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Rankin River Canoe Route

2003 August 7 – Rankin River Canoe Route

Active Pursuits, Travel Column
Toronto Star Newspaper

In 1961 a dam was built on the Rankin River to control the wildly fluctuating water levels of an upstream lake and to restore its wetland habitat for increased wildlife potential. Mission accomplished.

On the west side of the Bruce Peninsula, about 5 km inland of Lake Huron from the community of Oliphant, Boat Lake, with its flooded woodland and wetland complex is a haven for wildlife.

Paddling quietly along its shore, you’ll see a beaver lodge and a gigantic bald eagle’s nest high up in the bare branches of a tree. Phoebes swoop acrobatically and hover overhead scolding loudly at your intrusion, while a painted turtle pokes its head among the water lilies to see what all the commotion’s about.

There’s no sign of the shy and brilliantly coloured wood ducks that make use of the nesting boxes that have been erected in the shallows, but cormorants strike a pose on tree snags, and terns undistracted by your presence, dive-bomb from the air, head-first into the water for fish.

You hardly need to be a naturalist to find Boat Lake enrapturing, though it does help to have paddling skills to maneuver through the twisting river that follows.

Boat Lake is part of the Rankin River Canoe Route, an 18-km, eight-hour journey through a chain of lakes and rivers between Isaac Lake, near the community of Red Bay, south to Sauble Falls Provincial Park. A shorter 11-km, six-hour alternative is also possible, beginning from the top of Boat Lake off Bruce Road 13.

At its bottom end, Boat Lake filters into the Rankin River; look for a sign indicating its channel. A narrow, winding and slow moving river, the Rankin holds reflections on its surface. A tall mix of evergreens and hardwoods line its banks and small feeder streams trickle into its flow.

Paddling here requires choreography. While curving around endless bends you’ll duck under cedar boughs and veer around saw logs – remnants of timbering years ago – that jut from the surface at odd angles. There’s also minor portaging and canoe lifting around and over fallen trees and broken branches.

About halfway along the river’s length lies the narrow, concrete barrier of the dam. A great spot for a picnic lunch, it has an open, grassy area to the side. The dam too requires a 20-step portage.

Below the dam salmon run thick each autumn. Also on this side, paddlers will encounter two sets of rapids, the second of which – at a blind corner in the river – is a chute for experienced canoeists only. Listen for its rush and pull to the shore on the right-hand side to either find your line in the wash or to walk around it.

At its end, the Rankin flows under a road bridge and unites with the Sauble River; stay right. Ahead, Sauble Falls Provincial Park offers riverside camping. The route ends directly after a second road bridge – just before Sauble Falls. Pull off to the right, and mind your steps; the grassy pullout area is home to frogs and turtles. From it, a short path leads up to Highway 21.

The Rankin is one of three paddling routes outlined in a new brochure put together by a local paddling committee for Grey and Bruce Counties. The other two noted routes are the Saugeen and Beaver rivers.

A variety of area outfitters, including Thorncrest Outfitters, offer rentals and drop-off and pick-up service. For more information, and a copy of the brochure, contact: Bruce County Tourism at 1-800-268-3838 or 519-534-5344, or visit web: