DAMMED IF YOU DO, DAMMED IF YOU
While the River is Wild
DON’T If there’s one thing we’ve seen change over the past 10 years, it’s the state of our rivers. In 2006, Ian Merringer’s words on the plight of Quebec’s since- dammed Romaine river say it all: “I never felt as helpless on the river as I did walking away from it, knowing that its fate rested with government decision-makers, reading spreadsheets with…no room for things that can’t be summed up in numbers, things like what it means for the world to lose one more free-flowing river forever.”
The untamed waters of the ROMAINE RIVER surge for 300 kilometres through untouched wilderness.
It’s one of the toughest and most beautiful river trips in the East. IT MAY SOON BECOME A POWER PLANT.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY IAN MERRINGER
“The bacon’s ready.” Mike’s voice came from the dim light outside our tent wall. He was lying. There was no bacon. We’d probably be eating Red
River cereal again. Mike told us the bacon was ready because it was the best way to get us out of our tents on mornings that had been starting as early as fi ve o’clock. “Ungh. My body lies in ruins,” Rich moaned as he rolled over in his sleeping bag and buried his face deeper in his pillow of polypropyl- ene. We had paddled, portaged, lined, bumped and drifted our way 310 kilometres down Quebec’s Romaine River. Our 10 bodies—all a year or two on either side of 30—had left some of their youthful vigour scraped across the rocks along the way. But we had made it—today we would fl ush into the ocean. I
opened the valve on my sleeping pad and settled onto the ground as the air rushed out. It was time to get up and fi nish what I had come to think of as a funeral procession.
_____ The physical breakdown had started early. I sustained my fi rst in-
jury—a bruised forehead—during the fl ight in which I spent with my face pressed up against the rattling window of the bush plane for a better view. The river cut a determined path through the green taiga of lichen and stunted spruce. Stretches where the water casu- ally shaped long sand bars never lasted long before the river slid back into a slot of crenellated rock and became more white than blue for as far as I could see. There were no roads or railways and only a few fi shing cabins. The
watershed seemed almost untouched, except for two larger camps I didn’t know what to make of. Their bright tents stood in contrast to the dusty spruce forest surrounding them and both had crowded helicopter pads. They looked busy. The plane’s pontoons touched down on lakes that formed the
border between Quebec and southwest Labrador. From here the Romaine River fl owed almost due south before discharging into the Gulf of St. Lawrence north of Anticosti Island. We loaded our five heavily rockered whitewater canoes in the middle of a lake and plowed gracelessly through still waters. We were a well-rounded group. Chris and Mel were former Outward Bound instructors and good at reminding us that being out- doors didn’t need to be a competition in being hard core. Beth was an emergency doctor I would try in vain to keep up with on the rougher portages. Mike, the false-promiser of pig parts, was a teacher and willing tester of unreadable rapids. Murray, a PhD student of hydrology, would spend the first part of many portages explaining to Jon, a naturopath student, the fate that awaited us if we were to run the sets that Jon wanted to run. Rich was in IT and didn’t seem at all distressed about being away from the computer networks he babysat; Andrea the artist was our standard bearer of common sense and just knowing that Mi-
CAMP ON NIGHT 13, JUST BELOW THE SITE OF A PROPOSED 114-METRE-HIGH DAM.
30 ■ CANOEROOTS spring 2006 CANOEROOTS ■ 31
narrows between two lakes. They had stopped at a fi shing camp for some local tackle tips, but received more information than they were looking for. The outfi tter told them we had picked a good time to paddle the river. The camps we had seen on the way up were Hydro-Québec camps. They had plans to build four generat- ing stations, with dams up to 114 metres high, and create reservoirs to fl ood 275 square kilometres of the river valley all the way up to where we would be camping the next night. Denial seemed like an appropriate reaction. The last two rivers I had paddled, the Batiscan and the Rupert, had also been targeted by Hydro-Québec. Surely the Romaine, the river so remote, wild and beautiful that it had caused this bruise on my forehead, was safe from their bulldozers. But as the days passed the increasingly famil- iar sound of low-fl ying helicopters made my head hurt even more.
_____ “There’s something very cruel about a world in which you have
to put on wet underwear in the morning,” observed Rich, with not as much self-pity in his voice as one would expect. It was fi ve in the morning on day seven. We had spent much of the previous day holed up on the shore, unwilling to battle against a headwind that was strong enough to make paddling wasted eff ort. Being windbound had given us time to go over the maps and decide we had fallen behind schedule. My insistence that we were doing fi ne and could relax hadn’t stood up to mathematical scru- tiny and so, with Rich in wet underwear, we beat the sun onto the river the next morning.
THE ROMAINE CUTS SOUTH THROUGH TAIGA AND BO- REAL LANDSCAPES FROM LABRADOR TO THE GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE.
Canoeing has been a pop culture hit since 1972, when Burt Reynolds cruised down the Cahulawassee in Deliverance. In 2004, renowned wilderness guide Hap Wilson was on the movie set of Grey Owl with suave superstar, Pierce Brosnan. In his article, Wilson wrote, “I went on to teach Brosnan how to throw knives, piss out of a canoe and paddle at least as if he’d done it before.” In 2007, canoeing made mainstream headlines again. We reported Jagger’s visit to the Nahanni. Okay, it was Mick’s brother, Chris, but his Nahanni Song made it onto an album starring the Rolling Stones front man.
CR2005page 1/23/05 9:22 PM Page 32 BATTLE ROYALE CR2005page 1/23/05 9:24 PM Page 33 2005 Buyer’s Guide: Recreational The New World Order
Ever wonder who would win in a gunwale bobbing showdown between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein? We did. In our 2005 Annual Buyer’s Guide, Mark Schatzker suggested a bob, weave and splash was the answer to conflict resolution the world over. Other hypothetical showdowns included Avril Levigne taking on Britney Spears and Ariel Sharon clashing with Mahmoud Abbas. In case you were wondering, Schatzker gave tactical advantage to Bush, owing to his years at Yale spending “six hours a day on the teeter-totter, giving him an unrivalled sense of balance.”
Conflict resolution on the gunwales of a recreational canoe story by Mark Schatzker illustrations by Lorenzo Del Bianco
IT’S BEEN THREE YEARS since George W. Bush declared the United Nations to be unrelevant, or irrevelant, or, er… a waste of his time. Since then, neither he, nor anyone else, has sug- gested a diplomatic means of settling conflicts, both big and small. Until now. Canoeroots is pleased to offer a trou- bled world a uniquely Canadian con- flict-resolution mechanism: gunwale bobbing.
So world, show us your wars, your simmering disputes, your stalemates and your trivial celebrity feuds. We will show you a calm lake at dusk— the type of lake where children, already late for dinner, while away the hours with a recreational canoe, pit- ting themselves against one another in bloodless contests of grace and poise. In these contests in which cheating is impossible, victory is clear-cut and might never makes right. There, perched on the outer edges of that most perfect symbol of balance and harmony—a canoe—disputants who bring strife of any sort into this world will face each other, bob and weave, wiggle and recover until one party feels the flush of defeat, and a new age of peace ripples forth.
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE GIVEN TO: None The match is sure to be called off by the CRTC, ensuring continued com- petition among the Canadian news media by making sure there is no competition.
COMBATANTS: Justin Trudeau and Ben Mulroney.
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE GIVEN TO: Ben Mulroney The nerves and daring required to host Canadian Idol will serve him well in this battle of the wits.
Wresting WMDs from the hands of tyrants and/or bringing freedom to Iraq and/or fighting terrorism, or some combination thereof.
COMBATANTS: George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein.
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE GIVEN TO: Bush While at Yale, George W. spent six hours a day on the teeter-totter, giving him an unrivalled sense of balance.
Who should reign as the queen of pop?
COMBATANTS: Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne.
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE GIVEN TO: Avril Lavigne Lavigne’s from Napanee after all, and is also an accomplished sk8tbrdr.
Ending 57 years of mutu- ally destructive attrition in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
COMBATANTS: Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas.
TACTICAL ADVANTAGE GIVEN TO: None Gunwale bobbing is impossible with a con- crete wall built across the gunwales. Perhaps there are limits to even gunwale bobbing.
Let plaid jackets be replaced by pink Wellington boots—whatever turns them on, as long as they get outdoors.
2005 Annual 33
Kevin Callan, “Carry on Glamping,” volume 9, issue 1
I remember reading novels as I towed the canoe. I got through a couple of books on that portage.
Trough the years, Canoeroots has often gotten in touch with the feminine side of canoeing. “Tere was a time when a woman’s place in a canoe was in the middle,” Conor Mihell wrote in 2009, but today’s women of canoeing “don’t take orders to cross-bow from anyone.” We’ve featured outfitter Wendy Grater, who started out in a time when people weren’t comfortable with women as guides; Joanie McGuffin, who has logged tens of thousands of kilometers paddling and now shares her sense of adventure with her daughter; Karen Knight’s unmatched grace, elegance and rhythm while freestyle canoeing; and Laurel Archer’s old-school Explorers Club style.
Laurel Archer, second from left, is typical of a new breed of hard core paddlers
unafraid to pose in a fi eld of fl owers. PHOTO: GEORGE PREVOST
Frank Wolf, “10 Worst Portages, Ever—400 Kilometers on the Yellowhead,” volume 9, issue 3
THERE WAS A TIME when a woman’s place in a canoe was in the middle, twirling an umbrella instead of a paddle. During the last half-century, women rose from their recliners (it can’t have been easy in those frilly dresses) to take up position in the bow seat. No doubt this was a great improvement, and sternsmen everywhere considered it to be a natural arrangement. But the emancipation wasn’t over. In the following pages you’ll meet women—an explorer, a teacher, a warden, an outfi tter, a mother and an unassuming but unrelenting tripper—who don’t to take orders to cross-bow draw from anyone.
Scott MacGregor, “New Research Supports Dadcamping,” volume 9, issue 3
The Dadcamper Code lays out the one and only object of fraternity as follows: You take your pointer finger and put it to your lips like you’re going to shush someone in church and repeat these three words, “Don’t tell Mommy.”
Who should bring us the news?
COMBATANTS: Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson.
chele was a psychiatrist would make the most taxing portages seem less threatening. Murray and Mike soon fell behind, struggling with the drag of the
oversized lures they were optimistically trawling. It was their opening salvo in what would become a sustained assault on the fi sh popula- tions of the Romaine, an assault the fi sh would barely notice at all. They caught up when we stopped for lunch at a small riffl e in the
Words of WISDOM
Camp friends gave you wedgies and dared you to lie naked on an anthill, but they were friends besides.
Tim Shuff, “Camp Freedom,” volume 5, issue 3
Four men and a woman are in the joint after being busted using a motorized canoe to transport many tonnes of marijuana…The interview was cut short so the resident could go get a bite to eat.
Ian Merringer, “Spliff Skiff,” volume 6, issue 2
I swear if ever the appeal of two sliding doors of practicality wins out over my dirt-bag sense of self, I will only refer to my reluctantly acquired vehicle as “the van.”
Scott MacGregor, “It’s Not a Man Van,” volume 6, issue 2
The U.S. confederacy was not cast of horse shit and wagon grease, as so many believe, but of birchbark and pine pitch.
Which son-of-a-former-Prime Minister will win the hearts and minds of Canadians and forge a political dynasty?
James Raffan, “Canoes Without Borders,” volume 6, issue 3
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