Skip to content

BACK ROADS BILL: Waterfall-watching season is here

This week Bill takes us on a little trip to an array of cataracts including one some Canadians might be surprised to know they've seen before

It is time for the “Sunday drive” and we will be attracted to an array of cataracts within our own Village Media backyards and back roads.

Believe it or not, get your rubber boots out, and other needed things, it is waterfall-watching time. With all this rain and mild weather, the spring freshet will be upon us.

The term “spring freshet” is most used to describe a spring thaw resulting from snow and ice melt in rivers located in the northern latitudes, particularly in Canada. The amount of accompanying rain determines the likelihood of flooding. Waterfalls attract us any time of the year, but during this season they cascade at their mightiest. It is a good time to watch the power of nature and just be mesmerized by the sight and the sound of the rush. The Grande Chute does just that.

So, this first back roads destination was chosen in the interest of diversity and for its story.

Money matters

We don’t really look closely at our paper currency we tend to just spend it. But if you review the backside of the 2017 150th anniversary ten-dollar bill a cataract is depicted. The late Queen Elizabeth is on the other side.

That waterfall is the Grande Chute.

But this waterfall is for the true connoisseur for it requires setting out, on this day, with more than a coffee and a snack. The Grande Chute is a section of the Kipawa River that empties into Lake Temiskaming which borders Ontario and Quebec. It has remained in its natural state and has a history of values worth knowing.

In the sesquicentennial year, the Bank of Canada issued a new purple ten-dollar bill. One of the scenes depicted on it is the Grande Chute.

The commemorative $10 banknote marked just the fourth time in Canada's history that a special commemorative banknote has been produced. On the back, a range of images captures the country's diverse landscape, including the "Lions" or "Twin Sisters" mountains overlooking Vancouver, a Prairie wheat field, the Canadian Shield in Central Canada (Grande Chute), Cape Bonavista on the East Coast and the Northern Lights.

I was interested and found out it is a polymer banknote made with biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP). Such notes incorporate many security features not available in paper banknotes, including the use of metameric inks. These banknotes last significantly longer than paper notes, causing a decrease in environmental impact and a reduced cost of production and replacement.

Grande Chute heritage

Before there were back roads and political boundaries on maps the Kipawa River was part of the traditional territory of the Algonquin First Nations (as far back as 1690). Mahingan Sagaigan - Wolf Lake First Nation is nearby and is one of only a few First Nations in Canada without a designated home (another story). It has band offices in two provinces.

On the west side, you can see and walk the traditional portage as part of “nastawgan” the original waterways for travel.

There is more to know about the Grande Chute. The first person to record an exploration of the Kipawa River was a Catholic priest named Louis Charles Bellefeuille in 1837. A mission was established to Christianize the native Algonquins on Lac Kipawa. In 1860 the location of today’s Kipawa River Lodge, at the mouth of the river on the Ottawa River, was settled and farmed by a succession of families eking out an existence.

Early in 1910, a main lodge was built by Fred Arnott who advertised the location as “at the ideal location to shoot on-location movies.” After its movie heyday, it became a summer camp. (Source: ‘Kipawa River Chronicles’ by Scott Sorenson, who has owned the lodge for more than 35 years.)

There is more to this setting. Scott was also the first person to find the survivors and help with the rescue of the Lake Temiskaming canoe tragedy, June 11, 1978. The story of the canoeing tragedy is one that many Canadians will never forget and had a profound effect on outdoor education practices. Photos of running shoes sticking up from the tarps (taken on the dock at the lodge) that covered the bodies appeared in newspapers around the world; 12 boys and one trip leader perished not from drowning but from hypothermia. I interviewed Scott for a previous outdoor education story, he lives in Utah.


Northern Ontario has a burgeoning film industry which includes recent productions such as Letterkenny, Shoresy, Sky Med, The Lake, My Animal and A Grand Romantic Gesture.

But between 1923 and 1930 five movies were made at the lodge and the Kipawa River including Snow Bride, Indians Before Civilization, Capitaine, American Medium and Silent Enemy. It was during the transition between the silent and “talking movies” and before Truth and Reconciliation.

The Topping family owners of the New York Yankees then purchased the lodge. It was a family name associated with money, movie stars and professional sports. The lodge became known as the “Topping Camp” and was visited by many movie stars of the day including Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas Sr., Rita Hayworth and John Wayne. Guests were ferried in by a Sikorsky float plane and a 30’ boat named Tops IV. The main lodge was affectionately known as the ‘The Waldorf.’ The Toppings would greet their guests with, “Welcome to the Waldorf in the wilderness.” The Waldorf is one of the world’s luxury landmark hotels. One of the cabins was labelled Club 21 in honour of the famous nightclub they frequented in mid-town Manhattan. The rapids at the mouth of the river are called Hollywood Rapids, just downstream from the Grande Chute.

Park and whitewater

Whitewater kayak and canoe enthusiasts discovered the river in the early 1970s. Since 1985 the Kipawa River Rally has attracted kayakers and canoeists alike, coinciding with the St. Jean-Baptiste (St. John the Baptist was the Jewish preacher who baptized Jesus) holiday in Quebec on June 24. The river and the event is one of the best recreational runs in eastern North America and is a significant tourism economic generator for the Ville Marie to Témiscaming area, including nearby Laniel.

Efforts to protect the river have worked. Since the late 1990s Hydro-Québec has had an ongoing proposal to divert the natural flow of the river. Called the Tabaret Diversion Project, it would have included the construction of a hydro generating station and would have dramatically changed the flow of the river course. Three Algonquin First Nations and groups of whitewater enthusiasts were opposed to the project. Since a 2017 announcement Hydro-Québec, now promises to protect the river, abandoning plans for a major hydroelectric development project. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society battled the project for 15 years.

The Kipawa River is an incredible 16 km white water run, one of the best in eastern North America, from the control dam in Laniel on Highway 101 downstream to Lake Témiscaming, with 18 named rapids and a 100 foot waterfall culminating with the Hollywood Rapids section. The Kipawa River Festival is set for June 22/23 of this year.

Long time and avid whitewater enthusiast Ryan Passmore of North Bay said of the Grande Chute. “I’ve never missed the takeout at the Grande Chute of the Kipawa! Lol. I don’t think it’s ever been run in a canoe before. I know a couple kayakers that have run it though. I’ve run every other rapid on the Kipawa at some point.

“The volume of water, beauty of the landscape and sheer power of the river make it truly breathtaking.”

It has been run by kayak for the first time in 1998. He described the falls in this blog entry.

New park

Parc national d’Opémican is a relatively new (2018) provincial park along Highway 101 north of Témiscaming and within the Kipawa-Laniel area.

It is an awe-inspiring territory. Bordered on either side by Lac Témiscamingue and Lac Kipawa, Parc national d’Opémican aims to protect a sample of the Southern Laurentians natural region. Covering an area of 252.5 km2, the park is divided into three distinct sectors: the Rivière-Kipawa sector, the Pointe-Opémican sector, and the Lac-White sector. It has new trails, canoe rental lock stations, campsites and cabins to rent.

We had spring fever. This trek was with an accomplice, Bernie Moseley-Williams who has a Jeep Rubicon. Because of the spring-like conditions, we walked in on top of the crusty snow and ice for about 6 km return.

Bernie had never been before, and we heard the thundering drone of the chute as we walked towards the trail. It is one of those anticipatory times when you know the destination will reveal a reward.

"You can feel the force of the thunderous water rushing near to you," said the Jeep owner. "Two breathtaking vistas are accessible from the gently meandering trail: one will leave you speechless, while the other will leave you breathless."

(As a caveat, upon return as the snow cover became “soupy” with the mild weather, we did get stuck on a hill. That took two hours plus of digging with snowshoes. The Jeep’s four-way differential did not work on the granular snow hiding the ice below. But eventually taking some air out of the oversized tires and some dead branches, it did provide the traction. We were mentally prepared.)


The Kipawa River drops 90 metres (295 ft) over the last 16 kilometres (10 mi) from Lake Kipawa to its mouth which results in many whitewater rapids. The Grande Chute is a big drop.

This magnificent waterfall is easily reached by car and there is a designated hiking trails (one linear and one loop) on both sides of the river.

It is 68 km to Témiscaming from North Bay. Don’t take the truck bypass to the Rayonier (formerly Tembec) pulp mill drive through town and stop at the Gordon Creek waterfall at the restored railway museum. There is no Tim Horton’s in what is known as the garden, but stop at the TemRose Restaurant and when open the ice cream parlour within the restored caboose.

Then take Highway 101 north, 49 km to Laniel. Here you will cross over the control dam separating Lac Kipawa and the river running southwest and emptying 16 km into the Ottawa River (Lac Témiscamingue).

See the map for the two accesses which need a little explaining because this waterfall can be seen from two sides, that’s different.

The first access is 8 km north of Laniel, it is the main Parc national d’Opémican road where is a display panel. It has a direct trail to a viewing platform and there is a longer loop.

The next road access to the north you will see the roadside Grand Chute trail display and trailhead on the highway, 8.8 km north of Laniel. It is here you can decide whether to hike or drive. The turnoff to drive directly to the chutes is another 2.5 km past this at WGS 84, Zone 17 T 624144 5218910 or N47° 06’ 43.2” W79° 21’ 49.1”. Along this road (Chemin Grande Chute) there are three side trails at which to access the river. At 8 km the final SSE turn (left) will lead you to the brink of the Grande Chute: N47° 03’ 46.0” W79° 22’ 49.0” or 17 T 622995 5213413. If continuing onwards you would be heading towards Kipawa River Lodge and the confluence with the Ottawa River/Lake Temiskaming. The sketch on the ten-dollar bill is taken from this site.

This experience is worth far more than the currency, no longer paper.

This 30 m or 100’ waterfall-chute is a great way to contract spring fever for exploring our back roads. Before you go to your favourite waterfall remember your boots and those other important things. The windshield snow scraper is a poor alternative for digging.