Canoe Trails: Lost and Found

Brad Jennings’ quest for forgotten canoe tripping treasure

The lure of the unknown has inspired exploration for eons. While satellite technology has brought the hidden recesses of the planet within the grasp of the masses, fewer people actually know what's on the ground. Across Ontario, hundreds of once-popular canoe routes have become "lost" to changing government natural resources policy and demographics. For Peterborough, Ont.-based grad student and videographer Brad Jennings, the lure of rediscovering these forgotten canoe trips is irresistible.

"You never know what you're going to encounter," says Jennings, who along with his father, Wayne, maintains a popular YouTube channel and website called Explore the Backcountry. "Do the portages exist? Has the dam rotted away? Are water levels suitable? The reward for crashing through all the unknowns is that much greater when you reach your campsite for the night and unwind with the feeling of accomplishment of a successful exploration."

Jennings impulsively searches for old trip reports and maps to identify once-popular routes. Contemporary topographical maps reveal likely links between waterways. Based in central Ontario, Jennings is close to the Leslie Frost Centre, a once-bustling hub of outdoor adventure that hosts dozens of canoe routes—many of which have become overshadowed by the well-trodden trails of nearby Algonquin Provincial Park.

For his latest video project, Jennings worked with mapmaker Jeff McMurtrie to identify a forgotten loop trip on the Black River. Then he set off to explore.