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ALL ABOUT CANOES
Sunday August 15, 1999
Guest Column: Reflections, traditions, salutations
By REV. PETER J.C. SCOTT
An unfortunate tradition has finally come to an end. In the last year of the last two decades, in 1979 and 1989, I dumped in the last rapid of the river that I was on that year. It was the same rapid in the same river each year - Grand Rapids on the Churchill River in Saskatchewan - and in both instances I was in the stern. This is a tradition that I won't have any problem not repeating. We negotiated Limestone rapids, the last rapid on the Winisk River, without much problem and came into Peawanuck late on Friday
The last time I came into a community on the eastern side of Ontario's ocean coastline it was under very different circumstances. It was back in 1987 and I was a young teacher right out of Teacher's College. The name of the town was Kashechewan which is just upriver from the James Bay coast on the Albany River. I taught there for two years and it was there that I would meet a woman named Elizabeth Nuttall who became my wife a few years later. Instead of coming into a community and staying for a day or two, as we had done on our canoe trips, I remained there for two years and experienced all of the seasons of the year and the rhythm of the life of the Cree in a remote fly-in community. This time we would only stay for a couple of days in Peawanuck, but we would fill those 48 hours with a lot of activity.
We arranged to go out to the bay with Maurice Mack who is the co-owner of Hudson Bay Polar Bear Park Expeditions. We got up early on Saturday morning ready to head out to the coast of Hudson Bay and the prime area for seeing bears in Polar Bear Provincial Park. The Park is six times larger than Quetico Park and can have as many bears in it as two hundred at one time. I had already seen a polar bear before while on a trip nine years ago on the Payne River on the Ungava Peninsula in Quebec. I was with Michael Peake, Peter Brewster and David Thompson on a trip that would take us from the shores of Hudson Bay across Arctic Quebec to Ungava Bay. We were about two and half weeks into the trip about 100 kilometers from Ungava Bay heading towards a rapid. I saw something in the water ahead and Michael commented that it must be a log. I reminded him that we had not seen a tree for weeks and remarked that it could be a polar bear. As we ran the rapid it became abundantly clear that I was right.
The bear was fishing at the bottom of the rapid which we all thought was quite remarkable as we were so far from the bay and salt water. As we approached the bottom of the rapid ourselves the bear started coming towards us. We paddled a hasty retreat in the other direction luckily with the help of the current, although from all reports we could not have gotten away as the bear was in his element. After a few powerful strokes, used more than likely to see what we were, the bear turned and headed toward the shore. The other canoe followed him trying to get some pictures, an act many, including myself, considered foolhardy.
This year we were not let down, seeing four bears on our walk with Maurice on the flats near the waters of Hudson Bay - where bears should be! Others will have told you about our encounter with the bears in their journals and I will leave that to them I should add our sighting was no less thrilling than my first sighting of a bear. We returned to Peawanuck to a great feast at the home of Gloria Hunter, wife of Sam Hunter, one of the other owners of the tour business.
With the trip now completed my thoughts are beginning to the turn to the next two weeks of my holidays. Unlike some of the others of our group who will have to be at work on Tuesday morning, I will have some time off before I return to the Parish and my work there. Much has happened in the last two weeks and as I sit here on the banks of the river on Sunday morning with most of the town still sleeping I wonder what awaits me at home.
Finishing a trip is like beginning a new year. Both are condusive to introspection and thinking about life and what resolutions one would make to change the way it. I know that I am not alone in this pastime. One thing is for certain, life will be very different from what we have been experiencing on this trip.
What I take away from it is a sense of knowing that when you are on the land you regain a perspective on life that you don't have when you're in the city. It's a perspective that allows you to see that the simplest things in life are often the ones you most enjoy. No matter where you live there is always a place that you can go to and have a wilderness experience, even if it is only for a few hours. I live in one of the more populated areas of Ontario and yet the Bruce Trail is only half an hour's drive away. Getting out on the trail every so often will help me keep this resolution and hold on to that perspective on life we all need.
This is a tradition I'd like to continue.
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