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Missinaibi

Journey to the Northern Sky.
 From Lake Superior to James Bay by Canoe.
 By Hap Wilson with his illustrations.
 Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, Hyde Park, Ont.
  134 pp. 1994 $18.95.


Review by MICHAEL PEAKE -- Che-Mun Editor

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     Hap Wilson is renown for producing canoe route guides for more than a decade since his superb Temagami Canoe Routes was published. Now the author and artist has done a much needed job on Ontario's majestic Missinaibi River.
     This book begins on a sombre note. It tells the chilling details of two canoeing deaths on the Missinaibi in June of 1993. A pair of canoes with American paddlers using Canadian topo maps made for the map-marked portage somewhere on the right side of the river above Thunderhouse Falls. One canoe was sucked down the killer drop while the other barely scrambled to shore.
     The incident was witnessed by a group of Canadian paddlers who were taking the proper one mile portage on river left. The bodies were finally recovered days later well down river. Yes, the Missinaibi is a big and serious river, more than capable of killing a foolish or unprepared canoeist. That would be now be very unlikely for those carrying this very complete and informative canoe guide to the river.
     Hap Wilson has done his usual thorough and professional job of tackling the proper way to travel by canoe. The 8 x 11 inch paperback is brimming with Wilson's usual clean and interesting drawings and graphics. He takes the reader step by step down this wilderness waterway that rises very close to Lake Superior and drains into James Bay once it has merged with the Mattagami to form the Moose River.
     The visual highlight of the river is the point where it falls off the Canadian Shield and descends into the Hudson Bay Lowlands. This is where the spectacular Thunderhouse and Conjuring House Falls are located. It's a camping magnet and perhaps the most scenic tenting spot in the province. Here and elsewhere, Wilson expounds on the history of the place, speaking about those who have passed this way before. The interesting and full-fleshed narrative throughout the book elevates it way beyond a simple river guide. It's the story of how canoeists do a river, which means more than stuff about C I and C II. It's how a river feels, smells and appears to us.
     The book is profusely illustrated with photos and therein is our major complaint of this otherwise excellent book. Like many other books and publications being done on a desktop layout program, the type and line art drawings are quite nice but the photographs, or halftones as they are called in the business, leave much to be desired. There are a lot of great pictures in this book - all black and white - or more precisely gray since many are poorly reproduced. This must be frustrating to the photographers (Hap and Katrina Nightingale) who surely submitted their work with greater expectations.
     That said, this book is much more than just a river guide. Wilson takes us into the history of the river and the trade routes leading to it from Lake Superior. He discusses the natives and their beliefs for many places along this river were sacred. There is also a quick geological and botanical overview.
     The only other drawback is that it isn't waterproof. Surely no one will venture down this river for the first time without being accompanied by Hap Wilson's latest work of art.

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