Canadian Rangers paddle to complete a challenging river patrol

A Canadian Rangers group photo on the river shoreline with two Rangers in the front row holding crossed canoe paddles.
Canadian Ranger river patrol members on the shore of the Moose River with the railway bridge that crosses the river 40 km from Moose Factory in the background. Photo: WO Carl Wolfe.

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By Peter Moon

Canadian Rangers from four First Nations communities in Northern Ontario have completed a challenging river patrol, travelling by canoe 300 kilometres on an historic fur trading route on the Missinaibi and Moose Rivers.

“It was a very successful exercise,” said Warrant Officer Carl Wolfe, the Canadian Army instructor who led the eight-day military expedition. “It was challenging, but we succeeded in dominating the rivers.”

The challenges included three days of fog and rain, temperatures that dropped to zero at night, low water, long and difficult portages, head winds, leeches, mosquitoes, and biting pine beetles.

There were 15 Rangers on the patrol, part-time Army reservists, who were from the Cree communities of Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Moose Factory, and Peawanuck. Rangers are used to motorized boats and few had extensive experience with paddling. Four were thrown into the water when two of the patrol’s eight canoes tipped in the white water rapids.

The Missinaibi and Moose rivers are rarely travelled at this time of year due to low water levels during the summer.

“The trip was long and hard,” said Master Corporal Kurt Rickard of Moose Factory, “but the scenery was very beautiful. It was a trip that I definitely won’t forget. I don’t think any of us will.”

The Rangers began their patrol on the Missinaibi in Mattice, a small community 70 kilometres west of Kapuskasing. Missinaibi is the Cree word for “pictured waters,” which is thought to refer to pictographs found on rock faces along the river. The Rangers used the same starting point used by voyageurs who paddled on the Missinaibi to the Moose River on their way to Moose Factory and James Bay.

“We wanted to do a surveillance patrol of the entire river system that comes to Moose Factory and look at water levels in a remote area, and to do that we had to use paddle canoes to overcome the low waters,” WO Wolfe said. “And while we did that we also covered training subjects like navigation, communications, swift water rescue, flat water safety, hydrology, and lost person behaviour for canoe trippers.”

The Rangers had to negotiate three difficult portages; one was 1 600 metres long, the second 800 metres long, and the last one was 2 300 metres in length.

The oldest Ranger was 72-year-old Xavier Patrick from Peawanuck.

“He kept up with the younger generation and he made it look real easy,” said Sergeant Matthew Gull of Peawanuck. “He told stories of how he used to paddle when he was a young man.”

“The first day, it was sunny and then it rained for three days with headwinds, and night time temperatures of zero to five degrees,” said WO Wolfe. “We started half a day late and we came into Moose Factory a day early. In the last two days we paddled 130 kilometres and that was against strong headwinds. Everyone learned a lot on this exercise.”

Image gallery

  • Two male Canadian Rangers paddle a canoe full of equipment.
  • A Canadian Rangers group photo on the river shoreline with two Rangers in the front row holding crossed canoe paddles.
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