Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 7, Wednesday July 14, 2004

   

A dying wind leaves soft waves in a near calm lake. It feels like we are pulling the canoe forward into a sea of molten glass. The water looks thick and viscous and I am sure when I look back there will be a permanent trail etched on the surface. The shores are a collage of colour. The soft pea-pod green of the larch and the raspberry leaf green of the black spruce mix with the fields of yellow-green caribou moss and cobalt white flowers of labrador tea. Armies of fire-killed trees stand guard over the thick new growth of tundra birch. Years of biting winter wind and torrential summer rain have left the dead trees the weathered gray of ocean drift wood.

 
 
  At 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 country.


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 for dessert.


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.

 

Day 8, Thursday July 15, 2004
   

Red slashes, fully 10 feet high, mark the course of the river where peat fields calve into the river as does an iceberg into the ocean. An overpowering odor as if you had crushed a million million labrador tea plants fills the air. We breath deep and the odour reminds us that we are home again. Home to the tundra that has grown to be a part of us.

Each bend in the river brings a new surprise. Three geese take flight when we startle them. Countless bald eagles fly from perches atop tall dead larch trees. A pair of otters sees us and raise themselves chest high over and over again to get a better look. Grayling leap out of the water to tease me - my rod is still packed.

 

 

At 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.

 

Resources

 

Web Casts on Out-There.com

Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - On Going 2004

Vermette Lake, NWT to Stoney Rapids, Saskatchewan - 2003

La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay: 55 Days and 1000 miles - 2002

Paddling the Dubawnt River through the NWT and Nunavut - 2001

 

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Other Rivers

Coppermine River - Northwest Territories

Fond du Lac River - Saskatchewan

Kazan River - Nunavut

Thlewiaza River - Manitoba/Nunavut

Thelon River - Northwest Territories/Nunavut

 

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