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July 7, 2000

Eau Claire Gorge a great place to visit

The 400 acre Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area, 50 km east of North Bay, is a rewarding heritage site to visit.

This property, on the Amable du Fond River, was purchased by the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority in 1976 and was developed with a 2 km walking tour with 12 stops along the way to observe various items of interest.

The highlight is the walk along the Amable du Fond, where a powerful waterfall drops 12 metres over 30 metres through a gorge with 18 metre high walls.

The site is open 7 days a week from sunrise to sunset and is self-directed, except on those occasions when the Authority has a staff member on site to provide a tour. A booklet available at the parking lot directs you on colour coded trails to the 12 interpretative stations and tells you what to look for.

To get to the gorge, follow Hwy 630 over the CPR tracks, pass over the twin bridges and proceed to the cross-roads where Ruby's Store is located (where you can pick up some refreshments).

After turning right, proceed about a kilometre west, past the Calvin Township municipal office, look for the gorge sign and turn right.

The corner where the store is located is now unofficially the centre of Eau Claire. The Ministry of Transportation has placed several Eau Claire signs to indicate the location for their purposes.

The original Eau Claire, named after the clear water of the Amable du Fond, was at the twin bridges. Lumberman William Mackey established a community there starting in the 1870s while he was taking out squared timber, and it became known as Eau Claire.

The location became more active when the railway went through in 188, and Mackey started a sawmill with all its accompanying buildings. A church, school, store, train station and other facilities followed.

The original store is now a private home just over the second bridge on the right. When J.R. Booth bought Mackey's limits in 1904 he took his logs to his mills in Hull, Quebec for sawing and Eau Claire soon faded.

There are a number of people still living in this area but, as indicated above, Eau Claire is now in an area further south.

The Amable du Fond River is named after an Algonquin Chief who originally hunted out of Mattawa, and later established a farm in what later became known as Algonquin Park. The Amable du Fond drains a large section of north-west Algonquin Patk and beyond.

It travels 84 km and drops 263 metres over its length, ending at the Mattawa River in the Samuel de Champlain Park.

The river runs down an ancient fault ridge, smoothed by glaciation 11, 000 years ago.

William Mackey had a problem getting his squared timber through the gorge safely so he built a slide around it. The site map shows the location of the slide beside the river. It was 8 feet wide, 1,200 feet long and dropped 23 metres over its length. It was removed in the 1920s. A dam was built at the head of the gorge to control the water flow for the logs.
The Eau Claire Gorge today. Photo from Nugget photographer Kevin LeClair

Eau Claire Gorge log chute. Courtesy of Calvin Township. 

Another of the 12 stops on the tour is an old restored log cabin from the lumber era that was the home of a fugitive for several years before he moved on in the 1930s.

The Conservation Authority is commended for developing this remarkable, ecological, historical and recreational site. The Authority has established a forest management plan to preserve the forest around the gorge for future generations.

As mentioned above, there are some guided tours by Conservation Authority staff.

The following are scheduled for this summer (all except the one indicated are at 2 p.m. on Sundays and take about two hours): July 16, August 13, August 27 and October 1.

There is a special tour on Thursday July 27 at 4 p.m. as a part of the Mattawa Voyageur Days. For further information at (705) 474- 5420. Why not pick up a Near North Heritage Passport 2000 at any one of the participating sites, or at the gorge itself when you come. Get your entry form stamped and become eligible for a prize after September 15, 2000.

Map of the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area. Courtesy of the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority.

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