Lake Cecebe-Distress River Paddle

Distress River, Magnetawan

Day Paddle on the Distress River

This past July long weekend we decided to make some time away from work for a few hours of paddling on the Distress River, just a few minutes from the farm and a short distance from the village of Magnetawan. Last year on this same Canada Day weekend we paddled from Burks Falls following the Magnetawan River out onto Lake Cecebe as far along as Rockwyn Landing. It seemed fitting that we would explore the lake from another perspective this year. 

After leaving our rambunctious pups in good hands for the day, we made our way to our put in at the Magnetawan Centennial Park where there is vehicle parking, washrooms and even public docks to launch from. If you desire a pre or post paddle swim, the park is known for its beach and also for its playground should you be travelling with children who may need burn off some steam before climbing into a canoe. 

Lake Cecebe cottage, Magnetawan

Magnetawan is a pretty little village located where Lake Cecebe flows into Ahmic Lake. The construction of the historic locks began back in 1883 and continued over the next few years. As steamships became popular for transporting both goods and passengers the locks became an important link on the route from Burks Falls to Ahmic Harbour to the west.

Today these manually operated locks enable cottagers and pleasure boaters access to this scenic, 65 km long waterway.

The Distress River lies just to the east of Magnetawan Centennial Park so we set off in that direction with lots of sunshine and a gentle tailwind. This area of Lake Cecebe, which really is just a wider section of the Magnetawan river begins to taper as it flows closer to the falls in Magnetawan. 

Years ago as steamship traffic increased through the narrow channel leading to the locks a lighthouse was stablished between town and the Distress River. The captain of the steamship would give three whistle blasts signalling the lock master of their arrival as the boat cruised past the lighthouse. 

The original lighthouse was replaced with a replica in 1995 at the same site. Unfortunately during 2019 high winds and spring ice destroyed it beyond repair. A second replica was recently constructed in that same location. It appears that there is still some finishing work being done on the lighthouse. Part of the old base is temporary tied up to it, likely used as a working platform for now.  

Lake Cecebe, Magnetawan

After passing the lighthouse and enjoying our brief lake paddle we approached the mouth of the river where the hwy 520 bridge spans overhead marking the beginning of our journey upstream. At this point the river is about 60 feet wide narrowing slightly now and then as it weaves its way through the landscape. A small channel off to the right opens up to a tiny bay surrounded by mossy wetland, Labrador Tea, Purple Iris and scraggly spruce trees, reminding us of areas of the boreal forest to the north.

Farther upstream where a small creek drains into the river a female duck tries to distract us and lead us away from her young, who seem to have suddenly disappeared from sight.

The Distress River is ironically a peaceful paddle lined with lush growth and an abundance of small animal trails running up and down its banks, hinting at an ecosystem we catch only a glimpse of.

A few small camps rest on the riverside. We met up with one couple returning from fishing in the bigger lake and another family swimming and enjoying their dock. Otherwise, the Distress was quiet and dis - stressful.

Canoe on the Distress River, Magnetawan
Distress River by Cecebe

Unexpectedly we come upon a bit of a clearing with an old barn and log house perched above a steep section of riverbank. As this is private property we continued on our way despite our curiosity of the story and the family that once called this piece of river home. 

Just upstream from the homestead we came across a log jam of fallen trees that upon a closer look was too much for us to lift over. What’s a day of paddling without a little portage?

Taking to the right bank we found a somewhat lower lying area of grasses, shrubs and small trees that we proceeded to drag the canoe up, over and through.

On the water again we came around a bend, startling a large flock of Red Winged Blackbirds from the overhanging trees. Noisily they took to the sky announcing our presence.

Sue Jamison on portage, Magnetawan
John Fincham on portage, Magnetawan

Another few minutes of paddling and another few bends in the river lead us to second impassable section where a large tree had fallen, spanning the width of the river from bank to bank. Here we decided that we would turn around and paddle back downstream towards Lake Cecebe and Magnetawan. 

Distress river log jam

The good thing about going up river and back is that you have another opportunity to explore things that you may have paddled by the first time, unnoticed. Sometimes just a change in light or a different perspective gives an opportunity for a great photo or a chance to just appreciate nature and what’s around you.

As we left the river behind us, we were met with a bit of headwind as we paddled the north shore of Lake Cecebe back to Magnetawan. Before we’d reached our take out point and the car, John and I were already chatting about our favourite meals at the local Magnetawan Grill, and what we were going to enjoy after a great day of paddling.  


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