How does a river in northern Ontario Canada come to be named "The Spanish"? Local legend has it when French voyageurs first entered the area they encountered Spanish speaking Ojibwa Indians. It was discovered that in years past a raiding party returned from a foray with a captive Spanish woman. She was adopted into the tribe, married a chief, (why is it ALWAYS the Chief???) and raised their children to speak her native tongue. The French explorers, astounded to hear a European language spoken in the wilderness, called the area "Espangole". Which later was anglicized and became the name for the river. The legend is further borne out by the fact a few Native People who have Spanish surnames still live in the area.
The Spanish River flows over 200 miles thru remote and mostly inaccessible wilderness to Lake Huron. It has an East and West Branch. The East canoe route starts at Duke Lake below the town of Gogama and continues south through 10 interconnected lakes before joining the West. From the confluence the riverway continues to Agnew Lake, 145 kilometers in all. There are numerous class I-V rapids on the route, an ABS canoe is highly recommended. (The West is accessed by train from the town of Biscotasing, is even more remote and has more rapids.) Primitive campsites (some of which were undoubtedly used by Indians, voyageurs and loggers throughout the years) have been established at intervals and most rapids have marked portages. Fishing is good for Smallmouth, Pike and Pickerel. Services, from shuttles to complete outfitting, can be arranged thru local lodges and outfitters. Depending on water levels, a complete trip can take 6-10 days.
This past July, after planning for 2 years, I finally got to "do The Spanish". I was prepared to paddle solo when at the last minute a fellow I met on the Internet (Mick Wood from Michigan) decided to join. We had a great time and spent 14 days in the wilderness. I know it is a 6-day trip, but we are gluttons for paradise! Besides the trip was extended by taking a 3-day portage loop up to huge Lake Pogamasing.
Twenty-eight kilometers was our best day. Since there was no hurry and the fishing was good we normally traveled 10-15K. Primitive campsites were at riverside and most had some amenities like an established firepit, rough "camp furniture" (usually a log propped up on cross pieces), or in some cases a "Thunderbox" or "P-3"(wilderness latrine).
What can I say about the weather? We must have found that elusive "Canadian Summer" you hear so much about because temperatures were in the 80's during the day and the low 50's at night. Bugs were almost non-existent with the exception of the "witching hour" of 10-11pm. We always planned on being in our tents by then, as they got ravenous.
The scenery is excellent. The Spanish flows through mixed forest of pine, spruce, cedar, maple, birch, and poplar. The area was logged in the 1800's and the river was used as transport for millions of board feet of lumber, most all of it going by raft across Lake Huron to American interests in Michigan. The forest is now a lush and seemingly impenetrable jungle and the riverway is protected by a newly designated Provincial Park. A big tract along the river called the "Ancient Forest" has never been touched. Some forestry experts say it is the largest stand of old growth red and white pine in the world. The area is Canadian Shield so huge outcroppings and cliffs of granite are abundant. We were lucky to view a small Indian petrograph site. It is awe inspiring to travel by canoe through such a beautiful, historic place.
Should you decide to head north to explore some of Canada's wilderness waterways I would highly recommend you give the Spanish a try.
"Yo hablo Espanol!"
Agnew Lake Lodge, shuttles only to Duke Lake http://www.agnew.nototravel.com/
Full outfitting and van shuttles can be supplied by Fox Lake Lodge out of Cartier, Ontario. (Great people!) http://www.foxlakelodge.com/
Fox Lake will also arrange a train shuttle on the Canadian Pacific Railroad to the West Branch, or shorter trips on the East. (The RR runs next to the river for 10 kilometers.)
Crown Land camping permits ($10.00 Canadian PP per night) required for Americans. (Waived if you use a local outfitter) May be purchased at the Custom House when crossing the border. Also available locally at some merchants and the MNR offices.
East at Sault Saint Marie on HWY 17 (The Canadian National Road) to Webbwood, Ontario.
- The Spanish River Canoe Route Map published by Ministry of Natural Resources (Free)
- Spanish River Canoe map by Chrismar publishing. Also gives geographical and human history of the area. (The best!!! GPS and MN coordinates. $10.00 Canadian)
- Up the Creek by Kevin Callan. Guide book, has The Spanish and other canoe routes.