The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  FALL 2003

PAGE 8

OUTFIT 114
 

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In this issue

Front Page

Excerpt

Labrador Tragedy

Robert Service

Fall Packet

Canoesworthy

From the Editor

Canoelit

Back page

 

 

 

Canoelit

 

More of Canada’s Best Canoe Routes

Edited by Alister Thomas

Boston Mills Press, Toronto

$19.95 304 pp.

ISBN: 1-55046-390-X

The name Alex Hall, first came to my attention in an article in The Beaver in 1974 bearing the irresistible title Seven Rivers North. I have always loved that phrase and borrowed it a few times over the years.

The article, by Hall, tells of his trip with friend Dennis Voight across the NWT in the summer of 1973, paddling seven different major rivers. (Dubawnt, Ethan-eldili, Thelon, Mary Frances, Hanbury, Lockhart, Coppermine.) We used it as a model for our 1985 Morse River Expedition and that’s when I first contacted Alex for help.

I still have his generous longhand replies in my files. He signed off with “May the wind always be in you face.” This we thought odd but as Alex explained, “That’s so the bugs don’t bother you”, which we found later to be so true.

Two years later, Hall did a solo trip from Lac de Gras north into Contwyoto Lake and then down the Burnside River. It was here, in early July, he met a massive throng of caribou, estimated to number 125,000.

Following these epic journies, Hall settled in Fort Smith in the bottom corner of the NWT and set up the first guiding service in the north in 1977. A quarter of a century later, he is still at it. Running a modest, successful and very tight ship.

He is, by no means, the MBA model for expeditioning. For one thing, he doesn’t tell people exactly where they are going. His trip descriptions are of the area and sights and not the name of the river. He doesn’t sell the name ‘Thelon’ unlike all the rest of destination-based outfitters. Yet, he knows it better than any person alive.

The book first describes his early trips, then Alex takes us through some of the life of an outfitter in the far north who are usually met with the question, “What do you do for the rest of the year?”

Plenty, as it turns out but the first thing he does is rest. Because unlike most outfitters, Alex is THE guide. He doesn’t hire strong, young kids to take his clients out into the land. He  does it himself and with him comes a tremendous reservoir of knowledge of the land and its stories. That’s why he is so tired come late September. The books contains some great bear and client stories — two things guaranteed to produce drama and humour.

But what Alex Hall really brings to this story is his perspective. For the man who has visited Hornby’s cabin over 50 times has a unique position to look back over the last 30-plus years to see the changes that are creeping over the north.

And he sees them. The air is not as pure, there are more forest fires, fewer songbirds and more paddlers who leave scars on the land. In fact, the greatest compliment I have received as a tripper, was from Alex Hall. He followed our route down the Tazin River in 1995. He said he saw no trace of us and I was deeply honoured. Alex has a real disdain for those (mostly Europeans, he says) who build massive fires with the scarce wood above the flood line.

It was Hall’s concerns over these changes that led him to co-author a 1999 report on some of these problems. He is deeply concerned by all the new mining projects and the proposed roads that kill wilderness.

A chunk of Discovering Eden is about preserving it. Hall, and well-known author and paddler David Pelly, have been working on a plan to create a 50 million acre wilderness sanctuary combining the Thelon and Queen Maud sanctuaries and other important areas. The plan is beset with myriad rules involving several layers of governments especially the new native areas like Nunavut and smaller land claims. It’s a tough slog and the World Wildlife Fund is now involved to help get something to happen.

But this book is all Alex Hall. When you see a chapter heading Some Favourite Places and the subhead The Most Beautiful River, you sharpen your senses and await the definitive word from the master. 

“The most beautiful river in the Barren Lands isn’t my favourite. I didn’t discover it until the mid-1980s . . . But there’s no denying this river’s staggering beauty. It’s in a class by itself. No other river even comes close.”

Oh, boy, you think, reaching for a pen and then the answer comes . . .

“The most beautiful river in the Barren Lands is my secret. For eight years only my clients and I canoed it. Then one of my clients revealed it’s location and now others go there.

“My secret river is clear as glass and full of rapids. It boils through canyons and braids through gravel bars . . .” and on it goes.

Now, I have had the good fortune to paddle this river and happened to write Alex about it before we went there. That’s when I found out his reverence for the place. He asked me to not publicize it too much. And I haven’t. And I won’t now.

Discovering Eden is a wonderful read and makes for a great record of northern paddling issues — both on and off the river — over the last 30 years. It also comes with some big warnings. Alex Hall has been in a unique position to monitor and experience the joys of paddling in Eden knows all too well the impending threat of all those serpents at its door.

— Michael Peake

     

 Fall 2003         Outfit 114 

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