A Wilderness Waterway


Launch: Haileybury Municipal Marina, Haileybury, Ontario. Two good free ramps to use. The marina is outstanding, and Jack is a harbourmaster par excellence.

Nearby campsites: There is a municipal campground a short distance south from town.

Comments: Haileybury is as nice a town as there is. Everyone was friendly and helpful. There is a great historical museum, a library with good local history books and friendly librarians, a good restaurant in the former theater a short walk from the marina, and a variety of stores. In short, this town has everything the cruiser needs including nice folks.


-----We first heard of the Temiskawa Waterway in literature we picked up along the canals in southern Ontario. The information was cryptic, but intriguing. It described a beautiful and seldom-traveled waterway that extended almost 500 kilometers along the Quebec-Ontario border. The route was along the Ottawa River, the main "highway" of the voyageurs, explorers, and traders of early North American history. Numerous power dams have been built along the river, simultaneously creating barriers to boaters and navigation access by drowning the many rapids. The literature spoke of 'unique hydraulic trailers' that would carry boats up to 30 feet around each dam. Hmm - built for C-Dory cruisers,eh?                                                                                 

  Dawn on Lake Temiskaming         

-----We asked every Canadian cruiser we met - none had been there. Some had heard of the Temiskawa, but only one knew of 'someone' who cruised a portion. We called the information phone number; it was disconnected. From our sketchy information, it seemed possible but was the Waterway operating and would it be open that far north in September?

-----We were sitting at the western terminus of the Trent/Severn Canal. One lock down, and we were in Georgian Bay of Lake Huron, famed cruising grounds. Following the small boat route north, we would be in the North Channel, another of the favorites of Great Lakes boaters. We had already bought the charts of Lake Huron, were provisioned and fueled. Still, there was this nagging word - Temiskawa.

-----One of our favorite poets is Robert Frost. His words rang in our ears - "I took the path less traveled … and that made all the difference."

-----"Everyone's out there on Georgian Bay. Let's try something new." El sensed adventure and that's like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

-----"There's a reason folks are out there," the conservative one countered. "Georgian Bay is a primo cruising area. Good charts, excellent marinas and anchorages, well-marked channels … We don't have any information on Temiskawa."

-----"Exactly why we should go - we can always cruise Georgian Bay. But, right now, we have the trailer nearby, the long-term forecast is good, the driving route north is easy from here … and it's wilderness, Bill. Loons, maybe wolves, moose, fall migration time for geese … perfect timing. And Halcyon is perfect for the hops over the dams. We have a good heater …" El knows there are two travel lures to dangle in front of my nose, and I'll follow her anywhere - good food and wild country. She couldnn't promise the food, but there surely would be a dose of wild up there.

-----"Let's get more information," the cautious one replied. "We can call a marina up there and see what they can tell us."

-----We called the municipal marina in Haileybury, Ontario. We talked with Adam, who said he "thought" the Waterway was open, and besides, Lake Temiskaming is a great cruise alone. In an understated way, he was very encouraging - and that's the way to get us to take the hook. Yes, there was a ramp at the marina, he continued. Instant decision time. "OK, we're on our way," we said.

Municipal Marina, Haileybury         

-----We pulled the boat, and headed north. We had dinner at the Busy Bee in Temagami - outstanding. The owner/chef was a banker, with a gourmet-cooking hobby. He tired of Toronto, and now he turns out exciting and delicious meals in the north. El took our dinner stop as a good sign. "So far, so good," she smiled, licking off the last of a Double Raspberry Yogurt dessert.

-----We pulled into the parking lot at the Haileybury municipal marina, in the rain, about an hour before sundown. "So much for the forecast," I said in the gathering dusk. "Wonder where the ramp is? Looks bleak - now what?"

-----We parked, and wandered over toward the dark building. Two men came around the corner and before we spoke a word, they said, "Follow us - we'll show you the ramp. Oh, and you can leave your trailer at my farm - lots of room." We followed, launched, and were soon tied off in the marina. Then, we had a chance to meet Adam, a high school lad who worked there for the summer, and Jack, harbourmaster extraordinaire.

-----They were waiting for our arrival - "How did you know it was us?" I asked.

-----"Not many boats with Oregon registration come to Haileybury," Jack said with a smile. "Let's go tour the town."

    Shannon and Jack                            

-----"Tour? Getting a little dark, isn't it?"

-----"That's perfect - I'll bring along the ultraviolet light," Jack grinned. You instantly like Jack. He is open, sincere, and bighearted. So, we climbed in his truck and off we went.

-----Jack is a one-man chamber of commerce, extolling the beauties and wonders of Haileybury. His buoyant exuberance even seemed to stop the rain. We had a brief look around as he told us about the Great Fire of 1922 that destroyed 90% of the town, the outstanding museum, Millionaires Row … and then, the coup de grace, the rocks! By now it was as black as a moonless, northern night can be. He parked the truck, and like a mother duck, led us up a paved curving path through huge boulders placed every twenty feet or so. "This one," he said triumphantly. He turned on his u.v. light, and it was incredible - the black, hulking rock lit up with reds, yellows, blues, and greens. There were spots, streaks, and glows - vibrant, brilliant colors lit the surface like magic. "Look at this one," Jack spoke excitedly, as though it was the first time he had ever seen this phenomenon. He led us from rock to rock, each with unique luminescence and brilliant color. He explained that the School of Mines had brought in the boulders to create an outdoor rock and mineral display, to supplement their outstanding mineral collection.

-----He brought us back to the marina, with a cheery, "See you in the morning." We collapsed into our bunk as the thunder and lightning raged and rain pounded on the cabin. We were on the Temiskawa Waterway.

-----In the morning, the wind was howling and a lightning stroke hit a tower a few hundred feet away. The lake, 124 kilometers long, had surf outside our protecting breakwater, like the north Pacific. This was a good day to stay ashore. We met Shannon, a bright young woman who works for the Waterway. She called the five downstream dams to check on the trailers to take us around, found rail and bus schedules for our return if we wanted to make the trip a one way cruise, and made us feel at home in her good hands. Jack led us on a town tour and arranged for our visit to the museum. We went to the library and checked out books on local history.

-----Back at the marina, Jack said two local cruisers who had just returned up the Temiskawa had invited us to dinner at their house to share information. John was a recently retired mine manager of a silver mine in the nearby town of Cobalt. Lynn, in honor of our Nevada background, had prepared a great dinner with pine nuts in chicken pasta after starters of jalapeno jelly. They are good folks and full of helpful information. They loaned us a book called the Temiskawa Navigator, a Dam Hoppers Handbook, and a chart of the lake.

                       Lynn and El

-----The next morning we headed out.

-----The lake occupies a rift valley, a down-dropped, narrow, rectangular block of earth's crust bounded by vertical faults. Temiskaming, "The Place of Deep Water," is well named. In places, its waters are more than seven hundred feet deep. We cruised by Devil's Rock, a three hundred-foot fault face descending into the lake.

-----At the Narrows, we swung to the Quebec shore, and tied off at Parks Canada's Ft. Témiscamingue, a former Hudson Bay Company trading post. These waters made a natural trade and travel route for the peoples of the Algonquin Nation. To the north, a short portage gives access to rivers flowing north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Sea. To the south, the water flows to the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic. Beginning in the 1600's, Europeans used this route to explore the continent as far west as the Pacific. Fur traders, Coureurs de Bois and Voyageurs had paddled these same waters.

Devil's Rock Fault Scarp                           Ft. Témiscamingue

-----At our anchorage that evening, we read the stories of the voyageurs, the timber barons, the early settlers, the steamboats, the great fire of October 1922 - many stories, including the St. John's disaster. Four canoes, carrying young boys and instructors from St. John's Academy, swamped off Ottertail Creek in the 1980's. It was June and the water temperature was forty-five degrees. Thirteen died of hypothermia.

-----One of the books said, "Lake Temiskaming is Canada's most feared lake and the most mysterious in the world. Sudden storms spring up in a minute or two and its victims are seldom found. The lake exhibits an underwater force that seems to drag the drowned down and keep them away in some underwater channel." That seemed a bit much, but it is a very big and exceptionally deep lake.

On the Quebec
Side of the River               A Wilderness Lake

-----Indian voyageurs always gave a small libation to the lake spirits before heading out on its waters, and that seemed to be a good idea to us, so we shared a sip of our sundowners with the lake spirits. It is a wild lake, with extensive stretches with no sign of humans along its shore. Often the edges of the lake are cliffs of rock, and between the cliffs, the shoreline is boulder-studded. There are few places to come ashore and even fewer places of protected anchorage. It is a lake that demands the utmost respect and always an eye to weather. That said, it is a beautiful, mysterious, and wild body of water. There are few places left on this continent easily accessible to a boater with such a wilderness character. The history of Indian paddlers, voyageurs, and trappers seems as yesterday. The lusty canoe songs of the voyageurs, the Ave Maria du Nord, still seem to echo from the dark cliffs. This is a special place.

Kicking Along                                                Listening to Loons

-----The second dam south was closed for carrying boats around, so we returned to Haileybury, to trailer ourselves around. That evening, in the marina, Jack and Adam decided to have a going away party for us. They bought us each a potine. A what, you ask? So did we. A potine is a popular French Canadian treat - French fries drizzled with cheese and gravy. As a gift to remember them and Haileybury, Jack gave us Old Salt and Capt. Pepper - salt and pepper shakers for our boat. What a guy.

-----We stopped again at the Busy Bee in Temagami, and this time El had a Butter Tart for dessert - outstanding.

Launch: Mattawa Municipal Marina, Mattawa, Ontario. Nice spot right in town.

Nearby campsites: Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park is a short distance from town.

Comments: Mattawa gives access to another wildly scenic section of the Temiskawa Waterway.

-----We cruised upstream and downstream from Mattawa, until stopped by dams in both directions. The Waterway here is somewhat more riverine and personal than on Lake Temiskawa to the north, but it is equally as wild and bold. The forecast was for storms, so we returned to Mattawa, pulled Halcyon, and went to Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park for an evening ashore. The plan was to trailer south to the next launch ramp below the dam and continue down the Waterway.

First Touch of Fall                                                          Quiet Anchorage

-----The next day we were in town early for a special treat - town breakfast. There, in the restaurant, we heard the news and spent the rest of the day in a bar glued to CNN. It was September 11th.

Before the Storm of September 11, 2001


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