Calgary to Quebec 1982

April 30, 1982 through December 6, 1982.  A 4,200mile, 7 month  paddle by canoe

  • 607 miles downriver from Calgary to South Saskatchewan-Qu’Appelle River portage
  • 912 miles downriver South Saskatchewan-Qu’Appelle River portage to Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • 48 mile Lake Winnipeg to Winnipeg River, Manitoba
  • 466 miles upriver Winnipeg to Albany River, Ontario
  • 554 miles downriver Albany River to Fort Albany, James Bay
  • 109 miles Fort Albany to Moosonee, Moose River
  • 375 mile upriver Moosonee to headwaters of Ottawa River
  • 490 miles downriver Ottawa River to Montreal, Saint Lawrence River
  • 650 miles downriver Montreal to Quebec

April 30, 1982 – Bow River, Calgary, Alberta

We set out today on our journey from Calgary eastward to Quebec having put in the water just below the weir on the Bow River, six of us in three canoes, Mary and Steve Butts, Heather and Tom Prince, Stan Burfield, myself and one cat and two dogs – Steve and Mary’s cat, Boots, dog, Bandit, and my dog Kobuk.  By my calculations it was the last day to leave on if we are to make Quebec by winter.

April 30, 1982 – Bow River, Alberta

As we traveled downriver the shores were gripped in thick ice.  Spring break-up had only occurred just this past week.  Long prisms of ice floating vertically in large clusters in the water made melodic clinking sounds that were transmitted through the bottom of the canoe as we proceeded along.  Even the sound of gravel rolling and grinding along the river bottom was amplified by the canoe’s hull producing a low, constant background noise.

April 30, 1982 – Bow River, Alberta

At our first campsite on our voyage eastward we celebrated with elk roasted over a campfire and accompanied by a bottle of celebratory champagne.  It was a good day indeed and with it came a sense of great satisfaction to finally be on our way on a journey that I had looked forward to since my first trip across the U.S. ten years prior.

May 3, 1982 – Bow River, Alberta

Fortunately the wind had abated since yesterday so the going was smooth for the first eleven and a half miles, a sweet reprieve and a time to just enjoy the voyage.  After portaging around Bassano Dam a wind kicked up and we encountered it off and on the rest of the day but mileage for the day was still a decent thirty miles.

May 3, 1982 – Bow River, 18 miles above Bow City, Alberta

At the end of the day when a tremendous wind picked up we sought camp on a small island covered with leafless willows eight to ten feet high that could break the wind.  Tom dug a fire pit over which we cooked a dinner of spaghetti, stewed tomatoes, onions and canned mushrooms.

May 5, 1982 – Bow River, Alberta

We played Risk in the warmth of Steve and Mary’s tent to pass the time while we sat out the weather this day.  Trees have gotten more and more sparse on the prairie so that in effect now there are none along the river save a few solitary cottonwoods.  Scrub willows provide some shelter from the wind when camped.

May 12, 1982 – South Saskatchewan River, Alberta

It frosted last night.  It was an absolutely clear, beautiful day all day with mild winds.  We entered country similar to the badlands of the Dakotas with beautifully weathered and eroded sandstones and siltstones with resistant orange cap rocks that form a wide range of “table tops” or “Hoodoos”.  Saw two herds of Pronghorn antelope and one herd of Black-tailed Mule Deer.

May 14, 1982 – South Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan

The surrounding country has changed considerably.  Gone are the badlands to be replaced by more rounded or smooth hills coming off the plains.  The river itself has changed tremendously.  It is now truly a prairie river with a wide bed and numerous sand bars and islands.  The banks along the current side are steep and eroded vertically.  The shallow, slow water shores of the river and islands are sandy or muddy.  We pulled our canoes together and floated for one half hour and had a great time.

May 21, 1982 – Lake Diefenbaker, South Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan

The low water presented a myriad of natural treasures along the exposed shore.  I first noticed specimens of gypsum lying about.  Heather found a gypsum “rose” and later, Mary did too.  Stan found a nice section of fossil belemnoid or straight, tubular cephalopod.  But the best treasures I found after hiking around were external molds in fine grained mudstone of what appear to be large nautiloids or ammonites eighteen to twenty inches in diameter, unfortunately too large to collect and cart around in a canoe.  Some still had remnants of their pearly mantle.

May 23, 1982 – Lake Diefenbaker, South Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan

The waves were intense, building in little time to three to three and half feet with many breaking into white tops, some over the canoes.  With the wind at least forty miles per hour we decided to stop after only two miles.  We sought out a bay that would allow us protection from the waves so that we could beach the canoes and set up camp behind the shelter of a thirty foot high hill, about one hundred yards long, that blocks the wind effectively.

May 24, 1982 – Lake Diefenbaker, South Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan

While the lake was whipped by whitecaps most of the day, the wind began to lessen and we finally set out at 5:30 p.m.  Although the waves were a foot or better in height, we made good progress until as the sun set we paddled along a near glassy surface, our seventh day on Lake Diefenbaker.

May 26, 1982 – Qu’Appelle River below Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan

As the South Saskatchewan River turned northward, our route eastward had us portaging over from Lake Diefenbaker to the east flowing Qu’Appelle River.  Unfortunately for us, because we were ahead of the spring runoff, the lake water in Lake Diefenbaker was so low that the water level was below the dam outlet to the Qu’Appelle River and no water was being released.  So we’ve ended up going from battling wind and waves on the two and a half mile wide Lake Diefenbaker to slugging through four to five inches of water and deep muck on the five to ten feet wide Qu’Appelle River while pulling the canoes.

May 30, 1982 – Qu’Appelle river below Lake Diefenbacker, Saskatchewan

After only being able to cover three miles to Ridge Creek since the 26th, two days of intermittent rain, sleet and snow was enough to raise the Qu’Appelle overnight and give us a narrow window of time to get to deeper water.  The river was already starting to drop by the time we got underway, but the flow was sufficient enough for us to put sixteen miles and the problem of low water behind us.

June 1, 1982 – Qu’Appelle River, Saskatchewan

The whole day up to lunch was a repeat of yesterday’s winding river, only deeper with little scraping along the bottom.  Although we covered eighteen miles today, it was probably only four to five miles as the crow flies, but nevertheless, I was just glad to be on canoe-able water.

June 3, 1982 – Qu’Appelle River, Saskatchewan

Today saw a lot of debris in the river.  Many banks caved in with trees down, some stretching all the way across.  We came across a log jam that extended completely across the river and about twenty yards down it.  It took us three hours, including lunch, pulling and lining the canoes through the debris.

June 3, 1982 – Qu’Appelle River, Saskatchwan

Had lunch of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, one and a half for each of us plus one sixth from the last two pieces of bread of the loaf cut carefully into six equal portions, a daily event.  Tom did the honors this day under intense scrutiny from the rest of us.  We topped it off with popcorn and beer.

June 7, 1982 – Qu’Appelle River, Saskatchewan

Once on the Piapot Indian reservation we came across the frame of a structure.  With permission from the Piapots we set up camp a couple of miles down river.  While cooking dinner a few Piapots visited with us and told us that the structure was a rain dance lodge.  They build a new one each year and told us that they would be building another one for the upcoming weekend and invited us to attend.  It was a terrible dilemma because it was only Monday and we would lose six precious days of travel if we stayed.  Always I had to keep in mind the approach of winter and the many miles and days yet to go.  We had to decline their generous offer.

June 16, 1982 – Qu’Appelle River, Manitoba

It was my day to build the fire pit, start a fire and make popcorn and tea, a daily routine to tide us over while the others collect fire wood and set up tents after which dinner gets prepared.  While Heather made macaroni and cheese we munched on some onions and radishes with the popcorn and it made an excellent combination.

June 27, 1982 – Assiniboine River, Manitoba

We came upon the remains of the steamboat S.S. Alpha which ran aground in 1885.  A large section of it, fifty by sixty feet long was lying just above the water along the steep south bank, mostly submerged and covered in silt.  It traveled the river from 1875 through 1885, was one hundred and five feet long and carried a crew of nine and thirty passengers.  Our deduction as to its identity came from information in a park map that doesn’t indicate its location but does say that it can be seen at low water on the south shore somewhere in the vicinity of where we were.

July 1, 1982 –  Assiniboine River, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The day turned out to be a beautiful day with wind from the south most of the day.  We reached Winnipeg around 2:30 p.m. stopping at the bridge to the zoo where, with the main street being only one hundred yards from the river, we picked up lunch.  I had two hot dogs and an ice cream cone.  After an hour we set out again and not long afterwards entered the Red River.  We proceeded north and stopped shortly beneath a bridge where Tom spied a hotel to get beer.  July 1st is Canada Day that marks the day in 1867 when Canada became a single country and Tom wanted to celebrate.  As it turned out we paddled into the night with a bright moon to reach the locks at Lockport and at dusk there were displays of fireworks to the south in Winnipeg and to the north in Selkirk on both horizons.  Later we were treated to a delightful display of Northern Lights.

July 1, 1982 – Assiniboine River, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Two days earlier Steve and Mary confided in us that they wouldn’t be going on any further after Winnipeg.  It was sad setting out and leaving the two of them on shore waving goodbye.  They had been such an integral part of our journey.  It was a difficult and fatiguing adventure to be sure, and we had been pushing most of the time, always with the realization of only having finite time before winter arrived, to reach Quebec.  But we were on the verge of leaving the open prairie with its constant winds and muddy rivers to enter what the Indians called the Stony Country, the great Canadian Shield lands of clear waters and rocky land.  The best was still to come.

July 6, 1982 – Balsam Bay, Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba

For a brief time the sun setting behind dark clouds was quite picturesque and seemed a good omen.  We had finally reached Lake Winnipeg, a milestone; we were off the plains and about to enter the stony country of the Canadian Shield, the ancient geological core of the continent.  It would be an entirely new adventure.

July 7, 1982 – Balsam Bay, Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba

The winds blew strong today and Lake Winnipeg was riled up so we stayed put for the day.  We were separated from the beach and sheltered from the wind by a stand of trees and undergrowth atop a ten foot sand dune.   We filled the day catching up on chores, making minor repairs and Heather gave Tom a haircut.

July 11, 1982 – Winnipeg River, Manitoba

It’s our second day ascending the Winnipeg River.  At times we had to hop out and maneuver the canoes through swift waters around rocky outcrops.  Two large, slow moving storms missed us, one to the east and one to the west.  While portaging one low dam above Great Falls Dam we were covered with hundreds of large one and a half inch mayflies and millions of insects filled the air at dusk creating a constant sound like rain.

July 13, 1982 – Winnipeg River, Manitoba

A short distance into Dorothy Lake we stopped for a break on a small thirty yard diameter wooded island and discovered blueberries, gooseberries, currents and saskatoons, all ripe.  We feasted on these and Tom picked a bag of currents for later.  When we find something edible…we eat it.  I especially liked the blueberries.

August 2-3, 1982 – Root River, Ontario

We portaged over Nattaway Falls where the Root River empties into Lac Seul at the end of the day of August 1st.  The thirty miles up the Root River from Lac Seul to Lake Saint Joseph took us the next two days.  We lined the canoes through rapids when we could, laid down tracks of logs to pull the canoes over when we couldn’t line them through, and portaged around the waterfalls.

August 3, 1982 – Lake Saint Joseph, Ontario

After ascending the Root River our first sight of Lake Saint Joseph was a beautiful one.  The water was like glass and slack, the sky gray, the shores reflecting perfectly in the water.  It was like reaching the top of a mountain having begun at Lake Winnipeg three hundred and seventy miles and three and a half weeks ago.  The lake marked the height of land divide between the Lake Winnipeg drainage to the west and the James Bay/Hudson Bay  drainage to the east.

August 10, 1982 – Albany River, Ontario

Our first day of the five hundred and twenty-five miles on the Albany River  to James Bay.  At 7:28 p.m. we reached the first major rapid on the Albany River that required what we thought would be a portage of two hundred meters; it turned out to be more like six hundred meters along a narrow, often muddy trail through thick undergrowth.  The portage required five trips; we didn’t finish until 10:00 p.m.

August 17, 1982 – Petawanga Lake, Albany River, Ontario

By 10:00 p.m. the sun had set an hour earlier and the sunset entertained us for the next hour shining through dark small cumulus clouds, reflecting off quiet water and illuminating the shoreline of trees across from us.  Beautiful pinks towards 10:00 pm when we all turned in.  Very calm evening, a few loons calling, lake water lapping very slightly on the shore, aspen leaves rustling gently, mosquitoes humming outside the tent.

August 19, 1982 – Albany River, Ontario

We continued to sail though the wind had slackened considerably and as we did I trolled catching one small Northern Pike (less than two feet) and a fair sized Walleye (seventeen inches).  We had them for dinner with macaroni and cheese with onion and crushed crackers.  Dessert was crushed pineapple.

August 24, 1982 – Kagiami Falls, Albany River, Ontario

We arrived at Kagiami Falls around 6:00 p.m. where we made the three hundred and seventy yard portage finishing at 7:06. The falls involve two drops with one hundred yards or so in between.  We set up camp on the sloping cobble and sand shore below the last drop.  Blackflies were bothersome before dusk.  The morning broke clear and bright after a fairly cold night.  Had breakfast of cold cereal.

August 1982 – Albany River, Ontario

Although there were quite a few portages along the Albany River, most of the rapids that we encountered were runnable though often only after careful study.  Because this five hundred plus mile stretch was true wilderness, there was no room for error.  I am sure that of the portages that we made most, if not all, were used by the early voyageurs.

September 3-6, 1982 – Fort Albany, James Bay, Ontario

We reached the Fort Albany Indian Reserve on James Bay September 3rd where there was also a Hudson Bay store to serve the Indians of the region.  We rested there three days gathering our strength and making preparations for the risky hundred mile paddle down James Bay to Moosonee and the Moose River.  The  Ojibway Indians said it couldn’t be done in our small canoes.  They used much larger freight canoes with outboard motors to make the trip and they warned us that winter storms on the bay could come at any time now and polar bears would be on the move southward showing up shortly.

September 8, 1982 – James Bay, Ontario

It was a difficult day with a south to southwest headwind.  The shallowness of James Bay meant that the tide went out three to five miles before returning thirteen hours later.   Once we set out with the receding tide we would be out on the water for thirteen hours until the tide returned.  Because of the shallowness of James Bay, we constantly grounded or were trapped by rapidly appearing sandbars as the tide receded and we had to paddle further and further away from the distant shore to stay afloat.  Should a westerly wind arise we were at risk of not being able to make it back to the distant shoreline.

September 25, 1982 – Sextant Rapids, Abitibi River, Ontario

For one hundred and fifty yards we worked our way up along the cliff base which was swept by the current.  Several downed clumps of trees served to break up the current.  We chopped paths and broke branches and pulled the canoes while often up to our waist in swift water, fighting for footing and clinging to branches to keep from getting swept away.

October 24, 1982 – north flowing outlet stream to Lac Desvaux, Ontario

We were once again approaching a height of land, this time separating the water drainage to James Bay to the north and the Saint Lawrence River to the south.  The stream here was only about fifteen to twenty feet wide although often much narrower due to encroaching brush.  The weight of the canoe broke the newly formed ice as we traveled up river but slowed us down noticeably.  Winter was closing in.  The first snow had fallen three days earlier.

November 20, 1982 – Deschene Rapids, Montreal, Ontario

We crossed over to the Ontario shore just above the Deschene Rapids in order to run them.  After scouting them we decided that the best route was to hug the near shore and then we flipped a coin to see which canoe would go first.  I left Kobuk on shore for the first part of the run to lighten the canoe due to a couple of large standing waves that we had to go through.

November 22, 1982 – Ottawa River above Treadwell, Quebec

It was a beautiful day, mostly calm and sunny, a rare combination these days and not too cool.  The sunset was remarkable.  Tom fried up a sturgeon that a fellow had given us but it wasn’t too good.  As a result Kobuk ended up with much of it though I still managed to ingest three big pieces before the taste overwhelmed me.  I was hungry though.

November 28, 1982 – Confluence of Ottawa & St. Lawrence Rivers, Quebec

Clear sky, no wind, but ice on the Ottawa River!  It extended out one hundred yards or more and one and a quarter inches thick.  It took us a half hour to travel sixty yards.  Stan and Heather in the canoes’ bows used large sticks to smash the ice ahead of the canoes for passage.  Nighttime temperature had dropped to -20°F.  We were only a quarter mile from the Saint Lawrence River and reaching it just in the nick time.  It would take a lot more cold for the Saint Lawrence to freeze over.

December 3, 1982 – Lake Saint Peter, Saint Lawrence River, Quebec

We were underway at 8:53 a.m.  Visibility was limited to one half to one mile. The lake’s shores were iced up worse than I suspected.  On our right lay the vast sheet of shore ice three quarters of a mile wide disappearing into the foggy horizon, the only shore that was visible on the six mile wide lake.  In between it and the canoes lay a mass of broken pack ice that had been blown up against the shore ice.  It varied in depth from the shore ice twenty to thirty yards to one hundred yards most of the time.  To our front, rear and left lay open water filled with ice flows merging with no trace of a horizon into the fog.  And in the not too far distance we could hear the deep horns of the Lakers, the large Ocean-size freighters, plowing through the fog.  We were absolutely on our own with a watch and compass to guide us during the next three and a half hours over the next twelve miles.  The city of Quebec lay just over one hundred miles away.

December 6, 1982 – Saint Lawrence River, Quebec City, Quebec

Late the last night of our incredible journey I awoke to the sound of the campfire crackling and waves lapping softly nearby.  It was incredibly calm.  I found Tom alone by the campfire.  The tide appeared to have peaked leaving us precariously perched surrounded by water and at the mercy of any wind that might arise.  But we had a long list of obstacles overcome behind us.  We were fatigued and subdued but Quebec was in sight – whatever it took.  The next day, December 6th, we arrived in Quebec at 1:32 p.m. fighting winds and waves after 4,200 miles and over seven months of travel.  And the following day the first major snow storm of winter slammed into Quebec.

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