Kanu Logo.jpg (10236 bytes)Links  

The Bridge at McCrae Lake

Bridge at McCrae.jpg (91871 bytes)
(all pictures enlarge when you click on them)


This is the sad story on how a nearly wild canoe area got despoiled by a bridge and the fight to stall the progression.
The start of it all is at the bottom of this page, and later developments were added at the top as they happened.


Update June 14, 2003:
More on the access from the south end: during summer 2003, the MNR had managed to convince the snowmobile club to add more rboulders and thus effect the blocking of the access. This year, I dropped by in early May, and the road was open. Well, they are a bit slow, I figured. But already some vehicles had driven down the snowmobile "trail"...

When I returned again in late May, the same picture presented itself, and I decided to stop by at the MNR office in Parry Sound. They took quick action, and here's the letter that came recently (dated June 6):

Dear Mr. Krause,
Subject: Entrance to McCrae Lake Snowmobile Trail - Part of TOPS Trail "C"
Part of Lot 25, Concession XV, Geographic Township of Baxter,
being in the Township of Georgian Bay, District Municipality of Muskoka
This is further to your discussions with Ministry staff (Heidman & Shaver) at this office on May
27, 2003 respecting the above noted snowmobile trail. As a result of information you provided,
MNR staff conducted an inspection of the trail on May 28, 2003. During the course of the
inspection it was discovered the snowmobile club has failed to barricade the entrance of the trail
on Crooked Bay Road as was verbally agreed to in 2001.
We have advised the snowmobile club this barricade is an important component of land
management in the McCrae Lake area and helps prevent other motorized vehicles (i.e.ATVs)
from using this trail during the non-winter months. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the club
to ensure this barricade is maintained from April 1st to November 31st annually, and as such we
asked them to immediately ensure the barricade is adequately placed to make sureATVs are
unable to access the trail. MNR staff will monitor this situation to ensure the work is done to our
In the 2003/04 season, the club's Land Use Permit for this trail will be amended to include the
condition that the entrance of this trail must be barricaded from April 1 to November 31st
annually to restrict all motorized vehicles. Failure to comply with this condition may result in this
Ministry refusing to issue the club subsequent Land Use Permits for this trail.
[highlighted by EK]

Thank you for your interest and information in this matter. If you have any questions or wish to
discuss this matter further please contact Laura Knight Heidman, Resource Management
Technician at (705) 773-4243.
Thank you,

Andy Heerschap
Area Supervisor, Parry Sound
Parry Sound District

So, paddling folks, don't be shy to speak up: there are people that will listen!


Update December 28, 2001:McCrae_access south_A.jpg (265250 bytes)McCrae_access south_B.jpg (275599 bytes)
The inability of the MNR to control access by ATVs from the south is obvious in the two pictures here. On the left, the row of concrete blocks won't let any ATVs through, right? Well, take a look at the picture on the right: the ATVs just drive around them. If it is so difficult for the MNR to ensure that ATVs stay away, why did they approve the road in the first place? (the pictures were taken in early November)


Update November 23, 2001
A Complaint to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ottawa
(who are supposed to enforce their own rules on blasting near water):

From: Greg Brasseur (click on his name for his McCrae Lake website and a good set of pictures of McCrae and its beauty)

The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal
House of Commons
Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Parliament Buildings, Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6

Dear Sir:

I wrote to you on June 26, 2001 about the construction of a bridge over the
McCrae Lake rapids. This waterway is accessible by canoe via the McDonald
River west of highway 69 north of Honey Harbour adjacent Georgian Bay in
Ontario. The complaint dealt with the unauthorized use of explosives in the
construction of the bridge. A substantial amount of rock was blasted away
from the river bank into the water.

After several months of waiting for a reply and only after a subsequent
letter, you wrote me an evasive answer. You told me that no authorization
was required to use explosives and no offense occurred because no fish were
killed. It is clearly stated that authorization to use explosives is
required under the Fisheries Act in the Fishery (General) Regulation
(SOR/93-53) on page 38. This is page 4 of the application for authorization
to build a structure affecting fish habit. It is attached to this message.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries collaborated with the Ontario
Ministry of Natural Resources to build a snowmobile road on provincial
crown land for a private snowmobile club. The MNR issued the permit for the
road. The permit for the bridge had to be issued by the Department of
Fisheries. Your department and the MNR are responsible for ruining one of
the most beautiful and scenic canoe portages in the world.

Your department made several errors in approving the bridge construction.
Common sense tells you that you don't put a bridge across a canoe portage
in the first place. The bridge not only creates problems for canoeists but
places their lives in danger.

The choice of a steel beam bridge was wrong for the area because it
attracts lightning. Thousands of people use this portage every summer. The
canoe portage is in an isolate area and takes considerable time to
traverse. The bridge provides the only shelter in a storm. The area is
known for sudden violent electrical storms which sweep across Georgian Bay.
The placement of a steel beam bridge there places people at risk of being
struck by lightning.

Your department made a wrong judgement about the clearance of the bridge.
It is set too low. People are dropping their canoes on the ground trying to
getting around it. It is an obstruction.

The bridge was constructed despite overwhelming objections by the public
months before it was actually built. The road could have been diverted
elsewhere and the bridge built over another high elevation. The public
didn't want this bridge put there in the first place and they don't want it
there now.

Once again, I am writing to ask you to investigate the unauthorized
dynamiting of the river. Someone should be sent to the area to inspect the
damage. All laws should be enforced. If you do not agree that this should be
done, please explain to all the people below why it is not a problem with
you if private clubs and individuals dynamite Canada's waterways.

Update July 28, 2001
A new Hazard at the Portage:
From: Greg Brasseur
"I just got back from McCrae Lake yesterday. I decided to take a break when
I portaged my canoe by leaning against the wooden form filled with rock
shards, which supports the bridge. I was leaning against the east side of
the form when something happened. I heard this strange hissing sound. It
almost sounded like someone gargling. It was a very low pitched sound but
it became increasingly louder. I wondered if the sound was coming from the
rapids. Eventually, I realized it was a rattlesnake. I looked around my
feet but I couldn't see anything. Then it dawned on me that the snake was
in the wooden form behind me. When I stepped away from the form the sound
stopped. I couldn't see the snake. It was either in between the rocks or on
top of them.

I saw another snake on the rapids portage earlier in the week when I first
arrived. This was closer to the beginning of the rapids. I was carrying the
last of my stuff up the hill when I saw it laying across the trail. It was
as thick as my forearm. It was covered with big dark spots and was either
light yellow or brown. I couldn't see the tail so I am not sure if it was a

Note (Erhard speaking now):
Alas, it's a serious practical problem: a structure that houses
rattlers right at the portage. The snakes will want to sun during the day and
go hunting for mice etc. once the sun goes down. There are hundreds of
paddlers that pass by each summer weekend and it's not a question "if
there's an accident" but "when". A sign would be useful, with something like:

watch out for them schnakes!
leave them in peace and, by the way, they are rare and protected
in case of bite, it's not fatal. Just keep the victim calm and at rest, leave
the bitten limb below heart level and

bring the victim to the nearest hospital(Parry Sound)

Actually, in my opinion, the MNR allowed that the rock piles were created and
thus they have an obligation to do something, like putting up the sign. Or else
take down the damn rock pile.....

Update July 24, 2001

Snowmobilers are reminded to own up to their responsibilities:
From: Ben Martin
(Ben had written to the MNR:

>Dear Sirs:
> I am deeply disturbed by and concerned with the outcome of the Baxter bridge
> and road. It has come to my attention that, among other developments, the
> construction impedes access over the portage trail to McRae Lake. This is
> more than just a minor recreational inconvenience. I am a member of Five
> Winds Ski Touring Club, which, as you may know, develops, maps and maintains
> a series of trails in the area for its own (and public) use. One of the
> trails circumscribes McRae Lake. For more than 10 years I have maintained
> the section of the trail at the far end of the lake. In so doing I must
> canoe accross the lake, using the portage which has now been rendered
> precarious.
> Furthermore, it appears that the bridge and road may not comply with
> approved permit/plans and the issues that concerned me, viz. atv/snowmobile
> abuse and destruction of habitat has occured. What was once a proximate (to
> Toronto where I live) area of natural beauty and sanctuary has been scarred
> and worse, rendered hazardous. As a lawyer practising law for more than 25
> years, I might add that you may also have some liability concerns. I
> respectfully request that you review the forgoing developments and take any
> necessary remedial action. Your reply would be appreciated.

The MNR replied:
> Thank you for your e-mail of July 20, 2001 regarding a snowmobile trail near
> McCrae Lake.
> Ministry staff in Parry Sound District reviewed and approved the trail
> project after extensive consultation with 14 government agencies and all
> interest groups that were known to them at the time. The review focused on
> minimizing environmental impact while providing a practical route through
> difficult topography as far away as possible from McCrae Lake. The ministry
> granted approval for the trail in February 1999.
> Approval of the snowmobile trail included a number of conditions designed to
> minimize impacts, including conditions to prevent the use of the trail as a
> road. These conditions include:
> * placement of barricades at each end of the bridge on the river from
> March 31st to December 1st annually to restrict all traffic except
> pedestrians from crossing the bridge;
> * working with the Twp. of Georgian Bay to construct of a permanent
> ditch at the southern end of the trail at Georgian Bay Road to restrict
> motorized vehicles other than snowmobiles; and
> * a water crossing (culvert) will not be installed north on the trail
> to stop motorized vehicles other than snowmobiles from travelling south.
> An inspection of the trail and bridge was conducted by MNR staff on June 27,
> 2001. As a result, the Baxter Snow Riders club was contacted and instructed
> to take further action to block the trail and also investigate solutions to
> the portage problems. MNR will continue to deal with the club in order to
> try to alleviate these concerns.
> If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact Mr. Andy
> Heerschap, Area Supervisor at the Parry Sound district office. Mr. Heerschap
> can be reached at (705) 773-4236 or by mail at Ministry of Natural
> Resources, 7 Bay Street, Parry Sound, Ontario P2A 1S4.
> Thank you for writing. I trust this information is of assistance to you.
> Sincerely,
> Bob Griffiths
> District Manager
> Parry Sound District
> P: (705) 773-4204
> F: (705) 746-8828


Update March 20, 2001:
From: Erhard

McCrae_X7.jpg (65462 bytes)

On a sunny March morning, I skied in from the south, from Georgian Bay Road. The forest if beautiful under its three foot cover of snow. But the snowmobile road is here and it has been busy. After all, it is complete. There are signs are all along (e.g. "speed limit 50km/hr"), the bridge is up,and it looks very pretty for a snowmobiler who can now look at the waterfall. But did we paddlers ever get shafted:

the bridge is the eyesore, just as we anticipated.
the portage is obstructed, contrary to the planning spec's. You now will have to swing your canoe away from the old trail and amble around a bridge pillar, then take one big step down a rock step to regain the old path. I am not sure how tough it will be. Once the snow is gone, we'll know
There was supposed to be big rocks where the "monster trail" meets Georgian Bay Road, and the bridge is supposed to have gates. But no such thing, and ATVs will assert their presence in another ten days when they are allowed to travel here.
They brought in some ugly concrete blocks to create a barrier between road and river. I am trying to figure out how this fits in a Conservation Reserve - it just doesn't!

The picture above showed you the bridge from the crest of the portage hill. Mercifully, some trees and bushes hide the bridge supports. As you proceed along the portage, you'll see more:

McCrae_X3.jpg (146800 bytes)

This is where the portage meets the new road. The old trail can no longer be used, and the builders used yellow tape to tell you not to walk there

McCrae_X4.jpg (191208 bytes)

So, you turn left and walk immediately to the left of this ramp in order to go underneath the bridge, past the newly created cribbing.

McCrae_X5.jpg (175079 bytes)

Here, just past the cribbing and before the steel pillars, you turn right, underneath the bridge.

McCrae_X6.jpg (123762 bytes)

As you get out from underneath, you come to a high ledge that you have to step down, about three or four feet. With a load on your shoulders, this is a major obstacle, especially if you are not physically fit. Now, picture this at the busy weekends, with parties making several trips, a true traffic jam.

McCrae_X8.jpg (262398 bytes)

The view from the other side, the image of the falls at the end of your wilderness adventure, after having explored Georgian Bay, paddled the Gibson Loop or just spent a weekend at McCrae Lake.

This is the view that will stay with us for the future. Gloat, if you had a hand in promoting the road. Hide in shame if you were supposed to be a steward of the land but approved the construction instead.

And cry, if you love nature....

Update November 27, 2000:
From: Paul Leadbitter, FON
It looked like the were building the "cradles" on either side.  The bridge itself was still sitting in piles like it
was in the summer.  That was a week and a half ago.  I would think it would be wet and dangerous to keep
building in the weather they have had up there.  I have to go to Parry Sound in early December and I will try
and take a look.

Update October 23, 2000:
From: Paul McCormick (posted on the Canadian Canoe Routes Forum)
Date: 10/23/00
Time: 9:04:16 AM
Remote Name:
Spent this past wonderful warm weekend in Mcrae lake. The cement foundations for the bridge are poured and in place now. The bridge its self will probably be up in the next couple of weeks. There were a a bunch of ATV's parked on the south side, with people standing around and gocking at the site (but no actual work going on that I could see) There was also a lot of workers garbage scattered around, (bottles, lunch bags etc). So much for the idea that the trail would be limited to snowmobiles in the winter. You had better get used to the drone of ATV's racing up and down that trail at all hours and the garbage at the falls that will surely come with the access trail now.

Update July 10, 2000:

It's three months later, and my thanks to the many folks that took the time to register their protest with the MNR. This made possible some changes of significance. Last month, the following organizations met with the MNR and the snowmobile clubs: the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON), the Friends of McCrae, Five Winds Ski Club, the Wilderness Canoe Association, and the Barrie Canoe Club. The bridge and road are here to stay, but the following agreements will attempt to reduce the destructive impact of the road and make a recurrence of such travesty more difficult:

Concerning summer use: The MNR will ensure that the road is effectively blocked from the south to vehicles. The bridge itself will be blocked  for al but pedestrian traffic. The road to the bridge will be accessible by ATV from the north from a quarry parking lot beside Hwy 400.
The FON and the Friends of McCrae will monitor the impact of the road during summer.
The FON, the Friends of McCrae, the Barrie Canoe Club, and the WCA have been added to the notification list for areas near McCrae Lake. Also, the MNR will determine a way to notify the FON of project activity of potential interest.
The FON and the MNR will work on "Terms of Reference" for environmental impact studies, i.e. define standards that such studies will have to adhere to. 

But the real lesson is that you, the individual canoeist, must involve yourself in the fate of the areas you care about - a responsibility no less significant than practising no-trace camping. Take a look at the Paddling Stakeholders webpages to see how it's done!

The most beautiful spot of the Gibson-McDonald Canoe Route is about to be wrecked for good.  It's about 2 hours drive north of Toronto, just off Highway 400, where the McDonald River enters McCrae Lake, at the huge granite hump that you portage over, beside the cliff and the waterfalls. It is a spot that now looks wild and beautiful, with both the charm of the Muskokas and the ruggedness of Georgian Bay. Nearly a thousand canoeist paddle there every week during the summer and enjoy the spot.

A snowmobile club has been able to get approval to route one of its roads across the falls to go north, with the help of a steel-girder bridge. The road is bulldozed, the bridge is lying in sections beside the river, and concrete can be poured within weeks. The result will be a road leading to the falls and a high steel bridge that mars the view of the falls and portage.

I visited there, on April 7, 2000:

You park the car just west of the 400 Highway, at the bottom of a steep ramp, and carry your canoe about 100m to the southern end of McDonald Lake. Paddle north and turn left after about 800m, to entermccrae1.jpg (56327 bytes) the deep bay. This is where the McDonald River leaves the lake and tumbles over a spectacular falls into McCrae Lake. The portage leads steep up the smooth rock on the right and drops immediately down the other side to the sandy beach. It's a pretty spot, with a good view in both directions, and a chance to look down where the river tumbles about 20 ft down over bare rocks. I once tookmccrae2.jpg (76615 bytes) an artist for afternoon's paddle: he stopped here and found it worthwhile to capture the beauty on canvas.

This is all to change now. The snowmobile trail approaches the falls from the south and continues on the north side. It will go right over the height of the rocks, with the help of a yet to be built bridge. The concrete work is scheduled for this summer, the bridge will be assembled and lifted into place. Can you imagine what the falls will look like with a steel bridge spanning the mccrae3.jpg (115893 bytes)most beautiful part? It's like putting a parking lot in the middle of the Sistine Chapel...

Click on the photo on the right and you see the blue tarps that mark the planned end of the bridge.

mccrae4.jpg (103424 bytes)

The metal girders for the bridge are lying high on the south already, and the road has been mccrae5.jpg (127581 bytes)bulldozed in both directions. The road is typically 20ft wide (the bio assessment says 12 ft, but the bulldozer was more generous than that), with extra space in turns, and a future need for gravel and more culverts. It may delight someone travelling on a snowmobile, but once the snow is gone, this road is an ugly intrusion into the forest.

mccrea.jpg (705753 bytes)

To see the detailed route, click on the map and it will enlarge. The bridge will be in the upper left, the snowmobile trail is marked in red, and the parking lot in the lower right. The Gibson-McDonald Canoe Route is marked, but the most common access of paddlers has been left unmarked.


Here are some facts:

* the trail plan was prepared two years ago and advertised. We may not like the skimpy distribution of that plan, but it may have satisfied the MNR process requirements. For instance, only one paddlers' organization was notified, Canoe Ontario. Their lack of response was taken as tacit approval. The friends of McCrae Lake were not contacted at all, even though they have been active all along, have a website on the internet and even a sign-in book prominently displayed at the parking lot.

*The approval was rushed with miraculous speed: the Five Winds Ski Club was notified of "a proposed snowmobile trail" in a letter dated Nov 20, 1998 and a reply expected Dec 7, a very unreasonable demand from a volunteer organization like the Five Winds. How were they to guess that the "trail" was a 20ft wide forest access road, that would be approved two months later by the MNR. The "biological assessment" was dated January 1999, no day given, and the construction permit was issued February 9.

* there was a biological assessment done, dated January 1999. It looks skimpy, written very much from a road building perspective with little thought of the impact from the road on the flora. The survey was done in early winter when few plants show. It talks about a 12 ft trail where a 20 ft road would be bulldozed. It talks about the bridges and the portage, and states incorrectly there is no impact. It is oblivious of three years of ecological study by the Muskoka Heritage Foundation and its 80-page report that documents the uniqueness and sensitivity of the general area.

* there is a Conservation Reserve (C36) planned for McCrae Lake, and its boundary was meant to be established at a later date. The building of the trail now limits how far the Reserve can extend and will prohibit the inclusion of the area of the falls.

* I am getting different dates for the imminent construction activity. I was told by the MNR that it will not happen till July, but have heard other dates.


A few links of interest, added in 2005:

Pictures and description of the damage that ATV's do to portages and to ski trails:

Friends of Chinguchi, a group of people that work to preserve an ancient canoe route north-east of Sudbury

Back to Erhard's Canoe Pages