University students retrace portion of voyageur route

They may not be eating bannock and beef jerky every day as the voyageurs once did but 11 students and their teacher from Lakehead University are getting a taste of the gruelling physical labour they must have endured.
The group, which is re-tracing a 400-km portion of the voyageur route from the Crilly Dam to Sioux Narrows, spent Sunday night at Pither’s Point Park before continuing on their way Monday.
Of course, that meant the nine women and two men, all third and fourth-year students from the university’s outdoor rec program, along with teacher Michael Oades, first had to portage the 36-foot, 1,400-pound canoe around the dam from the upper river near Victoria Avenue to the lower river by the water tower.
The objective of the 12-day trip is to test the success of group dynamics, said Oades, who has been accompanying rec students on the trip each year since 1991.
“I’m just here to make sure they don’t kill each other, and that the canoe gets back in one piece,” he joked Monday morning while the group was packing up at Pither’s Point.
“I help lead the trip but it’s the group dynamic process that makes it work,” he noted.
“They gain lots of experience on what it’s like having to live in a group setting [while] dealing with the elements, keeping on schedule and on route no matter what Mother Nature throws [their] way,” he added.
The students had most of the summer to plan out the trip, including meals and the daily pecking order of leadership.
Lisa Jamieson, who had been elected spokesperson for the group on Monday, said the historical aspect of the trip was very important to them, and made the planning process more exciting because of the challenges that went along with it.
“The Canadian voyageur is very important,” she said. “We’re taking to heart what the voyageurs did . . . the whole lifestyle, both physically and mentally, is very special to us.”
The students have to paddle an average of 40 km per day to reach their destination by Sept. 8.
Meanwhile, local resident Claude McFarland looks forward to the arrival of the students by canoe each year. He has lent his cabin lawn on Seine Bay as a camping ground for the wannabe voyageurs the past four years.
He carried their gear by trailer from Pither’s Point to the water tower Monday while the group portaged the canoe.
“They’ve got a lot of endurance,” he said. “I don’t know how they do it. They picked up that 1,400-pound canoe and got underneath it and carried it nearly four km [through town].”
Incidentally, it wasn’t all work. The students portaged the canoe up to the drive-thru window at McDonald’s, where they were treated to lunch by manager John Myers.
Once they reach the town of Rainy River, the group plans to speak to elementary students at Riverview School about the historical aspects of the voyageur adventure.