of Canada’s Best Canoe Routes
Edited by Alister Thomas
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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?”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
boy, you think, reaching for a pen and then the answer
comes . . .
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
secret river is clear as glass and full of rapids. It
boils through canyons and braids through gravel bars . .
.” and on it goes.
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