Sa­muel de Chap­lain Pro­vin­cial Park

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Ontario - BY WIL­LIAM EN­NIS

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.

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