Southwestern Ontario’s Chatham-Kent region was the latest catalyst for a reminiscent journey.

There’s something calming about going back to the familiar; a place you grew up in and places you’ve once visited frequently and gathered fond memories from.

I spent a few days camping, hiking, fishing and paddling there; the same places I went to growing up. My father taught me how to fish here, camp here, fall in love with nature here. I also taught myself how to paddle a canoe here.

photoKevin Callan

My first day had me turning off the busy #401 Highway past London, Ontario and taking the backcountry drive along the King's Highway, commonly known as Highway 3. This is the historic route of the Talbot Trail, a bush road built over 200 years ago by Thomas Talbot. It was kept close to the shores of Lake Erie to spawn settlement in the area. Driving by old mansions, cemeteries, farmsteads and quaint rural towns was a lot more pleasant than the mundane views along the 401, dealing with freight trucks and construction zones.

My base camp for two nights was Rondeau Provincial Park. My dad would take the entire family there when we were kids. We went from all sharing a leaky canvas tent to a fancy pop-up trailer. My dad was once a professional boxer, who then went to work in a factory, which basically means there wasn’t much money to be had and he couldn’t afford fancy far off vacations for us. But we had the new Apache, named Consumer Product of the Year in 1962. He paid $325 for it, and the same model—vintage restored—is going for over $2,000 on Kijiji.   

My dad loved that trailer, and I loved camping at Rondeau, fishing, hiking, toasting marshmallows on the campfire, gong to town for fish and chips. Erieau was the best place for fish and chips. It’s about a twenty-minute drive from the park. That’s where I went before pitching my tent at Rondeau. I walked the pier jaunting out on Lake Erie, visited the big public beach, picked some cold beer up at the local Bayside Brewing Co. I also picked up an order of fresh perch at Molly & OJ’s.

I took the canoe out and fished Rondeau Bay just before sunset. If the Lake Erie side of the point is windy, then the bay will be calm. The weedy shoreline of Rondeau Bay is perfect for catching hefty largemouth bass. It was a short time on the water, though. It was early to bed for me since I had planned a full day paddle the next day on one of southwestern Ontario’s best paddling routes, Wallaceburg Water Trail.

photoKevin Callan

The series of day paddling routes are made up of the three main waterways: Sydenham River, Snye River, Running Creek. All can be done separately but they can also be combined to create a loop route. Imagine paddling three rivers in one day, without organizing a car shuttle!

My choice was to head out from the launch area at Crother’s Conservation AreaIt’s located just on the outskirts of the town of Wallaceburg, along the shore of Running Creek.

MacDonald Park boat launch, along the St. Clair Parkway, and on the shore of the Syne River, is also a good place to access the route.  There’s also a private campground where the Syne River joins the Sydenham River—Shilo Park. That might be another good place to put in and take out, especially if you want to camp somewhere along the route. There are shorter sections you can plan for, but the full loop is 29 kilometres. That’s a long haul in one day. All three waterways are more lake-like with a minor current, so it doesn’t matter much which way you travel the route.

photoKevin Callan

It was a heat wave the day I paddled, and I had my dog Angel with me. Angel doesn’t like the heat much. I kept to the smaller waterway—Running Creek—for the day. There’s a shortcut to the Syne River by way of the farming drainage ditch. I went that far and then turned back the way I came. I was liking the Running Creek section too much. Once it leaves Wallaceburg there’s not much along the shoreline except rare Carolinian trees and countless songbirds. The water is also a turquoise colour. The Syne is even more so. Both are fed from Lake Huron and the St. Clair River. The Sydenham is the only waterway that has the regular hot chocolate tint to it.

The entire route was portage free except for two lift-overs; one at a railway crossing and one where the drainage ditch links with Running River (high water levels may add more at bridge crossings).

It was only a forty minute drive back to my base camp at Rondeau—plus a quick stop over at one of my favourite southwestern Ontario’s brewing companies, Sons of Kent. It’s located in downtown Chatham and well-worth the side trip. The 1792 English Ale is awesome.

One more night was had at Rondeau, plus a morning hike along their South Point Trail. The path follows the decommissioned road that leads to the old campground that was here in the 1960s, just around the same time my dad purchased his pop-up trailer.

photoKevin Callan

I miss my dad, and my times camping and paddling in Southwestern Ontario; and there’s something to be said about keeping to what you know to reduce life’s anxieties. My trip south did just that.

Check out my video on the trip on my KCHappyCamper YouTube channel. I think for dog, Angel, stole the show.