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  • Writer's pictureCliff Jacobson


Updated: Jun 26, 2023

"Charter boat" pick-up, mouth of North Knife River, Manitoba

Most Canadian Indians and Inuits who live in northern communities have never owned a canoe, let alone paddled one. In summer, they dash about in power boats and mini-four wheelers; in winter they drive Skidoos. Sounds like an extravagant way to get around until you realize that the remote settlements in which they live often have just a few miles of gravel roads and are accessible only by boat, airplane or snow cat. Flying in groceries is expensive. For this reason, hunting and fishing for food is an essential pastime.

Much as I love canoes, I can't imagine catching a season's supply of fish from the seat of one, or paddling a half ton of moose meat, rails awash, across a 30 mile lake. Nostalgia aside, these are the harsh realities of living in the bush. It's a mixture of old world culture and new world technology. Shoot your moose with a scope-sighted .30-06 and drag it home behind your Honda ATV. Then crank up the Evinrude on your 16 foot Lund and power out to catch some fish. Next, "split-fillet" your catch and hang it in the sun to dry so you'll have a stable stash for winter. Plane comes every other Wednesday; better update your grocery list and order some more 12 gauge shells. And so it goes.

There are harsh consequences for using inefficient equipment in the bush, so it's understandable why some natives don't hold canoes in very high regard. For example, take my encounter with Janice Yellowbird (not her real name), a Cree fisherwoman I met along the English River in Ontario.

I was leading a group of teenagers across Sowden Lake on a sunny afternoon when Janice and her grandfather motored up. Janice cut the engine and with a beefy smile asked if we had any cigarettes.

"Nope; sorry, no one here smokes," I replied sympathetically.

"Shoulda figured that when I saw those canoes," said Janice. "Only environmentalists paddle canoes."

At this, I launched into a proud dissertation on the magic of canoes, adroitly pointing out that the Indians--"your people"--invented and perfected these marvelous watercraft.

Seemingly impressed by my vast knowledge, the pair just sat there quietly, contemplating every word. Then, when I had finished, Janice looked up and with a toothy grin and boldly proclaimed: "What! Me paddle? Hell no!"

With that, she yanked the starter cord, opened wide the throttle and without another word, raced back to her cabin across the lake.

Sue Harings, Cliff's wife proves that paddling canoes is FUN!



*From: my long out-of-print book, CAMPSITE MEMORIES (available as an e-book) on my website.

*My teen book, JUSTIN CODY'S RACE TO SURVIVAL! mixes a fictional wilderness survival tale with practical outdoor tips everyone should know--a first for books of this type. Adults love it too!

My book CAMPING'S TOP SECRETS, 2022 revision, details practical camping tips and procedures that only the experts know. If you know just a few of these tricks, you'll be a hero to your friends!

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