Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Quite a few years back, driving as a courier, I was asked to do a late afternoon delivery from Kitchener to Newmarket. Knowing that it was already after two in the afternoon, the delivery would put me in Newmarket just in time for a gruelling two and a half hour drive home, and late for dinner. Making a hundred odd bucks didn't really appeal to me that much, but I was the only driver able to do it, and had been able to make it home in a timely fashion for at least the previous week.

Twenty minutes later, the box had been picked up, and I was on my way. I arrived in Newmarket around 4:30, and within ten minutes had dropped off the package, filed some paperwork, and reported the delivery as completed. I restarted the van, and began what would be a long, hard drive back to Tavistock. Turning on to Davis Drive, I suddenly realized that Dave and Judy, very close friends of Katherine's parents, were probably only a five minute drive away. And I was somewhat certain I had heard them say "drop by anytime..." not realizing of course I was the type of person to take another up on an open offer like that! Now was the time!

Driving by memory, as I didn't have either their phone number or address (good couriers do have some skills!) I soon found their house, parked the van, and walked up the steps to the front door. I had a brief second thought about simply walking up and inviting myself in, but there was that open invitation, AND the fact I had participated in their Christmas Dinner and charade game experience! How the heck could they not happily let me in! Confidence restored, I rang the doorbell...

...And Dave answered, completely surprised of course! I was warmly greeted, and upon explaining the reason for my unexpected visit, I was ushered in for dinner... Which was leftovers... On the grandest scale! There was soup (chilled cucumber I recall) and another appetizer for starters, mains of yesterdays roast chicken, along with fresh steamed veggies, and dessert of pie and ice cream, along with a couple of glasses of wine. But better than that was the conversation, specifics long forgotton, but burned in my memory the laughing and fun we had, especially with Judy's real time commentary on the operatic style performance of the neighbor behind, bellowing and singing (lovingly of course) at her errant kids, goading them to do their chores, help with laundry, tidy up, and get to dinner on time!

Two hours and two phone calls later updating Katherine, I thanked them and took my leave. It was closing in on seven in the evening, and the drive home was not even 90 minutes, calm, quiet, cross country, and very relaxing as well...

Judy Gordon passed away this summer after a short battle with cancer. She was sixty nine years old, and left her husband Dave, and children Heather and Bryan. She will be sorely missed by many, including those upon whose living room wall hangs a small but beautiful painting titled "Conroy Marsh" by AJ Casson; the wedding gift from her and Dave.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


After checking out the duck blind, and about ninety minutes on the water, we turned around and began to head back to our put in at Mayhew Landing. Unfortunately, nothing of the scene depicted in Casson's painting could be identified specifically, however the painting had a number of elements that we did see examples of on our paddle. We covered about one-third of the length of the Marsh, so it is quite possible the scene depicted was at the western end, somewhere near where the York River enters the marsh, as we have entered via the Little Mississippi, and I could not recognice the scene there either.

Noodling through the grasses and lilypads, looking north toward the hill at Craigmont, the location of an old corundum mine.

Very little of the land bordering the marsh is privately owned, virtually all is crown land, except for this obvious location,

A close up view of the blight on the landscape. A more thoughtful owner could have done a better job clearing

Rudi looking back as we head toward Negeek Lake and the take out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


A further half hour of paddling and noodling around brought us to another large 'lakelet' just to the south of the main channel. A few hundred metres ahead I could make out a small structure, of wooden poles fastned together. We paddled over to it, the water generally about a foot deep here, and took a closer look. My first guess from its size was that it was a hunting blind, as it was large enough to park a small aluminum boat in.

Looking southwest, the Craigmont hill is just out of the frame to the right. The main channel carves an arc from behind us, out to our right a few hundred feet, and then cuts across to the left just past the grasses at the near horizon.

A close up of what I think is a duck hunting blind. I have no idea what age, it could be decades old. I am not sure how much human traffic enters the marsh, though it could be as little as a few each day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


After playing leapfrog with the Beaver for a few more minutes, we continued paddling westward, exploring the marsh areas to the north of the main channel. The water level of the Marsh is controlled by the Palmer Rapids control dam, which is one of a series of several dams on the Madawaska river that are situated and operated to control water levels for the 'large' hydroelectric dam at Arnprior on the Madawaska, near its outlet into the Ottawa River.

The Marsh level, based on some reading, is roughly four feet higher than prior to the installation of the control dam, and must have altered the habitat and ecosystems of the Marsh to a degree. Currently, the marsh has a river channel that varies between 100 and 300 feet wide or more, which is quite deep, upwards of 10 to 20 feet in most places. The rest of the marsh appears to be made up of two different ecosystems: Flooded shallow lake areas, with a water depth between one and four feet deep, thick with water lillies and other fully aquatic plants; and fully saturated areas with ground that rises slightly above the water level, completely covered in wet loving grasses and sedges.

Looking south west into the Conroy Marsh. About two miles ahead, past the near hill on the left, is the entry of the Little Mississippi River. The York River opens into the marsh about five miles directly ahead.

Looking to the west now, and Craigmont Hill. We are paddling in the shallow flooded areas, which are populated with lilies and other aquatic plants. Directly ahead are grasses that stand at water level or therabouts, I imagine it could be possible to walk through them, if you enjoy being knee deep in muck.

Looking west still, and now we are on the extreme south shore of the Marsh, in the main river channel. The small spot on the hill ahead is likely the opening of the shaft of the Craigmont Mine.

Monday, August 1, 2011


After stopping in Combermere at the internet hotspot / cafe / laundromat for a maple blend coffee and to find out if there is a fair place to put on the north side of the Conroy Marsh, we drove south on old highway 517 and then Lower Craigmont road to the hamlet of Mayhew Landing. Unlike the vast majority of Ontario cottage country, the road access here was on the lake side of the waterfront properties, and in Ontario would generally be considered a public allowance: I tried knocking on two of the cottages closest to the end of the road to ask if we could use their waterfront or even dock to put in, though there was no answer. We took our gear and canoe to the first dock, and loaded up.

Immediately looking out to the left, the marsh continued just a few hundred metres before opening into Negeek Lake on the Madawaska River. This is where the marsh channel, actually the York River, ends and empties into the Mighty Madawaska.

We turned west, and paddled into the marsh, which stretched away at least five miles in front of us. Just fifteen minutes of easy paddling brought us to a large beaver lodge. As we approached within about fifty feet, there was a quick flash of brown, and a large slap of a beaver tail against water! Knowing that they were aware of us now, we turned to the left and away from the lodge. Immediately beneath and to the right of the canoe there was a large turbulence of the bottom silt, with large clouds of muck roiling away underneath and alongside the canoe, moving ahead as we paddled forward. A panicked thought of  mammoth canoe tipping beavers flashed into my mind, quickly dispelled of course! Within half a minute, a brown head popped up fifty yards ahead of the canoe! We paddled towards it, and after closing half the distance, he dove under, only to appear a few hundred feet further along. 

Looking east from Mayhew Landing, across the York River, and the outlet of the Conroy Marsh, to the hills across Negeek Lake (hidden from view behing the low bank of green).

Paddling westerly, about 500 metres from Mayhew Landing. A large beaver lodge is ahead of the canoe. The 'mountain' in the background is about two to three miles away, and is the location of the historic Craigmont corundum mine.

A close up of the beaver lodge, The Conroy Marsh enables lazy beavers, as they do not have to do any dam building whatsoever..

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


My wife and I received a lovely framed print of "Conroy Marsh" by AJ Casson for our wedding. It was wonderfully thoughtful, as the Conroy Marsh is very close to our cottage near Barry's Bay, and is also a lovely examply of fine Canadian and Group of Seven art.

It took up residence in our formal living room at the Field house, above a wonderful little nearly antique bookcase. There it hung for many a year, and still does, occasionally reminding me of a still mostly wild part of Canada. Upon getting serious about canoeing about four years ago or so, my wife reminded me of it, and I then purposefully thought about finding the Conroy Marsh, to explore it via canoe.

After exploring various ways in to the Conroy Marsh over the last two years, my father in law recently reminded me of the painting, and suggested Rudi and I look for the site the next time we get into the marsh.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


We finally got to the cottage for the first time this year, and on the way, picked up an older, relatively well used, repainted fibreglass canoe, for use while the 'Cottage Coleman' undergoes it's slow and tedious restoration. I needed to find a canoe for a hundred and change, and not out of the way of our drive up to Barry's Bay. A few visits to Kijiji later, and I found a gentleman selling a canoe located just outside of Bancroft. She ain't pretty, but she floats, holds a line well, and paddles easily. Here is a picture of Rudi with our gear after taking out of the Conroy Marsh at Mayhew Landing near Combermere.


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