The call of the wild brought author Grey Owl to the Northeastern Ontario shores of Lake Temagami back in 1904, and me in 2015.
Seen on the map, Lake Temagami resembles the skeletal outline of a prehistoric bird of prey rising in flight. Its huge wingspan reaches to the north and northeast, its body and talons stretching to the south and south east. One can imagine its haunting call echoing through the ages.
The lake is vast, filled with bays and peninsulas and 1259 islands creating over 2,000 miles of shoreline for exploration. This is wilderness. This is Canada at her best—areas of old growth red and white pine forests, some of the oldest rock formations on earth, rich in minerals, blue pristine waters teeming with fish, and frequent wildlife sightings. There are 31 other lakes within the Municipality of Temagami.
We have friends who disappear to their cottage on one of those islands every year. Four months of island isolation did not appeal to me until we were invited up to visit. We discovered that Temagami is a community of islands by necessity. Aside from the small village of Temagami itself, almost all of the shoreline and adjacent land makes up the Temagami Forest Reserve, established in 1898, granting 15,000 square kilometers to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources which limits all future human settlement to the islands.
The islands range in size from a rocky outcrop with a tree or two, to Bear Island—home of 200 Anishnabai First Nations people. Currently there are 746 cottages on the islands, as well as nine youth camps and 12 resorts and fishing lodges, including Ojibway Family Lodge, located in Devil’s Island. A number of the uninhabited islands have groomed campsites for paddlers and boaters to enjoy.
Temagami Village caters to all the needs of its island residents and summer tourists: a marina, boat repair and rentals, fishing and hunting outfitters, and barge services for floating large heavy loads. Smoothwater Outfitters & Ecolodge is a full service outfitting business that offers the ultimate Temagami experience to adventurers. They offer canoe rentals, guides, lessons, shuttles and more.
Numerous skilled tradesmen in the village ensure that island living doesn’t have to be primitive. Boaters coming into the village can visit a trading post, a local farmers market, a craft supply shop, a post office, a health centre and a library that extends free wifi coverage to boats tied up at the docks. There’s also an OPP office to maintain order on the waters.
Islanders and visitors can be as isolated or connected as they choose. As cell phone coverage is spotty in the area, there is an underwater telephone cable to a number of the islands.
Temagami’s history with European settlers began in 1834 when The Hudson’s Bay Company opened a trading post. Furs and lumbering dominated the 1800s. A mining boom began in the 1900s with the discovery of gold and other minerals.
There are 32 mine sites in the area which have yielded copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, lead, cobalt, uranium, graphite and more. Many are now closed but the prospecting office in Temagami still registers new claims every year.
Not far from the village is a small bay with a woodland path to the old Sherman iron mine. Every morning at 9am, a fleet of small boats from nearby islands moor at the shoreline and people walk together the 5km trail to the lookout over the seven flooded mine pits—brilliantly coloured rock tailings are strewn along the path. The daily trek is good exercise and a time to connect with other cottagers for an hour.
Many of the walkers are part of an island-to-island neighbourhood watch. Others have adopted campsites on the unoccupied islands and clear away garbage regularly, leaving firewood for the next adventurer who stops by.
Our week in Temagami was magical. The water was refreshing for swimming, and our hosts had a fleet of boats—their bowrider motorboat for long hauls and water skiing; their aluminum small engine fishing boat to troll for pickerel, perch or bass; a canoe for shoreline explorations and a sail boat for day adventures.
Their three season cabin has all the comforts of home and some very special extras. Squirrels and chipmunks who ate peanuts from our hands on the deck and rabbits who happily devoured everything they planted in the garden. Loons, ducks and geese glided by the dock calling to their young and fish jumping just a few tantalizing metres offshore.
Although we didn’t see any big game, our host told of one islander who had blown a moose call one night towards the lake shore and woke up the next day to find a moose peering in his cottage window.
It’s the call of the wild on Lake Temagami.