Grandmother & Grandson Take On CanoeSki Map & Compass Course

I was surprised and delighted when Karen inquired in early May 2016 about registering her and her 14 year-old grandson Kaleb in our Map & Compass Course, as I recalled she had taken the course several years ago. Doing it again with her grandson sounded like a great way to get some extended family involvement – this being a first for a grandparent and a grandchild taking the course together! Here are their short stories about how things worked out…

canoeski map and compass course

Karen & Kaleb working together on the classroom mapping exercise  ©

Because You Could Learn Something
By Kaleb

I took the Map & Compass course because it sounded fun and I knew it would help me learn something, but I would still enjoy it. The instructions were explained well and I knew what Cliff was talking about. Going outside to use these skills was a lot of fun because you got to try the skills you just learned. The course can be used if you like the outdoors like me, so you could use these skills you acquired.  The instructors there are extremely nice and will answer all questions about the course.  I hope everyone some time takes this course because you could learn something.

canoeski map & compass course

Karen and Kaleb (foreground) taking a compass bearing at Chief Whitecap Park. Cliff (left) instructing.  ©

A Few Laughs While Orienteering and Bonding With Family
By Karen

It was over 10 years ago when I took this map and compass course for the first time with a friend. It was helpful during canoeing and hiking trips, but particularly so when I got involved in orienteering and adventure racing. During these team events, my mates were able to rely on the navigation skills I gained and practiced from this course.

In more recent years I have not practiced these skills very much, so when I noticed the CanoeSki map and compass course offering again, I thought it would be great to refresh, and decided to invite my grandson Kaleb who I thought might find this interesting given his math and natural science curiosity. When I mentioned the course to him, he was instantly excited and unsurprisingly, he caught on to the concepts easily in the morning classroom session.

canoeski map and compass course

Kaleb heading down to the orienteering course on the forested floodplain at Whitecap Park  ©

Cliff’s classroom instruction was clear, and his assistants were great in clarifying any queries we had during the practice tasks. The afternoon at the park was when the real fun started as we were able to practice our new skills. When we arrived at the park, Cliff and his team reviewed the map and compass skills with everyone before sending us off for the real test – to find check points on the orienteering course.

canoeski map and compass course

Course participants at the start on the Whitecap orienteering trails. Karen & Kaleb at left foreground.  ©

Kaleb and I worked hard and got off course a few times, but ultimately we had a few laughs, got to improve our navigation skills, and found all of the check points (just) within the allotted time. This is a great skill development course, and so gratifying to do with family or friends.  Cliff and his team are patient, and put a lot of hard work into making this map & compass course worthwhile!

canoeski map and compass course

All finished! ©

To read other fascinating map and compass stories click here

For more info or to register for a CanoeSki map and compass course click here

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Grey Owl Canoe Trip in Saskatchewan’s North

Sarah at Pease Point campA 16-year old student from Regina, Sarah is enrolled in the Duke of Edinburgh Award, a youth achievement challenge program. She has chosen outdoor adventure as her challenge, which is how she ended up coming on the Grey Owl canoe trip in northern Saskatchewan. She met the challenge head on, learned several new wilderness skills and came back with an enthusiastic tale of adventure! Read on…

My Canoe Trip to Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

By Sarah Keeping

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and the serenity of the Canadian wilderness. While living in the provinces of New Brunswick and Newfoundland, I became familiar with kayaking and camping. Now living in Regina, I was eager to learn more about Northern Saskatchewan’s history and nature. I was excited when my dad told me that we would be going on a three-day canoe trip on Kingsmere Lake to visit the famous Grey Owl cabin in Prince Albert National Park!

On the first day of our trip, we met up with our guide Cliff, and Jane, another fellow canoeist in Saskatoon and drove to the resort town of Waskesiu where we enjoyed lunch together, and discussed our canoe trip. After lunch, we drove to the Kingsmere River launching area where we learned how to pack a canoe efficiently and safely. It was amazing how compact everything was; the tents and camping equipment and how every thing fit perfectly in the canoes in the water-tight packs that Cliff’s CanoeSki Company had supplied.

Canoeing Kingsmere River

Sarah and Dave heading up the winding Kingsmere River


Canoeing is a very different experience from kayaking. Before we launched the canoes, we were given some helpful lessons and pointers on the different strokes that would help maneuver the canoes in the best way possible through the tight turns in the river. This was very helpful for my Dad and me, since we had not canoed before. After the brief lessons, we paddled the canoes up Kingsmere River towards the portage railway track.



Rail trolley portage Kingsmere River

L to R – Jane, Sarah, and Dave at the Kingsmere River marine rail portage ©canoeski

The portage was one of the most exciting parts of the trip. We had to plan the weight distribution in the canoes, and from there we manually pushed the canoes in a rail cart along the track to where we eventually met the stream again, launched the canoes and paddled the remaining short distance along the river to Kingsmere Lake.

After canoeing for about two hours on Kingsmere Lake, we set up camp that night at a site called Pease Point. In the evening and as the sun was setting, the four of us shared a delicious meal of bison stew while enjoying the peacefulness of the forest.

Trail to Grey Owls cabin

Hiking the trail to Grey Owl’s cabin ©canoeski

On the second day we packed up, canoed toward the end of the lake and set up camp at a site called Blade Bone. After setting up, Jane stayed in camp to relax while the rest of us decided to pile into Cliff’s canoe and head over to Grey Owl’s cabin. Cliff fashioned a comfortable centre seat for me out of one of our packs and away we went, paddling across the top of the lake. We landed the canoe on a sandy beach and then hiked three kilometers into the forest to Grey Owl’s cabin – an interesting historic site.

Grey Owls cabin

Learning about the Grey Owl story at his Beaver Lodge Cabin ©canoeski

Grey Owl was at one with nature and wildlife. He built his cabin on the edge of the lake to allow the beavers to enter and exit at their own liking. We took lots of pictures and read about Grey Owl and his history. It was interesting to learn about how outside factors can shape one’s identity. It is fascinating how a person from England could adapt so completely to the Canadian wilderness. We hiked back out the trail from the cabin to the beach at the north end of Kingsmere and paddled back to Blade Bone, making good time.

Grey Owl canoe trip on Kingsmere Lake

A 3-cylinder canoe with Cliff, Sarah and Dave (in the bow) landing at the Bladebone campsite after returning from an afternoon trek to Grey Owl’s cabin ©canoeski

Bladebone is situated in a small, peaceful cove. On the night we were there, the water was extremely calm, and the sunset and sunrise at the camp were absolutely breathtaking. The trees reflected a perfect mirror image off the still waters.

Kingsmere Lake reflections

Evening reflections on calm Kingsmere Lake ©canoeski

On the third day, we packed up our things and began the journey home. It was mid-September and I remember waking up freezing each morning, but then realizing I had no other commitment but to enjoy the camping experience. The paddle down Kingsmere Lake took about three hours on fairly calm waters.

I thought about everything we had done in the past two days. Touring the Grey Owl historic site, a quick lesson on compass reading, taking lovely photos, learning how to pack and unpack efficiently, helping Cliff with meal preparation, and listening to the quiet sounds of nature made me think how much I had missed the outdoors, as I had been carried away with busy city life.

Bladebone campsite

Supper prep underway at the Bladebone campsite ©canoeski

The Grey Owl canoe trip is now a definite favorite of mine. Canoeing to Grey Owl’s cabin on Kingsmere Lake was an original and rewarding experience. There were breathtaking sunsets, brisk cool mornings, bear caches, and the interesting experience of a rail portage. Even though it was only three days, time seemed to stand still while floating out on the lake. I returned to Regina with many good memories and tales to share. I can’t wait until the next camping trip!

Canoeing Kingsmere Lake

Who wouldn’t be excited to do another trip like this! ©canoeski

To read other fascinating stories on CanoeSki trips go here: Canoeing Tales of Discovery

For more info or to book this trip go here: Quest for Grey Owl

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The Winter of our Discontent

William Shakespeare’s famous line in Richard III wasn’t really about winter. Same for John Steinbeck’s 1961 novel with a similar title. For those literary titans, winter was a metaphor, but this is a tale of a real Saskatchewan winter and what we did to try and make it “skiable”.

South Sask River in March

South Saskatchewan River on a crisp -25 C morning in early March (©canoeski)

We’re a week and a half into official spring and on March 31st, according to CBC radio reports, we broke low temperature records in eighteen different Saskatchewan communities – all in keeping with a nasty pattern established early in the winter. It has been a season of remarkable extremes, from searing -40º C wind chills to a blazing January thaw of +8º C! Not in my 34 winters in Saskatchewan have I ever experienced such bizarre swings in weather!

How did we cope with the “bizarriness” of the weather? Well, as a ski instructor it was a case of dodging around and between the wind chills, the ice and the slushy tracks. I had to cancel a lot of sessions, reschedule and shuffle people around the pool of courses to try and accommodate everyone’s personal schedule. We ran out of skiable conditions on the final session of the last course (too much ice and not enough snow), so everyone agreed that we’d carry it over and finish up next season. It had been planned as a video session, so postponing to next season will allow everyone more time to tune up their technique, so all are okay with that prospect!

The unusual thaw-freeze cycles combined with virtually no new snow created semi-hazardous track conditions at times. In a late January class I had one student experiencing her first time on skis having difficulty staying upright on an icy track and finally spraining her ankle. I had to shut down that class for almost two weeks till we finally got a few centimetres of snow to cover up the ice. We did have snow during the season, but not the incredible volume or the consistent snowfalls we had last year. The only consistent thing was the incessant howling wind!

Learn to Ski Class

Early January Learn to Ski class with no ice and nice weather – not the norm for the rest of the 2014 winter! (©Kneale Quayle)

On those rare occasions when the temps rose and the wind abated, we had a few good times on the Kinsmen Park training track in downtown Saskatoon. It seemed extra special, being a welcome reprieve from the protracted brutality of a most unusual Saskatchewan winter!

Our Learn to Ski Plus Course which includes a day trip to Eb’s Ski Trails, got off to a shaky start with marginal highway conditions. I had contemplated cancelling due to a forecast of snow and blowing snow on the roads. But finally decided to bite the bullet and go. After an hour or two the snow backed off and the wind dropped a bit. In the Nesbit Forest where the trails are located, it turned out to be a fairly pleasant day. Happily our trip coincided with the Nordic Ski Club’s Open House event, so we took in the free wiener roast and socializing. There is more info and directions, a trail map and tips on skiing at Eb’s Trails here.

Skiers at Ebs Ski Trails

Skiers big and small at Eb’s Trails enjoying one of those precious few nice ski days (©canoeski)

Young skier in Kinsmen Park

This young lass skiing with her parents during Family Ski Day in Kinsmen Park is bundled up for -20 in spite of sunshine and -2 temps! (©canoeski)

A final bright spot in our winter of discontent was our last day of ideal skiing in the City on the February 17 Family Day holiday when the temps zoomed up to -2º C, the sun shone on fresh snow, no wind, and droves of people came out to the Nordic Club’s Family Ski in the Park. I spent the morning grooming the track for the event and a blessed afternoon on skis with camera capturing some of the action.

After that it was mostly dodging between slush and ice with the odd good ski day in between. We’ve still got plenty of polar air (-12 this am and struggling to reach a hi of -3 today, Apr. 1st) for decent skiing, but only dustings of new snow. Would be nice to finish the season off with a skiing flourish, but looks like we’re SOL on that!

My discontent is fueled by a feeling of having been “robbed” of a decent season of skiing. But like a farmer, one can always hope for better times next year!

Now it’s time to kiss the trails good-bye, wait for the big thaw coming soon and leave the Park to the birds!
Canada Geese in Kinsmen Park




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South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip Tale

Shelly’s Story – Cranes & Colors Corn Roast Canoe Trip, September 2013

Looking for a fall canoeing adventure, Shelly landed on CanoeSki’s South Saskatchewan River Cranes & Colors corn roast canoe trip. She is taken with the beauty and tranquility of the river valley in its fall splendour, and the abundant birds and wildlife that frequent the valley in autumn. She adds that the campfire roasted corn was the best she’s ever tasted!

A South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip Full of Amazing Fall Sights & Sounds
By Shelly McGrath


South Sask River CanoeingThis past summer I had decided that I would like to experience canoeing.  I joined the recreation division of the Saskatoon Canoe Club in May and then was able to do a two-day trip with friends in Prince Albert National Park on the Hanging Hearts Lakes.  As the beautiful season of fall was approaching I had a longing to do another canoe adventure before our long Saskatchewan winter would be upon us, and that is when I found CanoeSki’s interesting and informative website.  After exploring the site and the many intriguing options, I emailed Cliff and he advised me of the Cranes and Colors day trip that he would be guiding.

The mid-September morning when our group met, the air was cool, but you could tell it was going to be a beautiful and sunny fall day. Cliff had the canoes loaded and the supplies all packed into his van when we arrived, and so our only job was to get seated in the van and be ready for a full day of adventure!

South Sask River canoe trip

Launching on the South Saskatchewan River canoe trip

We headed to our launching spot on the South Saskatchewan River south of Pike Lake, with our only stop being at a small, road-side market garden, to pick up the fresh corn for our lunch-time corn roast.  We all eagerly helped unload the canoes and gear and then Cliff gave us a quick paddling tutorial.  He decided that each of the couples would begin paddling together and so that left me to go with the “instructor”. Cliff decided that the best place for me to learn would be in the stern and he was so “right”!!  He was actually very helpful and patient, I might add, as I tried to differentiate in my mind the simple paddling techniques and strokes that we had just learned.

South Sask River fall canoe trip

A handful of sandhill cranes on shore and several hundred snow geese in the air!

Having the swift current and light wind on our backs enabled us to have plenty of time to enjoy the amazing sights and sounds of the day.  We saw huge flocks of snow geese that Cliff was able to capture with his camera as they made flight, and he also sighted a flock of high-flying cranes, informing us that it is often their “guttural-like” calls that helps to distinguish them from other birds in flight.  As we meandered along the river, we were treated to a picturesque sighting of a deer standing knee-deep in the river, appearing to be enjoying the natural beauty surrounding us as much as we were.

South Sask River fall canoe trip

More snow geese!

After a little over an hour of paddling, Cliff directed us to the shoreline where the  grassy clearing above would be the perfect place for our designated lunch spot.  We helped carry the coolers and corn up the embankment and Lynn, another paddler and I volunteered to craft some “smokie” roasting sticks from willow branches hidden in the small bluff of trees nearby.  In the meantime a fire had already been started and was in the process of dying down, ideally creating the perfect coals for roasting the corn, that was pre-soaked and then carefully wrapped in foil.

South Sask River fall canoe trip

A great lunch site overlooking the valley

While we rested and visited, Cliff laid out a beautiful and delicious spread of fresh vegetables and dip, cheese, pickles, and potato salad, and we soaked in the beauty and tranquility of the setting. We were also unfortunately entertained by a group of over-zealous men with giant and noisy toys (air boats, I believe they are called) who were in the process of getting their machines stuck and then unstuck in the far sandbar.  It felt good to know that when we were ready to depart on the rest of our journey, it would only be a matter of  placing our canoes in the water and simply paddling away on our own accord!

South Sask River fall canoe trip

The table is prepared, the corn is roasting, and the smell of food is in the air!

South Sask River fall canoe trip

Jasmine and Henry enjoying campfire roasted corn!

The corn was cooked to perfection and was truly the best that I have ever tasted – in fact, so delicious that I opted for a second cob rather than a smokie and bun that the rest of the crew were enjoying!

After exploring and examining some of the native plants and berries that were nearby, we were ready to continue on the rest of our paddling excursion.  Again we were treated to the sounds of migrating geese, and the beautiful sight of trees in the distance beginning to change into their fall shades of colour.  Cliff skillfully guided us through the sand bars (and I was relieved to know that this time he was in charge of the steering) so I could focus on improving my paddling strokes. We were  glad to know that the increasing wind was on our back and along with the quick current, all that was required of us was to enjoy the sunshine and beauty of this gorgeous Fall Day.

South Saskatchewan River canoe trip

We arrived at the Berry Barn where our van was waiting to be loaded.  Each of us helped to sponge down the canoes and load up the van. We also managed to convince a passerby to take some photos of our group of newly formed friends.  As we drove back towards the city, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for so many things – for the beauty that each of the seasons brings to our prairie landscape; for the birds and wildlife that are allowed to freely live and roam in our river valley; and for people like Cliff who appreciate all of this and make it possible for any of us to experience it. Thank-you!

South Saskatchewan River canoe trip

Winding up the canoe trip. L to R – Joan, Kevin, Shelly, Cliff, Henry, Jasmine. Missing – Lawrie and Lynn

To read other fascinating trip stories go to Canoeing Tales of Discovery 

 For more info or to book this trip go to Cranes & Colors Canoe Trip 

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Churchill River Canoe Trip Tale

Robbie’s Story – Rock Art & Bannock Canoe Trip,  August 2012

“Very little canoeing; five years of kayaking experience”, it said on Robbie Gamble’s canoe trip registration…, and she wanted to paddle her own kayak. The trip however, turned out to be a combo canoeing and kayaking trip for Robbie, but not in her kayak! She learned a lot about canoeing, got a taste of kayaking in a real sea kayak and experienced the best that northern Saskatchewan canoe country has to offer – fabulous scenery, pristine waters, stunning sunsets, and of course, ancient rock art and if the camp cook is on the ball, some tasty bannock! It’s a dreamland she shares in this story…







Paddling the Churchill River – a Dream Come True!
By Robbie Gamble


Dreaming of Northern Saskatchewan
I had been dreaming about paddling in Northern Saskatchewan for a long time. Having grown up near Moose Jaw’s Wakamow River valley you would think I’d had the opportunity to spend a lot of time around water. Not so. I couldn’t swim and was forbidden to even think about venturing anywhere near water. So, naturally I embraced every opportunity to spend time near a lake, a river or even a stream!

I began searching and researching river trips and outfitter/guides, and often found myself on the CanoeSki website. The time had come to get serious about realizing my dream. John Barrymore, famous 1930’s actor, said that we “are not old until regrets take the place of dreams”. I decided this summer of my 60th birthday – I would not have any regrets!

First, call my dear friend and kayaking buddy, Joni – yup, she can get the time off! Second, call Cliff Speer at CanoeSki – yes, we were confirmed for the Rock Art and Bannock Canoe Trip in mid-August – we were going paddling on the Churchill River! Woohoo!

Kayaks or Canoes – That is the Question!
Finally the day arrived and we were off! We met Cliff in Saskatoon, unloaded our kayaks, which we had trucked up from Moose Jaw, and headed out to find spray skirts for our kayaks (no such luck). No skirts meant we had to revisit our plan to take the kayaks. A discussion ensued: “It’s a big river and likely to have big waves and we don’t have skirts, and Cliff is the guide and the expert, and his advice is to leave the kayaks and use one of his canoes.” We decided to go with Cliff’s advice. I was disappointed, but this was a safety issue – our kayaks were flat water recreational designs and not suited for the Churchill River System. The canoes, apparently, were at home on these waters.

Kevlar canoes on Churchill River

Lightweight kevlar canoes at home on the Churchill River, en route on the Rock Art and Bannock Trip.

Arriving at our departure point next morning there was a bit more discussion with Cliff and consensus on parking our “flat water fun boats” (a.k.a. kayaks). Ok, ok – load the canoes! Everyone pitched in to load the van and trailer. You can imagine my surprise when I saw they were loading two beautiful bright kayaks. These kayaks were fully equipped for the Churchill River. Yup – I had kayak envy! I helped load a very nice light canoe (I thought most canoes were much heavier). Turned out it was a fabulous Kevlar canoe and probably weighed less than my kayak!

There were seven in our group – Cliff our guide, and fearless leader with over 20 years as an outfitter; Lori M, Cliff’s assistant and an energetic, experienced paddler familiar with the north; Lori J, an outdoors young woman from Saskatoon; Marie and Bob, a wonderful adventurous Regina couple, well prepared for land or water; and finally Joni and me – first time on the Churchill! All the rest were experienced paddlers and educators, and happy to share their skills and expertise. This promised to be everything I dreamed it would be. I was sure we were going to learn a lot on this trip!

Time to leave the city behind and head into the northern wilderness. On our way to the Churchill River we stopped for a quick lunch at a secluded campsite on Lac La Ronge that I would like to revisit some time. Shortly after, we landed at our launching point at the small resort village of Missinipe. Then it was the busy task of unloading and reloading our new vehicles, trading wheels for paddles!

Kayaking on Churchill River

Marie and Bob setting sail with a little westerly breeze out of Missinipe (photo: Robbie Gamble)

Pitching Camp
It may have been a long paddle on OtterLake (part of the Churchill River System) to our base camp, but I really didn’t notice. What I did notice was the fresh air, the open sky, and islands big and small, each one a land mark guiding us to our destination.  And so we arrived to a small untouched corner of a world that was to be home for the next four days.  It didn’t take long to get unloaded and by the time we had each secured a level spot to pitch our tents, Cliff and Lori had a fire going and supper cooking. Honestly I don’t remember what was cooking, but I was starved and do remember it was delicious (and I wasn’t the only one stepping up for a second helping!).

It had been a long day. We were full and tired, but determined to stay awake long enough to watch the sunset. Maybe we were just lucky, but it seemed that each evening the sunset was more beautiful than the night before. Even more remarkable was the lack of bugs in camp after sundown when they normally get active, according to Cliff. Looking back, we must have lucked out on a lot of things. The weather was as perfect as any paddler could desire – sunny, warm and calm winds every day! Could it be that we had just landed in canoeing paradise!

Sunset on Churchill River

Fabulous northern colors at the close of day on the Churchill River (canoeski)

A Day of Falls
The next day, we set our sights on Robertson Falls. The lake was calm and the sun was shining. We stopped occasionally to check our compasses and take a bearing on our route. It was a perfect day to navigate our way down the Churchill River through pristine channels and untouched islands.

Taking compass bearings

Lori & Lori using their old-fashioned GPS units to take a route bearing! (Robbie Gamble).

CanoeSki canoe group at Robertson Falls

The inescapable group shot! L to R – Robbie, Lori J, Joan, Cliff, Marie, Bob at Robertson Falls minus Lori M taking the photo (Lori Johnstone)

We could hear the thunder of the spectacular falls before we could see them. After lunch we perched ourselves on the rocks and contemplated the speed at which that water must have been moving through the channel. It was a perfect place for a group photo, so we took a few pictures, and then after a bit of discussion, we decided to portage our boats over to get a better view of Twin Falls a short distance downstream.

Twin Falls Lodge

Bob & Marie enjoying a cool one at Twin Falls Lodge               (Bob Davies)

Our kayaking friends, Bob and Marie, were first in the water, and first to arrive at Twin Falls Lodge and enjoy a cool beverage on the deck. Our canoes cut through the water at a pretty good pace, (as long as 2 were paddling!). There was, of course, lots of comments on the speed and agility of kayaks!

Twin Falls Lodge has been a well-known fishing lodge for many years. It had a nice open beach to land our boats, a few cottages and an inviting deck with a distant upstream view of Robertson Falls. We decided to do a hike down and around to Twin Falls first and then return later to the lodge for refreshments. The path was narrow with lots of twists and turns. We could hear the falls as we approached them.

Side stream at Twin Falls

Scenic side stream at Twin Falls (Lori Johnstone)

But this turned out to be just a side stream tumbling over the rocks, a scenic spot for taking photos, nonetheless. The big Twin Falls were still some distance away and not accessible by our winding path! We picked fresh blueberries on the way back, thinking they would be a nice addition to next day’s breakfast but they were so delicious, we ate everything we picked. But the highlight of our day occurred when Ron, the lodge owner, offered to take us to visit Twin Falls via his pontoon boat! We got a close-up view of the falls seen by few canoeists.

Twin Falls, Churchill River

Mountains of water pouring through powerful Twin Falls viewed from the safety of the pontoon boat ( canoeski)

More Falls & Kodak Moments

Swimming in Churchill River

Liquid refreshment at North Falls! (canoeski)

Day 3 turned out to be a perfect day for a swim and North Falls, the perfect place. It was located to the east of Robertson Falls and so a bit longer paddle. And worth every stroke! We pulled the boats up at the portage, and headed for the swimming spot. It was a short hike and before we knew it we were deep in the refreshing northern waters. Yikes, that was cool!  A gigantic rock outcrop overlooking the falls served as a diving board, a sunning rock, a casting spot, and perfect table for lunch! It also came in handy for capturing great shots of the stunning scenery surrounding the falls. We were about half way “home” and Bob and Marie were doing a bit of fishing, when we spotted eagles soaring effortlessly above us. Quick – get out the cameras! One of the wonderful things about canoeing with a partner is that one paddler can stop to take pictures whenever a Kodak moment occurs. And those moments kept coming – all the way back to camp, and until the sun set itself behind a neighboring island. Sleep came easy after such a full day.

North Falls, Churchill River

Beautiful North Falls (canoeski)

Finally, Bannock & Rock Art on the Menu!
Bannock for breakfast and Rock Art in the afternoon! It was going to be another fabulous day! The bannock was a taste-tempting delight that Lori had baked in her Outback Oven. Along with a bit of Cliff’s homemade Nanking cherry jam, it had a gourmet touch!

The plan for the day was to paddle up a Churchill River tributary, the Stewart River, to the Rattler Creek rock paintings, take a short portage to a swimming spot and have a hearty lunch on nature’s table. We had just filled our water bottles and buckled up our life jackets when asked if we wanted to trade boats for the day. Bob and Marie were offering Joni and me to try their kayaks today. Oh yah!! This day was getting better by the minute!

Kayaking on Churchill River

Joni photographing Robbie’s excitement about paddling “real” kayaks! (Bob Davies)

Admittedly, I was quite enjoying the canoeing, but a chance to paddle a “real” kayak for the day had me bursting. What a treat!  These sea kayaks were at home gliding through the clear, cool northern waters.

As we neared the Rattler Creek rock paintings, the river narrowed, the waters calmed, and ponds of lilies welcomed us. The air was cool and still in the overhang of the prehistoric rock art. It was a perfect place for a break, so we rafted up to admire and learn more about pictographs and the history of our wondrous north.

Rattler Creek rock paintings

Cameras are focused on the Aboriginal rock art at Rattler Creek (canoeski)

Girls on Churchill River trip

Calgary YWCA 16-year old girls finishing up their 17-day trip on the Churchill River (canoeski)

Leaving Rattler Creek, we headed upriver to the portage where a short hike over the steep rocky trail led to our lunch spot. It had been an amazing morning and we had worked up quite an appetite.  Lunch over, we were relaxing on a sunny rock, thinking about a swim, when we heard voices. Looking north, we could see six canoes heading our way. In moments, twelve young women were pulling their canoes up on the rocks. They had been paddling for seventeen days! We stopped long enough to say hello and hear a bit of their adventures.

Eagles nest

Eagle’s nest (Bob Davies)

On our way back we almost missed the eagle’s nest hidden high on the riverbank. It was incredibly huge! We had seen and heard lots of birds, the call of the loons, the drumming of the grouse, and the hoot of owls, and now the alarm call of the adult eagles!

From there it was a short paddle back to camp. Sliding through the water in the kayak I could paddle hard and fast, and then coast for a while to ponder life and catch my breath.  I wondered if Bob and Marie had enjoyed the canoe as much as we had enjoyed the kayaks. Back at camp we returned the kayaks and thanked them for their kindness. It had been a warm day and our long-delayed lunch time swim turned into a pre-supper swim. How refreshing! What an amazing day it had been!

Stewart River

The reed-fringed Stewart River – a Churchill River tributary (Robbie Gamble)

Cranberry Cornbread & Leaving the Dreamland
The last day arrived way too soon. It was hard to believe it was time to break camp. No sleeping late this day. Coffee was on and so was Cliff’s cranberry cornbread, baked to perfection in a reflector oven. We had formed a berry picking crew the previous evening and under Cliff’s direction had located a patch of wild ground cranberries. They gave a rosy tinge and a nice tartness to the hot cornbread.

Reflector oven baking

Wild cranberry cornbread baking in the reflector oven – local gourmet touch to breakfast! (canoeski)

All the meals had been wholesome, healthy and delicious, and provided all the energy needed to paddle some 65 kilometers during our 4-day trek. All efforts combined and we were ready to leave our camp as pristine as we found it. I took one last look back and one last photograph. I wanted to be able to share this dreamland.

I have to admit that getting back in that canoe felt pretty comfortable.  I’m not stating a preference of canoeing over kayaking only that I am so glad to have had a chance to do both.  We headed back across Otter Lake and the Churchill River into Walker Bay where we unpacked the boats and loaded the trailer and the van.

It might have been a long drive back to urban reality but the miles passed rapidly as we relived the adventures of the week. Paddling in Northern Saskatchewan, admiring ancient Rock Art and enjoying warm Bannock had been everything I dreamt it would be.

Kayaking on Churchill River

Robbie is feeling pretty good! Her dreams of paddling the Churchill River in a kayak have been fulfilled!

[Ed. note: The Rock Art & Bannock Trip itinerary was modified and the route on the Churchill River was re-located to operate out of Missinipe rather than Stanley Mission due to participants’ schedules and preferences.]

To read other fascinating trip stories go to Canoeing Tales of Discovery

For more info or to book this trip go to Rock Art & Bannock Canoe Trip 

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Canoeing and Painting in the Wild

Tom Thomson painting of his canoe

An iconic Tom Thomson painting entitled The Canoe 1912, Algonquin Park (Source: The Thomson Collection, The Art Gallery of Ontario)

Rock art painting in northern Saskatchewan

Northern Saskatchewan red ochre rock art painting on a granite cliff face depicting a man, a moose and a pipe (©canoeski).

Canoeing and painting go hand in hand with mystery and adventure in Canada’s northland. The ancient rock paintings on the rough canvas of the Canadian Shield are shrouded in mystery. Nobody really knows who created them and why. We have analyzed their indelible qualities and have an idea how the rock paintings have managed to last for centuries. We know that canoeing was the means for their creation. On Saskatchewan’s Churchill River, for example, that involved adventurous wilderness travel across large unprotected lakes, negotiating currents and rapids and hauling over rigorous portages.

But the mystery and adventure involving canoeing and painting doesn’t start or end with the early Aboriginal artists. Taking a historical leap forward to the early 20th century, we encounter a famous canoeist painter whose untimely death is still the subject of an unsolved mystery. Tom Thomson, revered artist associated with the prestigious Group of Seven painters, was an experienced canoeist and park ranger, and at age 39 he inexplicably drowned, was murdered, committed suicide, or succumbed to a fatal struggle all while canoeing in Algonquin Park, ironically on Canoe Lake! Thomson devotees are still trying to unravel the mystery of his demise, close to 100 years after.

Nicki Ault painting

“Thomson Clouds” a northern Saskatchewan plein air painting by Saskatoon artist Nicki Ault, inspired by Tom Thomson’s painting techniques. View her eye-catching work at her on-line gallery (image ©Nicki Ault).

However, in 2013 it’s the mystery of artistic expression that joins the adventure and romance of the Canadian wilderness in an exciting new canoeing and painting trip by CanoeSki. What’s up? Well, we’re taking a group of painters by canoe to a secluded wilderness retreat on a small remote lake in northern Saskatchewan. From base camp we’ll do daily paddling jaunts to scenic locations with prime painting potential. The camp is located a few air miles north of La Ronge in beautiful Lac La Ronge Provincial Park and is otherwise only accessible by boat. The landscape consists of  small waterways with rocky outcrops, and boreal forest typical of the Canadian Shield wilderness that once inspired artistic titans like Tom Thomson. It is bursting with stunning virtual paintings waiting to be actualized!

Most of the time will be dedicated to creating art, but other diversions are available at the camp besides canoeing, like swimming, hiking, fishing, etc. All details on the canoeing and painting trip are posted on the CanoeSki site at Canoeing and Painting in the Wild.

Book early – it already looks like a winner!

Update for 2014 – see the August 2013 slide show on Flickr!

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Eb’s Trails – A Saskatchewan Cross-country Skiing Mecca

Skiing at Eb's Trails

A skiing trio enjoying spring sun at Eb’s Trails

March is marching on apace, which means winter is on the wane. If you’re still iching for an exhilarating cross-country skiing experience in Saskatchewan, Eb’s Trails is the place to go. Only an hour’s drive north of Saskatoon in the Nesbit Provincial Forest is a marvellous 55-kilometre wilderness cross-country trail system, maintained by the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club. Tons of powder snow still blanket the ski trails.

Cross-country Skiing Trails Created and Cared for by Skier Volunteers

The beauty of this place is that it was designed by skiers for skiers. This means that practically anyone from newbies on their first ski outing to adrenalin junkies can find a trail to suit their taste. There are multiple loops of varying distances to challenge any fitness level. You don’t have to build a fire somewhere on the trail if you want to stop and stay warm. There are two warm-up huts at each end of the system, complete with wood stoves, firewood and outdoor privies.

Warm-up hut at Eb's Trails

Waxing up before hitting the trail.

A lot of pre-season TLC by club volunteers goes into the trails, clearing deadfall, removing overhanging branches and mowing brush. Then there’s the wood cutting – enough to keep the stoves firing for the entire season. This southern end of the great boreal forest is the heart and soul of the ski trails. It provides the scenic backdrop, protection from the vagaries of weather and the occasional momentary glimpse of a moose or a lynx.

Cross-country Skiing Lessons in Real Life at Eb’s Trails

With the varied topography at Eb’s Trails, there’s a hill to challenge every ability, including lots of tame terrain for beginners. To introduce novice skiers to ski touring in a guided atmosphere, CanoeSki Discovery Company has developed a cross-country skiing course called Learn to Ski Plus. It starts out with the usual three sessions getting the basics under control on the Kinsmen Park training track in downtown Saskatoon. The Plus part is the final day trip to Eb’s Trails. Here we continue with instruction, trying to put everything taught on the track into practice on the trail in what is more like a “real life” environment. It’s gratifying to see unsteady technique and fear of falling slowly dissipate after a few kilometres on the trails’ twists and turns and rolling terrain. Of course, taking a nose dive into a giant comforter of snow feathers isn’t so terrifying after all!

The ski trails are fully enveloped by the snow-laden forest which makes for great scenic appeal. Perhaps it also provides a reassuring atmosphere for beginners to gain confidence in their cross-country skiing ability. But more than that, the trails are a fabulous wilderness retreat for everyone – novices and experienced skiers alike. It’s a good place to seek solace for the urban-weary soul!

Skiers at Eb's Trails

Learn to Ski students on track in boreal powder heaven!


  • Follow hwy # 11 north from Saskatoon to Duck Lake. About 17 km north of Duck Lake is a small cross-country skier sign on the highway pointing to the turn-off into the parking lot for the south hut. A couple of kilometres further up the highway is another sign for the north hut. Both huts are located a few hundred metres from the parking areas.
  • The trails are set for classic cross-country skiing only and signed with maps at all junctions. If you want a map to take with you, drop into Eb’s Source for Adventure store in Saskatoon to pick one up. Click here to view a copy of Eb’s Ski Trails Map.
  • Follow the Boy Scouts motto and be prepared: this is a wilderness area – ski with a buddy, carry a day pack with warm-up clothes and mitts, water and trail mix, matches and fire starter, and cell phone. There is no safety patrol – you have to be self-sufficient on the trail.
  • There are no trail fees, but the Nordic Club appreciates your membership to help contribute to the cost of maintaining the trails. You can access regular trail grooming reports from the Saskatoon Nordic Club site.
Skiing at Eb's Trails

Ski with a buddy on a wilderness trail

Skiing Tales of Discovery
For a first hand account read Karen’s humorously informative story A Tale of the Trails about her experiences on Eb’s Trails with the CanoeSki Learn to Ski Plus program. On the Eb’s day tour she recalls, “… I was praying for a hill; my legs were tired and what had terrified me at the beginning of the day was now a great feeling to glide down and give me a rest!”

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Learn to Cross-country Ski with Tourism Saskatchewan

Learn to Cross-country ski  in Saskatoon's Kinsmen Park

Learn to Ski – Tourism Saskatchewan’s travel bloggers, Carla (foreground), Les, and Alex on the training track in Saskatoon’s Kinsmen Park.

Last month I had three keeners from Tourism Saskatchewan’s social media marketing team take a quickie Learn to Ski lesson. They wanted an experience to add seasonal flair to their January e-newsletter, SaskSecrets. The idea was to promote cross-country skiing as a great winter activity available practically on your doorstep. For city dwellers at least, a lot of city parks have groomed trails. We settled on Kinsmen Park in downtown Saskatoon where I conduct all my cross-country ski courses both for CanoeSki and for the Nordic Ski Club. I also provide much of the volunteer manpower for grooming the ski trails in the park.

The other idea in tourism thinking was to convey a safe, convenient and practical way to get started cross-country skiing by taking a lesson from a local, certified instructor. From that start, beginner skiers can spread their wings to explore trails further afield, including the wilderness trail systems in various locations in Saskatchewan. Time and rigorous temperatures curtailed our lesson, so tackling more distant challenges wasn’t an option in this go round. I guess the crew will simply have to come back for lesson number two!

However the social media team did manage, despite a few numb fingers, to capture enough footage to create a hilarious short video of our learn to ski session. As mentioned, the lesson was really compressed time-wise. In the video there is a big gap between doing exercises on the level instruction grid and suddenly roaring down a fairly steep hill!

In a typical cross-country ski lesson, we take students through a skill progression using a series of exercises and demos. We start skiing without poles, concentrating on foundational skills in classic diagonal stride, like balance and weight transfer. Once that is more or less under control, we can get the poles into the act. Eventually we move on to uphill and downhill techniques on gentle terrain. After a measure of confidence is evident, we tackle stopping, turning and climbing on more advanced terrain – like the hills depicted in the Tourism Saskatchewan Learn to Ski video.

An Australian couple, here in Saskatoon for a two-year employment stint, decided to take advantage of the Saskatchewan winter by signing up for a CanoeSki Learn to Ski course. The moment the course was completed, they dashed off to Eb’s Ski Trails in the Nisbet Forest, about an hour’s drive from Saskatoon.  I happened to talk to them in Kinsmen Park just after their out-of-town ski trek. They were ecstatic about the wilderness ski trails! So, this is the ultimate goal of all the work on the training track, something that my newbie students from Tourism Saskatchewan have yet to experience!



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Cross-country Skiing in Canada’s National Parks

Boreal Forest Ski Trail - Grooming Makes a Big Difference!

Boreal Forest Ski Trail – Grooming Makes a Big Difference!

What most cross-country skiers have taken for granted for many years was ripped out of their wintery grasp in the late fall of 2012. A rumour surfaced that Parks Canada was cutting back on its usual winter services, including ski trail maintenance, in most of Canada’s national parks.  As media revelations became more pronounced, the rumours more or less confirmed that federal government budget cuts were taking their toll on national parks. Winter in the parks was going to be cancelled!

This disturbing news galvanized local Saskatoon Nordic skier Dave McGrane, who loves to take his family skiing in Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park. He got a petition going, rousing cross-country skiers to request Parks Canada to reverse their withdrawal of ski trail grooming in PANP. The petition attracted 2585 signatures. According to Dave, about 60% were Saskatoon supporters, which gives us some idea of how popular skiing in PANP is for Saskatoon residents!

As a result of the petition and letters, emails, calls, and negotiations by other concerned park users and local groups, the Park Superintendent agreed to allow local volunteers organized by the Waskesiu Chamber of Commerce to use Parks equipment to re-start grooming ski trails. It was a remarkable but welcome development to at least restore some of what had been on the chopping block; remarkable in the sense of permitting volunteers to provide a park service using parks equipment! Currently, the PANP trail report shows a total of 50 kilometres of groomed ski trails.

But the battle is not over. The Occupy Movement has inspired a winter incarnation, aptly and naturally called Occupy Winter! It’s a movement to pressure Parks Canada and the Federal Minister of the Environment to restore funding so that all national parks can continue to be four seasons destinations. This recent initiative had its kick-off event this past weekend (Jan. 19-20) in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. The “Occupy Winter – We ♥ our Fourth Season” event was organized by Celes Davar who operates Earth Rhythms – an ecotourism company located close to Riding Mountain.

Celes has also started a petition with a national appeal focusing on the parks providing services for winter visitors. He presents several cogent arguments on why this is important  for Canada’s image and for the economy. Celes is an out-of-the-box thinker and his petition presents several creative suggestions on how the funding roadblocks could be overcome to allow four seasons visitation to continue in our National Parks. The link to his on-line petition is below. It is well worth signing if you are a lover of the fourth season!




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