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  • July 31, 1999

    The fun has begun

    Peter Brewster writes:


    Bernie Cox and his more than capable Turbo Otter -- Michael Peake photo
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    WEBEQUIE: Bernie Cox is big and capable, and his grin tells clearly of his love of life in the north.

    Taking off from the Canoe Frontier base at Pickle Lake airport this morning, Bernie's wife Lynn waving to the six guys who have invaded her office space and home, we sense the real beginnings of this adventure.

    The turbo Otter made short work of the flight to Webequie, no surprise given the abilities of the plane, but as we landed on Winisk Lake a real (and thoroughly impressive) treat awaited.

    A large welcoming group was gathered close to the town dock, with pickerel frying, goose cooking, and pots of baked beans, plates of bannock, and platters of onions on tables. It was touching, and just what we needed.

    After eating, I sat and talked with village leaders Mathias Suganaqueb and Luke Jacob, and before taking our gang on a short tour of town they told me of Webeqiuepis beginnings and it's current thriving state as home to 700 Ojibway.

    Before l960 the present site of the village was a place where people camped while on hunting and fishing trips, and all structures were temporary. Gradually homes were built, an airstrip made in 1970, and the makings of a self-contained northern community constructed.

    Today, there are water and sewage treatment plants, two schools taking students up to Grade 11, and a medical clinic.

    We soon met the clinic staff when the three nurses drove up to see what all the fuss was about ... and even though it was just a group of canoeists they were happy to chat.

    Tammy Randall, originally from Windsor, Ontario, is the acting head nurse, and she's a veteran of 10 years in northern villages. Her right hand is Kathleen Skinnider, from Saskatoon, Sask., and their current rookie is Tammy Decaire, a Toronto resident on a six-month contract at Webiquie and just recently arrived from a CVICU job at Sunnybrook - about as big a leap as you can make in the medical world..

    The clinic deals with a wide range of ailments, but no surgery, so anyone needing the knife is sent south via Medivac.

    Mathias Suganaqueb was born in 1947 at the first rapids where the river runs out of Winisk Lake. Luke Jacob first saw light of day on an island in the lake in 1939.

    The band chief, Robert Spence, who presides over a six-person band council, became village leader in February. He also was born on an island in the lake, in 1956, but left the community for 14 years to go to school in London, Ontario. In 1994 he came home to stay.

    Robert wanted his kids to learn about their heritage and live a traditional lifestyle, and is obviously comfortable with his decisions. 'These are nice people here, and hospitable too' he said, which fitted perfectly with our impressions after the welcome at the dock.

    Everything large in Webequie comes in on the winter road from Pickle Lake - prefab homes, trucks, whatever, although they can land a Hercules here on the airstrip and some bulky items have come in the way. As there were no Hercs sitting around, they can clearly take off again, too, even though the airfield doesn't look big enough.

    Finally, all this socializing, eating, train rides, eating, flying, eating had to stop, and early in the afternoon we loaded the canoes and hit the water for a 10-mile slog against a brisk northwest wind to the outflow of the lake. A good warmup to loosen the paddling muscles and attune the soul to life on the water.

    As we entered the runout into the Winisk River, an osprey was hovering close by above the shallow water, looking for supper. She (for surely nothing that graceful-yet-purposeful deserves to be automatically male) swooped once, pulling out of the killing dive about 20 feet above the surface of the river and gliding easily back to her station.

    We felt, in the quickening current and the rain threatening in the wind, at one with the osprey, the dense poplar and spruce bush, the scudding clouds.

    The fun has begun.

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