Click to see the full picture

"Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay", (1921) by F.H. Varley courtesy National Gallery of Canada.

Appendix A: Links

The following are a few resources that we have found useful:

Books

Song of the Paddle by Bill Mason

We were browsing a bookshelf in a UK shop, and were drawn immediately to one book because of a single picture—a photograph of a mangled canoe, ready for the dump, with the caption "Nothing a little duct-tape can't fix". The down-to-earth style of Bill Mason's Song of the Paddle immediately appealed to us. Its emphasis on outdoor living rather than technical canoeing makes it more appropriate than Mason's more popular Path of the Paddle for long-term, primarily flat water trippers like ourselves, though we chose to ignore half of its advice—we have a prospector canoe, but not a campfire tent! Song of the Paddle remains the only canoeing manual we have read.

First Crossing by Derek Hayes

Watching a television documentary about Alexander Mackenzie's two expedition attempts to reach the Pacific ocean across the body of North America, we were intrigued to learn that it was possible to canoe, with a few relatively short walking sections, from one side of North America to the other. Wanting to know more about Mackenzie's route, we ordered First Crossing: Alexander Mackenzie, His Expedition Across North America, and the Opening of the Continent by Derek Hayes. Though a little dry for non-aficionados, the plentiful maps and illustrations help give a rich introduction to Mackenzie, his route and the fur trade at that time.

Canoeing a Continent by Max Finkelstein

Starting in 1997, Max travelled essentially the same route as us over a period of three summers. Introduced to him through one of Trailhead's employees during our week-off in Ottawa, we spent an afternoon talking through much of the route, picking up many useful titbits of knowledge. But more importantly to us, he took us seriously, expressing no doubt that we would reach The Pas, Manitoba, or beyond in the first season—he had more confidence in us than we did. Since Max left Ottawa on the same day of the year as us, we chased him through his excellent account, Canoeing a Continent: On the Trail of Alexander Mackenzie. Needless to say, we never came close to catching him, and his lead never decreased.

Canoeing the Churchill by Greg Marchildon and Sid Robinson

Using only 1:250,000 scale maps to cross the Quetico Boundary Waters area just added to our stress—with hardly any portages marked on the maps, at the end of every lake we'd look around frantically for a trail, hoping that there wasn't some shortcut we didn't know about leaving from that bay we'd just passed. On a few occasions, we definitely missed the optimal route, but battled on. Concerned that the Churchill River was going to cause us the same stress, we were overjoyed to find Canoeing the Churchill: A Practical Guide to the Historic Voyageur Highway by Greg Marchildon and Sid Robinson on a bookshelf in Winnipeg. It covers the portion of our route from Cumberland House to the Clearwater River end of the Methye portage and, not only does it give clear portaging directions, but just as importantly explains where there are no trails—it's very demoralising wading up a river for a kilometre, always wondering if there was a portage trail that you missed. But this book transcends the (usually boring) canoeing guide genre, bringing alive each stretch of waterway through personal, historical and contemporary anecdotes and scholarly research—an enriching tome for the Churchill, essential reading long after the day's route-finding worries are over.

Retailers

Trailhead

If you look closely, there are Trailhead logos visible on the sides of many of the canoes photographed in Song of the Paddle (above). We were looking for a reputable canoe retailer in Canada from whom we could buy a canoe and spray cover upon arrival, and we figured an endorsement from Bill Mason was good enough, so we contacted Trailhead by email. A few months later, we were in Trailhead HQ on Scott St, Ottawa, chatting with Wally, Brent and the many other incredibly helpful staff. We bought our canoe, a 17 foot kevlar prospector, spray cover, paddles, life jackets, food barrel, tasteless-but-quick-drying (though don't stand too close to the fire) underwear, etc. from this fabulous one-stop shop.

World of Maps

We ordered the more than 60 1:250,000 topographic maps needed to cover the complete trans-Canada route from World of Maps and they all arrived promptly to the UK. Their website also has links to useful index maps that show which topographic map covers each point in Canada.

Mountain Equipment Co-op

Let's not kid ourselves, the Mountain Equipment Co-op does not come close to offering the same high-quality specialist equipment and advice that you'll find in Trailhead, but this recent Canadian institution does serve a useful purpose—it provides solid-quality gear at a reasonable price. There are numerous stores across Canada and mail order for those beyond the urban pale. Be warned, though—you'll be hard-pressed to find that carbon-fibre bent-shaft paddle you're lusting after.

Web Resources

Centre for Topographic Information

A sub-site of the Natural Resources Canada website, the Centre for Topographic Information website is a haven for map lovers. Firstly, it is the home of Canada's national topographic system maps—a series of 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 maps that cover the complete Canadian landmass; and secondly, there is Toporama, a freely available on-line "toy" which offers not just an on-line (but simplified) digital version of the topographic maps, but also Landsat 7 orthoimages—satellite photos of the earth that exactly overlay those topographic maps.

National Archives of Canada

You get a warm fuzzy feeling putting on a moth-eaten cardigan, clipping a small researchers identity tag to its lapel, and thumbing through a drawer of catalogue cards. Perhaps it's nostalgia for school or university days of research and dissertations, or perhaps we all want to be an Oxford don like Anthony Hopkins in Shadowlands or a dusty school teacher like Robert Donat, or more latterly, Peter O'Toole in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. These days, we can fulfil our academic pretensions from the comfort of our own homes, wearing only our underwear (or less, if we choose) by visiting the National Archives of Canada website and using the ArchiviaNet search engine to browse through many of the records from many of the archives, including old photographs and documentary art...still feels better in a cardigan though.

Alexander Mackenzie Voyageur Route

Many books and websites offer a superficial description of the route, or perhaps a low resolution map, but the Alexander Mackenzie Voyageur Route (AMVR) website is different—it itemises the waterways followed by Mackenzie and his party to a resolution that is high enough to retrace it. Finding this site was a breakthrough. We no longer had to guess how to link together the coarse blue lines on the Canada plate of our world atlas—now we knew which topographic maps to buy. Sadly, the website is frequently off-line. A route waterway listing, which borrows heavily from AMVR website listing is available here: Route Waterways.