top of page
Image by Matthieu Pétiard

Lower Spanish Forest

Between 1993 and 1995 AFER studied the Ancient Pine Landscape in the Lower Spanish Forest. AFER began studying in the Lower Spanish Forest after a mapping analysis commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (Spectranalysis 1993) showed that the largest concentration of white and red pine (over 50 years; and over 10% of a stand) in Ontario was found there. Further work (Quinby et al. 1995) showed that roughly 40,000 hectares of this area is pristine pine landscape. A further study revealed that this is the largest pristine white and red pine landscape remaining in the world (Quinby and McGuiness 1996).

Rushbrook Provincial Park

by Mike Henry

The first time I visited Rushbrook Lake, northwest of Sudbury, was in 1994. I fell in love with the small rocky islands, tracts of old-growth pine forest, spectacular wetlands, and the sense of isolation and quiet. Until recently the area was a bit of a wild west for canoeing, with unmarked and overgrown portages, but in 2017-2018 we cleared out many of the portages and campsites, and posted signs. It still feels like an adventure compared to well-traveled canoe routes in places like Algonquin Park and Temagami, but for the most part you’ll be able to find and use the portages and campsites – and the camping is free!

Most of the canoe routes and camping are in fact outside Rushbrook Provincial Park – also outside the park are several pristine watersheds dominated by old-growth pine forest. This remains a sore point for those of us who worked to have the area protected during the Lands for Life / Living Legacy process in 1999-2000 – particularly as the areas we fought for were originally recommended for protection, even included on planning maps, but eventually left out. We recently mapped out an expansion of Rushbrook Provincial Park, which we hope will finally protect the areas that should have been protected almost twenty years ago.

With Canada’s commitment to protecting 17% of the land base (by next year!) there’s good reason to be optimistic about places like Rushbrook Lake, Blueberry Lake in Temagami, and many other areas in the Province. It amazes me that this huge government commitment has received so little press coverage. Without more citizen engagement I worry we won’t even get close to the target, or if we do it will be primarily by protecting large tracts in the far north. One simple thing you can do is sign the Protected Places Declaration, and invite others to do the same.

Rushbrook Lake could be the poster child of why we need to complete our protected areas network. There are still thousands of hectares of old-growth pine that remain unprotected near the Spanish River. Even with our proposed park expansion, half of the old growth remains available for the logging industry – the Living Legacy compromise gave 62% of the old-growth forest to the logging industry.

Most of the forest is about 160 years old, having burned in a large forest fire around 1860 – the reason this large pine-dominated landscape was never logged was it was too young to bother with during the logging boom of the 1800’s. There are scattered very-old white and red pines that survived the fire, most of them with a large fire scar on one side where the bark was damaged by the heat of the fire, a century and a half ago! These were the trees that rained seed down onto the fresh ash and exposed soil, to start the pine forest we see there today.

Directions to Rushbrook Lake, an updated topo map showing portages and campsites, and details of the route to the Spanish River can all be found on this webpage, also in Ontario’s old-growth forests: a guidebook. The easiest way to enjoy the area is to paddle the short canoe loop through old-growth forest that includes Rushbrook-Marion-Fiona-Cheesebun-Fen-Green Lakes. You could easily paddle it in a couple of days, but you can also stop for a day and swim on rocky islands, explore wetland chains, and hike a couple of short nature trails.

If you want something more ambitious, paddle to Shakwa Lake – if you explore on Shakwa, please let us know of any campsites you use so we can add them to our map. If you want a real adventure, the connecting route to the Spanish River can be a week-long trip, with a royal ride down class 1-2 rapids on the Spanish River. You’ll have to arrange a shuttle.

Have you paddled Rushbrook Lake? Let us know!

Research Highlights

Identification of the world’s largest pristine white and red pine landscape

Confirmation of four pristine watersheds in the Lower Spanish Forest (Quinby and Suski 1995)

Characterization of the relationship between topography and forest composition in the Lower Spanish Ancient Pine Forest (Quinby, McGuiness, Lee, and Suski 1995)

Studies of the relationships between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Forest Conservation Achievements

The creation of the Spanish River Provincial Park was influenced by AFER’s work in the region.



bottom of page