Adventure to Barron Canyon

Barron Canyon

The drive along the 407 over the top of Toronto was rather quick. Started in Burlington, all the way to the Peterborough cut-off and north on 135 into the Shield. Dragon’s Landing was still another hour or so north. That’s what my brother, Slavko, affectionately calls his cottage, nestled on 20 acres of area in the Shield with 2 bordering lakes. This is far from civilization. No electricity, no plumbing, no people, and spotty cell service. It gets more remote as we go deeper into the Shield.

Image courtesy Encyclopaedia Britannica 

The Shield is The Great Canadian Shield and is probably the oldest part of our planet. Farther north, in Quebec along the Hudson Bay shores, geologists have dated rocks from the Shield to be in the 4 billion year range. The Shield was also a very high mountain range, as high as 39,000 ft/12,000 m, and with volcanic activity, but over the last 500 million years has eroded to what it is today.

Algonquin Park was established in 1893 and with 7,653 square kilometers in area, takes up the majority of central Ontario. There is an abundance of trails, waterways, and lakes, and quiet camping in wilderness is its main attraction. The road to Algonquin Park, to where Barron Canyon is, takes us through the outskirts of Petawawa just north of Pembroke. There aren’t any superhighways and traffic was almost nonexistent save for some locals, with logging being quite prevalent in the area. It was one of these logging roads that took us to Barron Canyon.


After obtaining our permit, we parked our Honda SUV in the lot beside Barron River, where we would begin our venture upriver to the canyon. There weren’t many cars in this lot indicating that there probably weren’t that many people in this area of the park. The skies were clear and the temperatures were in the mid-20s C, which made it surprising that there weren’t more people. Unpacking our camera gear, canoe, and life jackets, we were prepared for our adventure. Only 5 km to the canyon by canoe, which, for Slavko and I, was quite the distance since neither of us have canoed any kind of distance in many years. And then there was that portage.

The waters were calm and the forest was eerily quiet of the hustle of city life I had become used to. No cars nor planes. Just the soft sounds of our paddles pushing our canoe along the water. Yet, there was a sound. A loon in the distance. The gentle breeze through the trees.

Barron Canyon was formed out of a geological fault that separated the granite bedrock at the time of the Rodina supercontinent some 750 million years ago and is part of the Ottawa Bonnechere Graben, a section of bedrock that spans up to 55 kilometers wide that had dropped during this time. A graben is a section of land that drops when the earth’s crust is pulled apart. Often there will be boundary faults resulting in steps along the graben. The Barron Canyon is one such boundary fault. But added to this is the effect of the ice age and the flow of water from the Glacial Lake Algonquin. Speculation is that this canyon had “an equivalent of thousand Niagara Rivers”.

After paddling past swamps with lily pads, partially sunken trees, and a couple of kayakers, we had to disembark and portage, a term used to carry gear and boat along the shores due to impassable rapids. It was an uphill battle. Literally. Slavko was able to carry his load, but with camera bag strapped to my back and with some help from my big brother, the canoe was hoisted onto my shoulders for this 300 meter exercise. I’m not quite as young as I used to be and did have to stop and rest a couple of times. We did reach the end of the portage and after a break for refreshments, we were on our journey again.

The second section of the journey was much longer. Perhaps 4 kilometers, with the river widening and the breeze from upstream slowing us down. The river widened and meandered, and the river banks started to show signs of the canyon walls we sought. But further upriver, the dark waters became narrower and as we came turned the long bend, the canyon came into view. A majestic sheer rock face of red and grey granite that rose 100 meters into the sky. A young lady at the top looking down, waving to us. We followed the great walls of the river. Walls of a forgotten mountain range that soared into the sky more than a billion years ago. Bedrock of granite formed from the heat and pressures of the internals of this planet; exposed to the tensions of the flow of magma that is still slowly reforming this land.

Canoeing within the canyon did take us a while but we made our way to the next portage where we stopped to have a quick meal that we brought along. There, we met some students from Toronto that came to also do some canoeing and take in the sights and some swimming in the dark but clear waters. They had come from the north end of the river and were just as intrigued as we were by the canyon. Their portage was closer to 800 meters. Something that we were glad we didn’t have to partake in.

The journey back was much easier as the wind was with us, but we did take our time, taking more pictures and trying to get closer to the rocks. And, although the canyon wall was mostly on the north side due to the graben and how the canyon and the valley were formed, we did look over the south side of the river, finding a small waterfall and a riverbank filled with trees reaching down to the water. Again further down river, we paddled through swallow waters filled with lily pads. The sun and paddling all day along a cool river did take their toll on us and we were glad to get back to the car to head back to Dragon’s Landing where our journey began. After unloading and a very hearty meal, sleep came too easily that night. An adventure that will live on in our memories and I’m sure will not be our last.

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