Wild Northerner Magazine Fall 2017 - Page 15

HEADLINE: Portage to a portal of history

BY SCOTT HADDOW

Wild Northerner staff

Laurent Robichaud is going back.

In May 2013, Robichaud was part of a combined effort of a dedicated group of people from across the province who got together and re-established the Little Hawk Portage, connecting Pigeon Lake on the West Montreal River system to Ferris Lake on the Grassy River (in the Temagami region), heading north to the Arctic watershed.

This is an historical portage along a route that has been lost over time, and, at one time, was an important and key route for First Nations residents and later fur traders and explorers.

The experience left Robichaud, 66, with an undeniable, lasting and meaningful relationship with nature and the land and water.

“It was powerful and spiritual,” Robichaud said. “If I look at all my outdoors adventures in life, and I’ve had a lot, having people province-wide come together and get the portage done was the best thing I’ve been involved with outdoors. I connected with it and it meant a lot to me. It hit me good and hard. I saw pictographs, trail blaze markings and wildlife, and did Native ceremonies and it sparked me. I can’t get away from the feeling. It is a good feeling. I really want to go back. I’m battling joint pain, but next year I’m going for sure. I have to.”

The Little Hawk Portage Project started in 2011 with a request from the Friends of Temagami group – a friend of Robichaud had contacted him to try and help. They were looking for information about the height of the land portage between the West Montreal River and the Grassy River and the location. The group eventually found historical documents and it sprung a three-year quest to get the portage re-established. The group met with the Matachewan and Mattagami First Nation communities to get their approval and acquired a permit from the government to do the work required.

Two teams worked at locating, scouting, marking and clearing the portage. They met on May 26, 2013 at String Lake and built a halfway campsite. The portage situated in Raymond Township covers a walking distance of almost five-km, with three small lakes intersecting the path, for a total distance of seven-km, connecting the Atlantic to the Arctic watersheds.

Paul Bisson, 56, is part of the Friends of Temagami group. He is an historical restoration painter in St. Thomas. He loves canoeing with his wife, Veronica. They love going North to enjoy the vast expanses of wilderness in northern Ontario. His mother is from South Porcupine and the bush lover mentality is in Bisson as he wants to experience “less city and more wildlife” and retire up North.

Bisson couldn’t be stopped from lending a hand on the project as he became hooked by the history of the portage.

“I was intrigued; youth groups used this route in 1928 and they would spend 33 days going up to James Bay and back to their camp in Temagami,” Bisson said. “This information got lost over the years and people stopped using it. I wanted to make a difference in the canoe world and help open an historically significant route. It was an active Hudson Bay Company route and used by the First Nations people before them. It meant the world to me to be part of it and there were others from the paddling world who wanted to get this done. It became a brotherhood instantly. Our history needs to be preserved.”

Robichaud figures the advancement in technology and the industrial age caused the information about the Little Hawk Portage to fall into the cracks and out of the minds of people.

“My guess is that as the trains came through the North and were followed by the roads, these routes kind of got lost,” Robichaud said. “

There were plenty of memorable moments for all involved in the project. The work it took from everyone can’t be overlooked. It took a lot of time over two years of clearing trees, moving rocks and dealing with bugs and weather and mud to get the job done. It was rewarding for all involved.

“The portage was overgrown to say the least and we had a lot of work to do,” Bisson said. “Some of the worst were big treefalls where there were 15 or so big trees on top of one another. It was worth it.”

Bisson also has plans on the burners to go back to Little Hawk. He was there three years ago with his wife and spent 11 days there. He hopes others give the trip a try and report back on the condition of portage.

“I want to see people use it and let us know how it is, so we can go back and clear out any areas needing it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful area. There is no place like it.”

BY SCOTT HADDOW

Wild Northerner staff

Laurent Robichaud is going back.

In May 2013, Robichaud was part of a combined effort of a dedicated group of people from across the province who got together and re-established the Little Hawk Portage, connecting Pigeon Lake on the West Montreal River system to Ferris Lake on the Grassy River (in the Temagami region), heading north to the Arctic watershed.

This is an historical portage along a route that has been lost over time, and, at one time, was an important and key route for First Nations residents and later fur traders and explorers.

The experience left Robichaud, 66, with an undeniable, lasting and meaningful relationship with nature and the land and water.

“It was powerful and spiritual,” Robichaud said. “If I look at all my outdoors adventures in life, and I’ve had a lot, having people province-wide come together and get the portage done was the best thing I’ve been involved with outdoors. I connected with it and it meant a lot to me. It hit me good and hard. I saw pictographs, trail blaze markings and wildlife, and did Native ceremonies and it sparked me. I can’t get away from the feeling. It is a good feeling. I really want to go back. I’m battling joint pain, but next year I’m going for sure. I have to.”