Wanatango Falls (oil on canvas 5 x 10 in.) Sold

19 September finds me painting Wanatango Falls on the Frederickhouse River, 23 km south of Cochrane, at the site of a proposed hydroelectric dam. I am sitting on a Spruce root that loops out of the mossy riverbank, in the shade of Spruce and Cedar. The river runs toward me through at least three slots in a massive outcrop of angular metamorphic rock, and I have chosen to paint the main falls, which is near the north side. 

An Aspen towers majestically above the Cedars and Spruces on the high rocky bank, an important part of the character of the scene. I ask myself "How would I recognize a picture of this waterfall?" and the answer is "Paint its towering Aspen tree". The sides of the rocks are felted with golden and green mosses and their tops are spotted with dark frilly lichens, perhaps little Rock Tripes, which also freckle the jumble of smaller stones at the river edge downstream. 

While I paint, Fred and Marigold forage upstream and downstream finding a lot of the lovely "Fatmucket" Lampsilis radiata siliquoidea shells, despite the relatively high water level. The rocks below me are littered with the whitened remains of the Crayfish dinners of some kind of predator. There are both Orconectes virilis and O. propinquus claws and rostra. They also
found Racoon droppings.

This afternoon we walked about a kilometre to the falls from where the van was obliged to park due to broad deep puddles in the clay track embedded with oval glacier-tumbled stones. A young Black Bear had left its toe prints in the mud before we came along with Marigold and her Dog tracks. She made a few dashes deep into the woods after Grouse, but otherwise stayed close to us in this unfamiliar territory. I photographed the foliose and crustose lichens on a large Poplar snag that rose from the deeply-mossed tangle of fallen branches like a monument to the glorious communion between fungus and alga, and Fred collected a branch bearing the pale beardy Usnea lichen. 

As the track descended toward the falls, the tree roots crossed it as living rungs across the clay. Then the road became soft underfoot with duff and leaf litter. Instead of a rocky rutted gash through the woods it had become part of the forest, leading us past the trunks of mossy-bedded trees which hid us from the sky with their finely needled boughs. 

We heard the falls before we saw them. Parting the branches at the edge of the riverbank I stood in awe of the powerful rush creaming through the rocky gap from the serene flat water upstream. I thought of the speed that some people hope will turn a turbine - but this fall is less than two metres in height, and to get anything more they'd have to build a dam from shore to shore across the rocks and change this place entirely.


  1. This comment was sent to me by Linda Heron, of Ontario Rivers Alliance:

    About Wanatango Falls – A River at Risk:
    Xeneca Power Development Inc. (Xeneca) is proposing to build a 4.67 MW modified peaking hydroelectric dam at Wanatango Falls, on the Frederick House River. This site is located approximately 26 km northwest of Iroquois Falls and 22 km south of Cochrane.
    Wanatango has been through the gauntlet once already in 2011 when Xeneca issued the Environmental Report (ER) and Notice of Completion for this proposal; however, the river was given a reprieve when the Ministry of Environment rejected another proposal on the Ivanhoe River because it was so lacking, and Xeneca was sent back to the drawing board to do more work. Xeneca was then given the opportunity to withdraw the ER for the Wanatango, and they complied.
    ORA is opposed to this development for the reasons set out in our 3 November 2011 letter to the Ministry of Environment’s office.
    Now Xeneca is close to completing their studies on the Wanatango and will soon issue the ER once again.
    Aleta Karstad and her husband Frederick Schueler, of Fragile Inheritance http://www.fragileinheritance.org have travelled to Wanatango to study and paint, and hopefully draw attention to this beautiful set of falls that could be lost.
    It is very timely that Aleta and Fred are on a junket to visit several rivers at risk over the next several weeks – so stay tuned for more of Aleta’s beautiful paintings on http://www.aletakarstad.com.

    1. Hi Aleta! ORA wishes to thank you and Fred for taking the time to go to Wanatango Falls, on the Frederick House River to record her majesty and beauty! If Xeneca has its way, this waterfall will be replaced by concrete and chain link fence, fish habitat will be destroyed, water quality and water quantity will be diminished, and it will be unsafe for the public to swim, fish or boat within at least a few kilometers downstream of this site.

      In gratitude,

      Linda Heron, Chair
      Ontario Rivers Alliance


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