Samuel de Chaplain Provincial Park
When, in the early 1600’s, Samuel de Champlain explored his way north on the Ottawa River, and turning aside on the Mattawa River, he was discovering and mapping the relatively unknown land of Canada. As he made his way along fast running rapids edged by cliffs and forest he certainly could never have dreamed that some day, there would be a park named after him. He probably considered it a fairly uninhabitable land, good perhaps for trapping, but little else. Move ahead 400 years or so, and hundreds of Canadians have enjoyed great vacations at the Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. This 2500 hectare wilderness park is located on the shores of the Mattawa River. This river was part of the fur trade route and has seen its share of heavily-laden freight canoes heading downstream, and also hardworking men taking those same canoes back upstream. It also has the ghosts of other explorers, part of our history. La Verendrye, David Thompson, Radisson, and Alexander Mackenzie, made their presence known to many of us through our public school books. The Mattawa River is designated as a Canadian Heritage River. We must remember that the Aboriginal Peoples used this route for their own travel, dating back at least 6,000 years, as shown by several archaeological sites.
It’s partly the history that brings visitors to the park, but for a large part it’s the rugged terrain, and the activities offered by the park. Its location, three or four hours from Toronto and Ottawa means that it’s not as crowded by weekenders as are the more southern parks. It is well used by those who come to stay and enjoy nature.
The park is located just off Hwy-17, the Trans-Canada Route, just between North Bay and Mattawa. The drive through the typical Canadian Shield scenery, consisting of hills, streams, and forests, will have prepared you for what you will enjoy close-up at the park. The Babawasse CG has electrical hookups at all of its 74 sites. A central facility building has showers, flush toilets, and facilities for laundry. The Jingwakoki CG, situated among the pine trees, has 147 campsites, with electricity for 20 of them and it too has a facility building with toilets and showers. There is a sandy beach on the shore of Moore Lake that will attract the youngsters on warm days. Jingwakoki means ‘pine forest’ in Ojibway tongue.
Once you are set up in camp there is the difficult decision about whether to just vegetate in a lounge chair, or partake in the many offerings that this park provides. With two rivers in the park, it might be the time enjoy canoeing. Children might like to try some rafting or tubing on the Amable du Frond River, which is calm in many places, and others with rapids. The Mattawa River is a wider, deep river often flowing along the base of steep cliffs, and edged by dark forests. A canoe ride on Long Lake, no motors allowed, offers you solitude along the base of steep cliffs. For those who want to bring home supper, you might try fishing on Moore Lake where you could hook on to wild fighting, never give up, small-mouth bass.
If you don’t feel like water sports, there are several hiking trails to choose from. Trail guides are found at the Visitor Centre.
The Kag Trail is a route that has some steep climbs over its 2.5 km loop and passes through some stunning red pine forests, passing by Gem Lake.
The Etienne system has four loops ranging from 2.5 km to 9 km and is considered very difficult but there is compensation with the scenic views of the Mattawa River. The Red Pine loop has observation platforms with good views of the Mattawa River.
The Forestry Research trail is a fairly easy two km loop through areas where forest research is being carried out.
Another easy trail, the Wabashkiki, is about one km long and winds to a marsh with a boardwalk on a piece of land projecting out into the Moore Lake. The marsh observation platform is a good place to see some of the 200
bird species known to be in the park.
The Mattawa River Visitor’s Centre has some great displays of canoes, and illustrates the natural and cultural history of the area. Note the vast and varied goods carried in the big canoes. See how the privileged are carried by the men so as to not get their feet wet, nor have to walk on the tough portages. Learn about how Champlain made his maps and about the contributions he made to befriend the local Aboriginal Peoples, and to help them in their fight against the Iroquois. Feel the texture of the furs that are on display. Is it any wonder there was a vast market for them? During July and August try your hand in paddling the Park’s replica Fur Trade Canoe. Get the sensation of what it would have been like travelling in a Voyageur Canoe.
Also in the park is the Canadian Ecology Centre, which is primarily an education and research centre. It offers courses on history, biology, forest management and mining to the public. If you lack camping apparatus, there are cabins for rent. You can also rent conference rooms for meetings or even weddings.
A very historic waterfall, the Talon Chute, lies just upstream of the park on the Mattawa River. While it and the gorge could be spectacular, the area is dangerous and several have lost their lives. It’s not a place for foolish behaviour.
Champlain was a tireless explorer. He proceeded up the Ottawa River to Lake Nipissing, entered the French River to arrive at Lake Huron. The Huron Indians took him through the area of present day Peterborough. He was one of Canada’s great explorers, and the park is well named.
If you need supplies, you are only a few minutes from the Town of Mattawa, which also has good dining facilities. If you have some extra time, explore nearby attractions such as the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area, the Voyageur Multi Use Trail System, and the Museums and Art Galleries.
The Ontario northland’s character comes from its location on the Canadian Shield. Your enjoyment will come from the endless forest, hills and lakes, all of which provide hours of inspiring scenery and a lifetime of memories.
From top: Stopped in Mattawa and checking out the canoe in the musuem.
Clockwise from right: The privileged get a ride, Samuel de Champlain, samples of freight and furs.