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Where There are Innu

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

A month long canoe trip in Northern Quebec and Labrador

White line indicates the route of canoe travel.

White line connecting Schefferville to Hopedale indicates the route of canoe travel.

I was searching for a route that would put us on the world’s most immaculate brook trout fishing waters, but it wasn’t only fish I was after. Although this expedition is as tough as they come I knew it would give me a deep respect for the land as I traveled through it the way native people and fur traders of past times did; I find it’s moments on trips like this that are the most enriching.

Innu men pooling their canoes up river.

Innu men poling their canoes up river 1920.

I, of course, would bring food but we also wanted to live close to the land and planned on fishing, foraging, and waterfowl hunting for much of the 6000 plus calories we would each need per day. Among the most challenging parts of the trip would be the necessary 15 miles of portaging, including one 6 mile carry. We would also have to track our canoes up the powerful George River for 8 miles, then run and line lots of wild rapids on the Adlatok before a 30 mile paddle on the tempestuous Labrador Sea to reach our finishing point at Hopedale. Needless to say, we had our work cut out for us.

En Event! (French For “Onwards!”)

Clearly, my brother Ted knew what we were getting into because he asked me several times “why the hell are we doing such a hard trip?” I knew one thing for sure, although I have ventured on a few northern canoe odysseys before, this was going to be the toughest trip I have done. Ted and I would paddle in the sterns, our good buddy Will, a realtor (who is also a licensed Labrador fishing guide), would paddle in Ted’s bow, while new recruit Marty would team up with me. Marty is a long time family friend who knows how to rough it but has never taken on anything like this trip before; it would be Will’s first hard-core northern expedition too. We would all have to raise the bar to meet the challenge. On August 12th 2011, Bernie of Tunilik Adventures drove us from Schefferville, Quebec to our put-in at Attikamagen Lake, and there we stood: four friends with 350 miles of daunting wilderness in front of us. The expedition was officially under way.

The crew stands ready to depart on Iron Arm of Lake Attikamagen.

The crew stands ready to depart on Iron Arm of Lake Attikamagen.(c) Ted Baird

Boggy low-lying country charicterizes the first part part of the trip.

Boggy low-lying country characterizes the first part part of the trip.(c) Ted Baird

Excellent Pike fishing was prevelent early on in the trip.

Excellent Pike fishing was prevelent early on in the trip.(c) Jim Baird

Paddling in the headwaters of the Du Pas River.

Paddling in the headwaters of the Du Pas River.(c) Jim Baird

Before we started the six mile portage on Day Eight, we had already run into a couple mishaps. Somehow both of our stoves broke irreparably and Ted almost poked out his eye one evening when gathering firewood. The eye looked bad—bright red, dripping bloody puss. If things weren’t bad enough for Ted, when we came back for the second load on the two-day portage, he popped a large cap off his front tooth trying to bite a knot out of a rope, He looked like a mess but he didn’t let it slow him down. Rather than carrying our canoes and remaining gear for our second trip on the backbreaking six mile portage, we threw our canoes in a creek and dragged them up it, gaining 77 yards in elevation to get to the same camp site we used the night before. The following morning we started lake hopping and at one point I was walking by myself carrying a heavy load through an old burn. The intense stretch of portaging we were enduring on this part of the trip was to cross the height-of-land between the De Pas and George Rivers. Halfway through the burnt portage I stopped to break and a family of caribou walked passed me, no more than 20 feet away. I stood motionless as they smelled the air, but the regal creatures didn’t seem to see me. Bear sign was everywhere in the old burn and I wondered if my encounter could have just as easily been with a bear. I didn’t know at the time but in a few days it would be.

Will Wilkinson with a nice 4 lb Du Pas Brook Trout.

Will Wilkinson with a nice 4 lb Du Pas River Brook Trout.(c) Jim Baird


Tracking is the act of walking on the shore with two long ropes and pulling your canoe up river. You prevent your canoe from dragging along the bank behind you by controlling its angle with ropes as you move forward. It took us almost two days to track up the George; halfway up we camped by a great fishing hole on Day Twelve. Surprisingly, we only glimpsed one caribou as we traveled up river. The George River caribou herd was once the largest in the world. Totalling 385,000 in 2001 it is the most accessible herd for the majority of Americans and Canadians to hunt. Tags were cut heavily in 2011 because scientists believe the herd fell to 75,000 animals in 2010 and is rapidly declining; current estimates put the herd at around 50,000. The reason for this is unknown but over-hunting, natural cycles, scarcity of food sources, parasites, disease, predation, effects of climate change, or a combination of all these factors have been put on the table. The fact that top biologists with modern technology at their fingertips do not know the cause of the decline is one of many examples highlighting how little we truly know about our natural world.



A Surprise Encounter

Continuing up in elevation we finally reached the barren high country of the Quebec-Labrador border and the headwaters of the Adlatok on Day Eighteen. Trees are scarce in the stark but beautiful landscape that is the traditional hunting territory of many “Naskapi” Innu natives (despite the similarity between the words Innu and Inuit, the words and cultures are not related). Innu used to follow the Adlatok River on snowshoes in the winter towing sleds. They travelled all the way to the trading post in the Inuit community of Hopedale. This is why the river is known as Adlatok, an Inuit name meaning “Where there are Innu”.

Portaging in the divide country - Quebec/Labrador border.

Portaging in the divide country – Quebec/Labrador border.(c) Jim Baird

On Day Nineteen, we were still in the headwaters when we saw people. Turns out they had flown into the remote area at great expense to build an Innu healing lodge near a landing strip that was once a Mid-Canada Defense Line station manned by Americans in the early stages of the Cold War. The work crew was shocked to see us, and they offered us a cabin. It felt surreal to be cooking our fish on a stove and drying out our wet stuff around a warm fireplace.


The author with a 5lb Brook Trout.