Paddling the Dubawnt and the Kazan - 2004 Canoe Expedition

Day 21, Wedesday July 28, 2004


Just got camp up and supper started. It is 8:00 pm and we have had a long day. Freezing cold this morning. So cold that even after breakfast and lots of coffee I was still frozen an hour after we were paddling. And we were paddling hard. We had to, as we were face on into an about 10 mph wind all day. We got started early - at 8:00. The sun was shining through a vapour of clouds sparkled off the waves like it was shining off the huge chrome bumper of an Oldsmobile 88. Quite a sight. Great spot for lunch. Then we visited an Inuit site. We spent an hour and a half looking at it. Many graves, tent rings, and meat caches. A human skull and lower jaw bone clearly visible in one of the graves.


Now there is no wind at all and it is getting hot. We made 18 hard-fought miles in many many hours of paddling. We are beat. More tomorrow about today. Food and bed call seductively.

It's morning. I can think. Well, sort of.

The highlight yesterday had to be the Inuit camp. It was part way up a ridge and not on the wind-swept top. This seemed odd to me, given the plaque of blackflies and mosquitoes that has been following us each day. I mean, where else can fish graze along the top of the water and find enough dead insects so they can thrive and grow fat? Whatever Deity put this plague on earth is not going to be part of my sacred shrine, I can tell you. Anyway, back to the location.

The top was flatish aand covered in lichen while the side hill was uneven and a jumble of boulders. "What's with this?" I thought. Then it hit me. The boulders. The Inuit used them for everything from graves to firepits to meat caches to staking out their tents. And on the top of the hill the rocks were all huge and embedded in 6 feet of gravel till. Not at all the type of spot a "white guy" would pick - a long way to get water, where will be put the lawn, the kids will kill themselves on these rocks - but a perfectly sensible spot for an Eskimo -as Tyrell called them

The 3 graves we saw were the most poignant reminders that this was home to these people. One was just a huge jumble of small rocks over the body of the deceased. There was much shaped wood strewn about. On top there was the remains of a kayak paddle (?) and pieces of a kayak - long flat strips of wood with a series of drilled holes for lashing the parts together (?). The other two were high - say 2 foot to 3 foot - rock walls about 8 feet long. The body was presumably laid on the ground and then surrounded by the wall. I can see the whole clan carrying those rocks - one by one - to lay around their father, their friend, their husband - and then covered with stout timbers and covered over with more rocks. The sight of the skull and lower jaw bone in the one left no doubt as to these being graves. The deceased's worldy goods were scattered about the grave - perhaps inside as well (?) We found some metal pots and an enamel bowl.

We found other places where caribou and fish had been stored in natural crevices between huge boulders. The narrow openings - about a foot to 18 inches - were keyed shut with heavy boulders to stop wolverines and the like from getting in. They must have fished the meat out with a rope or stick as you couln't get into the caches. In one we could see a perfectly preserved caribou antler, now reddish from lichen.

Earlier in the day we stopped at a non-descript piece of willow bog shoreline so I could do a radio interview with MBC. Lynda went for a hike to a spot where we could make out a few large angular Sonehenge-like rocks that had been tipped up by humans. She came back to tell me that nearby, "I found a spear point. It was about 2 inches long and the tip is broken off. You could see the lashing notch at the base."

And this at the first place we stopped. The Inuit were everwhere here. Not for many years - say about early 1800s to as late as about 1930 - but they were here and it was home.

More tonight. If you hadn't noticed, we like it out here. It suits us. It feels like home.

Day 22, Thursday July 29, 2004

We had a great day but a long day. 24 miles in a calm ocean of a lake. Trout for lunch after 2 casts. Too tired to do it all justice. It's 8 now, and we are just finishing eating and have the tent to set up and much fiddling to do. I need to fix the Zip Stove - one of my "moded" legs broke, we have to do a food and naptha inventory, and we want to walk to a nearby hill to have a look. Besides even under the tarp the mosquitoes are insane right now. It is so hard to type.

The north end of this lake near the river mouth is spectacular camping. When we stopped at an especaially nice place we found an old Inuit camp. Many tent rings, one of which is fully 24 feet across.

Here's one for the fishermen. Fish are surfacing 20 feet from shore. I had to rig up and try. Nothing would bite so I tried a small Mepps. They tend to not sink so fast and you can do a slower presentation. I was sure there were trout and that my Len Thompson was just too fast for them. Two casts and I had a hit. The third cast I got a fish. I could see it as it neared shore and was poutting as it was a tiny trout. But then it leaped form the water and I could see the huge dorsal fin of a Grayling. And we are still 6 miles from the river. Caught three in a row and they are a great size - over a pound and a bit each - and they are in a bag in the lake for lunch tomorrow. Grayling form shore is a new one for me.

More in the morning about today. It was special

We woke and sipped coffee under our kitchen tarp. Discussion came around to going across to Enetah's camp. I was for making some miles. "I mean we saw one camp filled with tent rings and graves. Do we need to see another one?" I asked somewhat rhetorically. The real reason I didn't want to go across was because it hurts to see all those who were here and are now gone forever. Their children's children will never see this land and will soon enough forget their people's history. Seeing these sites evokes very powerful images. I can see the whole camp. I can see the children learning how to be hunters or learning the many skills of thier mothers as they watch and mimic. I can see them buryng their loved ones. And it is all now gone. That makes me profoundly sad.

So better to act jaded and paddle off into the waking day where I can live in a world of fantasy. A fantasy where any minute a flotilla of "kyacks" can appear magically from behind an island. And then lead us to their camp where the whole panoply of their daily life is unfolding, where they know not of the rest of the world, where their world is what they can see. And so that is what I did.

As we paddled out into the main body of Angikuni, the horizon was infinite. Sky, lake and cloud blended like you were seeing the curve of the earth. Clouds platinum white - the colour of arctic cotton grass - sat on a black blue sea. The sky was a vibrant aquamarine. The wall of white looked as if God's own bulldozer had left huge mountains of snow on the edge of this ocean. The wall of winter snow stayed for hours until finally a thin line of black crept between. Soon these lines of black thickened and a ragged fringe of trees could be seen sprouting from the islands. The fantasy was gone.

So I watched the sun glitter off of the waves. It was like a thousand thousand tiny Christmas tree lights were blinking off and on each time a breeze broke the surfcace of the lake.
And in these few hours of dreaming and fantasy it was possible that the "kyacks" would appear.

Soon enough the sun rose to its zenith, the winds quit - the fantasy ended. The tiny glimmers of lights blinked off.. The sun bleached the colours from the clouds and the sky and the lake. And the "kyacks" vanished.
Now, under full day's sun, we dragged the canoe through a thick syrup of water. Ground out our 16000 daily paddle stokes. Were back into the reallity of the day. But for a few hours those "kyacks" were just around the next point. And perhaps today I will look for them again.





Web Casts on

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



Text - Bill Layman
Photos - Bill Layman and Lynda Holland
Live text edited by Joan Eyolfson Cadham, freelance writer/editor, Foam Lake Saskatchewan.
Layout and art work - L. Librehomme
Live Radio Interviews - CBC Saskatchewan & MBC - Archives (Real Audio)


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Other Rivers

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Other Articles

Canoe Gear For The Subarctic - BIll Layman


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Kanawa - Canada's Paddling Magazine

Canoe and Kayak - America's Paddling Magazine


Related Links



Bill writes for KANAWA magazine and Canoe & Kayak magazine about their canoe trips. Lynda has published several books about the Dene of northern Saskatchewan. The most recent are the two volumes in the Dene Elders Project and are published by Holland-Dalby Educational Consulting.

  • The Dene Elders Project: Stories and History from the West Side (ISBN # 0-921848-23-4)
  • They Will Have Our Words: The Dene Elders Project, Volume 2 (ISBN #0-921848-25-0)

For copies of either of these books you can contact Lynda directly at or PO Box 327, La Ronge, Saskatchewan, S0J 1L0

Bill has an article featured in the May 2004 issue of Canoe & Kayak covering a portion of his 2002 La Ronge to Arviat canoe trip. - Canoe & Kayak Website

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