Walking in Moose Factory, Ontario

We paddled into the Cree hamlet of Moose Factory against the salty headwind blowing up river from James Bay, manoeuvring our canoe between the undulating swells caused by the water taxis buzzing through the narrow channel that separates the island community from the main body of the Moose River. We looked how men look when they pull the last of 45,000 strokes with their wooden paddles following eight long, cold, glorious days on a river: stubbled, achy and desperate to stand erect and walk.

It would be disingenuous to suggest we explored Moose Factory; we skimmed it with tired eyes and fresh legs for a few hours along its dirt roads, visiting only the gas station’s convenience store and the Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre. The town’s signature travel-guide feature–the empty buildings of the 19th century Hudson’s Bay Company stores and lodgings–were found to be greying and dilapidated in congruity with the summer mud and wild grass overgrowing the roads. The vibrance of modern life in Moose Factory was implied in the satellite dishes hanging off the corners of every home and in the pockmarked pickup trucks rumbling past us on their circuitous island route, and in the signs promoting sewing classes and music festivals and employment opportunities.

Had we been lost–indeed, had we any ambition towards an itinerary–no shortage of kind strangers rolled down their windows and offered to help. But on the river we had spent our capacity to explore and discover, and there was not much left for us but to walk idly in a circle and then curl up around a hot meal at the lodge.

Thus, these photographs of Moose Factory, on the fifth of August, 2014.

See also: 
Paddling the Mattagami and Moose Rivers to Moosonee – a trip report

Paddling the Mattagami and Moose Rivers north to Moosonee

On a mucky gravel bar downriver from a towering hydro dam we took to the water like creaky old boy scouts, haphazardly greased in bug juice and squinting through the drizzle.

All around us the boreal forest went by as unmetered verse:

Spruce, spruce, birch, spruce,
Birch, spruce, spruce, spruce, birch,
Spruce, birch, spruce,
Spruce, spruce, birch, birch…

The water curdled to life as rapids and goose tails and the breaching of trout, while on either bank the dark, empty woods remained disarmingly silent.

The Mattagami River at sunset from Sandbar Island

 

This is a summary account of an expedition of the lower Mattagami and Moose Rivers from July 29 to August 6, 2014. Three men, two boats (one a 17-foot Nova Craft Prospector canoe; the other a 13.5-foot open-water kayak) and about two hundred and fifty pounds of outfit.

Part I: 86km on the Mattagami River from Kipling OPG Hydro Station to the junction with the Missinaibi River and the start of the Moose River.

Part II: 94km on the Moose River from the Missinaibi junction to the (former) Tidewater Provincial Park.

Part III: Moose Factory, Moosonee, and the Polar Bear Express.

Part IV: Tips for interested trippers

Continue reading “Paddling the Mattagami and Moose Rivers north to Moosonee”

Discovery with a Paddle: Canoeing the Restoule and French Rivers

When Samuel Champlain paddled down the Restoule River with a party of Ottawa nation aboriginals in the early seventeenth century, he believed he was beating a trail of discovery to a great, westward river that would lead to the mer de l’ouest, the ocean on the far side of what was, to Europeans, a new found land.

Photograph (c) Richard A Johnson
All photographs (c) Richard A Johnson

In the Canada of Champlain’s peers, the frontier emerged from obscurity beneath each footstep and paddle stroke of he and his men. What became known as the French River was the first of many underestimations of Champlain, who was by all evidence one of the more gifted of the early European explorers of North America.

Champlain stood at the confluence of the Restoule and French Rivers and believed the latter flowed over the western horizon to the salted sea. (No doubt his indigenous guides, who may never have come across anything but fresh water during their inland lives, struggled in translation with this alien concept of saltwater.)

Champlain was wrong. But in his wrongness, he made if not a discovery then at least a revelation.

Continue reading “Discovery with a Paddle: Canoeing the Restoule and French Rivers”