Polar Bear Express
Moosonee, Ontario February 1999
This expedition takes us up onto the edge of the Arctic, to explore the vast wilderness along the western coast of James Bay. The area, the Hudson Bay Lowlands, is the largest wetland in the world with some 300,000 square kilometres. Winter sees temperatures of -55 degrees celcius (without windchill), and both the boggy stretches of wetlands (Great Muskeg), and James Bay are merged into one endless mass of snow and ice.
The trip begins in Toronto, on the edge of Lake Ontario. Heading north through scenic central Ontario, some 700 kms, we stop at Cochrane for the night. From Cochrane, we have to transport our Land Rovers via the Ontario Northland Railway (Polar Bear Express) to Moosonee. Sitting at the southern tip of James Bay, approx. 300 kms north of Cochrane, Moosonee is not accessible by road.
Moosonee sits just a few miles from Moose Factory on the opposite side of Moose River. Moose Factory was founded in 1673 by The Company of Adventurers from England, and is the oldest permanent settlement in Ontario, and the first English speaking community in Canada. The Company of Adventurers where the owners of the vast fur-trading empire known as the Hudson's Bay Company. Some of the first buildings still remain, including a Blacksmiths shop from 1740.
After a night in Moosonee, we head up the coast of James Bay towards Fort Albany and then Attawpiskat. These settlements are home to the people of Cree First Nations, and are only accessible by vehicles across the wetlands in Wintertime, as there are no permanent roads in existance. With the vast amounts of winter snowfall, and freezing temperatures, a temporary ‘road’ is established to aid in the transportation of supplies further north.
After a couple of days exploring the dramatic Arctic landscape we will head back down to Moosonee and Moose Factory to explore before our return south.
We will be going north to within a few hundred kilometres of the very remote Polar Bear Provincial Park. This area is home to over 400 Polar Bear, Arctic Foxes, Moose and Caribou. The animals this far north do not come into contact with man, and are therefore very timid, and will avoid any area that is inhabited by man. The animals roam vast areas, and with luck we may have the opportunity to spot some when out on the trail between settlements, which are about 100-130 kilometres apart.
Arctic Expedition 99 Team members:
Simon Burn, Kevin Girling, Roger Bickers, Peter Goundry, Michael Ladden, Pat Macomber, Gilles Bureau, Bob Speller, Ted Matthews, Mary Kaye Matthews, Hans Strebel, Denise Strebel, Michael Findlay, Cindy Cassidy, Sean Ferris, Richard and Rover.
Polar Bear Express To The Great North
Video from the Border To Border Arctic Expedition 99.
The following trip reports were uploaded daily from the expedition team & appear unedited as they were originally posted in February 1999.
Reporter: Michael Ladden, B2B-31
Date: Sunday, February 7, 1999
Location: Hartford, CT USA to Toronto, ON CDA
Arrived in Toronto at 4:30 PM without any road complications or travel problems. With the exception of upstate NY, ride was enjoyable. Quite a few interesting people in the back country of NY (we won't get into the details right now)
Upon check in at the Cambridge Suites in Toronto, we proceeded to make quite a ruckus unloading the Rovers, in fact after trying to take the whole D90 indoors we settled for all of our baggage - minus the jerry cans. (which took two full bell hop wagons.) Parked both Rovers in the garage, Pat's even fit with the roof rack and cans, although only barely.
4:30 PM Drank beer.
5 PM drank beer .
6:30 PM left hotel for the Skydome Hotel to meet a few fellow trekkers and then proceeded to the Hard Rock Café for ???????. You guessed it -beer.
Returned to Hotel for the night. Room service is bringing breakfast in bed at 6:45 AM. Bloody early if you ask me! - Mike
So far it is fairly warm and there is no snow to speak of here. Of course we should be telling you all about the blizzards, bitter winds and polar bears - but not yet. For now it is 4 star hotels, room service and mini bars.
Good night all!
Reporter: Peter Goundry, B2B-31CD
Date: February 8, 1999
Location: Toronto, ON CANADA
Up early to forage. Wouldn't believe the provisions one can find in the North. They literally come right to the door delivered by two young Toronto natives. Fresh coffee, tea, cereal, various pastries, and fruit.
We then proceeded to climb the highest structure in sight. It took 48 seconds from start to finish. We looked out over Toronto and Lake Ontario. What courage it took to step out onto the glass floor! The CN Tower is the tallest free standing on the planet, well worth a visit. This afternoon we spent a pleasant hour at the sweat lodge and hot spring located on the 21st floor. Unfortunately all the activity has rendered Pat exhausted, he is currently taking a nap so that he can find the energy to clean the truck before attaching expedition stickers. B2B motto, a clean truck is a godly truck!!! That's all for now, watch this space for further bulletins,
(Just a note from Mike to clarify: Peter failed to mention that they enjoyed the sauna in their undies. It was kind of funny, too bad more people weren't there to see.)
Reporter: Michael Ladden, B2B-30
Date: February 10, 1999
Location: Toronto to North Bay, ON CANADA\
Our final day in Toronto was spent doing some shopping downtown, and an afternoon stint in the hot tub. Not five minutes after we got in the fire alarm went off in the hotel, of course we figured we would be safe under water. Oddly enough the front desk told us to stay where we were and after considering the fact we would have to walk down 22 flights of stairs in our bathing suits we decided they were right.
Found a very neat soap stone Polar bear in The Hudson Bay Company - didn't buy it as the price was $14,800. Tuesday night Peter and Mike made the trek to MetroWest Land Rover for final briefings, a press conference and a meeting with Land Rover Canada. I probably should mention that it took us nearly two hours to find our way there - the signage in Canada is a bit different. Thanks to our GPS system we got there, a little embarrassing to have to use GPS in downtown Toronto.
We awoke bright and early this morning and made our way to MetroWest for our final departure. This time without incident. By 11:00AM all seven of the Expedition trucks had arrived at a local elementary school to take part in an exchange of gifts between the Lydia Trull Public School of Courtice, ON and the Ministik Public School of Moose Factory, ON.
After a formal presentation, interviews with the local press and camera opportunities the convoy began it's journey to North Bay, Ontario. Kevin Girling and Ted Matthews led the party. After several obligatory stops at Tim Horton's (the Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts) we made it in one piece. Dinner and drinking ensued at the Hotel.
Reporter: Patrick Macomber, B2B-14
Date: February 11, 1999
Location: North Bay, ON CANADA
The term short cut in Land Rover language is one that needs to be defined for those not accustomed to the culture. Upon leaving our hotel in North Bay, and after stopping at Tim Horton's once again, we decided to take a short cut
toward Cochrane. We found an unimproved road and quickly turned down the narrow lane. Unimproved, seems to be a government term for a road once existed but!
Only minutes later we were well stuck in several feet of snow. The trick was trying to keep at least one of the seven trucks freed at all times. Five hours & 1/4 mile and many recovery attempts later we made it out of the woods, right back where we started. That is a Land Rover shortcut.
Can you spell S T U C K? - Pat Macomber
After a leisurely breakfast we headed out of North Bay, immediately stopping at the local Tim Hortons. By the way, we Americans have yet to figure out the whole Tim Horton thing. Apparently the coffee is brewed at a strength that causes massive changes in the endocrine system. Various side effects on our Canadian friends were noted but nothing that can be discussed in this forum.
After one aborted attempt on a snow-covered road, our fearless leader found what we thought was the road that would bring us to the promised land and the route North. And then the fun began!
Not quite 100 yards into the trail and Mike Ladden in the D90 tried to make a new trail/ditch, but made it through. The rest of us were not so fortunate. The center of the road was fairly narrow but dropped off sharply to the right or left. The snow was 2 to 3 feet deep once you left the centerline. Appropriately, our leader, Kevin Girling, led the way into a snow bank. Followed by every truck except two throughout the rest of the trail. Recovery was long and difficult, as the trucks would continue to slide further into the bank, away from the road. Snow flew as shovels were constantly in use.
Several trucks found banks more than once but each recovery was different and challenged us all. Chains became standard and found to be a real improvement, especially in the recovery of other trucks. Gilles Bureau was a master of recovery and a great asset. But alas, he too fell victim to the snow Gods.
And anytime you have seven trucks and fourteen folks running around, there's always a few mishaps that add to the fun: Simon, filming away, tried to dodge an oncoming truck pulling a stuck truck and managed to fall backwards into the bank and disappeared under the snow. But he kept the camera pointed and running all the while. And while Ted Matthews was putting on his boots while resting on the Disco's rear bumper, Mary Matthews moved forward leaving Ted a bit stranded. And the driver, (no name here), whose truck was in the process of recovery, ready to be pulled out, said I'm all set, the pull began without any movement. The driver kept the truck in park. -Hmmm.
Finally, we made it to the end, 5 hours and a mile, snow mobilers said that there were two ways out, across a two mile lake or back the way we came. It was a quick decision and we turned around and headed out. Now it's dark and everyone has rear chains on. And as appropriately, our leader was the last out and got stuck. But only momentarily and we began our trek towards Cochrane at 7pm.
The rest of the drive was uneventful and long. Note worthy was the rain during our last 100 kilometers. Sheets of rain. But we made it and pulled into the Adventure Inn about midnight.
Yes, a long day but filled with adventure and fun. And proving again that with teamwork and a sense of humor, you can get through anything.
Now, on to Moosonee.
Trip Update: Weather, record warmth-Averaging around 5 degrees Celsius. Snow on ground: about 2-3 feet.
Restaurant Review: Tim Horton's (From an American point of view) - Mike Ladden
I don't drink coffee, but the face on Peter as he took his first sip summed it up for me. Bloody Awful. "Tastes like it's been brewing for 4 days!" was the comment. The donuts, although better than the coffee, were no different than Dunkin Donuts. They offer a limited selection of sandwich's which seem to be acceptable. The most interesting thing about Tim Horton's seems to be the inability for Canadian's to pass one without stopping. It is almost like a toll plaza for the body. Pass it and you will regret it. Every encounter is treated as it may be the last. Much to the American's disappointment these stores keep popping up no matter how far North we drive. I am starting to think there is a Horton's perched atop the North Pole.
Reporter: Michael Ladden, B2B-30
Date: February 12, 1999
Location: Cochrane, ON CANADA
I will make this update brief. We have had our share of computer, communication, and other on the road adventure problems. We awoke very early this morning with not nearly enough sleep. We had to load the vehicles on the
train for Moosonee by 8AM. The train departed at 11:30AM .
The weather has turned for the worse, and the temperature has dropped considerably. Last night we had freezing rain and today the wind has picked up to nearly 20 MPH. The train ride was uneventful, and somewhat restful after an evening of swift driving and no sleep. We had photo opportunities along the way as we crossed some rather large ice rivers.
We arrived in Moosonee at 4:30 PM and found it to be another world altogether. Cold, barren, iced over, and so far from civilization. I had wondered if we would need all of our expedition gear, but now I know I'll be wearing it all tomorrow. The only word that comes to mind right now is Antarctica.
We stored our trucks for the night in a hanger to keep them warm. They will probably stay warmer than us! Had a nice, but long dinner at our hotel. Reviewed some video that Simon had shot over the last couple of days and wrote this short update as I get ready for bed.
The weather is again worsening. It is snowing and the wind is blowing. And I mean blowing!! We are unsure at this point whether we will be able to make it out of town tomorrow. God willing this update will upload to the site, if not this might be final contact!!
Over and out,
B2B-30 Team America. - Mike
Reporter: Michael Ladden, B2B-30 &
Patrick Macomber, B2B-14
Date: February 13, 1999
Location: Ft. Albany/Moosonee, ON CANADA
Woke up early today in anticipation of our most difficult challenge yet. Our goal was to reach Attawapiskat by evening. This would require some very challenging driving on the winter road, the only land access to this small village of 1500 people. In fact, the road only exists in the winter, during the summer a boat or plane must be used to get there. The road itself winds over swamps, rivers and ice. Because of blizzard conditions the day before and an unusually warm spell several days before it was in poor condition. We were told upon leaving that it was in fact closed due to the conditions. Being expedition equipped and up to the challenge we set out anyway.
We departed around 9 for the Fort Albany Settlement and soon found the winter road. Temperature was -15C and sunny. The road began innocently with mostly snow and ice cover but soon deteriorated into ruts and pot holes. In fact the road changed each kilometer or so back to smooth ice and so on. The first mishap occurred as Bob & Gilles were passing the convoy while filming. The ice was slick and they proceeded to spin into a snow bank. However it was a relatively easy pull to get them out and we continued on our way. Speed varied from 20 to 50 km and we made relatively good time. Much of the topography was flat with small trees but we would encounter sections with large pines that were small land areas within the wetlands.
Due to the recent blizzard conditions the day before, snow drifts were constantly encountered. The Disco's and D90 carved through these and they did little to impede our progress. Visibility was iffy due to the 'snow dust' and made us all alert and the driving rather intense.
I wondered about the rationality of driving along a road of several kilometers of sheer ice at 50km. But only momentarily as the challenges of maneuvering and adjusting my speed to the convoy kept me busy.
We arrived in Ft. Albany around 1:30 and stopped in the Community Center for a quick lunch after a short tour of the settlement. We were off at 4 for our goal of Attawapaskit. After crossing the first major river with some effort we were unable to go further due to significant drifting and darkness. We turned around at 6 and started back towards Moonsonee. The temperature dropped under a clear sky with three trucks going to Ft Albany to call the Moonsonee hotel and drop off our guide. The balance of the convoy waited on the main road (which was about 12 km from Ft Albany). As a result of our arrival, several members of the community left for Moonsonee as they realized the road was passable.
We formed up at 7:30 and sped towards Moonsonee. We made excellent time as the bumps were easy to see due to the many driving lights on each truck. The ice was also somewhat obscured and made us all feel a bit more confident. Although we all experience some four wheel drifting around the many ice covered corners.
It was a great day. Good weather and spectacular scenery.
Reporter: Michael Ladden, B2B-30
Date: February 14, 1999
Location: Moosonee, ON CANADA
Only after the last tree has been cut down,
Only after the last river has been poisoned,
Only after the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
-Cree Indian Prophecy -
Grounded back in Moosonee, we decided to take the Land Rovers out to play.
After a leisurely breakfast at our hotel we journeyed out to check out Moose Factory Island with Sean Ferris as our local guide. Along with his friend Richard they took us to the gravel pit area, and around the island. We ended up getting some good photographs of the vehicles on the river crossing. It is a bit peculiar to see dump trucks and school busses crossing a river on the ice. I wonder if any have ever fallen through late in the season? Played on a steep snow and ice covered hill, which included a few 4 wheel off the ground jumps for the D90.
During the second flying Rover run, a second off road light snapped it's mount and came tumbling off the roof. (One had cracked yesterday from the bitter cold.) So far this was the only damage from the trip, except for a slightly bent in brush bar on Ted's Disco from a snow bank encounter.
Our plan for the rest of the day was to hang out in Moosonee an visit with the local people. This was quickly cut short as I went to start the Defender and sure enough nothing happened. Can any trip with 7 Land Rovers be completed without a breakdown? Luckily we have Gilles Bureau with us. (He is a Land Rover technician from MetroWest in Toronto). We all contributed $5 to to the "How fast will Gilles fix the Land Rover Pool"
It only took him 6 minutes, and Bob won the pool. Unfortunately we broke down twice more later in the day. Hopefully the problem has now been solved faulty wiring, surprise, surprise. We enjoyed a tasty dinner in town and all retreated to the hotel to review video that Simon has filmed so far.
Reporter: Roger Bickers, B2B-29CD
Date: Monday, February 15, 1999
Location: Moose Factory, ON CANADA
A good nights sleep saw us all awake and ready to go at 0900 hr. Light snow over night and scattered cloud with a temperature of minus 20 Celsius had us all looking forward to our day with Moose Cree First Nation at Moose Factory.
Our hosts and guides for the day were Darrell O'Connor , Clarence Trapper andLaurie, all employees of the Moose Cree First Nation Tourism Office. They are fine young people all very committed to preserving their heritage and helping others from the community as well as visitors. Their sense of pride in their work and dedication to the cause was evident throughout the day, leaving us all with a deep admiration for what they do.
Our first stop was the local Hospital. The complex itself is interesting in that all of the associated buildings including the staff residences are heated by steam from the hospital boiler room. A series of overhead insulated pipes carry the steam to the buildings across the road from the main area. The Hospital serves a large area and patient arrival by helicopter is more frequent than traditional vehicle delivery. The Administration faces complex problems of a quite different nature than hospitals in more populated areas. Every effort is made to take into account the traditions of the local people.
Peter Goundry delivered a donation of medical supplies on behalf of his Company, Aircast Inc., one of the Expedition sponsors. The donation consisted of 24 Standard Ankle Braces, 12 Left, 12 Right; 12 Medium Ankle Braces, 6 Left, 6 Right; 2 Foam Walkers, one Knee Cryo Cuff System; and one Ankle Cryo Cuff, several thousand dollars worth of product in all.
The hospital is a Teaching Hospital exposing the Doctors and nursing staff to a broad range of ailments quite different from their experiences in city hospitals. We enjoyed a full tour of the hospital and operating theatres, and were impressed by the up to date equipment and pleasant demeanor of all we met.
Our check in time at the Moose Cree Complex was 1030 hr. The Complex houses a Hotel, Mooshoms Gabesho Inn with twelve very comfortable rooms, the Tourism Office, a craft shop, a restaurant and a general store stocking everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to snare wire and traps.
Clarence Trapper comes by his name honestly. His family has operated a trap line in the area for many generations. His parents still do, leaving the community in October of each year and staying out on the land until June of the following year, trapping and hunting, living off the land. Quite remarkable when you hear they are both in their 70th year. Clarence's father is one of the last known snow shoe crafters. Each pair starts as a living tree and from the selection of materials to completion takes about three weeks. As with other traditional skills, this is a dying art.
Until a few months ago, Clarence followed the family traditions, assisting his parents in the trap line operation. He now is a permanent member of the Tourism Staff as Projects Officer. It seems sad in a way, but it allows visitors to the area to be treated to actual real life exposure to the lifestyle and skills of these much maligned people.
After we all checked in, the group went into the bush and experienced snowshoeing. Clarence demonstrated the use of naturally available materials for hunting and trapping and his ability to move over deep snow with snow shoes. It was very evident to all of us his life and survival in the bush was totally dependent on his natural skills and knowledge of the land.
Snowshoeing gave us all a hearty appetite and our next stop was the Cree Village Restaurant, where large quantities of chili and banick, a tea biscuit type bread, were consumed. Awesome!
After lunch we moved on to the local high school, Delores Eachem Composite School, where Kevin Girling addressed the student body and gifts from B2B were presented. The students were then invited outside to see the vehicles. A lot of interest was shown and no doubt, there are potential future Land Rover owners there.
Ministik Elementary School is the Moose Factory School participating in the cultural exchange with the school in Courtice in Southern Ontario, Lydia Trull Public School. Here we delivered posters and a scrap book prepared by the students of Lydia Trull. Kevin Girling explained the interest of the students in Courtice in establishing an exchange program and electronic link with their counter parts at Ministik. Hand made crafts were exchanged and all the students were given a miniature Land Rover. A model Freelander was donated to the school, courtesy of The West Connecticut Rover Club.
By now, our day was rapidly coming to an end. It was time to convoy up and deliver the vehicles to the rail yard for loading onto the rail cars. We were collected from there by school bus, a first for some of us, and delivered to the hotel. After freshening up, it was onto the school bus again to be transported to the Moose Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre. Here, our gracious hosts had prepared a traditional Cree meal of moose stew, moose stew with dumplings, fried moose meat and banick, followed by a huge locally baked chocolate decorated cake with greetings "Welcome Border to Border Expedition", all washed down with tea. We were then treated to a video "The Moose Cree of James Bay". It related the history of the people and a pilot project to integrate tourists into the life style and culture of the Cree over a five day "on the land: experience. The video gave us all a new understanding and deep respect for these people and how they are able to exist in their environment, not in conflict but rather in harmony with nature.
Chief Ernest Beck had joined us for for dinner and welcomed us all to his community. He presented all of us with a tamarack goose as a momento of our visit. Our appreciation of their hospitality was aptly conveyed by Kevin Girling and Ted Matthew's as well as each of us individually.
To bring the evening to a close, Clarence Trapper explained the different types and layers of traditional clothing, the use of moss diapers, trapping techniques and how pelts were cured naturally. He also treated us to a demonstration of moose calls and the different calls of the snow and Canada goose, both staples of the Cree people's diet.
At about 2230 hr. it was time to board the bus and return to the hotel. We all agreed, this was a definite "wow" day of the trip. There was a certain sadness to accepting tomorrow, we would be leaving this truly incredible area and it's amazing people to return to our "communities". While our intended destination had not been reached, we are unanimous in thought this has been an extremely successful expedition and a cultural learning experience.
Reporter: Michael Ladden, B2B-30
Date: February 16, 1999
Location: Little Bear Express, ON CANADA
After a refreshing night at the Mooshoms Gabesho Inn and a great breakfast at their café we said our good byes to our hosts at Moose Factory and took a school bus to the train depot. We now are beginning the long journey back to home. Hopefully this will not be Border To Border's last trek to this wonderful region. Words and photos can only begin to describe the land, people, and culture of this unique arctic region.
We would like to thank all of our hosts in Moosonee, Moose Factory, Fort Albany and along the trip up. A special thanks to Kevin Girling, Rose Kaye, and Ted Matthews for doing an enormous amount of work to coordinate this trip. Also thank you to all of the fine sponsors , Land Rover Owner Magazine and Land Rover for providing assistance with supplies and resources. Thank you to our trek writers, Peter Goundry, Pat Macomber, Roger Bickers and Mike Ladden for providing the story and photos for all of the couch adventurers at home.
Finally, thank you to Simon Burn and the Border To Border Expedition Society for turning the dream of adventure into reality.
One final over and out.
Communications Officer AE99.