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ALL ABOUT CANOES
August 13, 1997
Peter Brewster writes:
ON THE LOWER GEORGE: Today, in so many ways, was why we came.
Finally, after being sideswiped by bad weather on Monday, and making
only a disappointing 22-km. yesterday due to a nasty north headwind, this was a
near-perfect day in Ungava to be out on a big river.
Oh, sure, the blackflies are doing their thing; and visions of Mina
Hubbard can still be here only if you stand very still at night and try to
project your mind back 90-some years to a more adventurous time.
But the river is real, and today it is at its best.
We awoke to a mild frost at 6 a.m. beside the Wedge Hills fishing and
hunting camp where we had pulled in Tuesday night looking for help with the
waning battery on the satellite phone.
The sole occupant was guide Serge Labrie, and after we set up the
tents on the beach he quickly got power flowing from his tractor battery into
our phone, the vital link to our CANOE website.
Serge was entirely at peace with being alone, likely until the end of
he month, and clearly the spirit of the north is strong in his short, stocky
frame and friendly demeanor. He told me of his journeys to Baffin Island and
Yellowknife last winter, and we traded tales of northern trips until late in
the evening. A great character and an enormous help.
Did I mention earlier it was a great day?
We covered 40-km. before lunch, rocketing down the George through the
finest country yet, seen 14 years ago under a grey canopy that only shifted to
rain again, as I recall. Today it was bathed in sunshine under a cloudless sky,
with a cooling breeze.
The river drops 86 metres in the section we ran today, and the
wonderful Pyramid Hills were in view for some time before we stopped for lunch
at the confluence with the Gasnault.
If the George is clear and clean, the Gasnault is almost ephemeral. I
have never seen water of such startling clarity. It flows into the main river
creating two distinct streams of different colors before they blend.
Shortly after lunch we met up with one of the legends of Ungava, a
man Peter and Geoff encountered briefly in l983 while Mike and I missed him by
metres as we portaged.
Bob May IS the George River of the last forty years to many people,
and today he was in his Pyramid Hills camp, with Nancy and his son Peter, as we
A lean, clear-eyed man with the self-assurance of one who knows every
inch of the river. He had been here since June, and was building a kitchen
addition to a cabin. His camp, which can handle up to a dozen guests,
has a superb panoramic view of the river and hills, and is nicely positioned to
catch bug-beating breezes.
Bob had been hauling his boats up Helen's Falls when we ran into him
in '83, and he talked somewhat wistfully today of the decline in the salmon
fishing since those days of the early Eighties.
We stood on his front porch, looking down the George, and knew that
it only seemed right that one day soon the Atlantic salmon
would return in numbers.
But for now he had other concerns. "Did you see any caribou?" he
asked (we hadn't spotted any since we hit Indian House Lake) ... then he
launched into a memory of how he used to come up here in September "with a 20-
foot canoe and just bannock" to hunt caribou.
Walking back to our canoes, Geoff and I both had the same instant
association with the late R.M. Patterson, the great Northern traveller and
author. Both real northeners, both real gentlemen.
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