Key Largo to Elliott Key (Biscayne Bay), Florida / February 16 - 26, 2015
February 27, 2015
Chokoloskee to Key Largo (Florida) / January 7 - 17, 2015
January 18, 2015
Key Largo à Elliott Key (Biscayne Bay), Floride / 16 - 26 février 2015
February 27, 2015
The Pas (MB) to Buffalo Narrows (SK) / June 1 to Juillet 20, 2016
July 25, 2016
Wednesday, June 1 to Wednesday 20, 2016
June began with force in The Pas with three interviews. We talked first with Hannah from Canoeroots Magazine and Gilles Parent and his team from Le Retour de Gilles Parent on the FM93 Quebec radio station. We eventually finished the day with Trent from the Local newspaper in The Pas. In the morning of June 2, we were back on the North Saskatchewan River. Our friend Warren and his colleagues gave us a ride to the boat ramp. What a good way to start our day with them: good humour, fun and jokes! Another huge thank you to Wescana Inn and its team for the incredible stay we had in The Pas.
Shortly after leaving, we were very happy to see traditional school activities taking place on the Indian Reserve of Big Eddy Settlement. We saw instructors teaching the children angling and netting, as well as forestries activities. These are skills that will surely be very useful later in their lives. After seeing so much misery on many of the reserves, we were pleased to see a program that integrated traditional activities. It was refreshing to see, because on the same morning, we heard a sad story from a security guard at. Wescana Inn. This lady is 54 years old today. Her biological mother is Ojibwe and her father Cree. At a very young age she was taken from her family and placed in foster care until age 18. She was not an isolated case and it was a way to deal with the native people. Fortunately, this is now past history and this practice is no longer used unless the family environment really represents a danger to the physical and psychological safety of the child. Her adoptive parents moved to Holland and lived there with the children for 15 years. She said that she hated the experience because all she wanted was to be able to return to her real parents, her family and her roots. She received a good education and her adoptive parents were very loving. But a void still persists in her heart to this day. She wanted to be raised as an Ojibwe / Cree with her real family.
The North Saskatchewan River proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. We had several consecutive days of strong head winds (between 35 to 65 km/h). In addition, the current was still growing and growing fast. The river banks were muddy. In the evening, it was sometimes difficult to find a place to set up camp. We had to carry everything in our arms, including Jasmine. This mud has no bottom and you sink fast.
Birds are abundant and diverse on the river. Unfortunately, we realized we did not know many species of birds. We have seen eight different kinds of duck, but we cannot name them (except the mallard). The geese were the species most abundant. We also saw deer, foxes, wolves, otters, beavers, ... and lots of tracks left in the mud by moose and birds.
The more we advanced, the more the banks were steep. In some places, the height was between 25 and 30 feet (especially the banks inside the curves). Then we crossed a dotted line on our map telling us we had left Manitoba and entered into Saskatchewan. We remembered all the nice encounters we had made in Manitoba and especially the friendships we created. Manitobans were generous and good to us. It is worth repeating ... the motto of Manitoba (on the license plate) is true: Friendly Manitoba.
We were not disappointed with our greeting from Saskatchewan. On the very first evening, we were received by Ken, Ted and his grandson. They offered for us to sleep in their camp and they planned our arrival at Cumberland House (scheduled the next day). We had already emptied the canoe and set up camp. We declined the offer for the camp, but we did see our neighbours the next morning (we were on the same island they named “Paradise Island”).
Ken gave us some explanation about a discovery we had made during the day. We saw a blue line hanging in a tree. On this line, several sturgeon were tied by the lower jaw so they could feed themselves and still remain in the water. It is Ken who hooked these fish to the line. Within three days of their capture, biologists will harvest data. They weigh and microchip these prehistoric appearing fish before releasing them. He is paid by the government (conservation and environment) to catch sturgeon. It's a good way to use local expertise while combining science and environmental protection.
On June 5, ouch !!! We had only 20 km to go to get to Cumberland House, or more precisely Pemmican Portage. The current was very strong. We had to use some tricks to keep moving forward. The water level was low. It took five hours to cover the distance. In addition, the wind was 55 km/h plus. Not easy! The only advantage we had was the lack of mosquitos. When we arrived at our destination, Ken was already waiting. He went to see his friend Kelvin who invited us to set up our camp on his land located a little further along. We thought at first that we would only stay two nights at the most. We had to pick up two packages at the post office (due the next day, June 6). Unfortunately, only one parcel arrived on June 6. The other one came on June 8. As everything happens for a reason, this waiting period allowed us to have great opportunities. The first was with Kelvin and Wilma, our hosts, they welcomed us like family. They offered us their home to take a shower and left us fresh food such as watermelon and salads. What a joy to bite into a fresh and juicy watermelon!
Wilma worked at the school in Cumberland House. She invited us to attend the mini-Olympics that took place on Wednesday, June 8. Pierre went and I stayed with Jasmine. I took the opportunity to continue writing our book. Wilma does a lot for the children. She has a tough job! She works not only with the students but with their parents to encourage them to change their lifestyles to help their kids and the generations to come. Her work goes far beyond what is expected of a school. During the mini-Olympics, Pierre was fascinated to see a traditional Cree game incorporated into the mini-Olympics. Two participants lie on the ground on opposite sides and compete with one leg. They have to turn their opponent around. Adding this traditional game in the Olympics demonstrates a desire to teach the children some of their heritage and history. The school works hard to motivate their students to succeed. On all classroom doors, there are inspirational phrases written, words of encouragement. As Kelvin says, we all have a responsibility to our community, our friends, families and our own lives. Everything begins with ourselves. It is for us to be a model and lead by example.
Yes, there are problems here, but we were greatly impressed by the willingness to make things better and to help others. A friend of Kelvin, Allen, created a community garden which is accessible to families in the community. He maintains it for free, providing the land and equipment. Allen also built an outdoor skating rink, at his own expense, to enable kids to play hockey.
On the school walls, several local personalities who have had success in one of the different spheres of sports, art and academic studies (judge, lawyer, RCMP officer, teacher, athlete, etc.) are represented. Solomon, a cousin and friend of Kelvin's, is on the wall. Near the school, a painted board says: "Before the winner, there was a beginner". It makes you think about our society. Everything goes so fast! Young people, in general, want everything quick without putting much effort into having it. In this era of rapid communication and video games; creates the phenomenon of "child-king"; everything is there to push young people to want even more and even faster. Since leaving Winnipeg, we have visited communities that have difficulties, such as suicide, drugs, alcohol, loss of a sense of community, loss of values and a search for identity. This simple and true sentence applies to all of us and many aspects of our lives ... every winner one day had to be a beginner. Before reaching our goal, we must work and make an effort. Remember where you come from and take the necessary actions to achieve the desired results. Everything does not fall from the sky. The luxury of easiness is not always given to all. We feel proud when we achieve our goals ... even more when we have to sweat to get there.
Kelvin works for the city. He has also participated in several canoe races in the past. He was very talented. Pierre had the pleasure to go out for a canoe ride with him. With his cousin, and friend, Solomon Carriere, they have won several awards. One evening, when we asked Kelvin if we could interview him about the canoe races and what they represented in his life, he called Solomon and his wife Renee to join the group. A really inspiring interview occurred with the two paddlers. Solomon has long been in the racing circuit. He has competed in Shawinigan (QC), the Yukon and Hawaii. They also talked about their ancestors and the importance of the canoe in their lives. You had to be good paddler to hunt and provide food for your family. You had to move quickly and quietly. Solomon's father often told him that he did not want to hear the sound of the paddle entering the water. The peak of the canoeist's career was in the 90s. Kelvin and Solomon taught us their paddling technique. We have put the new skill into practice and we have to admit that it is very effective and we have increased our speed. Here is proof that we are not done learning and refining our technique!
We also learned a lot about Cumberland House (the oldest colony in Saskatchewan, registered in 1774). It celebrated 125 years of education last year. We saw the first school, that could probably not accommodate more than 10-12 people. The York boat, used by the Hudson Bay Company was the quintessential mode of transportation in the region. Solomon's grandfather was a captain on a York boat. Solomon revives the tradition today by teaching it's use. It's totally amazing to realize that while the York boat was still in use to supply the most remote communities, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. On one side of innovation, technology and space exploration and on the other, survival and a mode of transport used for centuries. Canoeing, dog sledding, the York boat ... everything had a purpose once and still had one until recently.
Although Cumberland House is not a big town, it produced brave men who enlisted voluntarily to take part in the First and Second World Wars, as did one of Solomon's uncles. He convinced several friends to enlist with him. They had to walk the distance to The Pas, as there was no road at that time. After training concluded, the men decided to return to see their families before the big deployment. It was winter and they found transportation to get to The Pas. They convinced a taxi driver to drive them to Pine Bluff (located a little further than Cumberland House). The car drove on several rivers, including the North Saskatchewan River. Roger Carriere, Solomon's uncle, his younger brother, and grandfather of David (that we met on Matheson Island), remembered seeing a big black thing coming up the river. It was the first time he had seen a car. He was still very young. Another uncle, a sniper during the war, was hit by a bullet in the mouth. He was disfigured, but survived his injuries. Peculiar anecdote: while Solomon's uncles fought in Europe with the Allied forces, a family member of Renee's (Solomon’s wife with German origins) participated in the war as a General in the German army. Their families fought against each other in WWII. Today their families are together to form one united family.
On June 10, we were back on the water. The day before, we had to wait patiently due to storms. Kelvin gave us a ride to the boat ramp located on Lake Cumberland, saving us a few kilometres of portage in the village. We were very grateful. We left another fantastic place where we learned so much about the history, canoeing, the Métis and Cree communities. More importantly, we left in our wake, new forged friendships. Thank you all!
We enjoyed, very briefly, a tail wind at the end of Lake Cumberland. We then experienced a headwind until we stopped for the day. It has rained a lot. The drops fell with aplomb and consistency. Short and close waves decreased our pace drastically. Some 30 km further along, we found a place to stop. It was no longer worth fighting to go further. Our camp was not ideal, but we did our best to make it comfortable.
The next day we got up under bright sunshine. No more waves, nor wind, nor white caps!Superb! Going around the point where our camp was located, we discovered that we were now in the Canadian Shield. We were excited at the sight of these beautiful granite rocks. We felt at home. The water was clearer and its colour stands out with the help of the sun rays penetrating to it's depths. It seemed like a bright blade plunged into the translucent water and the greenish abyss! We made our entry into the Sturgeon Weir River. It was a strong start, with a set of rapids. We stopped at the dock of the small community of Sturgeon Landing. We had lunch and we looked at the weather forecasts. 100% rain expected for the evening and the next day. Brenda, a small smiling lady in charge of the Sturgeon Landing Outfitters, who drives around on her quad, gave us a huge bag of popcorn and fried fish. After talking with her son, we decided to stay here and rent a camp to sleep. On Sunday, we prepared bannock for a long trip on the river with many rapids. In the late afternoon and early evening, we witnessed a moment that we can qualify as a "National Geographic" scenery. We witnessed a natural and grandiose phenomenon. The stormy sky offered a concert of colours with different shades of grey, ultramarine and Prussian blue, pink, gold, violet, white, ... then lightning and incredible cloud formations that gave the effect of being close. The sky seemed to move quickly forward like a steamroller. We stayed outside to take photos and film until the rain finally forced us to seek shelter. Subsequently, the landscape became glittering with gold flakes and warm colours on post-rain scenery. Really beautiful!
June 13 marked my first real day of canoeing in the rapids. I would be lying if I said I was confident! Luckily, Pierre was there to coach me! After an awkward beginning, I began to tame the rapids and the different techniques to advance in the seething, turbulent water. We were proud of the 26.5 kilometres we completed on this very first day. The current was strong and there were many rapids. In addition, the water level was low.
The flies are very active and part of our environment now. When we stopped in the late afternoon, we changed our wet clothes for dry clothes. Clothing worn during the day was hung on the tent fly to dry. Hundreds and hundreds of flies swarmed our sweaters, pants and socks. When the flies disappeared, we retrieved our clothing contaminated by their drop