Lorna’s Story – Northern Waterways Canoe Trips

Legends of the Shield – August 2010

Dave and Lorna on the Churchill River

Dave and Lorna and the Canadian Shield rock of northern Saskatchewan’s Churchill River (Photo: Kerry Mitchell)

A CanoeSki Learn to Canoe “graduate”, Lorna Sim decided her time had come for a canoeing adventure in northern Saskatchewan. After trimming her paddling skills and whetting her appetite on the South Saskatchewan River, she and husband Dave signed up for the Legends of the Shield canoe trip on the Churchill River. Ignoring advice from nay saying friends about bugs and arduous conditions up north, she discovered northern Saskatchewan canoe country to be inviting, peaceful and beautiful. The only friendly piece of advice that proved true was feeling as if she was immersed in a Group of Seven painting during the 5-day trip!

Paddling & Camping in a Group of Seven Painting

By Lorna Sim

Prepping for Northern Adventure

In 2009 at the age of 57, after reading Late Nights on Air, I decided that I needed to go on a wilderness canoe trip. After all, is there anything more Canadian than that?

Having taken a Learn to Nordic ski course that winter from Cliff Speer, I knew that he also ran canoe adventures, so I checked out his CanoeSki company website. Legends of the Shield — that was the trip he had told me to take a look at. I called him and he advised me to take his learn to paddle course, as I had very little canoeing experience. I talked to my husband and after some convincing, he agreed to come along and take the beginner canoe lessons. We learned a lot from that course; how to waterproof your daypack, portage a canoe, how to launch and get out of the canoe and, oh yes, how to paddle! I had no idea there were so many different strokes, and I’m not going to lie, I had forgotten most of them by the time we made our practice run down the South Saskatchewan River. The river was flowing very high early in the summer, so Cliff decided to postpone the river portion of our course for about a month until it settled down a bit.

We had a great day paddling back from Beaver Creek to Saskatoon and I thought: “I can do this; this is going to be great!”

Paddling on the Stewart River, a Churchill River tributary

Not too tough with the lead guide in the stern of your canoe! Lorna and Cliff on the Stewart River, a Churchill River tributary (Photo: Kerry Mitchell)

Talking with my friends, I excitedly told them I was going up north on a canoe trip. One friend had been in the north as a geology student and he could think of nothing worse – the bugs were so bad they were in his nose and ears; it was a horrible experience! Another friend laughed when I told her I had canoed in from Beaver Creek, saying that was easy with the current. “Just wait until you get up north,” she warned. “Then you will find out how tough it will be!”

Undeterred, Dave and I travelled to Mountain Equipment Co-op to purchase needed items from the canoe trip packing list. I told the sales lady where and when we were going. She said she was from Saskatchewan, and had canoed Otter Lake on the Churchill River, so knew exactly what we needed. She told us it was beautiful and we would feel as if we were in a Group of Seven painting, but it would be really cold. She had me convinced that I would need winter camping gear!

Okay, so now I’m getting a little nervous, especially when two friends called the day before our trip departure to say good luck – although really they seemed to be offering their sympathies!

Well, I thought, it’s only five days; I can do anything for five days!

Heading Out There

The six of us set off, Cliff, his assistant Laurie, Kerry, Jen, Dave and I. The first night we camped at Wadin Bay on Lac La Ronge. We ate a quick supper and had a practice paddle session on the lake. I didn’t remember anything from our spring canoe course, but Cliff was patient, as he was stuck with me in one of the canoes. Cliff brought out the maps of the area we were going to paddle and gave us a lesson on using maps and compasses. So far, very few bugs and it hadn’t snowed yet!!

canoeing on the Churchill River

Heading out on a cloudy afternoon on the Churchill River (Photo: Kerry Mitchell)

The next morning after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, oh, I almost forgot the bagels and home-made preserves, we set off.

I should say something about the food; there was lots of it and it was really good. Cliff dehydrates vegetables and meat, so is able to make chili and stews that taste as if they were made from fresh ingredients. We had a salad every night and even dessert; he makes a mean carrot cake with cream cheese icing!

There was no turning back now. The lake was calm as we set off and with me in the stern, but even with Cliffs’ gentle coaching, we were still behind the others as I zigzagged along. We stopped for lunch and this was when I realized there were no bugs. Throughout the trip there were no bugs – we could have slept under the stars, had it not been for the rain. It had been a dry spring in the north with lots of forest fires, so maybe the dry conditions and smoke had wiped out the mosquito population for the rest of the summer. Who knows – but we loved the unusual luxury of sitting around the campfire at night without being pestered by winged critters!

Overall our weather was not the best – in fact we usually had a little bit of everything every day, a little sun, clouds, rain and wind. It seemed as if we were always heading away from the sun and into the rain. But I had come well prepared with rain gear and warm clothes, following Cliff’s advice, so I was fine.

Group of Seven Comes Through

Boreal forest trail in northern Saskatchewan

Jennifer takes a stroll in a Group of Seven forest (Photo: Kerry Mitchell)

In the late afternoon, we arrived at our island camp site. It was beautiful. If you have never been in the boreal forest, you have no idea what you’re missing! The whole island is covered in brilliant green moss and spruce trees. The site was quite large, so we were able to spread out. Dave and I chose a flat spot up the rocky forested slope. Jen wanted to be able to hear the waves, so pitched her tent near the shore. It was on quite an incline, but she said the view was worth it. She admitted on the last day that she had woken up that morning in a ball against the side of her tent!

We spent the next three days making day trips to rapids and waterfalls, paddling under the wings of soaring eagles. One afternoon, as we took a break in our canoes, a flock of Pelicans flew overhead and there in front of us was a complete rainbow. Each night, after having listened to Cliff explain the life of the voyageurs and tell us stories of early fur traders and their families, we fell asleep to the sound of the loons.

The lady at MEC was right about one thing. I did feel as if I was in the middle of a painting. It was beautiful and peaceful. I loved it, in spite of the wind and the rain and my aching muscles. And given half the chance, I would do it again!

Rainbow on Otter Lake, Churchill River

Jen is smiling at the distant rainbow behind her (Photo: Kerry Mitchell)