Switchbacks and Shorelines
This tour meanders along the backroads of the Bonnechere and Madawaska River Valleys, through the heart of the Ottawa Valley.
Start your tour at Burnstown
Burnstown, said to be named for the famous Scottish bard, Robbie Burns, is a pleasant hamlet centred around a restored general store which houses a quaint café, a publishing house featuring local authors, artisan studios and an antique shop.
Depart Burnstown via Calabogie Rd 508 and wind your way along the Madawaska River through Calabogie. Beyond Calabogie, turn right on Ferguson Lake Rd and proceed to Mount St Patrick.
2. Mount St Patrick
This Irish settlement on the Mountain is known far and wide for its mythic leprechaun population. In 1896, Catholic pioneers built the handsome stone church which still stands as a reminder that Mt St Pat's was once a large and successful parish of Irish pioneers. Adjacent are a holy well, old buildings, and off to the west, Croagh (mountain) St Patrick. (Legend has it that St Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland while preaching on Croagh Patrick.)
From Mount St Patrick, wind you way north along Flat Rd to Dacre.
Of all the villages established along the Ottawa and Opeongo Settlement Road, Dacre remains the most viable. From here, traffic and trade coursed in six different directions, and the town boasted a church, a school, stores and two hotels. A motel sits where the whimsically named California House once stood. As you travel through town, note the piles of unpolished marble mined in the Madawaska Highlands nearby.
From Dacre travel north to Scotch Bush Rd to Balaclava.
Ever visit a ghost town? Here's your chance to get a feel for one. For many years, dammed water from Constant Creek powered a large sawmill at Balaclava. Today, the mill, a sawdust burner, and several historic buildings stand abandoned - some leaning slightly under the weight of time. From the bridge look to the far shore on Constant Lake to the forest of stumps - remnants of trees flooded when the dam was first built. Anglers will want to dip a line for some tasty panfry.
From Balaclava continue north on Scotch Bush Rd and follow the signs to Bonnechere Caves.
5. Bonnechere Caves
Too hot? Go underground for a cool trip back into prehistoric time. The Bonnechere Caves are a twisting labyrinth of limestone passages containing the fossils of thousands of 500-million-year-old coral and sea creatures. Each fall, when Mother Nature's miniature insect control specialists come home to roost, this underground world is transformed into the largest bat roost in the Ottawa Valley. Guided tours.
Head towards Eganville along Fourth Chute Rd.
Eganville rests in a deep limestone valley carved at the Fifth Chute of the Bonnechere River. By 1843, river power was being used to drive a sawmill operation, and by 1849, John Egan's grist mill which was credited with stimulating the development of the village. Today, it's a town divided - by the river, that is. The south shore is Gratttan Township and the north is Wilberforce.
In 1911, the great fire destroyed much of Eganville's commercial sector, as well as 75 homes, churches, schools and industries. While settlements along both sides of the Bonnechere River were affected, it was the north shore that was hardest hit. The current municipal building was erected a year later and served as the village post office for over half a century.
From Eganville take Queen St 41 to Foymount Rd. Turn right and proceed to Foymount.
If you're aiming for the top, this is it. Foymount is Ontario's highest populated point at 500m (1650') above sea level. This high altitude was exploited in the 1950s, when a now-dismantled radar base was established as part of the Pinetree Radar Line, designed to detect Soviet bombers coming over the polar ice cap. Enjoy a sweeping view of the Bonnechere Valley from the parking lot at the top of Sebastopol Dr.
Wind your way back downhill along Foymount Rd 512, to Brudenell.
Established in the 1850s and boasting a blacksmith, a racetrack, and three hotels that served liquor, Brudenell fast gained a reputation. Apparently, a Brudenell Saturday night was a thing to behold - and Sunday morning at Our Lady of Angels church… a sorry sight, indeed! As you enter Brudenell, the concrete foundation on you left is all that remains of Bill Costello's hotel, which later became the offices of the Brudenell and Lyndoch Telephone Company. The private home next door, at one time the town hall, still retains some of its original grandeur with its veranda and gingerbread trim. When this establishment was operated by Cooey Costello, it was known locally as the "sin bin", and its main salon featured a grand piano.
At the intersection with Opeongo Rd, Foymount Rd 512 becomes Brudenell Rd 512. Turn right on Brudenell Rd 512 and proceed to Old Killaloe. Look for the grist mill on your right.
9. Old Killaloe
Built in 1849, and rebuilt in 1870 after a devastating fire, the mill at Old Killaloe harnessed waterpower to grind grain for area residents up to 1930, and planed lumber until the 1960s. Today it is a privately owned micro-hydro operation and a favourite subject of artists. Pack paints, charcoal or crayons and spend some time creating your own masterpiece.
Continue west on Brudenell Rd 512 to the Village of Killaloe.
Originally called Fort McDonnell, Killaloe Station flourished when lumber baron J.R. Booth built the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway in the late 1800s. For years, Killaloe was known across Canada for its weather and radio station, which operated here from, 1938 to 1972, as part of a country-wide chain of sites designed for aircraft communication. A small airstrip operated at the weather station until 1953 before services were moved to neighbouring Bonnechere.
The original railway trestle over Brennan's Creek, in Station Park at Killaloe, is now a covered bridge and a focal point for the community. Nearby, stand an 1896 railway hotel, the original bank and various other century-old commercial buildings. The village is home to a myriad of artisans, writers and musicians; and it was here that the tasty Beaver Tail - a Canadian classic - was created!
From Killaloe, turn right onto Hwy 60 and travel east towards Golden Lake. Watch for the sign on your left, east of Deacon, indicating the Pakkotinna Trail.
11. Pakkotinna Trail
Stretch your legs on a hike along this four-season recreation trail which follows old bush roads and trails through a variety of vegetation and topographic features. The Pakkotinna Trail, a Native word which means hilly, hilly ground, is aptly named as you may have gone too far before deciding to "pack-it-in"! Note that in winter the trails are dedicated to snowmobilers.
Continue east on Hwy 60 to Golden Lake First Nation. Turn right on Kokomis Rd to reach the Golden Lake First Nation.
12. Golden Lake First Nation
Learn more about the Native peoples who settled this traditional ground with an interpretive program hosted by the Anishinabe Experience. Customized visits include traditional stories passed down verbally through generation of Native elders; Native craft classes and cross-cultural workshops. (Advance booking required.) For lunch, savour a local favourite: fried bologna on bannock! Each August, the Algonquins of Golden Lake host a Pow Wow of Native dancing, drumming, crafts and cuisine celebrating life and honouring those who have passed on.
Backtrack to Hwy 60 and turn right. Travel through Eganville and on to Douglas.
The Bonnechere River was the focal point of the formation of Douglas in 1853, when the settlement boasted a water-powered grist mill. It was also well known to the loggers who had to get their timber past the 7m (21') waterfall. Today, there's no better place in the Valley to experience the wearin' o' the green each March 17th than at the Douglas Hotel, in the heart of this Irish farming community. The Irish and Irsih-wanna-be's will feel right at home here.
Travel east on Hwy 60 to Renfrew.
Renfrew was incorporated in 1858 and became industrial and commercial hub of southeastern Renfrew County, much as it is today. Raglan Street, its vibrant main thoroughfare, is lined with century-old commercial buildings, stately homes and towering church steeples.
Feel like walking over water? Take the swing foot bridge across the Bonnechere River in Renfrew - it's one of only two in all of Ontario. Built in 1895 to provide workers access to the industrial area around the mill, the bridge eventually fell into disrepair, but was rebuilt in 1983. The adjacent McDougall Mill Museum tells the history of Creamery Town, as Renfrew has come to be known since the first creamery was built here in 1895. Production was so significant that by the early 1900s butter was being shipped through Eastern Ontario and overseas to Britain.
At Renfrew, pick up Hwy 17 and travel east to Arnprior. At Arnprior, follow Daniel St to Madawaska Blvd and turn left. The Arnprior and District Museum is on your right at John St.
Once a bustling logging town, The Prior (as it is known locally), is a quiet community on the Ottawa River where Victorian-era homes and a variety of shops border tree-lined streets. To learn more about local history, visit the Arnprior and District Museum in the former post office - one of the town's most recognizable landmarks. Artefacts include Laird McNab's walking stick, King Edward VII's tie pin, and a collection of 19th century bedroom furniture which once belonged to Arnprior's first mayor, John Bradley.
Gillies Grove can be accessed from the end of Ottawa St. Follow John St to Ottawa St and turn left.
Explore this woodland cathedral of 175-year-old white pines, massive hardwoods and basswood, including the largest basswood in Canada. For 135 years people have enjoyed the flora, fauna and tranquility of this complex ecosystem. If you're lucky you may see rare red-shouldered hawks which nest in the ancient hardwoods.
Backtrack along Danel St to Winners Circle Dr.
While in Arnprior, be sure to stop by the Visitor Centre to have your photo taken with Big Joe Mufferaw and friends.
Cross Hwy 17 and follow White Lake Rd. In White Lake turn right on Burnstown Rd 52, the Waba Cottage Museum is on your left.
16. White Lake
White Lake derived its name from the white calcium carbonate, or marl, which covers 280 hectares (700 acres) of the lake's bottom.
The Waba Cottage Museum tells the tale of one of the Ottawa Valley's most notorious characters, Archibald McNab, the thirteenth Laird of McNab who create the first and only feudal system ever to exist in Canada. In 1843 he was sent packing by disgruntled landowners; fortunately, many of his possessions were left behind and have been faithfully preserved in this reconstructed stone cottage. An 1878 school and 1868 log church complete this picture-postcard setting along the Madawaska River.
The Native Hurons, Algonquins, Iroquois and Outaouais were the first to navigate the Ottawa River and settle this land. Visit Algonquin Indian Heritage Museum at the Golden Lake First Nation to learn more about our Native peoples.
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