French River/Alban/Noelville A Heritage Waterway Park
Since the famous explorers Champlain and Brûlé traveled through the New World in 1615, European settlers have mingled with Aboriginal people to form long-term relationships in the French River area. Ojibwe, Métis, French and English settlements were established in the region long before Canada became a nation. This has enabled communities of the French River to develop a mixture of traditions and languages that lend a colourful character to a region steeped in legends and romance. One can receive greetings of “Bozhoo”, “Bonjour” or “Goo’day” from local residents. The hospitality of local resorts is also legendary and many offer dinners of mouth-watering treats that are hard to beat! The traditional Shore Lunch following a fishing excursion is perhaps the best way to get a taste of local culture.
Anglers will find Ontario’s most sought after game fish in the French River. Walleye, Musky, Northern pike, Largemouth and Smallmouth bass are plentiful. Channel catfish can be caught there too. Best access to the Upper French is via Wolseley Bay; the Main Channel via French River Station; and the Western Channel and delta via Hartley Bay. Summer is an ideal time to combine a family vacation with fishing, while spring and fall brings more active fishing. The hospitality industry has much to offer: Services range from campgrounds and cozy cottages to boat rentals, golf, restaurants, motels or lodges with full meal plans.
Beautiful, unspoiled – yet accessible, the French River Provincial Waterway Park is best described as a 105-km. long series of island dotted lakes, connected by falls and rapids. Look over your shoulder as you portage around a rapid – you may sense the spirits of past French Canadian voyageurs traversing this first water highway to the west. Such a place is Recollet Falls, which may be reached by a 1.5-km. trail from the Park Centre at Hwy 69. The falls has a nice picnic spot with an impressive view on the edge of the thunderous cataract. Rapids like Devil’s Door and Sturgeon Chutes are infamous.
Boaters will find the French River to be a navigable paradise. The upper stretch (east of Hwy 69) has north and main channels that also connect with the Pickerel River. Powerboats can negotiate the upper main channel for 30 km. without having to portage. Major falls or rapids have convenient ramps built around them to facilitate easy portaging.
The lower river divides into a maze of channels that lead to Georgian Bay’s fantastic archipelago of islands. The delta has a series of glacier-sculpted ridges named the Fingerboards that taper into the bay and reemerge on the Bustard Islands. Smooth slopes of multi-coloured granite are pocketed with thick blueberries and gnarled, dwarf trees. Ghost towns and abandoned camp relics can be explored.
The French River Interpretive Centre is located south of the bridge on Hwy 69 as the centre for the Provincial Waterway Park. Exhibits of the ecology, history and artifacts of the fur trade and lumber booms tell the story of this legendary region. A 100-metre suspension bridge spans the gorge, providing a spectacular view high above the river. Rugged cliffs rise from both sides of the river. Tall pines sigh in the breeze and provide shade and a restful ambience in the picnic area. The centre opens daily, July-Aug. 9:15 a.m.- 4:15 p.m. and weekends, spring and fall. Tourist information and maps are available at the venerable French River Trading Post on Hwy 69. Express Bus Service reservations to the park from Toronto are available at parkbus.ca.
Mashkinonje Provincial Park preserves unique wetland habitat at the end of Lake Nipissing’s West Arm, on Hwy 64. A network of trails and boardwalks traverses 35 km. of rock outcrops, bogs and beaver ponds where rare orchids, blueberries and wildlife are abundant.
Wolseley Bay, located at the end of Hwy 528, is the gateway to the endless paradise of islands and channels that comprise the upper French River. The region has a singular geology where numerous fault lines intersect to form crisscross patterns that define the waterways and create a “pool and drop” configuration that is fascinating to explore. The hamlet has accommodations, resorts, camping supplies, boat tours, boat rentals, and fabulous fishing. Chevaliers de Colombe Park has a nice beach and picnic shelter with toilets located east of Alban at 1043-B Hwy 64.
French River ATV Tours is the region’s newest attraction, which provides half-day guided, all-terrain vehicle tours that outdoor adventurers and adrenaline junkies will love. Operating out of Presqui’ile Cottages on the newly developed French River Multi-use Trail Associations network, the tours climb over challenging rock outcrops, weave between towering trees and splash through mud holes. Experienced guides lead participants on Honda 4x4 ATVs with automatic transmission, power steering and GPS. The versatile machines are guaranteed to give a thrilling ride.