A Map maker's legacy
You don't want to go wandering among Manitoba's 100,000
lakes without one of Real Berard's hand-drawn canoe route maps
By CHUCK ROSE
He looks and sounds like there's voyageur blood running through his veins. If 100,000 lakes weren't enough reason to attract wilderness canoe trippers to Manitoba, then (for many) it has been the hand-drawn canoe route maps of Real Berard.
Berard's 13 illustrated canoe maps are available from
the Manitoba government for $3.95 each or the whole
package for $39.95. To order call 204.945.6666.
Berard's map making career was a sort of accident, while working for Parks Manitoba in the 60s and studying art in Winnipeg and Mexico City, he sketched out some river routes he had paddled a few summers before, adding portages measured in paces, campsites, sketches of waterfalls, swamps, and flowers until the space was filled.
The Department of Tourism asked that several of his maps be published; and a unique career was born. At first, the Manitoba government gave away the maps, later they began to charge for them (a nominal fee at first, later they were priced similar to other maps). Berard's dozen maps cover areas from Hudson Bay to the United States border.
Most maps have their own theme. Maps such as the Sasaginnigak Canoe Country and Little Grand Rapids Canoe Routes feature native culture. The Middle Track & Hayes River Route and the Grass River Canoe Route highlights the fur trade and its pioneers, from Pierre Radisson to Samuel Hearne. The Bird-Manigotagan Waterways features the history of the eastern Manitoba Gold Rush of 1910. This gave him a chance for first-hand interviews with some of the participants. Other historical sources he's used include missionary accounts and Hudson's Bay Company archives. But more important to him were personal interviews with trappers, bush pilots, and prospectors.
Though he is trilingual (French, English, and Spanish), he regrets that he does not speak Cree. Producing these documents allows Berard to be an artist, explorer, naturalist, and voyageur. He enjoys preserving the spirit of the north by recording local lore and history which is left out of textbooks. In 1975, his work was honored by the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society.
In 1971, Berard's maps were discovered by a Scoutmaster from St. Cloud, Minnesota, Father Paul Folsum. He decided to take his troop into the Sasaginnigak Canoe Country east of Lake Winnipeg. The Boy Scouts already had a wilderness canoeing program based just south of Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park. But their leaders also saw access restrictions coming to the park and the adjacent Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in the near future. So when Father Folsum asked for help with this Manitoba trip, the Boy Scouts saw it as an opportunity to spread out their wilderness experience and provide an ultra-high adventure for ambitious troops.
Detail from the Sasaginnigak Map
With appropriate permits from the Manitoba government in hand, the first trip took place in1972. Paddling and portaging from Wallace Lake toward Obukwin Lake, the Boy Scouts became LOST!! Unlike most maps, north on Berard's "Sas" map is toward the upper right hand corner of the map.
A couple days later when this pertinent fact became apparent, the troop proceeded onward, paddling the Bloodvein and Gammon Rivers to Sasaginnigak Lake and back, seeing no one else during the two weeks and experiencing a wonderful area. Because of Berard's maps, the Boy Scouts established a base in Bissett, Manitoba where-due to the closing of the San Antonio gold mine-the population had plunged from 1200 a few years before to around 200. The 100-300 Scouts who pass through through Bissett each summer since 1972 and purchasing food, bush plane flights, and accommodations have had a small, but significant, impact on the local economy.
Not only Boy Scout troops have had trouble with the maps. Water levels and rapids change. Blow downs, fires and low use conspire to change portages. It's no wonder that in1982 (after a few incidents), warning labels began to appear on the maps which read:
Caution: This Canoe Route is to be used for general information: it is not a navigational chart. It was prepared in the summers of 1962 & 1964 and the information recorded including information with respect to the volume of water, reflects only the conditions which existed at the time. Because of the constantly changing nature of the waterway, the Canoe Route should be referred to with extreme caution, and only in conjunction with topographical maps and other available data.
Nonetheless, I've been pleasantly surprised to recognized scenes from the maps such as Lucifer's Boiler on the Gammon River or Split Rock Gap on the Bloodvein. The Little Grand Rapids Canoe Routes map includes a sketch of a Blue Ribbon Baking Powder can and explains that local trappers use the recipe on the back to make bannock (a flying pan bread). Berard's map reads. . .
"If you happen to pass one on your trip, don't hesitate to put it in your packsack. When your canoe is stored and the winter winds are howling, you'll be able to look at this weathered little magic can and relive some of the happy memories of the northern rivers."I found one on a portage but..it was a new design, without the recipes. The next one I found had the recipes, but it was the only old-fashion can found that year (1982).
No longer working for the government, Berard has been a freelance artist since 1990. In addition to continuing map making, Real is an award-winning ice sculptor, and short film animator. Berard continues to explore rivers for trapper routes and old fur trade sites. I was lucky enough to have tea with him in Winnipeg a few years ago. Among his current projects is a map of the Churchill River (Missinippi to the Cree) in northern Saskatchewan seeing the same landmarks as Sigurd Olson described in his book The Lonely Land. "Sig must have gone during a high water year," he told me with a faraway look in his eyes. From later correspondence, I've learned that he spent the summer of '97 tackling the Methye Portage and hopes to check out the Athabasca River in '98. Currently, he has five map projects on the drawing board- "it's like reading five books at the same time."
This story first appeared in Che-Mun Outfit 93 in 1998.