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Lose your sense of time and space as you paddle down the North-Missisquoi river!
By Simon Diotte
Located in the heart of the Eastern Townships. The North-Missisquoi river seems to be a place forgotten by civilization. This 46 km waterway linking Eastman to Highwater near the Canadian-U.S. border has always maintained its untamed character. All along the river route, we’ll find more beaver dens than human dwellings. A truly amazing setting for a kayak excursion in proximity with Montreal!
I set out to discover this river along with Michèle Desrochers, a long-time volunteer for the Comité régional Missisquoi Nord, a group of citizens who work to promote outdoor activities for the municipalities of Eastman, Saint-Étienne-de-Bolton, Bolton-East and Potton. Several boat launches have been installed in different sections and are identified with blue panels, making it easier to explore this jewel of nature.
We launched our kayaks on the south portion of the river, where my guide promised me the landscape will be worth the detour. Our itinerary: to navigate from Fontaine Road, in East Bolton over a distance of 13 km until we reach Peabody Road in Potton, where we’ll be able to exit.
With my first strokes, I realize how lucky I am. In this segment, the North-Missisquoi stands out with its meandering course and its easy paddling. In the twists and turns of the river, blades of the sandy shore appear through the waves, allowing us to land and stretch our legs, have a picnic or just go for a dip in the cool and incredibly clear water. In fact, there’s plenty of swimming for the guests of Spa Bolton, located further upstream. The landscape is so pristine I had the impression I was in one of our national parks.
This is what Michèle Desrochers, being a retired biologist, points out to me. In full daylight, to observe these mammals is quite rare, but with the sunset or at the end of the afternoon, we find the pot of gold! “Every time I’ve headed out at sunset, I’ve been able to spot them,” says my guide. Note to myself: come back in early evening with my camera.
The abundance of otters is not unusual in the rich ecological environment of this river, unperturbed by time. The North-Missisquoi is even considered as a sort of hotspot of biodiversity in the Eastern Townships. Its shallow waters render it inaccessible to motorboats, and therefore, the river serves as habitat for a myriad of birds and two turtle species, the snapping turtle and the painted turtle. These reptiles are in fact so numerous in the area, that the Ministère des Transports, de la Mobilité durable et de l’Électrification des transports (MTMDET), in collaboration with the Appalachian Corridor conservation group, has installed a turtle passage underneath route 245 in the Peasley pond sector. A kind gesture to ensure the survival of these animals, highly sensitive to human disturbances.
At a few kilometres from our starting point, the landscape becomes even more enchanting. Until we reach our final destination, the river carries us through the heart of a silver maple forest, acting as a guard of honour for our small marine convoy. After about four hours of this contemplative river descent, we arrive at Peabody Road, in the municipality of Potton, where our second car awaits us to return to our starting point.
We can also paddle on the north portion of the North-Missisquoi river, which runs over 15 km from Eastman to Duranceau Park, in East Bolton. This section has more obstacles, although it is still an easy course. However, watch out for the water level! In low precipitation periods, it is impossible to navigate. “Otherwise, you’ll have to walk in the river bed by jumping from rock to rock… Not really pleasant,” warns Marie Beaupré, general manager of Action Memphré-Magog, a group in charge of promoting and managing the North-Missisquoi Valley routes. How can you tell if it’s OK to navigate here? In Eastman, just check if the waterline is below the first step of the boat launch access, then you’ll know if the water level is too low to head out.
Between the northern and southern sections, a series of waterfalls prevents any navigation on the North-Missisquoi. We can find a third, shorter section, that runs from Mansonville, one of the five towns part of the Potton municipality, to its junction with the Missisquoi River. This section can be rowed in about an hour. The adventure can continue on the Missisquoi River all the way to Glen Sutton. Another 17 km of pure delight, or so I’ve heard.
I have the impression that my kayak won’t be idle this summer…
To find out everything there is to know about navigating on the North-Missisquoi river, visit the missisquoinord.com.
Two companies offer kayaking activities, including a portion of the North-Missisquoi river, kayak rentals and shuttle transportation.
Take a look at Simon's latest article, which tells you about his stay at Huttopia Sutton.