THE MAGNETAWAN RIVER
The History of the Magnetawan River
For many years the natives were the only inhabitants of this part of the country. Their way of travel was by canoe—their highway, the Magnetawan River system.
In the Indian dialect, Magnetawan meant, “swiftly flowing waters” and was first spelled with an extra Maganetawan.
From its headwaters in Algonquin Park, the Magnetawan River flows through lakes, rapids and waterfalls as it winds its way to Georgian Bay. Ahmic Lake is the mid point of the watershed. The lake empties at Knoepli Falls (Hwy #124 at a great scenic spot). From here you can canoe the river. It offers whitewater paddlers numerous places to practice their skills. As the river heads north, it leaves civilization behind and travels through beautiful and unspoiled wilderness.
The first boat in Magnetawan was called the Premier. It was a small boat and drew its load on a Scow. It came to the Island, freight was transferred to a small boat below the rapids.
About 1878 the first passenger boat was started. The first boat in Magnetawan was called the Premier. It was a small boat and drew its load on a Scow. It came to the Island, freight was transferred to a small boat below the rapids.
About 1878 the first passenger boat was the Armour then the Wenonah then the Glenada. The passengers left Burk’s Falls at 7:30 AM arriving at Magnetawan about noon, aster stopping at Youngers, Ashdowns and Ballams landings on the river at Midlothian, Geddes and Cowans wharf on the lake when it was flagged or had something for them.
The mail, merchants’ supplies and tourists all came by boat in summer, the boat going as far as Ahmic Harbour, calling at the tourist wharves along the lake. It was a real treat to take a trip from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour by boat. Many Sunday School classes came by boat for their annual picnic. Moon light excursions used to come as far as Lake Cecebe. Young people would dance on deck. Allen Kennedy was the first lock master then Frank Stewart. He was lockmaster for 29 years.
In 1879, the first boat built in Magnetawan. It was called the Premier. It was a small boat and drew its load on a Scow. It came to the Island, freight was transferred to a small boat below the rapids. It carried goods and passengers from Burk’s Falls to Magnetawan. The falls at Magnetawan stopped further travel.
In 1885, Samuel Armstrong moved a boat called “Ada” to Ahmic Harbour so it could meet the “pioneer” at Magnetawan. Now it was possible for passengers and goods to travel by train to Burk’s Falls, by boat to Magnetawan, transfer to the Ada at Magnetawan, then to Ahmic Harbour and by road to Parry Sound.
A year later the trip was made even easier. The locks were completed at Magnetawan and passengers could go from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour. This really opened up the whole area from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour and beyond for development.
It wasn’t long after the little Pioneer steamboat was put into service in 1879 that the locals felt the need for a lock system so that boats coming from Burk’s Falls didn’t have to be unloaded above the rapids, goods transported around to the bridge, and reloaded onto another waiting boat to go to on to Ahmic Harbour. So in 1883 and over the next years, the locks and wing dams were constructed from stone cribs and timbers with the aid of horsepower and lots of manual labour. Quite an endeavour! The lock measured 112’ X10.5’. A dam was also built at Knoepfli Falls west of town to raise the level of Ahmic Lake, and a wooden swing bridge erected in Magnetawan. Allen Kennedy was the first lock master then Frank Stewart. He was lockmaster for 29 years, but died suddenly after a bad fall. His son Charlie took over until 1905 but he was more interested in keeping store. Frank Stewart was lockmaster for twenty-nine years and from time to time swung to bridge. This was done with a long-handled crank in the floor of the bridge and walking around in circles…a popular chore among kids.
During this time the railway was making it’s way to Burk’s Falls from the south and steamboats were increasingly more in demand, as there were no roads to speak of. This was also a factor in the demise of the villages on the south end of Nipissing Road. There was a faster more comfortable way to get to Magnetawan; more and more tourists were beginning to come.
Several boats played prominent parts in this romantic era. The first passenger boat and the first through the new lock July 8,1886, was a paddle wheeler Wenoah built at the wharf in Burk’s Falls. She was the only one of her kind to ply the river; she measured 94’ with an 18’ beam, the deck was 26’ wide. Her Captain was Wm. Morris Kennedy. The Wenonah eventually burned and sank off Echo Rock in Lake Cecebe in 1908.
With the Growing water traffic, the need arose of a marker in the river entering the locks, and so the lighthouse was built. This was demolished years later, but in 1995, the Magnetawan River Heritage Association had a replica built on the original site. The boat captains signaled their arrival to the lockmaster by three blasts on the whistles they passed the lighthouse. Mrs. Nicholson, who lived nearby, lit a lamp every evening.
With the arrival of the railway came the migration to the west of many disillusioned farmers still looking for a better life. The railway even supplied passage for who packed their belongings and never looked back.
There were several small boats on the river and even thought the steamboat business was beginning to taper off, another boat was launched. Messrs. Best and Walton were pioneers in the steamboat era: Best sold out to Captain Arthur Walton and his sons Captain Edgar Walton and engineer, William Walton. In 1913 they sold the business to Mr. Agar George Stickland built the Armour in 1906 for A.A.Agar of Burk’s Falls. She weighed 191 tons, was 90’ long, 15’ wide. She made daily trips to Ahmic Harbour after the arrival of the morning train, dispersing passengers, freight and mail at her many stops and taking on wood for fuel along the way. Captain Tom Kennedy was probably her last captain; she burned at the dock in Burk’s Falls around the he moved to Loring in 1930 putting an end to the steamboat era on the Magnetawan River.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
Echo Rock Lake Cecebe
Remains of the steam ship Winona Lake Cecebe
Light House The River at Magnetawan
Hand Operated Dam & Locks Village of Magnetawan
The Dam Trail Village of Magnetawan
Feighen’s Falls Hwy #124
Knoepfli Falls Hwy #124
The Magnetawan River is the longest navigable waterway north of Muskoka lake system. It is possible to boat from Burk’s Falls to Ahmic Harbour through more than 40 miles of lakes and rivers.
There are five lakes and numerous streams you can visit. Ahmic Lake is the largest, followed by Cecebe. Neighick (Beaver), Crawford and Midlothian. The river joins all these lakes. Plan a day to explore our rivers and lakes.
The Magnetawan River is a wonderful recreational opportunity, if you fish, swim, boat, kayak, or canoe. If rough water is what you are after. There are six sets of rapids on the Magnetawan River between Knoepfli Falls and Maple Island: Porter Rapids, Cody Rapids, Ross Rapids, Seller’s Rapids, Poverty Bay Chutes and Shadow Creek…all waiting for you to explore. If you are a boater or a canoeist there are over 40 miles of river and shore to explore. The white water found on the Magnetawan River is second to none and will give even the experienced white water rafter or kayaker a thrill. Some of the best fishing can be found in the river, there are numerous varieties to catch: Small Mouth Bass, Bass, Pike, Perch, Walleye, Catfish, Smelt, Speckle Trout and many more.
Swimming can be found at numerous beaches along the river: Public or Private Beaches. The depth of the river makes exploring the bottom of the river exciting for the scuba diver or snorkeler.
We enjoy our river. Come Share the fun and explore the Magnetawan River and all of the Almaguin Area, especially the Municipality of Magnetawan.