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Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes
Ontario's favorite canoeist is back. After ditching civilization, Kevin Callan has resurfaced with a new guide to Ontario's little known waterways!
THE YORK RIVER, EXCERPTED FROM ONTARIO'S LOST CANOE ROUTES.
Printed use of this excerpt is granted by the Boston Mills Press, provided the excerpt is reprinted with the following acknowledgement: "Reprinted with permission, from Ontario's Lost Canoe Routes, published by the Boston Mills Press. Copyright, April 2002, Kevin Callan."
For countless years the York River was used as a major waterway. Algonquin tribes used it while retreating from the invading Iroquois. Fur traders used it as part of a transport route from Georgian Bay to the Ottawa River. Lumber companies based in Haliburton began flushing their logs down it before making use of any other neighboring tributary. Even the initial surveyors remarked it was a great-grandchild of the mighty St. Lawrence. But for a while now it's basically been forgotten. In fact, I can't recall ever seeing another canoeist while on the river. And for that reason alone, it definitely fits the "lost canoe route" category.
The best section of the river to paddle is between Egan Chutes Provincial Park and Conroy Marsh. It's a perfect two-day outing for novice canoeists or advanced paddlers looking for a leisurely getaway.
Egan Chute Provincial Park is 11 kilometers east of Bancroft, along Highway 28; the public access road is northeast of the highway bridge. Take note, however, that the park is no longer regularly maintained by the province and has only a small clearing below the remains of an old concrete dam acting as the put-in site. Also, since it's a river route, you'll have to shuttle a second vehicle to the public launch at the west end of Combermere, along Highway 62.
Not far from the starting point is Egan Chute itself, named after Lumber Baron John Egan, who, in the mid-1800s, built a number of timber chutes along the York River. He was in fact one of the first to hold a timber license in the district (1847), driving most of his logs down the river from nearby Baptiste Lake.
To the left of the cascade is a short but fairly steep 50-meter portage. It's used on a regular basis - not by canoeists, but by rockhounds. Bancroft is known as the Mineral Capital of Canada, and Egan Chute is one of the local hotspots, holding a high quantity of nepheline, sodalite, biotite, zircon, and blue corundum.
Egan Chutes also happens to be the place where my poor dog, Bailey, almost plummeted to her death. It was during my last trip down the York. The dog, for some unapparent reason, decided to go for a swim just above the falls. In seconds I found myself leaping down a rock face and grabbing her paw just as she was going over the brink. The dog came out of the ordeal without a scratch. I, on the other hand, suffered a split knee and cracked shinbone.
Just beyond Egan Chutes are two more prominent drops - Middle Chute and Farm Chute. Both have portages (100 meters on the left and 200 meters on the right), but these are hardly used and can be difficult to follow at times. The first trail keeps close to the edge of the river, where the second heads almost directly up and over a knob of granite. Both also have campsites on the east bank. But again, they are rarely used except by some local teenagers. (Middle Chute's campsite has been marked "Buzzed Out Point.")
Other sites are found not far downstream, situated on one of the many sandbars found between the Great Bend (where the river takes a dramatic twist to the northeast) and King's Marsh. I've always arrived at these sites too early in the trip, however, and much prefer to make my own site further downstream - making sure to practice low-impact camping, of course. This stretch, with its large sections of deciduous swamps and forest levees, suits the York's Native name, Shawashkong (the river of marshes), and is my favorite place to paddle along the river.
If you're not that interested in making your own bush camp, it is possible to paddle a full six-to-eight-hour day and end your trip at the alternative take-out at the Boulter Road bridge. Better yet, you could also choose to book a cabin at Silgrey Resort, situated just below the Boulter bridge, on the south side of Conroy Rapids (three sets of swifts that can easily be run or lined down).
However, if you paddle only the first half of the route, you miss the most significant portion - Conroy Marsh - altogether.
This unique wetland, named after Robert Conroy, who held a timber license on land west of Robinson Lake, drained by the York River, was made famous some years ago after Group of Seven member A. J. Casson depicted it on canvas. And because of its richly diverse plant and animal life, as well its beautiful setting in the majestic hills of the Madawaska Highlands, the government soon made it a Crown Game Reserve. Recently, it also was designated a new park under the Living Legacy program.
Because of its size, it's also an easy place to find yourself lost in. A couple of kilometers downstream from Conroy Rapids the waterway spreads out over 2,400 hectares, with Robinson Lake to the west and Winter Lake, Garden Lake, One Mile Bay and the mouth of the Little Mississippi River to the east. To help keep yourself on track, it's best to stay in the center of the main channel and eventually you'll meet up with Negeek Lake, where the York River flushes into the Madawaska River.
From here it's just a short paddle west, under the Highway 62 bridge, and then left toward the public launch in Combermere. Or, if you don't happen to have a not-so-bright dog prone to swimming above waterfalls, you could travel east on the Madawaska and take in a week of adventurous whitewater paddling all the way down to the Ottawa River.
Time: 1-2 days
Number of portages: 3
Longest portage: 200 meters
Difficulty: The portages around Egan, Middle and Farm Chute are extremely steep but the river itself is still considered a novice route.
Alternative access: Put in from the Boulter Road bridge or Silgrey Resort, reached by turning east off Boulter Road onto Hass Road, and then left on Havergal Road. You can also access the river at the end of McPhees Bay Road off Highway 515.
Alternative route: The route can be divided into two daytrips by making use of the Boulter Road bridge access or Silgrey Resort.
Bestselling author Ken Weber presents a royal flush of arcane knowledge, mini-mysteries, bizarre believe-it-or-nots, brain teasers, and shifts of wit.