Sunday, 25 May 2008

Magnetawan River

Magnetawan River
(An Unfinished Journey)

"To stick your hands into the river is to feel the cords that bind the earth together in one piece."
Barry Lopez

Diffuse light filtering through dusty windowpanes added to the warm glow of the bare bulb dangling from the workshop rafters. A time capsule from an era long ago, the weathered barn board walls enclosed beaten benches, crammed cupboards and sagging shelves. Scattered amongst the wood shavings were bow saws, wooden mallets and carpenter’s chisels waiting their turn in the craftsman’s hand.

A half day had already passed as I awaited Brian’s return from the car shuttle. With light drizzle beginning to fall, two elderly gentlemen swung open the weathered shed’s doors and beckoned me in. Bathed in a dusty golden glow was an exquisite cedar-strip canoe nearing completion. I had taken a course and constructed my own spruce & canvas canoe but it paled in comparison to this majestic craft before me. It was reassuring to know that these skills still survived in a world where vacuum moulded boats could be pressed out hourly on a factory assembly line.

The Magnetawan river, sandwiched between the French and Pickerel rivers all possessed similar characteristics. Whereas the French River drained the waters of Lake Nipissing, the Magnetawan’s headwaters originated in Algonquin provincial park. Both flowed through corridors of granite and windswept pines in their quest of Georgian Bay. An unmistakable landscape within Southern Ontario often captured by Canada‘s Group Of Seven painters.

The drizzle continued to make Ahmic Lake sing as Brian and I got underway this exceptionally wet spring season. Magnetawan means “swiftly flowing waters” and true to it‘s name, locals remarked on the river’s level, never having seen it this high in their collective memories. Smaller rapids were often completely submerged and no longer evident while larger ones set up huge standing ‘haystack’ waves capable of swamping an open deck canoe with one angry blow.

Often forced to shore around sections of river normally runable, we found no portage trails thereby forcing us to push the canoe, foot by foot, through dense underbrush. Where we risked the voluminous current we would shoot through the rapids at dizzying speeds, each stroke of the paddle fighting to maintain control. No sooner than we had seated ourselves in the canoe did we have to put to shore to scout our next challenge. Unprepared for the continuously boiling froth which was clearly more suited for a kayak, we realized that without a spray deck the journey was far too hazardous for our open 17 foot Grumman this season. Having made the decision to cut our trip short, we chose to focus our enjoyment more on the river’s banks rather than what ran between them.

A few pleasant nights were spent camping on the banks of the Magnetawan. A dilapidated cabin served as home for one evening. We collapsed in weathered Adirondack chairs and basked in the sun while incinerating sausages on the crackling fire. It appeared this cabin was home to a number of rabbits as they gathered around, eyeing us with curiosity while sniffing the sweet summer air.

On another evening we erected our tent on a clearing overlooking a small riffle. While Brian prepared dinner, I assembled my fishing rod and playfully cast a lure out into the gurgling rapid. Never having been mistaken for an avid angler, I had spent much of my childhood drowning worms impaled on the end of a dangling hook. Yet with my very first cast of a lure I had a strike. No sooner had the spinner broken the surface of the water than the rod bent under the weight of a beautiful small mouth bass. With supper already underway, bubbling and sputtering over our propane burner, I released the fish back to the river. Casting again, another bass immediately chomped down on my lure which I also released to join it’s downstream relative. A third cast and yet another strike! This has got to stop! Where’s the challenge? Damn lures!

Our rainy start had given way to several hot and humid summer days for which to enjoy the now subsiding river. Terminating our trip early at a small bridge spanning the Magnetawan, we hiked back to our car and dreamt of completing this trip some day when water conditions were more favourable.
Brian On Bridge Over Magnetawan River

Downstream On Magnetawan From Bridge

Slide Show of Magnetawan River Canoe Trip (Mid-1980's)

Magnetawan River Map Including Rapids
(Click On Map To Enlarge)

Addidtional Descriptions of the Magnetawan River Canoe Routes as well as maps, can be found in my Supplemental River Trip Descriptions.

Google Earth Co-ordinates:
(cut and paste everything after the dash- (in red) into Google Earth search bar.

Ahmic Lake - Jump-off Location
Lat/Long- 45° 40’07.80” N, 79° 43’23.52” W

Magnetawan River - Takeout
Lat/Long- 45° 41’43.51” N, 79° 50’29.76” W