lunchtime, out of mile after mile of boggy wet tight-knit black spruce shores,
a small rock outcropping appears. We stop and load out the kitchen pack
and carry it up to the top of an 8 foot high car-sized boulder. When the
soup is ready we sit mere feet away in the shade of a small stand of spruce.
Lynda is so hot she goes for a brief swim. The heat has made me tired and
I drift off into a deep sleep thinking how lucky we are to be here again.
It seems that most who paddle this river know some of the history, largely
that Tyrell plied its waters in the early 1890s. A few know about Hearne's
first attempt at finding the mouth of the Coppermine River where he walked
to the north end of Dubawnt Lake - Tu Bwon Tue (water around the edges)
as it is known to the Dene - and down its western shore before returning
to present day Churchill. Most have a vague sense that the Chipewyans,
as they were then called, peopled this land.
But it seems that few if any know of the influx of white trappers that
littered this area from Selwyn to as far north as Dubawnt Lake in the
1930s and into the 1940s. This was when fur was king and jobs scarce in
the depression-ravaged south. A gold mine opened south of present day
Uranium City at a mining camp called Goldfields. Complete with a drugstore,
liquor outlet, pool hall, movie theatre, and a scheduled plane service
with a Norseman dubbed the Goldfields Express from Prince Albert , it
was a boom town. And it was here late at night over bottles of whiskey
that grizzled old barren lands trappers spun yarns to the young miners.
Many of these young men got the bug and headed north to seek their fortune
in fur. Stony Rapids became the community that many of the Dubawnt trappers
traded into. Oscar Johnstone, Emil and Otto Tralnberg, Jimmie and Adeline
Chaffie, Fred Riddell, Sid Carter, Dirk Brucie and his wife Rosie, Alex
Mcaskill, Eric Munsterhjelm and a legion of others headed north into this
And what of John of PG Downes's book "Sleeping Island?" The
trip with Downes was but one of a hundred trips he did in the north. How
many know he met a California reporter, one Nan Delee, in Stony Rapids
and married her, only to watch her die in childbirth in Toronto? So many
stories, and every day the river comes alive for Lynda and me as we think
about them. Tomorrow we will look for the Mckaskill cabin and if we find
it, we will take pictures for Neil Mckaskill who lives in Prince Albert.
He lived there until he was 9 years old.
Bear Creek Chicken and Dumplings for supper and left over Bear Creek cake
7 hours and 22 miles today. Hot but overcast so bearable. A rain storm
has moved through and the mosquitoes are ferocious. But the tent will
be cool tonight. A blessing really.
lunch we pull into a weedy shoreline and scramble up a bank to find
a limitless field of tundra. The ground is a myriad of Liliputian juniper,
labrador tea, bear berry and mosses. The sky is blue beyond blue - a
blue I never seem to see in La Ronge - with a few scattered white clouds.
A light breeze keeps the hordes of black flies at bay. Lynda explores
after lunch and finds fresh bear prints and two magnificent caribou
racks. I lie back and watch the clouds and drift into a contented slumber.
When I wake I watch a tern hovering and then diving to catch his lunch
from the river.
Our needs are simple out here. We have food. We have shelter. We have
each other to share the magic with.
We end the day with an exciting run of 4 rapids leading into a small
lake-like widening of the river. We are excited. We expect to find something
here. And we do.
We are sitting under the kitchen tarp in a most glorious spot. We will
go to see the cabin nearby, where a friend of ours, Neil Mcaskill, spent
part of his boyhood. It was here that his father Alec and mother Mae
carved out a life as barrenlands trappers in the 40s. Until the price
of fur dropped it would have been a good life.
An exciting life. A life like no one will ever live again.
I wish I had been able to live such a life.
7 1/2 hour sees us about another 26 miles along our trip. Supper beckons.
Then we will go exploring.