The southwestern corner of New Brunswick is a gigantic glacial wash, where the retreating ice sheets dropped trillions of tons of granite, and precious little finer soil, as they retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. The rivers that flow towards the Bay of Fundy are typically long, flat meandering streams punctuated by rocky, abrupt drops through cedar swamps, and the Magaguadavic is the biggest and most characteristic of all these rivers. Its total length is 116 km.
We ran a long and arduous shuttle on the long Victoria Day weekend between Magaguadavic Lake and Second Falls at Bonny River, and made it onto the Magaguadavic Lake waters by 2:00 in the afternoon ... far from ideal, but typically right on schedule for me. We'd wasted an hour driving through muddy thickets in search of the lake's outlet, and after several wrong turns down flooded rutted paths, turned our trailer toward the pink sand beaches of the lake where the Irving rail line skirted the shore. It took us a half-hour to paddle to the dam, and a lot of faith as well. The dam is hidden behind a small peninsula, and there are no signs you are approaching the outlet until you are right upon it ... nothing but muted stands of cedar and alders.
After the short carry around the dam, I was disappointed to note that only one gate was open. The water level was artificially low, and we paid the price for this many times on our way down to Thomaston's Corner. Several times we had to get out and pry our boat off the rocks before the water could rush in, nail it and bend it backwards. At one close call, brother Mike said he was sure we were going to lose her, as only a desperate heave lifted it off the rocks as the hull began to fold in upon itself.
There is one section where the river splits into several channels and winds through a cedar swamp several kilometers past the outlet. Both Greg and I had to climb out and guide the boat through, around or over jumbles of rock rent with thick cedar stumps. The rain began in earnest, a steady driving downpour that soaked us to the bones when we had just thought we couldn't get any wetter.
Several times, I felt my faith in canoeing dwindle to a low ebb indeed. All the times I had sworn to myself I would never end up pushing a heavy boat down a shallow rocky defile came back to haunt me. And here I was subjecting my son to the same perilous torture.
As we approached the Thomaston Corner bridge, we went over an innocent-looking river-wide ledge. I confess I was looking at the bridge with some relief, as I knew the current would slow and the water deepen just past the bridge. Didn't our boat catch on a lurker and slew sideways! I couldn't paddle off it, and jumped into the current to try to shove us off. I swear our boat was starting to groan as the gunwales bent inwards, ever closer to the cracking point. With one final heave ... it's now or never ... I managed to slide the heavy craft off the rock and point it into the current just before it began to cave in. Phew.
The rocky stretch came to an end as we passed under the Highway 3 bridge. From here on to the end of our trip, we enjoyed deep water, no doubt thanks to the heavy rains that continued all that night until morning.
As you paddle on downstream from Thomaston Corner, where Route 3 spans the river, you will no doubt be looking for a suitable campsite, one with room for a couple of tents and a nice fire to warm your bones. Keep a sharp eye out for the only campsite on the upper river.
It is on the left bank, across from a wide grassy lawn, about an hour's run from the bridge. The current is quick here, and if you miss it and have to paddle upstream a few strokes to reach it, it's worth it. After this spot, you are in the Brockway Meadows, and there is no decent campsite for a day's paddle or more.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, and the water level had risen nicely. It's not like I haven't paddled deadwater before ... but this was exceptional.
The Brockway Meadows start several bends below the Thomaston Corner bridge, and extend for nearly the full day's paddling down to the covered bridge at Flume Ridge. There are no swifts, no rocky bends, no appreciable current faster than a slow meander.
At times, the river bends back upon itself so sharply that you swear you are going to bump into yourself coming the other way. There are no camping spots on this stretch offering dry level ground, and all are exposed to the wind and likely infested with bugs.
The most promising flat interval is given over to a horse pasture. We watched them cavort in the sunlight, and amble down to the fence to observe us with their curious, shifting glassy eyes as we glided past.
On this sunny Sunday, there were hordes of canoeists, dozens of Old Town Discoverys parked on every river bend, in animated conversation, sharing cold drinks and belly laughs. We were seldom alone on the water for more than a few moments before we passed another group. Most of the canoeing parties were headed for Scum Lodge, a grand cottage near the Pomeroy bridge, where several barbecues were ablaze, and throngs of revelers lined the shore and the outdoor promenade. I respected their privacy, and did not snap a picture.
The Brockway Meadows is a perfect place to enjoy a quiet run on a sunny day, as long as you seek solace in tranquillity. If you are looking for excitement, thrills and spills, look farther afield.
The meandering flatwater of the Brockway meadows finally came to an end as we approached the cottage community of Flume Ridge. The ancient covered bridge spanning the main stream shows signs of recent care, where fresh new planking contrasts with the weathered grey boards.
The current spins over a jagged ledge under this structure, and a spray of water splashed over our gunwales as we swing right, then left, over the ledge and glided into the eddy below. We decided to continue to the Pomeroy Bridge, a little more than an hour's paddle downstream, before we began looking in earnest for a campsite.
A small, rocky island covered with pine around the first turn would serve our purpose well, but we decided to head for the mouth of the Piskehegan stream, which comes into the main stream a short ways past. There is a small promontory a previous paddler had mentioned on the bank opposite the mouth of the Piskehegan. Upon inspection, it might be large enough for one tent in a pinch, after pruning and landscaping.
Not much farther down, the Scuttlebut Lodge marks the entrance to Skookum Rips. We found fine campsites on either side of the stream, just past Scuttlebut.
It was here that I flipped my boat ... not once, but twice. Mike and Chris made it down the first rough patch just fine in their Disco 16'9, but we went too far right, glanced off a rock and spilled sideways into the pool below. I admired Greg, he took the spill nonchalantly, and managed to hold onto his paddle and help me guide the boat to shore. I held the boat with my left hand and made strong sweeping motions with the paddle in my right hand, to bring our craft to the bank where we were able to tip it over and start afresh.
On the next big drop, a five-foot ledge called Little Falls, we watched Mike and Chris drop out of sight and emerge in the pool below, heeling far over to the right but regaining stability just in time. As I was still feeling a little rapid-shy after my first swim, I chose to ease the boat down on the rope from shore.
Unfortunately, it swung sideways in the water at the foot of the drop, started taking on water, and the knot connecting my rope to the boat's painter failed. Away went my boat, capsizing, and heading on its merry way downstream. I had to jump into the pool after it again, and was able to man-handle it to shore before the next ledge.
You know, the water wasn't all that cold for May 18. Not that I would want to spend all day in it, mind you, but I was expecting it to be a lot colder, especially when there had been a chill frost the night before.
The remainder of the river from Little Falls to the Bonny River Falls, or Second Falls, is characterized by long stretches of flat water ... and I do mean long ... punctuated by two impressive drops, and several smaller ones, rocky but neither too steep nor too long.
The first main drop is called Turnover Falls, and try as we might, we found no portage trail around them. The banks were a jumble of huge granite boulders. Yes, we might have tried running them, but I chose to walk along the left bank, and guide the boat down the drops by hand and rope. Mike and Chris lined the big drop, and ran the tailrace to the bottom.
MacDougall Falls was easily carried on a clear path on the right bank. From here, the river enters a seemingly endless flatwater stretch, and a headwind made us dig our paddles deep. There are two or three more rips to negotiate before the bridge at Bonny Falls comes into view. One of them, a series of ledges beside a bank where a hunter's cottage stood guard, nearly filled our boat in the standing waves.
It seems the camera flattens out the perspective of many of my shots, as the drop here seemed steeper and rougher as I stood beside it. An intrepid kayaker might dodge the rocks and keeper hole at the bottom and come to rest in the expansive quiet pool at its foot, but not Greg and I.
This spot is directly downstream from the Bonny River bridge. A fortunate homeowner on the left bank enjoys a glorious view of the fall and the hill-girt river valley far downstream.
If you exit the river here, keep to the right channel and the shore is easy to gain, with little or no risk of being swept over this drop. It is steeper and higher than it appears in this shot, as my camera seems to flatten perspectives.
There is no current after this fall, as the river enters the headpond for the dam at First Falls at the river's mouth, about ten km downstream.
As we headed for the right-hand bank take-out just below the bridge at Bonny River, I reflected on the reasons why I had chosen to run this waterway, rather than do the traditional Miramichi River paddle on the Victoria Day weekend. I concluded that I was glad I had at last seen this stretch that had eluded me for so many years, and now that I had done it, I knew that it would be quite a few years before I came back again, if at all.
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