Manitoba is a canoeist's paradise with more than 100,000 lakes and rivers flowing through rolling prairie, boreal forests, delta marshlands, rugged Precambrian shield country and northern tundra.
Wilson spent four years traversing 2,500 miles of historic fur-trade routes and traditional native water routes to research this book. Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba unlocks the mysteries of navigating this remarkable landscape, providing both regional and international canoeing enthusiasts with essential expedition information.
Hap Wilson is Canada's best-known canoeist and expedition author, with over 30 years experience. His hand-drawn maps and illustrations are featured in Voyages: Canada's Heritage Rivers, which won the Natural Resources of America Award for Best Environmental Book.
Stephanie Aykroyd is a writer, artist and photographer. Her art and photography is found in collections throughout the United States and Canada.
Introduction and Preface
It might be said that the spirit and personality emanate from the heart. The Cree and Ojibway people referred to Manitou-ba as the "Land Where the Spirit Lives," derived from the provocative and often impetuous character of Lake Winnipeg, vibrant and full of life, yet dangerous and steeped in mystery.
Manitoba is the geographic heart of Canada; it also best represents the distinctive wild nature of this country through its earth-science and human history. Nowhere else on this continent can the stalwart explorer stand on an aspen bluff in the southwest and view an endless sea of prairie grass, or trek across the open reaches of the northern tundra on the edge of the Arctic ocean. So diverse is the landscape of Manitoba that it continually provokes that impulse to explore, and believe me, a mere taste is just not enough!
The province boasts of having over 100,000 lakes and innumerable rivers and streams. A vast territory five times the size of England yet with only 1/50th the population and the majority of people live within the greater Winnipeg area. To the gallant adventurer, this means wilderness like no other place on earth and Manitoba has it.
The rivers highlighted in this book have been chosen for their austere and wild nature; they have also been selected for their ability to taunt and tantalize the greatest variety of adventure seekers of various levels of skill and tastes. From novice to expert there is something to stir the blood of each individual. As the centre of this enormous country, adventure starts right here -- in the Land Where the Spirit Lives!
Undertaking a book project that consumes five years of your life is likely to leave an indelible impression on your psyche. It may be insidious in nature, at least until you have had the opportunity to reminisce -- to catch your breath so to speak, and to use that "inward eye" as Wordsworth puts it, in order to fully evaluate the impact that a particular pilgrimage has had on one's spirit.
In retrospect, when I first paddled the Seal River in 1994 for Men's Journal Magazine, I had no idea that this baptism to Manitoba rivers would have ever led to a provincial canoeing guidebook. Itemizing the multitude of reasons for not writing another travel journal was based on the premise that funding or subsidies for such a venture would be scant. That alone has all kinds of repercussions, knowing well that my life would be in total chaos and financial exhaustion until the book was complete and out of my hands. And then there was that other inexorable dilemma that confronts many outdoor writers, that being moral conscience. The question whether or not secret and often sacred places be revealed to the throngs of Gore-Tex-clad adventure seekers is an enigma faced by those destined to fall upon their own swords. One has hope that the wilderness code of ethics will prevail, and that those explorers who may be inspired by the published word will be respectful of the harmony of place and leave it as beautiful for others as they themselves lay witness to.
Manitoba, like any other province, has its fair share of environmental concerns... the salient offspring of ambitious corporate and government maneuverings, and the pressure to ensure employment and a comfortable standard of living -- quite often at the cost of sustaining the quality of life through the loss of wilderness.
At the rate in which we lose wilderness across Canada, for the aforesaid reasons, and out of sheer ignorance of the overall benefits of the economics of aesthetics, it is paramount that we make a critical "leap of faith" -- to do what one can in order to protect the remaining vestiges of wild places. From the perspective of extraction-based industry, for us to say nothing is an apathetic compliance to the views and whims of the developers. We make the loudest statement by keeping silent.
The elite genre of paddler who cares to see absolutely no one else on a particular river will complain vehemently to me that our guidebook is exploiting wilderness; yet, will this same coterie take the initiative to investigate the upcoming plans for riverside clear-cut logging? Or, would they complain about Hydro's intention of diverting a whole river into another? Or, might they even be concerned that several new roads and proposed bridge crossings will allow unregulated access by the mechanized sportsman? Likely not.
The paradox of nature writing dictates drastic measures when relating wise use of a particular ecozone to the general public. Use it or lose it. It's as simple as that. The reality that ecotourism is an economic contributor to provincial coffers is finally hitting home; and in some cases, it may be the only sustainable option for development of a natural resource. It's good business in long-term yields, and the impact on the environment is minimal.
As a somewhat seasoned environmentalist I do have my own agenda. Personally, I would rather bump gunnels with a few like-minded canoeists paddling a river than have to portage around a hydro dam, or listen to skidders and chainsaws and watch helplessly as the skyline of spruce gets loaded onto the back of a hauler.
Administrators tend to look at the ready, known, tangible uses of public lands in a purely pragmatic way. Self-propelled adventure tourism is not the invisible industry as once thought. As a major component of the fast growing eco-travel trade it generates millions annually into tertiary economies and offers unlimited entrepreneurial opportunities for those interested in this facet of tourism. Governments are coming around, slowly, realizing that setting aside tracts of wilderness is protecting a commodity that is fast disappearing. And, as a commodity becomes scarce, it also becomes more valuable; spiritually, it represents a template or guide-post for all aspects of personal well-being. Rivers then, are an important resource, and to save them we must get out and paddle them; not to usurp them unwisely but to bask in the primal richness of place and proffer due respect for such linear galleries of earthly treasures.
My first taste of Manitoba wilderness ignited that deep core, essential urge to explore further. Here was a place, I thought, that resonated with the voices of early travellers both white and native, and a landscape so discreet and multifarious as to beguile the senses. Even Manitobans have been fooled by the typecast provincial image of wheat-fields and roaming bison herds. It was obvious that the only eyes cast upon this vast wilderness were those of the resource developers save for a few dispersed inquisitors who sought solitude and adventure instead of quick profit.
And so, Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba was born out of a passion for soulful exploration and the need to preserve some of the finest rivers in Canada. Not that this book will present itself as the panacea for all ill-will projected against river environments, but it is our way of doing something about river conservation through eco-tourism. Vainglorious as it may seem to some, we aspire to encourage others to make the journey; to taste, smell, and touch the alluring vibrancy of the Manitoba hinterland.
Without the inspiration of Mike Greco of the Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, and the support and faith of Jan Collins and the Travel Manitoba team, this book could not have been possible. A further boost came when my wife Stephanie shared the work load, in the field and in the studio, starting in the summer of '96, working diligently to produce a quality guidebook with her own particular flair for detail.
To be succinct, Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba is not a "how-to" book, although we have included chapters that briefly cover worthy areas of interest; there are other current publications that are aptly suited which expand on all facets of wilderness travel. Instead, this is a book of maps. Over 300 hand-drawn and labelled maps to be more specific. People love maps, and cartography done in the old style is a lost art. People have been inspired by maps since time immemorial; in fact mapmaking is one of the world's oldest professions (not prostitution as one is led to believe).
Maps relate the story of the river; each meander, riffle and fall is plotted with the utmost care and accuracy using data accrued in the field. Portage trails indicate the necessity to carry around an abrupt or dangerous drop in the elevation, and the location of campsites make daily planning easier. Even the armchair outdoor enthusiast will find fancy in tracing the course of each river from head pond to point of egress.
Singularly, each river could have easily produced whole volumes of text, maps, sketches and photographs. Our task to condense the collected material into one volume that included 17 rivers was not a simple one. Route maps were drawn to the 1:250,000 scale; this required fewer overall maps but many more detailed drawings of particularly difficult or confusing sections of river. We made the decision not to use computer digitized maps for two reasons; neither of us like them because of the techno-look and electro-magnetic radiation, and specifically because we wanted to maintain that "old-world" charm and hand-drawn tradition of mapmaking.
After four years of exhausting field expeditions that traced more than 4,000 kilometres of Manitoba wilderness rivers onto the pages of this book, it may be interesting for the reader to know that it actually took longer to draw the maps than it did to paddle the rivers. It is our hope that those who peruse this book will look at each map as a work of art, and maybe appreciate better the time that went into producing them.
And as for the Manitoba wilderness, the poignant emotions transfixed to the memories of places we have been, are woven deeply into the fabric and convolutions of our souls, and we have only an impatient longing to go back there. And if I were asked what it was about Manitoba that affected me the most, I know well that simple words and metaphors could only betray my answer. It is truly the Land Where the Spirit Lives and that time has forgotten; of chromatic tundra sunsets and crisp Arctic nights when the stars dance tauntingly within reach; it is an old grave atop a sandy esker, marked with a ring of stones and an old sheath knife; or perhaps the broken bowl of a voyageur's clay pipe found at Trout Falls on the Hayes River, or a rusted cannonball half buried on the beach at York Factory; or the mystery of native rock-paintings, etched in red-ochre or were they actually painted with the blood of the Memegwishiwok who dwell behind the face of granite?; the terrible awe of an all-consuming boreal fire and having to wrap wet bandanas around our faces so that we could breathe the acrid smoke-filled air; a sudden confrontation with a wolf, a cow moose protecting a calf and a curious polar bear; or maybe sailing down the Hudson Bay coast in the middle of the night and getting stranded on the tidal flats for 6 hours waiting for the tide to come in; and the dynamic primitive energy of a Dene hand-game and the smile of a child's face as it rides in the back of a pick-up truck on a dirt road that goes nowhere. Manitoba is all of this and more. There were good times and there were hard times, there were blistered hands and swollen feet, of being cold, wet and fly-bitten, and riding the backs of dangerous rapids crashing through the very bones of Mother Earth, and long treks across the lonely tundra looking for water to float the canoes... but there were no bad times. After all, this is the stuff of true adventure and if it is adventure and entertainment you seek then you will find it here, in Manitoba and within the pages of this book. Listen carefully and you can hear the clicking of caribou hooves on a gravel esker behind your tent, or the sonic whispers of beluga whales as they swim alongside your canoe, feel the heartbeat of a Dene drum and allow your soul to be whisked away. This is Manitoba and you will be surprised.
The Spirit of the Place: Helpful Information
Le Petit Nord
River Conservation - The Politics of Wilderness