faded!  The premise is that the dunes are too fragile to allow paddlers to camp on them – even though their impact would be considerably less than the wake created by the motorized fishing boats zipping up and down the lake.  There are too many fishing lodges on the lake to even question the impact of that boat traffic on the Obawanga Dunes!

About a minute after our 10’x 14′ silnylon tarp was up it started raining heavily – and then it came down even harder!  In the next 45  minutes, we got more than a day’s worth of rain while we enjoyed lunch and coffee underneath our tarp. Lucky timing!

emergency campsite – lunch spot in Lady Evelyn Lake’s Obawanga Dunes

Ellen Island Camp – a fishing lodge at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake

As noted above, there are quite a few campsite options at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake. We paddled past the Ellen Island Camp, a fishing lodge made up of six cottages and the main lodge.  Then we headed to the southwestern tip of Mattawapika Island.  The site we found was of the “it’ll do” grade with the earth wet and muddy thanks to the rain and a messy campsite left by some fishing boat party.  The only relatively flat spot for our 4-P tent was the area we tidied up fairly close to the firepit.  Smaller tents will have an easier time of it!

our campsite on lady Evelyn Lake – east end

We had just gotten off the water as the wind started to blow a little harder – now it was coming from the northwest.  Temperatures were expected to drop to freezing overnight; a new weather system was moving in!  One thing that it was forecast to include was much more sunshine than we had seen in days.

Mattawapika Island CS – canoe as windscreen

Looking at the Garmin inReach’s weather forecast we got the summary you see below.   Had that been the forecast two days before we’d have been on Hobart Lake looking up to the  Maple Mountain ridge.  Instead,  thanks to the weather cards we had been dealt, we’d decided to paddle out the next morning.

the weather forecast for Day 11

What’s With All the History Stuff?

I still remember the initial hesitation before uploading my first canoe trip report. What could my reports possibly include that would be of use or interest to potential future wilderness paddlers?  There’d be no machismo river running feats à la Adam Shoalts! Imagine me writing –

“Paddling through the rain, I approached the start of the whitewater in my canoe. They were deep rapids, free of visible rocks, but with big standing waves that could easily swamp a canoe. Naturally I decided to canoe right through them.  from the chapter on the Thelon in Beyond The Trees

Yeah, right!  I’d also never be able to include a photo of me – a vegan since 1990 with a lifelong aversion to hunting and fishing –  proudly thrusting the impressive walleye below in my outstretched arms!  There’d be no images of a campfire fish fry in my report.

apologies to Garden Island Lodge! (image from their website)

I’ve come to realize that just as other people write trip reports that suit the way they relate to “wilderness”,   I could do the same.  My outstretched arms hold not a prize fish but something else that I, a lifelong history nerd and 35-year high school teacher of world religions, social science, and history-related subjects, find personally fulfilling.

Including in my reports what I learn about the history of places paddled or trekked and the stories of the people that live(d) there – that is what I angle for! The problem, of course, is that while the walleye can be weighed and is pretty much cut and fried, “history” depends on who is holding it out and how (s)he chooses to weigh the “facts”.

While learning about the flooding of the lake definitely helped us make sense of the landscape/waterscape we were seeing, our brief entry into the world of the Ojibwe inhabitants of Temagami provided an added human dimension that enriched our trip down the Lady Evelyn from top to bottom.

It was Wendaban’s story that I found most intriguing. It was finding F.G. Speck’s Report that opened my eyes to the world of the mid-to-late 19th C world of the Temagami Ojibwe. And, as usually happens, answering a few questions has brought to light even more that I now need to find answers to!

Click on the title below to access Speck’s report in pdf format:

Aleck Paul (2nd chief), Frank Speck, and Lucy Wassageshik on Bear Island 1913

Family Hunting Territories and Social Life of Various Algonkian Bands of the Ottawa Valley. F.G. Speck. Ottawa: Government Printing Press, 1915. 

Wendaban & The Flooding of the Lake

Wendaban’s Life – Some Background Information:

While Speck provides the essential background to the world that Wendaban (also spelled Windabin) lived in, Thor Conway sketches a more detailed picture of the Ojibwe story.  It is based on thirty years of work and contact from the 1970’s onward as an Ontario Government archaeologist in the Temagami and Sault Ste. Marie area and later as an advocate for and advisor to the Temagami First Nation.

Thor Conway’s book Secrets of the Temagami Wilderness, slated for a 2017 release but not yet published,  includes a chapter on Wendaban. It is the sample chapter available on Conway’s website (see here).  In it, Wendaban is presented as a legendary and powerful Ojibwe shaman. Writes Conway:

If you envision Wendaban as Merlin the Druid of King Arthur’s tribal world, you would understand the nature of his powers and his unique position within tribal society.

How accurate a portrayal of Wendaban Conway presents is open to question.

It may be that Conway’s Wendaban is as fictional a character as Merlin was, a handy receptacle for the fantasies of storytellers who made of him what their narratives required. According to Conway, he was born circa 1818 and died in 1894; he was the son of Wabigan and the brother (younger?) of Ke’kek.

From their father they inherited their hunting grounds with Wendaban, as noted above, getting the territory contained in #24 and Ke’Kek receiving the larger 27 and 27a. Given the size of their father’s hunting territory, Wabigan may have been among the twelve Ojibwe family heads that had moved into the Temagami area from Lake Nipissing/Georgian Bay area around the year 1800.

This information comes from the report written by F.G. Speck who spent time on Bear Island in 1913 with the Ojibwe community living around the Hudson Bay Company post there. (There is a link to his report a few lines above.) Conway’s view is that the Temagami Ojibwe have lived there for many thousands of years.

In the 1840s an Ojibwe by the name of Misabi (he is named David Missabie in other accounts) came up from Lake Nipissing, perhaps from the Shawanaga area. Given that Misabi married Ke’kek’s daughter and his sister married Wendaban, it may be that it was arranged marriages that drew them both to Temagami.  Ke’kek gave Misabi a part of his hunting territory to seal the new relationship.

As for Wendaban and Misabi’s sister, Conway tells the story of their meeting this way –

Wendaban met his wife, Old Misabi’s sister, during his travels to Lake Nipissing or Georgian Bay. She belonged to a Beaver Clan family living at Shawanaga…

Not clear is what business he would have that would draw him away from Lady Evelyn Lake to Nipissing “during his travels”.   However, his connection with Nipissing is well attested.  Government records show that from 1856 to 1883 Wendaban collected government money in 22 of them as a member of the Nipissing band. He may have made a home with his wife in her community as opposed to them spending all their time in Temagami. Not stated is when his wife died.  Conway does tell the reader this –

Despite his powers over fertility and interaction with the replenishment of life for his tribe, Wendaban and his wife did not have children. So, Wendaban’s line died out.

As I read the words  “his powers over fertility and interaction with the replenishment of life” I thought – What can this flurry of words even mean?

The Location of Wendaban’s House: 

The map from 1907 below indicates a couple of locations that may correspond to that of Wedaban’s house. One has the label “Indian House” and the other “Indian Cabin”.

the north end of Lady Evelyn Lake

from Macdonald’s Nastawgan map







If the “Indian House” indicated on the north shore of the lake is the location, then it was very near to where our campsite was. Preacher’s Point is a current name that appears on some maps, like one from the Garden island Lodge above.   The name may allude to Wendaban and his shaman status, though “preacher” is really not the greatest English equivalent!

Craig Macdonald’s Nastawgan map  (see here) also locates Wedaban’s home in this approximate location. He labels it A-mik Tigwan Ago-ji-Gonay N. which translates as Place of the Hanging Beaver Skulls.  Apparently, Wendaban decorated his property with the dangling bones of various animals, including the amik or beaver.

Found at the Toronto Public Library website was another map from 1900 attributed to the Lumsden Steamboat Line. Oddly, a further note says “Specific date (year) of map is unknown”. However, given that the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad, completed up to New Liskeard from North Bay in 1904, does not appear on the map, it is safe to assume the map predates that year. At the northwest corner of then-Lady Evelyn Lake, we see the label “Windabin’s House”!

Access the entire map “Temiskaming, Temagami & Keepawa lake country” here.

A Possible Location Of The Cabin:

To the NW of our tent site is a bay that does not exist on the pre-flood maps of the area.  It is one possible location of Wendaban’s cabin. Other options include what are now small bays to the east of the campsite on top of the esker. They would have had the added advantage of providing more shelter from the NW winds.

The Flooding Of Wendaban’s House:

Conway leaves the reader with one last Wendaban story; it is connected to the flooding of Lady Evelyn Lake caused by the dam at Mattawapika Falls.

Early dams were built to assist logging drives. The flooding waters forced Wendaban from his home on an ancient point of land marked by skulls and mystery. According to Madeleine Katt Theriault, Wendaban returned home to find his log home floating and gradually sinking into the lake. Floodwaters covered his gardens causing a loss of important foods meant for storage into the winter months. The old man was driven from his lifelong home on Lady Evelyn Lake.

The story of the old yet still feared shaman paddling home only to see his cabin floating and gradually sinking into the lake is heart-breaking. The detail about the flooding of a garden area adds to the pathos of the scene.  The story is also false. [To be clear,  false as in false memory and not false as in intentional misstatement. See here for an explanation.]

Conway notes that he got the story from Madeline Theriault (1908-2000).  She was born into an Ojibwe family on Bear Island and is the author of Moose To Mocassins, an account of her life in the Temagami area with an emphasis on how she and her family lived the late 1800s version of a traditional “off the land” lifestyle until 1940 when her first husband Alex Mathias died.

[From May to September they would live near the Hudson Bay Co. post on Bear Island as members of the 100-or-so Ojibwe community and take on wage labour jobs – guide, kitchen help, cook for the various tourist lodges – as they came up. At the end of the tourist season in September/October, they would head to the hunting grounds on the Lady Evelyn River above Katherine Lake.  Macpherson Lake is mentioned as one wintertime base camp location; so too is a cabin on Diamond Lake.

The problem with the flooded cabin story is that Wendaban died in 1894, years before the Cobalt silver miners and the first loggers arrived and before even the first smaller dam was built (1915).   What the story told by Theriault does is transfer to the legend of Wendaban whatever shock and upset that the Temagami Ojibwe felt with the massive flooding caused by the 1925 Mattawapika Dam. Theriault was 17 at the time and living on Bear Island. Strangely, not once in her memoir does Theriault mention the flooding of Lady Evelyn Lake.

[In 1942, another dam was constructed at the outlet of Diamond Lake where it tumbles into the south end of Lady Evelyn. As a result,  Diamond Lake’s water level rose a few feet and a cabin was flooded. As well, some pictographs at the site just south of the lake’s outlet were submerged.  Theriault does mention this flooding in her memoir through her placing it in the 1930s is problematic since there is no record of a dam before the early 1940s. By then she was no longer staying at Diamond Lake at the winter cabin her first husband had built in 1933.  He had died in 1940. See here for her account from Moose to Mocassins.] No mention is made of other cabins on the lake before the dam’s constuction.

So, the Lady Evelyn flooding was real; it just did not happen in Wendaban’s time.  Without a doubt, Theriault’s occasional retelling of the Wendaban flood story would have evoked the indignation,  disgust, and sympathy it was meant to. This may also be why Conway includes it in his account of Wendaban’s life and perhaps embellishes it even more.

A 2004 document – Temagami First Nation Report On Water Management Planning For the Montreal and Matachewan Rivers – includes a testimonial statement attributed to Theriault.  She had died in 2000; the testimonial is borrowed from an earlier report. It does provide  an account that sounds more factual than the one above:

Madeleine Theriault testimony on the Wendaban Cabin

In this account, the cabin is untouched until the 1925 or1926 flooding. This explains why it appears on the 1900 map above. Still, some details seem off.  She notes, for example,  that she “could recall waking up in the morning to find water rising out of the floor of the cabin”.  This would imply that she was living in the cabin (with Charlie Taylor?) in 1926 when the flooding occurred! In 1923 at the age of 15, she had married Alex Mattias and they would have been living on Bear Island during the spring and summer.

The detail about the compensation for the lost cabin is also notable.  It may be an editorial comment added by whoever included her “testimonial” in the report. Given that it is the “white man” who gets the compensation, it is easy to understand the point being made!

All of the above is proof that uncritical acceptance of accounts of the past told by those who draw them from their pliable and fallible memories can lead to problems with the actual facts.

Day 11 – From Mattawapika Is. CS To The Dam and Down To Mowat Landing

  • distance: 9.4 km
  • time: 8:15 start – 9:25 (at dam) – 9:50 (portage done) – 10:05 (Mowat Landing)
  • portages/rapids:  1/0; around Mattawapika Dam
  • weather: cool (1ºC when we got up) but gloriously sunny – the sunniest day so far!
  • Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake; 031 M 05 _ Cobalt

We got up to a beautiful morning at the east end of Lady Evelyn Lake. The sky was blue, the mist was rising off the lake, and the temperature was about 4ºC, which didn’t feel so bad thanks to that sun.

dawn mist on lady Evelyn lake

dawn mist – take 2 – on Lady Evelyn Lake

On some early 1900 maps, the eastern half of what we now call Lady Evelyn Lake was labelled Mattawapika Lake. It suggests a  pre-dam set of rapids – perhaps at Obowanga Narrows – to mark the transition from one lake to the other.

Mattawapika has a number of other spellings – Mattawabika is the most common.  This Grand Trunk Railway postcard from 1909 uses Matawabika – google one or the other and you get different websites listed!

Mattawapika is an English phonetic approximation of an Algonquin place name.  Mattawa or matawa means “narrows where the waters meet”; pika or bika translates as rocky. It does capture the spot nicely!

Lake Mattawapika - Grand Trunk Railway postcard

approaching the top of the Mattawapika Dam

We were on our way by 8:15 and by 9:25 had paddled the seven kilometers to the top of the Mattawapika Dam.  One taxi boat, presumably with clients from one or more of the fishing lodges on the lake,  passed us by but that was about it for traffic. Once at the dam, we were directed from the motorboat launch to the canoers’ take-out spot, which knocked 30 meters or so off our eventual 275-meter portage.

Mattawapika dam – satellite view – canoe portage route

When we got to the landing we met a couple of other canoe parties. Two guys were just setting off for their annual visit to Maple Mountain.  They wanted to know how bad we had found Lady Evelyn, thanks to its reputation as a tough slog when the prevailing winds from the SW or NW kick in. We told them things were looking good.

The other group was, like us, exiting and heading to vehicles parked at Mowat Landing. Unlike us, they had spent the two previous days rain-bound at a campsite on Lady Evelyn Lake.  While they too had intended to paddle to Maple Mountain, the rain had convinced them otherwise.  Meanwhile, we had paddled all the way from the South Channel and Willow Island Lake!

Now I regret not taking the time, after we loaded our canoe and paddled away from the put-in below the dam and across the Montreal River, to frame a shot that would have captured the perspective of this circa 1905 postcard issued by the Grand Trunk Railway!

Mattawapika Falls – postcard issued by the Grand Trunk Railway circa 1905

It is under two kilometers from the bottom of the dam to the public dock at Mowat Landing.  Along the way, we passed White Pine Lodge on the west side of the Montreal River. The red roofs of the lodge’s cabins are visible in the image below – and in the satellite image that follows.

See the  Lodge website for the image source – here

Mowat Landing is named after the Mowat family. It was James Mowat who established a farm on the west side of the Montreal River in the year 1900. The area indicated on the map below is only a 5-acre piece of the original larger farm. His son Charles Mowat (1886-1966) would spend most of his life living there.

Edward F. Mantle wrote up the Mowat family story after a series of conversations with Charles in the late 1950s and early ’60s; while his website is now down, you can read a reformatted pdf file here.

Note: the one glaring absence from Mantle’s Mowat write-up are the Indigenous Peoples who mostly had the land to themselves before 1850. After that, the initial trickle of fur traders, trappers,  prospectors, lumbermen, farmers, miners, and outdoors enthusiasts (fishermen, hunters, canoe trippers, and more genteel lodge guests) eventually became a flood.

The website will also give you access to all sorts of interesting biographical info on the early residents and local history of the Latchford/Mowat landing/Elk Lake area.  While I have focussed heavily on the Ojibwa inhabitants who, if Speck is correct, arrived in the area around 1800, the nearby Algonkin, the fur traders, prospectors, loggers, and settlers who came somewhat later is something I need to look at to fill out the story.

Mowat Landing area – satellite view of properties

After landing at the public dock, we retrieved our vehicle from Mowat Landing Cottages. As mentioned in the initial post, we had camped on their property after driving up from Toronto. The following morning Lisa drove with us in our vehicle to the put-in off Beauty Lake Road where it crosses the Montreal River and then drove the car back to their Mowat Landing Cottages property. The camp spot by the river ($35.), the shuttle ($250.), and the car parking ($60.) solved all of the logistical problems of a canoe trip that is not a loop.

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

The planning post has information on two other commercial shuttle possibilities.  Since they start off 70 kilometers further south in Temagami Village or just north of it, they are somewhat more expensive.

Click on the header above to access the Mowat Landing Cottages website – or click here.

It was a gloriously sunny day as we made our way down Highway 11 to southern Ontario. North of North Bay there was already some visible turning in the colour of the leaves but the preponderance of spruce and pine made for a less dramatic show.

For eleven days we had not worried about COVID-19. Now as I stared out of the windshield, I noticed the package of masks on the dashboard, ready for use if we stopped anywhere on the way home.

Some Final Thoughts:

My bro usually does all the word-smithing but I have been asked for a stern report! Here it is.

From the back end (literally) the trip seems to have run smoothly. The Sunday drive from Southern Ontario north was relatively stress-free. While CoVid-19 was/is still an issue we found that northerners (anything north of North Bay – our first stop) were, for the most part, adhering to public health requirements then in-place re; physical distancing and masks. We kept individual contact to a minimum. While our vehicle is not blessed with a large fuel tank or great range, stops were only required a couple of times, more to ensure that we had enough fuel to get there without having to worry and to minimize contact.

We quickly got sorted as to where we were staying after arriving at the Graydon’s Mowat Landing complex at 4 pm. By 5:30 the tent was up and after a little bit of wandering around the site we settled in for the night. The drive up was non-stressful having left Toronto at 10 a.m. Perhaps being a Sunday had something to do with it. Beats the drive to Wabakimi! Arrangements were made for an 08:30 start the next morning which we missed by about 5 minutes.

The drive was again stress-free, taking about 90 minutes to the put-in at the Montreal River west of Lady Dufferin Lake. We wondered about the weather though because we had periods of rain and hints of sunshine. After pics and good-byes, we were off upriver by about 10:30.

Having done this section 9 years before it is interesting to note what one remembers or not. I think with the passage of time most of it felt ‘new’. However, coming into Smoothwater Lake and looking along the northeastward shore with its long expanse of sandy beach brought back memories of our previous trip. The weather was off and on sunny and very windy. We could tell from afar that our previous site was occupied and with the wind direction we opted to stay along the south shore aiming for some indicated campsites. While we looked for them we obviously did not do it well enough and our first challenge was crossing Smoothwater against the swells.  We ended up at the Marina Lake portage site which was very breezy even though we were well back on the site. It did have mushrooms though! Do fill in the journal that has been placed there (if, when you go it is still there).

Every trip begins with the desire to start and depending on the trip there is a point where you think to yourself – I wish this were done! That would have been day 2. Low water was a challenge for the upper Lady E river. I think Whitemud Lake suffers as well. One takeaway which might soften the work is knowing there will be many log overs, the occasional log under, beaver dams, and wading. We managed to hit it during a cold spell. Warmer weather would probably be better or is that nicer? Bugs would likely make this section less pleasant because speed is not something you can achieve to outrun the pests. Choose your time carefully.

Day-to-day descriptions are elsewhere in this blog. The trip can be divided into 3 basic sections from above the forks to MacPherson/Katherine Lake, from Katherine down to Willis Island Lake, and then from there to Mowat Landing. The first two are the river coming off the height of land. Each section (and day) had its challenges as noted from day 1. Each challenge was a function of section/location – incessant meandering, lifting wading, weather (rain and wetness), and forward progress. I think on Day 4 by the end (arriving at Florence Lake by 3 pm) I was suffering from some mild hypothermia as I could just stay warm with the physical activity. This is something solo paddlers would need to be very mindful of. Into the sleeping bag till next morning – no supper!! After a restful afternoon and night, I was good to go.

While you can take some shortcuts to cut off the lower part of the LE this meandering section is actually quite nice. The current is help and there were only a few logs/liftovers to impede progress. Be sure you can complete the lower whole section as camping spots to the branch are slim. Below the forks begins the descent section to Willis Island Lake. This had some of the more challenging portages that we have done (age may also be playing a part here) and it provides some of the more spectacular scenery in a series of falls and some rapids. Well worth the price of admission.

Once off of the ‘highlands’ onto the 3rd section – it is all lake paddle. The potential for ill winds and weather is always present. We had cold temperatures and off-and-on rain almost all the way to Mowat Landing. The last day was however the sunniest of the whole trip – glorious sunshine for the 2 hours it took us to get there! Even though mostly lake there are still some interesting sites to watch out for – sunken tree stands (flooding from the dam), finger islands (again a flood feature or remnant). Having a history buff as a paddling partner does help the journey with some context. Knowing those trees have been standing (flooded) for 100 years, paddling over former rapids and family hunting territories all add to the ‘view’.

If  VIA’s “The Canadian” is running next summer, we may take it from Toronto to Savant Lake for a paddle down the top half of the Ogoki River fromEndogoki Lake. If not, we may return to the north end of the Temagami region and the northern branch of the lady Evelyn to complete our Lady Evelyn experience.

A Day-By-Day Account of Our Trip:

The following posts cover the entire river from its South Branch headwaters in Apex Lake to its mouth at the Montreal River.

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

Temagami’s Lake Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Route Options, Maps, Shuttles, Permits, and More

Day 1 – To The Put-In And Up River To Smoothwater Lake

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

Day 3 – From Our “It’ll Do” Campsite To Florence Lake

Day 4 – On Florence Lake

Day 5 – From Florence Lake To Just Below The Forks of the Lady Evelyn

Day 6 – From Just Below The Forks to Macpherson Lake Island CS

Day 7 – From Macpherson Lake To The South Channel’s Bridal Veil Falls

Day 8 – From Bridal Veil Falls To The Bottom of the South Channel

Day 9 – From The South Channel To The West End of Lady Evelyn Lake

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Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Day 9 – From the South Channel to Lady Evelyn Lake’s West End

Previous Post: Day 8 – From Bridal Veil Falls To the Bottom of the South Channel

Day 9 – From South Channel to West End of Lady Evelyn Lake

  • distance: 20.5 km.
  • time: 10:30 – 2:30
  • weather: very wet; passing thunderstorm; some torrential downpours.
  • rapids/portages: none; only flat water paddling
  • campsite: an official signed campsite on a point at the west end of Lady Evelyn Lake complete with “thunderbox”.
  • Hunting Grounds: those of Wendaban (#24 on Speck’s map from 1913) from Willow Island Lake all the way to the Montreal River. Wendaban died in the early 1890s.
  • Maps: NRC 1:50,000 – 041 P 01_Obabika Lake;  041 P 08_Lady Evelyn Lake.

Note: Start with the bottom map!

The evening before we had accessed the weather forecast for the day with our Garmin inReach Explorer+ device.  Some 60 mm. of rain were predicted!

It was raining when we woke up at our customary 6:45 so we ended up sleeping in a bit longer. By 8:30,  the pitter-patter on the tarp over our tent had stopped.  We decided the day would not be a rain day, that we’d move on even if it was only ten or fifteen kilometers north on Willow Island Lake. The first task was to pack away the contents of the tent – i.e. the sleeping bags, Thermarest pads, spare clothing, and all of our other absolutely- cannot-get-wet stuff.  It all goes into the 75-liter Watershed Colorado duffel. It has done the job for the past eight years – never had an issue. One admission – after our first trip, we decided that to prevent possible punctures we would “baby” the bag by putting it inside a rugged MEC ballistic nylon duffel bag. That way we could toss it ashore or drop it on the side of a portage trail without worry. The MEC bag’s extra 2.2 lbs are worth the peace of mind!

While Max took down the tent, I went down to the canoe and the tarp we had set up above it and got the breakfast going. First, I retrieved the food bags from where we had put them the night before – about fifty meters away from our tent near the shore. It has been years since we have bothered to hang our food bag, a change we made when paddling Wabakimi in NW Ontario, where black spruce is just not made for the hanging routine.

Back under the tarp and with the canoe as a tabletop,  I  got out the butane canister and screw-on stovetop to boil 1.5  liters of water, which had already been filtered with a Platypus 4-liter Gravity Works filtration system. We also make use of a Steripen Adventurer water purifier which uses UV rays to treat the water. While the water was on the way to boiling,  I got out the packages of oatmeal mix and ground coffee from the food bag; bowls, spoons, and coffee cups, and coffee filters came out of that red bag you see sitting on the canoe. By the time Max had stuffed away all the tent parts into various sacks, breakfast was ready.

There I sit with my coffee mug to my side;  I had just been looking at David Crawshay’s Topo Canada app on my iPhone to get a sense of how far we might get this day, hoping to paddle in between heavy downpours and through light sprinkles of rain.

sitting under the tarp on a cool wet morning on the Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

Everything we have – except for our life jackets and paddles – goes into four bags – our two 115-liter portage packs and two large size duffels. Before we put them in the canoe, we slipped each one into a construction-grade XL garbage bag we bring along for wet days like this.

some of the vertical rock at the south end of Willow Island Lake

As you paddle down the narrow channel from South Channel to Willow Island Lake there is some eye-catching vertical rock.  Our eyes were especially drawn to a detached vertical slab at the right end of the rock you see in the image above. It reminded us of the so-called Conjurer’s Rock at the east end of Chee-skon Lake, said to be a sacred site to the traditional Temagami Ojibwe because the shape reminded them of the shaking tent. The “tent” is an enclosed cylindrical structure about 2 meters high with an open top and was used by their shamans to connect with the spirit world and receive guidance and medicine.

a Norval Morrisseau drawing of Mikinak, the turtle messenger for the manitos, approaching the shaman’s shaking tent

Lately, I’ve become somewhat skeptical of this Chee-skon stone “pillar” as “shaking tent” interpretation and think it may just be the result of some overly-enthusiastic non-Indigenous person intending to bolster Temagami First Nation land claim arguments by creating “sacred” spots around the Lake Temagami area. Of course, I may be wrong and am always open to evidence to the contrary.

a rock slab broken off from the rest of the rock face

As the map of the Temagami area drawn up in 1913 by the American anthropologist F.G. Speck shows, we were now paddling in the mid-to-late 1880s hunting grounds connected with Wendaban.  Around 1840 or 1850 his father had split his hunting grounds into two –

  • 27 for one son – Ke’kek- and
  • 24 for his other son, Wendaban.

Then, when a fellow Ojibwe named Misabi came up to Temagami, apparently from the Lake Nipissing area, and married Ke’kek’s daughter, Ke’kek gave the southern part of his hunting grounds to Misabi –  i.e. 27a.  Since Florence Lake, we had been paddling in the hunting grounds associated with Misabi. For the rest of our trip, we’d be in Wendaban’s mid-to-late 1880s territory. (Wendaban died in 1894.)

Wendaban kept a cabin and a small garden at the north end of what is now the south arm of  Lady Evelyn Lake. With our 1905 pre-flooding map as a guide, we hoped – maybe even on this day – to come close to the site where the cabin would have stood before the dam changed the shoreline.

See here for the entire Temagami hunting ground map, now used by the Temagami First nation as the map of their claimed homeland, Ndaki Menan

The Boundaries of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park:

Now that we had slipped into Willow Island Lake,  we were no longer in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Park!  We were also in a space not categorized as “wilderness” so we could expect fishermen in motorboats from here on all the way across Lady Evelyn.

This is not to say that motorized boats are prohibited within the park:

  • At the west end of the park, motorboat traffic is allowed all the way up to and including Smoothwater Lake from the Beauty Lake Road put-in.
  • In the South Channel,  motorboats are allowed all the way up to the first set of rapids.

The evening before we had seen some fishermen in a boat just a bit east of our campsite and wondered what they were doing there.  It turns out they had every right to be there! A wilderness park with motorboat privileges!

Willow Island Lake, Sucker Gut Lake, and the once-main section (but now just the south arm) of Lady Evelyn Lake all belong to Obabika River Waterway Provincial Park, created in 1989 and enlarged a few years later. Since Lady Evelyn empties into the Montreal River, it does seem odd to include it in a park whose waters end up in the Sturgeon River and then Lake Nipissing!

As we headed north on Willow Island Lake, we passed by a group of six canoe trippers.  They came out of the woods and to the edge of their elevated campsite and we exchanged some comments about the weather and their decision to stay off the water this day. We all agreed that stay or go, the Temagami we were experiencing made for an excellent character-building exercise. While it wasn’t raining as we had our brief chat,  within two or three kilometers of our encounter, we had to get off the water.  We had heard the sound of approaching thunder and pulled ashore and hunkered down for about 30 minutes while the storm passed through.

The Way Things Used To Be:

It is about 15 kilometers from the south end of Willow Island Lake to the point where Sucker Gut Lake becomes Lady Evelyn Lake.  In spite of our half-hour stop, we made good time since it never really rained hard while we were paddling and the wind, such as it was, was blowing from the south.  By 2 we were around the corner and heading east on Lady Evelyn Lake and by 3 our tent was up.

Sucker Gut lake and the clear view of Maple Mountain Ridge

Along the way, we got to see again the charred trunks of the pines standing like mute sentinels in the section of Sucker Gut Lake that stretches westward towards Maple Mountain Ridge. The arrow on the map above shows the spot where we looked west towards the Maple Mountain Ridge; had it not been for the cloud cover and rain we would have seen again the view in the photo below.

view of Maple Mountain ridge from Sucker Gut Lake – blue sky image is from a previous trip

On two other occasions, we have paddled that bay to access Hobart Lake and one of our all-time favourite campsites. However,  the weather had soured us on a visit to Maple Mountain this time. We looked west towards the ridge –  but paddled north!

On our first visit, we had no idea that the Sucker Gut area had been flooded with the completion in 1925 of a dam at Mattawapika Falls, which was where the Lady Evelyn tumbled into the Montreal River. The dam raised water levels on the enlarged lake behind it by 5 meters. It replaced a smaller dam that had been constructed in 1915,

The 1907 map below – drawn 8 years before the first Mattawapika Dam was completed – shows just how much the flooding altered the landscape – and waterscape – of the area we were paddling on this day. The next day’s route would show an even more extensive change to the pre-flooding terrain.

  • Thanks to the flooding, it looks like a new lake – Sucker Gut Lake – was created in the area south of Emily (now Hobart) Lake and north of Chris Willis Lake.
  • The flooding also completely covered up Willow Island Falls (5’/1.5m) at the bottom (i.e.north) end of Willow Island Lake.
  • A 3/4 mile (1200 m) portage into Hobart Lake is indicated on the map. I wonder how often it has been walked in the past 100 years!

the northwest end of Lady Evelyn Lake

We did not take many photos this wet day.  We were intent on just moving forward and putting in some kilometers before the predicted big(ger) rains came in mid-afternoon.  We almost succeeded. The rain picked again just as we pulled into a signed campsite on the north side of Lady Evelyn Lake.

The satellite image above shows the spot. [ The faint white lines  also indicate some private properties  (one to the NW of our site and two across from our campsite)  and of the Garden Island Lodge to the east.]

a view from the water  of our campsite on the point – Lady Evelyn Lake

The site is located on the flat top of a  sandy spit that juts out into the lake. We found signs of use by fishing groups staying at one of the fishing lodges or private cottages/camps on the lake. Three plywood fish-gutting tables, beer cans, and an assortment of other garbage. This site, and the one we stayed at the next night, were the two messiest of the 10 we stayed at.  Often we just paddle on when we come to a messy site like this.

This time we stayed. The site is fairly close to the location of the Indian House indicated on the 1907 map above.  The next post goes into more detail.

a view of the front of the campsite on the point

After the wind convinced us that putting up a tarp close to the end of the point was not a good idea, we headed in a bit and found a more sheltered spot. With the tarp up in the rain, the tent was next. Meanwhile, the various packs and duffels were underneath our second tarp.  A half-hour later that tarp was also up and we were working on having a lunch that we had let slip by in our failed bid to beat the big rain to a campsite.

While we waited for the water to boil we snacked on Pringle’s remnants and sipped on Gatorade. It was a wet afternoon that stretched into the evening but we had managed that delicate canoe tripper’s balance – moving forward while staying dry!

Pringles pieces looking a lot like corn flakes – pre-supper snack

Next Post: The Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Days 10 and 11 – From the West End of Lady Evelyn Lake To Mowat Landing

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Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top to Bottom: Day 8 – From Bridal Veil Falls To The Bottom of The South Channel

Previous Post: Day 7 – From Macpherson Lake To the South Channel’s Bridal Veil Falls

Day 8  –  Lady Evelyn’s South Channel from Bridal Veil Falls To The Bottom

  • distance: 9.7 km.
  • time: 9:15 to 1:15
  • portages/rapids: finished the Bridal Veil portage – challenging; lined and ran the three sets of rapids described by Wilson as Rapid #15; portaged river left around Fatman’s Falls; three sets of CI rapids below Fatman’s easily dealt with
  • weather: cool and sunny
  • campsite: river left (north) side of the South Channel – a sheltered spot at the top of a spacious  gently sloped stretch of a rock outcrop

Thanks to our campsite close to the smaller side falls,  we were invigorated by the energized air – the negative ions – being created. We inhaled deeply and figured this would be a great spot for a yoga session.   I’ll admit though that  I had put in the earplugs to deaden the sound somewhat when I crawled into my sleeping bag.

There had been a bit of rain overnight but things were clear when we got up this morning. The first part of the portage – from the take-out spot to the campsite – had mostly been on a flat woodland trail.  From the campsite to the put-in at the bottom, the trail becomes more difficult. Wet moss and lichen on the sloped rockface do not make for a solid footing!  A couple of slips while carrying a pack and duffel and then the canoe down to the end resulted in a left quad strain and my right knee not just bashed but gashed.

Bridal Veil Falls from the put-in below

Once down at the bottom we got some great views of the entire falls – the main falls to the left and the side falls next to which the campsite is located.

Lady Evelyn South Channel – below Bridal Veil Falls

Just below the put-in, we paddled past the gravel deposit as the river bends to the south, the deposit a reminder of the not-too-distant glacier past of 10,000  to 12,000 years ago. It would take thousands of years more before enough soil was formed to support the vegetation which would draw the animals which would draw the mid-to-late-Archaic Period (8000 B.C.E. – 1000 B.C.E.) hunter/gatherers up to what must have been until then barren grounds. Still in the future was the arrival of a Woodlands culture like the Algonquin or the Ojibwe, two Indigenous peoples belonging to the Anishinaabe language family.

Bridal Veil Falls and the gravel banks below on the Lady Evelyn’s south channel

We look at our canoe trips in a number of different ways. The overriding one focusses on the sheer good fortune we have to be able to be out there – fit enough, rich enough, commitment-free enough, skilled (just) enough to be able to make our way down and across beautiful slices of the Canadian Shield that few get to experience. Every day is a “wow” as we paddle into new vistas. To some,  it may all seem like the same photo but to us, it is always special.

looking back at the gravel banks below Bridal Veil Falls on the Lady Evelyn River

On the opposite end of the scale,  there is another view we take, a more practical one. We see each day on the water as a series of problems we need to solve.  They range from easy to difficult and we know that we have probably faced something very similar on a previous trip and were able to figure it out.

The biggest problems usually involve rapids or portages, though sometimes the weather – temperature, wind, rain, and lightning  – create problems too. With respect to “problems”, we try to gather as much info as possible before the trip so that we have a better idea of what it is we will face. Drawing on information and advice from reliable sources only makes our eventual responses that much more likely to be correct. And sometimes, you can have all the detailed info and ignore it – see our Day 6 canoe flip as proof!

Wilson’s Temptation Alley – Rapids #15 on the Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

Coming up soon after the eye-catching gravel banks lining the shore was a one-kilometer stretch of river which Hap Wilson labels as  Rapid #15 (rated CII to CIII). The various sets of rapids that make up #15 are given the nickname “Temptation Alley” in his Temagami guidebook, an essential source for anyone paddling Temagami’s lakes and rivers. He describes it as “a classic boulder bash with three separate runs”. We focussed on the comment that “all can be lined in the summer”.

So – we had the two following solutions to our “problem”:

  • a 900-meter good portage on river left  or
  • a line & run job down three sets of rapids in shallow late-season water

Anything to save time and energy, eh? An hour and a half later of non-stop hopping from rock to rock and hauling our less-than-willing canoe downriver, we were at the bottom of “Temptation Alley”.  The Lord’s Prayer says “Lead us not into Temptation…”  We had made the wrong choice!  In our case,  “can be lined” did not equal “bros, go ahead and line it”, especially in mid-September! Live and learn…and remember the next time!

Pics of our pretty intense workout are scarce! Once or twice,  one of us observed that we maybe were getting too old for this! (Note: we have since reconsidered this rash assessment made under duress!)

Here is the only pic we took: it was taken from the bottom of a rough section between the first two wider and round river sections you see on the bottom of the above satellite image. It took us a head-shaking half-hour to move the less-than-100-meters between the two!

the bottom of a boulder garden stretch of too-shallow Lady Evelyn

We did eventually get to the end, rueing our decision to stay with the river instead of doing the portage, which would have taken less than an hour and been much less stressful.  Apparently, the trail is a good one so it would not have been a repeat of the portage above Bridal Veil or the last section of the Bridal Veil trail itself.

And then – boom! the next “problem”! – Fatman’s Falls. Well,  no choice here – we pulled in at the top of the falls and got ready to carry gear and canoe to the other end of the trail, parts of which were actually walkable.  It is only a 100-meter carry so how bad can it be!

Fatman’s Falls on the Lady Evelyn

looking down the Lady Evelyn below Fatman’s Falls

It is the last stretch of the portage trail, the section that takes you down quite steeply to the shore and the put-in, that we will not forget. However, in hauling the packs I somehow missed the new and somewhat more gentle path down to the water and ended up going down via the legendary Fatman’s Squeeze.

coming through Fatman’s Squeeze on the Lady Evelyn’s South Branch

I stood there at the end of the Squeeze and looked down the 45º slope to the put-in and inhaled deeply. While coming through the Squeeze with a canoe and then walking it down to the shore was never on my non-existent bucket list,  I figured the photo op was too good to pass up.

The rest of the video is down below!

portage trail from Fatman’s Squeeze to the water –

In the image above the last bit of the trail goes down a pile of jagged rock rubble diagonally from the Squeeze on the middle right to the water. Click on the image to access the white arrow pointing to the exact location of the gap you come through before doing the descent.

Max played videographer!  He was using my camera, one he was not familiar with – and my suggestion to use the viewfinder just confused him since he has always just used the LCD screen.  However, he did recover and shoot the rest of the descent – a less-than-graceful carry in which both ends of the canoe took a few bumps as I made my way down the steep and uneven slope.

The image below, taken a few minutes later, shows the same bit of trail from the bottom up.

Max sitting at the bottom of the last few meters of the Fatman Falls portage

Fatman’s Falls panorama

The Falls on the left and the final section of the portage trail to the right – our last look at Fatman’s before we continued our way down the Lady Evelyn.

one last view of Fatman Falls and the steep trail down to the water

Below Fatman’s Falls is another short set of rapids – #16 in the Wilson Guidebook. We lined the ledge at the top and then did a mix of lining and running the rest in shallow water. [The Chrismar map indicates a 290-meter portage on river left.]

Two more sets of rapids – both CI and easily run with some water.  We spent a couple of minutes at each examining the boulder arrangement and looking for the best channel to go down.

From Down River To Flat Water Paddling!

And with that, the down part of our Lady Evelyn River experience was over!  From now on we would be on flat water (about 289 meters a.s.l.) all the way to Mattawapika Dam some 40 kilometers to the east! Apex lake, the river’s headwaters, sits at 389 m a.s.l. – so from top to bottom, the river makes a 100-meter drop.

at the bottom of Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

Of that, 50% of the drop happens from Katherine Lake (341 m)  down either of the two channels to Willow Island or Sucker Gut Lakes, whose water level is the same as Lady Evelyn Lake thanks to the impact of the Mattawapika Dam.

We would start to see reminders of that impact.  In years past we had seen similar dead tree trunks in Sucker Gut Lake on our way to Maple Mountain. At the time,  we didn’t even know how they had come to be like that!  Here we were at the end of the South Channel where it soon becomes Willow Island Lake and we were seeing the same thing.

reminders of the great flooding caused by the Mattawapika Dam in 1925

We paddled almost to the end of the South Channel before stopping at a spacious south-facing campsite around 1:00 p.m. Before we did anything else, we had lunch. Then we strung a line between a couple of trees and put out our gear to catch the wind and occasional rays of the sun; the previous day had been a wet one.

designated campsite near the end of Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

the front yard of our Lady Evelyn South Channel campsite

I also had some time to continue my quest for the blue mushroom, the Lactarius indigo. Thanks to the day’s slips and falls I found I could not even bend down completely to frame my macro shots the way I wanted. Luckily the camera’s LCD screen is hinged so I was able to compensate.

the mushroom quest continued – Day 8 and still no blue mushroom!

By 8:00 it was all but dark but for a while before that, we enjoyed the sun’s fading presence as it slipped down in the western sky.

a Temagami sunset on the Lady Evelyn River (South Channel)

Along with my leg aches and pains, I had somehow come down with whatever had ailed Max five days previously – some sort of digestive upset that had me leaving the tent four or five times during the night for a visit to the box you see below.

I considered Giardiasis or “beaver fever” as the cause of the symptoms I was experiencing but the fact that the next day I was feeling much better – just as Max had the day after his bout of whatever – seems to eliminate that as an explanation.

the thunderbox behind our tent on Lady Evelyn south channel campsite

Our weather app and the emails from home were telling us that the next day would be a very wet day in Temagami. We had a new “problem”: did we stay put the next day as the incoming weather system did its thing – or did we keep on going?

Next Post: Day 9 – From The Lady Evelyn River’s South Channel to the West End of Lady Evelyn Lake

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Temagami’s Lady Evelyn River From Top To Bottom: Day 7 – From Macpherson Lake Island Camp To Bridal Veil Falls

Previous Post: Day 6 – From Just Below The Forks To Macpherson Lake

Day 7 – Down The South Channel To Bridal Veil Falls

  • Distance: 10.7 km.
  • Time: 9:30 to 3:50
  • Portages/Rapids: portaged all except the second set coming into Stonehenge Lake and the first set on the South Channel
  • Weather: same old same old: coolish; overcast; massive 45-min. downpour on south channel portage; hints of sun in the evening.
  • Campsite: Bridal Veil Falls – very scenic and, thanks to the Falls, somewhat noisy! Perhaps room for 2 or 3  2-P tents, 1 good 4-P tent spot; portage trail goes through the campsite. no toilet box located.

A late start this day with a change of plans. Given the weather – overcast with definite rain coming our way – the idea of portaging up into Dry Lake and checking out the viewpoint at the SW corner of the lake was scrapped, as was making use of the one campsite on the lake. Instead, we figured we’d start our descent of the Lady Evelyn’s South Channel.

a view of our “good enough” Macpherson island campsite

At the bottom of Macpherson Lake is a short 70-meter boney set of rapids, and a late-season boulder garden impossible to float down.  [In the Wilson guidebook it seems to be his Rapid #7 – a CII whose “character varies greatly with flow”. He gives it the name “Twist & Shout”.]

set of rapids leaving Macpherson Lake

We stuck to river left and spent ten minutes lining down to a spot where we could hop back in. Here is a shot looking back up at those rapids. It has Max is getting comfortable after setting his Etrex 20 set for the next waypoint!

looking back at the set of rapids at the bottom of Macpherson Lake

Below Macpherson Lake is Stonehenge Lake – and leading into Stonehenge are a couple of rapids, the first of which we lined on river right; they are followed by a middle section which we floated down. We then just continued floating down the bottom set.  It was a bumpy ride!   See the satellite image below for a better idea of the situation.

rapids above Stonehenge Lake on the Lady Evelyn River

According to our GPS track, we spent about fifteen minutes getting down and into Stonehenge.  [In the Wilson guidebook these two rapids are #8 (CI-T) and #9 (CI line or run).]   The 2020 mid-September water level was not optimal!

looking back at the first set of rapids coming into Stonehenge Lake – we lined on river right – i.e. the left side of the image

The area between Stonehenge Lake and Katherine Lake apparently features some pretty nice campsites and – on a sunny July day – sounds like a nice spot to ramble up and down the river with a camera.  Rapids, swifts, waterfalls – a veritable Shangri La! However, a Shangri La campsite would have to be shelved for another possible trip – one coming down the North Branch from Gamble Lake.

We had already caught a few raindrops and more were definitely on the way.  So this time we embraced the 800-meter carry that would take us from Stonehenge into Katherine and a campsite not far down the South Channel. There are two portages indicated; one stays with the river while the other one – the one we were on – veers away from the river.  

Stonehenge to Katherine portage

from Stonehenge to Katherine








The first twenty or thirty meters of the trail goes through a wetlands area and was somewhat mushy on our trip through thanks to the rain of the past few days. From there it changes into a series of connected gently sloped rock outcrops. Patches of slippery moss made things interesting.

After crossing a  dry boulder river bed, the last half is a beautiful woodland trail and our pace picked up noticeably!.  Also noticeable was the sun which came out for a half-hour as we were nearing the end of the portage.   We absorbed some sun rays as we sipped on Gatorade and munched an energy bar at the end of it – an hour and a quarter workout.  It was 11:30 and instead of stopping for lunch in the next hour, we decided to paddle until we came to a decent campsite on the South Channel. 

It is a 2.5-kilometer paddle from the portage put-in at the top of Katherine Lake down to the bottom. That is where the lake – once with the more appropriate name of Divide Lake– has two outlets: the North Channel and the South Channel. Both have three dramatic waterfalls and some rough portages.

  • North Channel: Helen Falls; Center Falls; Frank’s Falls
  • South Channel: Cabin Falls; Bridal Veil Falls; Fatman’s Falls

We headed down the South Channel from Katherine Lake.  First up is a set of CI-T rapids (Rapids #13 in the Wilson guidebook) down which we zig-zagged our way. The other option is to line on river right.

Below Katherine Lake – first two sets of rapids

Next up was an unavoidable  240-meter portage on river left not far below the rapids. Just as we pulled in to the top of the portage, we heard thunder and got off the river quickly. We slipped the packs and duffels into their XL-size construction-grade garbage bags, grabbed the tarp, and headed into the bush just off the bouldery shore. It rained gently at first and then –  just after we had gotten the tarp up and made ourselves comfortable – we listened to a torrential downpour come down on our tarp.  

Forty-five minutes later the thunder had moved on and the rain had stopped. We now got to do the carry on a very wet and slippery trail. 

the view from the take-out spot first portage on the Lady Evelyn’s South Channel

We approached Cabin Falls within ten minutes of putting in and were faced with another carry on river left – 300 meters.  We did see the canoes on the other side of the river at the top end of a portage trail that passes through the private property indicated by the faint white line on the satellite image below.  The property belongs to Hap Wilson and is the site of his Ecolodge, a complex consisting of the main lodge and a couple of guest cabins. 

The portage is pretty rough in parts and the just-ended rain did not help matters. The rock slope you see in the image below was the top of the final stretch down to the put-in below the 9-meter-high falls.  

the put-in at the end of the Cabin Falls portage on river left

our canoe loaded and ready to go at the bottom of Cabin Falls

looking back at the put-in of the  Cabin Falls portage

Once back in the canoe we looked back at the falls.  Invisible in the trees on top of the falls is the cabin, originally built in 1931. Wilson’s The Cabin is his 2009 autobiographical look at his life-long obsession with building a personal refuge and how he came to be the owner of what must be the only piece of legal private property in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Wilderness Park. 

The red dot just below and to the right of center in the image below is the Canadian flag flying in front of it. We never did get a real good shot of THE cabin or any of the other buildings that have since gone up as Wilson created his Ecolodge.

Cabin Falls Lady Evelyn River South Channel

panorama of Cabin Falls

Less than two kilometers below Cabin Falls is the next scenic highlight of the Lady Evelyn’s South Channel – Bridal Veil Falls. It would also be where we stopped this day. We made use of the campsite on the side of the portage trail twenty meters from where a side stream begins a series of tumbles down to the bottom.

From Cabin Falls to Bridal Veil Falls

The portage trail from the take-out spot to the campsite is actually quite walkable, with only one section of sloped rock outcrop just before the campsite which was a bit slippery thanks to the rain. One thing we did not find at this site was a thunderbox. 

Bridal Veil Falls -a view from the  campsite at the top

Expecting more rain, we put up both tarps, one over the tent and the other across the portage trail where we set up our eating/sitting area.  In the late afternoon, the sun peeked out for a while. As we looked across at the main falls, we could see how the multiple drops would lead someone to name them the Bridal Veil. Closer to us was a side falls,  whose water tumbled over a couple of ledges before rejoining the main stream in the pool below. The next morning as we paddled out from the put-in we’d get another memorable perspective. 

Next Post: Day 8 – From Bridal Veil Falls To the Bottom of the South Channel


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