Friday, June 10, 2022

Immense Natural Diversity and Log Driving : Maniwaki to Gracefield

When we woke up this morning it was raining hard, but the weather forecast suggested it should ease up by 8 am, so we decided to have breakfast and wait for it to stop.  As soon as it let up we were off, heading out of Maniwaki past Le Parc des Draveurs, which featured a large bronze statue of a log driver and a circle of interpretive signs on the history of log driving in Quebec.  

Log driving is an important part of Quebec culture, especially in the Ottawa Valley and surrounding areas.  Red and white pine were harvested extensively in this region at the beginning of the 19th century.  The drive was the least expensive way of transporting logs from the felling areas to the loading docks.  It was done either by tying the logs together into rafts or floats and sailing or paddling them down wider waterways, or by steering individual logs down smaller rivers using the current.  

Although it is the raftsmen, who had the dangerous job of driving the logs down the rivers that have captured the imaginations of many musicians and artists, there were actually many trades associated with the drive.  

National Film Board of Canada - Log Driver's Waltz

Log slides and booms needed to be built to prevent the logs jamming in rapids and waterfalls, horses were used to assist in some areas, sometimes pulling wagons, and many tools needed to be crafted to help move the logs along, requiring metal workers. As a result, log driving became an important part of Quebec culture, especially in the Ottawa Valley. 

On our way out of Maniwaki we also passed the historic Chateau Laurier Hotel, which was built in 1889 by Harry Flynn. The CPR train station used to stand opposite it, and the hotel would provide food and drink to the well-healed and wealthy passengers who made Sunday excursions from Ottawa to Maniwaki. At the time, the hotel had a tavern, a restaurant, and a grill.  Although it looked like it had lost some of its original grandeur in recent times, it was cool to compare the historic photos with the real thing. 

A little farther along we walked past the Parc Vallée-de-la-Gatineau.  This small park had a semicircle of flag poles with interpretive signs underneath providing information about all the municipalities that were located in the Vallée-de-la-Gatineau, many of which we will be walking through in the coming days. 

As we left town on the rail trail, which resembled a wide, gravel road we entered the Kitigan Zibi First Nations Reserve.  There was a sign indicating that the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg community granted all visitors the privilege of passing through their territory, but they asked for respect for the community, the people, the animals, and the environment. I think these are good rules to live by no matter where we are! 

The Kitigan Zibi First Nation Reserve is over 210 km2, and it is the largest Algonquin Nation in Canada in both size and population. Their main economy is based on forestry, both through the creation of Mitog, the First Nation's own forest management company, and through collaborations with other forest operators.  They are also producers of maple syrup. 

For the first two hours of our walk we followed the wide, gravel trail through a lush corridor of trees.  Everything was soaked from the rain yesterday and last night, and the marshy vegetation on both sides of the trail seemed to glow in the overcast morning. Unfortunately, the mosquitos were out in thick swarms, which kept us going at a fair pace.  Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable walk, surrounded by dense deciduous forest and small natural ponds and marshes.  We were far from the highway and other sounds of civilization, and we enjoyed listening to the calls of White-throated Sparrows, Eastern Phoebes, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Green Warblers, and many others. 

As we passed one small marsh we saw two spots of bright yellow bobbing through the gloom and alighting on a tall snag like decorations, who turned out to be two boisterous American Goldfinches.  Below them an Eastern Kingbird sat in elegant black and white attire.  Out in the middle of the wetland, keeping watch and looking like it was trying to dry its wings, sat a Broad-winged Hawk. 

About an hour into our hike we found ourselves following the trail along the edge of a large lake.  We only caught glimpses of its ruffled  grey waters through a small band of trees along the shoreline, but we could hear the sloshing and glugging of the small waves against the rocky shoreline beside us.  In a few places the water was so high that the nearby trees were standing in water, and a trio of Wood Ducks was swimming among them. 

A single Great Blue Heron flew by overhead, silhouetted against the overcast sky.  We haven't spotted very many of these familiar birds as we've crossed Quebec, so we were very pleased to see this large and majestic bird.  Another absence we've noticed is moose, but maybe we will be lucky enough to spot our first one in Quebec in our final days here! 

When we reached the far end of the quiet and peaceful lake a short section of forested trail, which looked like a glowing green tunnel, brought us to the edge of the Kitigan Zibi Reserve.  Almost immediately the landscape changed to hay fields and old farms, one of which had a small herd of llamas. As we left the lake behind we head the unmistakable call of a Common Loon. 

We soon found ourselves crossing a gravel road and arriving at the Halte de Farley, which was being supervised by two enormous and very friendly dogs, presumably from a nearby home.  The little red wooden cabin was still roped off due to Covid 19, but the small washroom was open and we sat at the adjacent picnic table for a few moments.

As we sat there we watched the sky darken behind us as a very dark cloud moved across the sky. It looked like perhaps it would pass to the north of us, so we set off down the trail, which outside of the reserve was now a paved cycling path once again. This was the beginning of the Véloroute des Draveurs, which extends more than 78 km from Farley to just beyond Low, and which we will be following for the next couple days.  About 10 minutes after we left the roofed shelter of the rest stop the shower arrived.  It only lasted a few minutes, but so much rain fell in the short time that the trail ahead disappeared behind a curtain of white.  

For the next 6 km or so, as we trekked from Farley to Messines, we walked through a quiet landscape of hay fields and small forests, periodically getting rained on quite hard.  The trailside shrubs and bushes were full of the sharp chips and calls of fledgling birds, and adults were busily trying to to meet the demands.  We spotted Chipping Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, a Veery, Yellow Warblers, American Robins, and Common Grackles moving through the wet leaves with large beakfuls of caterpillars and other insects. 

 The birds weren't the only ones enjoying the wet weather.  The loud call of Bull Frogs greeted us as we came to the edge of Lac Laverdure.  This small lake was lined with cottages and surrounded by forested hills.  Apparently this lake is a well known spot for fishing, but we didn't spot any boats out kn the water. 

Another shower arrived as we were passing the Algonquin Golf Course, where no one was out on the green apart from a family of Canada Geese. We continued around a series of ponds created by large and impressive beaver dams, which also seemed to be teeming with life, but we didn't stop in the pouring rain.  Although we were pretty drenched by this point we really enjoyed the fresh air, which smelled of balsam fir, wet earth, and occasionally flower blossoms. It was easy to see how the Victorian idea that fresh mountain or forest air could cure respiratory ailments and pulmonary diseases came from.  

By the time we reached the edge of Messines it had stopped raining and the sun briefly showed its face.  From the trail we caught a glimpse of a nice treed park down the road, but otherwise we didn't really see much of the town.  We stopped at a Depanneur by the edge of the trail and enjoyed an iced tea and a bit of a break. 

Messines has been nicknamed the 'Fleur de la Gatineau' and because of its numerous lakes, forested hills, and beautiful scenery it is known as cottage country.  It offers opportunities for hiking, biking, swimming, boating, fishing and berry picking at local farms in summer, and for skiing, snowmobiling, and ice skating in the winter.  

As we headed out of town we passed a sign acknowledging a grant for local development in the region which had two Trans Canada Trail signs with the new logo velcroed to the base.  We realized that we were passing the spot where the torch for the Niagara 2022 Summer Games was carried through yesterday.  The Roly McLenahan Torch began its journey down the Trans Canada Trail on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 6th, and it will reach Montreal on June 15th.  It will then travel by water for the first time ever back from Montreal to Niagara on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Although it must have passed us somewhere on the trail, we were sorry to have missed it. 

Just after leaving Messines the paved cycling trail took us through a beautiful corridor of sugar maple, beech, and birch that seemed to be glowing in low light.  It began pouring torrentially once again, and the rain lasted until we reached a tiny section of trail that provided us with a view of Lac Grant.  This small lake was surrounded by forested hills and lined with cottages, one of which had a small float plane parked out front.  We passed the Halte du Lac Grant looked like a nice place to stop, with a shaded picnic table and washroom, but it wasn't roofed and it was still raining, so we continued on down the forested trail. 

A little farther along we found ourselves walking the edge of Lac Blue Sea.  This very large lake was also ringed with cottages surrounded by forested hills, and it had a few small islands out in the middle. It is known for its crystal clear waters, which together with its size (10 km long and 3.4 km wide) gave it the name of 'blue sea.' 

There is an interesting legend associated with this large waterbody.  Apparently a snake-like monster with a horse's head used to live in the lake, whom the Algonquin of Maniwaki called 'Misiganebic' or Grand Serpent.  Several people reported seeing the monster between 1913 and 1930, and it may have been spotted in the Baskatong Reservoir (farther north) again in 1980.  The absence of recent sightings has been attributed to development around the lake which has led to an increase in motorized boat traffic. 

We stopped at the lovely Halte du Lac Blue Sea, which featured a covered picnic table, bench, washroom, and access to the water.  It was a lovely spot, and would have made a tempting place to camp for the night. Of course, now that we had found shelter the sun came out for a few short minutes.  No complaints though! 

Eventually we continued along the lake shore, with wooden staircases leading up to cottages above us on one side and wooden boat docks jutting into the water on the other.  We were passed by several cyclists in this stretch, all of whom looked wet.  A sudden rustling beside us revealed a huge Northern Water Snake!  From a distance it looked brown, but close-up we see its subtle red and yellow scales.  It was really beautiful! 

Soon it began to rain again.  We passed a cheerful and smiling man doing maintenance on the trail.  He was filling the cracks with asphalt in the pouring rain.  We followed the treed corridor through stretches of deciduous forest, coniferous forest, and more open shrubby areas. At one point we crossed a small stream and watched a Painted Turtle laboriously digging a nest at the edge of the trail.  She had just begun, so we didn't stick around for fear of disturbing her. 

Another wildlife highlight was spotting a huge millipede crossing the trail, and stumbling upon a small patch of rare yellow ladies slipper plants while stopping under a tree to try to shelter from the rain.

We got to the town of Gracefield around 6 pm and stopped to visit the very busy Metro for some breakfast supplies, and the even busier Subway for a couple sandwiches.  While making these purchases we noticed that more people around us seemed to be speaking English than in other parts of Quebec we've walked through apart from Montreal. 

The town of Gracefield is located on the Picanoc River, an 83 km waterway that begins in the unorganized territory of Lac-Nilgaut, Quebec in Pontiac, and ends in Gracefield.  It is known for recreational oportunities provided by its Class II and Class III rapids, and it gets its name from 'Pikanook' or 'Picanock' which are variants of 'pakanak', 'pakan' or 'walnut.' It is possible the river was bordered by walnut trees which were favoured by First Nations Peoples for making bows. 

We left town and walked another couple kilometers to the Pickanock Park and Campground.  At first we didn't know how to check in, but eventually the friendly residents of the park helped us find the owners, and they walked us up to a grassy field.  Unfortunately, the heavens decided to open up once again and it rained incredibly hard for the next half hour.  When it finally stopped we were left standing in a few inches of water.  The sun came out and we set up the tent in the largish puddle.  When we walked to the washroom the road had been reduced to a slippery track of soft mud by the huge amount of rain, but the late evening sunshine was lighting up the sandy forested banks of the river, creating golden reflections in the dark water. 

Unfortunately it is Friday night, which means there is a lot of late night activity.  Our neighbours in the adjoining campsite are relaxing and unwinding beside their campfire with a few dozen friends, many beers, and a soundtrack from the '80's going at full volume.  An active community of ATV and dirt bike drivers are taking the trail behind the campground at speed, and we are pretty close to the highway, which is busy with people heading to their cottages for the weekend.  As a long-distance hiker our needs often don't mesh with those of others around us, who live more normal lives.  It has been a very long wet day of walking, and I suspect we are both tired enough to get some sleep regardless of the noise.  At least I hope so!

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