Where is Brent?
If you really want to get away from it all in Algonquin Park, you should go to Brent! Located on the shores of beautiful Cedar Lake at the end of a 40 km gravel road, the historic community of Brent is the home of Algonquin Outfitters’ Brent Store, a canoe route access point, a low-key roadside campground, a dedicated group of cottagers, the lovingly restored Brent Ranger Cabin and even a meteorite crater.
Four reasons to visit Brent
1. Fewer people. As the Highway #60 corridor becomes busier every year, Brent offers a taste of what canoe travel in Algonquin used to be. Far from the mainstream of park activity, permit limits are rarely filled at this access point. Even in peak season, many customers report seeing few, if any, other people on northern interior lakes like Catfish, Burntroot or Carl Wilson.
2. Variety of canoe trip possibilities. Cedar Lake is the hub for several outstanding routes, including the Petawawa River (up or downstream), the Nipissing River, routes to Kiosk and Carl Wilson Lake and several shorter routes starting off the Brent road.
3. Resupply point for longer canoe trips. Brent makes an ideal restocking point for trips starting at Highway #60 or the park’s west-side access points. Groceries, snacks (even ice cream) and camping supplies are available although, due to the remote location, supplies can be limited.
4. Great fishing. Brent provides easy access to some excellent trout and bass fishing lakes, as well as the opportunity to fish for species found nowhere else in the park. Walleye can be caught in Cedar Lake and the Petawawa River, downstream of Cedar. Further downstream, below Lake Travers, muskellunge lurk.
There is a catch…
There are some good reasons why the Brent base enjoys its unique reputation! The main reason is the relative inaccessibility of the location. Brent is at the end of a 40 km (25 mile) gravel road. The Brent Road begins at Highway #17, the main route through the Ottawa Valley north of Algonquin Park. Years ago, the CNR offered passenger rail service to Brent on a daily basis but, in 1997, all service was rerouted and the tracks were removed. Since planes are not permitted to land on Cedar Lake, the road is the only way to get to there. The unusual nature and interesting geological features along the Brent Road deserve their own section and are described later.
A brief history of the Brent Store
An exact early history of the Brent area is hard to uncover. We do know that an early explorer of the upper Ottawa and Algonquin areas, Alexander Sherriff, camped on the shores of Cedar Lake near Brent in 1829. Lumbermen first arrived in the Brent area in the 1850s, over a pioneer road from the town of Deux Rivieres, on the Ottawa River. They were seeking the huge white pines needed by the British sea fleet. A railway was built and the small town of Brent evolved from the lumbering and railway operations. By the early 1900s, Brent had a population of 400, a school with 40 students and a church.
Sometime in that era, a little store was opened by one of the lumbermen, Sandy Geeghan. In the early 1930s, it was purchased by Gerry McGaughy, a former lumber camp cook and clerk. Along with his wife, Mary, Gerry operated the Brent Store for almost 50 years, until he passed away in January 1981. Beneath his gruff exterior, though, Gerry had a heart of gold, and became a beloved character of Algonquin Park. Many canoe trippers of that era have stories of being rescued from adverse conditions by arriving at Gerry’s door.
On his numerous trips through Cedar Lake over the years, Bill Swift Sr. visited Gerry and Mary many times, and they developed a close relationship. Swifty was very pleased to learn that Gerry’s desire was for Algonquin Outfitters to take over the operation of the Brent Store. By 1980, lumbering had long ceased in the immediate area and railway activity had diminished to the point that only two permanent residents remained in Brent. After some negotiations with the Ministry of Natural Resources, AO was able to open a canoe trip outfitting base and store to serve canoeists, summer residents and roadside campers.
From Gerry to Jake…
Over the years, Gerry accumulated many artifacts from the early days of the Brent community, including numerous logging implements and a switch from the Brent school. Even the grounds surrounding the store have an unusual role in local lore. They are the burial grounds of the many McGaughy dogs, including the famous “Judy,” remembered by many canoeists for her steady diet of peanuts in the shell and her resultant enormous girth. With this considerable collection of items and the colourful history of the Brent Store in mind, Swifty understood that a unique individual would be required to run the store, supervise the outfitting operations, carry on the traditions and be a curator of sorts. He found such a person in Jake Pigeon, who is almost as much a part of Algonquin Park history as Gerry McGaughy was.
Jake, a retired teacher from Penetanguishene, Ontario, is the son of Lorne and Mary Pigeon. Mary was born at the old lumber camp on Brule Lake and Lorne came from the village of Madawaska, just east of the park. Lorne became a park ranger and, so, young Jake spent several summers at Brent. Much of the year, the family lived on Cache Lake, where Mary was the teacher for children of park staff. In the days when such things were permitted, the Pigeon family had one of the most remote cottages in Algonquin Park. Located on an island on McIntosh Lake, the cottage was burned down by careless campers many years ago but modern-day canoeists may still be able to locate the stone chimney.
During his many years in the park, Jake acquired a reputation as one of the finest fishing guides ever to wet a line in an Algonquin lake or stream. He also guided whitewater trips on remote rivers in Quebec and Labrador. Proving that he can cope with the utmost adversity, Jake was Swifty’s partner in the 70-mile General Clinton marathon canoe race. After spending the summer of 1981 preparing and organizing the store to become an outfitting base, Jake presided over the opening in 1982 and has been the Brent Store manager ever since.
Accommodation at Brent
When you drive to Brent, you leave behind many conveniences but not vital necessities or stunning scenery! Cedar Lake has some beautiful beaches and the view from the shore is incredible. Before arriving at the lake, however, the first thing you’ll likely see is the Ontario Parks roadside campground. This is a rustic campground with vault toilets, cold running water and no electrical hook-ups. Visitors should remember that, while canned goods and glass containers are permitted in the campground, the can and bottle ban applies as soon you leave the campground for interior trips, including camping on any Cedar Lake sites.
Instead of camping, some people elect to stay in a communal bunkhouse that AO operates adjacent to the Brent Store. In addition to the campground and bunkhouse, the historic Brent Ranger cabin is the only other accommodation available at Brent. There are no restaurants and the closest motels are in Deux Rivieres or Mattawa. Flush toilets and showers are almost nonexistent at Brent!
Algonquin Outfitters – Brent version
AO’s Brent base is about one kilometre east of the old railway crossing. Customers familiar with the wide variety of services and products available at our other locations will find things a little different when they get to Brent. In this store, Jake stocks some fresh food and groceries like milk, frozen meat and bread for trippers and campground users, along with a representative selection of freeze-dried and dehydrated food. The outfitting department offers the same types of equipment as at other AO bases, but not in the same quantity. Fishing tackle appropriate to the area is available.
AO has purposely limited the amount of equipment available at Brent in order to help preserve some of the unique qualities of the base. Both complete and partial outfitting packages are available but advance reservations must be made through our main base at Oxtongue Lake (705-635-2243, 1-800-469-4948) at least four weeks ahead of your arrival date. Complete outfitting is not available at Brent after the Labour Day weekend in early September. There is no postal service to Brent and, believe it or not, no telephone other than a satellite phone reserved for emergency use!
Brent Store hours of Operation
It can be a little hard to “nail down” the store hours at Brent. With such a remote location, many factors can affect when they are open. The business hours at the right are actually what’s posted on the front door of the Brent Store.
- Brent opens for fishing season “By appointment” in early May
- Brent sometimes closes during black fly season, mid May until late June
- Open 9 am-5 pm daily in the summer (July & Aug)
- Open “By appointment” in the Fall (Sept. to Thanksgiving)
Visit the Brent Store page in our store locator for full details of current hours, services and directions.
The Brent Road
One of the main reasons why Brent is not generally busy is because it’s truly off the beaten track! The only means of access is the Brent Road, which starts near the town of Deux Rivieres, off Highway #17, about 34 km (22 miles) southeast of Mattawa and 111 km (69 miles) northwest of Pembroke.
Even though major improvements have been made in recent years, the winding Brent Road is gravel the entire distance and often has washboard sections, so it’s probably not suitable for most large RVs or boat trailers. The first section, which is outside Algonquin Park, is usually well maintained by logging companies – and well used, so watch out for trucks! The permit station is located just off Highway #17, near the start of the Brent Road. Whether you’re going to the access point at Brent, Wendigo or the North River, you should stop here to get your camping permit and fishing licence, if you need one. Keep in mind, there is no other permit station beyond this point!
The Brent Meteorite Crater
The famous Brent Crater is a little ways past the North River access point. Created 450 million years ago by one of the largest meteorites to ever impact the earth, the crater is a spectacular geological feature. A special viewing tower has been erected to help you grasp the enormity of the crater. This stretch of the road can be especially rough, so take your time. Most people take between one and two hours to drive from the highway to Brent. Although the road can be challenging, it can be an pleasant experience if you drive slowly and enjoy the sights along the way. Perhaps you’ll want to stop for a picnic lunch, a swim in one of the small lakes along the way or to check out the crater view.
Over the last few years, Algonquin Park staff, The Friends of Algonquin Park and a few groups of dedicated volunteers (like the Brent Historical Enhancement Program) have worked hard to make this special accommodation option available in Algonquin Park. Thirteen rustic ranger cabins have been restored, upgraded and made available for public use, only by reservation. Three cabins are accessible by road; the rest must be reached by canoe or on foot. One of the largest and most visually attractive is located in Brent, overlooking scenic Cedar Lake.
In its heyday, Brent was a busy little community, with railway, logging and park-related activities going on throughout the year. Built in 1932, the Brent cabin served as the Deputy Chief Ranger’s headquarters and was primarily used by park staff engaged in forest and fire protection in the Brent area. Constructed of red and white pine logs, the building was extensively renovated in 1994, with financial support from Algonquin Outfitters. The cabin has a large common room, a kitchen and four bedrooms equipped with bunks, allowing the building to sleep up to 12 people. A covered front porch offers a terrific view of the lake. The cabin is equipped with propane lights, fridge and stove, as well as an airtight wood stove in the main room.
The Brent cabin is very popular and reservations should be made well in advance. Visit the Algonquin Park web site for more information or call the park’s general information line at 705-633-5572.