The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  AUTUMN 2002











In this issue

Front Page


Fall Packet


From the Editor


Back page





Cruising the Quoich

Story and photos by DOUG MCKOWN

Part  1  2   3


Heidi lines her boat in at the start of the portage.

East of Baker Lake and flowing into Chesterfield Inlet, the Quoich River offers a convenient spot for a Barrenlands excursion. Veteran paddler Doug McKown and party paddled the Quoich just a few months after it's newly named location of Nunavut was proclaimed in 1999. They found a river rich in native tradition, full of challenging rapids and lightly travelled by others.


he first evening, we sat huddled under our leaky tarp, trying to stay warm in the driving sleet, as the wind howled across the tundra. The first evening,  we sat huddled under our leaky

tarp, trying to stay warm in the driving sleet, as the wind howled across the tundra. This was the start of the Arctic canoe trip across Nunavut Territory that we had been looking forward to for so long. The good news is, there were no bugs!

When I first suggested this canoe trip to my friends, no one had ever heard of the Quoich (Koich) River. This was not surprising since the Quoich is a very rarely traveled river, in an even more remote piece of wilderness. The Quoich River rises at the height of land in the centre of the northeast landmass of  Nunavut Territory, about 150 miles northeast of Baker Lake. The river flows generally south, across the vast barrens of the Nunavut tundra, to empty into Chesterfield Inlet.

One of the problems with choosing little known rivers for canoe trips, is that there is little information available about them. I was only able to locate one other group that had paddled this river. However, lack of information has never stopped us in the past, and on July 16 1999, the six of us loaded up all our gear in Calgary, and headed off to Baker Lake, in the new Nunavut Territory. 

From the airplane, the settlement of Baker Lake appears as a tiny oasis of civilization almost lost in the endless expanse of tundra. We touched down on the small airstrip on a cool and blustery day. As our mountain of gear was unloaded from the plane, I entered the waiting room where I was finally able to meet Boris Kotelowitz, our man in Baker Lake. In the past, one of the many difficulties with trying to organize a canoe trip in eastern Nunavut has been the lack of local logistical support. There have been no dependable sources of canoes and equipment, and there are no planes permanently based in Baker Lake. I was becoming quite frustrated in my attempts to plan this trip until I was put in touch with Boris Kotelowitz who has lived in Baker Lake for thirty years. He is the owner/operator of Baker Lake Lodge and co-operates Silas Lodge on Wager Bay. Recognizing a market for the logistical support of wilderness paddling trips, Boris has moved into the canoe outfitting business in a big way. With top-of-the-line canoes, paddles, PFD’s and spraycovers, Boris can supply all your paddling needs right in Baker Lake. He also coordinated our air transportation and all his arrangements worked out exceptionally well for us.

The town of Baker Lake, recognized as the geographical centre of Canada, is a community of about 1400 people. It is perched on the north shore of the west end of the enormous expanse of Baker Lake. The Inuit name for Baker Lake is “Qamanituag”, which means, “very wide place in the river”. The town itself is a relatively recent development. There was no permanent settlement in this area until the Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post on Big Hips Island at the east end of the Lake in 1916. In true capitalist spirit a second trading post was built by Revillon Fréres at the west end of the Lake in 1924. To meet this competition, the Hudson’s Bay Company relocated to the west end in 1926, close to the mouth of the mighty Thelon River. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the Inuit people began to live more or less permanently in the settlement. Today, while all the Inuit people live in the town, they still spend as much time as possible out on the land, hunting and fishing.





 Autumn 2002         Outfit 110 

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