York River Uplands
Perched on the
southern edge of the Pre-Cambrian Shield, the York River Uplands
awaits the modern-day explorer. With steep, mountainous ridges
and deep, gouged valleys, the Uplands feast the eyes and all
the senses. Sparkling lakes and rivers and rugged wilderness
countryside beckon. All the amenities necessary for an enjoyable
stay invite us to this historically significant expanse of
Ontario vacation land.
The York River
meanders through the Uplands, from its gentle beginnings in
the depths of Algonquin Park, to its meeting with the mighty
Madawaska River to the east. It spans out into Elephant and
Baptiste Lakes and passes through Bancroft. From here, the
York moves on down through placid pools and churning chutes
to the Madawaska. Now the commercial centre of northern Hastings
County, Bancroft is a four-seasons playground for tourists
and cottagers. It is a town rich in pioneer history waiting
to be explored.
Before the Roads
Before the arrival of settlers, the York
River watershed was home to the nomadic Algonquin Indians.
They lived on the bountiful offerings of the hills, valleys
and waterways of eastern Ontario. This watershed was but one
of many transportation corridors which allowed smooth passage
between the southeastern highlands of todays Algonquin
Park and the lowlands of Conroys Marsh, south of Combermere.
The Native peoples made a good life, despite
the harsh climate and rough terrain. They were masters of
living in harmony with nature. Heights of land throughout
the watershed offered them strategic defense. Lowlands and
marshes yielded natural crops such as wild rice and berries.
Harvesting from the wilderness, they were the last to truly
co-exist with their surroundings. The earliest European explorers
adopted these Native traditions as a means to survive and
finally settle in a strange land.
The European explorers would soon learn
that to tame this wilderness they needed to understand the
waterways as did the Aboriginal peoples. The early maps of
Upper Canada included only settlements, lakes and rivers.
These vital waterways opened up the rest of Ontario to the
south and the west, enabling explorers and traders to travel
along the St. Lawrence from Quebec City to the interior routes
heading west, to Georgian Bay and beyond. Timber and trade
goods would eventually traverse the seas to the markets of
England and France.
It would take several generations for
their reliance on the rivers to diminish.
As European settlers colonized Upper Canada,
they brought their own traditions with them. They cut rough
roads that would lead them deeper into the forest in search
of timber, minerals, and agricultural lands. These early roads,
merely widened paths, were unsuitable for the safe passage
of goods and people.
By the mid-1800s a system of colonization
roads, funded by the government, paved the way for greater
prosperity for the growing influx of immigrants. Improved
technology and engineering led to the construction of better
roads capable of withstanding harsh climates and heavy loads.
The foundation for todays roadways was now in place,
leading settlers to friendlier terrain and newly found riches,
fueling the wheels of progress for future generations.
River travel by boat and canoe had now
been replaced by the horse and buggy, soon to be followed
by the automobile. Rather than harmonizing with the environment,
the settlers modified the environment to suit their lifestyle.
The rivers and lakes that opened up this country became secondary
to the settlers quest for progress. As the First Nations
population dwindled and was relocated to reserves, the Native
guides and their ecological lessons would be relegated to
the history books forever.
The Early Roads
The early roads were strategically laid
out to connect far away places for many reasons: For military
travel, to access diminishing stands of timber, to find better
agricultural lands and carry goods to newly createdand
sometimes boomingsettlements. Remnants of these colonization
roads are still visible today, and can be seen following some
of our modern highways and roads throughout North Hastings
The early roads highlighted on these maps
will lead the modern-day explorer to small communities throughout
north Hastings, where bits of the past can be found in museums,
abandoned homesteads and settlements along the way.
Some of the roads you may wish to
Road from Peterborough through Apsley to the
Monck and Petersen Roads. Some of this road follows todays
Colonization Road (Snow Road) runs east from
Bancroft at the junction of the Hastings and Monck Roads.
This road crisscrosses todays Highway 28.
Colonization Road started in 1858 to link the
Ottawa and Opeongo Roads in the east with the Muskoka Road
to the west.
Road Completed in 1873 to serve as an overland
military route to the upper Great Lakes during the time of
renewed tensions between the British and American governments.
Detailed maps, tour routes, and other
interesting facts about these historic roads are available
in back issues of
The Country Connection Magazine.
Today these same roads throughout North
Hastings continue to attract another kind of settlerpeople
wishing to leave the noise and pollution of urban centres.
An increasing number are choosing to live closer to the land,
seeking a quieter lifestyle. The largely rural population
of this area consists of many urban refugees living off the
grid, unconnected to municipal services that most take for
granted in towns and cities. Many have discovered the beauty
of this area after taking journeys of their own along the
back roads and into the wilderness for which this area is
Driving the Back Roads
Country roads and trails crisscross the
hills and valleys, offering access to a myriad of sights throughout
the York River watershed. Visitors should take the time to
drive to the outlying communities spread throughout the region.
Discover the meaning of small-town Ontario when you drive
through such places as Wilberforce, Harcourt and Highland
Grove (Hwy. 648), Maple Leaf, Purdy and Combermere (Hwy. 62),
Lake St. Peter (Hwy. 127), Glen Alda, Coe Hill and Ormsby
(Hwy. 620). Glimpse into this areas rich history as
you travel to these small communities and others along the
way. Many of these villages also provide a gateway to a deeper
wilderness experience more closely related to the watershed
than the roads.
Forest Access Roads are usually marked
and are especially useful for discovering Crown land forests
and lakes. Primarily used by logging companies in search of
timber, these roads are not regularly maintained. Drive these
roads with caution as conditions may be harsh, and be vigilant
for large logging trucks and equipment.
Back Roads by Bicycle
Cyclists will find a good variety of back
roads and trails throughout this area. Cycling is an ideal
method of immersing yourself into wilderness areas. Because
bikes are quietunlike motorized vehicleschances
of seeing wildlife are greatly increased. Cycling through
the tiny villages in this area is also a great way to take
in the rural sights. Communities like Ormsby, St. Ola, Gilmour,
Hermon, Fort Stewart, Boulter, LAmable, and Detlor are
full of interesting sights which are easily missed when speeding
by in a vehicle. Travelling by bike allows you to stop and
smell the pineswhich is likely why you came to this
area in the first place.
The Hastings Heritage TrailRemnants
of the Railroad
Rail service was introduced to this area
in the mid-1800s. The Central Ontario Railway as well as the
Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa Railway offered a safe means
of transporting freight and people. The tracks were laid in
the valleys as trains required fairly flat terrain for efficient
travel. The tracks are long gone, but their paths can be easily
followed along the Hastings Heritage Trail, running from Glen
Ross at the south to Lake St. Peter to the north.
A bicycle trip on this trail will lead the modern-day explorer
through historic communities where old train stations still
stand in memory of the past. More information and trail permits
are available from the Bancroft Chamber of Commerce and some
Bancroft, incorporated as a town in 1995,
is the nerve centre of the northern part of Hastings County,
Ontarios second largest and second longest county. It
is the business hub of the York River watershed. Bancroft
is a growing commercial centre catering to locals, cottagers
and tourists. Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing business
sectors. People of all ages and skills view this region as
the gateway to wilderness adventures.
A wide variety of goods and services are
available in town and there is no shortage of eateries and
overnight accommodations. Bancroft offers the wilderness adventurer
many conveniencesfrom canoe, kayak, and bike rentals,
to completely outfitted and guided wilderness trips. Winter
in these parts offers no shortage of activities, with cross-country
skiing, snowshoeing and winter camping among the most popular.
Bancroft hosts a wide variety of activities
and events throughout the year. Local attractions include
the Bancroft Historical Museum, housed in a 19th century,
square timber building. The museum is rich in local history
of the bygone lumbering days and the era when the mines flourished.
The museum is located in Centennial Park, also the site of
the old railway station. The Village Playhouse, a 200-seat
modern theatre, holds a festival every summer. Eagles
Nest Lookout at the north end of town provides a magnificent
view of the York River Valley and the uplands beyond. A delightful
parkette complete with picnic facilities is located beside
the York River on Highway 62, just north of the downtown area.
Vance Farm Park, on Oak Street, is a little touch of wilderness
in downtown Bancroft. Ideal for hiking and biking in summer,
snowshoeing in winter.
Mineral Capital of Canada
One of this areas greatest legacies
is the presence of a wide variety of minerals throughout the
watershed and beyond. During the last century-and-a-half,
Bancroft was home to more than 25 mines and quarries in search
of valuable minerals. The bedrock of the Canadian Shield in
this area is a complex mixture of metamorphosed sedimentary
and igneous rock that has been subjected to intense folding
and faulting and to a long period of erosion.
Rockhounds the world over come to search
for samples of sodalite, crystal and other specimens. Bancrofts
Annual Gemboree is the ideal event for neophytes to learn
more about this fascinating history. The Mineral Capital Museum
in Bancroft offers more information and directions to specific
Back to the Water
Many of us yearn to stay in touch with
nature, even if only for a few days at a time. Tourists journey
to North Hastings for a chance to get off the grid and rekindle
their relationship with the earth. Just like the Native peoples
and first European explorers, todays travellers may
find the starting point of their journey next to a gentle
stream, a loon-filled lake, or a rushing river.
A well-prepared journey into the wilderness
begins with a good map. While this series is intended to introduce
the traveller to the wilder aspects of this area, it is recommended
that you obtain a good topographical map prior to setting
off on a trip. These maps will show you where to safely put
your canoe or kayak in the water and where to take it out.
Theyll give you a good indication of hiking and cycling
trails as well as availability of emergency services. More
importantly, a topo map will show you the elevations of land
and the low-lying wet areas in order to give you a clear picture
of the watershed.
The York River
This booklet will guide you through the
York River Uplands, from Algonquin Parks southern tip
and south to Benoir Lake, Elephant Lake and Baptiste Lake,
following a path cut through the Canadian Shield millions
of years ago. As the river descends from the Madawaska Highlands,
its size and velocity increases. The narrow waters flowing
at High Falls in Algonquin Park double in volume by the time
they reach Egan Chute to the southeast, having been fed by
other streams which empty their waters into the York along
the way. Papineau Creek and Egan Creek are but two of the
Yorks navigable tributaries that offer the explorer
a chance to venture deeper into this watershed. As its banks
grow further apart, the York meanders through Kings Marsh
and finally into Conroys Marsh, where it opens up into a vast
wetland and connects to the mighty Madawaska.
The York is home to a wide variety of
flora and fauna. This eco-system, which once supported the
Aboriginal peoples, now draws scores of tourists aiming to
rediscover nature and their links to the past. The most immediate
and obvious connections are evident in the wildlife and plants
throughout the watershed.
Among the 60 species of birds in the area,
you might catch a glimpse of an osprey diving for fish, a
pileated woodpecker pecking on a tree, or a rare bald or golden
eagle soaring above the canopy. Look for birds nesting in
cavities of dead and dying trees. Watch as they announce the
changing seasons as they have for thousands of years.
Of the 14 species of mammals in this watershed,
the moose and the white-tailed deer are often the most sought
after. Seeing these large creatures roam effortlessly in the
wild is a sight to behold. The more common, smaller mammals
such as beavers, muskrats, raccoons and porcupines provide
as much enjoyment to observe as the larger ones. Watching
a beaver glide across the top of the water is a sight which
many relish as pure Canadiana.
A good explorer knows that to experience
nature fully, all of the senses should be heightened so as
not to miss a thing. The sounds of nature are a source of
soothing pleasure, which cannot be duplicated by any other
means. The wind blowing through the trembling aspen or the
tall white pine is the same sound heard by explorers in years
gone by. The chorus of mating amphibians has certainly diminished
in modern times, but their song is reminiscent of days past.
Other wildlife to watch and hear along this watershed include:
warblers, great blue herons, kingfishers, ducks
fishers, otters, hare, skunk, fox, black bear, red
snapping and painted turtles, various snakes
spring peepers, leopard, green, and bull frogs
For more information on the flora and
fauna in this area, consult one of the many field guides available.
A full line of Peterson Field Guides and the handy, waterproof
Peterson Flash Guides are available from Pinecone Publishing.
Trees and Shrubs
With roughly 45 species of trees and shrubs,
the explorer will find a great diversity of habitat along
this watershed. Hardwoods highlight the colourful show each
autumnmaples, poplars, oaks and birches. This delightful
display occurs only in this part of the hemisphere, attracting
thousands of tourists to the back roads and waterways of eastern
Ontario. Other significant trees to watch for are large hemlock,
red and white pine, and eastern white cedar that grow in the
Of special interest for wildlife enthusiasts
are trees which are dead or dying. These trees often contain
cavities near the top or at the trunk, providing hollow areas
where a variety of species can live. Watch for the saw-whet
owl, flying squirrel and pileated woodpecker. Careful loggers
with an interest in protecting wildlife will leave these trees
untouched, sparing enough surrounding habitat to ensure their
This land is also rich in berries, a source
of nutrients for mammals and birds alike. Wilderness travellers
rejoice at the sight of a patch of fresh blueberries, raspberries
or blackberries. These sweet delicacies are a welcome addition
to any backpackers menu.
The banks of the York River at Conroys
Marsh are a popular stopover for many who relish cranberries
which ripen in the autumn. Mushrooms, especially the much-sought-after
morels, can also be found throughout this watershed in early
spring. These are but some of the pleasures offered by Mother
Parks and Protected Areas
Many travellers that come to this area
will seek the safety of a park or established canoe route
to experience wilderness. The York River watershed has several
park systems that offer relatively easy and safe access to
For information call 1-800-Ontario (668-2746)
or log onto www.OntarioParks.com
River trips can be launched from several
locations within the park. The canoeist can put in at Hay
Lake and work downstream towards Billings Lake, Branch Lake,
Byers Lake and farther until the parks southern boundary
near High Falls Pond. Within this system, nature lovers will
find a good selection of campsites, trails, and interior side-trip
routes with well-established portages. Permits and information
are available through Parks Ontario.
Egan Chute Provincial Park
Recently expanded under Ontarios
Living Legacy program, this natural environment park now encompasses
739 hectares. Formed when the river served as a major spillway
for glacial meltwaters, the York flows here through an area
of bedrock outcrop now plunging through three chutesEgan,
Middle and Farm Chutes. The waterway portion of the park consists
of ten separate linear parcels of land along the banks of
the York River, between Farm Chute and downstream to Slabtown.
Egan Chute is easily reached via Highway 28 east of Bancroft.
This park does not offer any services.
Conroys Marsh Conservation Reserve
The total size of this wetland is approximately
2,400 hectares. This Provincially Significant Class One wetland
offers an ideal day trip for paddlers of all levels of experience.
Its smooth waters can be reached by the York River to the
west, the Little Mississippi River to the south, or the Madawaska
River to the northeast. Once out in the marsh, there are few
dry areas to disembark from a canoe or kayak; however one
popular picnic spot is locally known as Ring-on-the-Rock.
This area is rich in history and played
an important role in the development of the Bancroft area.
The first settlers and loggers passed through this wetland
to access the Madawaska River to the east. The Craigmont Mine,
at one time the worlds second largest producer of corundum,
provided jobs for up to 2000. Remnants of this old mine and
load-out can still be seen on the north shore. A journey into
todays Conroys Marsh offers a host of natural features,
including wild cranberries and wild rice fields. Local guides
and outfitters can help to make this trek most memorable.
Silent Lake Provincial Park
This park offers 1,619 hectares of unspoiled
wilderness. Because of its diversity and many services, it
is a favourite with travellers. Access to the park is off
Hwy. 28, west of Bancroft. Campsites, washrooms, a safe swimming
area and miles of hiking trails make this park a busy place
in the summer. Winter camping in yurts, and activities such
as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on 56 kilometres of
groomed trails make this park an ideal all-season get-away.
Little Mississippi Conservation Reserve
This wilderness area is made of six separate
parcels of Crown land buffering the Little Mississippi River.
The river flows in a northerly direction from Weslemkoon Lake
to Conroys Marsh. The total area of the reserve covers 1,006
acres and offers no services. It is an ideal setting for the
canoeist wishing to experience the watershed on day or overnight
trips. The shoreline is varied with large wetland areas, red
maple swamps, and cedar and white pine forestsa good
place to explore wildlife in a fairly rugged setting.
The Crowe River
This picturesque river is in the southern
portion of the watershed and can be accessed at various points
between Paudash Lake, Chandos Lake and Glen Alda. Of particular
interest is a Conservation Area (managed by the Crowe Valley
Conservation Authority) called the Gut. At this point the
Crowe River narrows down to a few metres as it rushes down
a steep canyon. Spectacular scenery set atop the Canadian
Shield, good hiking and paddling await the wilderness explorer
all along this river.
Highways and Wildlife
Drivers are urged to use caution while
travelling along these highways and country roads. While moose-
and deer-crossing signs are placed at high traffic areas where
the animals are most likely to cross the road, drivers should
proceed as though moose and deer may appear at any point along
their route. A hit, direct or indirect, with a large mammal,
will cause severe damage to your vehicle and/or serious injury
or death to you or your loved ones. The general rule is to
pay attention to the road, stick to the posted speed limits
and drive defensively.
Other creatures to watch for are frogs,
which are most often on the roads during and following rain.
In the spring, there can be hundreds of frogs migrating, especially
in low-lying areas near wetlands, streams and lakes.
Snapping turtles have discovered good
man-made nesting grounds along the sandy shoulders of many
country roads near low-lying areas. Be especially careful
during the months of May and June. Stopping to watch a turtle
lay her eggs is an exciting and interesting experience for
More Driving Tips
Be Prepared: Most service businesses in North Hastings are family operated.
This means that you wont find many amenities such as
gas stations and stores open 24 hours a day. Its wise
to keep your vehicles fuel topped up for early morning
and late night trips. Be sure to stock up on supplies and
always have an emergency kit in your vehicle. Such a kit should
contain basic first aid materials, a blanket, a candle, bottled
water and food that wont spoil.
911: For real emergencies, on the road or off, the North Hastings
area uses a 911 emergency telephone service. Ambulances, Ontario
Provincial Police and firefighters will be dispatched from
the area nearest you for quick service. When you call for
help, give your location, using the nearest posted number
and road name.
System: Canada uses the metric system for all measurements.
Here are some easy conversions to help travellers from south
of the border.
1 kilometre = 0.63 miles 100 km/h = 62 mph
If you know Multiply by To get
Miles 1.6 Kilometres
Kilometres .62 Miles
Few transmitters in this region means poor cellular phone
receptionor none at all, especially to the north and
east of Bancroft.
Know Where You Stand
Travellers who wish to leave the beaten
path should obtain accurate topographic maps. These maps show
the many forest access roads and trails which will lead to
a safer wilderness trip. Crown land and private land maps
should also be consulted to assist your travels. Remember
that trespassing on private lands is a provincial offence!
Be a safe travelleralways let someone
know where you plan to explore and when you will return
York River Uplands Country Roads
The Country Roads map booklets are available
at The Pinecone Forest Nature Sanctuary and the Bancroft & District Chamber of Commerce information centre.
by Pinecone Publishing. All rights reserved.