Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 19, Monday July 26, 2004

 

A gorgeous day. Hot and sunny to the extent that we bathed at lunch. Oddly Nowleye Lake is warmer than Kamilukuak. I suspect the latter is a far deeper lake.


An uneventful morning with a trailing west wind that faded to dead calm by lunch. Trout surfacing everywhere drove me mad, but Lynda was adamant that we needed a day off from meals of fish. It is so odd to watch them feed from the surface. It is like they are grazing as they scoop up mouthfuls of mosquitoes, black flies and midges.


Just when we decided to have lunch we came on a small island mid-lake. It was ringed by rocks pushed into huge piles by spring break up, as are all the shores and islands, but this one had a 100 foot long by 20 foot wide sheet of bedrock as smooth as a baby's bum, fronting the jumble of boulders. We pulled into a little micro-bay and were able to load the kitchen pack directly out onto the table top.

 
   

Trout were surfacing everywhere so I caught one for lunch. Lynda wouldn't eat any as she said 4 meals of trout in a row was just too much. I had to eat the best part of half of it by myself. We bathed in a little shallows that had a perfect rock bench to sit on. The water was cold but not near as cold as the main lake.

A long, tiring afternoon with unrelenting sun and no breeze but we made great time - 22 miles in about 7 hours - and are now camped in a quite marginal peat field half way between Nowleye and Angikuni Lake. Tomorrow will see us on the Kazan River and we expect to poke around
a few Inuit sites - places where Tyrell stopped - that we think we can find.

 
 

Today we stopped at the bottom of a major rapid that leaves Nowleye. We walked up a hill to a spot that looked like a logical place to camp. Sure enough, we found all manner of evidence of past Inuit camps. - some shaped wood, a spot where someone had been making quartz tools, and two fire pits. One of these was a simple 3-rock affair to keep the wind from the fire. The other was something I have seen used by Inuit on The Aboriginal Television Network to show the "old ways" but have never seen myself. It was a fire pit topped with a flat rock. The fire was made under the flat rock and meat or fish would be cooked on top, like cooking on the top of a wood stove. There was still a pile of twigs and small wood in front, as if the stove were ready to use.


Interestingly, when Hearne went through, near this country, in the 1770's he never saw a single "Eskimaux" but when Tyrell went down the Kazan in 1863 he met "Eskimoes" everywhere. In 1862 on the Dubawnt he didn't meet any "Eskimoes" until past Dubawnt Lake. The Inuit's tenure in the inland barrens was a short one. By the mid-1950s they were all but gone. The few who were left were flown out to Eskimo Point and Baker Lake.


Nowleye Lake and the Nowleye River - which flows from Ennadai Lake - was part of the territory trapped by the Schweder brothers. Charles, Fred and Mike ran an independent fur trade post at the mouth of Windy River on Nueltin Lake. Their main clientele were the Inuit from the Ennadai Lake area. It was this area and time frame that Farley Mowat wrote about in his books The People of the Deer and The Desperate People. He called the Nowleye River the River of Graves ( I think). This is when the caribou were hard to find and the Inuit were starving.


Charles came upon one starvation camp where two young children begged to be "adopted." These children were a boy Anotelik and his sister Kukwik (later called Rita). Charles saved these two children's lives by taking them back to Windy River. We met Anotelik in Arviat two years ago - he now goes by the name of Luke Anotelik. Rita died in Churchill and has a special significance to us as we know one of her daughters, Angie, who lives in Saskatoon. And Angie, your mom's country is beyond beautiful. It is a shame her grandchildren's grandchildren won't be able to live here again.


This country holds so many stories for us. It is a part of our lives now. It feels like home when we are here.

 

Day 20, Tuesday July 27, 2004
    It's hard to believe that, just yesterday, we were so hot we were bathing in Nowleye Lake.


I woke this morning at 6:00 as I had to do a CBC Radio interview. It was raining and cold but not horribly windy. All together the worst situation. If it were windy and raining it would be fine to take the day off. After all, wind and rain and cold water is a recipe for hypothermia. But when it is just one or the other you usually try to keep moving.

 
 

By the time the interview was done, the breeze had mounted to a wind. Then it swung from the north to the north-east. By the time I had coffee ready, it was blowing at 15 mph plus and the rain was a steady downpour. I took coffee to the tent and told Lynda we would wait for a bit, " to see what happens." By our second cup, the wind was up to 20 mph and peaked shortly thereafter at 25 gusting to 35. Thrown into the mix was sheets of unrelenting horizontal rain. Now, at 2:00 pm the rain hasn't let up, the wind is back to about 15 mph and the temperature is about 8 - 10 Celsius. Way too cold to do anything but huddle in the tent with frozen feet.


More later.


Later. Well it's 4 p.m., the wind is slackening, and the rain has largely quit. But it is cold cold cold. The sky is clearing so we might get out of here tomorrow.


Lunch was soup, bannock, and tea. I actually added lard and honey to the tea to warm up. Don't laugh, it makes a good drink. And if you think that sounds too hard to drink try this description of an Inuit meal. It was written by Father Turquetil - who was from Brochet - when he lived with Inuit at Ennadai Lake in 1906.


"The miniature branches from the vine-like roots ... serve as firewood, creating much smoke. It may take five or six hours of cooking to produce something a little less raw.


...The fire is lit, the container is in place, that is on the ground, at the mercy of the dogs who licked it clean. ... having been called for that purpose. ... Most of the time the water used for cooking the food does not come from the lake. A small slough, in the midst of the rotten moss of the swamp, yields some thick water, of a mysterious colour between black and green. They can't drink lake water now, we are told. ... I waited for a reason. Nothing more was said and I didn't ask again.


... Naively I thought I was Eskimo enough to share a meal with them. Everyone is lying face down around the plate. In the bullion, enriched with leftovers from previous meals, two whitefish float, boiled as is, neither scaled nor emptied. "


He goes on to explain how they dine by taking chunks of the fish, swallowing the "good parts" and spitting the rest back into the communal wooden serving platter. This continues until nothing is left to eat and the bullion is sucked up with much loud and frequent belching.


Yummy! And better is his description of the caribou feast. I'll save that for another day.


I was going to e-mail Sally at Bear Creek Foods to tell her how much we love their stuff. But I have lost her email address. Anyone who has her phone number - they are in Heber City, Utah - give her a call and tell her the "Tortilla Soup" rules. And the Pina Colada cake is good too. But then so is the Damn Good Chili ... and so on and so on.


Tomorrow we hope to find one of the camps that the Tyrell brothers visited in 1894. I have been saying their two trips were 1892 on the Dubawnt and 1893 on the Kazan. It was in fact 1893 and 1894. Tyrell stopped at the camp on August 21, 1894.


"Paddled out into Angikuni Lake. Shortly five kayaks came to meet us, then seven, then three, all the men wanting presents of tobacco. As we crossed the lake we were surrounded by a swarm of 20-30 kayaks, all the men were anxious to see the first white men to descend their river. On the western shore was said to be the camp of Outoowiack with five tents. We reached the village of Enetah ( the one Lynda and I hope to visit ) with three tents and as a high wind was blowing, with a big lake ahead we were obliged to camp among a swarm of inquisitive Eskimos. We bought some boots and a coat chiefly with needles though our supply was not nearly as large as it should have been. One man, Anuleah, came in in the afternoon from a short distance up the river. He says he goes every winter to Du Brochet Post (now called Brochet, Manitoba) to trade, and that all the Eskimos bring their furs to him. (Take a look at a map to get a sense of how far this man walked to trade at Brochet. Unreal.)


We have some excellent notes that I used on the Kazan River some 8 years ago when we paddled it from Kasba Lake. "Traveling the Kazan" by Anne B Spriggins-Harmuth; Nawstagan; Summer 1991. This article was about Anne and her husband Harmuth's 1989 trip. They met a friend of mine, Ivan Robertson, and his partner Jim Murphy on that trip. Small world.


Anyway, it is great article and July 26 is Harmuth's birthday. He would be 75 - by my calculation - if he is still alive. So, happy birthday , Harmuth. If anyone knows him or Anne tell them their notes are still a great source of information and inspiration to another couple traveling in a single canoe as Lynda and I do.


The wind and the rain have quit. The mosquitoes are starting to stir. The odd song bird is bruiting the end of the storm. I can hear a few terns shrieking. The sky is a dull gray blue on the horizon. We should be moving again tomorrow.


 

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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