The Missinaibi is a significant part of the Missinaibi-Mattagami secondary watershed, which covers 22, 530 square kilometres and drains about three percent of Ontario’s land base north into James Bay. Less than 100 kilometres from Lake Superior, the free-flowing Missinaibi travels from the height-of-land at Little Missinaibi and Missinaibi Lakes through the boreal forest, wetlands, and variable geology of the Lake Abitibi ecoregion. The river plunges dramatically over the edge of the Canadian Shield at Thunder House Falls into a six kilometre long gorge that slows and widens into the James Bay Lowlands below Bell’s Bay. The Missinaibi River’s confluence with the Moose River is less than 100 kilometres from the river mouth at James Bay.
The Missinaibi’s length with its free-flowing condition and south to north orientation mean that it is a travel corridor and reservoir for a biodiverse array of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. For example, black ash and white elm trees extend north of their continuous range along the river, and the Peterbell string bog is the most southerly in Ontario. The Missinaibi’s remoteness has mitigated the negative effects of development on its natural values in the past, and Ontario Parks continues to protect it today.
The Missinaibi holds significant spiritual and cultural heritage value, especially for the many Indigenous communities whose traditional territories include this important traditional travel and trade route. For example, numerous pictograph sites are special to visitors of the river’s headwaters. Farther north, Conjuring House Rock is a sacred site below Thunder House Falls that is compared to an Indigenous medicine man’s conjuring house.
For 200 years, the Missinaibi was one of Canada’s most important fur trade canoe routes in the 18th and 19th centuries, connecting Moose Factory to Michipicoten on Lake Superior. Trading posts were built by the competing Hudson’s Bay and North West companies at several locations, including New Brunswick Houses, Missinaibi Houses, and Wapiscogamy House. These trading post sites comprise just a few of the almost 50 important archaeological sites spanning human history along the river.
As the fur trade declined, the railway brought settlers and non-Indigenous hunters and trappers, as well as prospectors and miners . Lumbering was closely linked with the installation of the railway and forestry is still one of the main employers for people in the region today. In many ways, the history of the Missinaibi is a smaller-scale reflection of the history of Canada. Protection of the values of the Missinaibi began in the 1960s and continues today.
In the 1930s, outfitting and guiding was an important industry as it was the only way tourists could access the river’s famed natural and cultural heritage features. Today, visitors interested in angling and backcountry travel can tackle the trip on their own or use local outfitters and guides. Ontario Parks manages visitor access to promote remoteness and to reduce crowding, which are two key qualities to an excellent wilderness experience. Fishing is superb, and is an important draw for today’s visitors to the Missinaibi. It is most easily enjoyed at Missinaibi Lake, which is one of the primary access points to Missinaibi Provincial Park. Fish species include lake trout, brook trout, white sucker, whitefish, walleye, and northern pike.
For the wilderness traveler, the Missinaibi backcountry canoe route provides a challenging and rewarding adventure. Campsites are well distributed throughout the park along the canoe route, which offers the backcountry canoeing experience of a lifetime. This historic canoe route is commended for those with skills and experience. It offers an unparalleled backcountry experience in Northern Ontario.
Information on visiting the park and travelling the canoe route can be found at http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/missinaibi.
Who Manages the River?
The Missinaibi Canadian Heritage River is managed by Ontario Parks, a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Missinaibi Provincial Park and its recommended additions add up to 1,655 square kilometres along approximately 500 kilometres of the Missinaibi River. The Missinaibi Park Management Plan (2004) provides direction on the management of Missinaibi Provincial Park and the Missinaibi Canadian Heritage River.
A small population of elk persists in the Missinaibi Lake area, though they are not native. In 1933, elk were inadvertently released along the Missinaibi when the train carrying them from Alberta was stopped. The elk were originally destined for southern Ontario to be re-introduced after extirpation there.