The Land That Gives Life

One of the most interesting paddles of 2023 and one of the most challenging was our journey into Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in North Western Ontario. Interesting, due to the rich diversity of a vast protected area that had recently been recognized as a World Heritage Site for its boreal and cultural ecosystem. Challenging, because of frequent forest fires that have changed the landscape considerably. The most recent was in 2021 when approximately 55% of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park burned due to natural forest fires. The park is no stranger to forest fires – fire is key for regeneration in the boreal forest.

Finalizing Details of Route with Albert of Goldseekers, Red Lake

Upon arrival at the park, we discovered that some areas of our pre-planned route were not passable. It takes years for park staff to cleanup after a burn and many areas of the park’s portages had not been cleared yet by maintenance crews. After gathering advice and knowledge from a local outfitter and park staff, we soon came up with a new plan. With our new route established, and the canoe strapped to the float of a Beaver, along with 120 pounds worth of gear on board, our bush pilot flew us to Lower Artery Lake in Manitoba. From Artery Lake we headed east on the Bloodvein River, a Canadian Heritage River System towards Larus and Murdock Lakes. The Bloodvein has been traveled for thousands of years by the Anishinaabe people who had a deep relationship with the land. To this day, their descendants are working to rebuild and nurture this relationship.

As we travel by canoe through Woodland Caribou’s endless network of clear lakes and sparkling rivers one can’t help but feel a connection to the land. We are surrounded by the rich diversity of full-grown boreal forests to forests regenerating in various stages of growth. Its unique water-rich, prairie-boreal landscape makes it different from anywhere else in Ontario that we have paddled. This is a wilderness area where the climate is affected by prairie winds from the west and cold air from James Bay. Once again, the wind was our nemesis, however, thankfully this area was one of the only parks not affected by forest fires and smoke that was raging all across Canada in 2023.

The Bloodvein River

On the way from Royd Lake to Gammon Lake we spotted a caribou waking up from a nap along the shoreline. We were so fortunate to see this elusive creature as it arose, shook itself awake, checked us out, and sauntered off into the forest. Boreal Woodland Caribou, cousins of the European Reindeer, make their home in the boreal forests where forest fires are the main type of disturbance.

Bushsites and portages are at times difficult to find in areas of extensive charring caused by fires, but we always manage to persevere. At times we appear to take portages where portages do not exist but should exist, yet other times we are thankful that others have blazed axe markings on remaining stumps of burned trees to show the way. Somewhere along the way to Hansen Lake our Garmin GPS decided to not show a large area of the terrain, it was all blank! Navigation at this point was by paper map and compass. We focused and studied the landscape carefully for fear of paddling into the wrong bay trying to locate already difficult-to-locate portages.

It is uniquely interesting paddling and portaging through burn areas affected by forest fires. As daunting as this may seem, it is incredibly beautiful to see the stark contrast of exposed rock where a forest once stood. Now life is growing again – brilliant fireweed is one of the first to appear. So pretty to see all that purple! Even though Woodland Caribou was a trip with obstacles and challenges, this was offset by the beauty of seeing a new-growth forest emerge. Nature demonstrates its brilliance with new foliage and the abundance of pollinators such as bees, busy at work regenerating the forests. The forest, charred and barren as it seemed, was alive with wildlife. With the lack of trees, we could view a greater distance into the landscape, where bears were active in search of berries, and where moose wandered the many streams and marshy areas feasting on marine vegetation.

We felt privileged to witness first-hand this beautiful large unspoiled wilderness that has been untouched by industrial development for thousands of years. Truly ‘The Land that Gives Life’.

Small Island Bushsite
Receive our Blog by Email: