The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  WINTER 2004











In this issue

Front Page



Winter Packet


From the Editor






Recognition and responsibility II

by Michael Peake

As you can judge by the Winter Packet letters, there was no shortage of thoughtful responses to an essay in this space in Outfit 114 on the loss of two canoeists in northern Labrador last summer.

Daniel Pauzé and Susan Barnes never returned from their trip down the Korok River or from the slopes of Mt. Caubvick in the Torngat Mountains. I tried, in that piece, to convey some sense of what it felt like to have advised the pair on their first major northern trip. I was gratified by the response of those, who in many cases, lead such trips and take inexperienced people into the wilds.

Amazingly, and apparently unrelated, I received this e-mail from a man looking to head up to northern Quebec next year in a similar journey - with his two sons.  Here’s some of the text of his e-mail:

“Me and my two boys (aged 7 & 9) are planning to do the Caniapiscau River from Schefferville to Kuujjuaq in the summer of 2005.  We have canoed together since each of them was 3 - 4. . . . This year I am enrolling them into a whitewater kayak course (too small yet to handle canoe by themselves). I am trying to gather as much information on the Caniapiscau as I can.  Do you know of anyone that has done it or knows about it? Also, I am looking for an ultralight 16’ whitewater/tripping canoe (and deck) any suggestions where to look?. . . Finally, any suggestions for getting sponsorship for wilderness trips and what angle can I take for this ie. kids?”

Given recent events I was somewhat taken aback at this message especially the suggestion of somehow exploiting his kids as an angle for getting sponsorship. But I stayed calm and replied;

“Thanks for your e-mail. I have not done the Caniapisau and since it has a dam at its outlet, it is not a popular route. Hydro-Quebec releases water from the top occasionally - you may remember the drowning of 10,000 caribou 20 years ago from such a release.

“My conscience urges me to be blunt and say that I do not consider it a wise idea to take kids that young on a trip as isolated as Ungava. I believe it borders on the foolhardy to do it with only one boat and one adult. We have done seven trips in the region so I have some idea of the area. Also considering the last people to ask my help on an Ungava trip this past summer -  never came back from it - I am particularly touchy on this subject. Also my brother’s father-in-law drowned on the Tatshenshini when paddling with his son.

“It is a wonderful and challenging area for experienced northern canoeists. I suggest to find some to share this adventure with.”

In light of last summer’s events, I was more blunt than usual, something my conscience urged me to do. I was not going to be in a position of second-guessing myself again. Incredibly, this is the response I received from that e-mail.

“Thanks. I am truly foolhardy!  You make it more exciting! I will contact Quebec-Hydro and do some research in this area.  I am getting the topos within a week and will be studying the river hard! The remoteness and potential danger is why I am planning this trip for the summer of 2005 (almost two years in advance). I did believe it would take a lot of planning and research and this is definitely turning out to be true.  I have done a lot of northern wilderness trips solo (eg. Fawn River to Severn to Fort Severn, Little Abitibi, virtually all of Temagami before I was 25, etc.), but the opportunity to get my kids involved is exciting!  I am now 50 and need to get theses trips done before my body doesn’t allow it any more.”

Wow. And no, I am not making this up. It’s too far-fetched to be made up. It reads like one of those exercises you do in preparedness training or in an ethics course. In truth, I actually thought it was a joke and not a very funny one. How could any father of young sons display such a cavalier and reckless attitude?  My wife’s immediate thought was; does the mother know about these plans?

As for sponsors, any ones I know, and I know a few, would run screaming from this potential tragedy and public relations disaster.

I partly blame it on the X-culture of TV. The extreme thrill shows that dominate much of the media seem to convince people that such risk is acceptable. It’s all crap. A few idiots or Jackasses, as the movie of the same name indicates, want to risk life and limb purely for the ego-boosting thrill of being on TV or fighting a severe mid-life crisis.

Now canoeing the north with your kids is a great idea and done very successfully by many. But the idea of two young kids with one adult in a 16-foot boat in Ungava makes me very nervous. I would not do it, which doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done - safely. My brother Geoffrey would be a perfect candidate to lead such a trip. Why, because he’s done a wealth of northern tripping in a leadership position and always displayed an unerring sense of what to do - and when. This guy may be a superb paddler but we wont know until he’s done some true northern trips.

I hope that’s the last time I ever see his name in print (which of course I can’t reveal). Because I would dread reading it in a newspaper story next year.


 Winter 2004         Outfit 115 

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