Camping at Beausoleil Island, 2008

Summary: About camping at Beausoleil Island, in the Georgian Bay Islands National Park system and an encounter with two endangered Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes.



In late August 2008, Dave and I loaded up the car with a giant old canoe, 2 hp motor, and all the food and camping gear we would need for a few days at Beausoleil Island in Georgian Bay, Ontario. I had not been camping in decades and had never been to Georgian Bay, so it promised to be an experience.

Dave’s family has been going to that area for many years, all of Dave’s life and then some. His aunt and uncle, Zina and Bob, maintain a boat up there and usually anchor off the Island most of the summer (it was on their dinghy that Dave was first introduced to sailing). When we arrived at Honey Harbour, the starting off point, they met us at the dock, helped load the canoe, and offered a yummy lunch on their boat at their marina, a three minute putter away.

Using the motor on the canoe, the trip to Beausoleil took about 45 minutes; paddling would take up to 2 hours, as I understand it. (Regarding the motor, Dave did some minor work on the 30-something-year-old motor as it hadn’t been used in some years and it worked perfectly the whole time we were using it.)

Dave Here: It’s a Johnson 2hp outboard from the early 70s; I forget the exact year. Really, not much at all needed to be done to the motor.

I think it was about 7 or 8 years ago that it had been used last, and at that time I did a bit of work on it. I replaced the points and condenser, replaced the head gasket (I think?), replaced a broken choke knob, and overhauled the carburetor and got it adjusted just about perfectly.

This time ‘round, all I did was give the onboard fuel tank a rinse with some clean gas and strapped it to the dinghy to test. It fired on the second pull and ran on the third pull – puttered away at both high and low speeds flawlessly. Pretty good considering I didn’t even bother to change or even inspect the spark plug! Oh, I did build a new gasket for the fuel filler cap so there wouldn’t be any leaking, but that was only a five minute job.

For engines that don’t run very often, one of the biggest problems is old fuel left in the onboard tank and/or carburetor. Gasoline eventually degrades into a sort of varnish that will clog the fuel system. When putting the engine away, make sure you empty all the fuel out of the onboard tank and run the engine until it uses up all the remaining fuel in the carburetor and stops - it’ll make life much easier the next time you want to use it.

Beausoleil is a huge island in the National Parks system with only small sections set up for camping or day trips. Georgian Bay was sculpted by glaciers scraping their way south about 15,000 years ago. There are tens of thousands of islands and thousands of little and big lakes and channels. The Canadian Shield is visible everywhere and astoundingly beautiful.


Dave Here: Angi isn’t exaggerating… The area is actually referred to commonly as the 30,000 Islands.

The high points of the three days in which we were there involved wildlife - rattlesnakes, in fact. The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, Ontario’s only venomous snake may be found there. Fully-grown the snake is about two feet long. The adults don’t get longer, just thicker in the girth. The snakes blend in well with the underbrush; they have dark brown bowtie-shaped markings and sandy coloured background. They are extremely shy and leave whenever there is activity.

On the second day of our trip, someone shouted that there was a snake, so everyone within earshot went over to the area by the campground’s administration kiosk. Several parks employees came over as well, to ensure the snake was not disturbed, campers were safe, and to tell everyone about the species. They also phoned the park warden immediately.

The Massasauga Rattlesnake is endangered and monitored very closely. When a rattlesnake is encountered, the wardens document everything about the snake. Snakes previously captured have microchips in their bodies, so the snakes’ routes are known. Captured snakes are moved to within a kilometer from where they were found. Over a kilometer is out of their range and may be detrimental to them.

The first snake we met that got away before the warden could come

The warden with the second snake safely tucked away in the white bag.

Unfortunately, the first snake we encountered managed to escape into the brush and the warden did not find it. The next day, though, while on a hike through the island paths, Dave and I encountered another, smaller, snake. I kept my eyes on the snake while Dave ran back to our campsite to call the warden. The woman from the answering service sounded excited to hear that there was a rattlesnake and said that the warden would leave immediately for the island.

Once again, everyone came around to see the little snake. This time, though, the snake stayed around and the warden captured him, without even touching him, and placed him in a bag. The warden used a hand-held electronic device to determine whether the snake had had the implant. This little guy was new to the system, never having been caught before.

Dave Here: The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is definitely a very shy species, whose first instinct is to disappear into the underbrush when disturbed.

While waiting for the warden to make the trip from the park headquarters in Honey Harbour, we had to constantly ask people to stay a good distance away from the snake. He was happy basking in a warm, open spot, but whenever anyone would approach he would head slowly off towards a heavily wooded area. After about 10 or 15 minutes of his inching closer and closer to the forest, I moved around to the other side of him, placing myself (at a Safe Distance – maybe 10 or 12’ away from him) between the rattlesnake and the brush that he was heading for in hopes of discouraging him from getting into it – he’d be next to impossible to keep track of and find in there.

Fortunately, that slowed him down a bit, and in a few minutes the warden was on the scene and took over.

The warden told us that he would take the snake back to the office, install a microchip, determine the snake’s sex, and take a blood sample for DNA testing, which is part of a project of a local graduate student. Also, this snake had unusual colouring, a reddish hue on the top, all the way along his body, so the warden was especially keen on examining him.

The warden spoke with a couple of little girls who were in our group of spectators and explained what to do when you hear the rattle: stop walking; look around for the source of the noise; when you see the snake, move two steps away from it (the snakes can only strike half their body length, which is about one foot for the adult snakes); yell for an adult to call the warden.

There are few snakes near the campsites and only about 50 are captured each year and removed to another location.

One little girl was given the honour of naming the snake and she chose “Jacob”.

Dave has been going to Georgian Bay for his entire life and had never seen a rattlesnake before and this week he saw two. He was thrilled.

Dave Here: Very thrilled and a little bit jealous… I think it was a terrific opportunity to meet a rare endangered species. And it was particularly good in that one or two people whose first reaction was fear and horror that a poisonous snake would be so close to their campsite got to see that the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, because of its shy nature, really isn’t a threat at all as long as you give it some space. By the end of the encounter, everyone had gotten over any fears they may have originally had and were actually happy and excited about having seen it.

And the bit of jealousy is because I’d have loved to be able to say that a rare animal in a National Park had been named by me – I hope the little girl remembers about “Jacob” the snake as she gets older – she’ll certainly have a story to tell!

Here's a link to the Georgian Bay Islands National Park web page about the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.




© Copyright 2008 David S. Malar and Angelika Jardine. All rights reserved.
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