Stretching The Boundaries: Memories of Killarney

All photos credit: Barb Campbell and Richard Ehrlich, An 80km Happy Birthday Hike, featured in our sister-publication Just Sayin’ Caledon


Killarney Provincial Park is located at the most northern end of Georgian Bay, south of Highway 6 at Sudbury and Espanola. It is not in what is considered to be the Southern Georgian Bay Area. However, it does share quite a few of the characteristics of the west shore of the Georgian Bay – northern forests, lakes, rock islets, rivers and many small streams. And yes, more wild blueberries than anywhere else on the Bay.

La Cloche

My family and I spent many weekends and several holidays there. As well we made several canoe trips into the interior, some by ourselves, and some with visitors from Germany. I also made canoe trips on my own and some with the “Voyageurs Canoe Club” which I founded.

If you consider that we did it all with our friend the White Water Canoe “Neejekeewa” (Niijikiwe – Ojibwe for “female friend”), which I had made to my specifications near Orangeville. Loaded with camping gear, three children aged 10, 7 and 6 and a dog, it was a miracle that we survived our first trip in 1971 and all following ones with no tip-overs or accidents. We returned many times to this amazing remnant of nature in Ontario’s Northland.

This is where the famous Canadian Group of Seven painted many of their pictures. Canoeists on the lakes and rivers can think of them in reverence as they paddle past some of the locations for their paintings. There are few Canadian homes without at least one historic Group of Seven print on their walls.

La ClocheOur own historic moment came during the first days of October, 1957, as we lay on the Killarney rocks watching the Russian Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, spin its circles around the earth about once every hour. It made 326 orbits alive before its batteries ran out on October 26, 1957. It made another 1114 before it returned and burned up in the earth’s atmosphere on January 4, 1958.  In January 31, 1958, the United States launched its first satellite, the Explorer. The space race had begun.

But back to Killarney now. The “backbone” of the Park are the La Cloche Mountains, which are part of the Canadian Shield and are composed primarily of white quartzite, giving them a most unusual look. On June 16th, 2000, I chartered a Cessna Airplane to take us over the La Cloche Mountain Range.

As a result of that flight, and because we had spent so much time as a family exploring them, my wife and I decided to eventually have our daughters drop our ashes from an airplane over the La Cloche Mountains.

La ClocheWe climbed its heights many times, but never attempted the Silhouette Trail, an extremely rough 78km long backpacking trail running along the entire top of the Mountain Range. It is the only backpacking trail in the Park. We swam naked in the small swampy ponds on top, squeezed our way along chasms to get the most spectacular views and jumped over rock splits on the way up and down.

On one long portage which we thought had water at the end, we ended up pushing our canoes while up to our hips in deep, clinging mud. Another portage was overgrown with 3 meter high tree saplings. We had to use our machetes to get our canoes through. But in between there were the cool nights around the campfires, with roasted wieners and marshmallows, where we reminisced about the hard but great days which had just passed, and tried to keep the mosquitos and blackflies at bay.

We lay fearfully silent in our tent as a bear sniffed all round the outside, fought a 30 cm snapping turtle which decided to sleep under our canoe, and ate huge pickerels given to us by the always successful American fishermen.

The only negative aspect which we observed through our years in the Park was that the lakes had started dying. For almost 100 years the Sudbury nickel ore smelting plant had spewed out 2.5 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide and metals per year. This made the Sudbury area one of the most polluted areas in the world, leading to the complete loss of vegetation, and leaving barren hills of blackened rock. The more than 330 lakes in the area had been acidifying, leading to a proliferation of green algae in the water. Fish populations in all Killarney lakes were severely reduced (Killarney Lakes Survey, 1995-1997).

The copper processing plant was originally a subsidiary of the American company Inco, but since 2006  is wholly owned by the Brazilian mining company Vale (created in 1942), producing nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium, gold, and silver.

To “alleviate” the pollution, the City of Sudbury, in the early 1970’s, erected the “Superstack”, a 381 meter high smokestack designed to spread the sulfur dioxide using the winds over most of Ontario. But they also planted 12 million trees to revitalize 1375 hectares of land in and around the city.

The Superstack was to be taken out of commission and destroyed by 2020, and replaced with two smaller “more efficient” 140 meter smokestacks, but the Committee reports are still outstanding on that matter.

You can find information regarding Reservations and Interior Camping Permits on the Killarney Provincial Park website


Written by

Peter Iden is a resident of Wasaga Beach and a Naturalist and Photographer who has a broad range of knowledge of the natural world. Peter is also a volunteer Warden for the Piping Plover Recovery Programme with the Friends of Nancy Island.


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