I was intrigued by the Minesing Wetlands Conservation Area at first because of its proximity to Toronto. Just to the west of Barrie, it can easily be driven to within an hour, yet it offers much of the appeal of more northerly destinations – a winding river to paddle on, a lively eco-system full of wildlife, and just a bit of a cushion between you and the rest of civilization. But what really sold me was the chance to check out a veritable ghost town, complete with dilapidated bridge.
The Nottawasaga River looks saleable from Highway 89 and empties out from there into Wasaga Beach to the north. Any portion of the river could be worth paddling, and you could even do the whole route in three days and camp at designated sites along the way if you’re so inclined. I accessed the river at route 90 – just exit Highway 400 on Dunlop St. and take it West – and parked in a lot designated as a fishing area at Don Ross Drive. There’s also a campground right across the road, on the other side of the bridge.
View Ghost town in Minesing Wetlands in a larger map
You’ll quickly learn that this section of the river is a muddy experience. Be careful not to sink in too far as you’re getting in and out of the canoe, or you could find yourself plunging into the river. The river is a pleasant paddle downstream, and fairly high banks serve as a buffer against any wind. The river is lined with Red Maple trees and Fiddlehead ferns (my friend tells me these are edible plants and in fact, quite tasty when fried in butter).
Wildlife spotted along the river includes a good selection of birds. There are cormorants, mallards, and kingfishers. At one point, I spotted a large furry bundle sitting high in a tree and enthusiastically eating the leaves. At first I thought it was a raccoon because of the size, but closer inspection revealed it was a porcupine. He paid me little attention as I shored up to the river bank and sat underneath him, taking photos and trying to get a clear shot from all the branches in the way. He never stopped snacking the entire time I was there.
The river does pose some challenges for paddlers with log jams. The steep, muddy bank can be tough to climb out on, so choose your spots carefully. I marked the best places I found on the interactive map here. The log jams can be curious to examine as they’ve also accrued strange pieces of man-made litter over the years. I saw a white door, a car tire, an exercise ball, and other assorted junk caught in the dams.
The first foundation of the ghost town is near a large log jam, and easily spotted from the river. Large concrete walls with frames for windows and doors stand in a field, about 50 meters from the west river bank. The roof of this building is entirely gone, and its inside contains some discarded items. A rusted-out oil drum has legible text indented on it: “Canadian Oil and Gas Company.”
How to do it
- Link: Friends of Minesing Wetlands for access points and maps
- Cost: $2 per person per day
- Skill level: beginner
- When: Local canoe clubs run guided trips into the wetlands in the Spring and Fall. You can independently access the river at any time.
Another short paddle upstream brings you to MacKinnon Bridge. This impressive structure was built in 1927, according to an inscription on the steel, and has long been out of use. Various steel beams on the bridge are warped, moss grows over the concrete base and vines wind their way through the support shafts. Despite erosion of dirt at either end of the bridge, it seems quite sturdy and safe enough to walk across for some time yet.
Walking across the bridge and following the east river bank downstream, you’ll come to twin pillars crowned with rectangular pyramids. These concrete columns look like they may have held a gate in place across this old road, as one metal hinge is still in place. The pillars are pock-marked and one even has a root growing out of it. If you can climb on top of one, it offers a good perspective on the land around you.
Following the old road (you’ll see the wheel troughs) towards the forest won’t lead you far until you get into the brackish area. These are called Wetlands for a reason, and shallow flooding extends into the forest in all directions. So wear your rubber galoshes if you want to explore the wooded area!
Paddling back to the access point is a bit tougher because of the fight against the current, but this route is still suitable even for beginner paddlers. The Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority does ask for a $2 fee for each visitor that enters the park, but I didn’t come across any opportunity to pay this fee. Perhaps it can be done at the camp site on the other side of the bridge. Also, an annual pass can be bought for an individual for $20, to access all NVCA areas.