Sunday, January 5, 2014


Our route from Toronto, to Chutes and Matinenda Provincial Parks, to Elliot Lake & Missisagi Provincial Park, then to Manitoulin Island, Oastler Lake Park and back to Toronto
During our trips over the past 5 years, we have visited almost every provincial park or region located relatively close to Toronto (up to 5 hours of driving) which are suitable for camping and especially canoeing and many a times have returned to the same place more than once.  Not that we were running out of locations to visit: Ontario has thousands of lakes or rivers to explore and canoe on, yet many of them are located quite far from Toronto, are only accessible by tough 4x4 Utility Vehicles or by planes, are quite remote and often require plenty of extensive and arduous portages.  Yet the good Lord, or rather the Ontario Government (or, even more precisely, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) works in mysterious ways: after examining a map of Ontario, I spotted a rather new park called Matinenda Provincial Park, located 15 kilometers north of the town of Blind River.  This park, 29,417 hectares in size, was established 10 years ago (in 2003) and it offers such recreational activities as fishing, hunting, cottaging, camping, boating, canoeing, hiking, snowmobiling and swimming.  Since currently there are no developed camping facilities within the park (only unmanaged campsites), no fees of any kind are required.  There are numerous lakes in the park, Matinenda Lake being the largest.  I also contacted Ontario Parks and received a few emails from Ms. Tamara Flannigan, Park Superintendent, Missisagi & Spanish River Provincial Park Cluster.  Without doubt, the park appeared quite attractive & secluded; since Catherine never visited that area, we decided to visit it.

At Chutes Provincial Park, near the waterfall

We left Toronto on July 15, 2013 and headed north on highway 400.  It was a very hot and humid day and we stopped a few times to rest, did some shopping in Parry Sound, stopped for coffee & gas outside Sudbury and arrived to a small town of Massey, from where we drove a few kilometres to Chutes Provincial Park where we were going to camp overnight, as driving to Matinenda in one day and then paddling to a campsite would have been too exhausting.

Departing from the Matinenda Lake Parking Lot
Chutes gets its name from a log chute that once diverted logs around the main waterfall during the days of river drives and horse logging.  As per the park staff recommendation, we chose campsite no. 95, just across from the scenic rapids and waterfalls and we were very happy.  Half hour later the campsite beside us was taken.  There was at least one hiking trail, but we only had time to walk down a long staircase to see the falls.  By the time we got the fire going and grilling our T-Bone steaks, the mosquitoes were in full attack, biting us horribly.  We could hardly enjoy the dinner and the cold beer and quickly retired to the tent, soon falling sleep, listening to the soothing sound of the waterfalls.

In the morning we packed up and drove to LCBO in town to buy cold beer; while parking close to the LCBO building, Catherine almost hit the wall of the building with the canoe on the roof and for some unexplained reasons was very upset when I pointed this out to her.  After driving around the town, we took highway 17, stopped in the town of Blind River at KFC (Tuesday’s Toonie Special!) and tried to find the road leading to Matinenda.  We asked a local guy how to get to the park, but he said he had never heard of it, but finally found another fellow who gave us good directions.  After driving on road 557 for less than 30 minutes, we reached its end, with a huge, busy and free parking lot.  There were cars (and boats) coming and going; while unloading the canoe, I chatted with a few people who had cottages on the lake.  Funny, but they learned from me that it was a provincial park!

Canoeing on Lake Matinenda towards Graveyard Island

We departed at 15:30, as always grabbing onlookers’ and other boaters’ attention due to our above-average number of bulky bags piling up in our canoe (we told them we were going for a few months).  I had no clue where we were going to camp, yet according to the map the area near Graveyard Island, on Lake Matinenda, appeared to be quite appealing.  Thus, we proceeded north, moving quite leisurely in the hot and sticky weather.  We kept close to the shore on our left and after an hour a large bay opened up on the left.  We were quite tired and instead of continuing to paddle north, towards Graveyard Island, we decided to explore the bay and possibly find a spot suitable for a campsite.  Indeed, Catherine soon caught sight of a prospective campsite on the shore, but I did not like it and insisted on paddling farther into the bay. 
Monument Island on Lake Matinenda by Dave Moir. Yes, we were lucky to camp on this island for several days!  Reproduced by permission.  This image may be purchased from the author at
There were two islands in front of us; the one on the right was probably private, but no structure was visible on the other one.  When we reached that island, we immediately fell in love with it: it was round and rocky, approximately 100 x 60 meters, with some tall pine trees and plenty of blueberry bushes.  Its center was mostly flat and barren rock, where an old fire pit was built.  Yet the most amazing characteristic of this island was a massive, vertical rock sculpture, which looked like a giant gun, it remained us of the Monolith from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” (all we needed was a tribe of shrieking and jumping man-apes and I could have made an alternate beginning of this celebrated movie!).  Only when I looked at my GPS’ topographical map, I realized that the name of this tiny island was, very fittingly “ Monument Island”.

Finally we arrived at Monument Island!
We left most of our kitchen equipment along the rocky shore, several meters from the rocky monument, set up the tent nearby and continued using the existing fire pit.  A few times we saw motorboats and fishing boats, but otherwise no one disturbed our privacy.  That first night a rather peculiar phenomenon took place.  I was lying down in my tent, and since there was no wind and everything was so still and quiet, I was slowly drifting off.  Suddenly, I heard a very distinct sound of waves crashing against the island’s shores, as if a motorboat had just passed by and created such waves — however, I was certain I did not hear any boat!  The reverberations lasted for about a minute and they ceased as abruptly as they had begun.
The fire pit and our tent on Monument Island

On July 18, 2013, we paddled to south-west of the island, where the bay became narrow, meandering and eventually turned into the Blind River.  We hoped to get to another big lake, Chiblow Lake.  We kept paddling until we reached a small dam; too lazy to portage, we turned back.  It was raining for a while, but since it was hot, we did not mind getting a little wet.  Once we left the ‘mouth’ of the river, we were again on Lake Matinenda.  It was noon; there was no wind and even the birds hid in the forest, avoiding the heat and humidity.  A log was sticking out of the water; we paddled up to it.  It was the end of a much longer log submerged in the water.  As I pushed it, it slowly gave way... and then something quite remarkable happened: all of a sudden, we heard a very conspicuous sound of running water, as if a dam came open!  Since this mysterious noise started almost the instant I dislodged the tree log, I almost suspected that I inadvertently unlocked some kind of plug or obstruction, thus causing the release of the water from the lake.  

Our campsite on Monument Island
Both Catherine and I heard that sound and we were looking everywhere to see the source of this clatter, but did not spot anything suspicious.  Soon, it stopped and again nothing was disturbing our sally.  We paddled north, leaving our island on the right, then passed a rocky island full of sea gulls and cormorants.  Some of the gulls became quite agitated and swooped and dive-bombed up to scare us away — quite spooky!  We paddled through Butterfield Narrows — there were several cottages, forming a small cottage community — and saw Graveyard Island as well as many other imposing rocky hills and rugged shores.  From afar we saw the Winter Portage.  We turned back, again passing through the narrows, near Paradise Point, marked with a white cross with the following inscription:  “Paradise Point.  Lift up your eyes on HIGH, and BEHOLD who hath created these things.  Isaiah 40:26”.  On our way back we were again ‘attacked’ by some frantic birds, but once they realized we were going the other way, they ended their harassing us.

Near the rocky island full of birds on Lake Matinenda.
The birds were trying to attack us!
On July 18, 2013, as we were having our supper around the fire, we saw that the weather was not looking very promising — there were plenty of black, massive clouds, yet no rain and even some fishermen in a small motor boat were circling our island, hoping to catch a fish.  I turned on my marine radio and listened to the weather channel.  There was a weather alert, indicated by a sharp, piercing sound coming out of my radio and we heard that a severe storm was on its way into the area, with gusts of wind of almost 100 km/h.  We hurriedly finished our supper and secured the canoe and camping equipment along the shore.  Less than 15 minutes later the first drops of rain fell... and in no time a hell broke lose!  Although we were safely inside the tent, we could hear the pouring rain and soon felt very strong wind which literally pushed one side of the tent’s wall halfway inside the tent!  We had no idea if the tent would withstand such tensions. Before long, we heard thunder and saw such intense lighting that I was blinded by it, even though I was observing the lighting through the tent’s walls and fly!  At one point the thunder and lighting occurred almost at the same time — I would not be surprised if the monolith had been struck by lighting!  In spite of the rain, wind and lighting, I donned my rain gear and got out of the tent in order to check on the canoe and other stuff left on the shore.  The canoe was OK, although partially in the water (of course, it was tied to a tree, as two years ago, while we were camping in the Massasauga Park, it had floated away) and our barrels were also safe.  The lake resembled a miniature ocean: the water looked as though it was boiling, its surface seething with white caps, fierce waves savagely battering the shores.  I shuddered, thinking what if we had been caught in such a storm while canoeing!  The storm lasted for about one hour and I can honestly say that I do not remember ever experiencing such a violent tempest while camping!  The tent passed its test with flying colors; not only did it hold out, but everything inside the tent also remained dry.

Around the Monument on Monument Island!
On Saturday we got up in the morning and started packing.  During our stay on the island we noticed that there were plenty of cockroaches of various sizes; most of them congregated either around the campfire or along the shore, where we kept our kitchen equipment.

Monument Island at night
While packing, Catherine suddenly screamed — as she took the knife out of its sheath, four cockroaches dropped out!  We decided to carefully go through all of our belongings, to ensure we were not going to bring any of them home!  We did find some bugs in the box as well as several in the base of the stove; fortunately, none managed to get into our waterproof bags and barrels.  This cockroach inspection delayed our departure by almost 2 hours, but we did not mind taking all those precautions; afterwards, Catharine wanted to re-christen the island “The Cockroach Island”.

Our canoeing trips in Matinenda Provincial Park
The paddle back to the parking lot was nice and quick (7 km, 1.5 hours).  Since it was Saturday, there were many people, including a great deal of Americans.  A dog constantly barking drove everybody crazy and caused me to pack the car in a record time.  We drove to Blind River where we visited LCBO and the Bargain Shop, then took highway 17 east and turned north into road 118, leading to Elliot Lake, thus ending the first part of our trip.

Elliot Lake Mining Memorial
Elliot Lake was established as a planned community for the mining industry in 1955, after the discovery of uranium in that area and at its peak the population reached 26,000, when the town was the world’s capital of uranium mining.  In the 1990s the last uranium mine closed and some predicted it would become a ghost town, one of many in Ontario.  However, a lot of retired people started moving in, attracted by cheap homes and the area’s beauty.  Today, the town has a hospital, malls, stores and even public transportation.

Elliot Lake Mining Memorial
I had visited this city for the first time in 1993 and I still remember a tour that I was given by a real estate salesmen.  Townhouses were priced from $20,000 to $30,000 and a house could be purchased for about $50,000!  That was why a lot of retired people, after selling their residences in Toronto for a substantial (and usually tax-free) profit, moved to Elliot Lake where they lived from approximately May till October and then drove to Florida and other southern states to spend the winter.

In 2003 I spent a week camping with a friend in the nearby Missisagi Provincial Park, located just north of the town.  One day morning my friend saw a small black bear near the campsite.  Barefoot, I bolted out of the tent, jumped in my car and started following the bear.  Eventually the car ended up in a ditch (and the poor, scared bear, vanished in the forest).  My friend Chris flagged a passing car and asked the driver to take him to the park superintendent office, who later came, attached a chain to my car and quickly pulled it from the ditch.  As I later went to thank the lady-driver for helping us (she was camping not that far from us), I realized that in 1995 she and I had participated in a canoeing trip in Florida’s Everglades and I even had a photo with her in a restaurant, having fried... alligator!  Because of her respiratory problems, she needed fresh air and she camped in the park from May till October.

Campsite no. 15 at Missisagi Provincial Park near Elliot Lake
Since Catherine had never visited this park, we decided to spent a night or so there.  Missisagi Provincial Park was supposed to be changed to non-operating status the Ontario government (along with 9 other parks), yet the city of Elliot Lake managed to reach an agreement with the Ontario government and in the 2013 season the park was still operational.  I was surprised to find plenty of campers in the park — something quite unusual for a park that supposedly did not have enough visitors and was to be closed!  Even though we were planning to stay just one night in the park, we still wanted to get a nice campsite and spent an hour, driving on meandering roads before picking campsite no. 15.  We set up the tent and talked to the couple next door waling their dog, then to a guy camping across from us and also to a family from Switzerland that rented a Travel America camper.  Catherine went for a walk and met an 80-something fellow who had had 2 hip replacements by a very bad surgeon, he experienced plenty of problems.

Door leading to the building where the Mining Museum
and the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame were
located.  The door originally belonged to one of
the leading mining companies in the area
Later that evening and the next day we drove back to town where Catherine took a shower at the RV grounds and then we set out to explore the town.  I noticed a new mining monument, erected along the lake.  There was also a granite wall that listed names of miners who succumbed to various work-related diseases while working in the area’s mines.  We visited the site of the Algo Centre Mall: in June, 2012, part of a roof collapsed at Algo Centre Mall and two people were killed.  Almost every day we could listen to the news of the ongoing inquiry regarding this tragedy.  We also visited the Mining Museum, located in the Lester B. Pearson Civic Center, which I found very interesting and informative, it showed the history of the mining industry and there was the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, showing  photographs of many prominent individuals who contributed to the mining industry in Canada as well as plenty of other historical artefacts.  Pity we did not have more time to explore this place!

W Muzeum Górnictwa w Elliot Lake
One of the most prominent mining engineers responsible for the area’s development was Stephen Boleslav Roman, a Slovak immigrant.  In the 1980s he had an impressive Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham built (just north of Toronto).  He died in 1988, before the Cathedral’s completion, and his was the first funeral service held in the Cathedral.  Unfortunately, due to various problems, the Cathedral was closed in 2006 and is no longer considered to be a Catholic Church.

Our route on Manitoulin Island
The next day we packed up and headed towards Manitoulin Island.  This island, with the area of 2,766 square km, is the largest lake island in the world, as well as one of its 108 freshwater lakes, Lake Manitou, is the largest lake on a freshwater island in the world!  It is possible to access the island via a one-lane Little Current swing bridge (which used to be a railway bridge, but it has not seen a train in many decades) or, in the summer, via a daily passenger-vehicle ferry, the MS Chi-Cheemaun (meaning, in Ojibwe, “Big Canoe”), which travels between Tobermory on Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on the island.  At the beginning of the season in 2013 the water level was too low for the ferry to dock, so for the first few weeks it was unable to operate, thus negatively affecting the local economy.  Some locals also complained that whereas the news about the inability of the MS Chi-Cheemaun to run between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island was widely publicized in the mass media, once the ferry commenced its operations, that fact was not really advertised that much and thus many potential visitors to the island incorrectly assumed the ferry was still grounded and decided to go somewhere else.

Welcome to Little Current!
A historical plaque at Swift Current Channel provided some interesting information on the importance of this channel in during past centuries, when many prominent people use this waterway:


Through this channel at Swift Current passed the canoes of the explorers, missionaries and fur traders who opened up the interior of this continent. Their route followed the Ottawa River to its junction with the Mattawa and thence via Lake Nipissing, the French River, Georgian Bay and the North Channel to Lakes Michigan or Superior. This waterway was traversed by Jean Nicolet, 1634, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Médart Chouart des Groseilliers, 1659, Father Claude Allouez, 1665, Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Dulhut, 1678, Pierre de la Vérendrye, 1727, Alexander Henry, 1761, Simon McTavish and William McGillivray, 1784, David Thompson, 1812, and Sir George Simpson, 1841.

Our campsite at Batman's Cottages and Campground
After briefly stopping in Espanola, we drove on the Little Current swing bridge and went to the Visitors’ Center, where we picked up some brochures on local accommodations and attractions.  Since almost 40% of Manitoulin’s population consists of Native People, we were quite excited when we found a brochure advertising a native campground and immediately headed there.  When we arrived, there were several native campers, ceremonial grounds, open space and nobody in the office... we did not really know where we could camp without committing any disrespect to those sacred grounds and we decided to check out another place, called Batman’s.  I entered its coordinates in my GPS unit and foolishly followed its directions.  Wow, did it take us for a ride!  We were driving on some dirt, potholed roads, passing farmlands or pastures, hardly spotting a home or barn.  We had to turn around twice as the road became impassable for the van.  At one point we drove down a very steep hill — fortunately, the canoe was securely attached to the van’s roof, otherwise it would have probably slid off!  We saw numerous wind turbines popping up on the horizon.  I knew that GPS units were not perfect, but I could not believe that they were so brainless!

(Probably) abandoned church
Eventually we did get on the main road (which we should have taken in the first place) and soon reached ‘Batman’s Cottages and Campground’.  There were plenty of semi-permanent structures (i.e., RV campers and mobile homes), creating a small, dynamic community, as well as several campsites.  We picked campsite no. 142, with a view of the lake.  Well, after camping on remote islands, pristine lakes and desolate shores, this place certainly did not appeal to us, but since there were not any provincial parks on Manitoulin Island, we had no choice but to stay there for at least one night.  I quickly started a campfire and once it became dark, we enjoyed the stay, going to bed before midnight.  At about 4:00 am we were awoken by some noise; Catherine got out of the tent and then quickly came back, saying that there was not a bear, but an even worse creature at our campsite: a skunk, who got into our garbage bag!  We were very quiet, although it would be extremely unlikely for a skunk to spray without any provocation.  When we got up in the morning, it had been gone and the only evidence of its earlier presence was a few pieces of scattered garbage.

At the Kicking Mule Ranch, playing with kittens!
Then we headed to a very remarkable place called Gordon’s Park, near the town of  Tehkummahk.  It offered camping, tipi tenting (which especially appealed to Catherine!), stargazing cabin, wilderness campsite, educational hiking trails, solar heated swimming pool and dark star preserve, among other attractions.  The friendly staff showed us around and even drove us several hundreds meters up the road, where the dark star preserve was located, along with a few cabins.  We liked this place and thought it would be great to one day visit it with some other couples and stay in a cabin, but since a very large group (75) of young people were just about to arrive, we were afraid this place would become too busy and noisy for us and decided to continue looking for another place; as per Gordon’s Park employee recommendation, we drove a few kilometres up the road to a place called “Kicking Mule Ranch”.

At the Kicking Mule Ranch, ponies
We found a ranch with 4 tiny campsites and 2 bunkers — in addition to a ranch full of horses & mules, there was a petting zoo (with rabbits, chicken, goats and lama-like animals), ponies, a very friendly Rottweiler which, as the sign warned, ‘may lick you to death’ and four lovely kittens!  We picked a campsite next to a tepee and an antique Cadillac; except for occasional horse riders, we were the only ones staying there overnight.  For some reasons, it was a magical place!  The owner’s 8 year old grandson came over to chat and later he was riding one of the ponies.
At the Kicking Mule Ranch
We drove to the post office in Tehkummahk and tried to find a public phone, but to no avail; eventually somebody let Catherine use his cell phone so that she could call her daughter in the US.  We got back to the ranch around 6:00 pm and nobody else was there.  We walked to the petting area, took a bunch of photos and played with the kitties, having so much fun!  Kitties kept trying to get in our tent.  Catherine let one sleep with her, but took it back to his igloo house around 2:00 am.  Big Rottweiler Diesel was jealous of the kitties and eventually came over to our tent, looking for our attention!  Of course, we also had a campfire.

Gore Bay 
Next day we drove across the island.  There were lots of lakes on Manitoulin, many Indian reserves as well as the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve.  By the way, ten years ago I had driven to Wikwemikong, where I visited a catholic church and the ruins of an old, burned down church.  Since I had known the Jesuit pastor of this church, Father Doug McCarthy, I hoped to pay him a brief visit, but he was away. 

We drove on road 542 and eventually reached Gore Bay.  There was a lookout point from which we could admire the whole bay and the town, watching boats slowly coming into the bay and float planes landing and taking off.  It was quite windy, cool and rainy, yet we still drove to the Janet Head Lighthouse and then back to the Kicking Mule Ranch on road no. 540.  Fortunately, our campsite was dry, the bad weather had not managed to get hold of it.  The next morning we packed up (accompanied by one inquisitive kitty who was walking on the car and hiding under the canoe on the roof).  Before we left, we talked to the owner of the ranch, who took us to the corral and explained the difference between horses and mules.

Lighthouse near Gore Bay
We drove back to Little Current, where we looked at a Native Pow Wow site and a beautiful wooden church, with amazing architecture.  We also stopped at 10 Mile Point, from where a breathtaking view of Georgian Bay towards the town of Killarney stretched out; possibly I could even see the Fox Islands, where we had camped in 2011 and 2012.  There was a Trading Post with plenty of very unique and interesting books, Native art, paintings, carvings and original T-shirts.  The following historical plaque gave more details about the history of this area:

1648 – 50

In 1648 Father Joseph Poncet, then serving at St. Marie in Huronia, was placed in charge of the Jesuit mission of St. Pierre by his superior Father Paul Ragueneau. This newly created mission was formed to serve the Algonkian-speaking Indians of Manitoulin Island and the north shore of Lake Huron. Poncet, the first known European resident of Manitoulin (called Ile de Ste. Marie by the missionaries and Ekaentoton by the Hurons), served on this island from October, 1648, to May, 1649. He returned to Manitoulin before the end of the latter year, but was compelled to abandon the mission in 1650, following the defeat and dispersal of the Hurons by the Iroquois.

At the 10 Mile Point Trading Post
After parking the van in Little Current, we walked along a waterfront, observing plenty of motorboats, cruisers and sailing boats.  We stroke up a conversation with one gentleman from Detroit whose big cruiser was docked nearby.  He enthusiastically answered my questions about his impressive craft (which, incidentally, was a new one, as the old one had perished in a marina fire in the USA, along with tens of other similar boats).  It turned out that the yacht could accommodate up to 12 people, it had two 300 or 400 hp engines, was using enormous amount of gas, costing probably well over $1 per kilometre, had all the latest electronic & GPS equipment so that once programmed, it basically navigated itself.  The more information I was finding out about this boat, the more I was glad we had our simple, light, inexpensive, paddle-powered and virtually maintenance-free canoe!
Dock in Little Current, Manitoulin Island
Later we had a cup of coffee in a nearby coffee shop and then spent over one hour in a discount shop which offered some amazing bargains!  Finally we drove over the Little Current bridge, thus officially leaving Manitoulin Island and stopped in a mall in Espanola, where we did some shopping and cold beer, and drove all the way to Parry Sound, where we arrived at Oastler Lake Provincial Park.  This is a nice park, just several km south of Parry Sound.  We had stayed a few times at this park, mostly for one night, while going to or coming from our vacation.  We got a nice campsite (no. 132), facing west and after quickly setting up the tent, we could still sit and, sipping cold beer, enjoy the sunset.  Next day we spend a few hours leisurely paddling on Oastler Lake and in the evening drove back home to Toronto.


  1. Fantastic report, as usual. A liitle bit of terryfing moment (thundering, interesting places - Maespecially Manitoulin Island. Grretings.

  2. Thanks, Daniel. Yes, the storm was a very special experience, we were concerned about our tent, canoe and being struck by lighting, but we survived intact!

  3. Like reading a good little book, gorgeous photography and descriptions of the area I have called home since late 60's--thank you!

    Elliot Lake

    1. Hello,

      Thanks for your comments.
      I'm sure that your description of the area's history would be even more fascinating!