06-Oct-2001 -- The meeting of 46° North, 78° West is located on the fringes of the Canadian Shield in the northern part of Algonquin Park in Ontario. Algonquin is one of several Provincial Parks managed by the Province of Ontario and though it receives over 2 million visitors each year and has ongoing logging operations, careful management by
Ontario Parks keeps most of it a true wilderness.
Established in 1893, Algonquin Park is a unique treasure for those who enjoy wilderness experiences. Covering some 2,910 square miles of clear lakes with mixed pine and upland hardwoods, Algonquin is one of Canada’s larger and more appealing parks. For those with an interest in geology for example, evidence of the last glacier’s heavy hand is still readily visible in the form of large sand and gravel deposits intertwined with hundreds of streams, lakes, and swamps.
Despite its natural appeal, the region was relatively undisturbed until the mid 1800’s, but then the large stands of white pine attracted the interest of timber barons who stripped the virgin stands to feed demand from the British economy. Gilmore Lumber Company,
J.R. Booth and others made and lost millions as they felled the massive trees, squared them into timbers and floated them down the Pettawawa and Ottawa rivers, destined for the mills at Ottawa and Hull. Typically, the trip from stump to mill took the better part of two years.
Attempting to locate the confluence of 46° North, 78° West was a natural for us, since the family has visited the park at various times since my father fished White Partridge Lake and Lake Traverse in 1940. Even today, a year isn’t complete without at least one camping trip with my wife, to listen to the wolves howl, hear the pines sigh in the breeze, and enjoy the fresh air. This trip though, my son Jamie was my partner, a partner I was even more glad than usual to have, as his instinctive sense of direction kept us out of trouble several times!
Having poured over topo maps weeks before setting out and checked an aerial photo of the area too, we knew the confluence was on the eastern slope of a hill, not far off a forest access road near Lake Traverse. Coincidentally, Jamie and I had been near the confluence on an earlier trip some seventeen years ago, unaware of course that we would be drawn back with map, compass and GPS in hand, giving Jamie the distinction of being the third generation of our family to visit remote Lake Traverse.
Getting to Algonquin Park was uneventful; nearing the park gate, we refilled with gas at an outfitter’s store, then headed for a spot where we could park the Jeep near the forest access road identified on the topo maps. Since all logging and side access roads in the park have gates with signs precluding vehicular use, we were on foot from here on, but the access road made for easy hiking and the day was perfect. After some two miles on the access road, we intersected the 78° West longitude line several meters south of the 46° North latitude line. At that point, it seemed just a matter of a short hike through an old burn area, following the compass north along the 78° West longitude line until we reached its confluence with 46° North latitude. However, wet, rough terrain made the task a good bit more difficult than the telling.
Nearing the confluence point, we found it to be in densely covered second growth balsam, poplar, and birch that grew in after fire and logging that appeared to have taken place several years earlier. The tree cover made getting a steady GPS reading nearly impossible. As a result, we took quite a bit of time refining the confluence point, taking repeated GPS readings, and waiting for the numbers to stabilize. Finally, inches from a small balsam, the GPS read 46:00:02°N, 78:00:00°W, which we hoped was close enough. To mark the spot, Jamie hung a strip of orange ribbon from a branch of the balsam and we took photos looking north, south, east, and west across the confluence. Unfortunately, being a rank amateur with a camera, I muffed the photo of the GPS showing 46:00:02°N, 78:00:00°W.
Having located the confluence and taken photos, we were more than a little glad to leave the area… pronto. Hiking in, we’d noticed lots of bear signs! Despite many bushwhacking trips in the Adirondacks, where bear sign is common, we were undeniably intimidated by the extent of bear scats, freshly overturned stumps, and tracks near the confluence! Never before had we seen as much bear sign and would be very happy to never see as much again! To our great relief though, no bears chose to be near the confluence that day. Even so, we have absolutely no plans to test our luck by going back for a better photo of the GPS!
In keeping with the wilderness tradition of leaving no sign of our passing, we removed the orange ribbon from the balsam, set a back azimuth, and retraced our route home.