Gail’s Story – Women’s Challenge Churchill River Canoe Trips

Women & Waves – August 2004

CanoeSki Women and Waves tour group on the Churchill River

Foreground: lead guide Hilary; centre: Gail, and the rest of her paddling companions on the Churchill River

“A friend told me that there would be only one problem coming on this canoe trip — I would love it so much, I would have to keep coming back!” writes Gail Streberg of her experiences on the CanoeSki Women & Waves canoe program. Enjoy her enthusiastic account of the adventures she and her fellow paddlers encountered on this special 5-day all women’s canoe trip on the historic Churchill River.

Exploring the Churchill River: An All Women’s Canoeing Saga

Story by Gail Streberg & photos by Paula Karra

Whiskey Jacks & J-Strokes

Day One of the CanoeSki Women & Waves tour began with great anticipation! After meeting at Cliff Speer’s place in Saskatoon and getting acquainted, we packed our gear into the van and embarked on our great adventure. As we drove north through Prince Albert towards La Ronge, Sonja, our trip massage therapist worked on the neck and shoulders of our group members. Right then I knew this was going to be a great trip!

We stopped for a tasty picnic lunch at MacLennan River where we were entertained by a couple of determined Whiskey Jacks trying to steal our food. Eventually we arrived at Lac La Ronge where we met Hilary Johnstone, who would expertly guide us on our trip. We set up camp at the provincial campground and were treated to a delicious supper prepared by Pat S. (we had three Pats on our trip), our assistant guide and cook.

After supper we got our first paddling lessons; various strokes we would need to know and safety precautions for on the water. For those of us who had never paddled before, it was very entertaining as we tried to keep our canoes from bumping into each other. The evening on Lac La Ronge was warm and calm. After our paddling session, we went over the itinerary for the next 4 days and got to know each other better.

Our day ended with dessert as dusk approached. We settled into our tents and drifted off to sleep dreaming of the J-stroke.

Paddling & Camping in a Churchill River Paradise

All women’s group doing pre-paddling stretches before launching the canoe trip

Massage therapist Sonja (centre) stretching the paddling muscles

Day 2 began early, as we were all excited and anxious to get the day started. We packed up our gear and tents and enjoyed a great breakfast. Sonja led us through warm-up stretches and yoga before departing for Missinipe on the Churchill River. After a short drive, we arrived in Missinipe, transferred the gear to the canoes and headed downstream to Paul Island for lunch.

Hilary and Pat made paddling look easy, but one could see that not all of us were experts as we paddled away from the dock. But we were a determined group of women and our skills improved quickly! After lunch stop and a bit of relaxation, we continued on our way enjoying the beautiful landscape and the warm sunshine. Upon arriving at our island campsite, we scouted out the most comfortable spots to set up our tents, which wasn’t hard as there was an incredibly soft layer of moss covering the ground! After a day of paddling, there was only one thing to do — go swimming! The water was exhilarating!

Wilderness campsite on the Churchill River

The North Battleford nurses, Gail & Paula find a comfy campsite

A supper of wild rice, homemade baked beans and mixed veggie salad satisfied our hearty appetites. Carrot cake (from Cliff’s kitchen) and fresh raspberries from our expert berry picker, Pat C., was a perfect dessert to top off a great day.

After clean-up we relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful spot we were so privileged to occupy. Pat C. tried her hand at fishing and caught a jackfish! Sonja worked her magic massaging our tired muscles. What a way to end the day! As dusk approached, the mosquitoes arrived and we retreated to our tents for a well-deserved sleep. A spectacular thunder and lightning storm during the night demonstrated Mother Nature’s power and beauty. Despite the rain we stayed dry and woke up early to a fresh and sunny morning.

CanoeSki Women and Waves tour at Rattler Creek rock paintings

Hilary and group at ancient Aboriginal rock paintings at Rattler Creek

A Taste of History & Archaeology

Day 3 began with yet another delicious breakfast as we anticipated our day trip to the Rattler Creek rock paintings. Hilary once again demonstrated her navigational skills as she guided us up the Stewart River to the Rattler Creek site. (It was my first time paddling in the stern and I loved steering up the winding river). It was amazing to experience the rock paintings close up. They are hundreds of years old and one can only wonder at the stories they tell!

Being resourceful women, we rafted our canoes and had lunch right on the river. We were beginning to really enjoy Cliff’s amazing homemade cookies! We paddled back to camp and even crossed some rough water on the way. We were tired, but excited about our day, having experienced a taste of history and archaeology, and gained new confidence in our canoeing abilities.

Once again, we hit the water for a revitalizing swim, followed by a delicious supper topped off with hot chocolate and cake! Sonja is quickly becoming very popular as she again massages our tired muscles! After a relaxing evening socializing around the campfire, we head for our tents. As I drift off to sleep, I feel proud of my improving paddling skills and can’t wait to get out on the water again!

An Unwelcome Visitor Appears

After sleeping like a log, Day 4 begins with the scrumptious smell an amazing pancake breakfast being prepared by Pat S! I am enjoying the luxury of someone else looking after meal preparation. We are being treated like Queens!

Paula at Robertson Falls, Churchill River

Paula at Robertson Falls

Clean-up done, we head out on a trip to Robertson Falls. We can hear the roar of the falls from a distance, but only after docking our canoes and walking across the portage, did we realize their magnitude! We set off from Robertson Falls and paddle to a lunch site. We relax and sun ourselves after eating. Homemade bread and wild berries! Yum!

After a short paddle back to camp we discover that a bear has visited camp in our absence despite our careful efforts to keep anything that would interest a bear, secure! Since the bear had managed to get into a small food barrel and checked out Donna’s tent, there is only one thing to do: move! We packed up everything in 29 minutes!

It was a calm, warm and beautiful evening. We enjoyed a spectacular evening paddle to a neighbouring island where we relocated our camp and Pat S. prepared an amazing Mulligatawny stew with gemelli. A quick dip and a massage from Sonja topped off another perfect day!

I feel a bit sad that this is our last night out in this beautiful wilderness. I know that I must come back again and explore further! A friend told me that there would be only one problem coming on this canoe trip — I would love it so much, I would have to keep coming back! He was absolutely right! As we settle into our sleeping bags, the hum of the mosquitoes outside lulls us to sleep.

Real Adventure: Relaxation, Exhilaration & New Friendships

Day 5 starts with a spectacular sunrise. Pat C. (our berry picker extraordinaire) has contributed wild blueberries and raspberries to our morning granola while a camp squirrel successfully makes off with a whole bagel! Nature at its best!

Wild berries for breakfast on Women and Waves canoe trip

Pat C. provides a wild supplement to the breakfast menu

As we paddle back to Missinipe, I reflect on how much the group has improved as paddlers. The 5 canoes glide through the water as a well coordinated unit — a beautiful sight!

After lunch at Missinipe and a shower, we check out the local artists at the Birch Bark Gallery. A quick stop at Robertson’s Trading Post in La Ronge uncovers a rare, one-of-a-kind place filled with an amazing array of art, furs, history and interesting local residents. What a treat!

On the drive home to Saskatoon, we reflect on our favorite moments and memories of the trip. We all agree that we’ve had a great time! We all came for different reasons and leave feeling like we’ve had a rich experience. I am proud of my new canoeing skills and feel relaxed and exhilarated. The past 5 days have been fun, extremely relaxing, and a real adventure made special by the ten women on this trip.

Karen, Amy Jo, Pat C, Patricia, Donna, Paula and Gail have been privileged to have Hilary, Pat S., and Sonja as our guides and new friends on this Women & Waves Adventure!

Sunset on Otter Lake, Churchill River

Colorful close of day on Otter Lake