Samuel de Champlain – My Favorite Family Provincial Park

My daughter Kyla had a rule in 2008 before we took her interior camping. We had to camp at a campground before and after our trip. Yes, it’s true, my daughter likes car-camping. I’m not afraid to admit it. I don’t mind it either, as long as you don’t have bad neighbours, which is why I usually stay clear of insanely busy parks in central Ontario. I chose something further north; one of my all time favorite parks — Samuel de Champlain.

Directly adjacent to the main campground flows the Mattawa River, a broad and deep waterway complete with sheer cliffs topped with stout old-growth pine. Having the Mattawa River pass through the main campground has in fact started one of the most recent family-base trends in the park. Samuel de Champlain has now become one of the top rated places where a family group can have the best of both worlds; choosing to spend a night or two paddling downriver and another night or two staying put at the main campground. It’s the ultimate vacation.

Remaining back at the main campground and taking in all the amenities for the entire duration of your holidays still has its perks, however. The park’s extensive day-use hiking trails are reason alone. The Wabashkiki Trail features a marsh observation platform to help view some of the park’s 200 bird species and the two lookouts on the Red Pine Trail give sweeping panoramas of the Mattawa Valley. Located just 45 minutes east of North Bay on the Trans Canada Highway, this park is also home to the Canadian Ecology Centre. The Town of Mattawa lies only ten minutes east of the park gates, while the Eau Claire Gorge and the northern boundry of Algonquin Provincial Park are just south. Your Champlain camping permit allows you free day use access to the trails in Algonquin.

Samuel de Champlain Mattawa River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1988 due mostly for the waterway’s human heritage. The river was a gateway to the north and saw explorers such as Etiene Brule, Samuel de Champlain, Pere Jean de Brebeuf, Pierre Radisson, Pierre de la Verendrye, Alexander MacKenzie, Captain George Back and David Thompson. But prior to European exploration, the river was also a main travel corridor for Native peoples. A total of 28 archeological sites show evidence of use by Aboriginal groups up to 6,000 years ago.

One of the most prominent discovers was an ancient ochre mine located at the base of Porte de l’Enfer —a place the 17th. century Jesuits labeled “Hell’s Gate.” Its one of two sites found in Ontario where the sacred red earth was gathered by shaman to paint pictographs as far away the Missinaibi and the Bloodvein rivers.

The Mattawa River was paramount in the early European exploration of Canada and later the fur-trade. In fact, it seems everyone who made Canada what it is today had once traveled the river. The most noteworthy of course is Samuel de Champlain himself.

Mattawa River’s Talon Chute (named after the governor of New France, Jean Talon) is located upstream of Samuel de Champlain park and is considered one of the most historical places in the area. Natives held vision quests in the 6-to-16-foot-deep potholes scoured out of the rock on the north side; a section of the 100-foot-high (30 meter) cliff below the chutes was used as a lookout when invading Iroquois ambushed the Nippissing people. According to Alexander McKenzie’s journal the portage avoiding it was one of the most dangerous to walk across…”where many men have been crushed to death by canoes.” The rock formation above the potholes, called the Dog Face, appeared in Ripley’s Believe It or Not in the 1950s. Well-known canoeist and cinematographer Bill Mason shot footage here for the portage scene in his film The Voyageurs. And William and Jacques, the two characters from the popular television commercials for Labatt’s Brewery, jumped off the south side of the chute. (Jacque lost his wig on the first take, and the whole scene had to be redone).

For more information on Samuel de Champlain or other “less crowded” provincial parks: Samuel de Champlain