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Working the Cree 

whitefish traps at 

Smokey Hill Rapids.


Photo: Bill Seeley

Photo: Cree fish traps on Rupert River

Day 7

This is a half day down to Smoky Hill.  We ran the two sets of rapids below the campsite in 1991 and 1992.  Heb calls these rapids Plum Pudding.  Both years they proved harrowing.  I was able to run the shore channels in their entirety 1992 without incident while chasing down a tent.  The run was difficult to pick and very treacherous at the bottom of the second set.  The only way to approach it is with a south-shore run, scooting into the fray for the last 150 yards or so.  In 1992 the boys bushed a trail through the alders past the last set of ledges.  We had to rescue a breached canoe (thus the tent chase) that we were able to mend well enough to paddle home, but could not be resurrected in the shop, and was retired.  The section ran the rapids down the main channel in 1991 and several canoes swamped. 

Matthew Wapachee passed on some Cree wisdom to me that he had learned from a friend.  There is a line of three boulders 20 feet offshore from the portage’s downstream landing.  If these are underwater, the shore channels are clear and deep, and the rapids can be run.  If not, follow the path of the Cree.

The path of the Cree is a long portage around both rapids.

The portage around these rapids is two kilometers long.  The high water of 1993, in conjunction with our experiences the two previous years, inspired us to portage.  The trail begins up the mouth of the southern braid at the foot of its last cascade on the south bank.  It is an old trail and most of the way it is well worn.  We had to clear it of deadfalls from a late snow in 1993.  A combination of late spring snow and time had littered the trail.  The boys had a ball clearing for most of the morning.  There is a thick mossy section about midway across where we lost the trail for a bit under deadfalls up to a yard thick.  The majority of the trail walks over an open lichen woodland littered with glacial erratics and small stands of spruce and jack pine.  The going underfoot is a well-worn sandy path.  We finished the portage for a late lunch in 1993 and for an early lunch in 1998.

Two miles downstream, on the north bank, there is a set of portages around the gorge above the Smoky Hill Rapids.  The portages are both in the 1000-yard range (Heb says 1300 yards each, but I think they are a little shorter).  The first one was quite tangled in 1993 but has been cleared by the expeditioners ahead.  They had cut the new trail right over a recent infant grave marked by gravel fill and a wooden cross of sapling twigs.  We moved the trail back to its original course.  The grave is south of the trail at the east end of the second tangle about midway.  The second trail is directly across the pond from the first.  This one is an easy walker right into the Smoky Hill whitefish camp.  Ancient cisterns and diversion channels can be found in the water just off the campsite for netting whitefish.  A large canvas skogan (60’x 30’ x 20’ tall) currently stands on the site.  The longhouse was stretched with canvas in 1992 and 1993, and the spruce boughs had been laid for the whitefish run during the first week of August.  We camped here both years.

The fishtraps were set in 1998 (although the canvas was gone).  The Cree set spruce boughs into the cisterns.  The whitefish settle into the lee of the boughs.  One person uses a long pole to stir up the spruce boughs and a another holds a net at the egress from the cistern.  The whitefish are shaken free of their resting place and flow out of the trap with the strong current into the waiting net.  After first getting a lesson from some Cree who showed up  from Waskaganish to check on the whitefish run, the boys got quite good at working the traps in 1998.

There are several skogans on the site, and one moss hut. 

Photo: Cree camp on Rupert River

                                                                                                                          Photo: Bill Seeley

Camped at Smokey Hill Rapids in the Cree camp.

Day 8  

The portage continues on past the camp to a landing below the rapids.  The run-off is a swift run with  an occasional standing wave.

There are three shallow rapids below the camp.  The first two are easily run.  There is a portage at about kilometer 18 around the top of the third rapids.  The portage landing is deep into the bottom of a shallow bay on the north bank well above the rapids.  You must paddle into the shallows on the north shore well above the rapids.  Both years the rapid was too shallow and too steep to run.  The route would be in the northern-most braid.  Heb, according to his account in The Rupert That Was, ran this in the waning twilight in 1964 and split his stern stem.

The portage is 150 yards.  The far end is a steep drop under thick brush off the six-foot bank to a long, east-oriented bay.  Watch your step.  There is a picnic bench on the north bank at the end of the rapids below the portage that the Cree have left for lazy summer afternoons.  We opted to eat at the portage both years. And then run all the way down to the village.

The rapids below the portage are above the tide.  They are shallow but runnable.  These are the only limestone rapids we encountered on the river.  They are mucky, shallow, and the bottom is sharp.  We were lucky to arrive with an outgoing tide in 1992, 1993, and 1998.  In 1993 it was  moving quick enough to make for quite a rapids in the tidal stretch above the last cluster of islands. 

We always camped in the Bay (HBC) master’s (old habits die slow) yard.  They were amenable as always.  This practice has been passed on to us from generations of Keewaydin paddlers. We flew to Val d’Or in 1992, and in 1993 we flew to Moosonee, both times on scheduled Air Creebec flights. We also flew to Moosonee in 1998. We rode the Polar Bear Express from Moosonee to Cochrane in 1993.  A bus met us at the train.  We hired a bus to pick us up in Val d’Or and drive us back to Lake Temagami in 1992.  The Walsh bus company handled our trip both years. 


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