Outdoor Report: Canada’s heritage rivers tell fascinating stories
Canada’s mighty rivers offer rich opportunities for outdoor activities of all sorts - and they tell many fascinating stories about our country’s history.
New Brunswick’s St. John River is the 38th and most recent river to be designated a Canadian Heritage River – this conservation program serves to protect and promote our incredible waterways. The St. John River has played a pivotal role in the region for thousands of years and connects many modern-day towns and cities. It’s home to riverside museums, the longest covered bridge in the world, and is hugely popular with recreational boaters. In western Canada, British Columbia’s Fraser River is a designated river – it’s known as the greatest salmon river in the world and is famous with whitewater enthusiasts for its rapids. Ontario’s designations include the Grand, Humber, Rideau, Missinaibi, as well as the storied French River. There are new nominations every year and many different outdoor adventures to choose from, here’s a map of the rivers.
I had long been fascinated by the allure of the French River, it lies in what is now the French River Provincial Park which is a unique sort of park combining wilderness canoeing and camping with cottages and commercial accommodation.
The route of interconnected lakes, gorges and rapids stretches 105 km from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes - it was a vital link in the fur trade route, allowing passage from Montreal to Lake Superior. Samuel de Champlain sent the first European to explore this area in the quest to find a route to the west. It’s believed that Etienne Brule was the first European to see the Great Lakes, travelling by canoe along the French in 1610.
The fur trade would follow with the famed voyageurs canoeing and portaging 2-3 tons of cargo in 11m canoes. You can see part of their route in the video clip above. It's essentially unchanged today - it was a huge thrill to paddle the ‘Route of the Voyageurs’ in my own canoe this summer!
Modern life brings certain conveniences that our ancestors didn’t have access to – light-weight canoes, nylon tents, backpacking barrels, varied food menus, high-tech gear like tiny cook stoves and even hammocks.
‘Roughing it’ in 2014 is positively luxurious by comparison! But there is still an incredible satisfaction at navigating your way into the backcountry, bringing all the gear you’ll need to be self-sufficient for a number of days, and then enjoying the incredible peace and solitude of being ‘away from it all’ in a stunning landscape. This was the perfect spot for my annual girlfriends’ canoe trip with my buddy Mara - canoes share the waterway with both kayaks and powerboats today so there’s a bit of boat traffic from time to time, but overall the area is very peaceful.
Hartley Bay Marina is a popular access point. It’s been a family-run business for four generations and has a boat launch, boat shuttle service, rental cottages as well as lots of friendly and free information about the area.
The park also has an award-winning visitor centre conveniently located right on highway 69. The building’s striking design perfectly complements the landscape, and contains interesting displays about the natural and cultural history of the area. There are also short scenic walks including crossing the snowmobile suspension bridge, which provides the striking gorge view you see in the picture above.
Whatever kind of outdoor experience you choose for your visit to the French River – or a Canadian Heritage River in your province - being able to follow the path of our ancestors and connect with our country’s history is sure to create a memorable trip for your family. Before you head out get the latest forecast and check the bug report too.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Here’s an Outdoor Report celebrating Algonquin Provincial Park, a beloved wilderness park that’s bigger than Prince Edward Island. Canada’s first national park was just the third national park in the world, this Outdoor Report is a tribute to the legendary beauty of Banff National Park.
This year’s Outdoor Reports have covered beautiful beaches, amazing hikes, rafting thrills, parasailing and water skiing, sailing and canoing, fishing, fossil hunting, wild bison, the land of the dinosaurs, the best whale watching spots, visiting glaciers and discovering outdoor adventure in big cities like Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver – check here to find out more about great places and fun things to do across Canada!
As always, we end on a gardening note. September is the time to harvest herbs, divide and transplant, and watch for frost. Get timely tips as well as your September ‘to do list’ here.
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”