For those who like to paddle in northern Canada, unless you have lots of vacation time, charter planes form a very large part of your canoe trip budget. We will be using only one charter flight this year -- but it's a big one -- almost 700 miles. Since our schedule calls for us to begin the Labrador Odyssey 2001 in Prince Edward Island, some unusual pre-planning was required. How do you get six paddlers, three canoes and a pile of gear to northern Labrador from there? Well, you rely on that old workhorse of northern aviation, the Twin Otter. In this case, one owned by Air Labrador, which serves the Newfoundland and Labrador coast with charter and scheduled flights to a host of small, isolated communities.
Air Labrador's Twin Otter will pick us up after we have spent three days at the Scout Jamboree. We will fly out of Summerside at the west end of the Island. Our route will head straight across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, 275 miles to the North Shore community of Natashquan for our first fuel stop. We then head north of everything -- up and over the Labrador Plateau and passing above some of the most rugged canoeing rivers in Canada for another fuel stop in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, 210 miles away. From there it's due north again for another 220 miles to the last community on the coast, the town of Nain and its 1,000 inhabitants.
We leave the airplanes for a while and get down to business for almost a month while paddling to Ungava Bay. Some trips require two flights, both in and out. You try to avoid this if possible since northern fuel prices have driven up charter costs to more than $10 a mile. And remember, you are paying for the plane to get there and back as well. So, a 200-mile charter becomes a 400-mile charge.
HACC members unload a Twin Otter in Great Bear Lake at the start of a trip which would take them to the Coppermine River to the Arctic Ocean in August 1992. (Photo - Michael Peake)
After we paddle, or slog our way through the low tidal mud, into the town of Kangiqsuallujjuaq at the mouth of the George River, we enter the land of unique northern airlines. We will use two different companies -- both owned by the Makivik Corporation, a large, Inuit-run company. Air Inuit will take us from George River across to the northern Quebec hub of Kuujjuaq. This bustling community began life as a U.S. Air Force base in WWII under the name Fort Chimo. It is the largest town in the Nunavik region, with 1,500 inhabitants. Air Inuit services Inuit communities on both Hudson and Ungava bays with Twin Otters, 748s and Dash 8 aircraft.
After we arrive in Kuujjuaq we will connect with First Air, a larger carrier running from Montreal to northern Quebec and servicing Nunavut and even Greenland. First Air is the only airline running from Kuujjuaq to Montreal so it's usually busy. They run 737s and 727s that can also be configured to accommodate large amount of cargo, as well as passengers. They also operate smaller planes, such as Twin Otters.
First Air will set us down in Montreal, where we connect to an Air Canada flight back to Toronto. I recall one such flight several years ago following a long and very cold month in northern Ungava. The plane leaving Montreal was delayed and the air conditioning was broken so they sat with the doors open in the first hot sticky air we had felt for a long time. A month's worth of body odour was set loose on unsuspecting passengers.