Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: January 2021
Murphys Point is located on Big Rideau Lake and is part of the historic Rideau Waterway. It is also part of the southernmost extension of the Canadian Shield known as the Frontenac Arch, and is home to a range of ecosystems, including forests, meadows and wetlands. Murphys point is open all-year round and offers a variety of activities including 20km of hiking trails and groomed cross-country ski trails in the winter.
We decided to ring in the New Year up at the cabin. Last year we completed the 52 Hike Challenge and went for a hike at least 52 times throughout the year. It was the perfect challenge to get us through a strange year. This year we decided to set a new challenge for ourselves, the Ontario Parks Challenge, where we’ll try to visit as many of Ontario’s provincial parks as we can. News flash: there are over 330 provincial parks in Ontario, so this is quite the ambitious challenge.
What better way to start the year than by visiting a provincial park? On January 1st we made a day trip to Murphys Point, which is located about an hour and a half east of the cabin. We arrived at the park shortly after 10:30a.m. The main road into the park is closed during the winter months, however there are two parking lots that are open all-year round. The first is located at the main ski lot, which is just north of the main gate. The other parking lot is located further south along Country Rd #21 near the Lally Chalet.
We parked at the second parking lot to do some winter hiking. The ground was very icy, which transformed what would normally be rated as an easy trail into something more challenging. We first hiked along the Lally Homestead Trail (900m, rated easy). The Lally family once owned this land for farming from 1881 to the 1970s. There is a short path that loops through a former hayfield and past rocks piled high by the Lally children.
It was a bit unclear where the trail led as the field was marked with stakes as it is often used for cross-country skiing in the winter. We walked through the open field and around the stakes as this part of the path was less icy. The path then leads to a house, which has partially been restored. The Lally Chalet is located next to the house and has a wood stove that is often used by hikers and cross-country skiers to warm-up during the winter.
The path continues through the forest to a lookout over Black Creek Marsh, but the path looked super dicy with all the ice, so we skipped this section and walked back to the parking lot, passing by the foundations of an old barn.
Once we returned to the parking lot, we crossed the road to get to the trailhead for the Silver Queen Mine Trail, which connects with the Beaver Pond Trail to form a slightly larger loop. The Silver Queen Mine Trail leads through an abandoned farmland to a mine and features 11 numbered viewpoints with signs which discuss the history of the mine and geology of the area. From the end of June to Labour Day and fall weekends, the park offers free tours of the mine.
Murphys Point lies on an extension of the Canadian Shield and the landscape in the area is predominately rocky. This presented a major challenge to early settlers who moved in the area. Beginning in the 1850s, farmers started searching their rocky land for apatite (used for fertilizer as it is rich in phosphorus) and mica (good for insulation and is used in windows, lanterns, safety glasses, fire screens and electrical equipment).
In 1903 Rinaldo McConnell discovered veins of mica and apatite in the rocky ridge farther up the trail. He drilled and blasted sheets of mica out of the rock and started the Silver Queen Mine. The Silver Queen Mine covers 12 to 15 acres and consists of several holes and rock piles, buildings, test pits and machinery.
The mine started as an open pit mine at the top of the ridge. After drilling and blasting their way down into the ridge, the miners then followed veins of mica and apatite. One such vein led to this side of the ridge and eventually formed an entrance into the mine.
To get access to the veins of mica and apatite, much of the surrounding rock had to be blasted and removed. By 1906, steam power made the job of hoisting heavy ore buckets much easier. The hoist’s rotating boom swung buckets to the side of the pit, where they were dumped onto ore wagons or waste piles.
The geology didn’t allow for large-scale mining. It became well known that the mineral deposits in the area were considered unreliable and unpredictable. Veins of mica and apatite often pinched off at a shallow depth without warning, making many mining operations short-lived.
The path then leads down to the bunkhouse, which is where miners could eat and sleep during their work-week. The original bunkhouse was abandoned when the Eastern Ontario mica industry slumped after 1920 when Madagascar entered the market with cheaper labour.
The numbered signs end at one last pit, a small open quarry that was worked for feldspar, a cloudy white mineral, which was also mined at the Silver Queen. It was used mostly in manufacturing pottery, porcelain and enamelware, as well as abrasive soaps and washing compounds. The pit definitely looked cloudy white, but that was likely because of the ice.
From here we followed the Beaver Pond Trail (1km, rated easy) as an alternate route back to the parking lot. The trail winds through the forest and passes the shore of a flooded wetland. The path was icy and progress was slow.
While we initially planned to go for a few more hikes in the park, the conditions on the trails were a bit treacherous with all the ice. When we returned to the parking lot, we decided to just head back to the cabin.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here