Tuesday, September 18, 2007

North Shore Series #4: French River Village

The north shore odyssey continued toward the barren islands that mark the central and eastern outlets of the French River. As we closed in on the historic waterway, the bears became more numerous, as did the canoeists. Just after we found a site and managed to get a tarp up for shelter, the wind suddenly picked up and we found ourselves in the midst of a heavy downpour, which was fortunately short-lived. A shot of whiskey and a good sleep later, things looked a whole lot better:

It was time to take to the boats and retrace the steps of the First Nations, missionaries, and stout-hearted Hudson's Bay Company men who used to ply this river on their way from Montreal to the Canadian west.

A peculiar piece of machinery, one of many such objects that mark the place where a thriving lumber town once stood. In its heyday, French River Village, at the mouth of the river's main outlet, boasted a population of 1,400 and featured two mills, schools, churches, and just about anything else you might expect to find in an early twentieth century town. But by the 1920s, things were clearly going downhill -- the timber supply declined, the mills relocated, and only a handful of residents were left. Today, you wouldn't know a settlement ever existed on this site. The only thing that remains is the old lighthouse, long since automated.

Eventually, a decision was taken to tear many of the old buildings down before they became too unsafe. Others simply collapsed under their own weight. It was a chaotic process that left a lot of debris in the water, such as these, which look to be some type of boilers, now home only to the local beavers.

This old mill is one of the few buildings that is still somewhat identifiable. Behind it runs what used to be the main street, but it's now so overgrown that it's no longer possible to even set foot there.

Finally, after a week on the lam from society, it was time to turn east and head for home, a two-day paddle from the mysteries of French River Village, back through the aptly named Parting Channel, through the Outer Foxes, and finally past Dead Island and its scores of lost souls.

This picture is a good indication of the aftermath. Note Amy: perky, clean as a whistle, let's say "rejuvenated." By contrast, I am clearly much the worse for wear: lost, a bit confused -- haggard, even.

But the north shore left me greedily craving even more. Dreams of covering the whole coast, from Killarney to Key River and beyond, danced through my head. But in the near term, I was willing to settle for a hot shower.

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