Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2021
René Brunelle is located in the small town of Moonbeam in the Cochrane District. It was named after a Canadian politician who lived in the area and represented Cochrane North in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1958 to 1981. The park is situated on Remi Lake, which used to be a float plane base in the early 1900s. It features four sandy beaches, two hiking trails and other great opportunities to enjoy nature.
We spent the previous night at Kettle Lakes and left after breakfast. On the drive to René Brunelle, we stopped in Cochrane to check out the Polar Bear Habitat, which is reputed to be the only facility in the world dedicated purely to the care of polar bears. The Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat is home to three polar bears: Henry, Inukshuk and Ganuk.
We arrived just in time to see Henry being fed. Afterwards we walked around the grounds and explored a few of the exhibits that provide more information about polar bears. The grounds also feature a heritage village, which resembles what Cochrane was like in 1912. The exhibit showcases many buildings and artifacts, including a general store, train station, doctor’s office, shoe repair shop, barber shop, school house and homestead. We also checked out the snowmobile museum which is located next to the gift shop, which has an impressive display of snowmobiles through the years.
From Cochrane, it’s just over an hour drive to René Brunelle. We arrived at the park just after 2p.m and thankfully it had stopped raining.
Just to be safe, we decided to eat lunch at the sheltered picnic area at Phipps Point, which is located in the day-use area. Given that the shelter was located on a point jutting out into Remi Lake, it was quite windy. But at least it wasn’t raining.
Afterwards we hiked along the La Vigilance Trail (800m, rated moderate), which can be accessed from the parking lot at the day-use area. The trail follows the shoreline of Remi Lake through a mixed northern forest. Along the way there are a few interpretive signs about the history of early aviation in Northern Ontario and a bush pilot plane crash from 1922.
Ontario’s first bush pilots were descendants of WWI aviators. Their missions varied from forest fire and aerial timber patrols to photographic survey flights for mining exploration. From the trail there’s a lookout of Airplane Island, which used to be a float plane base. It was from Remi Lake that the first flight north into the James Bay area originated, where the first ambulance flight in Canada landed and where the first volume carriage of air mail took off for Moose Factory.
From 1922 to 1944, Remi Lake was an important link in the Ontario Provincial Air Service. From here, bush pilots ranged over the northern forests checking for fires and bringing aid to the distressed. The introduction of more versatile and efficient aircraft made the base obsolete.
Afterwards we hiked along the Spruce Lowland Trail (1.6km, rated moderate). The trail loops through the forest and features different communities of the boreal forest, each with its own special combination of trees, small plants and animals.
The description of the trail indicated that one of the highlights includes passing by a bear den. We were a bit hesitant to check out this viewpoint (what if the bears still use it as a den?!), but our curiosity got the better of us. It didn’t look like much of a den, so our guess is that it’s been abandoned.
The trail also features a large boardwalk section and passes through an old spruce bog. At this point the clouds were starting to clear and the sun even made an appearance. It’s amazing how quickly the sun can warm everything up, including our spirits.
With that we wrapped up all the hiking trails at René Brunelle. From here it’s a 2 hour drive to get to Fushimi Lake Provincial Park where we planned to spend the night.
My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here