Monday, 22 July 2013

Canadian canoe odyssey

Howdy folks,

Since my last post I've managed to get out and see a bit more of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Mostly I've been getting out and about visiting many of the islands on Lac La Ronge, which is about 350km north of Saskatoon, as well as a few other lakes and rivers somewhat further North in the Churchill River uplands. The trip North from Saskatoon to the Churchill River catchment is a fascinating one, as it covers three iconic ecotones (an ecotone being a broad classification of major ecosystems at the subcontinental scale). Saskatoon sits near the Northern border of the great North American plains, where massive herds of bison once roamed prior to European colonisation.  Heading north, one then passes through the boreal transition zone, comprised of a mosaic of grassland with deciduous trees, such as trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), on gently rolling hills. 

From there it's onwards through the boreal forests, situated on thick glacial deposits from the last ice age. The forest here is a mix of deciduous hardwood trees, such as birch (Betula papyrifera, the Saskatchewan's provincial tree) and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), and conifers such as white and black spruce Picea glauca and P. mariana). Also present is tamarack (Larix laricina). Tamarack are an unusual member of the coniferous class of plants as they (along with the other fifteen or so larch species) are deciduous. Lac La Ronge itself sits astride the edge of the famous Canadian Shield. The Canadian Shield (also known as the Precambrian Shield or Laurentian Plateau) covers an area of some 4.4 million square kilometers, and consists of the oldest rocks to be found on the North American continent. Repeated glacial advances and retreats through the ice ages up until 10,000 years ago have scraped away the surface resulting in a complex network of lakes, and left behind vast areas of exposed bedrock. The Canadian Shield is also rich in valuable resources, such as gold, uranium and platinum. 

With such a wealth of rivers and lakes in the area, there seemed no better way to explore than in a canadian canoe (wanting to indulge in the canadian experience, of course). So with a few buddies I headed further north to the mighty Churchill River catchment for five days of paddling, fishing and camping. In the early days of european exploration of the continent this was an important river, with coureurs de bois ('runners of the woods') exploring inland by canoe to trade european goods for furs with the native tribes from the early 17th century. As the area is only sparsely inhabited, there are vast areas of pristine wilderness and it's an ideal place to forget about the hectic pace of modern life. With the beavers slapping their tails, the fish biting, and the eagles soaring it's also an easy place to slip into the mindset of a modern day 'runner of the woods'. 

Until next time folks,

Southern Bird Geek out.

Big skies and big water. Evening on the water in northern Saskatchewan.

Modern day coureurs de bois. Erin in the back, Southern Bird Geek in the front.