Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay - 55 Days and 1000 miles.
   
  Day #42 Sunday July 21, 2002

Up at 8:00 and off at 9:30. The last 4 portages really sucked it out of my sweetie and me, so we slept in. Besides the wind is in our face and we just couldn't cope with it early.As we paddled we plowed headlong into the wind. Neither of us said it, but we were both secretly hoping we could make it to Putahow to Eskimo Charlie's. As luck would have it, we did make it.

   
 
The wind is too bad to continue across the lake, so here we sit under the kitchen tarp tucked in behind the south side of a gorgeous sand and gravel esker. Our kitchen floor is caribou moss, juniper and bearberry, simply lovely, the colours and the smells. A scattering of birch, their leaves dancing in the wind, grace our front yard. The tent is mere feet behind us and it sits on a perfectly flat table top that promises a great night's rest. The only downside is that, with all the portages and wind days, our mileage is really down. However, we have lots of food so we are fine.  
A Perfect Campsite at Eskimo Charlie's
   
  Eskimo Charlie Planinshek picked a lovely place for his home. Tucked behind a northeast running esker, it is like a miniature park. Open enough that I walked for 45 minutes exploring and didn't step over a single deadfall. Flat enough that Charlie had a buckboard affair made with four Model A Ford tires and rims that his husky sled dogs pulled about in the summer. One wonders. However did he lug such stuff up to such a remote site?

In "North of Reindeer; The 1940 journal of P G Downes" edited by R H Cockburn, The Beaver Spring 1983, there is a picture of Charlie and this unique conveyance. Charlie carved a real homestead out of this country, complete with raised bed gardens and a creek that he diverted to run past them. It was quite a job for one man. His cabin, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. As Downes said, " He had a tiny cabin - quite a contrast to the obvious labour expended evidence of the outside surroundings. Inside it was dark - not a window - and indescribably dirty." Perhaps all Charlie needed was the softening touch of a woman to make his homestead a home. Living alone with only his huskies for company, Charlie died in this spot that he so loved. He wasn't found by RCMP officer Marcel "Chappy" Chapuis until 18 months after his death.

He and the Dene didn't get along at all, according to Downes. They were probably as confused by his attempt at carving permanence out of a landscape that they knew demanded mobility as he was by his view that they were shiftless ne'er do wells. Neither group could forget the imprinting of their forefathers. The Dene had to be nomadic and Charlie had to carve out a homestead.

 
I caught a giant 12 pound (or better) pike at lunch. We feasted at noon and will again later at supper. Just before the rapids into Putahow Lake we saw a giant eagle's nest with two young in it. The parents circled as we stopped and looked with binoculars. The rapids into the lake is a 2 plus with lots of boulders. We had a great time as we worked our way down them, picking channels as we went. All said, quite a day.  
A Large Northern Pike
   
  Day #43 Monday July 22, 2002

Last night I walked back to Charlie's homestead with Lynda. And I found what I conjecture may well be the remains of his humble grave. Lance Corporal "Chappy" Chapuis didn't have much to mark this northern grave and I suspect he used what was at hand. There is a rectangular plot of earth covered in juniper that is the size of a man's grave. In one corner stands a three-foot high grayed timber post that has a flat Swede saw cut top. At each other corner of the rectangle there are the same type of posts, now fallen down and mostly rotted.

This morning I told Lynda I wanted to take a last picture of Charlie's esker home in the "good" light of early morning. The truth is I had been thinking about Charlie all night. He kept flitting in and out of my dreams. And I had to go say good-bye to him. As I stood over his grave a deep sadness washed over me as I thought about this man dying alone so far from family or friends and now largely forgotten and buried where no one can visit. It's so unlike the graves of the Dene at Grave's Lake who died with family and friends.

How did he die? Was it a long and lingering illness or, I hope, a sudden flash of pain from a heart attack? Looking at the pitiful remains of this man's dream, I felt so suddenly and completely alone and sad. Something about these northern dreams that have ended tears at my soul. Perhaps it is just that what was once so much is now so little. Perhaps it is just the reminder of my own mortality. Whatever it is, I am reminded of how short life is and how much this north that I travel through means to me.

We made 19 miles, including a portage and many rapids. All into a horrible head wind that all but stopped us dead. We are but a day from Simon's Point on Nueltin Lake. Today and tomorrow I am looking at this land for Charlie. I hope that someday someone will look at it for me.

   
  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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