Canoeing Barron Canyon
A few years ago, Bob and I decided that it would be great to canoe the Barron Canyon in the northeast part of Algonquin Provincial Park. We had learned that it is a one-of-a-kind location to canoe in the Park. After our excursion, we had to agree with that thinking.
We arrived at the Barron Canyon via the Barron Canyon Road from Highway 17 having come north from Highway 60 in Ontario, Canada. Before heading to our booked campsite in Algonquin’s Achray Campground, Bob and I were eager to explore the trail along the top of the Barron Canyon cliffs.
The view was spectacular. A canoe on the river below looked like a small dot.
Our campsite at the Achray Campground was on the edge of Grand Lake. It proved to be a beautiful place to camp. Grand Lake and the Achray Campground have an unexpected connection to Canadian Landscape artist Tom Thomson.
Thomsom spent the summer of 1916 working from Achray as a fire ranger for Algonquin Park. It was from his cabin at Achray that Tom sketched many of his paintings of that area. We visited Tom’s cabin that, in Thomson’s day, was known as the Out-Side-In cabin.
The line of hills across from our campsite at Achray would become famous because of Tom Thomson.
In between working as a fire ranger, Tom Thomson explored by canoe and spent much time sketching and painting the world around him. This work, that some believe was sketched at Grand Lake or Cedar Lake, was painted in the last year of his life. He titled it “The West Wind”. Unfortunately, Thomson drowned in a canoeing accident on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in 1917. This work of art is among some of his last paintings.
The hills at Grand Lake certainly resemble the hills in Thomson’s “The West Wind”, but we will never know for sure where the painting was sketched given Thomson’s wide travels throughout the region.
Bob and I were pretty excited to arrive at the Achray Campground and promptly began setting up our campsite.
We were blessed with a beautiful day, and before long, dinner was hot on the stove.
Our first evening’s sunset boded well for fair weather ahead.
Bob and I made an early start to the next day. We wasted no time setting off to the canoe launch below the Brigham Lake Parking lot.
From the Brigham Lake parking lot, a portage was necessary to get to the Barron River. It is actually the South Branch of the Petawawa River, but today, that section is known as the Barron River. Bob carried the canoe down a fairly steep trail that was managed quite handily.
At the river’s edge, we found a fairly good spot to launch the canoe. This landing is located upriver above Brigham Lake.
In no time at all, we were loaded and on the water. Our day trip took between 6-7 hours, and that included stopping a couple of times along the river, plus a short lunch break.
Canoeing the Barron River involves 4 portages. The first portage down to the river from the Brigham Lake parking lot is 270 metres long.
Further downriver, a second short portage of 100 metres is required along the river’s edge. The third portage of 440 metres enables canoeists to get around the Brigham Chute.
Brigham Chute was putting on a good show the day we were there with tons of water flowing through it.
Once we passed by Brigham Chute, it was clear sailing on the Barron River heading towards the Canyon.
With one side of the River in deep shade, we were able to escape some of the heat of the day.
It wasn’t long before the magic started to happen. We eagerly anticipated what was around the next corner.
The soaring canyon walls had us paddling slowly so we could appreciate their majesty.
Rising steeply above us, the Canyon walls reach a height of 100 metres.
It had been one thing to stand at the top and look down at the water below.
But canoeing at the base of the cliffs was something else. We felt dwarfed.
It is not hard to understand why Barron Canyon is one of the most scenic routes to canoe in Algonquin Park.
The Canyon was created after the last ice age, 10,000 years ago.
As Lake Algonquin was formed from melting glaciers, a volume of water 1000 times greater than what flows over Niagara Falls today drained into the Barron River.
When Tom Thomson visited there in the summer of 1916, he and another fellow fire ranger, Ed Godin, decided to canoe down the Barron Canyon. During that trip, Thomson sketched and painted different works of art including this one along the Petawawa River titled, “The Gorge”. Unfortunately, Tom Thomson decided not to return to work at Achray the following summer, and that was when he met with an untimely death. Thomson’s quote:
I have not applied for the fire rangers job this year as it interferes with sketching to the point of stopping it altogether so in my case it does not pay.
At one point along the Barron River, the sight of an apparent cave had us pulling our canoe up to the shore.
Although we weren’t adventurous enough to venture deeper into the shadows, the cave made for an interesting stop and a chance to stretch our legs.
The peace and quiet within Barron Canyon did not go unappreciated. Soon enough, we would be landing our canoe at Squirrel Rapids a little further downriver.
The 4th portage from the river at Squirrel Rapids up to the parking lot at the top was another 420-metres. As a short day trip, this had been a grand canoeing day!
We arrived back at our campsite on Grand Lake as the day was drawing to a close.
It was thought-provoking taking in the beautiful sunset that evening knowing that Tom Thomson had witnessed so many like it on Grand Lake.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean