Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay - 55 Days and 1000 miles.
Tom on the Shores of Swan Lake
  Day #16 Tuesday June 25, 2002

We were up by 6:00 so I could do a radio interview with Sheila Coles, host of CBC Regina radio's morning show, Morning Edition. How in the world do you fit in a week of canoeing which included Reindeer Lake and the Swan River into five minutes? Seems impossible really. So much has happened to us just in one week. Besides, there is all the history of this area.

  Today, in spite of all I had read about the difficulty of this section of the route, was fantastic. We have hit the Blondeau at a perfect water level, I think. In spite of having to fight a HUGE north wind to get off of Swan Lake (two miles took over an hour!) we are now about 2 1/2 miles from the portage passed the old fur trade post where we leave the Blondeau. Other notes made me think we were in for a very tough day. I feared lots of carrying and dragging up shoal rapids. We only carried once and it was mandatory at any water level. The notes I have called it "bouldery," but it is excellent, and largely over dry sandy ground. This, and dragging up over one beaver dam and cutting two sweepers were all we had to do all day.

It was tough paddling, as the current is quite aggressive. Combined with the river turning back on itself at corner after corner it was a day of pry pry pry pry draw draw draw draw. But we are now camped on a bug free esker at river's edge, having stopped at 4:00. The place was just too lovely to pass by.

The river has been narrow , deep and lovely all day.. A fringe of grass fronts a backdrop of black spruce. There are lots of alders hanging out over the water. The banks are about two feet high and it makes for hard getting in and out of the canoe as they are muddy, as is the bottom. But we only got out of the canoe once for lunch and once to portage.

Where we are camped now, we have a little sand/mud beach so unloading was a snap. We both had a swim and it was great. In spite of this being perfect moose country, we only saw one, a bull in full velvet and very close. I had put my camera away and predicted it would appear. It did, within 20 minutes. We also saw one otter at the bottom of the rapids we portaged.

All day I thought of the countless hundred of Dene and Cree and the handful of white folk that have been through here. It really is quite overpowering to think that David Thompson with Paddy and Kosdaw went right past this point where I am sitting. Or what of Fred Darbyshire and his wife of about 4 years, Nora Lueken? Perhaps they camped in this same spot. It was her first big trip into the north, I think. I can almost hear Fred telling her how lovely Close Lake will be. How they will spend the winter in a snug cabin. How the fur will be thick. How they will feast on bannock and moose meat and tea. How jumbo white-fish will fill their nets. And if Lynda and I feel even half of what they felt for this land and each other we are blessed.

So many more days stretch in front of me 'til trip's end. I am happy for them all to come. So many adventures and camp spots like this one. So many nights to share with Lynda. Such a wonderful life this life of wandering irresponsibility.

Along the Portage
  Day #17 Wednesday June 26, 2002

So we only made six miles today. And it was a long hard day at that. We got a bit of a late start, getting up at 7:00. The section of the river from where we camped to the portage off the Blondeau is gorgeous. With a large unburned esker on our right, we wound our way up toward the old HBC trading post. We had to line up five tiny rapids. It was very easy, but time consuming.

  Finding the point where the portage leads from the Blondeau to the first of the four small unnamed lakes before Middle Lake was also easy. Finding the portage was a chore that took about 45 minutes of wandering about before we were sure we had it. We cleaned it up a lot, and added lots of flagging, so it should be much easier to find now. At the far end, I made a claim post like I did in my mining exploration days and left the following note: Trail Improvements by Layman and Orourke June 25 2002).


  Did I mention that we heard there is a couple from Regina going this way and then on to Black Lake via the Fond du Lac? They should have a much easier time finding the trail. We left a note for them in a bag at our last camp, telling them we were ahead. We recommended that they camp on the spot we used last night as it was so gorgeous.

We made a quick lunch at the end of the first portage and I jumped into the lake, clothes and all, it was that hot. When we woke in the morning I thought it was going to be cool and overcast, but when we got up, we realized that it was a smoke haze from all the fires in the area.

The portages from Lake 1 to Lake 2 and from Lake 2 to Lake 3 were great, short and easy to find. The one from Lake 3 to Lake 4 was a real pain. Partly our fault, as the trail takes a hard 90 degree right turn at the point as you enter what appears to be a huge muskeg. I missed it completely and knew immediately that I was off of the trail. So where's the problem? Well, as I am wont to do, I kept going and started zig zagging to right and left to try and cut into it again. After a hundred meters we had to drop the packs and re-scout. After about 20 minutes, we were back on track but I am still convinced that there has to be, or should be, a much more direct portage. What should have been about 250 meters turned into about 500 meters.

The last portage and the next two we will do are really winter-roads. This road we are camped on now has trees about six to eight feet high. Down the center there is a trail that is kept open by winter ski-doo traffic.

These roads were originally opened by Svein Sigfusson in 1944. A big time commercial fishing and freighting operator, Svein had crews as large as 100 men working at any given time on Reindeer Lake. In his book Sigfusson's Ice Roads he says that there were as many as 500 men in a typical winter fishing Reindeer Lake. Mostly Icelanders from southern Manitoba, they fished for trout and whitefish. Fish was in great demand due to war time shortages of beef, and Reindeer and Wollaston had lots of fish. Svein's crews freighted the fish by cat swing to the rail head at Flin Flon and he pioneered most of the winter roads into northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba and into Ontario. They also freighted supplies for the HBC and other trading outfits all though the north. To think we are camped on one of his roads!

How did he find the route into Wollaston when the recently elected CCF asked him to make a road? The same way David Thomspson did in 1796. He asked a local. This time it was a Cree, Frank Cook, who snowshoed the trail for him. And, just for the record, the CCF, bless their bleeding hearts, paid him about 1/5 of what his expenses were. Gotta' love those leftist governments. In any case he cleaned up on the fishing but had little good to say about the CCF.

Today at the portage from the Blondeau we saw the remains of the HBC outpost camp supplied from Brochet. This was set up to trade with the Dene who now live in Wollaston.

From " The Dene Elder's Project" edited by Lynda Holland. To be published in early 2003

The late Bart Dzeylion.
"Louis Benoanie told me one time when he was a little boy, his father, Jerome Benoanie, helped the store manager from Swan River. Louis was with him too. The store manager asked Louis' dad to help him take supplies and groceries to Indian Village in Compulsion Bay with two dog teams. When they got there, no one was there. Everyone had gone to live in Waterbury (Lake). So they went there and found about ten houses."

Later he says, " The manager was a good guy because he helped the people.. He knew it was a long way to Brochet to buy supplies so he would go look for the people. This always happened after freeze-up, just before Christmas."

And we are camped where Jerome's dog teams traveled. So much history along this route.

We should see Wollaston after another long hard day tomorrow. At the latest the day after next. This Swan Blondeau route is fantastic. I'm outta' here. I gotta' get some sleep.

  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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