Little Bonnechere River
from Stringers Lake to Sligo

On Friday, 2007 May 11, Bob, Ric and Richard explored the (Little) Bonnechere River, straddling the southeastern boundary of Algonquin Park. We launched our canoes at Stringers Lake, made our way over to Couchain Lake, paddled upstream on the Bonnechere River until lunch time, and then returned.

2007 May 11

Stringer Lake heading towards Couchain Lake

Ric and Richard on Stringers Lake heading towards Couchain Lake.
All week long the weather forecasts had promised sun with some cloudy periods for Friday. On Friday morning the forecast added high winds to the mix. The wind driven mist was never mentioned.

Along the Little Bonnechere River a little upstream from Couchain Lake

Along the Little Bonnechere River, a little upstream from Couchain Lake.
Here the Bonnechere River flows through a sand plain of glacial origin. The elevated, well-drained areas support jack pines and, to a lesser extent, red and white pines.

Along the Little Bonnechere River a little upstream from Couchain Lake

The "bottom lands" support a silver maple swamp.

Along the Little Bonnechere River

Here Richard is practicing one of his limbo moves. While it was not a major problem, the river was obstructed by many fallen trees. However, in the section up to Sligo, only one tree required a lift over. At these water levels, and assuming a reasonable degree of competency, none of the trees presented a significant sweeper hazard for downstream travel. At higher water levels, there could be a problem.

One of the pioneer settlers of the Little Bonnechere River was Paddy Garvey. Among other exploits, he ran a stopping place (hotel) at the so-called "head of canoe navigation" (the first rapids above Couchain Lake) and named it Sligo after his home town in Ireland. All that remains today is the grave site of Alexander McDonald, an infant who died there in 1888. Most of the cleared land has been reclaimed by the forest.

Along the Little Bonnechere River at Sligo

Ric and Richard fighting their way up the top part of the lower rapids at Sligo.
The portage is in poor shape and has not seen any recent maintenance. We carried, but when traveling upstream, the trail does not take you above the fast water. The paddle from the top of the portage to the top of the fast water, at the present flow rate, is challenging. (Bob chose the alternative strategy of crashing through the alders in spite of the lack of a trail; not fun either.)

blackflies along the Little Bonnechere River at Sligo

(photo by Bob: 2007-05-11 - explore

When we reached the clearing at Sligo, the sun came out. And so did the blackflies. Given the clouds of them swarming around my head, it is not surprising that a few of them made it into this picture.

Along the Little Bonnechere River at Sligo

The bottom of the second portage at Sligo. We stopped for lunch in the calm (calmer) water a little upstream of this portage. We were running late and it was obvious that making Basin Depot was totally unrealistic. But it didn't make sense to do two portages, simply to have lunch then turn around and do them over again, so we decided to explore a little farther upstream.

Along the Little Bonnechere River above Sligo

We were soon stopped by this embarras. We decided to turn around and head back down.

Along the Little Bonnechere River at Sligo

Approaching the upstream portage at Sligo. We carried both portages heading downstream as well.

Along the Little Bonnechere River

It was turning into a beautiful day.

Paynes Pine

Ric and Richard heading downstream, with Payne's Pine in the background.

Paynes Pine

Payne's Pine, a twin-trunked white pine named after local artist Herschel Payne. It is the focus of the Payne's Pine Walking Trail. It seems however that last summer's wind storms have broken off one of the trunks. The remains lie in the river at the base of the tree.

liftover between Couchain and Stringer Lakes

Richard and Ric negotiating the liftover between Couchain and Stringer Lakes. Awkwardly, there is no dry (or solid) spot to step on. For this maneuver, Bob had an easier time in his solo boat.

Egg Rock as seen from Stringer Lake

Egg Rock as seen from Stringers Lake. (The winds of the weather forecast have now shown up.) Bob and Richard climbed Egg Rock last spring; see Egg Rock and the Bonnechere River Valley.

All in all, a good trip. The weather was mediocre at first but then improved. The pace of upstream travel was slow since the current was significant and unrelenting, but it was never a real problem. An alternative plan would have been to start at Basin Depot and paddle downstream. However that would have required two vehicles to effect a shuttle and the rate of travel (while being flushed downstream by the current) would have precluded much photography. And until we tried it, we secretly harbored the unrealistic goal that we could paddle upstream, reach Basin Depot and return in the time available. Maybe next time we'll do the run down from Basin Depot.


Chrismar (2001), Bonnechere River Provincial Park, A Chrismar Adventure Map.

Roderick Mackay (1996), Spirits of the Little Bonnechere, The Friends of Bonnechere Parks.

Mark Stabb and Roderick Mackay (2002), Walks of the Little Bonnechere River, The Friends of Bonnechere Parks.