Northern Spirit Adventures took me on an expedition to the far corners of northern Ontario to see historical landmarks, unprecidented natural wonders, and provided me a one of a kind true Canadian experience. My journey with Northern Spirit Adventures is the furthest north I have ever traveled by land in Ontario. After driving to Smooth Rock Falls, approximately one and a half hours north of Timmins, my voyageur canoe trek began.
We departed Smooth Rock Falls and drove 80 kilometres north on Ontario’s back country roads to the end of highway 634. On the drive, I saw a total of 5 black bears on 3 occasions; this is truly a northern experience, especially when you see a mum with two surprisingly cute cubs in the ditch alongside the road. Passing a lone black bear walking up the Polar Bear Express (yes a real train) train tracks reminded me that we were in the middle of nowhere. At the end of hwy 634, we arrived to Abitibi Canyon Generating Station, where I could still see remnants of snow in the distance from the dam after the long winter season. The dam is one of the largest hydro stations in Ontario which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, generating much of the province’s power. The building of the dam holds much significance in the north as many men and women lost their lives building the dam or to the unforgiving powerful waters.
We continued to drive north via a bumpy dirt track past the dam to the portage, where we would put the voyageur canoe (25 feet long) on the very same river where the dam’s rushing water was being guided, yet downstream at a very calm point in the river. While setting up the canoe and supplies on the river bank the black flies and mosquitoes initiated my new blood. The bugs were the worst I have ever experienced and there was nothing I could do with the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of black flies landing on and swarming me. The black cloud that hovered over each of us was unbelievable. I had my jacket and hood zipped up not because it was cold, but because I was protecting myself from the flying black clouds of blood suckers. Once we started paddling down steam on the river, the bugs soon started to subside. I don’t know what kind of magic the river holds, but for some reason while we were on the river itself we weren’t annoyed by the pesky buggers.
Paddling in unison on the very same route that the Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company traveled was significant for me as a Canadian. I got to experience the true Canadian fur trading history at its best. We paddled the river in the same way as the voyageurs would, while learning traditional voyageur paddling techniques, greetings, and songs. The voyageurs would always bring someone who would sing to lift morale of the paddlers while journeying. Andre and his wife (along with their trusted 4-legged companion) did a great job educating me about the way of the voyageurs. Northern Spirit Adventures brought the Canadian voyageur stories and spirits of the Coureurs de Bois to life by animating them along the way.
Before reaching the ultimate destination for lunch, we stopped along the way at one of the original Hudson’s Bay Company’s trading posts dating back to 1810 (1810-1940), where remnants of the post could be found including vegetables (carrots and rubarb growing seasonally), pots & pans, and most importantly, a preserved graveyard. Walking around the historical grounds brought history to life; I could imagine the post during full swing. Like the voyageurs, we paid respect to those who died by sprinkling tobacco on the graves, while being thankful for today. With Andre in traditional dress, the whole experience felt real as if I transformed into a secret female voyageur; female voyageurs had to hide their identity as it was a job only for the bravest and strongest men (and illegal for women). Although I wanted to stay and learn more, the haze of bugs rushed our experience as we pushed on to our next destination–New Post Falls.
Arriving at New Post Falls, a 13 kilometre paddle down river was worth the journey. The waterfall was one of the most beautiful falls I have seen in Canada, and very few Ontarians get the opportunity to see it, including those who live in northern Ontario. We stopped and had a picnic style lunch with a view of the falls, while Andre taught us how to make a fire with just cotton, bark, and stones. After lunch, we paddled to the other side of the river against current so that we could hike to the top of the falls. Although the bugs were horrendous (are you seeing a pattern here?), the view was spectacular and worth the trek. At each point on the way to the top of the falls, I was left amazed by the beauty and grandness of the falls. To know that it is my home was a magical experience. Very few get to experience things within their own country, and to visit a place so remote and so historical left me yearning to explore more of the secret, yet stunning and significant corners within Canada.
After a half day of paddling, we motored back to where we put in to make the journey back to Smooth Rock. The journey up river left me reminising about my spectacular day. All 6 of us (in a voyageur canoe able to hold 16) were united by our experience; we silently sat processing all that we had saw that day on the ride back. I couldn’t be more thankful for the organized and one of a kind tour provided by Northern Spirit Adventures. Their snacks, stops, homemade lunch, destinations, and information packed my full day tour to the brim. You can tell Andre’s passion for telling the voyageurs story from the moment he introduced himself. I was able to relive history through he and his wife!
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