Bronte Creek: Spring Run in Southern Ontario

As I’m sure we can all agree, the weather is starting to heat up and people are starting to pull out maps and book time off work for summer trips and adventures. For us, spring means the birth of a new canoeing season.

Before we get into more northern lake system camping, we have started kicking off the season with day trip river-runs in Southern Ontario. For one, these areas are accessible earlier in the season and two, most of these routes are only runnable during the spring melt. These factors make Southern Ontario an ideal place to scrape of that winter rust and get some strokes under your belt before the real “camping” season begins. Last year we started the season with the Credit River, this year we started it with a new route, the Bronte Creek. I first heard of the Bronte Creek last summer and it has been on my radar ever since.

This route is ideal when water levels are between 6.10 and 6.30 m at Station 02HB011  and for canoeists and kayakers who are confident with their ability to navigate around sweepers in quick moving water. The route primarily consists of swifts around bends with a few Class I's and an occasional Class II.

The conditions of the Bronte discussed in this report are based on our findings on April 2nd 2017. Environmental conditions including water levels, river obstacles, portages and technical sections may differ over time. It is very important to check current local hydrology trends at the Water Office prior to canoeing this route. A lot of river systems can become extremely dangerous during high water.

Only paddle your skill level and what your equipment is rated for. Flood water in the early spring is not the place and time to be pushing your limits. 

Route on Bronte Creek from Lowville Park to Lake Ontario


  • Total Distance: 25 km
  • Portages: 3 (not including pull-overs and lining)
  • Total Portage Distance: 350 m
  • Longest Portage: 150
  • Portage Difficulty: Easy
  • River Difficulty: Intermediate (technical sweeper sections)
  • Number of Days: 1

We arrived at Lowville Park, in Burlington at 11:30 am on April 2nd. The weather was 11 degrees and sunny. We were on the water by noon and we were quickly welcomed by swifts and Class Is which were at every bend of the river. For the first few kms the river meanders through parkland and residential area. This area becomes technical and requires competent paddling. The water levels themselves weren’t the challenge but the excessive amount of blow downs and sweepers were. It seemed like every bend had a sweeper crossing it. Because of this, a lot of sections required initial scouting to successfully get through the tree blocked sections.  

Sweeper City and Rough Canoeing

The first 5 kms of the route consisted of short paddle spurts followed by getting out of the canoe to scout, line or portage technical sweeper sections . These delays caused us to only accomplish 5 km in the first 2 hours.  This section of the route was very taxing and the short we distance covered started to become a concern when we realized it was 2 o’clock and we still had 20 km to make it to our take-out at Bronte Beach Park on Lake Ontario.

After the first few hours we were starting to get a little discouraged, a little dazed and in retrospect we our minds started to wander and we lost focus. This is a mental state you don’t want when you’re trying to navigate unfamiliar water. And a lesson we quickly learned.

The Canoe Tip

At about 7 km down the river we started to enter a heavily forested area. The sweepers were slowly starting to ease up but at this point we were trying anything to avoid getting out of the canoe.

We were paddling around a bend when we caught eye of a log crossing the entire river. It was semi-submerged and there was moderate waist-deep water flow . This low consequence obstacle motivated us to try to shuffle over it to avoid getting out of the canoe again.

We paddled up to the log, beached the canoe and slowly rocked ourselves as the boat shuffled its way across. This was an easy maneuver and it seemed like the best option at the time.

 As we shuffled off the end of the log we were both focused on the stern not getting stuck. Finally being released, we became dislodged on an angle as we floated down river. Being happy that we didn’t have to get out we started patting ourselves on the back. What we didn’t notice was that we were floating down stream sideways with a small sweeper approaching. Not realizing the true power of the water, we bumped up against the tree sideways and then started trying to reposition ourselves. By that time it was too late. As soon as we hit the tree, the canoe started tipping and the water started flowing into the boat and by that time it was game over. Before we knew it the boat was fully submerged.

At the time, I was in the stern, and quickly jumped out of the canoe into the waste deep water. Alex on the other hand, was in the front and somehow got between the sunken canoe and the sweeper. For a moment Alex found himself stuck in an awkward position that was more of a surprise than anything. He quickly stood up and pushed himself and the canoe off the sweeper as we both took a moment to take in what just happened. We were standing in waste-deep ice water with a sunken canoe in early April.

Having a momentary lapse in judgement, we quickly paid the consequence. Although we did not feel that we were in severe danger it was overall a truly humbling experience. We quickly dragged the canoe and our equipment to shore and took a moment to reflect on what happened.

 After the spill we had a new appreciation for the power of moving water and it really enforced the necessity to always keep your mind on task when you’re on the water. Luckily for us it was a low consequence situation but none-the-less, an eye opening experience.

After collecting ourselves and our Nalgenes (which floated down stream) we continued down river fully engaged in every stroke and turn of the canoe.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park

About an hour after our tip, the river started to become more free of river-wide sweepers and we were able to travel at a more efficient rate. The route as of now had been relatively flat in low lying areas with rolling grassy hills in sparsely forested areas. At about 11 km the landscape started to transition into steeper banks and shale outcrops as we approached Bronte Creek Provincial Park. As we paddled we were accompanied by large spawning steelhead and suckers as we floated through crystal clear gravel beds. A note to mention is that it is very important to have minimal impact on the breeding grounds of these delicate fish species. When paddling, be mindful of your strokes and try not to disrupt the river bed. For an urban canoe route, the river was teeming with life which is great to see and something we as canoeists should try our best to preserve.

As we entered Bronte Creek Provincial Parks, water became faster with short Class I and IIs. This portion of the route, in my opinion, is the most spectacular with views which include large, vertical, red shale cliffs.  In this section you are committed to the route because you are surrounded by an 80 foot gorge for 10 km.

There are a few sections that require some scouting as well as one 150 m portage around a log jam.

Once out of the Bronte Creek Provincial Park, the river continues to meander as the river starts to widen and slow down after Rebecca Street, 23 km from the put-in. Once you reach Lake Ontario there is no significant moving water.

We reached the take-out at Bronte Beach at 6:00 pm. After the initial hiccups and slow travel rate, it took us 6 hours to complete the 25 km route. Overall, the route was very rewarding because of the amount of technical sections, as well as the beautiful scenery and wildlife. We would recommend this route to anyone looking for an intermediate river in Southern Ontario during the spring melt.