Books and Book Reviews

Tales of the French River
by Syd Sumner, 1935


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In honour of Canada 150, the UFRCA has chosen to share a collection of stories and poetry about life on the French River, written by former cottager Sid Sumner from his cottage in Satchel’s Bay back in the 1930s. The poetry and stories were originally written by hand and then later in 1935, transposed into a booklet. The stories entertained many in the family and circle of friends of Syd Sumner.

In 1973, C. Carlton Hartley used the technology of the day and copied the collection of stories by typewriter and then reproduced them by photocopy machine into a 5 by 8 inch booklet. This booklet was distributed to many French River families in order to keep these wonderful stories alive.

Fast forward to 2017, the booklet was scanned onto a computer and reformatted to fit on 8 1/2 by 11 inch standard paper. The font was increased to 12pt Calibri and stored in a printable PDF file which is posted on the UFRCA website, to be read, copied, printed and shared. We are attempting to preserve this collection of original stories and share them with all of the UFRCA families.

This book is presented in its original form with spelling mistakes, punctuation and grammatical errors. It is written in the language of the day, which may seem offensive to some groups, but remains as a snapshot of that time. These are not the views of the UFRCA and we apologize to anyone who might be offended. Please enjoy these memories and entertaining episodes from a bygone era, set in the land that we cherish so much.

UFRCA, 2017

Enjoy some Tales of the French


NIPISSING – Historic Waterway, Wilderness Playground
By Françoise Noël

Toronto: Dundurn Books, 2015

Reviewed by Dave Minden

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The Nipissing Waterway is a fascinating area and the book by Françoise Noël, NIPISSING – Historic Waterway, Wilderness Playground is a fascinating read. Most are familiar with the route of the early explorers and the fur-trading voyageurs, who paddled and portaged (with the help of local native guides, of course) from the Ottawa River to the Great Lakes via the Mattawa, Lake Nipissing, and the French River (the Nipissing Waterway). But most would not be familiar with the time span after the fur trade had declined – from roughly 1870 to the 1950s – on which the author concentrates.
During this pivotal period, the region witnessed the logging boom, the growth of steam-powered technology, the arrival of rail to North Bay and then roads and highways and personal automobiles, and the vigorous promotion of the area as a tourism destination by the province of Ontario. This rugged landscape, one that Champlain had rejected as too poor for farming, became a highly desired wilderness destination for fishermen, hunters, and canoe trippers who wanted to explore the rugged beauty of the Mattawa and French Rivers. In the background was the proposal to link Georgian Bay to the Ottawa with a shipping canal, a project that never materialized, mainly for economic factors.
The Great Depression of the 1930s knocked the bottom out of the tourism business. Then in 1934 came the Dionne Quintuplets who, under the Ontario Government’s strict control, put the North Bay area back on the map again. But Noël points out that the Quintland phenomenon was not the sole driving force behind the development of tourism in the area, just one timely factor. The other real cause was the geography that prevented rail and road access by any routes other than the narrow strip of land where North Bay is situated between Lake Nipissing and the Trout Lake / Mattawa River system and the narrowest of widths of the French and Pickerel Rivers. Everything in between was, and still is, pretty well isolated.
NIPISSING is fully indexed and referenced, and it is a blend of textbook style (with technical graphs and charts) and more chatty prose. A large collection of photographs and artwork complement the text and Noël frequently makes use of photos to analyze the historical context and meaning. The book abounds with details that make reading it somewhat like paddling the French: something new discovered at every turn in the river, every turn of the page. Did you know, for example, that you had to register and get a permit before driving the new Ferguson Road (now Hwy. 11 north), after it was completed in 1928? Or that road maps, produced by the province, were specifically designed to promote the area? These are all explored and analyzed by the author. Did you know that in 1947, there were over 130 resorts of various types in the region as listed in Rod and Gun magazine? While many have disappeared, some names are still recognizable today though under different ownership.
NIPISSING will be of great interest of course to French River cottagers, and in particular those on the Upper French, as several pages in the book are devoted to “Glimpses of Cottage Life”. Noël has drawn heavily on anecdotal reports and personal histories from many sources, and in particular, families who have been coming to the French for many generations. Fishing camps sprang up along the entire waterway from Georgian Bay to Mattawa, but none are as fascinating as that of Solid Comfort Fishing Camp, located about 4 km east of Dokis. First developed by a small band of American fishermen near Gravenhurst, their first location proved too busy in Muskoka in the early 1900s. They moved to a new, more remote spot on the Upper French and have been there ever since. While their history is unique, we can all relate to the “sense of place” that they value so highly.
NIPISSING – Historic Waterway, Wilderness Playground is a definite asset beside that favourite cottage chair, not to be read straight through like a mystery novel, but to be savoured slowly.
May, 2015

French River Authors

Posted June 11, 2014
UFRCA members John McFadgen (past Board member) and David McFadgen have co-authored and published a children's book Henry the Heron, which can be ordered through their web site 

David McFadgen writes, "This is a true story of a great blue heron reaching out to man for help. This story happened on the French River in Ontario, Canada. The French River is still untouched and has significant wildlife on it. Every time this story is told, the listener has always become fascinated with it and hopefully you will too."

Lakeland – Journeys into the Soul of Canada

By Allan Casey

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If you’re looking for a great winter read, one that will take you back to that shoreline and vista you always have in your thoughts, read Allan Casey’s Lakeland – Journeys into the Soul of Canada, (Greystone Books, 2009) and winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2010.

This book takes readers on an enchanting and enlightening journey across Canada, exploring a quintessential element of the Canadian landscape and its very soul – lakeland. With his gentle, exquisite and sometimes playful prose, Allan Casey conveys a powerful message about the value of Canada’s lakes, introduces us to the people who cherish them, and offers both a celebration of and lament for these precious and oft-abused natural treasures. – Jury comment, Governor General’s Literary Award

Lakeland is a journey of discovery to a country within a country, a celebration of the greatest freshwater territory on the planet. In the course of his travels, Allan Casey examines how lakes provide an open door to wilderness for average people, how our deepest relationships with nature may be forged on their shores. It is a tale of hope and threat combined, for our colonization of lakeshore can diminish the very qualities that draw us there from the city – beauty, purity, simplicity. (Jacket review)
A highlight for readers with ties to the French River and Lake Nipissing is a chapter dedicated to the Lake Nipissing and the walleye fishery. Like every other lake described in the book, Nipissing has its unique stresses and problems - and hopes for the future.

Dave Minden


North Bay: Gateway to Silverland
By Anson Gard

On the French in the Northland far away,
We’ll pass full many a summer’s day;
And hunt and fish, or idly float,
In light canoe, or the dancing boat;
And watch the sail o’er the glist’ning stream –
At night we’ll sing ‘neath the pale moon’s beam.

Then Ho! for the French with its beautiful isles;
Then Ho! for the girls with their rippling smiles;
Then Ho! for the Northland far away!

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Cottagers of the Upper French River will enjoy reading the 100th Anniversary Edition of Anson A. Gard’s 1909 book entitled North Bay: The Gateway to Silverland, recently published with a new preface by Francoise Noel, History Chair at Nipissing University in North Bay.

Anson Gard, an American, wrote extensively about places he visited in Canada and wrote three books on the North Bay area. Gateway to Silverland provides fascinating historical insights and anecdotes about North Bay’s development in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Especially significant are descriptions of early cottaging and activities on the French River.

In the early 1900s, North Bay was caught up in the extensive planning of the Georgian Bay Canal – a shipping canal and waterway system that would link Georgian Bay to the Ottawa River via the French River, Lake Nipissing, and the Mattawa River. Although the idea re-surfaced many times in the ensuing years, it never did materialize due to world wars and a variety of economic factors. We can only imagine how activity on the Upper French and on Lake Nipissing would have been altered if the project had gone ahead.

The original 1909 version of the book (out of print and very rare) is actually available on line at

The 2009 edition is available at:
Gulliver’s Book Store
157 Main Street West
North Bay, Ontario Canada P1B 2T6


North Bay; The Gateway to Silverland
By Anson A. Gard
100th Anniversary Edition; with a new preface by Francoise Noel
Community History Publications: North Bay Ontario, 2009
ISBN 978-0-9812769-0-8
Source: Dave Minden

Dokis - Since Time Immemorial
By Wayne Lebelle 

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A snapshot history of Dokis First nation has been captured in a thick coffee table book featuring a rich heritage stretching beyond generations. And elders of the community hope Dokis: Since Time Immemorial, by Wayne LeBelle, will spark interest in their community for decades to come. LeBelle spent more than three years gathering the materials from various sources and said, “It was a moving experience to be trusted with valuable pieces of family heirlooms.”

Now Available
Dokis History Book - 2006
Title - Dokis: Since Time Immemorial
Cost - $30 pickup, $37 with shipping
To Order - Contact Jane Dokis (705) 763-2200
Copies are available for pick up at the Band Office.
Also at:
Gulliver’s’ Books, North Bay
Chester’s Shore Lunch, Beaucage
Giant Tiger. Sturgeon Falls
Source: Dave Dale, North Bay Nugget, 1/2/2007  

French River: Canoeing The River Of The Stick Wavers 
 By Toni Harting

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There are two ways to truly discover the French River. The first is by canoe on a multi-day canoe trip from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, because it’s only by canoe that you can intimately discover its spectacular geography and truly appreciate the history of this unique waterway. (There are groups that provide instruction and canoe trip experiences, and it is hoped that more might take advantage of them.) The second way to discover the French River is by reading Toni Harting’s French River: Canoeing the River of the Stick-Wavers.

The text generally follows, with much researched detail, the chronological sequence of human occupation: from First Nations and the era before European contact, to the days of the French explorers and early fur traders, the British and the North West Company and Hudson Bay Company, and the period since Confederation. But it is the expert photography that brings the details to life. Black and white aerial views, thrilling colour views of modern-day North canoes running the chutes, magnificent vistas - all remind this reader of canoe trips past and those still to be done.

One of the most intriguing facts about the French River, as outlined by Harting, is its age. While we might presume it to be millions of year old, like the pre-Cambrian rock it cuts through, the river is really an infant in geologic time. In fact, it is scarcely more than 3000 years old. Following the disappearance of the last ice sheets about 10 000 years ago, the land started to rise after being heavily compressed by the glaciers’ mass. It is now estimated that about 3000 years ago, the waters of ancient Lake Nipissing and Georgian Bay stopped flowing eastward (through the Fossmill outlet) to what are now the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers. As the land slowly rebounded, a sill was formed where North Bay is now located, and the water started to flow in reverse direction – westward - down the fault lines that form the present-day French River. The land continues to rise to this day at the rate of about 45-50 cm per century – that’s about 5 mm per year; and the land further east (North Bay) is rising faster than that further west at Georgian Bay. So the French River will, over time, become steeper and even more challenging to the paddlers that retrace this ancient highway.

This book should be on the coffee table or bookshelf of every cottage on the French. Or better still, in the hands of those reading it!

French River: Canoeing the River of the Stick-Wavers is available at The French River Provincial Park Visitors Centre or through Toni Harting directly at The Lodge at Pine Cove on Wolsely Bay. Visit or The Lodge at Pine Cove - for general information.

Review by Dave Minden, July 12, 2007

Another review of this book may be found here. Review by Michael Peake, Che-Mun Editor


NORTH BAY - Past - Present - Prospective - By W.K.P. Kennedy

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NORTH BAY - Past – Present – Prospective, Best Printing, 1961. is a history of North Bay and region in 1961, compiled by W.K.P. Kennedy. Although out of print, it is available through Nipissing University as a course package for HIST 4375 Community History: Approaches, Sources and Methods. It is also available and fully indexed on-line at