Up the Winnipeg River

Roberta & Mother who received us

Goodbyes are always a bit difficult, in 24hrs you get so close, sharing at times what you would not share with someone close to you … a freedom of traveling, and then you have to leave as the journey goes on. This is one of the conditions of living a life of wandering, so you have to think that there are lots of people who are worth loving and sharing with, we all form a community that makes humanity.

Dorian & his wife in their home who welcomed us

We leave from just above Dorian’s place, the local paper, owned by a father & son who being independent are able to talk about subjects that raise issues not always appreciated politically, is at the Dam when we portage the canoe. They make no money with the paper but are able to sell services through it that enable them to make a living. We paddle off while he shoots pictures he plans to put on the front page of the paper. I insist he mention Dorian and Roberta’s welcome, he promisses to send me a copy of the article. We are without our gear so we progress rapidly on the water and make good time as Roberta has agreed to bring our stuff above the dam we plan to reach at the end of the day.

Funeral silk flower arrangements created by Dorian & Wife

Photo by Roberta

We paddled up river with the sun beating on us making us feel we have now reached summer. Stopping on lawns of non occupied cottages we happily swim in the river to freshen up. Aside from the RCMP boat we saw few boats indicating the “cottage” season has not yet come. Hundreds of cottages line the shore, some of them real mansions, others more discreet … I’m told they run from $50 000 to several million dollars. Often they’ll have two boat garages with launch rails to pull the boat dry into specially built boat houses on the river’s edge while the cottage stands higher up on the shore. Since leaving the Winnipeg lake it seems we have entered a vacation region for the region of Winnipeg, only 1 hour’s drive away. These cottages apparently are used both in the summer and in the winter for ice fishing and leisure time away from the city. Here you need to own a 4wheel car, a boat and a snowmobile besides a cottage, and these need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years …

We arrive at a rapids we have to portage. Passing by a groomed lawn of a cottage with the owner’s friendly permission, we reach the road and put the canoe on it’s cart to wheel it through. The second time the next dam being only a couple of miles, we decide that walking is good for us and easier than putting the canoe back in the water, paddling and then bringing it back up. Relaying each other, the other 3 walk easily while one pushes the canoe with only a little help for the hills. I seem to have the most difficulty but do my share. As we progress we see one wheel of the cart begin to wobble, looking closer we see the plastic inside the rim of the wheel is practically worn out. We continue hopping this will hold until we can repair it later.

At the dam, I go see the staff who say they were expecting us. Apparently the word is out and I sense that Don Bleiken has informed people up the chain of dams and given advice. They grab two trucks, one of which apparently uses 26l per 100km, and go get the canoe on the side of the road. We rack the canoe on the big truck and just at that time Roberta shows up with our gear. In a procession we head two dams ahead. Roberta is going to be late for an appointment and the Dam people are on overtime.

Seeking a camp site, we only see cottages, so we finaly camp at a cottage in construction on an island. In fact we did check out a couple of places but we have entered the region of POISON IVY, and Dana has already brushed against it and is now suffering from welts that take over a week to disapear. This makes wonderful campsites inaccessible. In this area each island has one of more cottages with installed lattrines outside. We wonder how they deal with used waters and pollution, most likely this goes into the lake and will over time pollute the environment. Even being careful, modern living contexts means pollution. We insure that when we leave there is no trace of our passage and we replace the wood we burned with the wood given to us in Pine Falls.

Going to Brian & Katie's house

Another day paddlin up river but today we stop at the house of the head of the RCMP from Pine Falls who invited us to see the final game of the Stanley Cup Hockey. We sleep in the basement, on fine rugs and with showers, throw a few things in the laundry and share a copious diner with excellent porc chops cooked perfectly while we watch the game. Vancouver looses and Boston deserved to win, not what we would have liked but a good game. Brian’s homemade wine was delicious and after a couple of glasses at the end of the game I went to bed early.

I rose early hearing Katie in the kitchen and shared a cup of coffee while learning about her work at the city driving big equipment. I liked her independent autonomous presence, the way she talked about her new life with Brian and the mutual respect they each have for the other’s life journey. Women who are raised in this harsh country seem to deal with life without the petty demeanor of city bred girls. Rather refreshing and probably less demanding on the long run for a man since they express their real feelings, desires and requirements. Most likely would scare off men who need to be valorized by women, but hopefully that is a dying breed.

Brian took our gear to the docks where the canoe was left and drove me around town to buy the epoxy putty and washers I needed to repair the canoe cart. For $250, though we got a rebate at $180 for which we are thankfull, this cart after only a few uses, less than 5 miles of portages, had one of it’s plastic wheels chewed up. The local news came to take pictures and we leisurly packed leaving only at 11am. Brian decided to take the day off and as a parting gift gave us 3 types of prepared meats to make our lunches nicer. Dana having recuperated our food cache and deciding that we had too much, left with Brian and Katie a good portion of the food drop including dates and apricots that I probably would have kept.

Again a portage through a dam, the Manitoba power people hired a trailer to take us around 2 dams on one go. The current is really strong and we pain going up river. Here they prefered to portage us beyond the second dam to insure we avoided areas where they felt we could not paddle up river due to the current. We are getting used to this service and almost getting to expect it, while we are grateful and really appreciate the help. Manitoba Power has really demonstrated that their concern for safety of the users of the waterways is a priority even if it costs them money. These people manage a cash producing ressource for the community and they take their mission seriously. Obviously our trip is an adventure in their daily routine, but each time we meet men who go beyond their duty and even give us a hand portaging our heavy food and equipment packs. In the spirit of the country, here you give a hand to those doing things as you can expect others to return the favor, it’s a question of survival in a country where mistakes often cost lives. They leave us at the entrance of White Shells park on a dock that is surrounded by marshy lands. We swim and eat a bite before leaving.

We start off early and here the waterway is so large that we are not hampered by the current. At 11 am we see far in the distance what we expect to be two fishing boats. Then a little later we discover it is two canoes. Could it be the Voyageur’s Hudson Bay Expedition (http://www.voyageurhudsonbayexpedition.com/route.php) we expected to see but believed we had passed either due to different paths through islands or during a camp? As we near them another canoe comes out from the shore. As we get within ear shot we begin to say hello and Dave the sole canoe guy tells all of us to come for coffee.

What an incredible set of circumstances, expeditions meeting, a stranger inviting us for coffee … so we visit with Dave Church, an independent consultant doing interesting work on personal development and helping organizations to change while the two teams exchange experiences and tales about their trips. We share a meal, a sort of pow-wow where each and all feels the fraternity and understands the participants motivations for the adventure they are living. A great moment made possible by the conjunction of chance … or is it chance? Anyhow, each participant was elated by the encounter and will keep this meeting as a special moment of his life. We would like to have such meeetings with the 3 expeditions we should meet along the way, crossing Canada from east to West, West to East or South to North.

A secondary effect of this meeting is that Dave needed to have his car driven to Winnipeg and Dana on our team needed to go to Winnipeg … so it all worked out … interesting don’t you find?

We drop Dana off and are now 3 to paddle up stream. At each fall we meet, we portage our equipment and pull the canoe through the rapids around the rocks. These are passages that normaly canoers tell us they paddle through without stopping, but today these are so high in water, the current so hard that even just in approaching them we are at full force on the paddles and we regret to only be 3 instead of the 4 we usually have. With 4 one can stop a second to adjust his glasses, take a drink … but when we are 3 there is no stopping in tight situations and despite working about twice as hard on the paddle, we barrely at times pass through the changing current in the river.

On one of the portages, while passing the canoe with the front and back ropes while I

Nuclear power plant rejecting water in the river

keep in the water pushing the canoe off the rocks, it begins to take on water … happily Peter maintains the back rope while Hugo let’s go of the front and the canoe rights it’self while gliding into an eddie. If both had let go, we could have chased the canoe for miles.

We hear stories of people who know the region missing the passage and tipping over with 2 of the 4 passing overboard and getting lost in the river. This is difficult and dangerous country, small errors become easily major catastrophies, you need all your wit about you and to anticipate as much as possible.

What should have taken us 2 hours in fact took us 5 and when we get to Slave Dam we hope the Hydro staff has not gone off on weekend. As we creep up the river, the current becoming stronger the nearer you get to the dam, we finally see a person waving to us from the right side of the dam (we had been told to go left). As we cross over to him, he tells us that the river is so strong that he thinks it best to get off just around the corner and portage, then canoe up to the point where they can pick us up. Here unloading the canoe is not easy, I have to maintain it off the rocks while waves from the dam keep bobing it up and down pushing it to shore. Thank goodness the two hydro staff give us a hand with the loads and then to bring up the canoe on shore. After such a long hard day, we are all at the limit of our strength, it is good that we are in excellent shape and can draw on our final ressources. But where there is a will there is a way and we safely, rather rapidly get to the two trucks, one with a huge flat bed behind to put the canoe, and load our gear. Then at a crawl pace, on a road under construction to replace the old railway in order to prepare to rebuilt this nearly 100 year old dam, we drive to Pointe du Bois, our last Manitoba Hydro Dam.

Pointe du Bois used to have 300 homes and now is reduced to 30 residents. As one canoer mentionned it looks like a ghost town and when you talk to people they clearly say “the winter is long”. However there are cottages and the place is a little paradise both on a lake (above the Dam) and on the river. We are camped near the boat houses lined along the shore and a 2 minute walk from the only store in center of town. I went walking through town looking at the Hydro housing and meeting the few residents that are left. As Dana is in Winnipeg, we are recuperating in our tents as the rain and wind … overall grey weather is upon us. It will be nice to find the sun again, promessed for next week.

Next week it’s KENORA, apparently some rapids but less important even if we shall have a few portages. We are entering another region, will pass into Ontario, it may be a while before we can post again.

Have you who are reading this thought about giving us a hand? A few dollars would go a long way with us … or with CPAWs. Thanks for those who can, we know times are hard. Be well … our friends.


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One Response to Up the Winnipeg River

  1. Oh Pascal! What a fabulous blog entry. What a story to recall. I tried to get in touch with the voyager crew but they have been hospitably scooped up by Faye and Leonard! Glad to hear you made it through the rough patches. Smooth sailing my friends!


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