by Gerry Klein
I had pulled my tent trailer two thirds of the way up the side
of a greasy, muddy hill when my van -- tires spinning -- slowly ground
to a halt.
writer and avid outdoorsman Gerry Klein.
My heart sank into my stomach.
I glanced at my wife Viviane, who was studying the map that led
us into this quagmire. As far as we could tell, we were on a 'Grade
A, Saskatchewan Grid Road'. According to the view through our windshield,
it was a forest cutline torn apart by a week of rains and a four-wheel
The first couple of kilometres were rough, but gravelled and passable.
The last eight kilometres were a tortured trek over a pockmarked,
puddle-ridden road too narrow to turn the trailer around. We were
stuck in the middle, 10 kilometres short of the junction and the
same distance from the beginning of the road.
It was an inauspicious beginning to our trip to Dore Lake.
Our 10-day trip at the end of June and beginning of July was a
flight of fancy, so to speak. Viviane is an avid bird watcher and
the boreal forest by Dore, Sled and Smoothstone lakes, north-west
of Prince Albert National Park, is world famous for the diversity
of its avian population.
We spent the weekend camping at Lac Leauclaire, about two and a
half hours north-west of Saskatoon. In spite of the occasional rain
shower, the weekend was very pleasant. Leauclaire is a small lake
with a nice beach, a clean and spacious campground and a healthy
population of loons and ducks.
We explored the lake in our canoe, and we swam and fished. Rainy
times were spent relaxing in the tent trailer. We were skunked at
fishing, but the lake was still kind to us, hosting a spectacular
sky accentuated by thunderstorms passing by.
is the way the road's supposed to look when you're travelling
in the north.
Leauclaire was also home to at least two families of loons.
It's in these small lakes and quiet streams of Saskatchewan that
a canoe really comes into its own. By gliding silently over the
water we were able to watch for birds fluttering through the trees,
catch sight of the occasional muskrat and enjoy a wonderful encounter
with a family of common loons.
There is nothing common about the common loon. This bird came to
Saskatchewan on the heels of the last ice age. Its summer nesting
grounds are shrinking elsewhere on the continent, but most northern
lakes in Saskatchewan remain haunted by its ageless cry (for more on Saskatchewan's loon, see The Loons of Anglin Lake.
As we neared one family of loons in the canoe, the male separated
from the female and young ones and approached us with a warning
call meant to mark his territory.
We were curious. We wanted to get a closer look at the little ones
without being too disruptive.
The adult male kept calling until we passed him, at which point
his call became much more urgent. He screamed out a warning to his
family and began acting as though he was hurt.
He came closer to our canoe, flapping and struggling with a feigned
injury intended to draw us towards him and away from the brood.
Meanwhile, the little ones seemed almost as curious about us as
we were of them -- their mother had a devil of a time keeping them
Leauclaire, after terrorizing the loons.
As we got closer, the female joined her mate in the distressed-bird
routine and the young ones swam into a nearby bed of reeds to wait
things out. At this, we realized we'd tortured this little family
quite enough. Once the birds saw we were heading in the other direction,
the little ones emerged from the reeds, the female swam over to
check on her charges and the male dove out of sight, fearing we
were finally coming after him.
While paddling my own little family back across the lake, the loons
picked up their haunted cries as if to tell other resident families:
"We're okay. We won the day. But watch out for those crazy floating
On Sunday morning, we set off for Dore Lake. We were a little reluctant
to leave Leauclaire for what looked like a four-hour trip north,
but we were driven by the thought of exploring a piece of Saskatchewan
we'd not yet experienced.
We were only an hour out of Lac Leauclaire when we came to a fork
in the road that led to our muddy cutline. I crawled from the van
to survey our predicament and alighted in soupy mud that reached
midway up my calves. My younger years, spent working in the bush,
told me this could be serious -- particularly if one of the threatening
thunderheads opened up above us.
It took us an hour of backing up, manoeuvring, pushing, pulling,
digging, turning the trailer by hand and swearing (I accomplished
this on my own), before we extricated ourselves from the mud and
headed back on a two-hour detour through Green Lake.
At Green Lake we headed north until the boreal forest turned into
the skeletal remains of a forest fire. We were getting a bad feeling
about this day.
The fire -- I later recalled it forced a widespread evacuation in
the mid 1990s -- had been confined to the west side of the highway.
At the tiny village of Dore Lake, we headed east into pristine forest
towards the lake.
Dore Lake is a deceptively large body of water and we were too
cautious to head out of the bay in the canoe. We didn't have to
go far to see the wildlife.
A family of grebes living near the dock entertained us during our
stay by swimming back and forth with babies perched on parents'
backs. Apparently a family of ducks was equally amused by the grebe-back
riders. Mom, dad and the fluffy kids liked to clamber up onto the
dock and carefully watch the grebes float by. The ducks would reluctantly
relinquish their perch whenever we walked our dog to the end of
on the dock at Dore.
Although my youngest daughter loves fishing, at $90 a day plus
gas, the cost of renting a boat was a little too steep. We did our
fishing vicariously; we watched others come ashore, their coolers
packed with jack fish (northern pike) that included some as long
as my arm (see our Fishing Guide).
Viviane and I travelled by van along the south shore of the lake,
pausing now and then to try to identify bird songs. But we were
often driven back into the vehicle by horseflies, which were plentiful
in some areas and not so bad in others. We did identify a few song
birds, such as the white-throated sparrow and the chickadee. But
alas, this wasn't to be a time for songbirds.
At week's end we headed back south, stopping at Delaronde Lake
for the last couple days of our holiday.
Delaronde is a long, narrow lake. Blessed with light winds, we
headed out in the canoe. This time, our daughters Sarah, (then 13), and
Chantelle (then 17), were lucky, claiming a couple of mid-sized jack fish
within an hour. I wanted to explore, and I was looking forward to
barbecuing our last roast, so I let the little fellows go.
Delaronde is home to at least two flocks of pelicans that skim
the lake, head to tail, like strings of pearls. But the lake also
attracts a number of people with personal water craft -- the bane
of canoeists, naturalists, or anyone else looking for peace and
quiet in the north. The closer one gets to the cities in Saskatchewan,
the more likely one is to run into high-powered boats and personal
If you're seeking peaceful solitude and interaction with nature,
head further north. But you might want to first phone the town or
municipal office in the region to check on the roads.
Gerry Klein is a journalist with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper.
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