Today when you think of visiting Bon Echo your main concerns might consist of finding tent poles, packing all the kids’ toys into the trunk or what you are going to do with the dog.  In comparison to days past these would be the least of your worries.  As recently as 1850 the whole Mazinaw Lake area was only accessible by canoe, by foot and rough logging roads left behind by the loggers who cleared the land of valuable lumber. In 1854, the government decided it was time to open the northern areas of central Ontario to colonization.  The Addington Colonization Road was established.  This was not a typical road as we know today but it was to become part of a very diverse trip to visit Bon Echo, back in the day. As people settled in the area and attempted to farm this barren Canadian Shield, they soon discovered the soils were too thin and acidic to support any full scale farming. Life was hard and  families grew their own food. Trapping, fishing and tending a few sheep or cattle were common ways to support a family.  Many moved away, searching for other ways to make a living. There were a few who saw the potential of tourism. By 1900 Dr. Weston Price had acquired the point of land we know today as the Narrows and built the Bon Echo Inn, similar to the grand inns of the Muskokas and Adirondacks.  This three storey wood frame structure had 28 guest rooms, common areas for socializing and a grand deck.  All the supplieswould have been brought by train to Kaladar, put on wagons, and brought up the Addington Rd. (Wood for construction and furniture was acquired locally and milled in a sawmill Price bought from the retiring lumber companies.) This was not easy.  The road would have twisted and turned up and over the granite rocks of the Canadian Shield. It would have to cross down into swamps and wetlands that were filled with logs placed together to make a corduroy road structure making it extremely bumpy.  The materials would then have been transferred to boats and ferried up south Mazinaw Lake to the Narrows. The Inn was sold to Flora MacDonald Denison in 1910.  Flora promoted the Inn as an artist haven and spiritualist retreat. Back then your visit to Bon Echo would have involved much more planning then today.  Arrangements would have been made by correspondence.  City folk would need trunks to carry the women’s long dresses, undergarments and hats as well as the men’s formal wear. Visitors would have to travel the long, slow train ride to Kaladar and then often stay there overnight before heading the 20 kilometres north the next day.  The rough, winding and hilly wagon roads made a tiresome day trip. Most would settle into the Inn for sometime to make the long, arduous journey worthwhile. Today when you are packing for your camping trip to Bon Echo Provincial Park, don’t stress about the small stuff. Pack your car and enjoy the ride up paved highway and enjoy the scenery as it rushes past you on your way to this still wild, rugged area of Ontario. If you are visiting the Park you can learn more details on Bon Echo’s history by going to the visitor centre or taking part in a summer program.

Adventures at Bon Echo Yesterday and Today By Tamara van Dyk

Today Bon Echo is one of the busiest provincial parks in the Ontario Parks system, offering a range of recreational opportunities.  People can create their own adventure from extreme sports such as rock climbing and interior camping to softer adventures including RV camping and swimming.  Bon Echo offers a wide range of opportunities for you to create your own adventure. The Lap of Luxury at the Turn of the Century Early recreation at Bon Echo was much more luxurious prior to the establishment of the Park.  In 1900 Weston and Florence Price built the three storey Bon Echo Inn as a Christian retreat.  This was similar to the grand inns of the Muskokas and Adirondacks. Extensive logging had recently cleared the land of old growth trees so that the landscape was quite different than it is today.  When Bon Echo Inn was purchased by the Denisons in 1910 visitors were often artists, poets, and spiritualists.  Many  took their canvases and paintbrushes to their favourite places around Mazinaw Lake and set up to paint for the day. Others participated in plays by Merrill Denison and his mother Flora MacDonald Denison. A small stage was built on a beach for the actors, not far from where the Visitor Centre now stands.  Visitors could also choose to hike with a picnic lunch to the top of Mazinaw Rock using the metal stairs that were bolted to the cliff. People could leisurely paddle a canoe to examine the mysterious pictographs. Badminton and fishing were popular. As far back as the early 1900s, Bon Echo began to take shape as a tourist destination providing a natural inspiration for those seeking adventure and beauty in a wild place.
Play luxery
Merril Denison and A.Y. Jackson show off their catch of the day
Bon Echo Today Today Bon Echo is still one of the wilder places in southern Ontario. Established as a provincial park in 1965, the purpose of the park has shifted only slightly.  The current park goal is to protect a part of the southern Canadian Shield landscape, to interpret its significant natural and cultural features, and to provide a wide range of camping, hiking, and other recreational activities.

Choose your own adventure Car Camping Families preferring a softer camping experience can book one of the 480 car campsites. Here you may pull in, set up, and enjoy all the luxury you can pack into your vehicle.  Many campsites are large enough to hold three shelters and five other friends or family members.  You may keep one vehicle on the campsite and park all extra vehicles in the Additional Vehicle Parking Lot to ensure minimal impact on the surrounding forest.

Walk-in Campsites In addition to car camping you may choose to canoe or hike into a variety of campsites. If the idea of a walk-in campsite is something you are willing to try, you can book one of five premium Bon Echo sites that offer you a short hike into a beautiful waterfront campsite in view of Mazinaw Rock. These sites provide more privacy and a soft wilderness experience. Backcountry or Interior Camping Bon Echo offers the adventure of packing in and out to a more remote site. The five walk-in-sites on the Abes and Essens Trail ensure your own private piece of paradise.  You are provided with your own campsite, picnic table, and ‘thunder box’: your very own private outdoor privy.  Trail maps for all Bon Echo trails are available at the Park Office, gatehouse or Greystones Gift and Book Shop.  Park naturalists are available to assist with the planning of your adventure. Canoe-in Sites Historically canoes were used as a major source of transportation.  Today they are used for  recreation and are icons of Canadian history.  If camping on a canoe-in site intrigues you then try a day, weekend, or week on Joeperry Lake.  All sites are waterfront, canoe accessible, and provide the most privacy.  You can pack everything in and use your own canoe or rent one in the Park.  Either way you will get an adventure that is purely natural and up-close to nature.  It is a wonderful way to spend some quiet time.  Don’t forget to bring along a field guide on your favourite outdoor topic and enjoy discovering plants, animals, bugs, or whatever else you find interesting. A Park for the Future We all love Bon Echo. Approximately 180,000 people visit the Park each year causing a great strain on the forests of Bon Echo. The Park is a natural environment park and the first priority is to protect it including Mazinaw Rock and the rare species that inhabit it. With everyone’s help we can ensure the forests, wetlands, and other park features remain healthy for future generations. Keep this in mind while you are enjoying your own adventures at Bon Echo.  <>