Saturday, June 24 to Friday, July 14, 2017 - Winnipeg (MB) to Fort Frances (ON)
We began this new leg of our journey on the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on the Red River in Winnipeg. Our friends David and Caroline brought us to the water's edge of the Red River under a torrential rain. We were heavy hearted to leave our friends. We had such a great week with them and we will always be grateful for what they have done for us. We were sad though that we could not say good-bye to Nevada (who was with her father at that time). However, we were able to see her again from the top of a bridge with Caroline and David later in the afternoon.
We started paddling across the river, toward the opposite shore to join the Red River Brigade. That day, the event of 150 Canoes on the Red River was to take place. Unfortunately for the organizers, the temperature did not help and there were only three other canoes that accompanied the two Voyageurs canoes (canot du North) along the course. Then around 4:00 pm, near the fork (junction of the Assiniboine and the Red River), about twenty canoes joined the group to paddle the last hundred meters in order to arrive before the La Compagnie de la Vérendrye in Saint-Boniface, who fired their muskets and swivel gun to greet the group (Click on the following link and you will be able to read more about the event and even see us in a picture: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/manitoba/canoes-canada-15-winnipeg-1.4177261).
Then we shouted "Vive la Brigade” and proceeded along the Red River northbound toward Lake Winnipeg. We ended our day at the Royal Manitoba Yacht Club where we were invited to set up our tent for free in the courtyard. The next morning we had the pleasure to talk with the owners of the restaurant, Maryanne and Richard. We had the royal treatment with two big free breakfasts and bacon for Jasmine (even more extra bacon for Jasmine for later).
All day, we played cat and mouse with storm cells. We dodged the majority of the rain, but we received two intense showers, but brief ones though. Then we passed the only existing lock on the Canadian prairies. The St. Andrews Lock and Dam was officially opened in 1910 by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. It is the largest infrastructure of its kind in the world, ie Camere style (which uses a removable curtain system made of horizontal Douglas fir laths that rise or close to control the water level.) This system was very popular in western Europe in the 19th century.
At the end of the lock there must have been at least thirty fishing boats. It was the first time this year that we saw so many boats in one place. We ended our day at Breezy Point at Willow Springs Campground. Bill and Helen warmly welcomed us with their daughter Crystal. They invited us to pitch our tent where we wanted. We had a dinner with them and a great evening. A really nice couple. Bill and Helen invited us to stay one more day to avoid the northerly winds on the lake. We followed their recommendation. We had the pleasure of sharing more with our hosts and sharing even more delicious meals with them. When we say that Manitobans are generous and welcoming, here is another proof. Then, accompanied by their friends and residents at the campground, we went for a pontoon boat ride to explore the area. It was a lovely trip and the scenery was beautiful. On the way back, we had a great surprise. Connie and Smitty (from Matheson Island) came to see us. They were in Selkirk. We didn’t know. So the timing was just perfect to meet. It had been over a year since we had seen them and it was like it was yesterday. We were really happy to see our friends.
On Tuesday, June 27, it was time for us to leave and go back to Lake Winnipeg, just over a year after leaving it. We said goodbye to Bill, Helen and Crystal and thank them again for everything. We wish Crystal that she will also receive the news she is expecting in August.
We enjoyed a southeast wind all day. We even used the sail on a few occasions. We went very well with 75 km covered in one day. Along the way, we met people who were kite-surfing. Funny, one of them approached us and told us he was following us on Facebook (Thomas).
We stopped on the extreme point of the beach of Victoria Beach, located just in front of the tip of Elk Island. The sand was white and made noise as we walked on it, just like on the beaches of Lake Michigan. This noise is created by the large amount of quartz and the grains must be well rounded to create this funny noise.
We had to stay a second night at this place due to the wind, waves and rain. The morning of our departure, we could not even see the Elk island, even the tip on it that is almost touching the main land. There was a thick fog, and occasionally a glimmer of light appeared in few places. Finally, more and more light started to cover the sky to the east, where we were going. Soon after, the cloud disappeared and we enjoyed the sun for the rest of the day. We left Lake Winnipeg to enter the Winnipeg River right after lunch. We began to see granite rocks, a sign that we were at the edge of the Canadian Shield. We arrived at the first dam (of several of them on the Winnipeg River), located in Pineview-Pine Falls. We met Tiffany and Ryan who offered us a lift to the convenience store to buy something cold to drink. It turned out to be a hot day. Then we hauled our gear and canoe over the dam and walked to the Blue Water RV Park & Campground. We were warmly greeted by Joyce and Gail. Hard to imagine that in 2008, there were only two sites available then. Now, there are more than 100 sites to choose from. The campground is family operated and several sites rest on beautiful long granite rocks http://bluewatercampground.ca/site/. (You may have noticed, we love the Canadian Shield and we cannot get bored by its rocks).
The next day we crossed two other dams. There was a little more current (we are paddling upstream on the Winnipeg River). We first went to Great Falls. We had to get out of the water far enough from the dam, causing a longer portage of about 5 km. Then we went over the McArthur Dam. We walked to the end of the levee and found a nice place to set up camp. That night, we were stormed by thousands of mayflies. In the morning, there were hundreds of them stuck on the wet tent (dew) and on the canoe.
On July 1, Canada Day and the 150th anniversary, we were very happy to be able to be in Canada, on an major river very important in the history that served to develop this beautiful and diverse country rich in culture, history and size (territory) on which generous people live. That morning, we paddled on very calm Lac du Bonnet (still part of the Winnipeg River). It offered us a perfect reflection of the landscapes. Later, we saw several times a Hercules (military aircraft) flying over.
Then we arrived at the Seven Sisters dam (here is a link to learn more about this dam:https://www.hydro.mb.ca/corporate/facilities/gs_seven_sisters.shtml). We had trouble finding a place to get out of the water near the dam to make the portage. Finally, by entering into the spillway and working hard against the current we were able to find a trail. We contacted our friend David, as we were trying to inform his parents that we would be arriving late in Pinawa. We had a good headwind and we had to find a place to get back into the water after the portage. David made the connection with his parents (Dieter and Hanni) and they decided to come and get us. We met them on the roadside in the direction of Pinawa.
Dieter and Hanni are a really charming couple. They are so beautiful to see together. More than 57 years of marriage and they still walk hand in hand and do not miss an opportunity to demonstrate affection. After a good beer, a shower and a great supper, we went to the Lac du Bonnet (the village) to attend the Canada Day fireworks. The village was alive and packed with people. There was a fair, music and animation while waiting for darkness. The fireworks were grandiose and quite honestly, the biggest and longest we have seen since a long time. We returned home late that night.
The next day, Hanni and Dieter convinced us to stay another day. They showed us Pinawa and the surrounding area. We noticed that there were a lot of deer in the village. We kept on wondering why there was no more deer on the river's edge. Well, the answer is that they were all in town. Here they find flowers, gardens and above all a certain security, because hunting is not allowed in the city.
During the day, we also had the pleasure of meeting Stan and Doreen with whom we all went for a pontoon ride on the river. This getaway allowed us to see sections that we would not have seen when leaving Pinawa. We were very grateful. At supper, it is David’s sister, Susan, and her spouse Les, we had the happiness to meet. Susan and Les are great horses lovers. Susan made a long journey in a wagon (pulled by horses) with a group a few years ago. A unique experience. Then we met in the evening, Oma (Hanni) and Opa’s (Dieter) neighbour. Doug is retired from a career as a professional guide. He is currently writing for a book combining a series of hunting and fishing stories which he has experienced during his more than 35 years experience in the industry. We also learned that Doug is the father of the founder of the now well known and recognized company "Rocky Mountain Soap Co".
On Monday, July 3rd, we grabbed our paddle and start paddling again. But before, we all walked towards the boat ramp together in the streets (Hanni followed us with her car filled with our bags). Stan and Doreen were also there for the occasion. It was emotional and we were very grateful for sharing precious moments with Oma and Opa.
We passed two rapids during the day. We had to rope the canoe for the first one (Sturgeon Rapids). But we were able to paddle the second one (Scots Rapids). Then we arrived at the Slave Falls dam. Pierre went in search of where we could get back into the water on the other side and I emptied the canoe. It was getting late and the place found by Pierre announced a difficult launch. So we decided to set up camp and wait until the next day to continue our journey. The next morning the sky was very heavy. Several vehicles had already arrived at the dam site. Workers were coming in. In the past, there was no road access to the site. There was only one railway and the employees came to work in the wagon. When everything was ready and by the roadside to begin the portage on the road (it was thundering and we did not want to risk being on the water), Brian, an employee of Manitoba Hydro, proposed to transport us to the next dam of Pointe du Bois, located about 8 km further by the road. The road was blocked by gates and access cards were needed to open them. As we put our gear in the truck box, it started to rain so hard that we all had to find shelter in the truck and wait for the storm to calm down. Once at Pointe du Bois, it was still pouring rained with the thunder and lightning. So Brian took us to a campground (Trail End Camp & Outfitters http://www.trailendcamp.com/). We waited a little for the rain to calm, but it was well and gone for the day. In a heavy rain, we put up the tarp, then the tent and made the rest of the camp. Maureen, the owner of the campground and outfitters, offered to dry our clothes. During a lull in the afternoon, Pierre went to carry our clothes. When he went to bring them back, he noticed that Maureen had also done our laundry. We met Carter later on (Maureen's son). Aged 16 years old, he already has beautiful life experience and a good head on the shoulders. He is very resourceful and knows the area perfectly. In the middle of the afternoon, the sun finally came out. It was extremely hot, humid and sticky.
The next day, July 5, we left knowing that we were entering a heat wave. How hot you ask? It was hot. We sweated more than we managed to drink. And poor Jasmine, the flies did not let go. There were hundreds of flies around and on her, even if we tried to protect her the best we could. These flies, that look like ordinary house flies, sting or bite (I cannot tell). But in any case, they hurt. And they were attacking Jasmine when we were on the river. Her right ear was bloody and swollen.
We passed several sections of rapids and fast water, but we managed to paddle them all. We made a very big day and had made good progress. That evening, we crossed the border and entered Ontario. We stopped on a beautiful island with three small sections of beach interspersed with beautiful granite rocks. There were trees also offering shade for Jasmine. While we were in the tent and we were closing our eyes, we heard the rain coming on. On each side of the vestibules, we pulled out our heads out to see the rain coming. It smelled so good. A beautiful light summer rain.
The next morning we entering on Lake Tetu (also was part of the Winnipeg River) and we had to start with an intense exercise to pass through a narrowing in which was a small island. We could see that the passage had already been dynamited. The current was strong. In fact, it was at the maximum of what we could paddle according to our abilities, the weight and our boat. The next step would have been to rope (or line) the canoe. It was eight intense minutes to cover not much of a distance. Thereafter, there were several other fast water, but nothing too hard. We arrived later at another dam called Whitedog Falls. The portage was very well marked and the trail was well maintained. So it was easy to cross over and get back in the water. We continued to paddle after until we found an island where we were able to pitch the tent on higher ground on a big rock. The trees behind the tent gave shade. The site was very beautiful with a view of little bay.
July 7 was another long day. We managed to get to Kenora, portage over the dam and walk to the campground located south of the city. The closer we were getting to Kenora, the more houses and cottages we saw. All the islands were inhabited and composed of pink granite and pine trees.
Passing through the city center and near the marina, we saw an exhibition of decorated canoes and paddles. These works of art were created as part of Canada 150 and The Path of the Paddle, an initiative that creates canoe routes connecting with the Trans Canada Trail (https://www.pathofthepaddleassociation.com/).
On July 8th we stayed in Kenora because we had some shopping to do. On the morning of the 9th of July, we left, and this time, it was on Lake of the Woods that we paddled. The various channels on the lake are indicated by buoys. Near Kenora, there was a lot of traffic, especially since there was a fishing tournament that weekend. It was not until we reached French Portage Narrow that we found the quietude. The lake is very beautiful. There are an impressive number of islands and the vegetation is dense. Just before arriving in The Tug Channel, we met a group of young people who were on a 5-day canoe trip. We talked a little bit with them. A beautiful group of people. We were glad to see people canoeing. Last year, we had practically met nobody on the water. Later, we found a sandy beach where to set up camp at the end of the day. At 9 pm, it was still very hot and much too warm to be in the tent.
The next day, we thought we had to exit the lake at least by the end of the day. The weather forecast was not good for the July 10 (the next day). High risk of hail, violent storm, 30-40 mm of rain and risk of a tornado. So we set out to cover the distance between our camp and the mouth of the Rainy River. It was the warmest day and well over 30C. We sweated; we were soggy. We kept Jasmine cool all day using the two white sheets that we have especially for her. Even the water in the lake was over 20C. I will not dwell on the details of the day, but we enjoyed the scenery, the greenery and the passages between the islands. We passed by Big Island and Bigsby Island, two very big islands on the lake. Once we got back to the mainland south of the lake, we continued our adventure toward the river. At that moment, the wind had finally calmed down. The sun began to set. The sky changed color. Everything was quiet. We could hear nothing but the sound of the canoe slipping in the water and the song of the birds. It was so quiet. Once the sun went down for good, we entered the mouth of the Rainy River. We found a small launching ramp located at the end of a private road. Pierre tried to find the owner but no luck. We decided to pitch the tent in a corner. The mosquitoes were voracious and we were not long before we were in our house.
On Tuesday, July 11, the forecast was still not good, so we stayed put. It rained all morning, but there was no hail or tornado. Around 1:00 p.m., there was a lull and we were able to get out of the tent. Later, we met Ron, the owner of the land. Ron, a very nice and a little shy person, made us feel like at home. He gave us fish, brought Pierre fishing (I stayed with Jasmine at the camp). He told us the history of his region and his ancestors who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company. Ron is Métis and his grandmother was raised on Lake of the Woods. Ron has been a commercial fisherman for more than 30 years and now he has a company that repairs bridges.
On July 12, we were back in the canoe. We had to wait 20 minutes from our departure due to the flotilla of boats passing by. 46 boats with at least six people in each of them left the US side (the river forms a natural border between Canada and the United States) toward Lake of the Woods. All were equipped with fishing gear. Once the calm returned, we left, still paddling against the current. The forecast was 40% chance of rain for the day. Well, it was 100% rain that we received. It rained all day long, unceasingly. But at least it was warm. Once at Rainy River (the village), we saw a private plot with lots of stuff gathered creating a unique and pleasant decor. We met the owner, Vaughan Murray, who later came back to the Canadian Customs dock to give us about four pounds of walleye, plus two cups and pins of the town of Rainy River. Then he made us laugh a lot by making all sorts of faces (which allowed him to win competitions). A very nice guy.
Around 19:00 we found a small patch of sand to stop for the night. In the rain, we set up the camp and cooked the fish. Then, it was time to sleep.
On July 13th, we headed for Fort Frances. The current was getting stronger and the water level very high. We later learned from Jim (who helped us arrive in Fort Frances) that the dam had opened all its doors. Not surprising that the ascent of the rapids was difficult.
Finally, here we are at Fort Frances. Today, July 14, it is a day of writing, cleaning and resupply. Tomorrow, blog update and final preparations for the next leg, going toward Grand Portage (MN) and then Lake Superior. The blog will not be updated until we get to Wawa (ON). So do not be surprised if it takes time before you get more detailed news and to see the latest pictures of our adventures. See you soon!