Winnipeg – Paddling again

Grand Rapids is now behind us, Don took us by truck with the canoe to Eckla, a regional park and site of an Icelandic community where settles came in the 1800’s. We drove through marshland country and saw the passage between lake Manitoba and Winnipeg where the water almost touched the highway.

First Manitoba Railway

Manitoba lake is flooding and Winnipeg is apparently already a couple of feet higher than normal and expected to rise another foot and a half. Like Cedar lake, Winnipeg has such a size that we cannot see the farther shore, it could be an ocean for all we know … this lake is a natural lake that gathers all the water from Minnesotta to the Banf area and sends all the water north to Hudson Bay, only 3 hours by car from Grand Rapids. Yes we are really far north and now our journey takes us south to the American border.

Don and Annette have truly spoiled us with that open franck hearted simple ways of people who act from the heart without complex or devious ways. I hope we can remain in contact for even if this is ‘only’ a crossing of paths, once again I feel real exchanges happened and it would be lovely to be able to keep in touch.

Canoe & gear on Don's truck

would be very tempted to see and live a few days in Grand Rapids in the middle of winter when the temperatures near the minus 50° and all is white and pristine. Another world I’m sure.

Gerald the last morning took me to a meeting at the local café where a contract was being signed between the dam authorities and the local fishermen to insure the overflow of water being dumped would not cause any dammage. 4 boats, 3 men per boat for over a month and as long as ‘debris’ keeps being sent down the overflow. More of a compensation move but possibly useful. It’s all about money and power struggles. I read the contract being invited for breakfast and found it well written though it leaves the notion of ‘debris’ undefined as I told them. Good faith and collaboration are assumed in the document, a possible source of further conflict.

Teepee at Cultural Center financed by Manitoba Power

After breakfast Gerald took me to the camp where they demonstrate, and teach the first nation children the traditional arts of living. Nice place and well situated, it feels like summer camp.

A flock of a couple hundred geese fly by, I try to get a picture but … it doesn’t really come out. It has been a joy to see these medium size flocks of a couple hundred birds flying by once in a while.

Open flat land between Manitoba Lake & Winnipeg

Yesterday we had three such flocks in view at one time. Nothing like the flocks we read about of tens of thousand birds that used to be here.

We camped at the Eckla dike constructed to link the island to the mainland. Beautiful site and there we met Gary, a retired man who comes to fish, catch & release, as part of his daily routine.

17lb native catfish by Gary

He brought 11 shrimp and caught 9 catfish native to this area. The largest was a 17 pound fish, the best this year he said. When finished he took Dana to his house to fill our water tanks from his well

Dana called for a meeting, the second one of this trip, the guys had been talking together and though the theme was initiated by Hugo and Peter, Dana as usual was the spokesperson who brought things to the table. Living in such close quarters they expressed their feeling that Pascal often said things that sounded too much like imposed statements rather than participative comments, in their way of thinking not felt as constructive. I listened carefully and understand that even if 80% of the time I tend to not say anything to avoid such perceptions by them, when I do say something probably the way I say it makes them react as if an ‘authoritative’ person was saying it.

Unloading at Eckla

We agreed that it was good to put things down on the table and that I would attempt to insure my input was stated as a point of view rather than as a statement that could be resented as a directive. Age and my past as a manager are both influences that make my statements ‘definitive’ rather than participative. This also allowed us to discuss the way I feel about the uneccessary risks and lack of foresight that I perceive in their decisions about the trip. I also mentionnned that the three of them are life long buddies and that I’m in the position of an ousider which at times is difficult for me. This discussion allowed all of us to feel better and renew the fundamental camaraderie that characterizes our team spirit. I continue to be impressed by the fundamental positive approach to communal living that characterizes their dealings with me and our M2M Team spirit.

Later Brian, his father and daughter arrived to fish. His father an immigrant who came to Winnipeg and then settled on virgin land that he cleared, had created a turkey farm. Brian turned the turkey farm into an industrial production of turkey chicks which he sells to those who raise them. His male turkeys get to be 70lbs which means they are too heavy to reproduce. This means that a crew comes in once a week to draw the seemen and then fertilizes up to 700 turkeys per hour … industrial reproduction. “What do you do in life? I fertilize turkey hens …”

Turkey Eggs (before breakfast)

Again we learned something and had a good time talking to Brian when he came back from his farm 4 miles away with a dozen turkey eggs, of which more than half were double yokes that he says he tried to sell to a baker but has to throw away since these eggs are not registered by the sanitation authorities. We ate fresh eggs the next morning and boiled the rest for lunch, turkey eggs are really more tasty, work well into scrambled or sunny side up and apparently baked goods rise better. He even mentionned that his wife makes all her cakes with these eggs as the egg white holds better than chicken eggs. As I mentionned to him there is a real future for this type of egg on the market. The turkeys you buy in the store, even if they come from his original chicks which he raises with whole grains are apparently put on the market by growers after only 13 weeks … this means they fill them with hormones and growth stuff … chickens are put on the market after only 9 weeks … time is money and feeding the masses with degenerated poor quality, poor tasting and potentially sickness enducing meat protein … makes money. This is an area of activity the food industry, where we see the failure of our governing managers, elected or not, failing to provide the proper framework for the agro industry to benefit the people of the nation. And this is true in all countries due to the strength of the international industrial power groups involved from the growers through the whole chain of distribution and transformation to the consumer.

At last shirts off!

Beautiful day, we paddled around the island, had a stop in Eckla settlement where again we met people who both warned us about the crossing and encouraged us on our trip, even got a ride from the store back to our canoe, and then did the actual crossing hugging to shore until the last 10km allowed us to reach the eastern border. This crossing is the passage from the forest swamp and large river through the fertile plains to the new section of our journey full of many rivers and small lakes with the canadian shield rock emerging.

Pristine beaches ... a dream come true

Phase 2 of our journey is starting, we have done over 1800km and the landscape has changed for good. We no longer have to look for a campsite, hundreds of kilometers of pristine beaches with sand welcome us wherever we go. The deadwood on the beach is plentiful and the fishing is nearly miraculous. People pay thousands of dollars each year to come to this area and have a few days camping (and polluting!) on these dream like beaches.

We just stop every few hours to explore an island, discover pellican nests, eat a bite and mostly swim and rest. It is hard to be crossing canada in these most difficult conditions with a weather that is announced beautiful until we reach Power View.

Last evening as we ate a set of paddies prepared by Dana combining grains, vegetable protein, chick peas, … the sun slowly set ablaze the sky disapearing as a round disk over the horizon. We live sunrizes and sunsets that you may see in vacation catalogs or art pictures every day. This is the stuff that makes life a daily revelation of beauty and worth. This morning at 5am, though it was difficult to get up being cosy in the sleeping bag, the light slowly rizing with the sun turned the islands on the lake into jewels on a silver platter with tender rose colours and the etching out of the bright greens of the trees.

Pelican egg

I sat at my computer after fixing a good coffee and wrote to my daughter a letter that communicates more than fatherly love, a real exchange between two adult persons. It is the inspiration of the place, the surrounding beauty, … that engenders such communications. We are all in the desire to share with our ‘significant other(s)’ as much as we can of this truly exceptional journey. Can I hope that you’re able to share this with us as I blunder through these words I hope you’ll read?

Peter & Dana are reading by my side, Hugo is off to see if he can identify birds, explore the site, revel in nature. We are in no hurry yet will have to go in a few minutes. Plan is to get to PowerView, settle for the night and spend all day tomorrow (rain announced) doing “city” things such as post blog, call friends, explore the community and tomorrow night see the hokey game.

Dana inspecting pebbles

Hard paddling, the wind has rizen and the entrance into the Winnipeg River is difficult to negotiate between the current, the wind against us and the swells that theaten to throw water into the canoe while making us fight against them. We paddle hard then rest a few minutes and start again. We know we don’t have far to go so we put a lot of push into the paddles and end up with numb arms and legs. Yes legs are the bracing for the hard paddling, so we get stiff and tired both in arms and leggs. We appreciate stopping, getting out of the canoe and walking along the shore.


First stop Fort Alexander, an old trading point which is now a reservation. Little houses on the edge of the river. They are downloading big rocks to stop the erosion due in part to the high levels of the river and the furious lashing waves when the lake reacts to strong winds. Along the shore we have been seeing hundreds of trees lying with their root systems exposed. Clearly the lake is gaining on the land wherever it is not granit. Yes we are starting to see the canadian shield, emerging granite that creates wonderful vistas.

The canadian shield appears

We learn from a local fisherman that the Knucks won the 4th game of the series, I was delighted as I, the frenchman, was the only one who had predicted they would win. It is true the last two games were so overwhelming in favor of Boston, but I am convinced the Vancouver Knucks have a more elegant game and if they can draw Boston into errors due to their bullying approach, they can win the series.

Growing in the rocks

On to Pine Falls, a wood processing mill town. Hugo & I hitch to the town to explore, Shirley whom I met in a retirement home tries to help us by calling all the city officials but being Sunday no one is home. She then drives us all over, checking out the landing spots, the dam portage and making us visit the town. Pine Falls was created when the lumber mill was created on Native reservation land in the late 1800’s, but last year despite having built a whole new paper processing section only 8 years ago, they stopped activity leaving this wholy dependent community bereaft. Over 300 direct employees and a management policy that if beneficial to employees (low cost housing, excellent pay & benefits …) made them so dependent that most of the work force has had to leave in the last 2 years. Still 50% of the native community in Alexander is out of work due to this, creating conflictual relations between communities. I hear that suicides are rampant and older people do not have enough to eat. This initially coal driven plant just couldn’t make money, though I do not know the whole story, when you know electricity from the dams is local and cheap, you question the management intelligence of keeping even only one boiler on coal pollution burning as the power source of the activity. As often in firms, when the management’s thinking is not anticipating the trends of the economy and initiating new approaches to production or marketing, they lead their enterprises to dead end situations. Apparently the whole site is to be torn down and shipped to a third world country, leaving this site available … it could be a great site for a resort with clients using it for both summer water and winter ice activities.

Shirley & Hugo checking out the rapids

Hugo went to see the RCMP where a young man said we could only get the ok to camp the next day when his boss would be there. Our food drop however is present and we agreed to pick it up later. However, while checking the rapids for passage, he found Dorian, a retired railways man just 2 years older than me who having maried a native has decided to live their retirement in a secluded house on the edge of the river just above the falls. He invited us to camp on his land, a good safe place, a good place to launch after the rapids and with such a charming couple. They make creative, traditional, sumptuous flower crowns for burials, casket decorations and many other flower, statues and feather decorations. Known all over the region, they hardly can keep up with the demand, and this gives them interesting contacts with the native communities all over. They do their work with such dedication and obvious good heart, accompanying the priests, the bereaved and the families, that the commercial aspects are secondary even if really lucrative. Dorian creates the structures and she decorates them. I really like the soft spoken gentleness of Dorian and the matronly expressions of his wife. Their house is a museum of a mixture of indian lore, hunting trophies and aged person’s collections of ‘bilboquets’ (little items of beauty that older folks collect). An exceptional couple living a good life and helping their family and the community.

As we bring the canoe to Pine Falls rapids, presently raging waters that must be portaged even if in normal times old timers tell me they have pulled canoes upstream through them on a rope, we land at the point below the falls and unload expecting to portage to Dorian’s house about 300 yards up the hill. In fact as we are unloading, Roberta in her truck asks us what we are up to (really rare that people question us spontaneously) and ends up loading our stuff in her truck and driving it to Dorian’s driveway. Dana & I with pull the canoe on it’s wheels up to the house, I was exhausted while Dana felt it was easy … age is a real handicap in these muscle dependent activities.

As we set up camp at Dorian’s back lawn, Roberta comes back and tells us we can stay at her parent’s big home where a bed, shower, internet are available. Being tired and almost settled we agree to go there the next day and share with her dad the Hockey game.

So here I am, posting the blog and preparing for a good diner cooked by Roberta’s mother and a hockey game on a large screen in the den with a few beers. Life is really difficult crossing Canada on a canoe, how wonderful to meet the Canadians in their best, the open hearted people of an immense land full of ressouces. Today it is raining, tomorrow, after the local newspaper takes pictures for a feature article on our trip, we plan to portage the next dam and paddle mostly under the rain … yes we’re ‘on the road again’ as would say Bob Dylan.


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5 Responses to Winnipeg – Paddling again

  1. It was so wonderful to meet all of you Pascale! How fortunate that I had my camera and had decided to go down there to see the rapids and take some pictures. Fortunate too that I am overly friendly and maybe a bit too curious. HA! Fabulous to meet you all and I hope your journey goes well and the sunny skies continue to follow you the rest of the way to Montreal.

    Best wishes from Pine Falls!

  2. terry dueck says:

    I’ve been a turkey farmer for 30 tears and I’ve never seen or heard of anyone using hormones in turkeys.The only “growth stuff” is minerals,vitamins and grain.Stop believing everything PETA says.

  3. says:

    Roberta, t’was really a special moment shared. We did not find your camp site but did find a wonderful site after a heavy shower which drenched us. We wish you well and thank your parents for hosting us while it rained. Our shared meals and hockey game was memorable. Unhappily the Knucks lost, but Boston did deserve it.
    Keep in touch

  4. Celine Dion says:

    Just added this blog to my favorites. I enjoy reading your blogs and hope you keep them coming!

  5. This is absolutely gold. I was not expecting that I’d get so much out of reading your write up! You’ve just earned yourself a returning visitor 🙂

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