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French River: History reported on two plaques along Highway 400, north of Toronto, Parry Sound and south of Sudbury.

"Canoe Route to the West" - French River

"French River formed a vital link in the historic canoe route via the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers and Lake Nippissing, which connected the settlements on the St. Lawrence with the upper Great Lakes and the far West. Most of the famous Canadian explorers, missionaries and fur traders of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries followed this waterway. Here passed: Brule, discoverer of Lake Huron; Champlain, "Father of New France"; the Jesuit martyrs, Brebeuf and Lalmant; the colourful courerurs de bois, Radisson and Groseilliers; La Verendrye, pioneer explorer of the prairies; Mackenzie, first European to reach the Pacific by land north of Mexico; Thompson, the great explorer and cartographer."

The plaque by The Canadian Heritage Rivers System reads:

"French River"

"A travel route of the Ojibwa Indians and a key link in the fur trade for two centuries, the French River’s historical importance is unmatched in this part of Canada. Its ice-molded landscape, gorges, relict flora, and extensive bedrock delta tell a unique story in the glacial history of the Canadian Shield. The river’s valley is the habitat for several rare plants, as well as the Massassauga Rattlesnake. These features, and its great beauty, are the reasons for the French River’s outstanding significance as a recreational and heritage waterway."

French River History: reveals early explorers were looking for a shorter route to the West. Hence, the French River was the main "Water Highway to the West in Canada, from 1600 to the mid 1800’s."  French River has been a producer of furs and trading over the years. Logging was a major industry along with fishing in the area. Steam boats navigated the Dallas Falls carrying supplies past the French River Village which developed in the late 1880’s from the logging industry. "Alligator" tugs were used and can be still seen abandoned along the shorelines at the Dallas Falls and the French River.

Timber cutting, logging and lumber mills sprang up in the area in 1873 and boomed till the 1930’s. A major boom of logging occurred after the Chicago, Illinois fire and the logs were floated down the French River and the Wahnipitae River to be taken to rebuild the city. Today, many of the sunken logs still dot the rivers and remind of us days gone by. We refer to these sunken logs as "dead heads". Caution is advised when boating in these known areas of our preserved surfacing history. In the 40’s the French River area was closed to further commercial and private development, preserving this wilderness area much as it was during the days of Champlain and fur trading.

In the early 1960’s, the Ontario Government closed the area for further development making it part of the North Georgian Bay Recreation Reserve. Then in 1985, French River became part of the French River Heritage Park System – Ontario’s First Canadian Heritage River, a historical area.

Swimming, boating, canoeing, wildlife viewing, photography, landscape artists’ paradise, hunting, hiking, or just relaxing on the French, along with the lunkers for the fishermen to chase and release has been a world class paradise for the outdoor enthusiast and fun. Adventure tours in Canada and fishing trips await you.

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Boulders, rocks, gneiss, nepheline syenite, sand beaches are found in the Park. Have fun swimming, boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, exploring, or relaxing in the sun on a sand beach right here in Ontario, Canada. Number one destination in Canada.

History of the Geological Changes and Formation of Present Day French River Flowage

The French River area was reported to have originally flowed eastward from the present day Georgian Bay to the Ottawa River Valley drainage system southeast to the ocean from 12,000 – 9500 years ago as per S.B. Lumbers, curator-in-charge, Department of Geology, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. The bedrock is part of the Precambrian Canadian Shield forming the mineral wealth produced in Canada. Areas of moss and sediment with sparse vegetation dot the shorelines. This sediment was deposited during the last glacial and melting glacier cycle in the past one million years. Any rock formed or deposited on the present bedrock was eroded or removed by the last glacier as seen along the border of the Precambrian Shield. "The overlaying rocks are 480 million year old limestone deposited in a shallow sea after the Precambrian bedrock was eroded to its present level. The French and Pickerel Rivers were initially formed upon this ancient erosion surface sometime between 480 million years ago and the glaciations that ended about 10,000 years ago."

French River flows to the west currently the from Lake Nipissing to the Georgian Bay. With the melting of the last glacier and the weight of it, the earth surface rose and "tilted to the west and east along a hinge line just east of Lake Nipissing." Westward tilt of the land surface west of the hinge line reversed the flow of the river westward to Georgian Bay. The eastward tilted land surface east of the hinge line allowed drainage to continue eastward to Mattawa River which gives the French River two mouths – one at each end flowing in two directions. The earth is still tilting further and in years to come, it may change again.

Rock formation is distorted and contorted from the energy from within the earth. Gneiss, or the rock caused by heating and compressing shows rippling layers of secondary layers. Original layers of sedimentary rock were white, brown, and grey. They are now mixed with igneous rocks formed in the Earth’s interior. These rocks are pinkish to reddish, very course, slightly layered and rare in Precambrian Shield finds. Nepheline syenite is found cutting across areas of the French River with a noted white to grayish color. It is breath taking and a real marvel to see. Along your adventure travel you will see boulders sitting high on the bedrock and dotted areas of sand deposits, an amazement to see! It is a haven for geologists to see P-forms, Striations, Chattermarks, Whalebacks and Roche Moutonnee all within reach from Bear's Den Lodge. 

Several years ago, I had the privilege to spend time talking with a local Native that currently resides where the voyageurs did fur trading on the French River Delta.  He related a legend of that is noted to have occurred 6000-7000 years ago on the tribe belt. The story he related was that the Great Lakes were low enough for the Indians to walk from the Bruce Peninsula in the Georgian Bay to Manutolin Island on land. It is said that "the ones walking from the North met the ones walking from the South and they met the other group with different clothes and were of the same culture of people". This legend has been passed on to the research scientists from the Natural Resources Canada and may serve to assist in the project they are currently studying about the French River flowage. Also, Art completed drawings for the Scientists at Natural Resources Canada in hopes to assist them in locating the "forest of stumps" we discovered submerged in the rock cracks while fishing in Georgian Bay over 29 years ago. Scientists and researchers traveled with sonar equipment to the Georgian Bay to look for indication that the French River was dry at one time in history. Stumps have not been located in this area, but a "white cedar stump" was recovered from the Georgian Bay, "tested 8,522 years old,"  and indicated that the climate was "more arid then" as reported by geological expert Steve Blasco on the Discovery Science recently. Blasco also located underwater a waterfall described as, "Larger than the Horseshoe Falls located near Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay." Dr. Greg Brooks, P.Geo and Barbara E. Medioli final report of March 31, 2007 radiocarbon ages seeds and twig fragments approx. 9000 years ago! Art and Brenda Barefoot are listed as providing insights into the river system and history of the area.

Indigenous rock samples are being studied by Professor Henry Halls of University of Toronto and his colleges.  We await his report and findings for French River Delta.  The indigenous rock was reported to be "young" at 513,000 years old by Professor Halls.

Bear's Den is currently seeking additional history, photos, and information on the Heritage of the French River to develop a documentary. Let's turn a dream and vision into reality - the foot prints are calling, our historians are sadly passing!  Please contact us with any information about the French River.  We would love to hear, record, and share the information and photos. A preliminary Heritage Film meeting was held at Bear's Den Lodge November 3, 2008.  On May 20, 2009, a meeting showed much interest from the First Nations and French River Heritage Aboriginal Advisory Committee to consider recording aboriginal history of the French River. Funding and history are being sought for the French River Heritage Film.  Please contact Brenda Barefoot at Bear's Den Lodge for more information.

Human Changes to the flowage in the French River Delta  In the early 1970's the Dallas Falls were blasted with the "hopes" to open a travel way to the Georgian Bay. The blasting resulted in the rock tumbling into the Dallas Rapids causing what used to be a major travel way for alligator logging equipment in the 1920's to an area almost impossible to navigate by small water craft. Not only did this change navigation, but it also lowered the water level in the French River System. Steamships previously navigated these waterways of the French River. Art and I saw rare photos of the steamships during the early logging years.

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Great blue heron waiting to feed. Great blue heron rookery is located nearby. Bald eagles are sited near the lodge. French River is a great sanctuary for birds, wildlife and fish.

 

Flora, Fauna, and Wildlife of the French River Provincial Park, Canadian Heritage French River Park

Wind blown trees dot the rugged shorelines in the region and fall foliage is spectacular reflecting off the pool of water it lines. Conifers of white pine, jack pine, white spruce, and hemlock along with hardwoods of maple, birch, aspen, beech, basswood, and red oak line the shores, growing out of cracks in the rocks. Virgin timber remains on Boom Island to this day. Ferns – including Virginian chain fern , variety of mosses, mushrooms, lemna which is a green surface aquatic plant bright in color, wildflowers, cardinal flower - those "little red flowers that grow down by the shoreline," wild rice, lily pads with turtles dotting the tops of rocks sunning themselves slither into the water as you pass by. You will see great blue herons feeding along the shorelines, hear the bugle of the elk, moose standing knee deep feeding, and cubs and mom climbing trees or throwing a fish on the bank to eat. Luscious wild blue berries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries top the favorite of dishes.

Otters, muskrats, lynx, the prized fisher can be a vicious critter if cornered, beavers are busy building huts and dams, minks, wolves, martens, red foxes and the occasional porcupine can be seen. White tail deer are sparse in the area, but can be seen along with moose and bears. Birds and waterfowl includes: Canada geese, loons, bald eagles, woodies, mallards, black ducks, mergansers, teal ducks, sea gulls, hummingbirds, whiskey jacks, blue jays, cardinals, partridge, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers - pileated, latter backs, and red heads, hawks, turkey vultures, sand pipers, cormorant, just to name a few of the species that can be seen. Many more birds pass through during their migrations. Hummingbird bees and hummingbird moths visit the flower gardens at Bear's Den Lodge too - a must see.

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The Aquatic Life and Fishery History has been Changing

In 1992 the fishery was starting to show impact from fishing pressure from the middle French River.  After gathering data from the users of the area through comment survey, actual data gathering by recording results of fishing hours, biological testing of samples, and netting results, it was determined that slot sizes and limits were in favor for the area by the users of the French River.  The slots were implemented after the 2 years of intensive study including water quality and oxygenation. Now we are 20 years with the slot limits on the fish and have been reaping the benefits in the Delta due to the long hours of commitment to the project.  Review will be completed this year and recommendations made. Catch, eat, and release has become the motto for our area and the future.

Over the past 28 years we have watched an influx of the black crappies into the area and most recently, the salmon have populated the area for the fall run. The Pinks, Cohoes, and Chinooks now can be caught and watched during the fall spawn.

Zebra mussels have been seen in the Georgian Bay, but have not reached the French River Delta to date. Lamprey eels are treated in the area to control their population.

Fishery History and Biological Studies Completed in the French River – Georgian Bay

Much assistance, time, money, and support was provided by the French River Resorts Association, French River Delta Association and private operators, including, Bear’s Den Lodge during the past 19 years in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Sudbury and Glenora, Laurentian University biologist, George Morgan with the French River Cooperative Fisheries Unit, and Trent University. Many visitors and guests at the various lodges – including Bear’s Den Lodge, cottagers, and visitors to the area participated in providing fish samples, answering questionnaires and providing input into the many fishery projects. Their input and assistance over the years will assist us to maintain the world class fishery the French River Delta provides and sustains.

Bear’s Den Lodge was already educating and implementing releasing all muskies caught that measured less than 50 inches since 1989 and encouraged others to do the same. Bear’s Den Lodge guests were participating with this concept of selective harvesting to begin the preservation of this highly prized trophy. Realization hit home of the potential number of fish that could have been lost when Art caught his muskie June 5, 1989 when unfortunately the fish died and could not be released, or it would still be swimming today. Fortunately, she had spawned or the loss would have even been greater. The loss of thousands of eggs would have been enormous. We were able with this data to encourage and have the cooperation of the Ministry of Natural Resources to back us on changing the opening of muskie season until the 3rd Saturday in June for 1990. Dr. Casselman researched this monster fish and listed the age as 27 years and indicated the fish would have weighed 75 lbs. in the fall. During the research on the French River, Bear’s Den Lodge was found to be the only site having historical records on file of muskie caught and released.


Age, Growth, Year-Class Strength, and Trophy Size of Muskellunge from Georgian Bay, 1977-1995
Completed by: John M. Casselman, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Research, Science and Technology Branch Glenora Fisheries Station and Chris J. Robinson Watershed Ecosystems Graduate Program Trent University
As reported in August 1996

This study was encouraged by the interest of increasing the minimum size limit on Muskellunge from 34 inches in the French River. The Ministry of Natural Resources had already set Georgian Bay at 40 inches. Since these two bodies of water are connected, it was of importance that strong biological concern be considered in making any size limit changes.

Cleithra and biological data were used to examine the age, growth, and maturity of the French River muskellunge. From a recent collection of samples and support by George Morgan from the French River and Pickerel River and Drs. Casselman and Crossman Cleithrum Project collection in 1986, finding were compared and examined. Other muskellunge populations from Georgian Bay along with other Ontario water bodies were compared. A method of determining a minimum trophy size limit with a strong biological basis was developed and applied.

Casselman 1989 Cleithrum Project used “43 Georgian Bay samples, 36 with total length and anterior cleithral radius and back-calculated total length at age. An additional 19 Georgian Bay samples in the Cleithrum Project were available and had been interpreted; 18 of these were suitable for back-calculating total length at age. The French River Cooperative Fisheries Unit – George Morgan, supplied cleithra from 20 muskellunge caught from 1993 to 1995 – 17 from the French River and 3 from the Pickerel River.” Most were contributed from the netting survey, but “two French River samples were angled. All were suitable for back-calculating length at age. Five of the Cleithrum Project samples were also from the French River. Thus a total of 82 fish, caught over the period 1977 to 1995, was available from the Georgian Bay area. Of this total, 64 were angled. Twenty-two fish were from the French River, 3 were from the Pickerel River, and 57 were from elsewhere in the Georgian Bay watershed.”

The results were compared with studies on Tweed District water bodies (Casselman and Robinson 1995a) and the Niagara River (Robinson and Casselman 1995). Lac Seul data was also used to compare with the similar data from the Georgian Bay.

Results and Conclusions indicated that the French River, Pickerel River and the Georgian Bay muskie samples can be “considered as one population” since they showed “similar growth”. “The mean length and weight of angled Georgian Bay muskellunge are greater than the means for Canadian trophy muskellunge reported by Casselman and Crossman (1986)” and “approximately two years older than the mean age of Canadian trophy muskellunge” as reported by Casselman and Crossman (1986). It was recommended that females be harvested at trophy size of “47 inches” to allow protection for at least a minimum number of spawning years. Thus few males would be caught with this limit set therefore; a sex specific limit would need to be set to harvest males in the future since “minimum trophy size limit for male Georgian Bay muskellunge would be approximately 43 inches.” To do this, anglers would need to know how to identify the sex of each muskie with external techniques. This would require some learning and training to accomplish this with all anglers.

Regulation Change for Muskellunge in the French River Ministry of Natural Resources Media Advisory


June 2, 1999, “The Ministry of Natural Resources changed the minimum size limit for muskellunge caught on the French River to help ensure the long-term health of this fishery.”

“The new size limit was changed from 102 centimeters to 122 centimeters total length.” Trophy size limit is set at 48 inches.

“The change of regulation responds to recommendation from the French River Fisheries Study (1992-1998). The study found that:
1. muskellunge are considered a fragile resource as the top predator in their ecosystem;
2. the previous minimum size limit, along with current angling pressure, would not sustain muskellunge populations into the future; and
3. the public supports a trophy fishery on the French River.”
“The recommendation was reviewed and endorsed by a Provincial Muskellunge Committee which has representation from Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), The Voice of Nature & Outdoor Tourism in Ontario (NOTO), Muskies Canada Inc., (MCI), the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).”

Currently The Cleithrum Project on muskellunge and northern pike is underway and the cleithrum (the crescent shaped bone under the gill) should be removed from any fish found dead, angled and is being mounted or kept for food. Please record information on size of the fish, length, weight, girth, and the body of water where the fish was obtained and submit the data to the Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto, Ontario M5C 2C6.

Ministry of Natural Resources Regulations Changed Again for Muskellunge on French River - 2007

In order to simplify the regulations, the Ministry of Natural Resources reversed the opening of muskellunge from 3rd Saturday in June to the 1st Saturday in June for the spring of 2003. Regulations return opening muskies season to the 1st Saturday in June, 2007 until further notice - new regulations planned to move it back to the 3rd Saturday, but have been approved for 2009.

With the increase in catch size, hopefully, the females that are 48” have spawned several seasons. However, Bear’s Den Lodge still maintains and encourages the release of muskellunge below 50 inches to be released, while many of the fish angled 50 inches and over have been successfully returned to the French River system. Photographs cover the walls of the lodge and cottages of the many trophies released over the years. Fish reproductions are a great option for fishermen to replace the live fish mount with and still have their trophy fish and the fish released!

20th Year On Slot Limits - Introduced in 1994

The introduction of a slot-size fishing program was a realistic effort to restore the sport fish population in the French River.

Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass - live release between 13" & 17" (Length)

Walleye - Pickerel - live release between 15" & 25" (Length)

Northern Pike - live release of all between 21" & 34" (Length)

An angler may keep a total of four fish of each species.  Only one fish of each species may measure over the specified "Slot-Size" length.

Persons with Conservation Licenses may only posses 2 of each species. Only one fish of each species may measure over the specified "Slot-Size" length. These are the trophy fish on French River.

A public informational meeting was held on July 27, 2005 at the Alban Community Center to update the public on the current results of the fishery on the French River. Biologist, George Morgan feels "that a complete recovery of the system will occur by 2010 with the current slots and recorded recovery data."  The French River Fishery Enhancement Committee recommended to MNR the following changes to current slots:
Walleye increased to 16.5 inches with 1 trophy over 25 inches.
Pike increased to 6 in possession with 2 over 24 inches and 1 trophy pike over 34 inches.
Bass - max. 14 inches.
Muskie - remain the same.
Ministry of Natural Resources approved the recommendations, but missed printing them as of 2008 and 2009, but published in 2010.
 

Area attractions include a day trip to Science North- a hands on experience enjoyed by all. Imax theater is on site.  Nickel Mine is an added attraction to learn how Nickel is mined in the local area. Visit the French River Visitor Center to learn the history of French River. The French River Visitor Center is part of the Ontario Living Legacy/Great Lakes Heritage Coast Plan. Explanative exhibits and educational events related to the cultural and natural resources of the river, including the Georgian Bay coast area is included in the Visitor center for world-wide visitors to view. ( see Links page for more details). Inukshuk is singular for Inuksuit, means "in the likeness of a human" in the Inuit language and are noted on the French River and Hwy 400.  Natural stone are used to mark direction or navigation, as a memorial marker, a ceremonial or respected place, markers have been used to indicate migration routes or places where fish can be found.  Each marker varies in size and shape with the rocks in the area. How the markers are arranged depicts the message of the Inukshuk. Depending how the arms and legs extend, they my mark navigation routes through open channels or valleys. Inukshuk without arms would represent areas plentiful for food. The Inukshuk my stand by itself, but sometimes several mark a specific place and can span large territories indicative of being "On the right path".
 
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Bear's Den Lodge
Hartley Bay, R.R. 2, Site 3, Box 10
Alban, Ont. P0M 1A0
Tel: (705) 857-2757


 

Winter Address:
124 Shagbark Rd.
Alum Bank, PA 15521
Tel: (814) 839-2443


bearsdenfishing@gmail.com 

….A SPECIAL PLACE

Deep within the Canadian woodlands lies a special place. A place in which the mood and surroundings are as cool and calm as the river that is lies on…. Bear’s Den Lodge.

Nestled tightly between a world of rock and pine, this place sets the tone for a time of peace and tranquility. Without the distractions of the outside world, the mind can have endless thought sessions.

The hospitality expressed here is that of any four-star hotel. Tables filled with food as far as the eye can see, as well as the new friendships that are established around these tables, make for memories never to be forgotten. This is a place where you can go all day and search for "The Big One", and share your own version of fish tales at the end of the day.

The mood set at Bear’s Den Lodge along the French River is that of love and happiness……… some call it home.

By: Travis Crilly
Age 16, August ‘97

Life on the French River

Where is the French River? The French River is located in Ontario, Canada which is part of North America. My home, Bear’s Den Lodge, coordinates are North 46 02’ 30 latitude and West 80 47’ 0 longitudes. The French River follows from Lake Nippissing to the Georgian Bay which then flows into Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. Years ago before the last ice age, the French River flowed north but with the weight of the ice it pushed the land down causing it to flow to the south.

What does the French River look like and what type of weather occurs there? The French River has rocky canyons, sandy beaches, bays, rivers, lakes, grassy land, boggy soil, and tall forests. It looks like a giant sponge from the sky. The different weather patterns are warm sunny summers, fall rainy days, winter is cold with snowy and windy days. The different weathers patterns and seasons affect fishing, hunting, the River system, and its wildlife.

What physical systems does the French River have? Oak, maple, various pine trees, cedar, white birch dot the rugged shoreline. There are waterfalls, rapids, five different rivers flowing all into the French River System. Sandy beaches, granite rock with pink and white quartz accent steep ledges and bluffs. Large boulders remain from the glaciers. Islands create a maze of channels with rocks, shoals, and dead heads – logs stuck in the mud from the logging years ago to navigate and fish. We are 530 feet above sea level.

The French River has human systems. Canadians celebrate different holidays then Americans, including Thanksgiving in October, Canada Day on July 1st. The French River had a history about lumber jacks and fur traders. The French River is known as the "Canoe Route to the West". Today we offer tourism, fishing, hunting, adventure and scenic tours. The people on the French River speak different languages; they are mostly English, French, and Spanish.

The religions on the French River are mainly Catholic and Protestant. A Protestant Church is only open during the summer season and located at the French River Station. The Catholic Church is located in the town of Alban which is 20 miles away. The French River Village had both a Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900's.

French River allows opportunities for you to hunt black bear, ducks, small game, moose, and deer. However, the River is best known for providing world class fishing opportunities for a large variety of fresh water fish from muskie, bass, pike, walleye, sturgeon, catfish, crappies, perch and other pan fish. The French River area has humus soil because the river system floods and deposits new soils each year. Also, plants grow well in the humus soil including wild blueberries, cranberries in the boggy areas, wild rice and a variety of ferns, just to mention a few.

The French River’s geography includes locals and people from different parts of the world! Immigrants and visitors are from United States, Germany, Australia, China, Switzerland, England, Ireland, and many more countries reside here or visit annually. The French River is a community of neighbors living together.

We are very conscious about protecting the environment from pollution and extinction. Protection of our resources currently include: selective cutting of trees, slot limits on the fish and numbers of fish caught, other protected species including Massassauga Rattlesnakes and local elk to name a few. Each person is responsible for their own garbage. Garbage is removed from the French River Park to local landfills to protect our environment.

Hence, French River is a tranquil, peaceful, quiet place in Northern Ontario where you can get a way from the city and still have electricity. The natural beauty lies in the landscape, wildlife, and serenity of the life among friends and family. Lastly, the French River is the history, geography, and the future for wildlife with us living together.

©Joe Barefoot, Age 11
Future owner of Bear’s Den Lodge.
Son of Art and Brenda Barefoot, Owners of Bear’s Den Lodge, French River.

Moose Photo

©All rights reserved by Bear's Den Lodge 2001-2014