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  • Wednesday August 11, 1999

    Peter Brewster writes:

    George vs. the Winisk

     MILE 220, WINISK RIVER: Inevitably on a trip discussion turns to how the river stacks up against previously-travelled waterways.

     The last time we were all together was on the George River in northern Quebec, the first Onriver Online expedition.

     The George is a huge river, with massive power and exceptional white water, and of course it has the advantage of Atlantic salmon and Mina Hubbard.
    The edge of a front.
    -->to photo gallery

     The salmon, now in serious decline, have attracted commercial interest in the form of lodges over the years.

     The Mina Hubbard story gives the George a tragic human overlay that sets it apart.

     For those who don't know, Mina's husband Leonidas and two companions made a Quixotic attempt in the early years of this century to travel from the Labrador coast overland to the George River and from there down to Ungava Bay and establish contact with its Inuit.

     Leonidas Hubbard died, and his young widow's subsequent successful expedition to complete his dream in a race against one of his former partners is classic northern lore.

     It's tough to compete with that kind of made-for-Hollywood reality, never mind that the George is more remote and huge in scope.

     But in subtle ways the Winisk holds its own.

     We have seen no one in almost two weeks and 250 miles of travel. While we have passed a couple of simple, rustic outpost camps consisting of a cookhouse and cabins, they were unobtrusive.

     The upper river is both challenging and beautiful and would keep paddlers of both middle and high-level skills happy.

     And while we have seen little animal life, mainly because of the encroachment of the bush to the water's edge, the bald eagle population makes this river fascinating for that reason alone.

     No wonder Bernie Cox of Canoe Frontier, who flew us into Webequi to start the trip and will pick us up this weekend in Peawanuck, says the Winisk is his favourite river.

     Today's scenery was a good example of the Winisk strutting its stuff. We started late, with the rain of the night before lingering long into the morning. Clouds hung low over the water, and the dampness of the air was just slightly less than the river.

     The transition from enclosing riverbanks to a maze of islands with high clay banks, gravel points and - somehow - taller spruce trees was sudden and welcome.

     When a thin sun clawed its way through the overcast, bathing everything in the glow of late afternoon, things simply looked superb.

     More bald eagles, of course, at what seemed like every turn and bend, and along the water's edge a swooping, gliding bird we have tentatively identified as a sandpiper. We chuckled over his herky, jerky head motions that signal a frog sighting and an imminent attack.

     We are now within easy reach of Peawanuck, with the anticipation of Limestone rapids and some faster water again coming up.

     The bugs are not a problem, and Mike and I have been sleeping with the tent screen open.

     Not bad for the north, even in August

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