Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
A trip down the Pakeshkag River in Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Today’s post comes from Sonje Bols, a former naturalist at Grundy Lake Provincial Park.

Part of a park naturalist’s job is to become familiar with the natural and cultural wonders of their park through exploration.

Whether strolling through the swamps to catch and identify dragonflies, checking the rocks for snakes, or canoeing along indigenous canoe routes, naturalists aim to observe and explore every inch of their parks in order to bring that knowledge and experience to the people. visitors and park administrators.

With that in mind, Grundy Lake Provincial Park naturalist staff made a plan to embark on a canoe trip along the Pakeshkag River in late August 2018.

This river connects the central Pakeshkag Lake with Cantin Lake and the Pickerel River to the north. The Pickerel River joins the iconic French River, the first river designated as Canadian Heritage in 1980.

That means you can plan a canoe trip to this historic river from Grundy Lake Provincial Park!

There are a few options to access the Pakeshkag River:

  • paddle Gurd Lake north via Beaver Lake and some portages to Pakeshkag Lake
  • Avoid the difficult 650m portage between Gurd and Beaver Lakes and the 1.2km portage along the Pakeshkag Lake Trail to Beaver Lake (look for the Beaver Lake sign)
  • transport the 2.6 km length of the Pakeshkag Lake Trail to Pakeshkag Lake
  • Tip: A canoe cart works well for these last two options!

    Grundy lake map

    On the level

    Another purpose of the trip was to see what the water level situation was.

    You may remember that most of Ontario experienced a very dry summer. We were curious to know if the Pakeshkag River was even navigable in a dry year! As we paddled along Pakeshkag Lake, we hoped to make it to the Pickerel River.

    staff with net and oars


    The day started out a little cool and cloudy, but soon turned sunny and warm. We take off our sweaters as we paddle through the pine forests and the lake’s smooth, rocky shores.

    rocky shorePhoto: Connor Ferguson

    After about an hour of paddling, we encountered a “rise.”

    Here the route is blocked by a narrow rocky peninsula about 3-4m wide on which you must lift the canoe, rather than carry it. The beautiful views and smooth, sloping rocks made it the perfect spot for a picnic and swimming!

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    canoe on rocksThe “uprising”
    bridge tunnelThe railway bridge tunnel, normally filled with water.

    After another 15 minutes of paddling we reached the 185 m portage, which also crosses a railway bridge.

    The portage is marked to start just before the bridge, but as the water levels were very low, we opted to check the tunnel under the bridge to see if we could port our canoes through it. At higher water levels this is not possible and hauling is the way to go.

    These low water levels gave us the opportunity to explore an area that would otherwise be hidden underwater.

    We saw mink frogs and cardinal flowers where a small waterfall normally flows, and we jumped from rock to rock, which were covered in water just a few months walking on rocks

    Under pressure

    Grundy Lake is a park shaped by water and ice.

    Glacial ice sheets eroded the ancient Canadian Shield over thousands of years. When that ice began to melt here about 10,000 years ago, water flowing under great pressure between the ice and the rock scoured and sculpted the surface of the bedrock.

    red flowers near the lakeBright red cardinal flowers grow in swamps and along river banks.

    Gaps in the bedrock now contain lakes and wetlands, making Grundy Lake a collection of diverse habitats for plants and animals.

    carrying it

    Once again, we jumped into our canoes towards the Pakeshkag River, taking care to avoid the large patch of Poison Ivy at the end of the portage.

    After about 30 minutes of paddling across the wide river, it turned north and narrowed significantly.

    staff paddling canoe

    The spectacular rocky shores faded into a meandering brown river filled with water lilies. The coast was bordered first by forests and then by grassy wetlands.

    Traveling was difficult at times, as our oars were used more for fishing than paddling, but we were still able to make steady and rewarding progress along the river. We passed our canoes through five beaver dams, and the river channel became increasingly narrower and deeper.

    river boating

    a good builder

    Beavers are nature’s engineers: they build canals and dams, all in an effort to control the flow of water. Beavers are almost aquatic and adapted to living in water, with webbed feet for swimming, a transparent third eyelid, and waterproof fur.

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    person walking on beaver dam

    These furry creatures want to build their shelter in the middle of a large pond, so that their predators (wolves and bears) cannot reach them. Beavers eat twigs and branches from trees such as aspen and birch, cutting them with their sharp front teeth.

    Water means safety for beavers, so they build dams and flood areas to get as close to the trees as possible. They store the branches under water, like in a refrigerator, to keep them fresh and preserved.

    beaver lodge

    Friends of flora and fauna.

    We enjoyed being able to see the (otherwise underwater) entrances to a beaver lodge and several painted turtles sunbathing. When beavers build their dams, they create important habitats for the plants and animals that live in the water and along its banks.

    Twelve point skimmerTwelve-point Skimmers have wings with striking designs

    An olive-sided flycatcher swooped on us at one point, and our hearts skipped a beat when we saw a twelve-spot skimmer. This distinctive dragonfly is quite common in the area but has never been recorded in the park before!

    Park staff keep records of plants and animals seen throughout the park, using iNaturalist, eBird, and other nature apps.

    Flycatchers and dragonflies are among the many creatures that inhabit the area between land and water, known as “riparian” habitat.

    Fortunately for paddlers, Grundy Lake has plenty of these types of ecosystems.

    The river eventually joined Lake Cantin and the Pickerel River. From here, it was a windy but scenic paddle to the Pickerel River Bridge along Highway 69, where our ride back to the park awaited us.

    I find lake and riverCantin Lake and the Pickerel River. Photo: Sarah Wiebe

    All journeys must come to an end.

    In total, the trip took us six hours and was approximately 8 km round trip.

    Not only were we able to successfully hike this beautiful route (and tell park visitors about the experience), but we were also able to see it in incredibly unique conditions.

    group of staff giving the go-ahead

    We recorded dozens of wildlife records for iNaturalist, including a new species to the park! Records like this help park managers maintain ecological integrity in provincial parks.

    What better way for a group of park naturalists to spend the day?