The River Runs Through It
to Sault Star Newspaper – By Deborah Clement
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
wilderness of the valley appealed to him, and he spent many years as a lodge
owner and guide to American tourists.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. .
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. '
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.
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.
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.
gathered in the main lodge for games, movies and popcorn. Some sat around camp
fires telling fish stories and singing with a guitar.
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.
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.
Barry Becket has done his best to touch on every need of anyone wanting to go
North for a holiday.
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.
perk to tourism in the Valley Tourists coming to the Mississagi
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
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.”
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.
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.
Hobacks are avid nature photographers, and cedar strip canoe builders.
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.
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
Mundy is the owner and takes great pride in there being so many things to do in
provides activities such as hiking; fishing, horseback riding, canoeing, rock
climbing, swimming, snow mobiling and cross-country ski trails during the winter
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.
adventure and a relaxed atmosphere is her goal.
coming to the Mississagi River Valley from as far away as Holland and Africa
view her beauty and are treated like royalty.
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.
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.