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ALL ABOUT CANOES
WINISK to THE BAY -- History
Running some 250 miles north into the bottom of mighty Hudson Bay,
Ontario's Winisk River is one of the jewels of the north.
Like many of northern Ontario's great rivers, the Winisk's run to the sea
is met with powerful rapids and falls where it leaves the massive, rocky
Canadian Shield and tumbles towards the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
This spectacular geological event is best characterized by the Missinaibi River
further south. That river's famed Thunderhouse Falls is simply the river
falling off the Shield which dominates so much of Canada's north.
The Winisk River rises in Winisk Lake about 150 air miles NE of Pickle
Lake. The Hudson's Bay Company had a post, they called Weenisk, in the area
some 160 years ago. It was part of the vast network of HBC posts that
dotted the north. Furs would be eventually transported to the company's
main post at York Factory, just below the present day town of Churchill,
where they would be shipped to England. The HBC's charter, in 1670, called
for it to have control over all the lands which drain into Hudson Bay, a
vast area that was known as Ruperts Land. The Bay sold that land to the
Canadian government in 1912.
The area has long been inhabited by the Crees and Ojibway natives. They
have trapped and lived off the land for millennia and today the two towns
on the river are both predominantly native settlements. The town of
Webiquie sits in Winisk Lake and Peawanuck, lies some 30 km from the end of
the river. A town called Winisk used to be situated at the end of the
river. It was always under threat from spring flooding, where ice jams
would push water and large chunks of ice into the community. In 1986, a
disastrous flood killed two people and finally got the village moved
upstream and renamed Peawanuck.
Two recent books (see Bibliography) examine life in the old town of Winisk
during an era that saw many southerners come. In 1955, during the height of
the Cold War, Canada started work on the Mid Canada Line, a string of radar
stations across the north designed to alert the presence of Soviet bombers.
One of these stations was across the river from the town of Winisk. It was
abandoned a few yeas after it was built.
The Winisk River flows into the Polar Bear Provincial Park - which is both
the largest and least visited park in the province. Polar Bear is six
million acres of rebounding Hudson Bay lowlands. Recently freed, in
geological time, from the oppressive weight of the retreating glaciers, the
land around the Bay is rising at the nearly alarming rate of about four
feet per century. It's a true tundra area, the most southerly located in
And while it may be Ontario's biggest and most northerly park, it certainly
has the fewest visitor facilities - none. That's right, you won't find any
picnic tables or interpretive centres here. Just mile after mile of flat
shoreline. along with the occasional polar bear. Also residing in the
region are the elusive woodland caribou as well as moose, fox, beaver,
black bear and many other animals.
The Winisk River itself is an Ontario Waterway provincial park, containing
a third of a million acres bordering the river's length. Again, there are
no visitor facilities.
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