Saturday, 31 December 2011


Winnipeg Airport
16th August 1999

Men don’t ask directions, but having more than a vague idea of where you are going is always a good idea when heading into the wilderness. Thus the first stop in Winnipeg is to the Manitoba Natural Resources and Mapping Center to buy two 1:250,000 (2cm = 5km) scale maps of the North Knife River, our destination. I found out which maps to buy (where else?) on the internet, having been thwarted by just looking at an atlas, where the North Knife was nowhere to be found. 

Each province on these Department of Energy, Mines and Resources survey maps is divided into quadrants of 2 degrees longitude by 1 degree latitude. And each of these scale quadrants is redivided into sixteen1:50,000 (2cm = 1km) quadrants. The larger size quadrants are assigned a number and letter for reference. Our maps are 64I (entitled Shetenei Lake) and 54L (Churchill). The level of detail at this size is adequate for our purpose, showing contours, spot elevations, and a host of geographical and geological features (some of which, like rapids, I clearly understand and some like eskers, strand lines, moraines, screes, palsa bogs, and pingos are as yet unknown to me). The symbols for all these are helpfully spelt out in both french and english on the back side of each map, most useful in the event we happen upon Pepe Le Pew. 

There are also terms for man-made landmarks on the back, but a quick perusal of Map 1 shows this to be completely unnecessary. There are none. Going through the entire gamut of possibilities in the glossary draws a blank. There are no roads--hard, loose, stabilised surface, or all weather (two lane or four lane), no cart tracks, no railways (single or multiple track), no bridges, tunnels, ferries, towns, villages, settlements, towers, chimneys or similar objects, no campsites, no mines, quarries, levees or dykes. Nothing whatsoever to suggest that anyone has stopped on their way by for any purpose other than to have a look. I can only draw one conclusion from my quick study of this map. There in black and white (and green and brown, to be pedantic) is an inescapable fact. We are heading into the wilderness. Ten days of canoeing down the North Knife River in northern Manitoba in North America, the common denominator being the word north. We are going to head up to the Hudson Bay, finishing our trip near the 59th parallel, a thousand miles north of Winnipeg. To put this north thing into perspective, think north of Scotland (the Orkneys). Think Oslo, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Magadan (that’s Kamchatka). Think Maine, and add another ten degrees of latitude up thataway. (If you think Alaska, however, you’ve gone too far. The main part of Alaska starts at 60 degrees.)

Still, we are heading into the northern wilderness, and the map just confirms this in numbers and symbols translated from satellite photos taken in 1987. 3600 square miles of wilderness per quadrant, and we will be in two of them.

I wonder what that means.....

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