Path of the Paddle: Canoeing Bowron Lakes

At first glance, my notebook tells a rather negative tale of wind and rain and mud-sucking portages. A closer look suggests that canoeing the twelve lake, 116.4 kilometre (72 mile) Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit might just be for the birds.

Did I mention I like birds?

The world-renowned canoe circuit is home to loons, osprey, bald eagles, kingfishers, common mergansers, harlequin ducks, nuthatches, woodpeckers, warblers, chickadees, white-throated sparrows – the list goes on. There are also black bears, moose and mink in this rugged wilderness area. It is situated on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range, about 120 km (75 mi) east of Quesnel, B.C.

Getting Set to Paddle

Rather than hauling boats from Alberta, we rented from Bear River Mercantile. It is perfectly situated at the head of the Bowron River for our takeout at the end of the circuit.

Sandy and Dick own the business and are knowledgable outfitters. They are also keepers of history. The mercantile is also a museum, devoted to the history of Wells, Barkerville and the Bowron Lake area. It has a diverse collection of artifacts, as well as an impressive collection of old Bowron Lake photographs.

A Touch of History

During the heydays of the gold rush, Bowron Lake supplied fish to feed hungry miners. Bowron Lake was named after John Bowron, the first Gold Commissioner in nearby Barkerville. In the early 1900s, locals trapped and guided to make a living. Frank Kibbee was one of the first settlers to build a home on the shores of Bowron Lake in 1907. Other families began farming along the Bowron River. Lodges were built around the lake.

Old cabin/shelter on McCleary Lake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

By the early 1920s, there was growing concern for the health of wildlife populations in the region. A 620 square kilometre (240 square mile) wildlife sanctuary was established. The protected area increased in size over the years and eventually became the 139,700 hectare Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in 1961.

The Path of the Paddle

Weighing in! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We sat through the park staff orientation talk about weather, safety, leave no trace ethics and then set about sorting gear for the weigh in. Only 27 kilograms (60 lbs) of gear is allowed in the canoes on portages in order to keep the trails in somewhat good shape. Anything else goes on your back.

The canoe circuit runs counter-clockwise in a roughly rectangular shape. It starts with Kibble Lake and goes onto Indianpoint, Isaac, McCleary, Lanezi, Sandy, Unna, Babcock, Skoi, Spectacle, Swan before ending on Bowron Lake. Beyond the lakes, the circuit includes about 10 kilometres (6 mi) of portages and a short paddle down the swift Cariboo River.

Setting Off

It’s uphill right off the get go – and we push, pull and find our rhythm on our way to Kibbee. Loons are everywhere – nesting, calling, fishing, flying. A short paddle, another portage, a little help to a young family of canoe trippers to manouver their load up and over a bridge and we’re back in the water on Indianpoint Lake.

Campsite on Indianpoint Lake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

It’s a short paddle to our first campsite – in time for Happy Hour, dinner, a couple of card games and a crackling fire. We head tuck into sleeping bags listening to one final song from a Swainson’s Thrush before darkness descends.

The next five nights and six days would find us alternately setting up and taking down rain tarps. It would find us drifting by thundering waterfalls, grunting as we pull the boats through another portage, and uttering sighs of content as we sit by the evening fire listening to the call of the loons.

Common Loons on Isaac Lake. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We angled for trout and kokanee, caught glimpses of mink cavorting on the shoreline, discovered bear tracks, and saw osprey dive into the lake.

Nothing beat the experience of watching a kingfisher play whack-a-mole with its catch, hearing a mother moose and her calf stroll by our campsite in shallow waters just offshore and counting the endless parade of young mergansers tagging along behind mom.

The Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is an ultimate wilderness experience.

If You Go:

Additional information about the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit can be found on the BC Parks site.

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Exploring the Past at Mount Robson Provincial Park

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

It’s Canada’s 150th in 2017. What better time to celebrate our country’s past than now?

British Columbia’s Mount Robson is a blast to my past.

Whitehorn Ranger Cabin, Mt. Robson Provincial Park.

Many years ago – who’s counting? –  I spent a summer working on a youth crew in Mount Robson Provincial Park, B.C.. We did a little trail work and hiked a lot. We sang along with the soundtrack from “Grease“, packed external frame packs badly, jogged down for morning polar bear dips in Moose Lake and became park advocates and history buffs.

What’s in a Name?

Mount Robson Provincial Park is the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system (formed two years after Strathcona Provincial Park). The park was named for the peak. Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet).

Until the arrival of European trappers and explorers, the peak was known as “Yuh-hai-has-kun” or the “Mountain of the Spiral Road”  –  a name given to it by the Texqakallt, the earliest known inhabitants of the upper reaches of the Fraser River. The named refers to the mountain’s many layered appearance.

How it came to be named “Mount Robson” is a little vague.  In the earlier part of the 19th century, the North West Company sent hunters and trappers into this same area. One of these people was Colin Robertson, who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Robertson camped near the peak in about 1815. This spot became the campsite for subsequent hunting parties and the peak was named – or sort of named – after him.

Fur trader George McDougall is credited with the first written reference in his journal. He called the peak “Mt. Robinson” in his journal in 1827. Explorers crossing the Yellowhead Pass in 1863 referred to the peak in their journals as “Robson” and “Robson’s” Peak.

Climb On!

The first attempt to climb Mount Robson was in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1913 that W.W. Foster, and Albert H. McCarthy summited the peak with their guide, Conrad Kain.

More than just a big peak waiting to be conquered, Mount Robson Provincial Park is the headwaters of the mighty Fraser River. It borders the renowned Jasper National Park. Mount Robson Provincial Park is more than 100 years old. It was established on March 11, 1913. The park was designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.

History – you don’t always have to hike too far to find it, even in this relatively “young” country.

What is your favourite Canadian historic hike?

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A Journey Close to Home: Glenbow Ranch

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
Carlo Goldoni

Some historical journeys are shorter than others. Just off the highway near our home town, down a winding gravel road, is a piece of the past called Glenbow Ranch. In a meadow beside a river called the Bow is a weathered grey building. You can’t drive up to it. You have to purposefully travel down a path, back down in time, to a place that now only spirits call home. The ramshackle building, once a post office and school, is all that remains from a townsite that was home to 150 people in the early 1900s.

Glenbow Ranch
Visiting the Past

The closer you look at the site from a perch up on one of the hills at Glenbow Ranch, the more you see. Scanning the fescue grasslands it becomes easy to visualize herds of bison moving through as they grazed the prairie. Look closer and you’ll see tipi camps of the native tribes that depended on the bison for their survival. This land has a history dating back thousands, not just hundreds of years.

Settle in and you will see a change. The bison are gone and cattle from the historic Cochrane Ranche have taken their place. Move ahead slightly in time and watch as a ribbon of wood and steel is built through the valley bottom. By 1891, Glenbow became a water stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steam engines. Twelve years later, a CPR station would be be built here.

Becoming a Townsite

Glenbow Post Office Stamp (Source: Photo of Interpretive Panel)

Take your gaze up on to the hillsides and you’ll see remnants of another era. In 1907, the sounds of quarrying rang out across the valley. Sandstone blocks, hewn from these hills  were used in the construction of Alberta’s Legislature Building in Edmonton. A growing population meant a demand for a postal service and in 1909, the post office building was open for business.

Glenbow postmaster Cecil Edwards and his family in 1916. (Source: Photo of Interpretive Panel)

When the quarry closed in 1912, a brick-making plant was opened and soon 100,000 bricks a day were being manufactured. The wooden frame of the post office building was originally painted green and then faced with brick. Glenbow bricks – still visible in a few of the older homes in the nearby town of Cochrane – were yellowy-orange to red in colour.

End of an Era

Unfortunately, these bricks tended to crumble easily over time and the brick plant had a short lifespan. In 1914, the brick-making plant was closed. The post office and store stayed in business in 1920 before shutting down forever. The last Glenbow residents moved away in 1927.

The property became part of Eric Harvie’s ranch in 1934. Glenbow Ranch remained a private ranch for over 70 years until the park was established.

Isn’t it amazing what you can see when you look back in time? Some historical journeys are shorter than others; some are found in our own backyards.

If You Go:


Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, established in 2008, is one of Alberta’s newest parks. You can find a park map and directions online.

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