Monday, September 8th
By 7 am, we were on the highway heading towards Restoule Provincial Park (RPP) for a week-long canoe trip along the Restoule River, around Eighteen Mile Island on the French River; and if time permitted, we would also trip around Okikendawt Island on the Little French River.
On route, we had hoped to tour the museum at Champlain Provincial Park with its exhibit of the Montreal canoe and other voyageur artifacts, but were disappointed to find the premise closed until 1 pm. We proceeded to RPP, stopping a few times to collect broken tree limbs from the ditches for the evening’s campfire. A female deer stood at the side of the road just as we arrived at our campsite at 2 pm – we took this as a sure sign of good things to come.
Since we would be traversing through native reserve lands and having discussed our trip plan with one of Norm H’s native friends, we respected and conformed with native spirituality traditions and culture by leaving offerings of tobacco to the land for safe passage and burnt sweetgrass to cleanse our souls for the journey.
After a superb BBQ steak supper, we put all the food bags into the van to discourage two persistent raccoons that tried to get into everything not nailed down. The two rascals finally departed and could be heard clattering up a storm at another campsite.
We walked beyond the edge of our campsite on a swath of sandy beach and stood facing the glimmering yellow cast of the setting sun on the still water. Soon the rim of the burning sun sank behind the distant hilltops, and the last vestige of the yellow beam disappeared from the surface of the water. A full moon appeared on the opposite horizon, lighting up the countryside and casting a long, wide v-shape on the surface of the lake. The planet Mars, at its closest proximity to earth these past few weeks, brightly sparkled to the left of the moon.
Sunset on Restoule Lake
Tuesday Sept 9
By 8:40 am, we were loaded with shelter and food for a week and were itching to depart under clear, sunny skies and mirror-like smooth waters. We quickly leapt across Stormy Lake with the sun flashing upon our paddles and entered the narrow confines of the Restoule River and its boreal forest.
Entering the Restoule River
Paddling at 6 km/hour, we reached Scott Dam within the hour. Our first portage, R1P270 was well trodden and easily passable; an old fishing and hunting camp located next to the dam became the topic of conversation. The low water level below the dam created a rock garden, its slow moving water eventually passing around both sides of a delta island.
Caught between Reflections
We immediately ran through an opening in a beaver dam and then zigzagged along the narrow river, sighting the odd camp on the right side only - the land on the left side was native reserve. We stopped occasionally to take a stretch break and drank plenty of water to avoid dehydration – we were making good time.
We passed by Lennon Lake without even realizing it and soon found ourselves at McArthur Rapids where we had just enough water to drag, lift and float our canoes through another slippery rock garden – even a shallow passage was better than portaging. Further downstream, we paddled over beaver dams under construction realizing that once completed, they would change the course of the river.
Wayne & Norm H walking McArthur Rapids
We paddled for an hour twisting through a lush swale of wetland where we spotted blue heron, turtles, ducks, loons, frogs, a couple of beaver lodges, an osprey and a greeting from a kingfisher. The russet of the whispering sedge and grasses among the marshes took on a metallic sheen. White lilies on green pads dotted the waterway. The riverbed troll hair was thick and lying along the surface as the current pulled it downstream - we knew that it wouldn’t be an easy paddle upon our return at the end of the week against this mass of entanglement and current. Every turn opened up new vistas throughout this wetland and we had to skid our canoes over one final beaver dam before leaving this eco-conservation.
Norm H & Wayne in front of a Beaver House
By 1 pm, we reached the reserve bridge. Four men with ATVs, and one with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder, leaned over the railing and watched our approach. The movie, Deliverance, quickly came to mind as we drew nearer. We ran the small ledge under the bridge, slightly scraping our canoes over the main boulder. Further downstream, we disembarked and hauled our canoes over shallow water and around rocks until we came to a small head pond with deeper water. Along this section of the Restoule River, we saw foot-high bright red Cardinals growing along the rocky shoreline – this eye-catching wildflower displayed only a single cluster of five red pedals rather than the multi-clusters seen elsewhere.
Red Cardinal Wildflower
Undertaking Restoule portage
After surveying the Restoule falls and rapids, we followed R2P750 to Kesa Bay on the French River. Near the end of the portage, a rugged rock ledge dropped straight into the bay with twisted, gnarled cedars and pines growing among its creviced boulders – stepping and jumping from one boulder to another with equipment and canoes was the only means to traverse it – it was the most dangerous and challenging portage we, as a group, had ever encountered.
We stopped at the outfitter next to Hale Island to learn that, upon our return trip, we could use the reserve land to reach the bridge without having to undertake the treacherous portage at the base of the Restoule River - the one-kilometer hike seemed much safer.
Exhausted from the trip and this unexpected portage, it was decided that our first campsite would be on Hale Island. The alternative would be to paddle for another hour in order to reach Jeune Marie Islands and meet our day’s destination; catching up and meeting our objective of paddling around Eighteen Mile Island would require an early departure the next morning.
The path from the put-in to our campsite on a rock bluff led us past pine trees rooted in a thick carpet of moss and a bed of needles. We were fortunate to have a picnic table and three tent pads; however, the privy could not be located. The mosquitoes, nits and deer flies were horrendous and relentless.
Norm H, Wayne & John at Hale Island campsite
As we relaxed around the campfire, we took note of the full moon in the clear star-lit sky with the planet Mars now situated to its right. In this tranquil and unhurried atmosphere, sleep came easy for all.