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BACK ROADS BILL: Solitude – remoteness and reasons why

This week Bill has started thinking about an early spring and where to go next

My winter weather prediction, made late last summer, is holding true. Some folks are not so happy.

This week is another mild week. And this recent spate of balminess got me thinking about paddling and back road destinations. Sometimes people ask what is a must-see and do canoe trip. There are natural reasons.


In outdoor marketing, Temagami is a well-known brand. It is the third most popular canoeing area in North America after Quetico/Boundary Waters and Algonquin Park). It affords the opportunity to celebrate ‘Canadian Canoe Culture.’

With Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Wilderness Park at its core, it is a rugged landscape of rocky shores, old-growth red and white pine, waterfalls, and Ontario's highest elevation, (Ispathina first, Maple Mountain, second). It is one of the few designated wilderness parks that does not have a campground attached to it. The vast thousand-year-old-plus network of nastawgan — the portages and routes by lake and river — were created by the Temagami Anishnabai, centred by Lake Temagami.

Five provincial parks covering 104,248 hectares, one-fourth the size of PEI or half the size of the GTA, lie in the western part of Temagami. Surrounding the parks are eight conservation reserves which make up an additional 42,836 hectares of protected area. The remaining land base consists of unregulated Crown lands. Temagami lies within Daki Menan, the ancestral homeland of the Teme-AugamaAnishnabai—“the deep water people.” Many sacred sites are found within the area, and the landscape of Temagami continues to hold great cultural, spiritual and economic significance for indigenous and non-native peoples.

There is one area that is true wilderness, untouched by contemporary humankind development, with Florence Lake as the core (WGS 84 - N47° 13.901’ W80° 33.911’ or 17 T E532914 N5231003 ). It is your destination.

Natural and cultural heritage

Thor Conway is retired but was a leading government archaeologist in northern Ontario for four decades. He has a book on the go: Secrets of the Temagami Wilderness, and he knows a few, particularly for Florence Lake. I was able to have a sneak peek at a draft chapter entitled: Florence Lake wilderness and someone’s back yard, I reached him in British Columbia.

“The white pine and red pine-covered shores of Florence Lake are steeped in aboriginal use. Indians have lived on the shores of Florence Lake for so many generations that the native name for the uniquely shaped lake almost turned into a cryptic word,” said Thor. “The original name for Florence Lake is Kishkimskhazhishing. The lake, which is divided into two sections by a spit of land sticking out with water, like a river going around the spit.” Certainly a lengthy, but accurate description.

He explained, “This strange geographic feature, The Fine-Grained Sand Dam, divides Florence Lake into two sections. Ka-Bingwee-Kog names the sandy neck connecting the mainland to the huge peninsula filling the south half of the lake.” From oral history and interviews with Elders, he said, “The barely-remembered Indian community and cemetery on Florence Lake was also called (Fine-Grained) Sand Dam Village.”

“The history of Florence Lake goes back thousands of years. Archaeological fieldwork began in 1973 on Lake Temagami when the Ministry of Natural Resources gave me access to a Beaver (same Beaver I flew in on) float aircraft for a day. I enjoyed six memorable hours flying across the district searching for ancient remains. Everywhere we landed, Sand Point on Lake Temagami, a long spit on Florence Lake, the remote shores of Makobe Lake, a clearing at Diamond Lake sparkling like its name, our first minutes on these beaches yield handfuls of flint flakes and broken shards of prehistoric pottery.” Look for Thor’s Facebook page – Temagami Secrets.

Lifetime in Temagami

The Society of Camp Directors Writing Award was given to Brian Back for his book and see his website.

“Ottertooth grew out of the writing of ‘The Keewaydin Way’ in 1999. I had set up Ottertooth to allow people to contribute and comment on material I was putting in the book, those early years of the web before social media. But they started sending me stuff on the whole area, stuff that wasn’t going into the book.

“There was no other website, so people gravitated to it. Temagami is the geographic center of my Earth,” said Brian. “I was a canoe guide there in the seventies and eighties, executive director and co-founder of Temagami Wilderness Society and founder of Earthroots. So Ottertooth was my natural extension of it to the digital world.”

He describes the landscape, “You’ll find some of the province’s highest ridgelines and oldest forests in this swath of quintessential canoe country. Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park is at the heart of the Temagami wilderness. More than 4,700 kilometres of canoe routes have been identified in the region—equal to the distance between New York and Los Angeles. Regional First Nations know the thousand-year-old network of portages, trails and waterways as Nastawgan, so did Grey Owl.”

Florence Lake

In Anishinaabemowin it is translated by the ethnogeographer Craig Macdonald as Shkim-ska-jeeshing-S .

Brian said, “It is one of the planet's most beautiful places. Rock ridges and cliffs, majestic white pine, clear-water swimming, and gorgeous sunset campsites. Evidence of the age and permanence of the land and the people is everywhere. Millions of years held in rocks and stories and trees.” Florence is the largest roadless lake in Temagami and the heart of the wilderness park. It’s a gem cradled by its watery arms, rugged hills and quartzite rock. And add to that, every route in is captivating. Because it is not easy to reach, it has become a sort of canoeist’s nirvana.”

He offers this tip regarding a trip to the Temagami wilderness and are seeking “solitude.” How to avoid the congestion.

“For all the bad reports and negative opinions about crowding and boats, Temagami is still a canoeist's paradise — if you know when, where and how to go. Use alternate access and avoid Lake Temagami access in July and August.

He also said to stay away from the popular canoe routes, which include the connecting routes with Lake Temagami, Lady Evelyn and Obabika Lakes; also “stay from road-access lakes.” Visit this website to learn more. “These routes are popular due to a combination of easy access, few portages and scenery. In July and August there can be so many canoeists and campers, that “you will likely find yourself racing for a campsite at the end of the day and pine for a little isolation.”

Park usage

Kevin Pinkerton has passed on, he was the Area Ontario Parks, Superintendent, Temagami Cluster of Provincial Parks; at the time (2020) he provided some statistics on backcountry usage.

“Park visitation for the five operational interior parks has remained stable over the past five years. Based on overnight interior camping permit sales over 4700 visitors enjoy these parks annually. Temagami has been a tourist destination for over a century and with over 2400 kilometers of interconnecting canoe routes and portage trails it is considered one of North America’s premier canoeing destinations. The area attracts local residents as well as visitors from provincial, national and international markets. The five parks became operational in 2004 with the introduction of interior overnight camping fees and the hiring of interior wardens to undertake maintenance, education and compliance work along the canoe routes. Fees collected cover the costs of maintaining portages, campsites, privies and overall compliance throughout all five parks.” (I witnessed the ongoing maintenance program; the clearing of historic portages. With historic, indigenous tree blazes still discernible on the trunks of mature trees.)

You can access Florence Lake via canoe routes that start: northeast of Sudbury/Wanapitei, along the Sturgeon River; north of Field via Lake Obabika; west of Temagami via a number of routes; south from Elk Lake and the Gamble Rd. and west of Haileybury to Mowat Landing (Lady Evelyn Lake). Here is the map.

The Chance and Gamble Lake access points are recommended. Flying in with Lakeland Airways is an option.

And Kevin said, “Each person travelling in Temagami’s interior can play a part in its stewardship. Much of the area is relatively remote, offering solitude and challenge for those seeking a backcountry recreation experience like no other.” (Kevin is my brother-in-law and there is reason enough to visit Florence Lake again to spread some ashes and celebrate his passion for wilderness places.)

Find your way

It is recommended that you secure the ‘Temagami Canoe Routes Planning Map’ or go to the website and the definitive book, ‘Canoeing, Kayaking & Hiking in Temagami’ by Hap Wilson. He told me, “Skim-ka-jeeshing, or “lake that bends in the middle” now Anglicized to Florence Lake is in the heart of the Temagami Wilderness Area. To me, as it was to the Teme Augama Anishnabe, it is a sanctuary in its most pristine magnificence. Deep, clear water, ancient pines, rock knob escarpments, and sprawling campsites make it one of the finest destinations in the north.”

There is probably no snow on your canoe in the backyard. It is not too early to start thinking about back road adventures.

Where are your favourite wilderness spaces? Being present at Florence Lake means living for a few days surrounded by solitude. It is a different feeling. It is a longing for life that allows one to touch and feel the natural world.