Wondrous Waterways of Hastings County

Photos and Story by Brendan Troy

Have you ever really thought about the changing seasons? I mean really thought about it? Roughly four months ago our backyards were a desolate, frozen waste of space. The lazy sun only showed up for one-third of our day and snow and ice engulfed everything in sight. Due to this, we spent more time indoors than we would like to admit. Honestly, I love the winter, but the changing of our seasons and the emergence of spring in eastern Ontario has to be one of the greatest sights on this planet.

Spring brings so much life that it’s impressive mother earth can still sustain it. Reptiles and amphibians seem to appear out of nowhere, and the flocks upon flocks of birds that show up can actually darken our skies. This is not to mention the babies! So many babies! Hoards of young mice and rabbits bounce through our fields, and forests and our strong deer populations add to their numbers with adorable, spotted fawns. There is an explosion of insect life that we often only accredit to mosquitos and blackflies. Moreover, our plant life is at it’s strongest in the spring as blossoming trees put on quite a show and tulips and daffodils bring colour to our gardens.

Spring is most definitely a time for awakening, but more importantly, it’s a time to get back outside and enjoy our land. The best way to do this you ask? The water. There is absolutely nothing like watching our temperatures rise, our snow and ice melt away and our waterways shine under warm blue skies. Like a proverbial Yellow Brick Road, our rivers take us to the promised land of untouched wilderness and wildlife. A conduit for a true connection with nature.

For myself, getting on the water in a canoe or kayak is probably the best outdoor activity in Hastings County. Paddling on open water simply can’t be beaten. It sounds hokey as if Yoda was trying to teach Luke how to paddle, but it’s unbelievably calming to be one with your canoe or kayak. To feel the slightest movement in your body translate into the vessel and continue as ripples in smooth water. Your hips an extension of the boat and your paddle a means of efficient propulsion. The fact that it’s a green alternative to an engine-powered boat is just a bonus. 

In the dark depths of cold winter, I often fantasize about warm summer days, and my mind immediately travels to paddling solo on a cool morning on a lake that’s as smooth as glass. Gliding along the water, hearing only the drips from the paddle as it sweeps above the surface for another stroke. The mist slowly rises off the lake as the warm sun works to heat up the water and the air around it. Turtles crawl out of the water to bask in the morning light, and herons stalk the shallows for some tasty breakfast. Orioles sing their sweet song and kingfishers chatter overhead as they travel to their morning outpost. The clear water mirrors the shoreline as silver maples hang low over the edge, pushing ever further over the lake in the unending search of sunny real-estate. This is a morning paddle in Hastings County. This is perfection.

What’s beautiful about our area is that the description above about my winter fantasies are not fantasies at all. By the end of May, these scenes come to life across this county and so many others around us. By this time, in June, summer is bursting at the seams as we approach the summer equinox. Eastern Ontario is lucky to have the high number of lakes, rivers and streams that we do and we should capitalize on this resource. If not for the pure enjoyment of nature, then for the chance to relax in one of the most spectacular ways. A spring or summer paddle can revitalize our souls and let us forget about our hectic lives. We can put the office in the rear-view mirror and live in the calming moment of a local lake or pond. We can bring our cameras to get a closer look at how an osprey dives for fish, or how fluently a painted turtle glides underwater. We can simply be in the moment.

As the days get hotter and summer looms on the horizon, I feel now is the time to get out and paddle. New birds are still returning and trees and shrubs are still blossoming. Life is bouncing back into Hastings and it’s so exciting to see it happen. With all the right safety precautions, a spring paddle can be the perfect outing. The best part about this? If you have your own equipment, paddling our waterways is absolutely free!

For those of us who don’t have our own equipment or who are looking for a little more guidance and instruction while on the water, Cruising Canoes is a Belleville based business that can definitely help. Cruising Canoes operates from Prince Edward County all the way north into Algonquin Park, though the waterways just north of Belleville is where you’ll most often find them. They offer relaxed trips on lazy creeks, wide rivers and even still water paddling on some of our largest lakes. Don’t hesitate to contact them for a local itinerary.

Last week I joined Cruising Canoes' owner and operator, Andrew Twigg on a Pint and Paddle trip down Parks Creek, just north of Belleville. With high water during the spring, Parks Creek was an exciting paddle through the Hastings County countryside. Beginning in a low, swampy area with beaver lodges dotting the shoreline, the wet boggy surrounding captivated me. The warm temperatures had pushed the trees to slowly open their buds, and the surrounding river’s edge was blanketed in beautiful yellow Marsh Marigold. Spring birds filled the air with the all too common calls of the Yellow Warbler grabbing my attention.

We paused during the trip for a brief moment to raft together and have a chat about ourselves and the area. Andrew and his employee, Brock, were a pleasure to deal with and offered some terrific creek-side comedy. A group of six of us was well rounded with men and women of various ages and various paddling experience. We gelled well together and enjoyed speaking about past paddling adventures, the local area and what was around the next bend on the creek. Mostly couples, myself and another women were solo on the trip and had an exciting time making friends on the water. Though kayaking can be seen as a solo sport, this excursion brought us together and gave an opportunity for new friendships and new experiences.

The creek continued through beautiful forests and slowly crawled alongside sloping farms. Cows ate their grass in the dimming evening light and even added a few ‘moo’s’ to the evening chorus. Surprisingly, we were even greeted by some encouraging whoo-hoo’s from a waterfront homeowner that was happy to see us enjoying ourselves on the creek. If not for anything else, this gave a great impression of the people who call Hastings County home and their fun and welcoming nature.  A spectacular sunset fell upon us as we finished up the paddle and reached our take-out. Upon exiting the canoes and kayaks, I feel that most of us were left with wanting more. More time on the water and more time experiencing this not too often seen side of Hastings County. We debriefed together and spoke of the fun we had, the wildlife we saw and how soon we would be back.

A short trip back to town to grab a pint at Signal Brewery and we connected one last time before parting in our own ways. It was an excellent time to say thanks to Andrew and his team and to get contact info from our new friends. The time spent travelling home gave me a moment to reflect on the affordable, fun, exciting trip I had with Cruising Canoes and to consider when I could book my next trip!
While I often associate paddling as an individual endeavour, through outfitters like Cruising Canoes, it’s evident that paddling is an activity that brings people together. It’s an adventure that pushes some personal boundaries and allows us to experience nature in new ways. Whether you’re paddling by yourself at your cottage or renting a canoe on a trip with a local outfitter, get out and explore Hastings wondrous waterways!