Voyageur Parkour in Manitoba
Feeling patriotic? Get in touch with Canada's rich history and explore the legendary voyageurs trail. Think northern pike fishing and drinking Quebecois wine while taking in the beautiful Prairie scenery.
I’m in the middle of our country (Aikens Lake , in Eastern Manitoba to be exact) landing a boat on a rocky shore channeling my inner Courier de Bois—if I was any more Canadian I’d be the recipient of multiple Heritage grants. From the moment my boat touches the rocky shore, I’m in motion: leaping over the gunnels, scrambling up the granite slope, hustling down a barely-there wilderness trail, zigzagging around windfall and basically booking it toward the body of water that lies at the other end of this historic fur trade portage.
Portaging— a verb we all know but scant few of us have done.
My journey to Canada’s past began three days ago in Winnipeg, on the shores of the Assiniboine River, with a stick shaking in my hand. Cameron White, my canoe guide, is encouraging me to poke a disk in the middle of a small, but serious, metal contraption.
The violent snap of the device makes me jump. “That,” says White, “is the sound of the cash register.”
Beaver was once considered the most valuable fur in the world (thanks to European high society’s obsession with hats made from the pelts) and traps such as these were the tools of a trade so valuable that our country pretty much has those goofy looking hats for its existence. Watercraft, like the hefty eight-person canoe I’m about to climb into, were the delivery vans of this precious cargo.
Ever since my grade-four teacher, Mrs. Hartley, entertained our class with dramatically told tales of the fur trade—and brought in beef jerky, lard and blueberries so we could mix up (and gag on) a modern day version of pemmican–I’ve dreamed of following the watery pathways of the voyageurs, travelling as they did in a canoe. Well, not travelling exactly as they did because their lives were hard and I don’t do hard. Days of soft adventure and a soft bed at the end of those days are more to my liking.
Over the next three days, I lose track of the number of walleye and Northern pike I catch and release. The culinary highlight of each day is the shore lunch, featuring just-caught fish and staged amid stands of black spruce and jack pine at different lakeside locations. Evenings are spent enjoying hearty meals in the dining hall and hanging out in Big Molly’s Bar.
Late one afternoon, I climb out of the fancy motorized fishing boats that are de rigueur at the lodge and into a canoe for my first-ever solitary paddle. I follow the water’s edge, marveling at the tranquility, watching for moose and using the strokes learned days earlier. Paddle, paddle, paddle, sweep… veer off course, curse, correct, try again. Paddle, paddle, paddle, sweep. I am neither graceful nor efficient but the freedom—me, paddling, on my own, in a canoe, in the Canadian wilderness–is absolutely intoxicating.
My final evening, Beaudry invites a small group of guests to the lakeshore for a ceremony based on the traditional Homme du Nord ceremony used to initiate new voyageurs. Beaudry dips a cedar bough into the lake and makes a few wet swipes across each of our faces. We repeat an oath promising to initiate other newcomers in this way,and to never, ever kiss another voyageur’s wife without her consent.
The deal is sealed with glasses of Caribou, a Quebecois fortified wine and a proud proclaimation: “Je suis un homme du Nord.” I am a man of the North.
Okay, not really. But it sure is fun pretending.
Canada’s fur trade history is writ large in the HBC Gallery at the Manitoba Museum.
The St. Boniface Museum tells the Francophone and Métis history of Manitoba, including the life of Louis Riel who is buried in the St. Boniface Cathedral cemetery
Party like it’s 1815 at Fort Gibraltar, a replica North West Company fur trade post. Each February, the fort hosts Festival du Voyageur festivities.
Explore Winnipeg by water with Northern Soul Wilderness Adventures.
In Winnipeg, sleep where the action was at The Inn at the Forks.
For wilder times, experience Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge.