Big Rideau Lake Diversity - 7 Interesting Facts

Posted By Sean Horsfall On March 19, 2013

Portland on Big Rideau - Heather Heins

Photo Credit - Heather Heins

Being born and raised on the Big Rideau Lake, you take for granted that everyone in the world must know how amazing it is. Who on the planet does not realize what a treasure lays in the triangle between Portland, Poonamalie, and the Narrow's lock? As it turns out, not only is our treasure a huge secret for most people around the world, it also is in many ways still a mystery to those of us fortunate enough to call her home (year round or seasonally). Whether you are a cottager, year round resident, or boater, there may be some interesting things you don't know about the Big Rideau Lake. From the diverse types of vegetation, water depths and areas, hidden treasures above and below the surface, old stories, and surprising facts, there are many things I know, and numerous more I am sure that I don't. Let's run through a few here...and please, correct me if my facts seem off base!

    1. The types of water you will find on the Big Rideau Lake ranges from shallow rocky flats by the Sand Island, to the marshy wetlands area in Little Lake and by Bacchus Island, to the deep blue waters of the North Shore. Did you know that there is a spot just NW of the Tar Island that is reported to be 360' deep!! Almost the entire north shore of our lake in the area between Channel Marker N630 (North from Beaver Bay) and N617 (Bests Point) is over 100 ft deep often over 200ft. It was created by two small Intercontiental plates (a fault line) sliding over top of one another. The area has been a Lake Trout fisherman's dream for years with fish ranging from 2-25 lbs. being pulled from thebig rideau lake trout waters regularly. My grandfather Dean took me fishing there a few times....we never had any luck. I think it was just some good bonding time and an excuse to get away from cottage chores. There was a man by the name of Doc Robinson from Pennsylvania who used to stay at the Len's Cove cottages back when I was a young boy. He took me out and taught me how it is done. Sadly he passed away a few years later and I am so glad that I got to meet him and learn some of his secrets.
    2. If ship wrecks peak your interest, you may be able to find some fun things in Barb's Bay (in between Howell and Big Island). There is reportedly a wooden sail boat out towards the northern tip of Howells. Also, having caught on fire in a boat house, there is a trophy winning race boat in the middle of the bay close to Poplar Point called the "Triton". It had a WW2 vintage Merlin engine and it was apparently FAST! It is still down there, waiting to be found. triton trophy
    3. Many of the older cottages on the lake were originally fish camps or family retreats built by wealthy US residents in the roaring 20s. There are more than a few rumours about bootlegging, mafia, prohibition era money being funnelled up here to avoid the eyes of the strengthening IRS. The now sadly deteriorating stately mansion at Colonel By Island , is a gorgeous example of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture style that has similar roots. The buildings on the BigRideau range from stunningly gorgeous mansions with impeccable landscaping, to old historical cabins with more charm than modern comforts.fancy free on Big Rideau Lake
    4. The village of Portland was home to a bustling community of grist mills, boat builders, potash refinery, a large Hotel, timber mills, farms, and many merchants. Travel times up the canal and by road were significantly longer and facilitated the need for more infrastructure at each "station". There even was a train station on the line between Napanee, SmithsFalls an on to Pembroke. Today's version is quieter, with a bit less commerce.
    5. The is a "lost lake" in the middle of Long Island that is a fish sanctuary and home of some of the most diverse wildlife on the lake and calmest waters. Navigating in there via the south entrance is easy for most boats up until early August, then it can get pretty skinny. The north and east entrances are passable by kayak and canoe only. This is a beautiful place that needs exploring. Please keep your foot print as small as possible.
    6. Sherwood Shores on the west side by Donovan's point has a sandy bottom that is ideal for anchoring and swimming on hot summer days. You can walk on the bottom and plunk down a folding chair to relax. Please know that the property is all privately owned, so no going on shore or tying to trees please!
    7. The Big Rideau Lake Association (BRLA) is a terrific organization that helps foster an appreciation of our great lake through safety and recreation programs. Cow Island is home to an amazing fire works display every Canada Day, has free wifi, and a dock for tying up and enjoying a picnic. There are also mooring balls just south of the island that are for use by resident boaters on the lake. The BRLA is also one of the few lake associations that actually put out shoal markers on all known rocks and shallow areas on the lake. This is a huge benefit that is hard to put a value on for both safety and financial reasons. Along with recreational activities such as Summer Sounds, sailing camps, day camps, poker runs, etc. you really should join if you are a part of our lake in ANY way.

This is just scratching the surface of some of the many amazing things that make the Big Rideau Lake the place that we all love. I will dive into Grindstone Island, Bass fishing, Rideau Ferry and other details in the next post. Do you have any interesting stories, tidbits, facts, etc. about our lake? Post them here or send them my way and I will get them up for others to see. 

If you aren't spending time on the Big Rideau, why not? Come say hello, you may never leave. I know I never will.

Sean Horsfall

big rideau lake black and white