(Photo credit from CAPT).
Many people talk about all the amazing summer activities that we have the option to do in Northern Ontario, especially on Lake Superior and surrounding area. But what about all the winter adventure opportunities that are privy to us? Laying right outside our frosted doorsteps? Here are some of the exciting winter experiences that the Bear Train would help you to access to really get a taste of a Northern winter… which, for many living in the North, is also part of the regional culture!
Aurora Borealis – AKA, The Northern Lights
First, I want to start with what I think is the most amazing thing about calling Northern Ontario home. I mean really, can you believe that we are blessed enough to live in a region where we have the ability to view the northern Lights when they are active? We are actually in a dark and remote enough area that you can see the lights right from within Sault Ste. Marie! But a much better viewing would be possible from somewhere further north, like Hawk-Junction or Wawa. So, bundle up and check it out! Remember – the more secluded the area, the more colourful hues of blue, green, and purple the display will be! While the phenomenon is never guaranteed to be spotted – no matter how much planning you do – this guide by the Huffington Post will help you to determine how to increase your odds of catching the Northern Lights this year.
Trout, Walleye, Pike, Perch, Steelheads… Oh My! – Ice Fishing
Some people take fishing VERY seriously. Others see it as a fun hobby. But no matter how you perceive ice fishing – if you are heading out on the frozen lake for a relaxing day spent with family and friends, or a competitive fishing derby (a full list of 2018 derbies, compiled by Tourism Northern Ontario, can be found here), or even to have some much needed ‘me time,’ Northern Ontario’s lakes are where it’s at! We have the thick ice to accommodate ice fishing activities safely, and the surreal natural landscapes to make the view, and whole experience, that much more worthwhile.
Into the Wild – Snowmobiling
People come from near and far to snowmobile the rugged Canadian shield, shredding up powdery snow in pristine forests across Northern Ontario. Whether you are a newbie looking to get some experience, or a seasoned winter snowmobiling adventurer, there are endless landscapes to discover – and rediscover – in the Algoma Region. No matter where your preferred starting point is, be it Hearst, Dubreuilville, Wawa, Searchmont, Sault Ste. Marie, Hawk-Junction, somewhere in between, or even deeper into the Northern region, there are remote but very well groomed trails for you to explore. The municipalities in the north truly pride themselves on sledding trails, and they are sure not to disappoint.
Shredding Powder – Skiing and Snowboarding
No matter if your interest lies with downhill snowboarding or skiing (you’ve got to love that adrenaline rush) or in coasting across sublime landscapes, Algoma region has all kinds of you are crazy for downhill ski/snowboarding or more into coasting across landscapes, Algoma region has no shortage of frosty options! Searchmont Ski Resort isn’t too far from Sault Ste. Marie or Wawa, and is in a stunning location to really take in all of the natural Northern beauty. Cross country skiing is accessible from a slew of different locations – depending on how far you are willing to venture out of your comfort zone – so get out there and check out what the North has to offer!
Icy Expeditions – Ice Climbing
Did you know that you can even do an extreme sport like ice climbing in the Algoma region? That’s right! Expert guides at Superior Exploration can help you plan it, if you want to indulge in this adrenaline fuelling adventure! It may sound intimidating, but Superior Explorations offers all kinds of training courses and guided tours for all skill sets. Try something new this year! The most exciting part about it is that it is so dependent on the weather that every year, the options for ice climbing and the nature of the various climbs change, making it all the more mysterious and exhilarating. This really is the ultimate way to experience a Northern Ontario winter.
Also, keep in mind that there are a number of lodges and tourist outfitters who are open all year-round, who offer a warm place to stay, guided tours, access to materials and equipment, restaurants, and stores, depending on where you choose to stay. You can check out this list compiled by Algoma Country to pick the perfect place for your winter getaway.
Above is a map, compiled by CAPT which highlights the key known trails for various activities. Snowflakes indicate prime snowmobiling points, ski poles are the ski hubs, and the blue arrows indicate ice climbing locations. The ice climbing locations in particular can vary from year to year.
While many of these activities are still doable with the train, passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst would make it much easier to reach the most remote wilderness locations, especially with its capabilities to carry sleds and other hiking/fishing equipment. While we encourage you to get out into the great white North and explore what our amazing region has to offer in terms of natural beauty and eco-tourism, don’t forget to support the Bear Train, which would help tourist outfitters and lodges along the line in terms of access and packages, while also driving international visitors to our region, and so that we can help you enhance your Northern winter adventure! For more information, please visit our Facebook page.
All references are hyperlinked throughout this document. Please click to explore these amazing options in more depth.
Last week, I shared with you all my personal experience at the Gathering. This week, I wanted to share with you about one of the amazing lectures I attended in Missanabie. Missanabie Cree’s Community Development Coordinator, Gloria Harris’s, historical teaching of the Missanabie Cree was an amazing way for me to engage with the culture – while also satisfying the history buff that lives within! Learning about how the Missanabie Cree have struggled relentlessly in government negotiations to regain their traditional territory gave me a lot of perspective into the resilience and strength that they as a people have today.
Treaty No. 9 in 1906 skipped over Missanabie Cree First Nation, meaning that the government did not agree to negotiate with them, and in 1925, the Chapleau Game Preserve was created, spanning over two million acres across Missanabie Cree territory. Not only did this leave the First Nations without access to hunt and fish in order to sustain their lifestyle, but also without access to places that had been used for ceremonial purposes and to support the economic and cultural well-being of their people.
Additionally, not only did the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War cause worldwide devastation, but it also created a number of barriers for the Missanabie Cree, as well as other First Nations, in moving their land claims forward, as wars were being fought on more fronts than ever before, and the government was preoccupied with a number of international crises that halted negotiations. Between those difficult years of 1905 to 1945, the Missanabie Cree started to disperse because their land claim, as well as access to their traditional rights to hunt and fish on the Chapleau Game Preserve, were taking too long. They, and their families, needed access to employment, education, and healthcare institutions. This resulted in the community leaving their traditional territory and scattering across much of Canada and the U.S.A.
In 1951, Missanabie Cree was formally recognized as a band, but this did not mark the end of hardship for their people. From 1952 to 1990, residential schools continued to take Indigenous children away from their families, and there have been huge intergenerational impacts on the First Nations since then. Many are still being felt today. I learned that this is one of the reasons that sobriety is so greatly celebrated in First Nations communities, as alcohol has been one of the many impacts of colonization, and alcohol rehabilitation has been a huge catalyst for change in these communities.
Gloria then referenced Crazy Horse, an 18th century Native American soldier, who said,
“Upon suffering, beyond suffering; the Red Nation shall rise again and it shall be a blessing for a sick world. A world filled with broken promises, selfishness, and separations. A world longing for light again. I see a time of seven generations when all the colours of mankind will gather under the sacred Tree of Life and the whole Earth will become one circle again.”
They say that Crazy Horse was a mystic, who could see into the future and knew all the ancient teachings. The long and tiresome upward battle that the Missanabie Cree, and many other First Nations, faced from 1992 on could be seen as “the Red Nation” truly rising again – out of the darkness of colonization.
1992 was the year that the first Chief and Council were elected, and they submitted their first Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE), and held their first Annual Gathering. In 1996, Ontario became a signatory in Treaty 9. In 1998, joint studies and legal reviews were conducted, led by Chief Shirley Horn, in order to explore and understand the full depth of what the Missanabie Cree as a people had lost. In 2006, under Chief Glenn Nolan, the Canadian government agreed to a land transfer of 15 square miles, and discussions continued for more land compensation based on the extent of loss under legal review. In 2008, Missanabie Cree turned down a $23 million dollar land settlement. Today, after years of Chief, Council, and the people as a whole passing the torch from generation to generation, the Missanabie Cree people, now under Chief Jason Gauthier, continue to fight for their land and economically develop Missanabie so that its people can return to their traditional territory again. As proudly expressed by Gloria in her teaching, a powerful group of children – the youngest generation of Missanabie Cree people – are rising, and they are educated and aware of their past and present. Gloria referred to them as the rainbow warriors, who will continue to lead their people into peaceful governance and community development in Missanabie.
As said by Craig Macfarlane, the motivational speaker that spoke with us at the Gathering, we need to think, what do we want our legacy to be? How are we going to face adversity? And I think the best answer to that question for the Missanabie community can be summed up by the phrase with which Gloria opened her lecture,
“if you know where you come from, you know where you are going.”
For more information on Gloria, Missanabie, and their traditional culture/teachings, click here
For more information on Craig Macfarlane, click here
August 12th to 17th, I had both the pleasure and honour of taking part in, and helping out with, the Annual Gathering at Missanabie. To say that I was nervous to go and take part in this cultural experience would be an understatement. But those nerves and doubts about leaving my comfort zone succumbed to my excitement to learn more about the culture of the people that I work with, and for, on a daily basis.
My drive up north allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for the number of small communities and areas that the Algoma passenger train used to serve, the communities that I myself am working tirelessly to help now, with the renewal of train service.
One of my tasks throughout the Gathering included serving the Firekeepers and the Sacred Fire. This gave me the opportunity to learn about a critical element of Cree culture, whereby the spirit realm and the human realm are connected through the Sacred Fire, giving us an intimate connection to those who have passed to the Spirit World. By feeding the fire, we are passing food along to those spirits so that the ancestors who have passed can share a meal with us. So every meal, I prepared one plate for the Firekeeper, who never left the fire’s side in order to ensure that it did not go out for the entire duration of the Gathering, and one plate for the fire, on a piece of birch bark, and sprinkled with tobacco. I would tell the fire my name, and say “Migwetch,” so it would know who has fed it and that we are thankful to bring the community in its entirety together again. As an outsider in many ways, this was a surreal experience for me to see tradition in practice – and even take part in it.
Throughout the first couple days of the Gathering, I got to see the Eagle Staff, which represents the various entities that make up the community. I learned that it is important for Eagle Staffs to spend quality time with other Eagle Staffs so that they can be nurtured; the same way that we nurture ourselves by socializing and engaging with other communities. In my opinion, the most beautiful thing about the Eagle Staff is the sanctity of the eagle itself. Since it flies the highest, it is believed that eagles can speak directly to the Creator, making it and its feathers highly revered.
There were some times when we had a little fun, too. Councillor Sean Pine took me on a little backroading tour of Missanabie so that I could really see the territory for myself, including the old Renabi Gold Mine site, which had driven many Missanabie people from the traditional territory as settlers came to work on the prosperous gold mine following the Second World War. Not only was it a blast to speed through the bush and see all of what nature had to offer, but it was also amazing to think, “wow, one day this will be a community with infrastructure.” The Missanabie Cree people really are making history, and nothing put it into greater perspective than actually seeing that for myself.
My favourite day of the Gathering by far was when I set up a booth with the other businesses and joint ventures that Missanabie has. It was an amazing way to meet the business community that works alongside the Missanabie Cree, while also getting to know the community itself a little better, too. I was so pleased with how open everyone was to hearing about the train initiative and what I have been working on specifically since May. I cannot thank the Missanabie community enough for being so accommodating and engaging with me about the train project. I hope you all realize how much it meant to me to attend and help out with the Gathering, and I encourage you all to stay in touch with the train initiative and continue to let me know what you think so we can work together to build upon this opportunity for the Missanabie Cree people!
Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where I talk about some of the history and some more of the culture that I learned at the Gathering!