The Pas (MB) to Buffalo Narrows (SK) / June 1 to Juillet 20, 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 droppings.
The next day, the river was calm. Not a ripple on the water and a perfect reflection of the trees. The wind finally came, but before it arrived, we had to wear our "Original Bug Shirt" to protect ourselves from the millions of flies and mosquitoes.
The elevation to get to the Amisk Lake was more important. We had fun running the challenges the river offered us. In one rapid,in particular, we had to use our imaginations. A portage was not possible, so we had to continue in the water. We walked in the river with water up to our armpits; cord the canoe; walking like mountain goats on rocky and steep notches; used our "crazy-carpet" to glide the canoe on a rock located between two lines of surging streaming water. In the last segment of the river, before arriving at Amisk Lake, we saw a series of buildings having us believe it was an outfitter. The weather was heavy and there was thunder. We could see the storm cells moving around us and one coming our way. So we crossed to the other side of the river where we met Mary-Ann and Shirley. Mary Ann invited us to set up our camp next to a cabin and enjoy the comfort of the facilities. We were able to take a shower and eat delicious soup. Then we had the pleasure of helping Mary-Ann in the kitchen. She had a big meal to prepare for a large group. She invited us to join this very special group of governors, chiefs and former chiefs of the First Nations. We greatly enjoyed our evening. We heard a lot about culture, social-economic conditions, education, traditions, identity, spirituality, the past and the future. We learned about the sweating tent, it's uses and functions. Very interesting! The spouse of Mary-Ann, Jimmy, is a man who has won several awards in the flour bag lifting competitions (King Trapper’s competitions). He holds the record for the biggest weight with 1056 pounds of flour on his back. His picture is in the August 1987 National Geographic magazine. Today, he fights pancreatic cancer. He seems very solid and strong, but the disease and treatments caused him to lose 80 pounds and he has a lot less energy. We wish him the best and hope that his treatments will cure his cancer. Thank you Mary-Ann and Jimmy for the sharing, your hospitality and the great opportunity you have given to us. We learned a lot and it was a real pleasure. The morning of our departure, we helped Mary-Ann in the kitchen and had breakfast with the group. Sherly and Noland gave us food for our lunch.
The passage on Amisk Lake was brief. We traversed it in one day and continued onto the Sturgeon Weir River. The rock formations were very interesting and everything was green. Pierre heard that once, way back during the fur trade era, indigenous people put a curse on the lake to prevent voyageurs and white people from going too far north on the lake.
We stopped that day at Spruce Rapids. There were lots of White Pelicans. The water flow and the rapid elevation forced us to make a portage. We set up camp in the highest section of the trail, ready to get back in the water the next day (under the rain). This was also where we started experiencing more and more flies. In fact, there were all kinds: black flies, mosquitoes, deer and moose flies, as well as the no-see-ums. The no-see-ums bothered me particularly. It looked as if I had chicken pox on my hands due to all of their bites.The Original Bug Shirt is definitely an important piece of equipment!
Throughout our journey, we saw several places where the forest had burned and saw different stage of regenerations. Despite the desolation left by the passage of the flames, we found some beauty in the power of nature and the new shrubs, flowers and grasses. In Lake Corneille, we even saw a pink granite hill completely naked. In fact, only a few charred trees graced the big bump that gave the illusion of being the bald scalp of a man. The fire also makes the trees brittle. Overnight, we heard a tree falling, fortunately, on the other side of the river.
On the Sturgeon Weir River, we traveled some good distances and not so good, some days. Everything depended how fast the current was, the water level and the portages. On June 17, we encountered our first paddlers (Derek and his friend). That day, we stopped for the night at the end of Birch Portage. Between the rain storms, we were treated twice to spectacular rainbows. After all the rain, hundreds of dragonflies stormed and twirled tirelessly offering us a beautiful evening show. Our stay on the Sturgeon Weir was very rainy. With portages, the cordelette (roping the canoe), the rapids and the rain, it would not have been surprising to wake up one morning with gills! We were always wet! The morning of June 18, we were pleased to experience a first day without rain. Already at 5:30, rays pierced and created gold specks inside our tent. It was also that day that we finished our journey on the Sturgeon Weir River. We made our entry into a series of lakes that would lead us to Pelican Narrows, then to the Churchill River.
The portage at Corneille rapids went well. It was the first place we saw logs placed on the ground allowing boats to be pulled over to cross from one river to the other. Unfortunately, we could not enjoy this facility and had to portage traditionally. It was strange to see people traveling by motorboat, go across, with their boat, to another body of water by gliding and pulling their boat on those logs. This is not unique for them, but normal. For us, it was totally new and exotic!
We had heard of Pelican Narrows several times. It was always in a negative way. All the people we met told us that we should not stop there and even paddle as quickly as possible and far from the reserve. According to what we have heard, there were seven murders last year. The Northern store was also burned and circumstances are still doubtful. We cannot count how many people tried to discourage us from stopping in Pelican Narrows, but many, many people did, even Chiefs from other reserves. We followed the advice of all these people and worked our way without stopping at the reserve. We were at the end of the fourth portage after a hard physical day (wind, current, rapids and portages). In the portages, we met with Pelican Narrows residents. All were very friendly, smiling people interested in our adventure. There is only one group of people we met on the fourth portage who had no interest in socializing. No salutation. None! Only one question asked: "Do you have a gun?" I wonder if we would have answered "no" what they would have done or said afterwards. They had lines on their face and had no taste for laughing. One of the men could scare any child (and maybe even a few adults) as his face inspired fear and anger. Later in the evening, just before the sun set, a group of youth arrived (16, 18 and 24 years old). The young men took time to talk with us. They were fishermen and were working very hard to get their commercial licenses. They were fishing in the lake upstream of the fourth portage. Every day, they had to return to Pelican Narrows with their fish. These three boys are school dropouts. They have no desire to go to school. The reason however, was surprising and I must say that we understand why they would not return. There is a serious gang problem and bullying at school. If you do not want to join a gang, they threaten you and their threats are reals. The youngest (16) was stabbed in the leg. A large scar reflects the seriousness of the attack. The second (18) is deaf on one ear and has a round scar scorched on his forehead. Not wanting to join a gang, the perpetrator fired a gun next to his ear and then put the end of the hot barrel on his forehead. He never returned to school after the incident for fear of being killed. The third and eldest one (24) did not explain what happened to him, but a large number of his teeth are missing ... or few teeth are still remaining. They said: "In the Cowboys and Indians films, it's always the cowboys who win. Here it’s the Indians who win. " When a problem occurs, police often come too late and seem unequipped to solve the problem", according to the young fishermen. In addition, these young people who work so hard to live a better life are ripped from the Band when they go to sell their crops. The Band does not want to give them their business licenses. They are paid 50% of the value for their fish. I think we do not to have to tell you how we've been messed up and disturbed by this meeting. We are proud of the boys because they are doing the best they can with the tools they have to live a better life. They are hardworking and resilient kids!
On 21 June, the first day of summer, we made our entry into the Churchill River. A sense of excitement came over us. The Churchill is legendary and important to the fur trade. To reach it, we did the Frog portage. This portage was named so because of an event that happened during the period of the fur trade. The Cree, wanting to make fun of the incompetence of the Chipewyan for preparing the beaver pelts, hung a dried skin of a frog at the entrance of the portage. That section also represents the change in watersheds. We left the Saskatchewan River watershed to enter the Churchill River watershed.
In the morning of June 22, on our little island made of granite, I prepared bannock before we resumed our paddling. What a day it was! It was not until 9:00 p.m. that we finally stopped for the night. We passed through impressive rapids. We did a lot of roping (cordelette) and at one point we had to be a little more inventive to pass the remaining obstacles before Keg Lake. Pierre was standing in the rapid and was pulling the canoe while I was behind about belly bottom deep. We had a two foot drop to go over. While Pierre was pulling and guiding the canoe over a tree trunk between rocks in a stream I was pushing from behind while lifting the canoe at the farthest reach of my arms. That's to say, it is only our "muscle and will power" that allowed us to move through the pass. Under a beautiful orange sunset, we were congratulating ourselves for our first big day on the Churchill. That was only the beginning and we had a lot of mileage to do. We did a lot of cordelette, walking and portages on the Churchill. More than what we imagined and was indicated on our map. It is only at Missinipe that we could see a water level graph. This year the level is very low, as we had thought.
Due to bad weather, we spent a few nights on an island located in the middle of a rapid (near Stanley Mission). Pierre had fun fishing at this place. Fishing was very good, and it seemed as if the fish were jumping directly onto our plates. Pike and walleye are the main species. We discovered that Jasmine loves fishing. Whenever Pierre took out his fishing rod, Jasmine became all excited. Interesting fact, Jasmine likes licking fish eyes! When Pierre caught one, she would hurry to get it out of the water. Once Pierre unhooked the fish, Jasmine would take it onto the grass where she would lick the eyes. She does not damage it. Then she returns to wait for the next fish. Pierre caught the biggest walleye of his life! About 5 pounds! He was very proud and was afraid that Jasmine would drop the fish before getting it on land, so he decided to do that task himself. That fish was destined for our supper and would not be released. Jasmine was offended! She sneaked out and grabbed Pierre's trophy and took it back near the water. The walleye had only to kick his tail twice to slide on the rock and regain its freedom. Pierre did not have time to react. The big catch was a thing of the past! Pierre paid for not letting Jasmine play with her fish.
Another fishing story: Pierre lost, against a pike, his single Red Devil spoon that he owned for over 30 years. The huge pike ripped everything. Pierre was disappointed. After setting a new line with a golden spoon, he went fishing again. To his surprise and amazement, the same pike bit again. This time, he did not let it go. He managed to get it out of the water. He got his Red Devil spoon back and all of his rigging. Unusually, the pike was so big that spoon had made a complete flip in his throat (the hook was ahead of the spoon). The pike was released and Jasmine did not have time to lick it's eyes. The important thing was that the spoon was recovered and Pierre had another fish story to tell. For those who know Pierre, you can imagine how he tells this colourful story, with passion. You can almost smell the fish! ;)
We ended up staying three nights on this paradise island. We had set up a comfortable camp and remained dry and sheltered under the tarp during the the rainfall. Between showers, we walked on rocks, went to see the rapids and fished. I also saw the biggest beaver I have ever seen.
On the third day, we met Jordan and his two clients. Jordan brought us two big plates of fried fish and beans. It was very welcome, especially in that rainy and gloomy weather!
We were back to paddling on Sunday, June 26, under bright sunshine. We met Gary and his team at Churchill River Travel Lodge. They helped us to do an easy portage ... carrying our material on a boardwalk with a quad and a trailer. Gary also gave us some food; bread, peanut butter, eggs and watermelon. The day before, I mentioned to Pierre how I dreamed of eating a watermelon. Well the universe heard my request and it was Gary who responded to it. Towards Stanley Mission, we met again with Jordan. This time, he was on leave. He was accompanied by his spouse, Jamie, and his friends (who give us cold Gatorade). They showed us where we could camp (because we wanted to stop near Stanley Mission and arrive early the next day, in order to realize all our errands), on an island near Little Stanley Rapids. In the evening, Jordan came to tell us to call him when we arrived in the village the next day, he would help us find a place to camp.
So, as agreed, we contacted Jordan upon our arrival in Stanley Mission. Within 5 minutes, he was there and offered to pitch our tent in his backyard. So we paddled around the piece of land on which sat the community with the reserve toward to the west. Jordan was already waiting near the boat ramp and he carried all our equipment in his truck to his home. Our stay with Jordan and his family (his wife Jamie, his son Zachary and his twin daughters Memphis and Taylor) was a great cultural experience. His home is located on the reserve. It allowed us a 24-hour immersion. Jordan told us about the robbery and vandalism problems on the reservation. It is mainly young people who are responsible for the trouble in the area. This saddens Jordan. The crimes usually occur at night, but may well occur in daylight. A curfew is in effect. At 10:00 p.m., the first siren was heard, then at 23:00 the last warning. Jordan takes great care of his children. He is a great dad and we congratulate him. We can tell that he loves them very much and wants only the best for them.
We also learned a lot about the life of Stanley Mission Reserve; its challenges and needs. A lot of thoughts, reflection and findings were noted and they will be detailed and expanded in our book. We would like to thank Jordan, again, and his family for the great opportunity they gave us, for their help, kindness, generosity and hospitality.
The next day, Jordan helped us again and brought our gear to the boat ramp. We said goodbye to our new friend and started paddling towards the Holy Trinity Anglican Church of Stanley Mission. The church is located on the opposite side of the river, in front of the community. Formerly, the village was located on the same side as the church. This building is the oldest one in Saskatchewan. Its construction was completed in 1856. In the '90s, it was restored. The church is beautiful! Built on a stone foundation, it was erected from wood. Its stained glass windows let in the warm and comforting colours. There is a cozy atmosphere inside. The photographers would be happy to spend hours capturing the different light effects, tone and shapes. In the cemetery, the tombstones are surrounded by fences and decorated with flowers. We had never seen this before. Each site is separate from its neighbour to create a private space. In front of the tip of land on which the church stands, there is a small island that once served as a place to send sick people that suffered from the Spanish flu. Several died. Let’s not forget that it was a pandemic in 1918-1919. More than 50,000 Canadians died out of the 21 million worldwide. Those who survived escaped the island and went into hiding north of the village to live their lives.
After a nice touristy stop, we left travelling towards Missinipe. We were invited (via Facebook) to come visit Churchill River Canoe Outfitters. A bed and a hot meal with the whole team were waiting for us. We, unfortunately, had to cut short our day due to thunder and lightning. We were lucky as the storms ultimately passed on either side of us, without touching us. The island on which we stopped was superbly equipped to receive campers like us. The only problem was there was a squirrel on the island. Jasmine had eyes only for it! We did not sleep much due to her excitement.
Wednesday, June 29, we left the small island to go toward a section of falls and rapids where there were two portages to achieve. When we arrived we saw an outfitter, and perhaps above all, a way to make an easier portage across. The trail near the falls seemed not maintained at all. We would have had to clear a path, so we decided to stop at the lodge to ask permission to trespass on their property to do the portage. Pierre met Randy Nelson the very friendly and charismatic manager of the place. He invited us to enjoy the Twin Falls Lodge facilities for portaging: a staircase and a motorized platform on rail. On top of this, Randy was waiting with his quad and trailer. How lucky we were!
The place is beautiful and has a very privileged and unique location. New log cabins have been installed and old buildings will be replaced by new ones soon. Randy showed us the property and offered us a boat trip to see the Twins Falls (they were not on our path). Randy then offered for us stay and have lunch with all the team. A nice atmosphere reigns in the group and we must admit that the food prepared by the cook is phenomenal. Delicious!!! Randy and Lorraine (his wife). oversee the operation of the premises. Randy is a retired officer of a long career with Fisheries and Oceans. He also wrote a book about his interesting career (Poachers, Polluters and Politics: A Fishery Officer's Career - Randy Nelson).
Having spent a little more time than expected at Twin Falls Lodge, Randy took care to contact Ric of the Churchill River Canoe Outfitters (C.R.C.O.) to advise him of our delay. It is said that Ric could have dug the Churchill River, as he knows so well every piece of it. For over 40 years, he has been operating the Outfitter in Missinipe. He arrived in the 70s and fell in love with the region. We understand why.
Upon our arrival in Missinipe, we were very well received by Ric, his son Dan, his daughter Sarah and all his great and dynamic crew. In addition, a couple from Yukon arrived at the same time as us. What we did not know at that time is that a friendship was to be forged quickly with Mike and Christelle with whom we share many common passions and values.
Facilities at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters (http://www.churchillrivercanoe.com/) are just great. Hostel type, it is possible to sleep in very tidy cabins with all original names. Then there is the place of gathering, the Timber Frame where the kitchen, living room and relaxing area are (see video). A sense of small comfortable, exotic and festive paradise emerge from the place. We had the impression of being on holiday. The community is composed of about twenty people who live here year round. During the summer, hundreds of people visit Missinipe, gateway to the Churchill River. In addition to the accommodation, the canoe rental and equipment and the freeze dried meals for your adventure (and a whole menu if needed), Dan (Ric’s son) makes and updates maps for the entire region (and more) with a wealth of information not available on traditional maps. The maps are extremely well made. Go on to check them out: http://www.canoemapscanada.com/.
As soon as we arrived, Ric made us feel at home. We loved sharing different topics like our respective lives and experiences, canoe trips, the outdoors in general and the outdoor industry, the history, etc. Pierre and Ric have so much in common! The two would have talked for weeks if we did not have to leave and Ric had a business to run. Ric is a great enthusiastic, passionate man. He knows the history very well and shares his knowledge without restriction. He is a generous man. His family is just as wonderful and the employees all stand to the value of C.R.C.O. A big thank you Ric for the invitation, your hospitality, the delicious meals, the beautiful evening, the accommodation, your generosity and all the information provided, your help and support, and simply your friendship and hospitality. Paddlers and voyagers, mark C.R.C.O. as a place to go. This is a must!
As said earlier, we were lucky that our path also crossed with Mike and Christelle. Christelle is from France and she has been living in Canada for the past 3 years. She has been in a relationship with Mike for 2 years. They met in the Yukon, where they live. Together, they form a really endearing couple, always caring for others. What a joy to be able to talk with them and share similar feelings about life and our world. Mike and Christelle love white water canoeing. They also love biking and skiing. They live their life with a nomadic rhythm and to the fullest. A beautiful friendship was forged during these two days. They offered breakfast and lots of good things to eat on the expedition. But mostly,and before everything, we spent unforgettable moments with them.
During the evening of June 30, a conservation officer and two other agents were in full task to locate a bear that had become a nuisance and a threat to people's safety. We had seen the bear earlier in the day near a bathroom building. It was not afraid of humans and only when Jasmine barked did it flee. The officer in charge had heard of Jasmine and was curious to see her work. Pierre offered to go with them in search of the bear and let Jasmine do the job of tracking. It was already dark outside. We were with Christelle and Mike at the Timber Frame, drinking wine and talking. Pierre returned approximately one hour after starting the search at 11:30 p.m.. The bear had gone too far, so the research was put on ice overnight.
On Canada Day, we went to have breakfast with our friends at the fire station. Each year, the community prepares pancakes, bacon and sausage. For a big $3.00 you recieve a huge plate and lots of pleasure! Back at the hostel, Anthony (whom we had met the day before), asked us if he could do an interview with us. Anthony is from the nearby town where I grew up. He went to the same high school as I did! It's amazing how small the world is !!! Anthony is a producer, photographer, videographer. He travels all over the world to film and create programs on sporting events. This weekend, it was the White Water Festival in Missinipe. Anthony is an interesting and talented young guy. He is very professional and knows how to capture stunning images. He has a beautiful philosophy on life and a bright future. We can say that he already has the nomadic fibre. I believe that by meeting with us, Christelle and Mike, he would be inspired to start new projects with his girlfriend. Currently, he lives in Nova Scotia where he can surf in his spare time. Anthony also conducted an interview with Mike and Christelle. It was really nice.
When we left Missinipe, Anthony followed us for some time to take pictures at every angles. We look forward to see the result. We continued our journey on the Churchill River. The next section forced us to walk some places we did not think we would have to. The water level is, like the graph said, still very low. We had to get out of the canoe often. We had the do our first long portage at Devil Rapids. 1.5km of walking. We started around 5:00 p.m. Being completely resupplied, our bags were full. We had to do 7 trips back and forth, to carry everything including the canoe. We divided the distance in 5 legs (the fifth being the end of the portage). Do the math. It's not 1.5km that we walked but much more! Once on the other side, we found the perfect island to set up camp. Listening to the melody of loons, we had supper. A beautiful day!
On July 2, we remained soaking wet. Several rapids and portages were completed. The scenery was beautiful. We were still in the Canadian Shield offering us an opportunity to find the perfect places to stop and camp. The next day we did a good distance considering all the portages on our way. We worked well together to move the canoe through the obstacles. We were happy with our progress and accomplishments! You always feel good after a physical day like this where everything seems to have gone smoothly and efficiently. Later in the afternoon, the wind began to blow harder and harder. We were able to use the sail for the last 4 km remaining before reaching our destination. We wanted to say hello to Bart and Vicky, who Ric had told us about. They run a camp on Black Bear Island Lake. When we arrived, we met Bill and his friends (who also give us a contribution ... thank you all !!!!). After talking for a while, we went back to an adjacent island to set up the camp. It was already late in the evening.
Independence Day offered us a rest. Thunderstorms, rain, and strong winds allowed us to sleep later and make a new batch of bannock. Sitting in our chairs under the tarp, we were treated to a memorable scare! The wind was strong and angry. Behind our camp, we knew there was a tree that could potentially fall, but it was leaning amply to the opposite side of us. Even though the roots would have clinched and the tree rebound, we would have been safe where we were. The place where we had put the camp was the safest on this island. Nevertheless, the tree in question stood up magically and began to fall toward us. It rolled again on itself to dodge us before collapsing on the ground about 10 feet behind the tent, where Jasmine was sleeping. We looked at each other with big eyes! As we say, it was a "close call." A few feet shorter and that would have been the end of the story for all of us!
On July 5, we covered a good distance with 53 km. The morning was cloudy, but the afternoon was sunny. We even passed through a set of rapids and some shallow places before arriving at Needle Falls and its portage. To our surprise, we were not alone! A large group of young teenagers with adults were there. They are a group of Aboriginal youth from Alberta and Saskatchewan. They are on a 12 day canoe trip organized by pastors. This project is in its 35 years. The project is really interesting and a great way to give an opportunity to teenagers to excel physically and mentally. They learn a lot about themselves and are less inhibited to share their experiences and emotions. They perform an activity that requires the transcendence and involvement. They cannot lie to themselves. The daily efforts require them to be honest with themselves and the others. It is a very nice project. During our discussions about the problems faced by First Nation's youth and possible solutions to help them, we have discovered a concept that speaks to me. I believe that our personal identity is not defined by our community, our family, our friends or even our society. What we are is defined by ourselves and we are responsible to ourselves. Our surrounding world should be there to help and support us in this journey as we grow up. In many cases, unfortunately, children are not encouraged to become what they could be and to explore their full potential and talents. Nevertheless, the responsibility is still ours to define us as a person, choose our values, find our passions, set goals and find ways to achieve them. This is easier said than done, I agree! One of the monitors told me that a very brilliant student he knew had successfully passed all the final exam to graduate, except one. On purpose, he failed the last exam required for his graduation. He would have been the first and only member of his family to graduate. He did not want to raise himself above the others. He felt the pressure from his family members to be what he was told to be. He has to be like the others. The monitor told me that in the values of most indigenous communities, it is important not to stand above the others and to stay with the community. I understand this value, however I think it necessary to say this (because I have seen it in other places), to try to lower someones expectation is pure jealousy and selfishness. It is to try to keep some control over someone so it seems we are no better than the other one. Instead of doing that, why not try to fulfill your passions too. So teenagers, it is important to define yourself, to find your values in life and pursue your desires and passions! You are the masters of your happiness and destiny. Keep faith in yourself. Listen to the positive and forget about the negative.
Wednesday, July 6, the sky was grey and heavy. It was cold! We honestly felt like staying in bed a bit longer, but we didn't give in to our laziness and got up. We managed to make a fast start despite the fact we had to complete the portage across Needle Falls. After saying goodbye to the monitors of the youth group (teens were still in bed), we grabbed our paddles and got to the next rapid. Once well engage into the rapids, I thought that "man O man!" I should have put the GoPro on my head. It took about 45 minutes to complete the rapids and it took a lot of creativity, perseverance and adversity. I think we did every trick and had every kind of obstacle we could have encountered. Cordelette, walking ankle deep to under the arms deep, climbing on the walls, lifting the canoe on steps, cutting branches, jump back in the canoe just for 10 feet licking almost the wall rock to go across a deep place, lift trees and force the canoe to go under, ask Jasmine to do some contortions, spider webs, dead bugs on the rocks, big roaring and breaking roller a foot from us ... the scene is difficult to describe but it was unbelievable! We were completely soaked, but cheerful! The sun thankfully appeared and warmed us. We had one final portage to make our entry into Lake Sandfly.
After a lunch break on a particularly beautiful island with granite, lichen, flowers and small trees, we resumed our journey. This is when the game of cat and mouse began between us and thunderstorm cells. We dodged a few of them, but the last one would not let us go. Lightning lit up the charcoal clouds. So we cut short our day and found refuge on an island. We set the tarp and Pierre had enough time to catch a fish before the rain (Jasmine had time to lick its eyes too!).
The next day we saw other people canoeing. In the distance, we wondered who these people could be. One canoe. Then we noticed that the canoe was white and had a spray deck. Instead of paying attention to the people in the canoe, we kept on analyzing the canoe. It was a big surprise when we finally recognized Christelle and Mike! What a joy! We put the canoes side by side. Jasmine moved onto the other canoe and went to say hello. She even laid behind Christelle. We talked a while while drifting with the current. Mike also gave Pierre some lures for better fishing results. Mike and Christelle will be missed. We wish our paths would have been in the same direction, we could have spent a few more days together. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
We had to stop for almost two hours because of thunderstorms. We set the tarp and found refuge under it. Despite this long delay, we achieved a good paddling day. We finished with the last rapids near Highway 914 bridge (north of Pinehouse). Funny fact, while we were moving the canoe in the rapids using the cordelette, people on the bridge shouted that there was a portage that we could have used. What they did not realize is that we'd rather make cordelette and walk in the water, than portage. Portaging takes longer to complete (even for a short distance). Empty the canoe, carry everything and fill the canoe ... it takes time!
Once on Sandy Lake, we made two more kilometres to get to an island. We had to cut some reeds to create a better place to pitch the tent. Until now, we had always been pretty well served as for campsites. That night, we had to put some effort to make it more comfortable and dry. We notice that we are slowly getting out of the Canadian Shield. There is less and less large granite rocks. The sand begins to appear, but there is no beach yet.
The next day, July 8, we finally found our wide big sandy beach on Lake Knee, but before this, we had to navigate the maze of the river delta at its output into Sandy Lake. A long ride against the current made us discover new landscapes. A putrid odour also appeared at a time. We realized later that it was the fish that were either dying or already dead and decomposing. We have seen hundreds of them, all bottom fish. In the evening, we met Raymond, Philomène and their big dog King. Raymond believes that it is the water temperature that effects the fish. They are more sensitive than other species. Raymond and Philomène live in Patuanak, but also have a camp in Old England Settlement, formerly a place where there was a trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company.
In the morning of the 9th, we had to make some more bannock and therefore got started later. We crossed Lake Knee completely and went through some rapids. We made good progress, despite the seven rapids and two other places where we had to walk with the canoe due to the lack of water. The current was strong. Because of a wrong move on my part, we hit a rock during a crossing from one side of the river to the other. Fortunately, more fear than harm! However, the canoe begins to show the shallowness of the water. The bottom is scratched as much as our legs are bruised and cut. We finished a late day. It was nearly 9:30 p.m. when we had supper. We stopped on an island in the middle of the river where the beavers rule. Jasmine was crazy and happy as a fish in the water! I think she dreams of catching one of these beasts who once were a big economic value during an epic exploration era. During the day, we also saw several black bears, including a cinnamon coloured one. Another bear crossed the river right before our eyes.
The next day we camped on an island upstream of the Lake Dipper portage. Portaging this section went fast and was relatively easy. There is a rail trolley that people can use. We got the canoe on the ramp (made of spaced beams) and pulled it up to the trolley. Due to the degree of the slope at the start, we sweated a lot before we successfully moved the platform. Once on its way, it was a breeze to pull and push the trolley. On the other side, there was a Verchère (type of boat). A relic of the past, it was equipped with the latest technology (turbine engine). We saw these boats in action the following day in the rapids. With grace they went upstream with the nose up and in the air. They seem to float in the air.
July 11 marked the use of our fiftieth topographic map since leaving Winnipeg. A big thank you to Reprografic who made the printing of all the maps we will need during our 20 months expedition. It is also that day that we arrived near Patuanak. We found a sandy beach where we stopped for the night, about two km from the village. The next day, we went to the Northern store to buy a few missing items, such as oatmeal, sugar and bread. We met with Fiona, the manager of the store. Northern stores belong to the North West Company, which has existed since the time of the fur trade, and provides goods and services to hard-to-reach and underserved communities.
We manoeuvred two other small rapids before making our entrance into Lake Île-à-la-Crosse. Great joy took hold of us because we could say that the rapids of the Churchill River were now behind us! It was very windy that day. Enough to get the sail out. We covered a great distance with it. In the afternoon into the late afternoon, the wind had become a little stronger, but it was the waves that had become really problematic. Waves breaking, 8 feet, fast train of wave and not in the same angle as our heading. We wanted to continue along the west side of the lake, but nature had other plans. In Little Gravel Point we stopped on the east side of the lake and git out of the water. The water passed over top of the canoe a few times and the canoe often went surfing. When the crest of a wave broke in the middle of the canoe, both ends of our canoe were floating in the void and Pierre lost all control and had difficulty steering. Before the waves were too strong, we averaged 10 km/hour. We even had speeds up to 12 km/hour!
On July 13, we were forced to stay put. The wind blew with the same intensity and the waves had increased. This allowed us to rest a bit, cook and invent new dishes with the bulk foods from Happy Yak. We eat well and diversified. At noon we enjoyed vegetable & chicken pizza and strawberry crumble. In addition, the berries begin to emerge. We were able to harvest raspberries. Soon we will eat Saskatoon berries (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelanchier_alnifolia). Jasmine had already decided that they were ripe enough to eat. Without having taught her how to harvest them, she began to select the ripest and feed out of the bushes. She collects the fruits with the end of her lips without touching the leaves or dropping other fruit. We imagine that bears also eat small fruit this way.
On July 14, we had a long day with 80 km of lake and river. We arrived at Lake Churchill (the source of the Churchill River) in the evening. Shortly after mounting the camp, the sun was setting. We were in Buffalo Narrows. When laying our heads down on our pillows, we were pleased with our efforts and to be able to say that we have paddled the Churchill River to its source.
Friday, July 15 was a special day. After finding a place to stay in the village, Kim, manager of the Krows Nest Inn, came to greet us and offer assistance for portaging our equipment. She is a kind and generous lady who also offered her car so we could do some errands. Then in the late afternoon, our friends Jean-Robert and Odette arrived after driving for three days and a half from the Quebec City (QC). What joy to see them. What a pleasure to be with them. It was the start of a great weekend. In addition to the tasks we had to accomplish, we went to see the La Loche River. The water level is low, but we believe that we will be paddle, at least, up to the bridge of the road to Garson Lake. We met there a gang of friendly people staying in La Loche.
Afterwards, we ate lunch on the dunes of the park. A long beach stretches for 10 km along the Peter Pond. When we arrived, there was a whole group all dressed up and taking pictures for a wedding.
We also met Ferg, an airline pilot on CL-215P. Ferg has invited us to visit the base and a plane. A great opportunity that we seized with great pleasure! Ferg gave us a lot of information. He is passionate about his job, but he has another great passion: the Sasquatches. Yes, the legend is still well and truly alive and it is said that it will be more and more alive as we get closer to BC. Ferg made us laugh with his great stories. He has warned us that if we try to call a Sasquatch, you must be ready for anything, because maybe you have offended him and he will want to beat you or he may think you are wooing him. In any case, it can hurt! ;)
In the evening, Doug (owner of the motel) and Susan his wife invited us to have supper with them. It was an excellent supper spent in excellent company. We greatly enjoyed our evening. Thank you both for your generosity and great company.
On Monday, our Jean-Robert and Odette left. Almost four more days on the road for them to return to Quebec. We are extremely grateful, happy and blessed that they came to see us. We spent a magical weekend with them. Thank you also for bringing our food supply and our parts (thank you to Mireille and Dave for the preparation of materials, Christine from Happy Yak and Michael for repairing our broken axles and to have sent it quickly to Jean-Robert before his departure).
That day, we also had a private CL-215P show. We decided to stay one more day to give me the opportunity to work on the blog and take the time to upload photos to our website. Since Pierre had nothing else to do than watch me work, he offered to help Doug. Doug has many, many thing going on. He is probably not sleeping much at night. We thought it was our turn to give back. Even if we spend a few more days here, we will be happy to have helped Doug and lessen a little his list of things to do. From my side, instead of rushing the writing, I can take the time to write. There is more than one month to retell ... that's a lot of history! :)
So we are still in Buffalo Narrows on this very day of July 20. Pierre has built two terraces, one with a roof and one without. The work had to wait a little yesterday afternoon because of thunderstorms. Pierre believes that if the weather cooperates, there are about two days of work the complete the task. After, we will head towards La Loche and continue our exploration.