The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  FALL 2003











In this issue

Front Page


Labrador Tragedy

Robert Service

Fall Packet


From the Editor


Back page





Black Spruce Journals


Part  1  2   3


GEORGE RIVER 1967 — Then rarely travelled, the George River was an unknown destination to many paddlers a third of a century ago. But Stewart Coffin and friends travelled the incredible route to Ungava Bay many times.   STEWART COFFIN

Ed. Note: We are pleased to once again treat our readers to an excerpt of an upcoming book by one of the major figures of northern wilderness paddling, Stewart Coffin. This New England-based paddler is one of those names you would always count on finding when doing research on who had paddled many a Labrador river. He was also famed for his wonderful b&w photos of the rugged region. Stewart’s book, My Black Spruce Journals will be published by Natural Heritage books next spring.



Lakes and ponds, marshes and string bogs are sprinkled in bewildering profusion all across the land, interconnected by an incredible labyrinth of rivers and streams. Most are shallow. Lichen covered boulders protrude everywhere. But it is the ubiquitous black spruce that dominate the landscape. Seen near at hand, they tend to be widely spaced on a lawn of yellow-gray caribou moss, rather like a well manicured rock-garden park. But in the distance, they all muster into one solid dark green army by the billions, to the far off horizon and beyond, seemingly forever. This truly is the Black Spruce Country.

The above passage is taken from my journal of our George River trip in 1967. It describes my first impressions of this brooding landscape as viewed during our train ride northward through the alluring high lake country of the Labrador Plateau. From the iron ore port of Sept-Iles on the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway transports the traveler straight north for 360 miles deep into the heart of this vast wilderness.

Nearly every year from 1958 to 1991, and less frequently thereafter, my companions and I have spent our summer vacations on wilderness canoe trips, first in the Maine Woods and later in the wilds of Canada. I have written a few magazine articles about these adventures and distributed many copies of my trip logs for use by other trippers. There was also my privately published book of short stories Black Spruce Country (1991), and more recently My Outing Scrapbook (2001) and Kazan (2002), all printed in very limited quantity and mostly given out to friends.

This now seems like an appropriate time to combine all of these previous writings into this one publication. At my advanced age, I see little likelihood of there ever being much more of importance to add. Another reason is that I have always wanted to include many more photographs to accompany the text but lacked the means to do so. Over the years I have accumulated a large file of good black & white photos, always with the idea of eventually seeing them published. Many were taken with a medium format camera with tripod, and those until 1970 were processed by my father, who was an accomplished nature photographer. Accordingly, parts of this journal may more nearly resemble an annotated photo album.

Back in the late 1950’s when I first started writing magazine articles about river running, there was not a whole lot published on the sport, and some of us thought we were doing something rather special. Not any more. Every summer nowadays there are dozens of trips on routes that half a century ago would have been considered pioneering exploits, and other trips that amaze us old-timers in terms of length, duration, and difficulty. Many are now published as books or magazine articles, some even on the web. I have nothing of that sort to report here - no incredible feats, no great hardships, no hair-raising escapes. What I can report, though, is relaxing around the campfire with like-minded companions on the shores of some remote lake and, in the unearthly stillness of the evening, listening to the calls of a pair of loons, or if one is really lucky, the distant cry of a wolf. That’s what this book is really all about.





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