Saskatchewan (North of the 55th) 1993
In 1993 I took my family on our last extended canoe trip into the Churchill River country of Northern Saskatchewan. In 1993, it never dawned on me that this would be our last family trip. It seemed our treks to explore new waters of Saskatchewan would go on forever. Summer would always be a time to search for the Great Northwood’s and tell stories of Pierre, our mythical French-Canadian Voyageur, around the campfire. Matthew (then age 12) and Jessica (then age 11) loved my stories and I never ran out of tall tales. There was no obvious reason why we would ever stop.
Our lives changed in 1994, due to a medical emergency. Then we moved from Montana to South Dakota. Our adventures stopped as abruptly as they started. Time marched along, children got older, and we never again traveled north of the 55th. Two green canoes would hang under my deck, each scratch, and rock ding seemed to remind me of a story that started “Once upon a time, so very long ago, on the spruce lined shores of….”
I grew up with a wood/canvas and introduced canoe camping to my family in 1990 with the purchase of twin Dagger Reflection canoes (15’- 6”). My children were young, but they could handle a paddle and were expert swimmers. We honed our skills (as a family) on a trip to Lower and Upper priest Lakes in Idaho. An extended canoe trip to Wells Grey Provincial Park in British Columbia was the climax of our summer and we were hooked on canoe travel. We constantly upgraded our gear and tried to reduce excess baggage.
During the summers of 1991-1993, we embarked on three extended canoe trips into the Churchill River Country of Northern Saskatchewan. Each successive trip was a little more difficult. Saskatchewan has 100,000 lakes. In 1993, I paddled only 22 of those lakes and walked 23 trails. So many lakes, so little time……..
When I first moved to Montana from Oregon, I placed a map on the table and drew a circle with 650 mile radius. I was home sick for the great waters of the PNW and British Columbia, and figured that I would never find paddling like that again....... wrong!! My maps showed that it was 650 miles from my home in Montana to the Churchill and to the BWCA. All roads were secondary roads to the north and to the east. Almost with a "flip of the coin", I decided to explore the north first and let the BWCA wait. In retrospect, that was a good decision. I am now 1300 miles from the Saskatchewan country, but only 450 miles from Ely. I have been lucky to have great waters at my doorstep (+ or - a days drive).
The pictures here show a tiny snapshot of the Churchill country (and a tiny bit of the extensive log that I used to write). I have picked out a few highlights of the trip to share. We used Churchill River Canoe Outfitters at Missinipe as a place to stay before the trip and for shuttle service to our put-in at Lynx Lake. Most locals advise not to leave your rig unattended in the bush (as we often do in the BWCA). I have placed a link, at the end of this report, to a good source of information on Saskatchewan canoe trails. Missinipe is north of LaRonge Saskatchewan.
Picture: My family at the "put-in" on Lynx Lake. I wrote the following in my log.
Matthew had set his watch and called revelry at 0545. With the morning came a rush of reality that we were actually going to do it again. I tried to look relaxed and laid back. Connie says I get too uptight over these things. We are supposed to be on vacation. Breakfast was finished by 7 AM and Rick was already loading our canoes on his trailer. As Connie picked up breakfast, the kids and I hauled gear to Rick's van. A check and recheck confirms all was on board and we headed off toward Lynx Lake.
Our canoes were on the water at 8:22 AM on a gorgeous North Woods morning. It's difficult to describe the feeling of being back on the water again. Time seemed to have stood still. Was it possible that another year has passed by? Canoes are packed exactly like they were a year ago. We were creatures of habit but we also knew what worked. Our route was secure within plastic map cases, and now all we needed to do was follow it. Warm sun on the Duluth Packs generated a rich canvas smell. While we wiggled and shuffled around, the canoe slowly slipped away from shore as if eager to get going. The first paddle stroke reacquainted me to the canoe. It's been a long time, friend, lets find the first portage and put distance between us and that dusty gravel road. With a few strokes, I pulled the bow away from shore. The gravel road was left behind for a new road of lakes, rivers, and portage trails.