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  • 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 the world.

    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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