Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge, Saskatchewan to Arviat, Nunavut on Hudson Bay - 55 Days a 1000 Miles.
  Day #21 Sunday June 30, 2002

So here's a brief overview of the work I have to do for the next week or so.

There are six so-called, "Athabasca Basin" communities in the north of Saskatchewan. They are Wollaston Post, Stony Rapids, Black Lake, Fond du Lac, Uranium City, and Camsell Portage. The basin reference comes from the fact they are located roughly on the northern margin of a huge sandstone deposit that overlays the basement bedrock. It's along the edge of this formation that the major uranium mines were originally found in Saskatchewan. The Rabbit Lake mine was the first. Now more deposits, like Cigar Lake and McArthur River, are being mined at deeper and deeper depths more toward the center of the deposit. The highest grade lowest cost uranium in the world is found in Saskatchewan, and that's what my work is about.

The communities of the basin are organized into a group named the Athabasca Working Group. This group includes representatives from the major northern mining concerns, Cameco Corporation, Cogema, and Cigar Lake Mining. Largely established to discuss mining related issues, the AWG expressed concern about the monitoring of the impact the mines could be having on their lakes and land and air. The response for years from the mining community has been that they do very intense monitoring around the "footprint" of their mines and that their results show "no problems." The mines are obliged to meet very rigorous standards set by the Federal and Provincial Governments and the Atomic Energy Control Board.

In spite of this environmental monitoring, the communities continually expressed concern about "what the mines might be doing to them.." In recognition of this concern, the mining companies funded a community-based sampling program. This program sees me going to each of the six communities each spring and fall. During my visits I assist local people in the implementation of a sampling program that the AWG has helped to design. We sample air, water, lake sediment, pike, whitefish, moose flesh, caribou flesh, lynx flesh, blueberries, cranberries, and Labrador tea. These samples are analyzed by the Saskatchewan Research Council labs for anything that might be expected to show up from a uranium mine.

This is the third year of the program and it seems to be well received at a community level And as to the data, " No news is good news!" The results of all the sampling have shown that there is no measurable impact that can be found from the mines.

I am neither pro-mining nor anti-mining. That's too black and white for me. I love the wilderness. I love it untouched. But I love cars and canoes and all the things that money lets me do. My mining exploration company helped find several of these uranium mines. My son has become an underground high pressure driller in Switzerland as a result of training he received at one of these mines. So, it's sort of a love hate thing. You know, like "I hate to work but I love to play ... and I can't play unnless I work." I think that's the way the North looks at mining. It's all about tradeoffs. Its pretty hard to say you love mining and it's pretty hard to say you hate it.

I read an interview one time about a huge pulp mill on the shores of a great lake in Russia. The man interviewed said, in essence, "You know the scientists tell us that this pulp mill is safe. And they say not to worry. They say that they have measured everything and that it is all fine. But you know for me it's like there is a horse in your church. And the people who own the horse tell you that they have looked at the horse and that where the horse shits and where it eats and where it walks, it's all OK. It's safe for you. And that you shouldn't worry. But you know what? No matter what they say, there's still a horse in your church and you didn't ask them to put it there." That's the closest to anything I have ever heard that might be how people like me feel about mines. Like I said, it's all about tradeoffs.

No pictures today as it is raining so hard. The fire crews are jubilant. A day off and there is a chance that this will knock the fires down enough so that they can get the upper hand. I am still stuck in Wollaston. The weather is into the trees and there is no way that there are any planes coming in here. Right now they are diverting all traffic from the Points North air strip about 50 miles west of here to Stony Rapids where the weather is OK. Go figure. That's where I'm trying to go.

As to the fish derby. Joseph Shaoule is in the lead right now with a 42 pound thlewizane (trout). But pouring rain or not, just about every boat in town is out there in the wind and cold, looking to beat him with an even bigger trout.

Here's the latest news on the trip to Stony Rapids. It is still too ugly, weather wise, to get a plane into Wollaston. But Northern Dene Airways has a Chieftain here and it can "get out." You see, in bad weather, it's way easier to get out than in. Since the weather is good in Stony and since we know we can get out of here, off we go. Now whether the pilots can get home to Wollaston is another question.

The best part of this e-mail is that my employer, who is watching this web site, can now see it has cost me about 500 dollars extra to get to Stony, all because of a fish derby and weather. The first plane I was to take (the Cessna 172) was crammed to the roof. This one has a co-pilot and enough room left over for a small circus and a dancing bear. But it's just the way the north works. Each day I sit here costs money and I'm getting nothing done. So off we go.

Does it mean anything that Tom said, when offered a free trip to Stony return, that he felt a lot safer on the ground today?

Day #22 Monday July 1, 2002

It is July 01, and it's so cold in Stony Rapids it feels like fall. John Macdonald and I went out on Stony Lake today to do our sampling work, and we both about froze to death. Cold overcast skies are charging in from the north east and it feels like we are getting some of the weather that Lynda and I have experienced on the tundra. If we were on the trip right now, my guess is we would be hunkered into our down bags and waiting for weather.

John Macdonald
  And as I have a said a hundred times, "If there's anything better than being in a warm sleeping bag in a tent in a rain storm with the gal you love I don't know what it is."

This is the third straight day of rain and cold. Lots to complain about, but the upside is that the rain has all but put a total stop to the forest fires. I talked to a pilot last night who is flying an A Star helicopter. He just got called into here from Kelowna, BC and now has not much to do. Bummer for him, as his cash flow comes from "spinning hours". There is also a "206" helicopter on the strip. These are the standard "choppers" you see in all the Vietnam movies. It's pretty neat seeing them fly in and out of Stony all day.

There's a road into Stony and Black Lake (which is the reserve community) about 20 minutes south of here by road. The "seasonal " winter road joins these two communities
to the south of the province. The road is about 200 horrific kilometers that take 6 to 8 hours to drive. It really beats the you know what out of your truck. Given the condition of the road, this is a community that lives and dies by airplanes. There are several "sched" runs every day and the air charter business (both on floats and wheels) is huge.

Stony is a non reserve town and it is booming like crazy. Lots of northern tourist camps fly their guests into here and then out to the camps in Beavers and Single Otters and Twin Otters. There is a new health clinic going in here. This will replace the old and out dated hospital in Uranium City. Many say this will be the final death blow for U City, but I know for a fact that there are folks who will stay no matter what. Stony has a boom town frontier town feel to it and there is nothing but opportunity up here. There's a fair bit of mineral exploration. Right now, there are a few projects that "look good" and with the road into here now, all of a sudden, former sub-economic mining plays are being re-visited. In fact, the day I walked into the hotel I met a friend of mine who is up here on a mining project. If I was 25 and doing it all over, this is where I'd be. When I moved to La Ronge, it felt like this. Now it feels like any other "down south" city.

Some bad news yesterday. Seems a Cessna 185 from La Ronge has had trouble. The story is sketchy, as rumours always are. But it sounds like there was a crash and at least one dead. I hate these stories. I spend a lot of time in small planes and it's too close to home when they crash.

Get this, the fish derby in Wollaston put my plans on hold and there is a fish derby in Black Lake tomorrow. First prize there is also $10,000.00. Maybe I should take up fishing as a job? But to win, it seems you really have to get the "big one." I think the winning fish at Wollaston was 41 pounds and the 2nd place weighed in at 37 pounds. Big trout huh?

Next week there is a week long religious pilgrimage that is held at Pine Channel on Lake Athabasca. These communities are all Roman Catholic and the turn out for this week long event will be huge. Lynda's and my friend, Father Jean Megret, will be there from Saskatoon. He's a fascinating man who has spend his entire life as an adult with the Wollaston Dene. Lynda helped him to do his biography. It's a wonderful read about his life and travels with the Dene when they were still largely nomadic. Between the fish derby and the pilgrimage I wonder if I will ever get any work done up here?

Anyway time to go. We are off to Riou Lake tomorrow to sample. I will probably get out of here on Friday for two days in Fond du Lac. Then back to Wollaston, and into the canoe. I can't wait. I want to be back there so bad I can taste it. It's still raining so I can't take any pictures. Maybe tomorrow?

  Day #23 Tuesday July 2, 2002

The weather finally broke today. Yippee! John Macdonald and I went down the road toward Black Lake and headed west toward Riou Lake where we had to do our sampling. What a road. It takes about an hour and a half and it is one of your northern "trails." You can drive at about 10 to 20 kilometers per hour at most, and you have to literally crawl over the huge exposed rocks. Anyway we got there, and did all our work in short order. We set a net to catch a thlew (whitefish) and trolled a spoon to catch an uldai (pike). An hour later, we were sitting on shore on a nice gravel beach, with some idthen (caribou) cooking on a stick. With water, salt and some of his wife Georgina's bannock, we feasted.

John told me some stories about his family. His dad, Jimmie, used to trap with his brother in law, a fellow named Medal. Get this. They ran their trap line one way and it took 28 days by dog team. Tough or what. He also told me about his mother's father, Pierre Laban. Pierre travelled all the way to Fort Churchill to trade from this area. I can just see it. He tells his wife he is essentially going to the store for milk. About a month later he gets back. That's when a man was a man and probably a woman was more of a man than I am today.

John met William Mackay whom I mentioned before, a Cree from the La Ronge area who was quite a trapper by all accounts. He told John a story about muskox. He told John that when Dene hunted muskox they would herd them into a loose circle by moving toward them as they half hid behind small cut spruce trees. When they were circled, the muskox that wanted to leave would walk out of the circle and they would let them go. The one that remained would be killed. The inference in the story as John told it was two fold. The muskox would decide which animal would go and which one would stay, and the Dene would never just "hunt" a muskox. They had to do it in a certain way. Doing it any other way would be to risk the wrath of the animistic gods they held sacred. I read somewhere that when the caribou herds failed the Dene, they depended on the muskox. Since muskox had a rather regular area in which they could be found, the Dene could count on finding them when they were starving. Little wonder they held chloe-telle-juray (muskox) sacred. William also told John that in a group of humans there will always be one that the muskox will try to charge, almost as though they don't like that certain person. The hunters would know that person and he would be the one to draw the muskox toward the circle of trees that they hid behind.

  La Ronge to Arviat Trip Map
Here are the
Sponsors & Introduction Story for the 2002 trip
Check out Bill and Lynda's
2001 trip to the Dubawnt River in NWT & Nunavut.
Bill Layman's bio - with other Trips & Stories by Bill.
Live text edited by
Joan Eyolfson Cadham, freelance writer/editor, Foam Lake Saskatchewan.


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