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Tunnel Lake Trading Post
Hwy 129 Thessalon,
Ontario, Canada, P0R1L0
(705) 841-2508

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Box 125, Bruce Mines, Ontario, Canada, POR1C0, 705-782-1111, info@algomasoutdoorexperience.com


The River Runs Through It

Special to Sault Star Newspaper – By Deborah Clement
Saturday, September 9, 2000  Section E

The Mississagi River Valley Survived the fire of 1948 and today has a flourishing tourism industry.

Northern Ontario is still drawing tourists to the region with the beauty of its forest, lakes and rivers.  Anglers and hunters flock to this area to spend their holidays and hard-earned cash in local businesses.

Up the 129 Highway is the beautiful and (in most parts) untamed Mississagi River.  The nature of the Mississagi waterway dictated the type of industry that would succeed within its region.

The river played an important role as a transportation route for both natives and Europeans before roads were built.  During the 1870’s, the federal government decided to promote Northern Ontario as the New Frontier.

Many people feeling that southern Ontario was getting crowded came North to build settlements within the vincinity of the Mississagi River. Trees and stumps were removed, soil was turned and crops were planted as farmers and their families worked to establish themselves.

In the 1870’s, David Todd and J.J. McFadden, along with other wealthy merchants, settled in the area and built logging operations centred in the middle and upper portions of the Mississagi watershed.  These logging camps were built with cookeries, blacksmith shops, sleep camps, offices and foreman’s shanty.

Men traveled from as far away as Quebec and Manitoba to work forests timbered with Hemlock, Balsam, Black Birch, Beech and enormous quantities of White and Red Pine.

The Mississagi served as a natural source of transportation for men bringing barges of logs to mills built along its banks.  In 1938, the tourist industry was first drawn to the area by the beauty of the river.

Clarence Hodge, a university professor from Chicago, came north to build the Outpost Lodge, a tourist camp that sits within the valley on Jobamageeshig Lake.  Hodge suffered from glaucoma and was denied his tenure with the university.

The wilderness of the valley appealed to him, and he spent many years as a lodge owner and guide to American tourists.

The beautiful scenery and sandy beaches that lay along the shores of the lakes within the region appealed to many people over the next few years, and other camps such as Limberlost, Grand Falls, Hemlocks, and Wakomata Shores were built. 

Tourists who traveled to the wilderness of Northern Ontario to fish in the spring, holiday with family in the summer and hunt in the fall found themselves guests of these individuals.

 Rustic cabins, dining lodges with huge stone fire places and enormous kitchens were built with tools that included only an axe, hammer, level and a crosscut saw.  Electricity was non-existent at the time so all heat for warmth and cooking was generated by wood stoves and light by Cole oil lanterns.

Just when these woodsmen were building, and established repeat clients, the Mississagi fire broke out in 1948.  It was believed the fire was started by a poacher, (possibly a muskrat trapper) on the headwaters of the Sharpsand in the Mississagi Game Preserve.  It was land that had been licensed to cut by the J.J. McFadden Lumber Company Limited.

Weather conditions played a big part in how quickly the fire spread. Holly Parsons, an aerial photographer, was photographing the forest for a hydro project in the Wenebegon Catchment area when he spotted the smoke about 36 kilometres away.  Within 10 minutes he was over the fire, and felt the estimated size of the burn was 20 to 25 acres.  The date was Tuesday, May 25, 1948.

At that time, the Ranger Lake Station and Peshu Lake Station did not have direct radio communications. Jimmie O'Meara was a former ranger with the Department of Lands and Forests, and was employed by McFadden as chief of fire protection for the company. A camp clerk saw the smoke at 1:30 p.m. and reported the sighting to O'Meara, who was at the Peshu Lake Ranger headquarters. .

O'Meara tried to reach the fire area, but found it to be further away than he expected. Returning to Peshu Lake, he obtained the services of pilot G.Tessier of the Lands and Forests. It was 3:20 p.m. O'Meara reported that an area of 50 acres was burning and by 4 p.m. he reported that it had reached 100 acres, and was crowning rapidly. '

Water bombing was in its infancy in 1948, with the scooping of water into the floats of a Norseman aircraft, and paper bags filled with water to be dropped from a Beaver aircraft. The Norseman would usually scoop too much water and the plane would not take off. The paper bags in the Beaver often broke before the exhausted fire, fighters ever got the chance to release them. A lack of roads in the fire area also hampered the efforts to fight the fire.

There were only two main roads at the time, the Mississagi Road (Highway 129) on the west boundary and the White River Road on the eastern boundary. Both these roads were narrow, gravel and in poor condition,  making travel slow. It is reported that it took approximately four hours to drive by jeep from Blind River to the fire site. Over the next three months, the fire burned with over 1,538 extra fire fighters working to put it out. On Aug. 31, 1948 it was officially pronounced history –a total of 323,520 acres of land had burned in the Mississagi Region.

Camp life was put on hold that summer but resumed the following spring with many tourists flocking to the area to see the burn. It had been reported at one time that the smoke could be seen from as far away as Chicago. Entertainment at these camps was good old-fashioned fun. There was no such thing as television, and only the odd radio when reception would come in.

Guests gathered in the main lodge for games, movies and popcorn. Some sat around camp fires telling fish stories and singing with a guitar.

Today, most of these old camps are still running but under new ownership, and have been brought into the 21st century with hydro, indoor plumbing, running hot and cold water, television, game rooms, and telephones.

Spinoffs of this booming industry also came in the shape of trading posts, and general stores along the main roadway. Places such as Tunnel Lake Trading Post, Johnny's Truck Stop and Black Creek Outfitters built by Otto Villeneuve at the corner of Highway 129 and Black Creek Road. The fact that the property did not sit on a lake did not deter Villeneuve from his goal of getting into the service industry. He built a store for supplies, bait and souvenirs along with cabins to house anglers and hunters for bear and moose hunts. Today it remains in operation, and has become a landmark and meeting place for many as they travel the North highway. At the tail end of the valley sits Aubrey Falls Trading Post.

Proprietor Barry Becket has done his best to touch on every need of anyone wanting to go North for a holiday.

His licensed restaurant, winterized lodge, general store, bait shop, gas station, motel units; and holding an auto mechanics license, makes it a one-stop shop for many visitors to the North.

Another perk to tourism in the Valley Tourists coming to the Mississagi

is the rise of bed and breakfast businesses.   Bed and breakfast is the next best thing to staying with relatives or friends.  In an age where traveling is expensive, one can still find comfortable and reasonable accommodations in private homes. 

The bed and breakfast idea was pioneered in Cape Breton Island in 1972.  It all started with farmers and rural families offering their country homes to travelers for a change and a rest away from the “rat race.”

Today, more people are taking advantage of the bed and breakfast concept. Bed and breakfast hosts are people who are interested in sharing their genuine hospitality in a family atmosphere, while enriching their own lives through cultural exchange and friendship.

The Mississagi Valley is no exception as Keith and Paton Hoback will prove should any traveler decide to be their guests. The Goode Knight Bed & Breakfast is nestled among the hardwoods, and wildlife of the valley.

The Hobacks are avid nature photographers, and cedar strip canoe builders.

Paton is a landscape artist and genealogist, displaying her talents year round throughout their home. Guests can enjoy a quiet evening on the screened-in porch and breakfast in the formal dining room.

A short trip down the valley will bring travelers to the Mountain View Bed 8c Breakfast, a timber frame home overlooking Cummings Lake and Rock Candy Mountain.

Jane Mundy is the owner and takes great pride in there being so many things to do in the valley.

Mississagi provides activities such as hiking; fishing, horseback riding, canoeing, rock climbing, swimming, snow mobiling and cross-country ski trails during the winter months.

A professional photographer, Mundy has worked extensively in the First Nation communities along the North Shore of Lake Huron, and Manitoulin Island believing the area is an artist or photographer's paradise.

Providing adventure and a relaxed atmosphere is her goal.

Tourists coming to the Mississagi River Valley from as far away as Holland and Africa view her beauty and are treated like royalty.

Once checked into their cabin at a tourist lodge or room in a bed and breakfast, they may relax, walk in the woods, or take a quiet ride down Highway 546, through the valley to Kynoch. 

Coming over the hill, they will find a spectacular view, and home to hundreds of Sand Hill Cranes.  A visit to the Ginny Post Tea Garden is essential for those not hooked on fishing.

Surrounded by rolling hills, bloom upon bloom of well-attended gardens, drinking hot tea and nibbling on homemade baking, has become a summer tradition for many locals and travelers to the valley.


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