The White Bear Forest Trail System offers many hikes to outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. The information outlined in this guidebook briefly describes some of the features of the old-growth red and white pine forest. Use the photographs and text as a guide, and keep your eyes open for the variety of old-growth features described in this booklet.
We hope you enjoy your trek into the natural wonders of Temagami’s beautiful White Bear Forest.
The White Bear Forest trail system can be accessed by either boat or car from several different points which are labelled with an “A” symbol on the foldout map in the back of this booklet.
For your first visit to this forest we recommend either hiking the White Bear Trail (road acess), or a section of Peregrine trail (blue markers) that begins along the shore of Snake Island Lake, and can be accessed by boat. Both lead through impressive old-growth forest, the latter hike passes through impressive white and red pine forest where trees are commonly about 260-270 years old, and have been found up to 400 years old. Longer routes can be quite rugged in places, allow adequate time and bring food and water.
Hikers can arrange canoe rentals, motorboat transportation, and accommodation at Northland Paradise Lodge, which is only 1/4 km from the centre of the town of Temagami. Follow highway 11 north to Temagami, and once in the town, turn east at the train station. A quick left turn after that will bring you to the lodge which sits on the shores of Snake Island Lake, and from there it is about 3 km to the access point near Pecore’s Bay. By canoe, this distance can be covered within 1 to 2 hours on a calm day. Boaters can access the trail from either Snake Island Lake or Cassels Lake at any of the places on the map marked by an “A”. Boaters should pay special attention when
Approaching the access point opposite Pecore’s Bay as there are several cut stumps below the waterline that may upset your motor.
For those travelling by car, the trail system can be accessed via the Ski Hill road off O’Connor Drive, which will lead you to the Temagami Trails Chalet, at Caribou Mountain Ski Hill. You can park your car and start your hike from here.
The White Bear Forest takes its name from the last chief of the Teme augama Anishnabai tribe before the arrival of Europeans to this area. Since the 19th century, when Chief White Bear and his family used this forest as part of their hunting and trapping grounds, humans have done little to change this landscape.
In 1928, the Gillies Bros. logging company won the logging rights to about 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) of forest surrounding White Bear Lake (now Cassels Lake) and Rabbit Lake. While scheduling adjacent land for logging, Gillies .preserved the 800 hectares (2000 acres) of the White Bear Forest in its virgin state for its employees and local residents to enjoy. However, an old wagon road was built through the forest from the town of Temagami to the narrows between Cassels Lake and Rabbit Lake, so that a log dam could be built to enable saw logs to be driven from surrounding lakes to the Ottawa River. This road, built before 1920, is now barely recognizable.
When this guidebook was first created the future of the White Bear Forest hung in the balance. In the 1990’s the White Bear Forest was allocated for logging but the plan to log the forest was opposed by many local citizens who felt that the short term gains of cutting the forest were not in their best interests. Located on the doorstep of the town this magnificent stand of ancient forest is very accessible to the public, and valuable for tourism.
To address the interests of all concerned parties, the government agreed to establish a partnership consisting of ten different interest groups to determine the method of harvest for the White Bear Forest. It soon became evident that the majority of partnership members were in favour of saving the forest for values other than logging. Under pressure,’the government agreed with the wisdom of the partnership and established a moratorium on logging the White Bear Forest which expired at the end of 1996. The forest was ultimately protected as a conservation reserve under the Living Legacy process.
Learn about how the White Bear Forest escaped logging more than once in an interview with Sloan Watters.
White Pine (Pinus strobus)
White Pine is Ontario’s provincial tree. Historically, it has been the most commercialized tree species in the province, being prized for its strong and beautiful wood as well as for its size. The beauty of this tree has captured the attention of more than just loggers, ship builders, fine furniture makers, and artists alike.
White pine is the largest tree species growing in Eastern North America. It can attain heights of over 40 in (1301 with some nearly 1.5 m (5′) in diameter. Although most white pines of this size are now only legend, the White Bear Forest is home to some very large individuals, some of which are over one meter in diameter.
Old white pines are usually easy to. recognize from a distance by their windswept crowns that poke high above the canopy of other trees. From a distance, its foliage has a “soft” appearance. Close up, white pine can be identified by its 5 cm – 7 cm (2-3 inch) long needles which grow in bundles of 5. The bark of old trees is dark brown-gray and deeply furrowed. The bark of young trees is markedly different from the old trees, being very smooth, without furrows or ridges, and lighter gray in colour.
Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)
Red Pine differs in appearance from white pine in several ways. Although these differences may, at first, appear to be quite subtle, with a little practice one can differentiate between the two quite readily. The foliage appears to be quite coarse in comparison to the “soft” appearance of white pine needles. Red pine needles are about 7.5 – 10 cm Q – 4 inches) long and grow with 2 needles to a bundle. Up close, the flat reddish plates of the bark becomes a distinguishing feature of red pine. The bark is remarkably similar in both old and young red pines.
What is an Old-Growth Forest?
Old-growth forests are characterized by a number of structural and ecological features. The most obvious feature is the abundance of huge, old trees that tower far above the lower levels of the forest. Among these huge trees are large dead standing trees called snags, and fallen trees called logs, both of which provide valuable wildlife habitat and contribute to the recycling of nutrients within the forest ecosystem. Because of the great length of time that it takes for these forests to evolve, we often think of them as unchanging environments. On the contrary, the old-growth forest is a very dynamic system in which constant changes are taking place; large and small scale disturbances change the structure and composition of the forest, renewal and recycling of young and old trees continually revitalizes the forest, and the lives of the inhabitants are continually reshaping and responding to it. All of these processes result in the diverse and highly productive ecosystems we call old-growth forests.
All forests once had their beginnings. Thousands of years ago, this area was Just being released from the weight of huge glaciers. As they retreated, they scraped the bare rock, leaving it devoid of any vegetation. Before the forests could establish themselves, this area had to go through a slow soil building process that ecologists refer to as primary succession.
Along the trail, you will see occasional openings in the forest where there are areas of exposed rock covered with lichens and mosses. These plants play an important role in building the soil. Lichens use acids to slowly eat away at the rock, making that important first foothold that will allow other plants to later colonize the ground. Once there is a very thin soil layer, other small plants can establish themselves on the rock and add to the soil-building process. These kinds of plant communities are fairly typical of what ecologists call an “early successional stage”. When new plants are able to establish themselves and take over the existing plant community, we say the community has moved into another . successional stage. Over thousands of years, the ecosystem changes gradually as each plant community is replaced by another plant community, until finally, in many cases the existing ecosystem is capable of creating the conditions needed to perpetuate itself This is often referred to as the climax stage. This old-growth forest may be an example of an ecosystem which is able to sustain itself in the absence of a major disaster, and thus has reached the climax stage.
Burnover – Red Pine Regeneration
Once the forest has established itself, there are disturbances that can affect the process of succession. Fire is one such disturbance, and it plays an important role in the ecology of these forests.
When a catastrophic fire sweeps through a forest, destroying almost all of the vegetation, the process of succession begins again. Because the soil has already been built up, this kind of succession is referred to as “secondary succession”, whereas starting with bare rock is called “primary succession”.
Quite often forest fires are not catastrophic. There are many old red pine trees along the trail that show the signs of surviving at least one fire, and sometimes more. Often a fire passes through a forest it may consume most of the fuel lying on the forest floor, but it won’t always climb all the way up into the canopy and kill the trees.
Although their lives are spared, the large pines are left with a scar that shows us that a fire has passed though. The shape of the scars left behind on the trees resembles a “church door” and are sometimes referred to as such. This happens as a result of the fire burning through the bark and killing a portion of the cambium. The cambium is the growing layer that lies just underneath the bark.
Forest fires are a very important component in the ecology of the forest, especially in red pine forests. In order for red pine to regenerate, the seeds from the pine cone must fall to the ground and then send down a root into the sandy mineral soil. Most of the time, the many layers of decomposing needles and leaves (the duff layer), form a thick mat covering the mineral soil. The tiny seeds of the red pine failing on this mat of duff do not have enough energy stored in them to be able to send their root down through the duff layer to the mineral soil, and therefore rarely germinate.
You may see trees not scarred by fire in amongst the scarred trees. These trees may have seeded in after the fire burnt away the duff layer and exposed the mineral soil that seeds require for germination.
Most forest fires are a result of natural causes in the form of lightning strikes. About three quarters of all forest fires start this way, with the balance resulting from human causes. Lightning can cause varying degrees of damage to trees when it strikes. A bolt of lightning often causes a deep twisting crack that extends the length of the tree.
Although the White Bear Forest has been left in a relatively pristine state, the trailside view can give a false impression of the forest floor. The trail has been cleared to allow an easy and identifiable passage through the forest. In doing so, logs have been removed from the pathway. To see them, you must look closely along the sides of the trail. In no way are logs the useless remains of once great trees. Dead wood is an essential component of the old-growth forest. When a tree dies, the nutrients that went into the tree during its lifetime are returned to the soil to be reused by the living forest. Decaying logs are places where small animals can find soft wood to hollow out into shelters. Logs are also host to many microorganisms that play a vital role in breaking down the woody material, making the nutrients available to the living forest.
In many cases, snags or standing dead trees, are the predecessors of logs. The sturdy structure of trees can allow them to remain standing after death for many decades. Like logs, their usefulness does not end with the life of the tree. It doesn’t take long for insects to infiltrate the wood, and in fact this may already have happened before the death of the tree, when it was in a weakened state. It isn’t long after the insects arrive that woodpeckers come to visit the snag. Deep elongated cavities and wood chips are signs that birds have been busy looking for carpenter ants and bark beetles. After the snag has been standing for some time and the wood grows even softer from decay, it will become a suitable site for other birds and animals to excavate homes. Large old pine snags also make ideal homes for eagles and osprey which like to nest atop high lookout perches.
Fire is not the only disturbance that can help regenerate the forest. Smaller scale disturbances that can facilitate this regeneration are happening all the time. A strong wind, for example, can cause a shallow rooted tree to topple over under the strain. If the tree remains intact it can pull its entire root mat up with it when it falls. This type of disturbance is called a windthrow, and is not simply the dramatic end of a tree’s life, but an ideal site for forest renewal. In the wake of the fallen tree, the mineral soil, once covered by roots, rocks and duff, now lies bare, exposed to seeds looking for a site to germinate. Not only does the fallen tree expose the seed bed, but it also clears space in the canopy so that increased light resources can filter down to feed the new young plants.
White Pine Regeneration
Hilltops and ridgetops are often places where you will find pine forests. This may not be surprising now that we know a little more about the conditions under which the pines like to grow.
At the tops of hills and ridges there is usually a greater availability of sunlight and the soils are generally well drained. Exposed ridges and hills can be very susceptible to erosion by wind and rain. The wind and rain wash away enough of the duff layer to expose mineral soil, allowing the pine seeds to germinate. In the absence of fire, pines must, take advantage of other disturbances and conditions that will allow them to regenerate. While red pine relies more heavily on fire to provide the conditions for regeneration, white pine has the ability to penetrate .through a thicker duff layer and grow under poorer light conditions. These characteristics explain why there is a Much greater abundance of white pine seedlings over red pine seedlings. Old growth white pine is not completely dependent on fire for regeneration, and is able to rely on natural minor disturbances to self-perpetuate.
Lowland Cedar Grove
The White Bear Forest is not composed solely of old-growth red and white pine. There are several forest types that you will see along your hike You may notice as you walk along that the different forest types tend to be associated with specific areas of the landscape. For example, the white and red pine tend to be found higher up o the hills and ridge tops, but are not so prevalent in the valleys. Conversely, species like eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) are more abundant in the lowland areas of valleys and lakeshores. The change in species composition from higher to lower ground is a result of the habitat preferences of different species. On the slope, the well drained sandy soils are preferred by the pine, whereas in the wet lowland areas, the cedars thrive in the deep moist soils.
Cedar groves can be recognized by their dark, almost enchanted look. This is a result of the incoming sunlight being blocked by the dense foliage. The shade helps keep the soil cool and moist, and affects the kinds of understory vegetation that is able to grow in these conditions. By eliminating the competition from many other trees and shrubs, the mature cedar trees virtually ensure a place for their seeds to grow.
Black Spruce Layering
Black spruce (Picea mariana) is another tree species found in the White Bear Forest that grows well in wet areas and can tolerate shade. In addition to the production of seeds, this tree has a very unique and interesting method of reproduction. Black spruce is a conifer that can usually be recognized by its drooping lower branches. You will often find it growing in a carpet of moss which absorbs and holds onto rain water instead of letting it seep through the soil. These moist beds of moss make excellent seed beds for black spruce. As the spruce trees grow, their drooping lower branches touch the ground and are often covered by moss and leaf litter. Once covered, these lower branches turn skyward and begin growing a new tree. This is called black spruce layering. You can look for examples of this by watching for large spruce trees surrounded by concentric rings of smallerspruce trees – the smaller trees are those that have sprouted from the lower branches of the larger tree. If you look closely at the lower trunks of the smaller trees you can actually see them curving underneath the moss, heading back towards the parent tree.
Land of the Giants
In some of the low-lying areas where pines do occasionally become established, they can grow quite well, enjoying the deeper soils and the influx of nutrients that is provided to them from upslope. It is in one of these low flat areas that some of the largest white and red pines of the White Bear Forest can be found. The section of trail on the north side of Flood Lake is home to many of these giants. Several trees between 85 cm and 100 cm diameter can be seen from the trail, and about 15 in to the south of the trail lies one of the largest pines measured in the White Bear Forest, a white pine measuring 115 cm across at chest height.
Old-growth vertical stratification
The most obvious characteristic of the old-growth pine forest is without doubt the huge old trees. The crowns of these big old trees can often be seen poking up above a lower canopy made up of the crowns of smaller but mature trees. Underneath these trees, perhaps in gaps left by fallen trees, younger trees .struggle to poke their heads up into the canopy to catch some of the precious sunlight. The dynamic changes that occur within the forest work to arrange the crowns of the trees into this multilayered canopy. There can be subtle differences found at different levels in the canopy that provide animals with a diversity of habitats in which to live. The existence of different layers is called vertical stratification – it likely facilitates a high species diversity within the old-growth forest.
The largest measured tree in the White Bear Forest can be found on the north shore of a small inlet leading into Flood Lake. At chest height it measures 115 cm (almost 4 feet) across! A tree of these proportions could well have had its beginnings around the time Samuel Champlain sailed down the St. Lawrence.
Within the White Bear Forest lies one of Canada’s oldest known portages, dating back some 3000 years. In the days before the logging dam was installed, the water level in the narrows between White Bear Lake and Snake Island Lake was quite low. In the early winter, this section of water was the first to freeze, preventing the Natives from paddling their canoes through to Temagami. Instead, they used this portage to transport their canoes and gear to Snake Island Lake, and paddled up its length to Temagami.
The shallow bay at the end of Snake Island Lake is scattered with cut stumps protruding from the surface of the water. In the 1920’s, a dam was built at the narrows between White Bear Lake (Cassels Lake) and Rabbit Lake to float logs from the surrounding area out to the Ottawa River. The water level in several lakes around the town of Temagami was raised several feet. The Gillies’ Bros. logging company then cut the trees from the flooded forest area leaving behind the stumps you see ‘in the water.
Poison Pond has been named for very good reasons. This small watering hole, enjoyed by moose and beaver, is also home to some locally rare plants.Poison ivy is abundant along the shoreline and should be negotiated with caution. Water parsnip, wild mint, spikenard, and striped maple can all be found in close proximity to this pond, but are seldom seen in other parts of the White Bear Forest.
Old Logging Mill
The old sawmill shown on page I of this guide was operated by the Gillies Bros. lumber company from 1947 until 1957 to handle the timber cut from the surrounding forest. It is no longer standing.
This guidebook has had minor updates, including a revision of maps that reflects the current state of the trails, but is largely the same as guide originally released in the 1990’s. The White Bear Forest trails pamphlet released recently has additional brief information about each of the trails, and is recommended reading.