Canoe trips, Churchill River

Churchill River Canoe Trip 1

February 20, 2021

It was a rough and dusty drive from Missinipi Saskatchewan to our put in on Pinehouse Lake.  From Pinehouse we would spend the next couple of weeks travelling downstream on the Churchill River system back to Missinipi. While we loaded our gear into our two canoes our 6 year old daughter Molly couldn’t resist her first swim of the trip. The water was so much warmer than the near freezing temperature of the Arctic Ocean we had swam in a couple weeks ago on the Tuktoyuktuk Peninsula.

In a few hours we paddled into a narrow sandy beach and made our first camp. We couldn’t have asked for a better spot. The kids spent the rest of that day and the next, playing in the water and having the time of their life.  Besides swimming we made bows and arrows for Chuck and Molly, ate blueberries and watched the White Pelicans.

The next day, after a nice day on the water we made camp on a beautiful small island at a narrows just before Sandfly Lake.  Dwane tried fishing in a small eddy but our dog Jojo loved fishing so much she would jump into the lake after every cast, scaring away any hope of landing one.  While Dwane and I enjoyed the beautiful sunset, watching the river flow slowly past, the water swirling around the rocks with the magic light of a northern Saskatchewan sky reflecting off the surface, we could hear the kids wrestling and screaming in the tent.  “Why doesn’t everyone do this with their kids” we asked ourselves laughing. The peace and solitude of a northern canoe expedition.  

The next morning we had a slow start.  Dwane finished sewing the birch bark quivers while the kids helped wash up the breakfast dishes.  The wind was blowing from behind so we had an easy paddle into Sandfly Lake.  Approaching a small island a Turn flew overhead.  What a beautiful bird I thought, I was so happy to see it!  Then another one flew overhead screeching.  All of a sudden there were more than a hundred of them flying in circles and screeching and diving while another hundred were still rising from the rocky island in front of us.  It was one of those experiences, a sight and sound that I wanted to soak in and always remember.  I lay back in the canoe and watched the birds circling above me.  There was much inflight interaction between the birds, they would hover like a hummingbird by flapping their wings extra fast and then fly, dive and soar so gracefully.

After watching the terns for a while we decided to let them be and paddled on finding more rocky islets further along covered with a large flock of White Pelicans.  I counted 42 of them before they took off, some flying high and some flying low over to the next rock off in the distance.  We stopped for lunch on a narrow rocky point on the north side of a big island to get out of the strong wind.  The sun was so hot and the small stunted trees offered little shade, so after lunch we all went for a long swim to cool off.  The swimming is so good on the Churchill River, one of the highlights of the trip so far.

The paddle after lunch kept getting more beautiful, thru narrow passages between granite islands. Sandfly Lake is the start of the Canadian Shield so all the islands here are smooth granite covered with lichen, birch, spruce, tamarac and some pine trees.  We stopped at a few islands to look for a campsite, but none of them called to us to stay. It was such beautiful paddle we didn’t want to stop anyways.  Then we saw a bolt of lightning coming from an angry looking black cloud.  We aimed at a low island that looked promising and paddled hard into a headwind to get there and beat the incoming thunderstorm.  We quickly set up the tarp and hunkered down to watch the clouds roll by.  After the storm passed, we took a walk to the other end of the island and the kids found a big boulder to climb. More storms, thunder and lightning blew past throughout the afternoon, both to the north and south of the island. 

After a late dinner the mosquitoes came out as if on cue at 9:45 pm so we all dove into the tent for the night.  Every night I’ve been reading “Sajo and the Beaver People” by Grey Owl to the kids.  They are both captivated by it, and listen intently to a chapter every night.  With the kids snuggled up close in our canvas Campfire tent we hear a loon call out across the lake, along with the buzz of mosquitos outside the netting, otherwise absolute silence.

Click here for part 2 of the trip