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Canada’s Far North

Try a Northern Adventure with a Soft Landing

James Bay in Northern Canada
Native Cree Daryl McLeod and his son Byron transport the author to James Bay at the edge of the Canadian Arctic.

At the age of 80, I am bundled like I have never been bundled before. But who cares about fashion when my trip is in a wooden box on runners towed by a powerful snowmobile.

Up to this moment a snowmobile in my mind was in the same category as the buzz-bombing ski boats that plague the summer lakes. Not so in the north. Snowmobiles are the only way to get around when everything is frozen. Daryl McLeod—a native Cree, padded, helmeted, and goggled—helps me and my well-worn bones into the box and comments, “It’s warm today, only minus twelve.”

I am planted with my back to Daryl and facing Byron, Daryl’s 15-year-old son. Daryl revs up the machine and we zip off from my safe haven at Cree Village Ecolodge on Northern Canada’s Moose Factory Island. We’re headed for a day tour up the Moose River and then overland to a Cree camp on another ice-covered river somewhere in this vast frozen land.

We fly along the snowmobile trail that runs over the frozen river, a wide swath of white bordered by dark spikes of spruce rimming its banks. We swerve off the trail and head inland to bump and jolt along the winding path through the endless uninhabited forest. Byron and I chatter about school, the land he loves, his family, the reserve, the youth problem, his ambition to be a bush pilot. He points to a beaver dam, a snow-covered mound of sticks and mud emerging from a bed of frozen cattails.

The whiteness, emptiness, and silence overwhelm me. I imagine how the early explorer Henry Hudson felt when he was locked into this ice-covered land for an 18th century winter. We head back for the warmth of Cree Village Ecolodge.

There my room with its own picture window provided me with a full view of the activity on the frozen river. Snowmobiles and cars flew up and down the ice road as if they were driving on a city street. Then just as the sun went down, the northern sky caught fire. I curled up in bed under cozy wool covers and cotton sheets in a room so well insulated that I did not have to turn on the heat.

Guests come from all over the world in the summer to kayak, canoe, bird watch at the Shipstead Island bird sanctuary, and dig for fossils in the shale around the river. They like to hike around Moose Factory Island, explore the Hudson Bay museum, and talk with the local seniors about life in the bush. Now guests can try an overnight or a couple of days winter camping. According to Daryl, they love it.

The lodge is the culmination of a dream of the MoCreebec Council of the Cree Nation. Built at the edge of the Arctic, it reflects the best of the Cree values in one of the most ecologically friendly buildings in Canada.

You can only get to the lodge from Moosonnee by Ontario Northland Rail from Cochrane, Ontario or by Air Creebec. I chose the train so I could view for the first time in my life the panorama of the never-ending white, sparse, Canadian north.

For More Info

Cree Village Ecolodge, P.O. 730, Moose Factory, Ontario, POL 1W0; 888-273-3929 or 705-658-6400; information@creevillage.com, www.creevillage.com.

For trips and excursions, contact Clarence Trapper at Moose Cree Outdoor and Discoveries; 705-658-4619, cell 705-365-7741.

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