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Hiking, Canoeing and Camping
I was born and raised in small towns. My family's idea of "hiking" was to drive to a picnic spot nearby, eat lunch at a clean and tidy picnic table, and then walk up a trail a few feet and turn around. I had never been in a boat, never carried a pack, never tented before — these were all things my husband introduced to me, and for that I am very grateful. The two trips mentioned below were perhaps two of our most rigorous, and they will never be forgotten.
A Canoe Trip in Quebec in 1970
After nearly three years of marriage, my husband and I moved to Ottawa, Ontario, where he would take on his first journalism position, and I would return to the classroom to work with Grade 1's for the fourth year in a row.
Ottawa, Ontario — the capital city of Canada — is full of patriotic museums and monuments, and it is surrounded by forests in both Quebec (to the north) and Ontario (to the south). Gatineau Park sits on the Quebec side and overlooks Ottawa. On the Ontario side, there were many small towns and farms.
We bought a 16-foot canoe shortly after we arrived, hoping to explore the many lakes of both provinces. 2 Our first trips were easy: put the canoe on our car (a 1966 Valiant) and drive to a lake that was easily accessible. We enjoyed going through marshes and quiet, placid lakes. We also experimented one day with attempts to make the canoe tip over — just to see how steady she was. Both of us stood on the gunwale — and the canoe remained upright. It convinced us that we were pretty safe.
However, one experience with our canoe particularly stands out: an overnight wilderness camping trip in La Vérendrye Park.
La Vérendrye Park had been established in 1939 with the name Reserve Route-Mont-Laurier-Senneterre. In 1950, the government changed the reservation into a park and renamed it in honour of the explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Lord of La Vérendrye, on the 200th anniversary of his death. That was what we knew about it in the early 1970's; however, it gained the status of wildlife reserve in 1979.
La Vérendrye Park is a very large area, covering nearly 13,000 square kilometres. It was an easy drive from Ottawa. Getting an early start, we had plenty of time to drive there, park the car, pack the canoe with our gear, launch the canoe, and find our campsite — all before nightfall. Friends had suggested areas where we could go: we planned a true wilderness experience. We would leave the car behind in a parking lot, and spend our time on a small island where there was no one else.
After packing our canoe with our gear, we set off, hopeful and excited, and canoed for at least a couple of hours before finding the site we were looking for. We never saw another human being from the time we started our canoe trip until we returned to our car at the end.
We went skinny-dipping in the lake (only time we have ever done that), enjoyed a quiet supper and evening in the near-solitude of the forest, and awoke to birds tweeting, a clear sky and a beautiful sunrise. As we got up, dressed and prepared breakfast, I realized that all of my fingers were swollen. I could not remove my rings. I wasn't sure what might be the cause — but I had had numerous mosquito bites the day before, so I thought it might be an allergic reaction.
We decided that it was best to return to civilization since we didn't know whether the swelling would get worse or not. We ate breakfast, packed the canoe, and headed back. It turned out to be a very windy day and our final push for the parking lot and our car was across a wide expanse of water. Waves were high and, to be perfectly honest, both of us were scared. Neither of us admitted to that until after we had found our way back to shore.
In the years to come we would often discuss our near-panic as we canoed across the lake. Our canoe was packed with gear, our Sheltie was biting at the waves, and both of us were worried we would not be able to paddle against the wind and get across the lake. Memorable indeed!
Look here for another photograph of this beautiful campsite we enjoyed in La Vérendrye Park.
A Hike to a Lake near Jasper — this time with our son
We lived in Prince George, British Columbia, for nearly 30 years. Jasper, Alberta, was a six-hour drive away and we often went over there for hiking and camping. One year we decided to backpack into Jacques Lake.
This description came from a website titled Trail Peak:
"Find the trailhead at the Beaver Lake Picnic Area, across from the south end of Medicine Lake on Maligne Lake Road. The hike begins on a wide and flat gravel road. It sounds ugly, but there are redeeming qualities... The road meanders along side a creek, passes horse stables and a quiet picnic area, skirts Beaver Lake - a popular site for bird-watchers - all the while being towered over by the majestic Queen Elizabeth Range. Cheeky squirrels will even pose for pictures while you are warming up during this first 4.8km."
"It is a long, but easy trail. Many hike, bike, and ride it all summer long. In fall, however there is only solitude. Other than a couple of Parks Canada Rangers coming back from a 1-week horse-packed camp trip, we saw no one. The colours are heart stopping, leaves litter the trail, and you are very protected in the forest, should the weather cool off."
"The trail continues as described for the full 12.2 Km to Jacques Lake.
We drove from Prince George to Jasper, and continued east on the main highway through Jasper; we went about ten to fifteen minutes beyond Jasper 3 and turned off to the parking lot where we planned to hike. After parking the car, we hiked for several hours before reaching our campsite near the lake. It was an easy hike in that it was mostly on level ground.
When we arrived, there was still some light, but a little rain, and we pitched our tent as quickly as possible. While supper was being prepared, my son and I took a short walk from the campsite and walked out on a small dock that went into the lake.
In Quebec, we had enjoyed complete privacy. Here, there was only one other camper in the area — a young couple. We spoke to them briefly. For the bulk of our trip, however, we were alone — just the three of us. Today, apparently, there are enough people trying to backpack to Jacques Lake that you are required to register before hiking in.
We awoke in the morning — to stillness and solitude — and watched a moose leisurely eating while he stood in the lake.
We had put our food in a bag, and then hung it between trees, so bears would not reach it. But in the morning squirrels had managed to get to some of our food. Fortunately, they had not eaten everything.
After breakfast, we took down the tent and packed up our gear. We knew we had a day-long hike back to our car. I had purchased new hiking boots and had blisters on both feet after the previous day's hike. As a result, I decided to wear my running shoes on the hike out, despite carrying a 30-pound pack. That was a bad decision: without a good arch support, my feet began to hurt early on in the hike. During almost every step of that second-day hike, I was in pain. Needless to say, I learned my lesson about what shoes to wear on a trail, especially when carrying a pack.
It's difficult to say how many hikes or canoe trips my husband and I have enjoyed together. Later, my husband built a small sailboat, The Mirror Dinghy, and we owned a cabin at a lake near Prince George. But outdoor activity was always a part of our lives — whether it was hiking, camping, canoeing, sailing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
In no particular order, here are other personal articles I have written:
These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩
Although we cannot remember for sure what the name of the company was, we believe it was the Voyageur Canoe Company in Millbrook, Ontario. It was a fine canoe — sturdy and safe. The company began in 1969 and are still in existence today. ↩
If we had continued to drive east, we would have ended up in Edmonton, Alberta. ↩