It’s a shame, but we have both rather regarded this section of the journey – down the Red, on to Lake Winnipeg and round to the Winnipeg River – as simply a transition, filling the gap between the lakes of Manitoba and the onward journey into the Canadian Shield. This is unfair, on a river and lake so steeped in history and controversy.
After spending a stormy night next to the perimeter highway we headed downstream. The wind was still up as we left the boat launch, and still in our faces for the first half of the day. Cas later admitted this was her most miserable day of the trip so far. Our first hurdle, other than simply moving forwards on what was virtually still water, was a dam at Lockport. We knew this has a lock, but didn’t know if the boat would be allowed through it. After several hours battling the wind, considering walking along the road adjacent to the river, and turning the air blue, we crawled into the entrance to the lock. I went off to find someone to talk to whilst Cas searched for moral support… Eventually I found the operators, and rather than being shown a portage route as we were expecting I was asked to sign a book of craft entries, and paddle right on in to the lock! Holding a rope, we dropped 18 feet before the gates opened at the other end and we saw numerous fishermen looking on bewildered as we paddled our little boat out of the huge lock.
The rest of the day was better. The wind fell and we were able to enjoy the paddling once again, spurred on by a couple of chaps fishing from their garden who, on hearing us say we were heading to Quebec, promptly gave us a bag of beers for the end of the day! Thank you guys! We eventually wound our way into Selkirk, a few kilometres short of the lake, where we were lucky to get into the camp site as the fair was setting up (but sadly not yet open).
The following day we finally reached Lake Winnipeg which, thankfully, was flat calm. Any sort of wind can turn this place into a maelstrom, but the settled weather allowed us to get a good distance round the bottom corner before camping at the stunning Patricia Beach Provincial Park. The following day the weather broke. Getting on the water shortly after 6am we hoped to get up to the resort town of Grand Marais before the wind picked up. We did not. We managed 7km before heading for shore and taking to the trail as the lake turned into a churning mass of white water. But the sight of a canoe being wheeled along the road does draw attention, and so we were invited to have lunch with Laila and Stuart, who generously fed us tea, toast and bacon whilst the wind continued to build outside. Cas was delighted to swap a book at the community library (set up by Laila) before we continued on to the campsite at Grand Beach.
Enjoying the sun at Patricia Beach
With the weather forecast still very unsettled and wind speeds variable for the next few days we had a tough choice to make – did we try and paddle a couple of hours at a time for the next 4 days to get around the point to the river, around 70km away? Or did we stick to the road and portage 25km along the highway to Fort Alexander and the start of the river, taking a rest day first at Grand Beach? We decided on the latter and took a day off to prepare. We were sad not to see more of this beautiful but unforgiving lake, but felt our journey must continue. We were also acutely aware of our friends, Mike and David who we met on the highway back in Alberta. They were north of us, coming down the lake, but had been held up by the winds for many days and were narrowly missed by a tornado. We had to take every opportunity to keep moving.
Very generously, Wayne drove up from Winnipeg to see us, bringing a picnic lunch of meat and fresh veg, and two hip flasks of Scotch! A better treat we could not have had, and we had a lovely afternoon chatting and relaxing before he had to head back to the city. A meal in the Station House Restaurant (thank you Audrey and Olive) prepared us for the long march. At 8am we left the campsite, heading for a series of tracks that linked to the highway. These turned out to be mostly sand, which is pretty miserable when towing a 150kg cargo, and we were grateful to reach the tarmac. 25 hot kilometres later we reached the lake again and paddled a few kilometres to a lovely outcrop of rock at which we camped. Rock!!! Proper rock, above the waterline, not just lining the river bed. Being from a country with cliffs and contours we were pretty over the moon to see this. We went to bed happy with our portage decision, and excited about the change in the landscape and what that might herald for the days ahead.