• Mist rises from the Kipawa River, framed by frosty trees

    Steam rises from the Kipawa River on a -35 C morning in Parc national d’Opémican, Que. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

Its name is an Algonquin word that loosely translates to “along the path followed by the tribes” — a reference, perhaps, to the Ottawa River. For nearly a century, it was a major staging area for logging operations in the Upper Ottawa Valley. This summer, it will be a hub for a different kind of activity when Quebec’s newest provincial park opens on June 21.

Parc national d’Opémican, which protects 252 square kilometres of forested land between the Ontario-Quebec border and Lac Kipawa, about 400 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, is the realization of a nearly 40-year dream for people in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region who wanted to see the remains of the timber rafting relay station at Pointe Opémican, on Lac Témiscamingue, preserved. In the 1880s and ’90s, squared logs of white and red pine bound for Britain and America were assembled here into enormous rafts of as many as 3,000 individual logs to be driven down the Ottawa River to Montreal or Quebec City.

“Pointe Opémican was a unique place at that time,” says Dany Gareau, the park’s director. “People there were even developing new techniques and tools to improve the job,” including larger-than-normal booms capable of handling the frequent high waves on the lake.

A weathered, abandoned building stands surrounded by deep snow and forest at dusk

The Auberge Jodoin, one of several historic buildings at the heart of Parc national d’Opémican. Built in 1883, it served as temporary accommodation and an outfitter for the raftsmen who floated logs down the Ottawa River.
(Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

By the turn of the 20th century, steampowered tugboats had replaced the raftsmen, and although the site continued to be used by the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company for boat maintenance and storage until the late 1970s, the original buildings, including the blacksmithing workshop and the house erected in 1883 by superintendent Joseph Jodoin’s family, fell into disrepair.

The road to redeveloping the site for tourism would be a long one. Community groups first approached the Quebec ministry for forests, wildlife and parks in 2002 with a proposal to save Pointe Opémican by integrating it into a provincial park, but it took more than a decade for the ministry to finalize the boundaries of the park. In 2013, responsibility for the park’s development was transferred to the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SÉPAQ), the Crown corporation that manages 24 of the province’s parks and 13 wildlife reserves.

Watch: Dany Gareau explains what makes Parc national d’Opémican special

As construction began on roads and campsites and the park’s three scenic hiking trails were blazed, SÉPAQ struck a roundtable made up of representatives from the local municipalities, including the Wolf Lake and Kebaowek First Nations, to keep them updated on the progress. At first there were a lot of questions, says Patricia Noël, president of the unorganized territory of Laniel on the park’s northeastern border, which has just 80 year-round residents.

“A lot of people were scared that with the park, they would lose the tranquility and the wilderness they found here. We want to develop tourism, but in a way that respects nature.”

Now, she says, with the park’s opening imminent, uncertainty has given way to excitement at the possibilities for showcasing the region.

“It’s not just the beautiful views,” she says. “I can’t explain it, but we have ‘wow’ here.”

A man with a red backpack snowshoes up a snowy trail as the sun shines through the trees

Dany Gareau, the director of Parc national d’Opémican, snowshoes on the Grande-Chûte Trail, one of three marked hiking trails in the park. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

A rushing river passes snow-and-ice-covered pine trees

A view of the rushing Kipawa River from one of the lookouts on the Grande-Chûte Trail. In the summer, the 16-kilometre river, which connects Lac Kipawa with Lac Temiscaminque, is a popular destination for whitewater kayaking. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

Steam rises from a long lake flanked by high cliffs on a winter morning

Lac Temiscamingue, viewed here from a lookout on the Inukshuk Trail, is actually part of the Ottawa River. Downriver from this viewpoint is Pointe Opémican, where timber rafts were prepared for transport to mills and ports further south. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

An Inukshuk overlooking a semi-frozen lake

The Inukshuk Trail is named for this sculpture, which marks the viewpoint over Lac Temiscamingue. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

A ready-to-camp installation surrounded by tall trees

One of four Étoile ready-to-camp installations inside Parc national d’Opémican, which sleep up to six people. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)