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Country Roads Maps York River Uplands Information

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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 today’s 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 today’s 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 created—and sometimes booming—settlements. Remnants of these colonization roads are still visible today, and can be seen following some of our modern highways and roads throughout North Hastings County.

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 explore:

Burleigh Road – from Peterborough through Apsley to the Monck and Petersen Roads. Some of this road follows today’s Highway 28.

The Mississippi Colonization Road (Snow Road) – runs east from Bancroft at the junction of the Hastings and Monck Roads. This road crisscrosses today’s Highway 28.

The Peterson Colonization Road – started in 1858 to link the Ottawa and Opeongo Roads in the east with the Muskoka Road to the west.

The Monck 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 settler—people 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 famous.

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 area’s 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 quiet—unlike motorized vehicles—chances 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, L’Amable, 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 pines—which is likely why you came to this area in the first place.

The Hastings Heritage Trail—Remnants 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 local businesses.


Bancroft, incorporated as a town in 1995, is the nerve centre of the northern part of Hastings County, Ontario’s 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 conveniences—from 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. Eagle’s 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 area’s 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. Bancroft’s 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 sights.

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, today’s 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. They’ll 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 Park’s 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 York’s 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 squirrel
• 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 autumn—maples, 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 lowlands.

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 continued survival.

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 backpacker’s 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 Nature.

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 wilderness spaces.

For information call 1-800-Ontario (668-2746) or log onto

Algonquin Park

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 park’s 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 Ontario’s 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 chutes—Egan, 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 world’s 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 today’s 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 forests—a 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 all ages.

More Driving Tips

Be Prepared: Most service businesses in North Hastings are family operated. This means that you won’t find many amenities such as gas stations and stores open 24 hours a day. It’s wise to keep your vehicle’s 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 won’t 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.

The Metric 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

Cell Phones: Few transmitters in this region means poor cellular phone reception—or 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 traveller—always let someone know where you plan to explore and when you will return

York River Uplands Country Roads ISSN 1196-4030
The Country Roads map booklets are available at The Pinecone Forest Nature Sanctuary and the Bancroft & District Chamber of Commerce information centre.

Copyright 2005 by Pinecone Publishing. All rights reserved.

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