||Methye Portage||Sturgeon Weir River||The Churchill River||
The Churchill River
Consisting of a string of lakes connected by relatively short sections of flowing water, the Churchill River has been an ideal place for people to live and travel for thousands of years. Known as Missinipi or "big water" to the Cree, the river's numerous inlets and outlets, as well as the mouths of numerous tributaries, were ideal fishing spots.
Surrounding forests and marshlands were ideal for hunting game and gathering plants for food, shelter, and clothing. Quartz was quarried for tools and weapons, pottery was made from local clays, pipes and ornaments were made from green pipestone. Red, almost indelible paint was made from local materials and used to record physical and spiritual journeys and experiences of the river's inhabitants over many centuries. The clear waters and rocky shorelines of the river have provided residents with a beautiful living environment from pre-historic times to the present. Most of modern Northern Saskatchewan's communities are built along the Churchill or its tributaries.
Guided by Aboriginal people, upon reaching the Churchill the first Euro-Canadians quickly recognized the river's potential. Early explorer Alexander Mackenzie describes the river in his journals: "...the abundance of the finest fish in the world to be found in its waters, the richness of its surrounding banks and forests, in moose and fallow deer (caribou), with the vast numbers of the smaller tribes of animals, whose skins are precious, and the numerous flocks of wild fowl that frequent it in the spring and fall, make it a most desirable spot..."
The same characteristics of the Churchill River that made it ideal as a home for Aboriginal peoples also made it a natural thoroughfare for the fur trade. It's make-up made it readily canoed both upstream and downstream. There were few areas where it was necessary to battle against the current for extended periods of time.
Without the Churchill River, the logistics of opening up the Athabasca and Mackenzie basins to the fur trade would have been horrendous. David Thompson's account of his exploratory voyage up the Reindeer River, to Wollaston Lake and part way down the Fond-du-Lac River in 1796-97 describes the difficulties of travel over the only other potential route into the Canadian northwest.
With two Aboriginal guides, Thompson left a cabin near the mouth of the Swan River on the west shore of Reindeer Lake. They went up the Swan and Blondeau Rivers, over the height of land to Wollaston Lake and started down the Fond-du-Lac River. About half way to Lake Athabasca, while they were lining through a bad rapid, the canoe upset and Thompson nearly drowned. All the gear and food were lost. Thompson and his guides nearly starved while retracing their route.
Today, the Churchill is still used for travel, although most goods travel by roads from the south into our Northern Saskatchewan communities. We are extremely fortunate that development along the river has not taken place to a large degree. We can still travel the ancient routes, and follow in the footsteps people from the distant past.
||Methye Portage||Sturgeon Weir River||The Churchill River|