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Two expeditions to High Falls.

High Falls is the second major waterfall above Oxtongue Lake on the Oxtongue River, near the west Highway 60 entrance to Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada.

High Falls on the Oxtongue, 1907 (21 kB JPEG)

This photo of High Falls was taken around 1907. Notice the dam at the top of the falls, built by loggers to flood the rapids above the falls. When the photo was taken, the spring log drive had ended, and so the dam's sluice was open. I thank Ted Blackman, of Reno, Nevada, and Jack Hatkoski of Dwight, Ontario, for lending me the album that holds the old pictures on this page.

A Picnic Bunch (29 kB JPEG)

Here is another photo from the same album labeled "a picnic bunch," and which appears to have been taken during the same expedition as the photo of High Falls. The man at the lower left is my grandfather, Alexander M. Stewart. The other two men appear to be his brothers Harold (rear) and Hugh (right front). I do not yet know the identities of the women.

Alec fishing for olives (11 kB JPEG)The olives for the picnic fell into the river. Another photo is captioned "Alec fishing for olives."

These scenes of youthful conviviality and humor gave me a deeper understanding of another trip my Alexander Stewart, my grandfather, took to High Falls, more than 50 years later.

By the summer of 1958, Grandpa had a stroke -- his second, I think. His doctor had told him to keep his head cool. I paddled up the Boyne creek in Dwight one hot day, while he sat facing me in the middle of the canoe. Grandpa dipped his felt hat into the water and plopped it down on his head so water dripped down over his face. "It's the weekend," said Grandpa, "but this is my weak end." One day that summer as we walked past the Stewart church, he told me, "When I die, there will be more sediment up in the old cemetery." The strokes had not affected his ability to tell puns.

That summer, Grandpa was determined to visit High Falls. My father and I assisted him in one attempt to reach High Falls from above by canoe. There was no longer a loggers' dam at the top of the falls. Shallow rapids forced us to turn back. We did not see a path we could walk down to the falls; the portages were not marked as they are now.

For a second attempt, we hired a guide -- Edgar Beirness, I think. We would walk in from Highway 60, below High Falls. Edgar told us that we were going to have to ford the river, since the path to the falls was on the far side. I decided to take my camera along for the trip. To keep it dry, I placed it in a Maxwell House coffee can, the old orange and blue kind that opened like a sardine can by winding a strip of metal around a key. I padded the camera with a towel and stretched electrical tape around the edge of the lid to keep water out. Our group of four hikers, ranging in age from 80 down to 12, forded the river in water up to our chests, carrying most of our clothes in packs we held over our heads. Grandpa managed this as well as the rest of us. He was unusually fit, considering his age.

Alex Stewart and guide (38 kB JPEG)

After we crossed the river, I took this photo of Grandpa -- in his characteristic pose with his hands behind his back -- and Edgar. We then walked about 3 miles upstream to the falls, where I took a picture of Grandpa looking across the same waters in which he fished for olives as a young man.

Alex Stewart at High Falls, 1958 (54 kB JPEG)

If you look carefully, you can see that this picture is actually two photos joined together. These days, I would use a wide-angle lens, but back then, I didn't have one.

For many years, I thought that my pictures were lost, but in the spring of 1998, I found them in my parents' house -- in the photo album I put together in the weeks after we returned from vacation in 1958. The Kodacolor prints were somewhat faded, but computer processing has restored them.

The hike to High Falls was probably my grandfather's last. Even in 1958, I understood it as a sort of homecoming, but now I can begin to understand the thoughts and feelings he might have had then..


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Contents (except b/w photos) 1999 John S. Allen

Last revised 31 October 1999