|Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's
La Ronge, Saskatchewan to Arviat, Nunavut on Hudson Bay - 55 Days and 1000 miles.
|Although only about 1/4
mile away I can barely make out a hint of its green
canopy of giant spruce. We are stuck here until tomorrow
at the earliest. So I went back to bed and listened to
the loons that have drifted into the calm of the south
shore we are camped on.
When we got up, at about 10:30, I made a bacon Swiss cheese omelet. Garnished with salsa and served with fresh bannock and washed down with strong coffee, it makes this forced layover bearable. Barely bearable though. As always I am driven to move and can't seem to sit out here for long. Partly because I am always restless, partly because Tom has non-refundable air tickets. With no time table, Lynda and I can be pinned for a week and it doesn't mean a thing. But now we have a time table. If the weather has other ideas, then our planning is all out the window.
Boats race by, going to and from Southend, but we are traveling the old way. And that means we go when we can. We have about 90 miles up the lake to the beginning of the Swan Blondeau River into Wollaston Lake. 3 1/2 days if all goes well, a week or more if it blows. How strange to watch the big aluminum boats race by. Less than 50 years ago, the drivers' relatives might have been stuck on this island with us.
Downes was wind bound at Sandy Island in 1936, both going north and returning. On each occasion he met Cree who were also wind bound. On the trip north he met Jimmy MacKay and Malachi Michaud, both from Stanley Mission, with their wives. En route to Wollaston via the Swan Blondeau, they had broken both of their small outboards and were preparing to paddle to Brochet to make repairs so that they could get to their traplines. Just a nice little 150 mile detour. On the return trip he met a family from Southend going to Wollaston to trap. Today people who go across the Swan Blondeau route talk about how hard it is. And this with light kevlar boats, dehydrated food, and specialized gear that is light as a feather. My guess is that the paddle Downes used weighed as much as my tent. What of the Cree families taking their winter supplies and dogs with them, traveling with 18 foot wood and canvas freighter canoes weighing well over 125 pounds? Each day, as the canoe soaked up water it got heavier, to boot. These folks were tough.
Lots of people have made much of this trip that I am doing. And I guess by today's standards it is a longish trip. But as Lynda is fond of saying, 10 days or 50 days is all the same. The canoe and the nightly camps become your home.
Just before I left I
re-read Face the North Wind by A L Karras. This book is
about the famous duo of Fred Darbyshire and Ed Theriault.
These were real tough white trappers who went north
during the depression. What stuck in my mind is the one
paragraph description of Fred's 1945
After that talk about Simons last night, I found a Downes quote about Del in my notes. He was from New York state and was " ... a big powerful fellow with endless dreams of the big pot at the end of the rainbow ... anything big, there was Simons ... one of those rare whites that the Indians really liked as a person ... he would and could do everything they did, but better." P G recounts a Pelican Narrows Cree saying that Simons "could eat more" than he could. Del started as a post manager for Revillon Freres and rose to the rank of District Manager. Soon tiring of this, he set up his own company. Wally Laird, a respected HBC post manager and a story in his own right said Simons, "... made heavy inroads into,"both the HBC and RF. Wouldn't I have loved to have lived back then. I know for a fact I would have been in the thick of it, chasing the same dreams and pots of gold these northern legends chased.
Hope for good weather for us. Its time to move again. See you soon in Wollaston Lynda. And then we get to go to the Dene's "Land of Little Sticks" once again.
|They travelled the length of Lake
Athabasca, went up the Fond du Lac River, came down the
Cochrane River from Wollaston, then traveled the length
of Reindeer Lake, down the Reindeer River and through
Pelican Narrows finally ending up in The Pas. They all
got a bottle of whiskey to celebrate once they got there.
But it was all in a day's work then. He notes that flour was $1.20 per pound and sugar or salt $2.00 per pound at Brochet. Little wonder, given the distance that freight had to moved to get there. The Cree freighters even managed to freight eggs all the way up to Brochet. When Nagle went through Southend he describes it as "several cabins and log buildings scattered along the shore." A far cry from today. He says there were a few gardens so they bought 20 pounds of potatoes ( the size of chicken eggs) and some canned butter, and feasted.
They just happened to be there when the RCAF had two
Vedette bi-planes (the first planes
When they left Southend, Nagle saw an odd stick in the water with a flagging ribbon on it. They went over to investigate and found a letter from Nagle's boss at Canadian Mining and Smelting directing the rest of his summer's prospecting. Talk about a weird inter office memo. Later in the summer, he got a letter from a friend working in the north telling him about the discovery of the Hornby party (by a prospecting party) on the Thelon. Exciting times. "Ober and Billie Magee" went through here in 1912. Their trip was roughly 1650 miles and took 133 days. They travelled from The Pas to Nueltin, back down the shore of Hudson Bay and ended at Gimli, Manitoba, all without benefit of a map or a guide. Whatever possessed "Ober" to do it is beyond me, but I am glad he did. Toward Magnetic North is a fascinating book about the trip. R H Cockburn and David Treuer (sp?), an Ojibway author, are, as well, writing books about this epic trip. The former is from Oberholtzer's journals and the latter is from Billie's story that is still part of the Ojibway oral record. Do you think I might be buying these two books?
At Brochet, Ober tried to hire Alphonse Chipewyan as a guide. His wife wouldn't let him go. I wish she had. His real last name was Dzeylion and, had he gone, his relatives in Wollaston, who Lynda knows, would have had their own version of the trip. This history is so close I can all but taste it.
Anyway a little about our day today. It went dead calm about 8:00 so we got up at 5:00 and hit the water by 6:15. We had near calm and were in a narrow channel most of the morning and got near 18 miles before lunch at 11:30. And what a lunch. Fried pike, bannock, cappuccino, and a small piece of Bear Creek Poppy Seed Amaretto cake each.
This lake is spectacular. Much exposed bedrock in all shades of gray and white and ochres. Lots of tight knit black spruce and the odd open flat spot with jackpine. As well there are many areas with lots of small white birch. The poplars are all but gone now. Virtually every half mile there is a perfect lunch spot on bare bedrock right at lake's edge. We are camped for the night in a spectacular spot, a 20 foot high spot carpeted with light green caribou moss, twin flower and Labrador tea. The odd birch dots the campsite which is surrounded by black spruce. The view is to the north and across a wide expanse of Reindeer Lake. The sky is a mix of grays and whites and light blue and there is that feeling of rain in the air. The mosquitoes are coming out now and any day now it will be time for our Bug Shirts.
The water is freezing cold as the ice has just gone off - less than a week ago. This morning it was so cold that we were wearing gloves and toques. I saw a Southend boat go by and the driver was wearing a winter parka, skidoo mitts and a muskrat hat. And this is the 19th of June. It really never warmed up all day and after lunch the wind picked up a bit from the north east. It both chilled us and slowed us down. Nonetheless we banged off close to 26 miles. Now, as I type this, it is dead calm at 5:30, but with a steel gray sky there is a chance of rain and cold by morning. We have been "pushing" wind for the entire 11 days we have been out. I would hope for better weather but Solomon Merasty, from Pelican Narrows, who went with Downes on one of his trips on this lake said, "It doesn't do any good to hope in this country, you just do the best you can."
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is about these canoe trips and life in the north in general that appeals to me. Downes summed it up nicely, I think. He said, "The real people of the north don't love the north. What they cling to is that complex in themselves which is satisfied by their situation - by the freedom of being their own boss .... or the wandering irresponsibility of it all."
We are only two days from the start of the Swan Blondeau route. And soon, far too soon I know, the trip will end for Tom. But he will be back somewhere in the north again in a canoe. And soon. It has cut into his soul as deeply as it has into mine. Even if he wanted to stay away he would be unable. The north will call to him in his dreams as it does to me.
This was a VERY very good day.
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.
here if you have arrived at this page without
|the navigation bar on the left|