Sunday, July 14, 2024

Dumoine’s Tote Road trail complete

Non-profit working to create safe backcountry experience

Late last August, a group of canoe enthusiasts, some paddling veterans and others total beginners, piled into two dozen canoes and spent the day meandering their way down the Dumoine, MRC Pontiac’s western-most river.
The river traces the border between MRC Pontiac and MRC Temiscamingue, running south from Machin Lake near La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve for 129 kilometres before dumping itself into the Ottawa River, just upstream of Rapides des Joachims.
The group of paddlers made the trip to celebrate the completion of a project that a team of volunteers had been working away at for seven years – the creation of the Tote Road backcountry hiking trail, which had officially opened as an outdoor attraction that August but which has existed in fragments for much, much longer.
For thousands of years, Anishinaabe communities and later, European settlers working the timber trade on the Dumoine River have trodden narrow footpaths up and down its banks.
In 2016, a group of volunteers and longtime lovers of the river set to work clearing these various segments of path, and joining them together where there was no path, to build one long continuous 26 kilometre hiking trail, equipped with trail signs, hand painted outhouse toilets and 22 backcountry camping sites.
The extended network of volunteers is organized under the non-profit group Friends of Dumoine, created by avid outdoorsmen Wally Schaber.
“Our mandate is to promote wilderness conservation and self-propelled recreation in the Dumoine watershed,” Schaber said.
His goal was to create a unified group of people who could advocate for and develop opportunities for non-motorized recreational use of the Dumoine Valley, be it in canoe, as has done for decades, or by foot, as is now possible by way of this trail.
A rich history
Of importance to Schaber in his vision of how the Dumoine be used is that anybody passing through the valley, by foot or canoe or all-terrain vehicle or motorboat, have opportunities to learn about the rich history of the river.
“There’s just an amazing history in the Dumoine Valley – Indigenous history as well as logging history,” Schaber said. “And that history is a real binding factor, no matter how you enjoy the recreation, and at the moment, it seems like everybody loves history.”
While the Tote Road is only open to walkers, too narrow to host four-wheelers, a car can bring you right to its trailhead. Following Chemin Dumoine north out of Rapides des Joachims will bring you to the northern end of the trail at Grand Chute, just after the road crosses the Dumoine River.
At the Grand Chute trailhead, an old log cabin, originally the offices of ZEC Dumoine, is being used by Friends of Dumoine as an unofficial basecamp for volunteers while they’re working on the trail, and for emergency responders needing to rescue somebody in the surrounding wilderness.
But over the years, it has also evolved into a history centre, displaying artifacts found in the Dumoine watershed or in neighbouring Noire, Coulonge and Ottawa rivers.
Axe heads, saws and other remnants of the timber trade have been mounted to the outside of the cabin, while historic maps, photos and other more valuable items can be viewed inside when the cabin is open.
Gord Black, owner of Bristol’s Logs End timber business, has donated many of the items he’s found in the thousands of dives he’s made to the bottoms of the region’s rivers.
He usually goes down to find old timber that’s been preserved underwater since the height of the Ottawa Valley logging industry, that he then retrieves and planes to be used as flooring.
This year he donated a hundred-year-old pointer boat he found years ago at the bottom of the Noire River.
The 10-foot long, flat bottomed boat was used by a cook for the logging camps that would make their way down the Noire during the log drives.
“I’d originally thought I was going to open a museum,” Black said. “But this boat sitting in the back of my warehouse gathering dust is not doing anything for anybody.”
He donated it to Friends of Dumoine because he supports the group’s vision.
“It makes people aware of the history that we have right in our own backyard,” Black said. “This river played an important part in the timber trade. A lot of wood came down that river over the 150 years of logging.”
Schaber, for his part, was thrilled by Black’s donation.
“If a group of canoe students came by, for them to actually see what a pointer boat was and how it worked would be an amazing experience,” Schaber said.
“So that’s the type of thing that gets us in trouble. We say yes, right away, and now I have to find volunteers to [restore it] and money to do it. But opportunity and resources don’t always line up.”
The Friends of Dumoine is not only concerned with the logging history on the river.
The Dumoine watershed remains the traditional, unceded territory of the Wolf Lake First Nation, based at Hunters Point in Kipawa.
The territory is unceded in that no treaty between Canada or Quebec and the Algonquin Nation was ever signed.
A timeline on the Tote Rode website details the history of human use of the Dumoine River. It shows that for more than 5,000 years before the timber trade began in the mid-1800s, Anishinaabe people used the river to hunt, trade, and socialize.
“As the logging went up the river, the ability of the families that lived on the river to hunt and trap just completely disappeared,” Schaber said.
“They had to migrate either north to Kipawa, or south to the Ottawa River to make a new life for themselves. So the majority went north and eventually joined the Wolf Lake Band at Hunter’s Point.”
This year, a group of youth from Wolf Lake First Nation will spend a week camping at Robinson Lake, just south of the Grand Chute cabin.
“It’s very encouraging to have these descendants of the original Dumoine families come and learn canoeing and different things right there on the Dumoine,” Schaber said.
Looking for partners to ‘take it to next level’
Schaber said between the 1200 or so canoeists he figures descend the river every year, and the people who visit the cabin by other means, the cabin has become a hotspot for adventurers who are curious about the people who used the Dumoine River for hundreds and thousands of years before them.
“Everybody tends to stop and ask the same type of questions, and so we get a chance to sort of socialize with all types of users,” Schaber said.
“Our idea would be to find enough budget to hire somebody to act as the host at that cabin and continue the work of researching the history and clearing the trail. That’s the long term goal,” he added.
Eventually, Schaber would like to see the cabin become a place that can be rented out by artist groups, or youth camps or archaeologists or wilderness first aid trainees – anybody, really, who would like to spend some dedicated time on the river and needs more infrastructure than the tent on their back.
But Schaber said to get there, the group of volunteers needs funding support from local and provincial governments.
“It is now the responsibility of the MRCs and the Quebec government to step forward and grab this treasure that we created and do something with it that benefits some businesses in Swisha and people in Pontiac,” Schaber said.
“I’m all for helping and doing everything I can but somebody bigger than us needs to step forward. Our goal is to keep the trail clean and clear, and to promote it and to find bigger partners to help us take it to the next level.”
In the meantime, the non-profit is doing what it can to increase safety in the watershed, most of which is very difficult to reach by vehicle.
Schaber attended the MRC Pontiac’s Apr. 10 plenary meeting of the mayors to request funding to help the Friends of Dumoine purchase emergency rescue equipment.
The MRCs director general Kim Lesage confirmed Schaber made a presentation on a search and rescue plan for the Dumoine Valley and requested funding to support his efforts.
She said this request would be brought to the next plenary meeting for a discussion between the mayors.
Julien Gagnon, public safety coordinator with the MRC, said the MRC is in very early stages of looking into whether a team of search and rescue volunteers from the Ontario side could be contracted to provide first aid and rescue services to the lower Dumoine River area.
This would improve response time to accidents on the river because as it is, the MRC’s fire departments in Mansfield and Otter Lake are the only two able to respond to emergency calls in the county’s backcountry areas.
“We definitely need some form of intervening on the west end, we just don’t have a population there, other than Rapides des Joachims, which doesn’t even have a fire department,” Gagnon said.
This summer, Friends of Dumoine is also working to formalize itself, which will help protect it from liability in the event of accidents on the river. It will host its first annual general meeting in December, where members of the group will elect its first board of directors.
Ahead of this, Schaber is encouraging anybody interested in the project to become a member of the group, and support its efforts to put the Dumoine on the map for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who don’t yet know about it.

by Sophie Kuijper Dickson
May 23, 2024


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