The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  SPRING 2004











In this issue

Front Page



Spring Packet


From the Editor


Back Page






The Dene Elders Project

Volumes I & II

Edited by Lynda Holland and Mary Ann Kkailther

Holland-Danby Educational Consulting

2002, 118 and 178 pages $25

ISBN: 0-921848-23-0

ISBN: 0-921848-25-0

When I hear the striking of the drum, it seems like my body is on fireĒ Ė Helen Joseyounen.

This haunting quote is used at the front of the book which describes this connection of the distant past.

This is the Land of Little Sticks, the area home to the Dene once known as the Chipewayan. It spans the sub-arctic belt of northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and southern Nunavut.

This two volume series consists of oral history of the region gathered almost thirty years ago by Larry Hewitt.

It took the talents of Lynda Holland and Ann Kkailther to get them onto paper and accessible to everyone.

These are the flavour cubes of history. Densely packed and loaded with historical goodies to be cross-referenced. Having said that, they are primarily of interest to those living in the area or, for canoeists, those travelling though it. Thatís what Lynda Holland and partner Bill Layman have been doing for several years while paddling throughout the region. Their online trips are interlaced with the peopled past of the now-empty lands they travel  through.

The first volume concentrates on the area of the upper Churchill River near the settlements of La Loche and Buffalo Narrows, The second volume spreads out to encompass a much larger area to the north including Wollaston Lake, Black Lake and the communities of Stony Rapids, Fond du Lac and Uranium City.

Each book includes maps and a historical overview of each community. Original researcher Larry Hewitt, working for the province of Saskatchewan, lived with his family among the Dene soaking up 60 audio cassette tapes of memories of a life that was rapidly fading away.

Many of these interviews involve the everyday  tasks of life in an era now gone and it sheds light on a civilization based on living in the wilderness and the  connection to it. These books are more than just transcribed tapes however. Researchers had to check the facts in the communities and clarify many things before publication. It must have been a painstaking process but tremendously rewarding.

One thing that strikes you from the stories is how much they used the land. Living off it, travelling on it, using it at all times of the year. There are also some great photos, showing land-hardened people in their finery or at special times. Many of the interviews include the many priests who had such a great effect on the Dene. One photo of windburned, white-bearded father Jean Louis Riou of Black Lake is a true classic.

Some many of these often short remembrances are pieces of thread that when woven together make up the Dene culture. Itís rewarding for modern-day canoeists to find the tendril for the area they will be travelling in.

There is much of the spiritual nature of the people from the time before Christianity. This was a big part of the Dene life and wisps of those ancient beliefs remained alive at  the time of the interviews. These labours of love are privately published and difficult to locate. To order contact Lynda Holland directly at Box 327, La Ronge, Sask. S0J 1L0.  Phone: 306.425.2858 or e-mail:

ó Michael Peake


Volume One

Portage Productions

$29.95 - 2003

The James Raffan wave continues to gain strength. The multimedia master of paddling prose has moved into another area of interest and talent - canoe music. Along with fellow ex-professor Paul Mills, Raffan formed Portage Productions and this is their first offering.

This is a compilation CD of 13 songs, three of which are brand new.  This is strongly folked-based stuff, 100 per cent whole wheat and very good for you!

Many of the artists are familiar; Bruce Cockburn, Fred Penner and Tamarack come to mind. The rest are primarily established artists undoubtedly well-known to the folk crowd and a welcome revelation to the many of us not as familiar to the genre. I was particularly impressed the the pure and clear voice of Eileen McGann singing Canoe Song at Twilight.

Bruce Cockburn is a major talent and while not always loving his style of music, his beautiful 30-year old ballad Let Us Go Laughing is a delightful and poignant memoir of a canoe trip with friends. Not surprising since Cockburn - like Gord Lightfoot - is an accomplished paddler.

I thought the liner notes were wrong concerning two of the new songs. Jeff Hale sings the lovely Blue Canoe Lullaby and Shelley Posen has some fun with When I First Stepped in a Canoe. The twist comes from the fact that Shelley is a man and Jeff is a wom!

Itís a safe bet to think there will be more such offerings from Portage Productions. And if the card Mr. Raffan recently sent Che-Mun is any indication we have a good idea where the next venture lies. On itís cover was a wonderful portrait of an Inuit woman - penned by the one-and-only J. R. of course!

                                         ó Michael Peake


 Spring 2004         Outfit 116 

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