Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley by Hap Wilson

Review by Matthew Eberly

The following review specifically concerns the Dumoine River guide section of Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley by Hap Wilson. Publisher: Boston Mills Press; Revised edition (May 6, 2004)

According to Hap Wilson’s website, Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley was first published as a single river guide for the Dumoine River in 1986. The contents of the current book suggest that for the most part, the original material was largely unmodified and simply reformatted for the new layout. In addition to the sprinkling of topical history, a linear story line to describe the trip experience, useful logistical, technical, and practical details, the description of the Dumoine itself remains a useful working guide for the river. From Bridge Rapids to Bowman’s Portage over 64 kilometres, 31 rapids are numbered and labelled, most with meaningful names.

Twenty illustrations describe those which can be run by canoe, and otherwise, many swifts and falls are provided only with locations and suitable warning. The overview maps probably benefited from the availability of government survey information or overflight photos. However, it is clear that Hap originally drew his rapid illustrations in the field, during an era still reliant on typewriters, from the perspective of someone travelling downriver by canoe. Characterizing the flow of water down an irregular hill is challenging in concept, yet the illustrations are functional and reliable. Scales vary widely, as two boxes of roughly the same size on the page describe rapids that are 100 metres and also ten times as long. This is suitable because the complexity of the drawings are in keeping with the scale, such that Red Pine Rapids is given almost an entire page for its highly detailed description in 5 parts.

The art is well thought out, with simplifications appropriate to the application. Individual rocks, larger examples, and gravel bars are marked in one of two sizes of asterisk. Larger boulders and sculptured formations are drawn in identifiable shapes. Ledge lines, tongues, and wave trains are drawn in an illustrator’s style. Obvious and suggested deep water routes are marked with red arrows. The effect is consistently useful, regardless of water levels. Features significant to the paddler experienced at river reading are readily identifiable without being impractically specific.

At Big Steel the guide can tell you to follow the waves along river right, but it cannot tell you exactly where the hole is. Actual scouting remains necessary. It is also apparent that some of the drawings have been made at specific water levels. When the river is flowing at other conditions, some features are more difficult to find. For example, at Double Choice only one of these two rocks are visible, and though the graphic suggests the current will carry a tandem to the left, paddling directly down the right side is no problem even in low water. Still, large features are clear and easy to identify. The sculptured rocks at Tight ’round the Bend make it obvious which rapid this is. Ultimately that is the point of the guide. On the occasion of encountering a rapid of at least Class two, the reader will know which one it is, and be able to find themselves on the map.

Hap Wilson graciously provided several clarifications:

1. First single river guide published in 1987.

2. Updated “rivers” guidebook published in 1993 and again in 2004 to expand available routes to take pressure off the Dumoine River. There were 500 flights a year being flown by Bradley and the Dumoine was showing overuse. Remember, my guides were published first and foremost for environmental purposes.

3. I didn’t use government maps, information or overflights (typically all inaccurate as base material). It was all done during several in-field trips to gauge AVERAGE water levels only, and to indicate the importance of low and high water portage locations. The water level information in the book clearly points out the differences my diagrams are during extreme high or low water levels.

4. There is no hole at Big Steel Rapids and the diagram illustrates a sideslip or downstream ferry left to avoid a boulder ledge (near top of rapids before it straightens out into a long CI) that is more defined during low water.

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