Canoe Tripping – 101

During the recent Labour Day long-weekend, ‎I led a 3-day canoe trip in North Frontenac. We started with a workshop on backcountry camping and gear, followed by a flat water paddling techniques practice, plus some basic portaging methods, and rescue-safety tips. We then embarked from Marble Lake Lodge, portaging at Meyers Cave, and wading through some mild rapids connecting into Kashwakmak Lake, continuing eastwards to our booked interior campsite. ‎We ended at the boat launch (Browns Bay) that has access to highway #506.

My company, WSC Survival School, has‎ organized and led canoe trips for over 35 years, with approximately 3,000 youth and adults. Some of the favourite short canoe trips in Ontario include the Frost Centre in Haliburton, McCrae Lake near Georgian Bay, Grundy Lake and the French River, and numerous scenic routes in Algonquin Park and Lake Superior Park. For some excellent ideas, refer to “Canoe Routes of Ontario”, by Kevin Callan available here on Amazon.

Having lived here in North Frontenac for nearly 10 years, I realized that I was long overdue to explore some local Lakes via the canoe! 

We are lucky to have many excellent Lakes and rivers in the Frontenac and  Madawaska region‎, including vast areas of Crown Lands, Bon Echo Provincial Park, the scenic Madawaska River, Sharbot Lake, and Frontenac Provincial Park.  After researching a number of possible canoe routes in North Frontenac, I chose our route mainly out of the convenience of starting at Marble Lake Lodge.

The overall trip was a fun adventure, with nice scenery, good campfires, and a positive growth experience for the novice adult canoeists.

Some observations and concerns were, however, noted.

While many motorized boaters slowed down and gave our canoes a wide birth, there were also frequent sea doers and power boats that were speeding to close, creating some dangerous wakes. At the boat launch, we observed several boats with zero flotation devices, or emergency gear. One fishing vessel, with five guys on board, had no bailer, rescue rope, signal device, paddles, and no life jackets. Out of curiosity, we asked one of the occupants why they didn’t have any flotation devices. He responded that they didn’t need them! If added up, and being conservative, I figured that this one boat had at least $2,000 in boating safety fines.

Another negative observation was the very small and hard to see campsite signage. Very small, square,  with a white background, almost impossible to locate signage should be replaced with ‎more traditional rectangular bright coloured signage. Also, Campsites can hold up to a maximum of six persons. We saw one site that had over twenty occupants, several tents and large tarps setup for what I’m sure was a large party. I’m wondering, overall, if the authorities even know what’s going on here? We saw no presence of law enforcement or conservation staff throughout the three days. They would have made a fortune collecting fines, and potentially some arrests.

If you’re going to plan an excellent canoeing journey, here are some tips to make your experience a memorable one:

Personal Gear:

  • canoe or barrel pack
  • sleeping bag and underpad
  • expedition tents, eg Eureka or North Face semi-dome designs, +footprint or ground sheet
  • headlamp
  • insect repellant, sunscreen, water bottle‎, metal mug
  • layered clothing, warm hat, sunhat, Goretex rain gear, woolens, hiking boots, water shoes, bathing suit and towel
  • personal hygiene and meds

Group Gear:

  • campfire grill
  • large MEC tarps
  • buck saw, eg Boreal Agawa Canyon Saw
  • lantern and fuel
  • camp stoves and fuel
  • water filter pump, gravity filter eg. Katadyn 10 litre
  • mess kits and utensils, sponge and phosphate free soap, eg sunlight
  • guitar, deck of cards
  • meal plan, eg instant camp meals in a pouch, high energy carbs and snacks

Canoe Selection: Depending on the length of your trip, and portage difficulty, your likely looking at 16 or 17 ft canoes. The lightest composites are Graphite and Kevlar‎, ranging in price from $2,000 to $6,000. Low cost, and heavy composites include Fiberglass and ABS Plastic.

My favourite manufacturers include Langford, SWIFT, Novacraft, Mad River, and Old Towne. Economical canoes under $700 include Coleman and Clearwater. But these are more meant for day use at the cottage. Same with the Sportspal.

TIP: there are many canoe swaps for used canoes, and typically in the fall, numerous listing on Kijiji.

Boating Regulations and Safety:‎ for small watercraft, eg canoes, unless you place a motor on a squareback canoe, you don’t require any boating licenses or exams.

At minimum, you do require the following, and fines for non-adherance can range from $250 per infraction on up:

  • approved and properly sized flotation devices, ULC stamped, in the vessel 
  • 50 ft minimum buoyant heaving rope
  • wide mouth bailer, 1.1 litres+, and/or bilge pump
  • properly sized paddles, and/or anchor
  • signaling device, ‎eg Fox-40 whistle, air horn
  • wide angle head light for night travel

Also, fines can be laid for being over capacity for the boat, having open alcohol, and for other negligent behaviours.

TIPS: I prefer and recommend a Throw bag instead of a flimsy poly rope, and highly recommend to wear your POF or Lifejacket at all times (Good luck trying to put in on when your tossed into the water)

Campsite Regulations:‎ if your Campsites are in a Provincial or National Park, you can book in advance, on-line. As a Canadian resident, you can camp free of charge on Crown Lands, for up to 21 days at the same location. Unless it’s a Municipal Shoreline Allowance, eg. North Frontenac Campsites, then you have to book a site, with the benefit of a fireplace and thunderbox for your usage. Prices vary from region to region. 

Water travel via the historic canoe affords you a closer connection with nature, and time to think about the early Explorers, Native Peoples,  and Voyageurs‎, who carved out the routes and trading that gave us this great country.

And, you experience some healthy physical activity that’s actually good for you! 

Happy paddling! 

David Arama