\”Canoe Route to the West\” – French River
The French River formed a vital link in the historic canoe route via the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers and Lake Nippissing, which connected the settlements on the St. Lawrence with the upper Great Lakes and the far West. Most of the famous Canadian explorers, missionaries and fur traders of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries followed this waterway. Here passed: Brule, discoverer of Lake Huron; Champlain, \”Father of New France\”; the Jesuit martyrs, Brebeuf and Lalmant; the colourful courerurs de bois, Radisson and Groseilliers; La Verendrye, pioneer explorer of the prairies; Mackenzie, first European to reach the Pacific by land north of Mexico; Thompson, the great explorer and cartographer.\”
Logging was a major industry along with fishing in the area, but grew in popularity with exploration and newfound access by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada around 1855 that had opened the Georgian Bay for those seeking new opportunities during the Industrial Revolution. Settlements and mills began to pocket various points of the Georgian Bay near the areas where the French River flowed into the bay. Steam boats navigated the Dallas Falls carrying supplies past the French River Village which developed in the late 1880\’s from the logging industry. \”Alligator\” tugs were used and can be still seen abandoned along the shorelines at the Dallas Falls and the French River.
Timber cutting, logging and lumber mills began to grow like wildfire after a rise in demand for lumber to help rebuild many of the buildings destroyed from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This economic \”boom\” gave rise and creation to the Lumber Barons in the Great lakes who used the waterways for transporting their logs since the land was \”ripe for the picking with its seamlessly inexhaustible supply of timber and proximity to the American markets\”. The lumber floated through the French River and the Wahnipitae River to be used for rebuilding the city along with construction of many other American cities.
Logging became a way of life for many in the French River system until the 1930\’s with the Great Depression. After logging fell out of favour and families began to move out the area, those who remained turned to fishing and tourism and has remained as such since then. Many of the sunken logs still dot the rivers and remind of those of days gone by while providing opportunities for anglers. We refer to these sunken logs as \”dead heads\”. Caution is advised when boating in these known areas of our preserved surfacing history.
In the 40\’s the French River area was closed to further commercial and private development, preserving this wilderness area much as it was during the days of Samuel de Champlain and fur trading over 400 years ago. In the early 1960\’s, the Ontario Government closed the area for further development making it part of the North Georgian Bay Recreation Reserve. Then in 1985, French River became part of the French River Heritage Park System – Ontario’s First Canadian Heritage River, a historical area and now the French River Provincial Park.
A travel route of the Ojibwa Indians and a key link in the fur trade for two centuries, the French River\’s historical importance is unmatched in this part of Canada. Its ice-molded landscape, gorges, relict flora, and extensive bedrock delta tell a unique story in the glacial history of the Canadian Shield. The river’s valley is the habitat for several rare plants, as well as the Massassauga Rattlesnake. These features, and its great beauty, are the reasons for the French River\’s outstanding significance as a recreational and heritage waterway.\”
The Ojibwa who lived in this region began to call the river as the \”French River\” for their association with the French explorers who were looking for a shorter route to the West. Hence, the French River was the main \”Water Highway to the West in Canada, from 1600 to the mid 1800\’s.\” The river formed a water highway from Montreal to Lake Superior and had a major role in the transportation and production of furs for trading over the years, till about 1820 when the fur trading industry for the area began to slow.