The Story Behind French River

This river was the main Water Highway to the west in Canada from 1600 to the mid 1800's. The Ojibway Indian name for the river is Wemitigoj-Sibi (French River). The early French explorers gave the river the name la Riviere des Francais. The Champlain Trail is now known as the French River, or just "The French".

From the time of Etienne Brule, the first known European to descend its short, turbulent course from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, the French River was a portal to the interior and north-west. For explorers, missionaries and fur-traders alike, it formed a vital link in the voyageur's highway which ultimately stretched 3,000 miles toward the Pacific and western Artic. On reaching the upper Great Lakes, travel routs branched off in several directions, but for considerably more than half of Canada's historical period much of the traffic to and from the west went by way of The French. As the name implies, it was the road by which the first traders from settlements on the St. Lawrence River entered the vast domain of Indian tribes who hunted the beaver they sought - and who of course revealed to them this convenient short-cut to Lake Huron. By far the greater part of the canoe traffic on the French was connected with the fur trade. Beginning before 1650, it peaked around 1800 when brigades of birch bark craft, up to thirty-six feet long and carrying three tons, passed regularly, going west in the spring and returning to Montreal in late summer and autumn.

Lumbermen turned their attention to the north shore of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay beginning about 1870, when dwindling supplies of pine in eastern Ontario and an active demand for lumber in the American west combined to make attractive the timber which could be extracted from rivers entering from the north to the east. The French, with its main tributaries in Wanapitei and Pickerel, as well as Lake Nipissing discharging logs into it, ranked among the busiest of these in the fifty year-long pine logging era which followed. Some idea of the quantities involved can be gained from a statement made in the summer of 1893 by John Armstrong, a logging contractor, and reported in the Parry Sound North Star. Armstrong, who was then bringing an Ontario Lumber Company drive originating on the Restoule River down the French told the newspaper, "There is full 200,000,000 (board) feet of logs down the river this year." That amount of lumber - enough to keep the largest sawmill on Georgian Bay sawing for five years - would build a small city's worth of homes.

But it is the angler chiefly that the French River will appeal. The flow and column of water rushing from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay provide virtually against any noticeable depletion of its resources, and its variety of fish cannot fail to satisfy the most capricious sportsman. Large and small mouthed bass abound, the great northern pike, pickerel, sturgeon and the quarry of all "big game hunters," the savage muskellunge.

— The French and Pickerel Rivers, their history and their people - William A. Campbell