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Friday, December 10, 2010

From Beaches to Backwoods, From Crete to Cree

From Beaches to Backwoods, From Crete to Cree

This last year has been interesting to say the least! Thousands of miles by air and rail, countless airports and a few places we'd choose never to over-night in again. Sub-tropic to sub-polar environments, walking in ruins of ancient civilizations to residing in ruined societies.

First hand we've seen the social progressions of man but also the degradation of a culture once proud of its roots. We've watched the same moon rise over prosperity and joy, but only months later to set upon a bleak and inhospitable forest of self decay. And the people we've met, those that will share all of the little they have, those that have much but are willing to share so little. Openness, care and respect. Disdain, apathy and arrogance.

Freedom 45

In January, only a few days after my 45th birthday I was packaged-out at work. The thirteen years of service amounted to enough to pay the bills for a while and dental coverage for a few months. It was a shock, a bit of a blow, but it was also a chance to try a few different things. Aimee was let go exactly a month later. But the Saturday before that, we found Lyndy, the best Valentine's ever!

As neither of us had really taken any time for ourselves in many years we both decided that we would enjoy this new found freedom, see a few things, maybe go a few places. We would not take jobs unless they offered a chance to explore, the world and ourselves. So we started exploring, and that lead to adventure!

We fished, we visited with friends. We cooked, ate and drank. And we laughed.

Early on we spent a week of our time at our friends’ Jeff and Lisa’s. We swam in their pool and lazed in their sauna as the snow fell and the freezing rain coated the outside world. Each night we dined and drank wine. Then, take-outs with Pam and Eric, returnees from the Southwest, were a weekly occurrence, whether from Johnny’s or Tim Horton’s.

Ice fishing wasn't a simple day outing. We slept on the ice. We fished through the night, watching the stars and the dark water. The silence only broken by the booms of cracking ice.

A day or two at the cottage would inevitably turn to a week.

We bird watched, we people watched. We watched the lake.

We collected stones. Shiny round ones that looked like beads. Faceted ones, beautiful ones. Any stone that caught our eye. Stones of every colour you can imagine. And I skipped a lot of stones.

Training a new dog, throwing stones and doing crosswords doesn’t really make for full-time employment. And none of these activities would pay the bills. So in March we attended a job fair in downtown Toronto. This lead to attending a seminar a month later. The North West Company seemed to be what we were looking for. Enough money to pay the bills, experiencing different cultures and the chance to see parts of the world otherwise out of reach. So on the first Tuesday of August we left for northern Ontario. But before going north, we went east.

Our Travels

On a Saturday morning in February we met two friends for coffee, it was in-fact the same day we picked up Lyndy. Faye and Spiro were to be married on the 25th of July. They had asked that I take their wedding photos. Over the next few months emails were exchanged and a number of conversations were held over the phone, but the next time we met face to face with them was in late July on the island of Crete.

Traditional Greek music and dancing, food and drink. The ceremony was beautiful, couldn't understand a word, but beautiful. And we were pleased beyond doubt with the photos we took!

Photos at the chapel, the receptions, after the ceremony and a gathering the night before. But the shots in the back alleys and later on the beach thrilled us all.

Our personal time was exciting and relaxing; swimming at the beach, walking the ancient town;

sampling the hospitality, the culture, architecture and of course the food.

Leaving was bittersweet. Leaving a place filled with history and myth, a foreign yet welcoming culture. Leaving warm sun and warmer beaches, fantastic scenery; a blend of an ancient people's impact on the land and the rough landscape still enduring.

But we were returning to see our families. Returning to our little dog. Returning to embark on our adventure north.

So on August 3rd we boarded a Via train north. With Lyndy safely secured in her crate aboard the baggage car, we settled into our berth. As we left the station we made our way to the observation car to be served Champagne and nibblies. The meals and service over the next day were superb. A train traveling north through the dark green forests of Ontario, commencing in the busiest hub in the country, seemed the ideal setting for the adventure we were embarking upon!

Twenty-two hours later we arrived in Nakina. We settled into our new apartment with the possessions we took with us on the train; clothing, photos, the kitchen gadgets we couldn’t live without, some affects that make a house a home. And of course, fishing gear! Our best friend Dave would travel north to see us the following week. He had kindly offered to take with him some other much needed goods. Specifically Aimee’s beads and my guns.


Now let me tell you a bit about Nakina. It’s a town of about three-hundred and fifty people. A few years ago its population was over seven-hundred. When the lumber mill shut down the town went south. For half the population it literally went south! It has a Post Office, an LCBO and a bank that’s open two days a week. It also has an airport which caters mainly to the First Nations reserves in the area and those investing in the hopeful prosperity of the Ring of Fire project. Those of you that know of Nakina probably do through outdoor publications and TV shows; Because Nakina has the best moose hunting and walleye fishing available in Ontario, maybe all of Canada.

There are no traffic lights in Nakina, only four-way stops. There are no sidewalks, no crosswalks. Rarely will you see someone speed. Everyone stops at the stop signs, well almost everyone, but that’s a story for another day... But Nakina is the friendliest town in all Ontario! Everyone waves to each other; friend or stranger. Within a few days we were invited to dinner. Within a week customers and neighbours alike knew our names. Within a couple of weeks we had been invited blueberry picking and speckled trout fishing. To quote Daryl Cronzy, “It’s Paradise!” If Aimee and I were ever to buy a place in Ontario, it will be in Nakina.

Further Afield

Our traveling though has not stopped. We even traveled while living in Nakina. On September the 23rd I flew from Nakina to Thunder Bay. Took a flight from there to Montreal, staying overnight. The following day I flew to Waskaganish on the Quebec side of James Bay.

Waskaganish is the Cree name for the community originally called Fort Rupert. In 1668 The Hudson Bay Company established its first outpost at the mouth of the Rupert River. The Northern

store there sits on the same parcel of land. So for a week I worked at the oldest retail establishment in the New World. Unfortunately that meant Aimee and I would not be able to spend her birthday together. I was scheduled to fly out the day after her birthday. We were to meet that evening in Thunder Bay and spend the night there.

I arrived at the Waskaganish airport just after two. At about the same time, Aimee started the 400km drive to Thunder Bay. My 3:45 flight was delayed by half an hour. The transfer in Val-d’Or was further delayed. By the time I had reached Montreal I had missed my connection to Toronto and subsequently the connecting flight to Thunder Bay.

Needless to say, Aimee spent the night alone in the Thunder Bay hotel room. I slept in the lounge at YYZ.

Over the next week we received more news of our further travels. A week in Kashechewan, together this time, and then a transfer to Sandy Lake.

The trip to Kashechewan was in some sense a blessing. It allowed us to travel on the train to Toronto to visit with family before flying to the Ontario side of James Bay. We had Thanksgiving dinner on the train; again excellent food and wonderful service. My Mum and Dad met us at Union station. We had coffee with them, a great morning. They later dropped us off at Aimee’s house in Whitby. We had a super time with friends and family, and the next morning flew north.

Kashechewan is almost a polar opposite to Nakina and in so many ways. And although the same culture as Waskaganish, and only just across the bay, so very different from there too. We were there a week. Five days too long. Travel home couldn’t come soon enough.

The trip out of Kashechewan was as interesting as the rest. From Kashechewan to Fort Albany. The shortest commercial flight in the world; the landing gear goes up and stays there for less time than it’s down. From there to Moosanee, and from there a connecting flight from Timmins to Toronto. Tom and Sharon picked us up at the airport, we were very grateful. Another day with family then back on the train.

Four days after our return to Nakina we left there again. But this time for good. We packed, said our goodbyes and were flying once more. From Nakina to Fort Hope, then a connection in Thunder Bay. From there to Sioux Lookout. The connection from there to Sandy Lake was delayed due to weather. After finding a dog-friendly hotel we spent the night.

The flight the next morning was another mini adventure. Lyndy was stuck in the baggage compartment for almost an hour before take-off. And the flight was another thing. Just enough visibility to fly. But as we rose above the clouds it was spectacular, as bright as one could imagine!

Descending through the clouds was like passing through nothing. But what we saw and experienced as we left them now seems a foreboding omen. What struck me first was brown and grey. The grey of the landscape overshadowed the green. The brown water of the vast lake blotched out the blue of the smaller surrounding lakes. Sandy Lake is aptly named. The lake truly is sandy! The water is the colour of bad chocolate milk! And the landing! We were all over the ice coated gravel runway. And as we exited the plane the cold hit us!

Getting out of the airport was worse than going through customs. Everything was searched. And what they queried was just mind boggling. Our guns were fine, but the collection of goat cheese and olives certainly seemed to raise some eyebrows. But they never found the bottle of bourbon! Looking back it’s almost too bad though, might have got us that BCR to get us out of here!

Life on the Reserve

Sandy Lake is a whole other world! Depressed, repressed and miserable, everything about it. I’ll not go into it. Those that would like to hear more should contact us and ask. But be prepared for some horror, some sadness and some maddening stories. It’s not a pleasant place!

We have our little house though. It’s affectionately been labeled the “Doll House”. A small two-bedroom; smaller in-fact than the apartment in Nakina. The view is pleasant; trees sloping down to the lake. It’s bright when the sun shines. We’ve hung photos, and personal items are throughout, making it seem like our own. But for how long, who knows?

I walk Lyndy a few times a day. On-leash all of the time though; for her it’s not really safe. We’ve blazed a trail through the woods to the west of the “compound”. Beautiful path, and now especially with the spruce and fir trees laden with snow.

This time of year, the days are short and the nights are long. The sun rises around eight and sets by four. But our workdays are long. Out at seven-thirty in the morning, not home until eight or nine in the evening; sometimes later.

We’re hoping to do some ice-fishing soon. Once the Christmas selling season is over there just might be some time to relax. But for now, our days off are spent regrouping and recovering our physical and emotional strength.

Lessons Learned

We asked for an adventure, and that’s what we got! So far, this year has been a great learning

experience for us. We have been taught much, as much about the world around us as we have of ourselves. We’ve seen how other people live and react to those around them. We’ve rediscovered how well we’ve been blessed; with reliable friends, good family and able bodies and minds!


  1. Hi!

    Somehow I stumbled on your blog.

    I myself spent a summer in Sandy Lake. I'm really interested in learning more about your experience there.

    I am also interested in returning for a visit sometime soon. I noticed that you were provided with housing and work; how was that set up? What sort of work were you doing?



  2. Hi Charlene! Thanks for the feedback. Email me at
    I'm unable to find a direct contact email address for you. Aimee and I would be very pleased to share our experiences with you.