Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2001 trip, on the
Dubawnt River in the North West Territories & Nunavut.

Tuesday July 03 / Wednesday July 04 / Thursday July 05 / Friday July 06 / Saturday July 07 /
Sunday July 08 / Monday July 09 / Tuesday July 10 / Wednesday July 11 / Thursday July 12 /
Friday July 13 / Saturday July 14 / Sunday July 15 / Monday July 16 / Tuesday July 17 /
Wednesday July 18 / Thursday July 19 / Friday July 20 / Saturday July 21 / Sunday July 22 /
Monday July 23 / Tuesday July 24 / Wednesday July 25 / Thursday July 26 / Friday July 27 /
Saturday July 28 / Sunday July 29 / Monday July 30 / Tuesday July 31 / Wednesday August 1
Thursday August 2 / Friday August 3 / Saturday August 4 / Sunday August 5 / Monday August 6
Tuesday August 7 / Wednesday August 8

 
Wednesday, July 11
Today, I suppose, I could tell you about the gorgeous sand eskers along the river. I could tell you about the way the Prospector danced its magic through several racing rapids, about the many eagles we saw, about the grayling snapping at my flies, about the cow moose and its calf that watched as we drifted by. But something else has hold of my thoughts today, and I can't shake it.
 
This morning, as we packed, I hiked up the esker behind our tent and there it was as I knew it would be -- signs that someone else had been here. I expected, that, but I didn't expect the impact it would have on me.

You see, we found enough memorabilia for me to know the people who lived in this spot so many years ago. It was a man and his wife. It was in the thirties, when fur was king in the north. He was a white trapper and she Dene from Stony Rapids. They had a child, they lived there in the summer and tended a small garden, they ran dogs and the man loved them, he enjoyed marmalade and the odd shot of Scotch after a hard day on the trail, and they had paddled in as we had at least once.

All this I know for, you see, we found the remains of a gorgeous hand crafted cabin made of squared logs with a hand hewn wooden floor, a puzzling affair that looked like a giant's ladder laying on the ground until I realized that it was all that remained of a long dog kennel that would have housed his friends, a pile of empty brown Scotch bottles and marmalade tins, the decaying ribs of a wood and canvas canoe -- and the remains of a child's musical carousel. It was this last item that made this place a home to me more than anything else.

I could see that man in Stony selling fur in the winter, ready to leave for his home 150 miles away by dog sled. And then his eyes spotted the toy that he knew his child would so love to have. Out of his wooden boxes of supplies came some Scotch and tobacco and perhaps a tin of marmalade to make room for that toy. And four nights later when he came in sight of his cabin and could smell the wood smoke he could hardly contain himself. The dogs, knowing they were almost home, put on a final sprint and started to bark. The woman and the child laughed as they knew that he was home ... and then as he unpacked, the child's eyes grew big as saucers at the toy her father had carried all that way for her.

That young girl might still be alive today. If I could meet her, I would love to tell her that I saw her home, and her toy, and tell her how beautiful that esker still is today. And I would tell her I wished

I could have trapped with her dad and seen all he saw.

And tonight I will dream my dreams for that man and let him see his home and his country one more time through my eyes…

 
Thursday July 12
So last night saw us arrive at Boyd Lake. We found another gorgeous esker to camp on. From Lynda's research with her "Dene Elder's Project," we suspected this one had a story to tell. Phillip Bouvier from Black Lake had told her a story about a white trapper who had lived here in the thirties and who had killed an RCMP officer. A good friend of hers , Billy Joe Mercredi, had corroborated the essential details and fleshed out the story. I have also heard variant forms so when we found the cabin last night tucked away behind the esker the story sprang to life for both of us.
 
First a bit about the cabin. It is still standing and a work of art, all dove tail notches and well fitted. Details like a rounded arch that formed a part of the roof above the doorway complete with caribou antler decorations and short purlins cut into the end walls to form brackets for inner shelves showed a rare craftsmanship. This was another well loved home and not just a trapper's working "shack."

The floor of the cabin was dug down about two feet into the ground and the excavated sand was piled around the outside to help insulate the building. The sand was held in place by a small palisade of logs built around the entire structure. A small shed was built with as much attention to detail and this would have been a warm and comfortable base from which to trap. The remains of an old cast iron wood cook stove outside made me think of the trapper returning home to his wife and the smell of caribou roast and warm fresh bannock. With tea and salt for the meat, this would have been a true feast.

This man's story ends tragically though. It is a long story but suffice it to say it involves a winter's catch of fur lost in a card game, too much whiskey, the murder of an RCMP officer, and the eventual tracking and shooting of the trapper who lived here.

It is so fascinating for us to see these places and to try to visualize the life that these white trappers carved for themselves in this country so far from where they were born. God how they must have reveled in the freedom and sense of purpose they felt as they travelled across this land as masters of all they saw.

As to the mundane details of the day, I suckered myself, as I am often wont to do, by thinking we could move in spite of the strong west wind. We made about 4 miles and had to quit to wait out a mounting wind that is still unabated at 6:30 pm. All we did was trade a great sand esker home for one on a barrens land rounded dome island. It is a lovely spot but beaching the canoe is next to impossible due to the angular rock shoreline. I have modified the shoreline enough that we have a trail through the tundra birch and willows and a few flat rocks to act as stepping stones. We haven't set up the tent yet as we are deluding ourselves into thinking we might do a night paddle.

As I type, the whitecaps are rolling across the lake and although it is sunny, the wind is shifting to the northwest. Not a good sign. I think this is home for awhile.

 
Dubawnt River Map & Trip Outline
 
 

 

Press here if you have arrived at this page without
the navigation bar on the left