Boreality Trip Log

Boreality — Spring (June 1- 5, 2009)

When we returned from our winter trip, we didn't have a clear idea of where to go next. We had launched the Boreality Project at Aqua Books, and one of the people in attendance happened to be Ron Thiessen from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). He'd been taking a photography class with Mandy, who had invited him. After a meeting with Ron, in which he made us aware of how active this community is in fostering ecotourism and boreal forest conservation, we decided to choose Fisher River as our spring Boreality destination.

Fisher River is very involved in a quest to have some of the surrounding area declared a provincial park. Ochiwasahow (Fisher Bay) provincial park would provide protection for wildlife, uphold treaty rights, ensure that local culture stays vibrant, and provide jobs and business opportunities in the areas of tourism and park maintenance (as of April 1, 2009 there is no logging in provincial parks). Although Boreality is an artistic collaboration, it makes sense to partner with communities actively protecting our precious forests. To learn more about this community, and their vision, please check out the links on this website.

Boreality ProjectMonday, June 1

Somewhere between Winnipeg and Fisher River we realized that we were in the exact same van we had rented for the winter trip. This small bit of accidental continuity made me very happy and I took it as a good sign.

We took our time getting there because the next few days would be full. It was afternoon by the time we reached the Band Office, where we were warmly greeted by George Crate, with whom I had been planning this trip since I first contacted him in February. He told us that he would be able to join us in our activities for two days. I was surprised and pleased with the level of commitment this community had to our project.

Toria'sSometime during my conversation with George, he worked in the story of how he met his wife, Pam. As a teenager he'd spotted her at the school and was convinced she was the one, so he rode his bike from Peguis to Fisher Bay on a rainy, stormy night to knock on her door and ask if he could call her sometime, and then rode back to Peguis. This trip likely took up most of the night! What this told me was that not only was George good at organizing details, but that family, and people in general, were really important to him. I knew we were in good hands and that our trip would be fabulous.

After checking in at Toria's, a five-room motel run by Harvey and Arlene, we explored the community and had supper at Loretta Lynn's (not named after the singer, but for George's cousin).

Tuesday, June 2

Boreality ProjectWe got up early, eager to go to the edge of the forest just across the road from Toria's. The forest here is mixed boreal, no Precambrian rocks like on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, but beautiful and lush, the new leaves just coming out on the aspens and poplars.

After breakfast at Loretta Lynn's we picked up George at the Band Office and headed off towards (Ochiwasahow) Fisher Bay, just ten minutes or so away, and not part of the Fisher River First Nation reserve. This is where Hazel, George's mother-in-law, still lives, along with a few others. Most of the people who originally settled in (Ochiwasahow) Fisher Bay had migrated from Norway House and fished for a living. George had already arranged for us to visit Hazel that afternoon to hear her stories of what life used to be like in (Ochiwasahow) Fisher Bay, before there was a community in Fisher River.

In the morning we hiked for miles along the shore. We walked sharing our stories with George, and he shared his. Now and then he'd point out animal tracks, or other interesting things. The lake was rough, and George told us stories about a time when there were thirty-foot waves during a bad storm. It was hard to imagine this on Lake Winnipeg, but I knew he wasn't teasing, like he had been about the freshness of the animal tracks! When we reached the point we sat in a mossy area, quietly, each of us lost in our own reflections.

Boreality ProjectThat afternoon Hazel welcomed us like friends she had not seen for a while. She was full of stories and she shared many of them with us. Hazel, her husband and children had lived without electricity or stores, made a living by fishing, hunting and gardening. I got a sense of how much family and this land meant to Hazel. There was no separation.
This time we got Hazel's version of how George had showed up at their door one night, bedraggled and dripping wet, to ask if he could call on Pam. Hazel was strict and didn't ask him to stay the night, but sent him off in the storm. I got the impression they had nonetheless been impressed by young George's efforts.

When it was time for us to leave, Hazel said goodbye like we were dear old friends, and I was awed by her generosity of spirit. It made a lot of sense to start our journey here, with Hazel, at the edge of the land, by the water, where everything began.

That evening I walked up to the graveyard. I can't go to a place without visiting the ancestors. This graveyard was rich with expression. The graves were carefully decorated, some with plastic flowers, beads, poems covered in plastic, stuffed animals, jewellery, ornaments and pictures. They were colourful and alive compared to our austere city graves, where such expression wouldn't be welcomed, is even against the law. I wandered for a while, thinking about who these people were, and about my own dead, especially the recent ones. It's been hard to witness these deaths. I looked around me and felt the caring and love in this graveyard.

I didn't hear them approach, being engrossed in reading one of the poems on a child's grave, but when I turned, there were three dogs sitting next to me, watching. At first I was scared, but they seemed harmless, two of them quite young. They became my companions, following me from grave to grave. When I left, they stayed.

Wednesday, June 3

Boreality ProjectAfter breakfast we again picked up George at the Band Office and headed over to David Murdock's (Waiting for the Thunder) house. David is an elder in the community and we had arranged to spend part of the day with him. He began our visit by sharing his journey with us and talking about the importance of valuing relationships and the time we spend with others. This led to a conversation about death and dying. I got the impression that David had seen many people through this transition. Listening to him made me realize just how much our culture lacks a language for death, which makes it so much harder to befriend. We suffer because of this separation.

David's words somehow eased some of the suffering I had felt about all the friends and acquaintances in my life who had died, or were being treated for serious illnesses, especially cancer. It was an honour to spend time with David, and to have George, who had taken two days from his busy schedule, to be here with us.

Boreality ProjectAfter a brief trip to the grocery store, we put together a picnic lunch and went over to the Leigh Cochrane Memorial Visitor Boreality ProjectCentre to eat. The centre consists of a beautiful log cabin with a full kitchen, a boardwalk with picnic tables and a stage, also made of logs, in the shape of a half tepee. The building of this centre was initiated by George in memory of a young woman who was tragically killed. During lunch George eagerly told us about the plans they had for a music festival in August.

That morning Loretta had promised us a pickerel dinner, and so later, George, his wife Pam and one of their boys joined us for dinner. This time we heard Pam's version of meeting George. She had been so impressed by the young man who rode for hours in a storm to ask if he could call on her, that she had eventually married him. Seeing them together, it was obvious that it had been a great idea.

Thursday, June 4

Boreality ProjectAfter breakfast we headed over to the school to meet Gerry Mason and his Outdoor Education students. This is a program designed by Gerry to teach young people how to live on the land, and almost all of the education takes place  outdoors. The kids took us up to a creek where one of the boys cooked us moose meat for lunch. The moose had been butchered and prepared by the kids. They had photographs showing the entire process, including sharing the meat with members of the community. It was cold and rainy the whole time, but we sat around a fire eating moose meat and bannock and sharing stories.

Boreality Project

It was still raining when we got back into town in time for a visit with another elder in the community, Elsie Crate. We sat around Elsie's table for hours listening to her stories and sharing some of our own. She showed us a beautiful sweat lodge which she'd be getting ready the next day for one of the young women in Gerry's Outdoor Education program who was coming to receive her medicine name.


That evening it was still raining and I was tired, almost ready for bed around 8 pm. As I passed the window in the common room at the front of the motel, I noticed a huge double rainbow in the sky. This woke me up completely and I ran down the hall shouting for Mandy to come and see. There were so many blessings in Fisher River, and I saw this as another one.

Friday, June 5

Boreality ProjectThis morning we saw the last snowflakes of the year. We packed up and said our goodbyes to Harvey and Arlene, who were fabulous hosts and had made us feel so comfortable; to the dogs that lived at Harvey and Arlene's but weren't really theirs; to John, the only other guest at Toria's; to Loretta and Janice, who had cooked for us all week; to the folks at the Band Office and to the land itself.

Although we were saying goodbye, I felt a strong connection with the people and the landscape of Fisher River and I'm sure we'll be back.

by Janine Tschuncky

Click here for the Boreality – Winter (December 15-19, 2008)