What happens when you fall in love with a river? by Mary Katherine Keown

Along its course, the river widens into several lakes, including Onwatin in Hanmer; Kusk off Panache Lake Road (watch out for leeches); Grassy; and Wabagishik, out on the fringes of Ward 2. Lake Wabagishik was made famous by the Group of Seven. Franklin Carmichael painted the lake in 1928 and if you have ever paddled along its waters, you will understand why he was inspired. At the southern end of Wabagishik is a set of rapids where the river narrows once again. It is very picturesque.

I fell in love with the Vermilion River last year when I decided to paddle this stretch in early October. The colours were just starting to pop and the riverbanks were explosively yellow and bright. It was like travelling through the sun. I bottomed out about six times and had to drag my kayak through the chilly shallow waters, but it was well worth the effort.

Check out Mary Katherine Keown’s article about her adventures on the Vermilion River here.

Ramsey Lake Subwatershed Study and Master Plan – Phase 2 Report

If the design objective is to meet and provide peak flow control for storm events, it is necessary to plan beyond the 1:100-year peak flow, and instead plan for the new norm of a 1:1000-year flood event.  Planning for the appropriate peak flow is crucial to building climate resilience and meeting the demand over the full lifecycle of the infrastructure.  If an inadequate peak flow formula is used it could result in significant additional costs to the City if it has to repair or tear up failing infrastructure to rebuild and increase capacity before it has reached its end-life.  “Even a 1000-year return period has a 5% risk of being equalled or exceeded in a 50-year period.”

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Review of the Draft 2020 – 2030 Sudbury Forest Management Plan

The specific areas of concern (AOC) for the VRS are the Margaret, Anne and Three Corner Lake areas in Louise and Lorne Townships.  The forest area within and surrounding this triangle of lakes has cultural heritage landscape values and is of significance to this community.  The area has been used for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, hunting, trapping and fishing by the Finnish Community since the early 1900s.

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Official Plan Review – Phase 2

The extremes of climate change will affect the operation of critical infrastructure such as water and wastewater treatment plants, sewers, the electrical grid, public transport and roads that are sensitive to temperature and weather thresholds.  Beyond these thresholds, infrastructure may have reduced capacity or may not function at all.

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Bill 66 – Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018 – Request to Mayor & Council

It is crucial that we reject Bill 66, as risky development decisions made in this jurisdiction or adjacent municipalities could have negative impacts on Sudbury’s air, land and/or water, as well as the Great Lakes and many other highly valued ecosystems. Being “Open for Business” is a good thing, unless it is at the expense of public health and safety or the environment. 

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Spatial-determinants of deteriorating water quality in the Vermilion River, by Carrie Strangway, UOIT

As part of the Lower Vermilion Source Water Quality Monitoring Project, funded through a 3-year Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, Carrie Strangway completed her Master’s Thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree of Master of Science in the Faculty of Science, Applied Bioscience, University of Ontario Institute of Technology.  What follows is a poster of her more detailed manuscript, which will be published shortly:


The Vermilion River and major tributaries (VRMT) receive various point and non-point inputs, in addition to several flow regulation features, along their continuum. Further development in the Vermilion watershed has been proposed, raising concerns about cumulative impacts to the ecological health of the VRMT. To assess the current state of riverine health, water quality metrics were monitored monthly at twenty-eight sites during the ice-free period of 2013 and 2014. Generation of landscape-scale data revealed a broad range of land-cover and road density in the watershed at differing landscape-scales. Sites on the main-stem of the Junction tributary had above average concentrations for the majority of water quality parameters measured, specifically, sites within Copper Cliff Creek and Junction Creek (i.e. CC- 12 and JUN-13) were the most impacted. The river network pathway (i.e. asymmetric eigenvector map (AEM) eigenfunctions) and topographical features (i.e. catchment land-use) explained most of the variation in water quality (62.2%), thus both proved to be useful spatial determinates of deteriorating water quality.

Vermilion River Stewardship supports First Nations in protecting their treaty rights

Vermilion River Stewardship supports the growing grassroots protest by First Nations and many other Canadians against the federal government’s Omnibus Bill C-45 and other legislation which have put First Nations’ treaty rights in grave danger and have gutted major environmental legislation including the critically important Navigable Waters Protection Act.  Healthy river ecosystems are of critical importance for the future of First Nations, and for all Canadians.

We support Chief Spense of the Attawapiskat First Nation in her quest to open up a meaningful dialogue on First Nation issues with the federal government, and are appalled that it has not been possible to accomplish this without the need for a hunger strike.

Vermilion River Stewardship supports First Nations in protecting their treaty and territorial rights, and implores Prime Minster Harper to meet with Chief Theresa Spense immediately.

Natural Heritage of the Vermilion River, by Ruth Svensk

areal view of vermilion

Areal view of Vermilion River

The First Nations people here called the River a name that means Whitefish River.  Depending on who pronounces it, the name sounds like “Atikamgzib” or “Dikmegzubi”.  The ‘zib’ or ‘zubi’ means “river”.

(The Europeans misunderstood, and thought that Atikmazib was the little river that runs through Lake Lavase into Penage.  That is why you see it marked as Whitefish River on the maps.)   And an 1827 McBean, Hudson’s Bay Company map indicates the River was called Matawungun back then.

1827 McBean HBC map_Detail 5, Vermilion River

The Vermilion River rises in a small lake called Tramp Lake, about 70 km north of Capreol.

“Probably much of the gold in the Vermilion has come from the winnowing of glacial till by post-glacial rivers and modern rivers.  I suspect that the Wanapitei and Vermilion River areas where placer gold is known may have been the site of some of the early Norse washings.”[1]

Boyle’s credentials are as a geologist, not a historian, but others have speculated that, when Greenland was a viable colony, in the 11th and 12th centuries, Norse were entering Hudson’s Bay and trading up the rivers into Northern Ontario.

The Ojibwa, Odawa and Beaver peoples who lived near the Atikmagzib moved throughout the year, living in a succession of seasonal camps.  Their territory of use stretched from MacGregor Bay to the headwaters of the Vermilion, and I think from the Spanish to the Sturgeon Rivers.

The river was their road.  In winter they traveled by snowshoe, and when waterways were open they traveled by canoe.  Travelers often made camp at the top of a portage.

Ken Buchanan, an archaeologist at Laurentian University, studied pre-European camps[2] of these people along the Vermilion River.  There are registered archaeological sites on the Vermilion that turned up bits of broken native made pottery, and flakes of chert.  As no chert is local, that is evidence of trade.

In 1850 Shewana-Keshik signed the Robinson-Huron Treaty on behalf of the Atikameksheng people, but they continued to use all their traditional territory.

In 1884 the Whitefish Lake Reserve was surveyed and designated, and wherever possible the reserve boundary is water, part of it the Vermilion River.

CPR construction crews reached what would become Sudbury in 1883.  At the same time track was being laid from the port of Algoma Mills to Sudbury, so that supplies for the main line construction could be fed to the head of steel.  Soon the line along the north shore of Lake Huron was completed to Sault St. Marie.

Expecting that settlement would follow the railways, the Ontario government had townships surveyed.

The Marquis of Lorne became Canada’s Governor General in October 1878, when he was thirty two.  His wife, the Princess Louise, was a daughter of Queen Victoria.  His term ended in October 1883.  The next year two townships along the Vermilion River were given the names of Louise and Lorne.

At first, interest in minerals in the Sudbury district centred on the country along the CPR Soo Line.  The first mine was the Vermilion Gold Mine (lot 6, concession 4, Denison Township, a little south of the 20th century Crean Hill Mine.)  It seems to have started in 1887.

At the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, there was a heavy demand for wood – for railway ties, sawn lumber, mine timbers, poles and fencing, wood for roast beds, for the Sudbury District, southern Ontario, and for export.

By 1890, logging was being done in the Vermilion River/Lake Penage area.

Between 1901 and 1930 two billion, 520 million board feet of saw log timber were taken from the Sudbury District, “without taking into consideration railway ties, pulpwood, etc.”[3]  From Morgan Township (six miles by six miles) 67 million board feet of sawlog timber was taken in the years 1901 to 1910.  These logs and logs from all the surrounding townships were driven down the Vermilion River.

My father Olva Svensk (born 1901) said of these days, “l’ve seen the River full of logs for three, four days on end, when there was no wind to hold them up.  One year logs were being driven down this river until the first snow came.”

The first settlers in Louise Township were French Canadians, about the end of the 19th century.  They took only the lots that were closest to the CPR.  In the first decade of the 20th century, some Finnish immigrants went further from the rail, and took lots along the River.  Some of the early families settled on land across the River.

About 1924 the settlers in Louise Township worked together to build a timber bridge over the River at lot 3, concession 4.  The bridge was 190 feet long.  In the summer of the same year, a new school was built for school section #3, replacing one that had been on the “north” side of the River.  The new location may mean that already the community felt that their control point was on the far side of the river.  SS#2 Louise school opened a few months before the first #3 school, was also south of the River.

Ten years later the Road Commission of Louise Township extended the road to Lake Penage, building a bridge across the narrows of Little Penage.  Private camps were built on Lake Penage, and for most of the campers, the road to the Lake was the road through Louise Township that crossed the Vermilion.

In 1956 the timber bridge was replaced by an iron bridge.  In 1983 a concrete bridge was built across the River.

In Lorne Township, Finnish homesteaders settled on both sides of the River.  People used scows until 1960.   I do not know if there are any permanent residents on the south side of the River now (in fact there are still some permanent residents).

Lines from Bob Ruzicka’s song “Big River” (written about the MacKenzie) are true of other rivers.

Their lives revolve around her,
            the River makes the rules.

           She helps the wise to stay alive,
           They say she kills the fools.

Written by Ruth Svensk:

[1] The Geochemistry of gold and its deposits, 1979, by R.W. Boyle, Canada’s “guru of gold”, published by the Geological Survey of Canada

[2] An Archaeological Survey of the Sudbury Area and a Site Near Lake of the Mountains, 1979, K.T. Buchanan.

[3] History of the Sudbury Forest District (1967), published by Ontario Department of Lands & Forests.