As we looked out the large glass picture window at Smoothwater Outfitters, north of Temagami, Ontario, I asked my daughter Karalyn to double check her watch for the correct date.

Yes, it really was June 5 she confirmed, and indeed it was snowing -- big, heavy, wet snowflakes. This crazy weather would continue all day as the high for the day barely reached 39 degrees Fahrenheit; the next day it would rise to 75.

This was just one of the many contradictions we experienced while on a recent trip to northern Ontario prior to attending the Outdoor Writers of Canada's Annual Conference in North Bay.

Exploring Lake Temagami

On Sunday, June 3, Karalyn and I drove from New York to North Bay, Ontario, about a seven-hour trip. Then, on Monday we made the 60-mile trek to Temagami Outfitting Company (TOC), a first-class operation located right on the big lake. TOC includes a well-outfitted store, bed and breakfast and restaurant. Had it been located in Old Forge or Inlet in N.Y., business would be booming; however, because of its out-of-the-way location, Temagami is still awaiting the big ecotourism boom.

The general region called Temagami is a massive area roughly six hours north of the border crossing at Cornwall, Ontario. Within that zone are the sprawling Temagami Lake, where island development is allowed; Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park to the west; a large canoe area where outboard motors, hunting and trapping (except by Indians) is prohibited; the Obabika River Waterway Park; and Solace Provincial Park. Temagami is home to moose, bear and gray wolves, but there are few deer in the region.

Interspersed between the lakes and second-growth balsam, jack pine, spruce, birch and poplar are the patches of what is called locally "the ancient old growth forest" of red and white pines saved from the loggers' saws. These forests have become a focus of ecotourism.

We had planned to fly into the Lady Evelyn Smoothwater for a day of exploring, but it was apparent because of the deteriorating weather that neighboring Lakeland Airways would not send out a plane. For us it was a disappointment, but for the two canoeists staying at TOC -- one from England, the other from Ireland -- it could have meant an end to their trip, as they had flights to catch back home on Friday and were on a tight schedule.

Dean Pearson, the owner of Temagami Outfitting and a former guide, loaded up his good-sized transport boat with their canoe and gear and invited us to join him on a 32-mile trek down the lake's long east arm and up to the northwest bay, where the canoeists would make a loop back to Temagami through a chain of lakes.

Along the way, Karalyn and I got a better feel for the lake when Dean gave one of the canoeists a navigation lesson, "When you see a cottage, you know it's an island and not the mainland. There are no cottages allowed on the mainland," he told them. There must be lots of islands on Temagami because the cottages seemed to be everywhere, some close to town with boathouses that would rival those on Adirondack lakes. One portage away from the big lake is needed to find complete solitude.

On our return, Dean pulled over so I could cast for smallmouth bass. This was a hit or miss proposition on a very stormy day, and as expected, I caught no fish. We also skirted Bear Island, home to 250 members of the Anishnabai tribe, one whom I would meet days later. We overnighted at Temagami Outfitters, a quality place to stay.

Smoothwater Outfitters

Ten miles to the north of Temagami Outfitting Company is Smoothwater Outfitters and Ecolodge. In approach, these two places are light years away. Situated on James Lake, Smoothwater offers canoe, kayak and hiking trips, usual expected fare, but with a twist. Owners Francis Boyes and Caryn Colman also schedule yoga classes, edible wild plant workshops and cooking classes, the latter run by Caryn, an excellent natural and wild foods chef. The two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, Karalyn and I spent in Smoothwater, we ate well, with dishes like poutine made with Jerusalem artichokes that I helped dig, locally raised whitefish, and an omelet with goat cheese and locally grown eggs. Some were garnished with mint, chives and stinging nettles collected nearby.

On Wednesday, one of our only sunny days, Francis took me to Temagami to paddle to the White Bear old growth forest, an easy mile and a half canoe trip. The White Bear, named for the last chief of the Augami Anishnabai tribe before the Europeans came, is 2,000 acres of huge old white pines and equally big red pines, the latter bigger than any I've seen in the Adirondacks. There is a half-mile walk on a marked trail in and out of the forest. The afternoon would be spent fishing.

A Bizarre Fishing trip

When it comes to fishing, I usually prefer going it on my own, but Francis felt I should meet another local outfitter, "If anyone can get you a trout, it's Doug," he said. Doug, as it turned out, is a trapper or trapper's helper who owns a lodge in the area. Doug was busy when we arrived, and we were told to come back later. When Doug was ready about 3:30 p.m., we helped him load up his heavy aluminum boat with a 9.9-horse motor in his pickup, then trucked off to a pond he called Number 25. After a rough backwoods ride we came upon a body of water the size of a large beaver pond; Doug said it was stocked with brook trout.

Along the way to Number 25, Doug bragged of eating raw meat, liking big fat muskrats and road-killed moose. I brushed most of his talk aside as bravado, an attempt to be colorful, but when I looked at Karalyn, it was clear she didn't find any of his talk entertaining.

On the small pond, Doug had us cast toward shore, a tactic I have never tried for brookies. He used a fly rod and managed hooking trophy limbs, branches and even Karalyn's line which eventually had to be cut.

I asked him, "What fly are you using?"

"A brown one," he replied.

Finally, I got Doug to troll down the center which looked to be the deepest section while I trailed a Lake Clear Wabbler and worm, a rig that has always proven successful, but the 9.9-HP couldn't crank down slow enough to troll properly. After a couple of hours, I looked around the pond and saw no fish rises; since it was getting toward evening, we called it a day. I still am not sure there really are trout in that pond.

The ANishnabai

The final destination on our rather unusual Temagami trip came when I attended a presentation by Virginia McKenzie, a spokesperson for the Anishnabai, a native group related to Algonquins, who live on Bear Island.

Virginia gives talks throughout the summer at her tipi camp outside of town and runs a native culture immersion program on Bear Island 10 miles down the lake. In complete contrast to Doug, Virginia spoke of her deep love of nature and of Temagami, the importance of the ancient forests, respect for wildlife and the importance of preserving her people's culture. The 250 or so Anishnabai who live on Bear Island have their own school and pretty much follow a lifestyle that has been followed for centuries.

So our Temagami trip ended as it had started -- on a high note, with only some minor absurdities in between.

I think we came away from Temagami with a better sense of what that area is all about, and found that those people are struggling with similar problems that we in the Adirondacks are wrestling with: land use and development, logging and keeping old growth forests, air access to remote areas, and how to increase ecotourism. No matter, it's always good to get back home.

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