Historically, the Big East River was utilized as a method of transport for timber during the logging era in northern Ontario. To assist in the transport of logs down the Big East, several dams were constructed during the late 1800s to store water for the annual spring log drives. Later many of these wooden structures were replaced with concrete dams by the government to control flooding in the area. This altered the landscape with spots of the Big East now consisting of reservoir like head ponds.
One such reservoir created above the Distress Rapids (now called "Distress Pond") is long and narrow with a deep, well-defined central channel and relatively flat, shallow, marshy perimeters that make it spectacular for wildlife. Here's a Bing Map of the area and a topo map with my track route below.
Topo Map & Route
The launch area is just next to a bridge on a non-maintained gravel road that doubles as a snowmobile trail in the winter.
Being a flooded river valley, there are huge decaying tree stumps all over the pond. Some stick out above the water line and have become resting spots for wildlife others are right below the surface proving to be a hazard to the unwary canoeist.
Tree stump islands
Stump growing new plantlife
Off the north shore is a meadering creek that was protected from the winds. Lots of peaceful paddling here and I wandered upstream until some downed trees prevented any more passage.
The pond was certainly a reservoir of wildlife. Despite not being able to take pictures quickly enough, I spotted 3 separate great blue herons. I was able to capture a shot of one river otter (2 were perched on a tree stump before they got spooked into the water); a loon family with 2 adults and one nearly mature chick; and a cow and calf moose munching on vegetable matter by the shoreline.
River Otter popup
Loon with chick (grey fuzzy area to the right)
Moose Cow and Calf
The concrete dam creating this reservoir was built in the 1940s. It was no longer needed for the lumber and over the years the structure deteriorated. Recently the government decided to decommision the dam, but rather than demolish it completely and cause flooding downstream, a survey revealed that it was more enviromentally conscious to partially demolish the deck and convert the dam to a free-flowing overflow weir.
Distress dam in 1955
Distress dam today
Some folks have been emailing asking my why I'd ever use a boat and paddles that've been so intricately decorated. Personally I think it adds to thoe whole experience. These things were designed to be paddled! Hope you enjoyed the daytrip.