Day 4 - Sunbeam Lake to Canoe Lake (17 km)

Day 3 - Sunbeam Lake to Canoe Lake (17 km)

All maps shown on this page are provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have made additional markings to show route information.

I woke up to the sound of buzzing -- a lot of buzzing. Somehow the number of mosquitoes had grown over the night. Sweet Jesus! I emerged from my hammock and immediately donned my bug jacket. I must say that my morning constitutional back at the thunderbox might have broken speed records. I'm not sure I even fully stopped to do my business. Is it possible to take a drive-by poop?

Well, there was no point hanging around and losing pints of blood, so after a quick cold breakfast in the bug shelter, I packed up and got out of Dodge. I was on the water by 8 AM. I snapped the following photo of my lovely, buggy campsite. 

Paddling toward the portage into Vanishing Pond, I passed the island that used to be the prime site on Sunbeam Lake. I say "used to" because a tornado decimated the site in 2021. To get a handle on the destruction, a pair of trippers posted the following short video of the portage between Sunbeam and Treefrog Lakes a couple of days after the tornado. 

Apparently, two campers sustained injuries in the 190 km/h winds. As you can see in the following shot, the island still had downed trees all over it three years later. 

I took one last parting shot of Sunbeam Lake at the portage take-out. It really is a very pretty lake. I would have liked to explore it a little more if it were less noisy and I had a little more time.

The portage into Vanishing Pond was wide, short, and easy. With a name like Vanishing Pond, I wasn't sure what to expect. It gets infamously low later in the summer, but in May I wasn't too worried. It was unvanished when I got to the put-in. 

I headed south out of the pond and into the creek. Being early in the morning, I had the area to myself. It was a very pleasant paddle. 

Further south, the pond became a creek and it got very narrow in spots. I could see how it got its name. One would be dragging his canoe through the creek later in the year at low water levels. 

Shortly after, the creek emerged into an amazingly large wetland area where the way forward was narrow, shallow, and the Oxford English Dictionary Official Definition of the word "Indirect". I kind of like those winding paddles through a wetland, though. I play a little game where I pretend to be on a stealth mission, sneaking up and surprising unsuspecting wildlife like herons or otters. Canoe ninja maneuvers. I think I only surprised some red-winged blackbirds and most likely not at all. 

Eventually, I paddled somewhere. That somewhere was a weed-free pond where the 400-meter portage to Bluejay Lake was found to the right of a rocky drop in the creek. In two days, I paddled two "Jay" lakes -- Canada Jay Lake and Bluejay Lake. I guess the portages into these lakes would be Jay Walks, then? I hoped I wouldn't get a ticket. 

I was grateful for the easy downhill carry that the Jay Walk was; my legs were feeling the abuse I had put them through the previous day, as was my knee from the earlier little "pfft" I experienced on that beaver dam on Day 2. 

Right after putting in on Bluejay Lake, I heard and saw some formidable splashing at the far end of the lake. I saw movement and got excited. Was it a moose? Was it a bear? Oooooooh. I immediately went into Ninja-paddle mode and stealthily eased toward the wonderful creature(s) I was about to behold. "Please don't run away. I want to get a cool photo!"

They were a family of ducks. I didn't take a photo. 

Now, if any ducks are reading this blog, please do not be offended. I like you. I know that you are sentient beings with a lot to offer. Your reputation of being early risers and getting up at the quack of dawn is well-regarded. The game of Beak-a-boo you play with your young ducklings (even the ugly ones) is wonderfully cute. Your pro hockey team from Anaheim is incredibly tough and truly is the result of being hatched from hard-boiled eggs. Famous wise-quackers like Daffy and Donald have done a lot to further your cause. It's just aren't as exciting as moose or bears. There...I said it. After all, this is a blog and I'm allowed to voice my opinion. Please, don't hate. 

Just when I thought it would be clear sailing to the Joe Lake dam, I had one more beaver dam to overcome between Bluejay and Littledoe Lakes. The family of ducks watched me as I lifted over it. They looked bemused. 

Emerging on Littledoe Lake, I had about 8 kilometers of uninterrupted paddling ahead of me before reaching the Joe Lake dam. I took out my fishing rod and trolled through Littledoe, dropping my lure deep to get at some lake trout. 

My hope of getting one began to wane drastically as I looked around, however. Of the fourteen sites on the lake, I only noticed two that weren't occupied. Sigh. This lake was in all likelihood fished out. On top of that, there was an endless armada of canoes emerging from the channel from Tom Thomson Lake. Good Lord! It looked like the amphibious assault of Wake Island in December 1941! Only with rental canoes. I scanned the sky for dive bombers but was relieved to see only a floatplane in the distance. Whew!

So, I got down on my knees in the centre of my canoe, leaned far to one side, and went into beast-paddle mode to try to get ahead of the fleet. I managed to do so and made it to the bottom end of Joe Lake in a little under an hour. 

Near the road bridge on Joe Lake, I got out on the western shore of Joe Lake and went looking for the ruins of The Algonquin Hotel. I walked around a bit and had no luck in finding it. I subsequently read that it was up on a hill between the dam and where the old railway tracks were. I assumed it would be a bushwhack to locate any of the ruins and abandoned the effort after 15 minutes or so. 

I paddled under the bridge and over to the dam, where I portaged my canoe and gear alongside 6 or 7 other parties. Did I mention that this part of the park is busy?

Once on Canoe Lake, my quest to look at more ruins did not wane. I paddled over to the spot where the Mowat Cemetery was supposed to be. Tom Thomson's body was supposed to have been temporarily buried there for a while. The whole story about what happened to his corpse is a bit of a deep dive and adds to the mystery that shrouds his death. Click here if you care to start venturing down that rabbit hole. 

 It was too swampy to get ashore at that location, so I paddled over to the point directly to the south. There, I got out and immediately stumbled upon the remains of a sawmill that once belonged to the Gilmour Lumber Co. 

It's amazing the history that Canoe Lake has! I was at the location of the town of Mowat, the central setting of the whole Tom Thomson death story. I tried to imagine what it would have looked like back in Tom's day. 

I bushwhacked to the cottage road and began looking for the grave. The exact location wasn't entirely clear on my map. I ventured down a couple of roads for a bit but couldn't find anything that would resemble a path, trail, or cemetery. After a good 30 minutes of walking around, I gave up. I berated myself for not further looking into it prior to my trip. Subsequently, I did a little more research, and I now think that I know the way if I were to go there again.  

The paddle back to the Portage Store across Canoe Lake was something. The lake was boiling with activity. There were several fishing boats trolling about on the lake. And the canoes! Oh, the canoes! As I got into the southern bay close to the take-out, I stopped and counted the canoes that I could see on the water. I stopped counting at 35. There were still more.  After all, it is called Canoe Lake. Very aptly named!

I think I stopped counting because I was distracted by one particular canoe that was oddly moving in a circle like some sort of slow-motion mimicry of a high schooler doing parking lot donuts in his Dad's pickup truck. I paddled over to further investigate. It was a group of 3 tourists in a canoe all paddling on the same side of the canoe with very worried looks on their faces. "It's our first time in a canoe!" one of the young ladies declared. Although that was painfully obvious to me, I replied with, "Really?" I smiled and suggested that they all face in the same direction and the two people at the bow and stern paddle on different sides of the canoe. I also gave them a few tips on how to hold the paddle properly. They seemed grateful. I hope they aren't still paddling about on the lake, trying to get back to the Portage Store at this very moment. I wished them luck and continued on my way.  

With that encounter, I knew it was time to get off the lake and I did. 

Final thoughts on this loop? 

Pros: Algonquin Park is beautiful --undeniably so. It is world-famous for a reason. The rocky shores, pine-studded islands, bubbling creeks, and mixed forests are exactly what people are looking for in a Canadian Shield environment. The campsites are generally excellent, offering incredible views. The portages are well-marked, maintained, and easy to follow. Solitude can be found if one is willing to go (far!) off the beaten path and away from the more popular lakes like Tom Thomson, McIntosh, Sunbeam, Little Doe, Joe, and Burnt Island. Having said that, it is a good location to begin backcountry canoeing and should be on every canoeist's bucket list just for the history alone. 

Cons: The world-famous part again. It is very, very, very, very, very, very...very busy. Paddlers won't have a true wilderness experience (at least what I think that is) in this part of the park even at the height of bug season. If you are looking for some solitude...keep looking. Be prepared to put up with noise and having to share the backcountry with inconsiderate campers, i.e., poor etiquette on portages and garbage being left behind at campsites. 

Until the next trip...