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Freshwater Saga

Freshwater Saga: Memoirs of a Lifetime of Wilderness Canoeing

with a foreword by ANGUS C. SCOTT
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 189
  • Book Info
    Freshwater Saga
    Book Description:

    At an Ottawa dinner party in 1951 a group of three Canadians and three foreign diplomats planned a canoe trip on the Gatineau River. It was the first of many trips by a group dubbed by the Ottawa press the Voyageurs, whose most enthusiastic member was Eric Morse. Morse loved canoeing. This memoir is a celebration of his ruling passion and the friends who shared it with him.

    As a boy Morse had found his hunger for wilderness satisfied on Canada's rivers and lakes. As an adult he chose Ottawa to settle in because of its nearness to good canoeing country. There he encountered the congenial souls who would share many of his holidays over the next fifty years.

    In his lifetime, Eric Morse saw more of Canada's wilderness than most people have dreamt of. He loved the Arctic best. Recalling his expeditions in later life to the far north, he writes vividly of the Thelon, the Kazan, and the paradisiacal Taltson. In tribute to a man who knew well and loved the waters of the north, a river in the Barrens has been officially named after him.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6477-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth century historian and philosopher, said, ‘A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.’ Eric Morse writes with vigour and imagination about a life which combined recreation with historical research, a life of strenuous adventure on the rivers of northern Canada, a life that has been an inspiration to many.

    Much ofFreshwater Sagatells about his long canoe trips and it is perhaps curious that he started these rather late in life. He was forty-nine when he made his first trip on the Voyageurs highway, fifty-eight on his first trip in the Barrens,...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    E W M

    I am emboldened by the fine example of David Thompson, who in his eighties wrote his classicNarrativedescribing his experiences from 1784 to 1812. Perhaps I am also rationalizing that what an aging memory forgets and omits was forgettable. This book is intended as neither a how-to handbook nor a history of early canoeing. It is a saga, in the sense of being a personal chronicle of events over the sixty-year period 1918-78 memoirs of a lifetime’s canoeing which was almost entirely done in my vacations and for no more reason than recreation. Geographically, the book covers a good...


    • Beginnings
      (pp. 1-16)

      People who know of my early fascination with canoeing ask this arose, for I was only a young immigrant, barely in my teens, when it first took hold of me. I suppose this to have been a result of the strong influence of the first two places I lived in, together with the subsequent impact of the Canadian Shield.

      Far from growing up with something so very Canadian as canoeing, I lived my early years in India, on the other side of the world. I was born in Naini Tal, a hill station 8000 feet up in the Himalayas, on...

    • Historic Rivers with the Voyageurs
      (pp. 17-41)

      So it was that in 1955 we found ourselves flying west to start Ile-à-la-Crosse, near the source of the Churchill, a point a little south of the Methye Portage, the twelve-mile link between basins of the Churchill and the Mackenzie. We paddled 500 miles in the next three weeks — down the Churchill, the Sturgeonweir, and the Saskatchewan to Cumberland House — and flew from The Pas. In sparing the reader a day-to-day account of the journey, I should explain that Sigurd Olson has already given a sensitive, book-length description of the whole in his best-sellerThe Lonely Land,published in 1961....

    • Coursing Big Lakes
      (pp. 42-62)

      Paddling the length of a big lake is not everyone’s idea of enjoyment and may perhaps be regarded as an acquired taste. And yet it can become a supremely rewarding challenge, a never-to-be-forgotten experience. For me, the initial spur was that some of the great lakes lay on the historic fur trade route. In my trips with my friends, retracing the old waterways, we had creamed off the fun part, travelling rivers and chains of moderate-sized lakes, mostly going downhill to reduce the labour and to have the excitement of the rapids. The early voyageurs, however, had faced up to...

    • Between Whiles
      (pp. 63-76)

      As I record the memories of my days of canoeing, inevitably the main trip in each year predominates. In much the same way as the Chinese attach labels to their years, so also for me there are labels: the year of the Churchill, the year of the Copper-mine ... But this does not fairly represent the whole pattern of the year or its infinite delights and variety.

      From spring to fall, once I had settled in Ottawa, weekends were for canoeing. Sometimes going only for the day, but more often camping for one, two, or three nights, I visited and...


    • Crossing the Barren Lands
      (pp. 79-104)

      The Hanbury-Thelon, being our first Barren Lands canoe trip, gave us at the same time our most vivid impressions of this land and our greatest sense of adventure. When the plane deposited us and flew off, we were keenly aware that our only way out was to paddle 530 miles of river which few had travelled, to reach our fly-out point at Baker Lake close to Hudson Bay.

      That degree of adventurousness, in 1962, may take a little explaining in these days when recreational Arctic canoe travel is fairly commonplace. Nowadays, a youngster at one of the more enterprising summer...

    • Through the sub-Arctic Forest
      (pp. 105-126)

      ‘Whatever you do, don’t try paddling the Snare Canyon — either up or down,’ declared Dr Charles Camsell. I used to run into him occasionally at luncheon, and if he were alone I would take the opportunity to glean from his memories of his wide travels by canoe in the North. Born and bred there, he had been head of the Geological Survey and later deputy minister of Northern Affairs. His warnings were not to be taken lightly. But yet the Snare River tempted me.

      The Hanbury-Thelon trip had whetted our appetite for that country, and after a summer on more...

    • Blocked on the Kazan
      (pp. 127-144)

      The Kazan was next on our program of Arctic rivers, but after our long pin-down on Lake Aberdeen in 1962 we were reluctant to start near its very source, close to the NWT boundary, for this would involve traversing two big lakes, Ennadai and Kasba. Our plan in 1968 was to fly to Stony Rapids at the eastern end of Lake Athabasca and there charter a plane to take us part way down the Dubawnt River, to a point where we could start with some good river running and soon pick up a stream flowing over to the Kazan, joining...

    • Encounters on the Taltson
      (pp. 145-160)

      When we came to decide where to make a trip in 1972, the Taltson River looked good. Guy Blanchet and Charles Camsell had explored parts of the river in the twenties, but there was neither record nor report of anyone having gone down the whole river since. In the event, the Taltson gave us a bonus of unexpected wildlife interest, for we witnessed in those three weeks a whole series of biological oddities.

      The Taltson rises in barren highlands, with other large rivers such as the Dubawnt and the Thelon. It empties into Great Slave Lake near the delta of...

    • Across the Mountains
      (pp. 161-180)

      Canoeing over the continental cordillera was perhaps the biggest challenge of all, greater than crossing the Barren Lands. For anyone wishing to go any farther west than the high mountains flanking the Mackenzie, stretching from the American border all the way north to the Arctic Ocean, this 1500-mile wall had to be surmounted at some point. The CPR, going through the Rockies, had chosen to cross the continental divide at an altitude of about 6000 feet, and the Peace River canoe route used by Mackenzie in 1793 achieved the crossing at a similar altitude. By comparison, the route which passed...

  8. Envoi
    (pp. 181-182)

    As I look back over the memories of a lifetime of wilderness canoeing, the rewards far outweigh the rigours and discomforts. In fact a catalogue of the rewards seems hardly necessary. Spectacular mountain scenery was a prime reward of our journey through the Richardsons, between the Mackenzie and the Yukon rivers. To this could be added the grandeur of Lake Superior’s north shore; the less awesome, quiet beauty of the pine-clad, smooth rocky islands at the mouth of the French River and along Georgian Bay’s north shore; the joy of running a rapid on a big river like the Coppermine;...

  9. Index
    (pp. 183-190)
  10. Maps
    (pp. 191-205)