English River - Town of English River to Sandbar Lake Prov. Park

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Additional Route Information
190 km
11 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
6590 m
Longest Portage: 
2000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Access at the bridge under Highway 17, just west of the town of English River
North (downstream) on the English River for 3.2 km
P 1120 m around rapids (portage not found, bouldery shallows)
Downstream on the English River for 9.7 km
P 60 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 0.8 km
P 60 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 1.6 km
P 60 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 6.4 km
P 260 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 11.3 km
P 80 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 0.8 km
P 140 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 0.4 km
P 300 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River for 1.6 km
P 140 m around rapids at Quorn
Downstream on the English River, north through Selwyn Lake and downstream
along the English River 32.2 km
P 500 m around rapids (English River to Mattawa Lake)
West through Mattawa Lake and downstream on the English River 9.7 km
P 160 m around rapids (Mattawa Lake to English River)
Downstream on the English River 0.4 km
P 160 m around rapids (English River to Eva Lake)
Southwest on Eva Lake and downstream on the English River 6.4 km
P 60 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River 0.4 km
P 440 m around rapids (English River to MacKenzie Lake)
West on MacKenzie Lake 1.2 km
P 2000 m around rapids (English River to English Lake)
South through English Lake, English River, Wabazikaskwi Lake, English River,
then west on Sowden Lake and the English River 24.2 km
P300 m around rapids
Downstream on the English River to Talking Falls 1.6 km
(Side trip south to Ken Lake to see pictographs, 11 km return)
P 80 m around Talking Falls
Northwest through Frank`s Lake, downstream on English River, west through
Barrel Lake and upstream on the Agimak River to Indian Lake Falls 40.2 km
P 340 around Indian Lake Falls
Upstream (south) on the Agimak River 0.8 km
P 200 m around a rapid and across a road
South on the Agimak River through Indian Lake, east through Little Indian Lake
22.5 km
P 380 m around a rapids and across a road
South then west through Sandbar Lake to the campground 6.5 km

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

This trip was completed over eleven days, beginning August 18, 1997. Water levels were very low, even for the time of year, with a complete fire ban in place in the area for the previous three weeks. For the river portion of this trip, shoreline features indicated river levels at least two feet below typical levels.
The trip was completed by myself, my husband and friends Ralph and Audrey - who, as a foursome, completed the Wanapitei River adventure from Lower Onaping Lake through to Wanapitei Lake in June, 1995. We both travel with old, repaired Kevlar Bluewater Saugeen canoes that have served us very well over the years.
Arriving the day before we did, Ralph and Audrey had a chance to reconnoitre the town of Ignace, about 11 kilometres from the Provincial Park. Here, they met Dennis Smyk - a local outfitter and guide. Dennis generously provided our friends with information about a side-trip to Ken Lake and pictographs not noted on my dated information from the Ministry of Natural Resources. The route description for this English River trip is no longer available from the Ministry but I have a copy obtained some dozen years back that I am willing to photocopy upon request.] He also dotted Ralph`s topographic maps with some helpful campsites that the Ministry information had not shown.
We cheered with glee as we drove through a day of pouring rain en route to our destination, hoping that the rain would raise river levels but learned, upon arriving, that a total fire restriction had been in place for three weeks already and that the area had not received the drenching rains
that we had driven through. Nonetheless, we rendezvoused with Ralph and Audrey, as planned, at Sandbar Lake Provincial Park the day before our trip was to begin with high expectations and spirits. To start the trip off right, Audrey brought her photo album including pictures and features from our fabulous adventure two years prior and we relived this memorable trip with gales of laughter, toasting our next adventure with camp mugs filled with Chardonnay. We went to bed eager to begin our trip, even if we would need to carry an extra stove and fuel in order to accommodate the fire ban.
Day 1
Our adventure started today at 10:00, at a bridge where Highway 17 crosses the English River, one kilometre west of the community of English River. A hundred metres wide, marshy and slow-moving at this point, we enjoyed the first two kilometres of the river even more because it was the only portion of the first topographic map (Firesteel River, 52G/2) that we would use and we wanted to get the most of this $4.00 per kilometre investment. So we relished our warm day and partly sunny, partly cloudy skies.
Just one kilometre into the second map (Petry River, 52G/7), our first challenge was listed in the route description as an 1120 metre portage to river left, with five "bars" shown on the map: a single one, a three hundred metre gap, three close together, another gap of a half kilometre or so and a final bar. As we rounded a bend in the river, we noted a white, plastic bottle floating mid-stream, tethered to a rope. We scanned the shoreline for a portage but saw nothing, so we concluded that the bottle merely indicated a rock and paddled on. Scouting the first set of "rapids" from the boats, we could see flat water at the end, with a boulder field between us and the still water. With no current to speak of, we pushed, pulled and scraped the boats through this first section, resting in the calm water at the end. Paddling a few strokes further, our mouths dropped open as a maze of boulders appeared around the bend, stretching as far as the eye could see (which was, thankfully, only a couple of hundred metres, due the curving shoreline. There was no way to float through this mess and, after bushwhacking in an attempt to find any vestige of a portage trail, clearly no way to portage around it either. So after stewing a little more, and wondering if it would be some kind of all-time record to call a halt to a trip just three kilometres into it, we buckled down and hauled canoes, grinding and crunching, loaded and unloaded, through the mess, climbing over and around hundreds and hundreds of jagged and very slippery rocks. Beaver-chewed lumber came in handy to ease the canoes` passage over particularly nasty rocks. After what seemed like an exhausting day and was, in reality, only three exhausting hours, we struggled over the last boulder in the three-bar segment and bobbed blissfully in still water. We lunched on the water, relishing the feeling of floating and marvelling that we sustained as little personal damage as we had - just a few minor gashes and bruises - when the conditions could easily have resulted in much worse mishaps. The canoes had borne the brunt of the damage, with many, many new hacks and scrapes to their hulls.
Fortunately, the rock fields associated with the remaining bar in this rapid were either less rocky or had more water, as we were able to manoeuvre through the last section with relative ease, in a combination of wading, lining and riding. My husband`s laminated river paddle chose this time to split, though, as he wedged it between a couple of rocks in this passage. Duct tape held it together for the rest of the trip and it was demoted to "alternate paddle" status.
After this miserable kilometre, we were very relieved when the river offered us no more boulder fields and presented itself as a respectable river again. For the remainder of our day, we travelled peacefully through a meandering, marshy area, covering roughly 17 kilometres in total prior to camping at 5:30. The three "rapids" which created 60 metre portages noted for this section on the route description were navigated with bumps, grinds and lining. Along the way we encountered a variety of ducks, shore birds, otters, mink and something that mysteriously nudged our boats from below repeatedly as we paddled silently through the swamp.
Our campsite, in the middle of this vast marshy area, was a large rounded rock, backed by coniferous bush - a high vantage point that gave a beautiful panoramic view of the rest of the marsh and the river`s meandering course through it. As we enjoyed our supper and celebrated our accomplishment of the boulder fields, we were glad that the low water levels of late August also meant few mosquitoes, as this campsite would be a feasting ground for them earlier in the season. Instead, we feasted on the abundant blueberries and cached some away in rigid containers in case later campsites were not as bountiful. For supper this night, we enjoyed herbed pork chops, potatoes and onions, and corn on the cob - a veritable feast in the wilderness!
Day 2
Another fine weather day, with temperatures around 20C and a mixture of sun and clouds. I love canoeing at this time of year! We have almost always had great weather and have never had to suffer the hordes of flies and mosquitoes that June and July trips bring.
Soon after we began our day, Savoy Creek added its waters to our River. Dennis Smyk, the guide from Ignace, told us that he had outfitted two parties for the English River this year, starting both of them in at Savoy Lake, a couple of kilometres up Savoy Creek. Apparently one of these groups was a party of fourteen novice canoeists who eventually scuttled their discouraging adventure on the English River and walked out. Looking at the Creek, with its mere trickle of water, we wondered whether we were better off to have done our boulder- hopping or whether wading down the mucky creek bed would have provided an easier option.
Five kilometres after our 9:00 put-in, we came to the area where the Ministry indicated the fifth portage in their route description - a 260 metre one located "on the left side just above [the] rapids at a clearing". The topographic map showed a 100 metre portage around a single bar. We ran, lined and waded the initial section of this rapid, arriving at an obvious portage take-out on river right. This portage, a short path over a ridge in order to avoid a jagged two foot ledge, ended with a view of a dilapidated one-lane bridge spanning the river. This was our first conventional portage of the trip!
The eleven kilometre paddle to the next indicated portage offered up nothing unusual except for the occasional bouldery shallow or narrows and those surprising rocks in the middle of the river with an otherwise sandy, marshy shoreline. With water the colour of dark tea, unable to see even a paddle blade in depth, those "surprise" rocks became a little bit nerve-wracking. Through this segment of the river, we were entertained by beaver, muskrat, ducks and grebes, bitterns, great blue herons and sandpipers.
The route description noted a landing for the sixth portage on river right as a clearing through heavy alder bushes, but by now we were becoming accustomed to not finding the portages and it did not disappoint us when we could not. After scouting this particular bouldery rapid from the rocky shore on river left, we ran its chute and the subsequent bump and grind through the rocks at the bottom without incident. At least now we were required to pick the best channel of several, rather than just hunting for any water deep enough to float the boats! The rapids encountered so far are definitely more threat to canoes than to life or limb.
We ran the rapids bounded by the seventh portage with no concern or difficulty only to come to a real puzzle. The Ministry route description was vague about the length and location of this portage but we ran into difficulty after the first set of rapids when we were presented with a island which caused the channel to split in two. No sign of a portage of any description. On river left, a bouldery hell with not enough water to float. On river right, lots of water but two trees fallen across the channel level with the gunwales, too big to saw through and too small to balance packs on. This channel also offered insufficient footing for lining from shore and ragged boulder outwash where the two channels joined together again. Our reluctant solution was to form a firemen`s brigade and laboriously pass packs and canoes hand to hand over the rocks of the left channel. An hour later and we were free-floating again!
Another couple of kilometres and Petry River added its waters to the English River, marking the beginning of yet another rapid, which we ran on river right after scouting. None of us saw the portage which was alleged on river right for this, the ninth rapid. And we were particularly disappointed because the end of this portage was also supposed to offer us our campsite for the night, looking back over the rapids from an "excellent launch with a low gradual sloping grassy shore for easy loading". What we saw was waist high grass and no sign of any campsite within recorded history - and we were still in total fire restriction! So, we decided to press on to Selwyn Lake, making this a 31 kilometre day but leaving the marshy river for a lake with more pronounced shoreline and campsite potential.
En route, we passed by CNR railway lines with ties ripped up and piled to the side. A defunct rail bed, we thought. However, we weren`t so sure when, a few kilometres further on, we paddled under a railway bridge which had been newly oiled and was obviously in good repair.
Arriving at Selwyn Lake we were met by an amazing sight as a bald eagle rose from the trees lining the shore, flying slowly but purposefully away from us while seagulls dive bombed it from above. We gratefully made camp on our second bald, rocky campsite at 7:00 after another tough day. But all our hard work had paid off and we decreed that the next day should be a layover to relax tired muscles and rejuvenate weary spirits.
And as Audrey and I set up our tents in the failing light, Ralph and Kelly prepared our second delicious dinner of fresh food, including steaks done to perfection, roast potatoes and onions.
Day 3
A glorious layover day, with those blueberries from our first campsite providing the perfect addition to the morning`s pancakes. Audrey was our group`s designated fisherman/fisherwoman/fisherperson and the lake`s fish seemed eager to be caught. She threw her lure in and quickly reeled in a foot long pickerel, which slipped away before I could net it. Then a pike of similar size was landed and put on the stringer within moments of the pickerel. A few minutes later and a second, larger pike graced the stringer and we declared a fish supper to be the order of the day. Served with raw snow peas, baby carrots and four of the hamburger buns (toasted) that I had squirreled away for the next day`s supper, they made a fine feast.
Seagulls on a house-sized rock a few hundred metres offshore from our campsite provided noisy amusement throughout the day, with their vocal hellos and goodbyes to those arriving and departing and the begging cries of the full-sized but immature gulls beseeching grown ups to feed them.
Day 4
With light rain overnight, we awoke to overcast skies, a cool, 15C temperature and winds light and steady from the southeast. Our plan: a 24 kilometre paddle with no portages until one 500 metre one at the end of the day, terminating in our destination campsite.
The first 14 kilometres of the day were scenic, with diverse views along rocky, treed shorelines. Selwyn Lake narrowed again gradually returning us to the now 200 to 300 metre wide English River, and we celebrated the transition to the third topographic map (Shikag Lake, 52G/10) somewhere along its length. A rocky face on river right at a narrows in the river offered a clear ochre pictrograph of a moose, a surprise find not documented by either the Ministry or mentioned by Dennis Smyk. We lunched along the shore of a peninsula, noting fresh bear footprints in the sand but seeing nothing of the bears who left them.
According to the topographic map, the CNR tracks again paralleled our course for the next eight kilometres, with a whistle stop called "Sowden" boasting a half dozen buildings. So we weren`t surprised when first one motorized fishing boat, then two more passed by us heading to some great fishing spot. But we sure did disappoint one very friendly dog who sighted us from shore a good half kilometre distant and barked an exuberant greeting, tail wagging furiously. We paddled closer, approaching at an angle designed to meet up with him at a nearby point, and he danced toward us along the shoreline, plunging into the water from time to time to see whether he could swim out to greet us any faster. As soon as we came within a few canoe lengths, however, either sight or scent revealed that we were not the cherished people he thought we were and the friendly greeting changed quickly to wary defense as the dog let us know that we were clearly not welcome visitors on his beach.
As the afternoon wore on, the terrain on this section of the river flattened into marshy nothingness, with no variation in the shoreline, no current and no breeze. The only excitement, after the doggy greeting, was the discovery that the defunct CNR tracks were actually being used as logging roads, when several fully loaded logging trucks rolled past us with billowing clouds of dust following them. Everyone was glad to reach the portage which brought an end to this bum-numbing paddle and we all managed to stifle the last of the yawns that this rather boring paddle produced.
Portage ten was an easy 500 metre portage to river left around a rapid noted on the topographic map by two bars, a couple hundred metre paddle, then two more bars. The first bar represents a very pretty and significant cascade of water that we figured might be runnable in decked boats or by kayaks but not by us in our Kevlar, even at this time of year. And since the portage did not follow the river`s course, did not offer any side trails to the river and it was getting late in the day, we did not bother to scout the rapids, opting to stretch our legs double-carrying our possessions over this easy walk. The Ministry`s route description notes that this portage ends in a large open, grassy field with two old buildings on the edge. It goes on to say that an old Indian burial ground is located on the left side of the portage just before entering the field and that it is marked by a large cross. Unfortunately, we did not find any trace of the burial ground or cross, seeing only a variety of fishing boats and a rather modern dock, and because of the still very dry conditions, we chose to press on to look for a better, less combustible campsite.
Now on Mattawa Lake, our search for a campsite was rewarded after just two kilometres of paddling as we discovered a very nice campsite at the east end of a large island at the south end of the lake. However, on a walk back in the bush the beauty of the site was spoiled when I discovered a dump where previous campers had thrown coolers and stoves, bottles and all manner of junk that they were keen to pack in but too lazy to take home.
Again, seagulls serenaded us throughout our supper of cheeseburgers, the remainder of the snow peas and carrots, complete with berry cobbler for dessert. We eat better on our canoe trips than we do at home!
Day 5
Somewhere out there must be the lake. I know that we left it there last night when we went to bed but this morning, it was swathed in the deepest mist which was slowly swept away as the sun peeked out over the tree line. A perfectly, glassy, still morning on a beautiful, island-studded lake.
The path this route follows is most easily described as a letter M, paddled from right to left, though, and today`s paddle started us on the downward slope to the middle of the M, as our general heading changed from north to west. We had now begun the journey drawn on the fourth of our six maps. (Mattabi - 52 G/11)
Portage eleven skirts a set of rapids which marks the transition between Mattawa Lake and the English River. We ran this couple hundred metre long rapid without incident after thoroughly scouting it from the shore on river right. Now this is what we had come to do!
Just a short, still pool of water away, two islands created the need for the twelfth portage. The bulk of the water flowed down the left side of the islands but not in a way suited to open canoes, so we compared the merits of lining, hauling and hopping down the zig-zag right channel versus carrying over the short and simple portage across the island. Diplomatically, we did both, and Kelly and I carried while Ralph and Audrey did the bump and grind down the right side, providing a fabulous photo opportunity for me while they were hung up on a very large, flat rock in the channel. The reward for making it through this rock-infested shallows was a tan-coloured plastic paddle, which Audrey spied on the right shore and stashed away with their other spare paddles for the remainder of the trip.
A relaxing paddle down five kilometre long Eva Lake, under the railway/logging bridge at the north end, brought us to portage thirteen, where the lake narrows to a river again and an island splits the channel. According to the Ministry, the portage for this short rapid is on river right, but we ran the broad, shallow rapid to river left, paying close attention to the one foot ledge at the bottom. Earlier in the trip, Kelly had speculated about whether all birds or just water birds floated. Unfortunately, this question was answered for us as we passed by the tiny, floating body of a dead black-throated green warbler just below this rapid.
A few hundred metres further and we heard the roar of the rapids creating portage fourteen, which was easily located on river right. Camping would be possible at the beginning of this portage, although the sites on Eva Lake and at the beginning of the next portage are nicer. This marks the transition from the English River to MacKenzie Lake and provides a 500-metre s-shaped rapid which could not be scouted from the top. So, anticipating something runnable, we slipped on our packs to walk the portage, hoping to scout the shores on the return trip. With tons of deadfall, endless detours, significant overgrowth and no view of the river, the portage was arduous. So we rock-hopped our way back up-river along the near shore to assess its merits. This was even more work, especially when we were forced to leave the shore and bushwhack back through endless deadfall and scratchy raspberry canes. This rapid has lots of obstacles in the form of islands, ledges, boulders and downed trees but weighing the difficulty of the portage against the trickiness of the rapid, we opted to run it anyway, maneuvering from river right to centre then back to the right again at the end of the rapid. What a great, technical run - very forgiving with the low water levels! If the portage back had not been so miserable, it would have been tempting to try this one a few times more...
When we reunited with Ralph and Audrey at the end of this run, they proudly displayed another find discovered in the water at the top of the rapid while waiting for us to disappear from view: a turquoise and black insulated water bottle holder on a shoulder strap. We stashed it away with the new-found paddle.
A short one kilometre paddle across the bottom of MacKenzie Lake brought us to the beginning of the English River portage and the end of our day. It is located high on the river right shore, opposite a large, boulder which rises out of the centre of the river. Listening to the freight train roar of the first rapid in this section and noting the 66 foot drop in water levels between MacKenzie Lake and English Lake, which marks the end of the portage, we wondered what we were in for. So, after a well-deserved round of tequila in lemonade [Try it! It`s a very refreshing drink at any temperature!] Ralph, Kelly and I headed down the trail of this two kilometre long portage to see what we could see. Unfortunately, the topographic map provided no guidance as to where the portage ran but Dennis Smyk had heard that the Junior Rangers were going to cut new portages around the individual rapid segments of this chain, to provide a string of rapids and portages rather than the one long haul. The trail was generally flat, broad and even - better than the broken sidewalks of some towns! And where options presented, we continuously took the trail branching to the left, in hope that it would lead us back to the river. After walking this pleasant trail for a half hour or so, a steep descent over the last few hundred metres of trail took us to the water`s edge. We looked out to the far shore which ran straight to our left, and a marshy section to our right with a smaller river extending further out. For the last fifteen minutes of our walk we had heard no sounds of moving water. Where were we?
Returning to our campsite, Ralph counted his paces and I conscientiously walked along at what I know is my four kilometre per hour pace. Both my half-hour walk and the math on Ralph`s paces indicated that we had completed the whole of the English River portage! Studying the topographic maps, we hesitantly concluded that the trail had followed a contour interval just north of west, to take us to the top of English Lake, two kilometres north of the place where the river empties into it.
A quick and easy supper of Garden Vegetable Stew completed our day and was enjoyed by all.
Day 6
Packing for the walk ahead, we left as little as possible to carry by hand. I was quite pleased to have only paddles (shock-corded together with small bunjies) and my rigid, water-proof camera case to carry - one item for each leg of my double portage. It took us just two hours to complete this easy two kilometre long, double portage and, separately having taken aspirin and Advil to stave off sore knees and hips, we were in good shape at the end of the walk. But we were also disappointed to have missed seeing the rapids that caused this portage. On the topographic map they look so interesting: a single bar, a hundred metre paddle, four bars and an island, another couple hundred metre paddle, another bar, a paddle of a kilometre and a half marked with two rocks and a tight turn, a bar at a contour interval, a few hundred metres of paddling and a last bar at a narrows. Allegedly, the bar at the contour interval marks a waterfall (which a Ministry employee canoed over earlier in the summer, after miscalculating where he was in this string of rapids). Maybe the rest would have been runnable?? We`ll never know because we took the first portage rather than checking out that roaring freight train. But after our boulder-drag from hell on the first day and the arduous shoreline scouting for portage fourteen, we had lost our desire to commit to what could have been a very long and very tough stretch.
As we paddled down English Lake to the mouth of the English River, we planned a short paddle up-river, hoping to at least look at the waterfall but this was not meant to be, as a rapid barred our way up-stream and the close shores formed a dark, forbidding canyon.
The rest of the trip travels through a succession of larger lakes joined by wide, marshy sections of the English River. We entered eight-kilometre long Wabazikaskwi Lake at the north end into a moderate headwind. Logging activity and a fire in 1972 are responsible for changes from the normal treeline on the western shore, with a more recent fire scouring the rocks clean at a headland midway down the lake. This small section of exposed white rock and sparse trees reminded me of the quartzite and pegmatite hills of Killarney Provincial Park. Already, purple fireweed and other annuals are repopulating the forest floor after the more recent fire of either the current or past year.
We made camp mid-afternoon on the south side of the island in the middle of the lake. This worn, rounded rock slopes up from the lake, providing spaces for not more than three tents on its uneven crest. Bathing provided as much amusement as hygiene, as we slid down algae-covered rocks into the cold lake, then struggled for footing to return to land. The winds calmed as the sun set and we dined on Klik, candied in maple syrup, on a bed of garlic and herb pasta. [It sounds gross but tastes great!]
Day 7
What a sunny day! From dawn to dusk we were blasted by the sun`s burning rays accompanied by steady winds from the south southwest. We covered 25 kilometres on this 9:00 to 5:00 day, with crosswinds and headwinds on large lakes providing challenges along the way.
Finishing off the second half of Wabazikaskwi Lake, we wound our way along the river connecting this lake to the next, and emerged onto large, Sowden Lake to whitecaps and stiff winds. Our course took us across the north end of this lake, travelling west southwest and west northwest over its eight kilometre span, with winds and waves crossing five kilometres of open water before they struck our boats. Someone has said that, "Headwinds build character." I think they got it wrong. In my book, "Headwinds build strength; crosswinds build character."
Portage sixteen bisects the English River midway between Sowden Lake and Talking Falls. It presents a marshy, slippery clay landing to river right, with a distinct trail which was straightforward and easy to follow. Raspberries provided trail-side snacks for munchers. Unfortunately, like some of the others, this trail does not follow the river and we knew from topographic map math that this rapid dropped at least thirteen feet over its three hundred metre length. Looking back from the bottom of the portage, we saw a lovely cascade of water in a significant fall. The rest of the shoreline offered no easy scouting, so we completed the second half of the double portage and I snacked on more berries. [In an earlier trip on another river, we had renamed its portage sixteen, or P16 in our vernacular, to FP16. However, this trip`s P16 also became know to Audrey and I as FP16, with the F for Friendly, this time.]
At Talking Falls, we chose to take a side-trip to Ken Lake in order to see the three sets of pictographs that Dennis Smyk identified for us in this section of five kilometre long paddle along a wide Gulliver River [or was it a narrow south Frank Lake? - You decide.]
I missed a great photo opportunity along the base of the rocky cliff where we found the first pictographs. Four young mergansers were basking on a small rock in the reeds in the shelter of the cliff. They didn`t hear me as I quickly pulled my camera out of its waterproof case but they did startle when Ralph and Audrey`s boat passed ours by and dove underwater. Rats! However, old Indian graffiti awaited, so we all got to work scouring the rock face for ochre coloured smudges. On a sheltered face, I found a simple rendition of a stick man, with legs together.
We did not find the pictograph reported to be at the headland on the eastern shore, mid-way down the river/lake. But Audrey was the first to see the third one that Dennis Smyk found and named "the Smyk site" on the rock face lit by late afternoon sun at the narrows into Ken Lake. It`s a two-foot high triptych, of sorts, with strong, mirrored symmetry along a vertical midline. On the first row, painted in deep golden yellow were two long canoes, with six to eight people in each canoe. In between the boats, a top-view of a swimming fish. Below them, where the rock face was split by a horizontal crack, four bright ochre icicles hung below each boat. Below that, as the third row, a faint, deep burgundy red image of a man, like the one we saw in the first pictograph. Was this the wayward graffiti of one of a group on a fishing expedition?
A peninsula stretches out from the north shore of Ken Lake to blow a kiss to the opposing shore at a shallows over water-smoothed rock and we chose to stay at the campsite here. Ralph and Audrey tried to attain the rapid to land on the upstream side of the peninsula, but had to abort their run when the ends of their paddles jarred against the bedrock below . Later in the evening, Ralph otter-slid through this shallows on his back, with his shampooed head and canvas sneakers held above water. Midway down, he ran out of water and assumed poses for eager photographers. On this campsite, I discovered the tracks of a very big cat impressed into clay deposits in rocky bowls. Jeff, the Ministry staffer who returned Ralph`s van to the Provincial Park, had told us on the ride over that he had seen a lynx in the Park within the past week, so I feel good in thinking that it might have been a lynx print. I photographed the paw mark in hope that I would be able to compare it to some reference prints when I got home.
Although the campsite was spacious, it did not offer places for more than two or three tents; however it looked like an island just a half kilometre distant on Ken Lake offered campsite potential as well. I set our tent up with a magnificent sunset view of the cliffs that hold the Smyk site. [The smyk-tograph??] Audrey and Ralph pitched their tent up the rounded rock hill fifty feet away. This site is obviously well-used, and for good reason: It has probably been used as a campsite since Indian tribes fished in the area. But the amount of junk left on the campsite by previous campers was really depressing - broken beer bottles, china, wire, rusty nails and pieces of an old wood stove. A biffy built some years ago had been allowed to fall into complete disarray.
Being careful as we watched for broken glass on the rocky shore, we cooked our dinner and feasted on turkey, green beans and stuffing as the sun set amid low clouds approaching on the horizon.
Day 8
The morning began warm with low, grey sheets of cloud. We knew that we were going to get wet today and prepared for rain as we packed for an 8:30 departure. Our objective was a campsite in the section of the wide English River between the Highway 599 crossing and Barrel Lake. And, after two days of headwinds and crosswinds, we were counting on tailwinds to help us, for a change, along our now northwesterly course.
Talking Falls is a six to ten foot drop over a ledge where a couple of islands dominate from mid- channel to the river left shore. There is a cabin on the bigger island, but the two fishing boats that we had seen there the previous day were gone. The Ministry route description asks canoeists to avoid using the island as a portage. We were to use a rocky portage over a steep hill, on river right instead. Helpfully, Dennis Smyk had advised that we should just ask permission of the outfitters in the cabin to use the portage, since he used it regularly in his guiding trips. With no one home in answer to Ralph`s knock on the door, we quickly, quietly and, as always, without leaving a trace, portaged across the island to the base of the falls. A large, red crayfish waved a claw and its antennae at me offshore from the dock at the bottom of the falls.
The wind assisted nicely as we scudded downwind with the rain pattering against our backs. Again the rocky, treed shoreline was replaced by marshier and flatter terrain. We lunched at the end of the gravel boat launch at the Highway 599 bridge and watched a half dozen trucks and cars drive by. Then we fairly flew northward along the six kilometres of river flowing sluggishly through the flat marshland with the wind driving us. Rounding a headland to the west returned us to trees and rocks on the horizon again but first we had to tough it out through a stiff head wind across a marshy expanse skirting "up the back of the duck-shaped island and over to the back of the partridge-shaped point", following our interpretive view of the topography here. Paddling through "fields" of wild rice along the shore protected us from the wind while speckling the inside of the boats with the ripe grass seeds.
Two kilometres distant, we camped on the western end of an island only slightly protected from the building winds. (The first half of this ten kilometre long section of the English River before Barrel Lake offered several potential campsites.) This campsite had been claimed by serious hunters or fishermen who had built a sturdy frame out of three inch diameter birch trees to throw their plastic sheeting over. We pitched our tents behind it and in front of the inevitable junk pile. With raven-like swiftness, we scavenged the dump for any missed treasures. Audrey was thrilled to recover three springs holding the canvas for the seat of a broken lawn chair. They were exactly the size that she had been looking for, unsuccessfully, in order to repair her own. She quickly removed them and stowed them in her pack. We also found literally pounds of rusted nails, stove parts and cases of beer bottles. (I still can`t figure out what is the big deal about taking this stuff back out!) Another strange trophy that Audrey took from this campsite was the sawed off horn of a cow, not moose or deer antlers. You would think that we were in the wild w est! Someplace along this trip, I had found two metal tent pegs. Two four foot diameter rocks, at different spots on the campsite, lay split cleanly in half - one just waiting for a sundial and the others looking like halves of hard-boiled eggs.
Meanwhile, Ralph and Kelly busied themselves with some amazing "tarpology", using Ralph`s giant plastic tarp, one hundred feet of rope, two canoes, three paddles and a wooden camp table left by previous camp cowboys. The result was pretty amazing and provided a good shelter from both the wind and the rain that must fall tonight.
Dinner was Sweet and Sour Oriental Dinner, with tangy ginger. A nice, fresh taste for day eight. As we did dishes, the sun set smokey, dark orange-pink to the north among ominous, grey clouds. If the winds come again from the southwest tomorrow, we who have to canoe west southwest along the 25 kilometre length of Barrel Lake will not get very far...
Day 9
Rain pelted the tents overnight, in short, angry bursts and we woke to winds that were relatively light. But since we didn`t know whether they were abating or building, we decided to pack up and leave without breakfast to get a good start on Barrel Lake. Good thing!
After the six kilometre paddle leading up to Barrel Lake, we knew we were in for it when we peeked out from behind protective islands to be hit by the winds blasting whitecaps down the length of the lake toward us. Although we had wondered about a campsite located at the east end of an island just a kilometre and a half away from us in the middle of the lake, I was not comfortable with the expanse and the size of the waves and we opted to sneak along the southern shore instead. The next campsite lay a further six kilometres up this shore and there were some large bays that might offer some shelter. As we paddled further westward, the topographic maps showed large headlands projecting into the lake from both its north and south shores, absorbing some of the wind`s power. What a welcome to the fifth map! (Mameigwess Lake, 52G/12)
By setting short shoreline targets a kilometre apart, paddling head-down strong between targets and resting whenever we found shelter, it was possible to make slow progress, although there was one particular segment where waves washed over us as the bow smacked down in the trough between the crests, adding a few gallons of water to our load. Overhead, the clouds were torn apart by the winds and the sun shone through. We were disappointed when we finally reached the island on which we thought the campsite would be found, to find nothing. But a big, shallow bay on the shore beside it offered up a glorious, crescent of sandy beach several hundred metres long. We would be wind-stayed canoeists on this sunny, sandy beach for a whole afternoon!
First lunch (or breakfast) at noon. Tired after our tough twelve kilometre paddle, we dragged our gear along the sandy shore from where we beached the boats to a vestige of potential shade from the glare of the afternoon sun. Ralph quickly scooped out a firepit in the sand and, with ample driftwood for a quick, hot fire, we wolfed down our pancakes as fast as Kelly cooked them. Beach-combing, I found a paddle in the reeds - a stubby aluminum and black plastic paddle that will come in handy on nasty, rock strewn rapids with insufficient water (like the earlier portion of this trip!).
Throughout the afternoon, we goofed off, read, roamed the beach, watched bald eagles soar, made models of sticks and stones in the sand, dozed and generally had a good time watching the day roll by. I continued to work on a phrase in my mind: "The sun sets. Its dying breath, the breeze against my cheek. Its dying sigh, the call of the loon."...
Throughout the afternoon the winds continued to build, organizing the whitecaps into rollers which crashed onto shore. Our supper was a grand mixture of hamburger, basmati rice, tomatoes and onions, spiced with garlic. Bannock with the last of the maple syrup provided the perfect dessert. The sun set was beautiful and golden and the winds eased.
Day 10
Sleeping last night was an interesting experience. Originally, I had wanted to set our tent up parallel to the shore in our small patch of shade, maximizing on level ground but sacrificing the view; however, Kelly figured that the lay of the land wouldn`t be that much of a problem if we turned our tent to face the west wind and the water, so I set it up his way. What we ended up with was a trough with its lip in the middle of our backs and our legs resting in the bottom of the trough. This was impossibly uncomfortable, so I scrunched down and spent the night curled up in the bottom half of my side of the tent. Meanwhile, Kelly continually climbed out of the trough throughout the night, trying to keep his body on the "high side". We would have to do better than this!
Our restless sleep was thankfully interrupted when Ralph muttered in through our tent door, "It`s 6:30. Either we go now or we may be winded over." Wordlessly, we got dressed, packed and pushed our boats off into the strong wind now blowing colder from the northwest. Paddling into a quartering headwind without breakfast again, I recalled the merits of river-paddling over lake- paddling. However, the winds were not as strong as yesterday. We were soon able to ferry across to the more protected, northern side of the lake and the lake narrowed, sheltering us even further. Now we were going upstream on the Agimak River, through remarkably clean and clear water after English River tea.
Portage eighteen by-passes Indian Lake Falls on the Agimak River. It`s a pretty spot, with a rough, low-lying campsite at the beginning of this now up-river portage to the left of the falls. An amazingly stable basic wooden bridge forded a small, fast flowing chute over to the well- worn rock that splits the river`s course at base of Indian Lake Falls. The portage trail was easy, with several side-trails branching down to picturesque spots or higher water put-ins to the right. At the end of the trail, Audrey grabbed her knife and pried some roots of pink-flowered swamp smartweed out of the mucky shoreline. She coiled the roots and plants loosely in a Ziploc bag, nestling the roots in some mud in the bottom of the bag and added a good measure of river water. Then she stashed them away in the bottom of the boat, along with another plant victim that she had harvested the day before. They would both grace her pond back home when she returned. Groups of dabbling and diving ducks swam along the reeds and grasses in this section of the river, sometimes scaring themselves silly when they surfaced close to our boats. Portage nineteen was a short scramble up the side of a road embankment and down the other side, to avoid a rapid created by the roadbed and bridge. And on the far side of the road, a very nice boat ramp opened on an even nicer view of sprawling Agimak Lodge. Reminding me of the wooden clad lodges in western Canada, the various modules that composed the Agimak Lodge looked very orderly on their clearcut hillside backed by solid coniferous bush. An impressive teal-green, metal-flake painted fishing boat nestled against the launch and Ralph commented, "Must cost a thousand dollars a fish!"
Back in our canoes again, I spied rich burgundy leaves on shore and called to Audrey and Ralph, who were closer, to ask if they could tell what it was? Audrey said to me, "I think it`s a maple." Then, "Can you tell, Ralph?". Ralph added, "You can`t tell Ralph anything!" and Kelly and I hooted wildly. It was very funny at the time...
As soon as we left the sheltered bay at the north end of Indian Lake, we began to benefit from the winds, now blowing solidly from the north northwest. The cliff faces to the east have been scarred by people who have etched their names and the dates of their trips into the lichen covered surface, leaving bright messages against a dark background. We rocketed downwind toward the cliff face that marks our route and that the Ministry route description said boasts more pictographs. Graffiti by a different crowd. The chop of in-coming and out-going waves along the cliff face made for nauseating, arrhythmic bobbing, as we paddled close to the cliff to get a better look. Finally, at the eastern edge of the cliff face, high up from the water`s edge, we saw some relatively large and clear images in red ochre. However, bouncing boats precluded clear photos and crashing waves prevented a landing, so we were obliged to paddle on after only a cursory look.
About four kilometres into our journey across Indian Lake, the topographic map showed a spit of land that extends into the water some 500 metres off the end of a long peninsula. In talking with Ralph, Dennis Smyk had advised that this spit was underwater and that there was a campsite at the end of the peninsula, so we headed for the end of the peninsula from the base of the pictograph cliffs. In no time, the wind and waves had closed the two kilometre gap and we were surprised to see a row of seagulls, lined up and watching us. Closing on them quickly, we realized that they were perched on the sandbar and that the waves were breaking over it. We noted the campsite but changed course quickly, heading toward the open end of the spit and a red-painted barrel that we now saw marked safe passage. But it seemed like such a long way away that we figured we should be able to pick a relatively low-lying spot on the spit and squeak through... At least we had the good humour to laugh hilariously as we each became stuck on the sandbar, a few boat lengths from each other, as the waves crashed over it and the seagulls squealed. We were free in moments, now sailing due south, running down the middle of this seven kilometre stretch of the lake with full trailing winds. In the middle of the lake and in one of its very large bays, we saw pairs of fishermen in their metal boats, and I`m sure that they saw us, with our orange, plastic tarp decking the boat, and Audrey`s bright yellow rain gear.
A rocky point on the west shore, midway down the lake became our campsite for the night, as the waves organized from whitecaps to rollers again. Used by fisherman for lunches and as a bathroom, and complete with a fish gutting table, this campsite was a real mess. Behind the site, on huge rocks towering over the lake, people have pooped on the bare rocks and left their toilet paper to blow in the breeze. And in the rich bush that fringes the rock, the same thing: No one has bothered to bury their shit and paper in the active humus soil; they have just left their mess open to the sky. At the campsite proper, we picked out the most horizontal spots, and then Kelly went to work moving deadfall and removing jagged rocks in order to make a passably flat and level spot. After last night`s so-called sleep in the trough, our tent site would be better.
Blown off the lake, this time by 2:30, we again have time to putter around, and while Kelly was cleaning up the house, Audrey threw her fishing line in the water on the sheltered side in the lee of the rocky headland, eager to provide another fishy supper. Some time later, a fishing boat, with two occupants, rounded the headland to join us in our bay, scanning the water with their fish finder to rob us of our dinner. They nonchalantly cruised the shore and set down to serious fishing a couple hundred yards away. Meanwhile, I began to cook our supper, while Kelly tended the fire underneath the rain tarp that Ralph had wrapped our campsite in. Kelly had set the firepit up so that any wayward sparks or coals would be blown into the lake. The fisherman closed in on our shore, landing where Audrey has just been fishing. One got out from the boat and walked onshore, but not in our direction. Comfortable with our privacy after ten days alone, we were quick to take offense at these uninvited guests, and Kelly muttered away about what he would say to them if he wasn`t stoking the fire. Audrey snuck into her tent, where she watched them through the small, back window, and I continued with in my role as chef. Minutes later, they departed, probably leaving their piles with the many others that dot "poop rock".
Or perhaps they were drawn by the sight of two figures - one in a bright pink, nylon track suit and the other in a lavender coloured one. These aren`t colours that are usually found in the bush! Then again, maybe it was the smell of our supper: chicken, corn and scalloped potatoes, capped of with the last mouthfuls of the Grand Marnier, savoured on everyone`s lips.
Day Eleven
The last day of this summer`s adventure. How quickly the time has flown by! Last night`s sleep was wonderful, compared to our fitful night in the sandy trough. We enjoyed our last breakfast of bacon and eggs, with dehydrated eggs now that the fresh ones were gone. Before enjoying my juice and coffee, I had first to clean off the lid of my mug, though, since something had used this lid as a dinner plate, leaving behind the head, three wings and a couple of legs from a rather large moth.
In blocking out the days of this trip, Ralph benchmarked an 18 kilometre day. Throughout the trip, this "average day" became a real joke, because we never could seem to manage an average day. They all seemed extraordinarily long or short. However, this last day was to be the average day, marked by progression to our sixth and last topographic map. (Ignace 52G/5)
The winds died off as the day progressed, starting from northeast. Only one more portage before the one to our vehicles. Arriving at this portage after a few hours and a couple of cups of coffee, everyone was in need of relief, so boys dashed off to the right and girls to the left, only to be met with signs showing the letter P surrounded by a red circle and slash. Needless to say, we ignored the signs. Portage twenty crosses over the same road as portage ninteen, only it takes its time getting there. First it leaves Little Indian Lake at a boat ramp and climbs a hill to the highway, then it follows the highway to the south for a couple of hundred metres, then it branches off to the left as a trail through the bush just before a road sign at a spot that was marked by some "rosy". Not bothering to look closely at our marked up topographic maps, I headed directly across the road, taking a trail that leads right to the river but clearly not to a put-in. This wasn`t right. So I turned around and return to the road. By this time, everyone had made it up to from the river road, so we headed south along the road. Then someone asked whether we know for sure if we`re going in the right direction. Of course not. Kelly put down the canoe beside the road and went off to scout the road north without it. Ralph headed back to the beginning of the portage and the remainder of our gear to read a map, and I continued south. Around about the same time, we all realized where the portage went, regrouped and headed down the last of the trail. Ironically, this portage`s put-in was probably the worst of the bunch - rocky, muddy and low-lying, requiring that we load the boats on land, slide them into the water and pry off against rocks.
Now across the last portage, we were in Sandbar Lake and Sandbar Lake Provincial Park. Immediately ahead of us, rock stained with the guano from a season of seagulls. In a strange way, it reminded me of the pictographs and, I reasoned, "If native graffiti is pictographs, and Dennis Smyk finds smyk-tographs, then these should be called ictographs." I found it amusing, if no one else did. Sandbar lake does have a sandbar, as its name suggests but it was conveniently underwater as we paddled quietly through the reeds that grew out of it. Four kilometres from our landing spot, we squinted our eyes to see if we could pick a land mark and saw something red - a building roof, perhaps. So, we paddled toward that spot for the better part of the next hour, realizing, as we drew closer, that it was a children`s slide - part of the Park`s playground equipment. As we landed on the shore of another crescent beach, no one was there to see us. The park office was closed. Before removing our boats and packs, we grouped for our inal trip photo, as the sun fell lower in the sky...
This has been a good trip - not as thrilling as our adventure on the Wanapitei River two summers ago, but good in its own way. And we will remember it fondly.
Sharon vanValkenburg

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
52 G/5 Ignace 52 G/7 Petry River 52 G/10 Shikag Lake 52 G/11 Mattabi Lake 52 G/12 Mameigwess Lake 52 G/2 Firesteel River
Special Comments: 

For more information, see "Canoe Route #80 - English River on Hwy 17 to Sandbar Lake Provincial Park" brochure from MNR Ignace office.
This route was run beginning mid-August in 1997. Water levels were very low, approximately two feet below normal levels, with no rainfall for one month prior to the trip. Rapids through to Eva Lake were very bouldery and shallow. Several required wading, lining and/or dragging canoes over rocks. Most portage trails were not found and would not be required in normal water levels as the rapids would not be threatening. Portages were found around all significant rapids. Campsites were plentiful, except through marshy and low-lying sections of the river.
Thanks to Sharon vanValkenburg for preparing this route description and for sending through this detailed trip log


Post date: Wed, 12/02/2009 - 21:18


The Indian burial ground around portage 10 you spoke about is there. I haven't been back to in it years, but it is there.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


ran this route up to their day 8 last year. feel free to email if you have questions

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


Tried this route after the big blowdowns of 1999. The last quarter of the 2km portage between MacKenzie and English lakes was totalled. After spending more than a day unsuccessfully trying to find a way around it we were forced to give up. Since the river was in flood we had to line upstream to Mackenzie Lake and hitch a ride to Ignace.