The Portage Routes
This mile long section of La Vase Portages route is probably the most pleasant section of the route to travel, so take your time and enjoy the paddle. The beaver dam at the south end of the lake has been recorded on maps from 1845 and is responsible for keeping the canoeing channel from 6 to 8 feet deep most of the year round.
Telford's Landing, named after the land owner farmers who worked the property in the early 1900's, marks the end of the upper Portage and the put in for Cooper's Lake.
Opposite the landing is Murray's Lookout, named after Dr Murray Leatherdale who worked hard in the 1960's to have La Vase Portages recognized and protected. A short hike, starting from the high water side of the beaver dam on the west bank, brings you to a high clearing for a great view east towards the Mattawa River valley or just to take a break. Great sunrise most summer mornings around 6:00 a.m.
The Middle or Second Portage has several variations depending on water levels, how much you enjoy slugging it out in the swamp and how adverse to are to about thirty minutes of carrying.
Generally, if water levels are reasonable, starting just below the beaver dam at the south end of Cooper's Lake, the long channel that runs from north to south, you can simply paddle and lift over a few beaver dams for most of the route. This is typically the easiest course to take. Paddling from the north about mid way through you encounter Birches Road which is easier to walk around on the east side. The present owner operator of the existing aggregate quarry is comfortabe with canoests crossing his property but to be aware this is an active rock quarry site and is private property.
Historically the Middle Portage and a known archaeological campsite were in the area of the quarry but was destroyed and removed by a much earlier property owner in the 1960's.
The current property owner has been supportive of Friends of La Vase Portages and a portage has been allowed to be kept flagged and brushed along the west bank of the swamp ( green line ) area starting just above the beaver pond near a tall spruce tree grove and continuing to the rail tracks at the south end.
The railway tracks are still actively used numerous times each day so be careful crossing them. For those taking the water route and then encountering the train tracks, follow the trail ( yellow line)on the west embankment, follow the tracks - again being careful for trains coming from either direction, and about two hundred yards down the tracks and to the south the trail picks up and then returns to the La Vase River.
All persons travelling the area are cautioned not to enter the river before the portage trail marker as you would be within a restricted industrial area that should be avoided for safety reasons.
Once back on the river simply follow the water course to the west towards Lake Nipissing. The Lower or Third portage is about thirty minutes pleasant paddling further downstream.
The Lower or Third Portage, marked by the green line on the above map, is really no longer a recognizable trail other than at the original trailheads. The shallow water and numerous rocks that necessitated the original portage, especially for the mammoth Canoe d'Maitres - almost thirty feet in length, still require lining and wading in several locations. However, the current waterway is manageable for most contemporary paddlers and is the preferred route rather than carry though a subdivision, across Lakeshore drive, and a driving range to reach the river again.
Starting at the north end of the trailhead, the river turns sharply from east west to north south, and runs over sharp, shallow rocks just below and old Mill site. Wading or lining with good foot wear is appropriate. The rocks come and go as you work towards the backside of a golf course - watch out for flying golf balls as you paddle by, shortly after which you will reach the deeper water at Lake Nipissing water level. About a half an hour further paddling will bring you to Lake Nipissing itself.
Artwork of Major John Elliott Woolford - 1821
These are the oldest known recorded images of La Vase Portages and indeed North Bay and the Voyageur canoe route from Mattawa to the French River. Though travelled for centuries by the Nbisissing, Algonquin, Huron and other First Nation peoples and then introduced to Europeans in the Spring 1611 by Etienne Brule, no other sketches or artwork has survived excepting these water colours by John Elliott Woolford from August, 1821.
Government of Canada surveys by William Logan in 1845, Walter Shanley in 1854 and Alexander Nivens in 1880 are the only other known historical images of the portage route.
In the summer of 1821, John Elliott Woolford travelled up the French River, across lake Nipissing and up the La Vase River following the Voyageur canoe route down the Mattawa River. Ahead of later day photography, he recorded much of what he saw with pencil and canvas, later adding water colour, and shared these images of the Canadian frontier with the Government of Canada and Europe.
These scenes have only recently been added to the National Art Gallery of Canada and can also be viewed online. http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist_work.php?iartistid=5998