While camping at Chutes Provincial Park in September, 2017, we drove to several locations to do some canoeing. One day we went to Espanola, then took road number 6 (leading to Manitoulin Island) and turned left, to a small settlement of Willisville. The road leading there was quite steep, but it was very scenic and offered awesome views of the area. Once I reached the town, I kept driving on what I thought was a regular road, but when that “road” became very narrow and rough, I realized that I was driving on the right-of-way of an abandoned railway! So, I had to back up and finally reached Bearskin Resort.
Willisville was settled over 100 years ago and at that time the Algoma Eastern Railway was opened from Sudbury to Little Current (on Manitoulin Island). Passenger service to Little Current ended by 1963 and the line itself beyond Espanola went into disuse and abandoned. Nowadays, much of the former right-of-way remains visible and is used in certain areas as a road or path—we spotted a few cross-country motorcyclists using it.
We parked at Bearskin Lodge & Outfitters and talked for a while with Darcy, a very amiable man, who regaled us with many interesting stories from the area. He told us that Franklin Carmichael’s cabin was on the lake nearby. I was not surprised because many Group of Seven members painted in the area-and of course, Carmichael was one of them (there is a famous 1934 photograph of him, seated on a white quartzite rock and painting at Grace Lake, not far from Willisville). Recently I even found (online) several paintings by Carmichael depicting Willisville and Frood Lake.
The Lodge was situated on both sides of the narrows and a small ferry transported tourists to their cabins on the other side of the narrows. The cottages were very scenic and so was the area! It cost us $5 to park the car and there was a dock, allowing us to comfortably put the canoe on the water. We paddled on Frood Lake—there were a lot of rolling, white quartz mountains. Then we paddled on the lake north of Bearskin Lodge, reaching a small channel leading to Charlton Lake. There were lots of islands with nice cottages, otherwise known as “camps” up north here. A few days later (yes, we visited the lodge again!) we paddled along the shores of Frood Lake towards the Lawson Quarry, there we saw the former right-of way of the Algoma Eastern Railway, a dam and a recently abandoned home.
If we come to this area in the future, we will visit this lodge once more and explore more lakes—since it is even possible to reach Killarney Provincial Park, we might one day stay there for several days.