Sunday, September 2, 2007

The North Shore Series #1: Outbound

The coastline that stretches along Georgian Bay's north shore between the Key and French Rivers has to be one of the best-kept secrets on the Great Lakes. This area contains literally thousands of windswept islands and marshy inlets that are perfect for exploring by sea kayak. With the exception of a few lumber and fishing settlements that came and went in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the north shore has been left largely untouched, and looks as wild and pristine as it did thousands of years ago.

I've just returned from seven days of paddling the north shore. Though it's impossible to nail down just a few, the following posts will contain some of the highlights, headed west toward the main outlet of the French River, from the area's best put-in for paddlers, Key Marina, just off Highway 69, in the neighbourhood of Grundy Lake Provincial Park.

Key Harbour

A former railway town perched at the western end of the Key River, Key Harbour is about a twelve-kilometre paddle west from the put-in at Key Marina.

Now a tiny community of cottagers, Key Harbour's economy consists pretty well entirely of the Key Harbour Lodge, a marina and fishing camp. But in its heyday, the town had a far more strategic use: it was a central railway transit point for iron ore, which was shipped south by rail from the Sudbury area and loaded onto waiting ships at Key Harbour, which was the port nearest to the mining operations.

But the good times didn't last long; the harbour soon proved too shallow for the larger freighters that began to populate the Great Lakes by the boom years of the 1920s, and the whole operation quickly packed up and moved further south, to the Parry Sound area. The tracks have all been ripped out now, but the remains of the dock and some of the terminal buildings still stand, reminding passing boaters of those who once worked on the docks of this remote industrial outpost.

But the facilities here are perfect for small pleasure craft and fishing boats, which, since the removal of the railway line, now provide Key Harbour's only real access to the outside world. As you can imagine, this keeps the population low, but the cost of a nice ice-cream sandwich, enjoyed by a couple of excited kayakers who were about to spend seven days away from a refrigerator, pretty high.

Click here for the Key Harbour Lodge web site. (But turn down the volume; the country song about fishing that plays in the background can be a bit loud.)

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