Family Voyageurs Stories

Prince Albert National Park Canoe Trips

Family Voyageurs

A unique mix of younger and older families made up the Family Voyageurs Canoe Tour in July 2007. Everyone got into the act of recording their experiences from drawing pictures to writing stories. You can join them vicariously, as you paddle, swim, nature hike, pick berries, bake bannock, watch wildlife, dine on fine camp cuisine and listen to the loons. Share their trip memories.

Jean McPherson

A teacher in a rural Saskatchewan community, Jean finds work, family and farm life takes its toll on recreational activities like camping. She managed to get away in the summer of 2007, to introduce her daughter Julie to the joys of wilderness camping and reconnecting to nature. Here is her short, but poignant account of the experience.

Treasured Moments of Family Canoe Camping

By Jean McPherson, July 2007

I own a canoe; it’s gathered dust in the shed for several years. I’ve walked on plenty of paths through the forest, learning about plants and watching birds. And I live in the country, with plenty of wildlife and bush around. But the farm and my work and family concerns overload my life, and one day I realized that years have gone by since our family went camping. My husband is too busy to take summer vacations. Older and out of shape (and out of camping equipment) as I am, the question was – how to give my youngest daughter a true camping experience?

CanoeSki to the rescue! Cliff provided all the things I didn’t have: expertise at canoeing, fine tents and all the other necessary equipment (I especially liked that bear barrel; it soothed my inner fears). In particular, he provided a fine outdoor cuisine, which I appreciated with all the fervour of one who is thrilled not to have to do that herself. Cliff also provided fine company: as well as his own knowledgeable self, a delightful family of campers which included two young daughters who, at half her age, amazed my daughter with their experience and awareness of the outdoors. Elizabeth, Cliff’s partner in presenting the trip, was the perfect companion; our weekend flora/fauna specialist, she was a pleasure to be with and was actually as interested as we were in all of our ‘what creature could this be’ nature guessing game.

Thanks, Cliff, for providing the highlight of Julie’s and my summer. Julie enjoyed it all: learning canoe strokes for the first time, watching how to prepare a meal out of doors, setting up a tent, even the thrill of imagined bears in the night! A swim with no motorboats honing in to threaten us, exploring the woods, and soaking up the wisdom of Elizabeth, as she shared her love and knowledge of the forest life forms. Learning too that a twelve year old can exist, for awhile, without her hair straightener and daily shower.

As for me, my favourite memories, sometimes retrieved for respite from my hectic work life, come from treasured moments. I will tell you some. The familiar, but always lovely, glimpse of red wood lilies through the trees. Reaching for the darker red of tiny strawberries by the trail and finding instead, as the grasses part, a hidden nest of perfect blue eggs. Slipping into the cool lake, knowing it possible to swim a kilometre or more along the shoreline, with only the loon’s voice to interrupt a quiet journey. Best of all, that most peaceful time of day, when the sun is declining and the lake is calm, with only the careful dip of a paddle or the splash of a fish to disturb its surface. In the dusk, a deer can be seen on a far away shore, stepping cautiously towards its evening drink. And as the darkness gathers in, the nighttime call of the loon.

Ten Times Better Than Any Swimming Pool

By Julie Maxwell

Julie Maxwell

Post supper journaling time

12-year-old Julie and the 6-year-old twins, Brigitte and Natalie. Post-supper “journaling” time produced the twins’ story pictures of the day’s highlights and Julie’s drawing of the western red lilies blooming around the campsite.

The days I spent camping in Prince Albert National Park were the favourite part of my summer. We camped on the prettiest little island. Our tents were set up on a sort of small cliff. We had a great view of the lake from up there. We spent our evenings and mornings gazing at the water; looking for ducks, deer, even beavers. The island itself was covered with pine trees and all sorts of other plants. My favourites were the Prairie Lilies and raspberries that were hiding in the woods. I also liked the blueberries that had just begun to appear along the shore.

We did a lot of canoeing around the lake. I learned many different strokes and even how to steer from the back of Cliff’s canoe. We got to see all sorts of wildlife from our canoes. The best sight had to be the Great Blue Heron that swooped over our heads one day, holding a fish in its mouth!

When we weren’t canoeing, we would be exploring the beautiful woods, looking for berries, or other small treasures like the bird’s nest we found one day. It was hiding on the side of a trail, with its bright blue eggs tucked inside.

The activity I enjoyed most of all was the swimming. We could just walk down the hill from our tent sites, and jump in the lake. I swam in the morning to wake up. I swam in the afternoon to cool off, and then I swam some more! I am sure that the water in Anglin Lake felt ten times more refreshing than any swimming pool, even if it was a little muddy near shore!

I had such a great time on this trip and I learned so much about plants and wildlife. I can’t wait to go camping next summer!

Natalie's drawing of a moose

Natalie’s drawing of a moose

Brigitte's drawing of a duck

Brigitte’s drawing of a duck

Kelly and his family from the eastern U.S. joined the Family Voyageurs Tour in Prince Albert National Park in July 2007. Two weeks after the trip, he mailed the following story with these introductory words:
“We are just recently back in Massachusetts from our big tour of Saskatchewan. Your canoe trip certainly got us started off right and we carried on and had a great vacation from there on. When we ask the girls what their favorite parts of the trip were, canoeing ranks high on the list…Thanks again for a great trip and hope you have a great summer of canoeing.”

A Guided Canoeing Adventure is the Family Way to Go!

By Kelly Slough

Kelly Slough

Although both my wife Ruth and I had done a few back-country canoe trips in Northern Ontario, neither of us had ever embarked on a guided canoe trip. However, in the years since our last multi-day canoe trip, we had become a family of four with twin girls, Natalie and Brigitte. The girls are now six years old, and developing a love of camping and nature, so it seemed like a good summer to try a family canoe trip.

The thought of organizing a trip for the family was sufficiently daunting that when I discovered CanoeSki Discovery Company offering a Family Voyageurs canoe trip in Prince Albert National Park, I quickly put aside any thought of a self-guided trip and started talking to Cliff Speer about participating in his Family Voyageurs trip. The 3-day, 2-night itinerary where both nights were spent at the same back-country campsite seemed perfect, with enough flexibility to deal with uncertain weather and ample time for kids to be out of the canoe, exploring, swimming and goofing off. We signed up and started looking forward to the trip.

The day of our departure came with beautiful warm dry weather. We enjoyed a picnic lunch and got to know the other members of our group while going over some of the logistics of the trip. On the trip were Cliff, his assistant guide Elizabeth (an amazingly knowledgeable naturalist), a mother and 12-year old daughter combo, plus the four of us. After loading the canoes and some brief instruction on the paddling strokes we would need, we launched into Anglin Lake, just outside the national park boundary.

Our first task was to navigate the tunnel beneath the bridge and of course check whether the tunnel would produce an echo. Thankfully, the review of sweep, draw and pry strokes had refreshed memories of how to make the canoe move in the intended direction and soon we emerged at the other end of the tunnel onto the section of the lake where we would spend the majority of our trip. The wind was blowing vigorously enough to keep us cool and also encourage us to stick along the leeward shore where the water was calmer. We shortly passed officially into the national park and began to head to the far lake shore where we would make our camp.

We reached our campsite in good time and after a bit of searching, Cliff and Elizabeth had located good flat tenting sites for everybody. We set up the tents and got settled in, and still had time to go for a swim in the lake. Being something of a cold water wimp, I knew that I was in trouble when my 6-year old daughter observed that the water was “refreshing”. However, even I (who gets cold in the warm kiddy pool at the YMCA) was able to get into the lake for a swim. This was a pleasant surprise to me as I was expecting the water to be colder in mid-July in northern Saskatchewan.

Leading up to the trip, I was not sure how Natalie and Brigitte would respond to back-country camping – no toilet facilities, no toys, no playgrounds. I was pleasantly surprised that they responded very well. It was certainly very helpful that Elizabeth had planned ahead and brought some activities that were very fun for the kids. They loved cooking bannock on a stick over the fire while the rest of dinner was being prepared. The “which animal am I” game was also fantastic and was played many times throughout the trip. Camping on the shore of a lake with a sandy beach and skipping stones also added to the list of activities to pass the time.

The critter guessing game gets a lot of play after supper

The critter guessing game gets a lot of play after supper

Some other highlights of the trip included some leisurely paddling up and down the Spruce River. Along the river we were treated to some wildlife sightings that included a male elk foraging in the grass along a marshy section of the shore, several families of loons, and a family of ducks with one baby so tiny that it got to ride on Mama’s back, which resonated noticeably with the kids in the crowd. In the braided, curvy section of the Spruce River we were also able to get close to a beaver before it slapped its tail and disappeared under water.

The kids enjoyed being able to do some paddling. When they were in the canoe with two adults they sat on a makeshift seat constructed out of thermarest mattresses stuffed into a waterproof carry bag. Cliff had brought along some child-sized paddles, so they could make a reasonable effort at paddling although the extra width of the canoe in the middle where they sat made it a challenge. Even though paddling from the middle seat was difficult, they were at least comfortable and could be on the lookout for animals. Luckily, the trip did leave ample time for us to take a canoe out in the morning or evening with just one adult in the stern and a child in the bow seat. Those times were their favorite because they could paddle more easily and have the responsible job of being spotter for any obstacles in our path. Those were also great times for watching wildlife and hearing loon calls.

Mother and daughter canoeing in Prince Albert National Park

Kid-sized paddle and a sliding bow seat makes it feasible for parents and young children to paddle together

Another highlight of the trip for me was the tremendous meals that Cliff and Elizabeth prepared. The beauty of a 3-day trip is that one is not forced to eat freeze-dried provisions and indeed we did not. Cliff had brought a cooler packed full of fresh fruit and vegetables, special sauces and preserves prepared from fruit trees in his back yard, organic wild rice harvested within 100 miles of us in La Ronge as well as bagels, granola, homemade chili and innumerable other delights. My appetite is somewhat legendary to begin with and being in the middle of training for a marathon, it was unusually robust, but Cliff’s precise meal planning methodology did not fail us. Meal after meal, we had just the right amount of food, so that all were satisfied, but we did not have to deal with disposing of leftovers.

Another excellent part of the trip was a short hike we took one afternoon where Elizabeth’s naturalist skills were tested. She identified a host of native plant species including a berry that I had not encountered before called the dewberry, which was an edible raspberry-like fruit with a sharper taste. There was also a healthy crop of wild strawberries to be sampled. The mosquito population seemed thicker near ground level so we were forced to deploy our bug shirts and unzip to pop the berries into our mouths.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to civilization. Without much argument from anybody, it was agreed that the first stop on the road back to civilization should be the Jacobsen Bay Store for a well earned ice cream cone.

Even though it was a relatively short trip, our family now has memories of a great canoe trip. Having done self-guided trips in the past, I could doubly appreciate the efforts of Cliff and Elizabeth to keep things running smoothly and leave us parents free to spend most of our time around the campsite swimming and playing games with our kids, resulting in a trip that was enjoyable for everyone.