Freshwater Pools of the Canadian Shield

When I left my tent for a morning hike, little did I know that I would find myself in a wilderness rock garden, featuring colorful plants and beautiful pools of cool, clear water. Such was my luck when I chose to camp on the shore of James Bay at Longue Pointe, north of Chisasibi, Quebec.

Just before the hike, I listened to the birds and watched the sunrise from my seaside campsite

Hear the birds and the waves for yourself by watching this brief video, recorded at the above location:    YouTube     Vimeo

Leaving the shore and walking uphill through the trees and brush, I arrived on the high ground of Longue Pointe—the exposed gneissic granite of the Canadian Shield

The pools are perennial fixtures of the terrain, fed only by rain and snow…

Here’s another short video, which will give you a 360° tour of this area:    YouTube    Vimeo

Fascinating microecosystems…

Algae? Pollen? Ribbons of orange floating on the still water…

I never thought it was such a bad little tree: Below, a ragged little evergreen makes its home on the hard stone…

I left the trees behind as I walked westward toward the end of the point…

Above and below, dikes of pegmatite run for long distances across the great slabs of granite…

Terminus: The western tip of Longue Pointe, where the rock dives below the calm, blue waters of James Bay…

A short but extremely satisfying hike…one that I’d like to take morning after morning. Perhaps I’ll be able to stay for several nights on my next visit.

End of the Road

Stone of the Canadian Shield, visible above and below the cool, clear waters of James Bay. This is the view from the end of Longue Pointe Road, north of Chisasibi. Here, the Pontiac sits at 53.974089° N 79.078265° W—the northernmost drivable point* in Quebec—parked among the boats of local residents and outfitters…

Moment of Zen: Enjoy the softly-lapping waters of James Bay in a brief video recorded on the rocks of the nearby shore…      YouTube      Vimeo

Asterisk

Actually, it is possible to drive farther north in Quebec, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so in a vintage Pontiac.

As I’ve stated in prior posts about trips to the northern limit of a provincial road system, my use of the phrase “northernmost drivable point” pertains to roads that (1) are connected to the rest of the North American highway system, (2) are open to the public, (3) can be used in all seasons, and (4) are suitable for passenger cars with low ground clearance.

Less than an hour south of the town of Radisson, a gravel road leads northeasterly off of the James Bay Road and takes you 414 miles (666 km) deep into the heart of Quebec’s vast boreal wilderness. This is the Trans-Taiga Road, and at it’s terminus you would be 59 miles closer to the North Pole than the spot where I am parked in the photo above.

This extremely remote road is open to the public, but it was constructed to service the area’s massive hydroelectric industry. It is mainly used by trucks, usually moving at high speed. There are no towns along the Trans-Taiga; access to fuel and food is very limited. Also, this road has a reputation for eating tires and windshields. Learn more about the hazards of driving the Trans-Taiga Road through this link.

(Below, a look at the first kilometer of the Trans-Taiga Road. This is as far as went went…just wanted a taste. Farther on, the road becomes narrower and rougher.)

I couldn’t justify the risk of damage to the Pontiac simply to get that extra 59 miles of latitude, so I passed on the Trans-Taiga. Additionally, I suspected that using the end of that road as a northern benchmark would have been anticlimactic; the thought of making that very long and difficult drive, only to arrive at a gated industrial complex in the middle of the forest, just didn’t thrill me. But conquering the full length of the James Bay Road and reaching the boat landing on Longue Pointe, overlooking the crystal-blue waters of James Bay…that felt right. To me, that spot does a great job of capturing that “end of the road” flavor.

I may drive the Trans-Taiga Road someday, but only in a 4WD vehicle that is outfitted for camping. Driving up Route de la Baie-James in the Pontiac was a great experience; I enjoyed the scenery and the friendly people I met along the way. If you’re interested in traveling either of these roads, I encourage you to make it happen. But take the time to research the trip before leaving home, and make sure your vehicle is thoroughly ready for the journey.

Overland to Nunavut

I’m not that keen on being hauled to a destination by plane or by boat; I prefer to get there on my own, either by driving or by walking. As for visiting the territory of Nunavut, boats and planes are, very nearly, the only options.

Nunavut is Canada’s newest and largest territory, created April 1, 1999 from the eastern and northern portions of the Northwest Territories. It is a gigantic and sparsely populated wilderness, and there are no roads leading to Nunavut from the rest of North America.

The boundaries of Canada’s provinces and territories have undergone many changes since 1867; don’t be surprised if these adjustments continue. For reasons unclear (as noted in this article), Quebec’s territory stops at the shoreline. All of the islands in James Bay and Hudson Bay—even those within throwing distance—belong to Nunavut.

However, there are several spots along these northern shores where Nunavut and Quebec share short land borders. These exist in certain places where land sits below the high tide line…even though that land may appear to be dry and verdant. Edward Bearskin, the Tourism Coordinator in Chisasibi, informed me that there is one such area west of town, just north of the end of the James Bay Road…

I was quite happy to learn about this location, as I would no longer need to charter a boat to one of the nearby islands in order to visit Nunavut. Edward told me that there are no trails leading into this acreage, no signage marking the boundary…just raw coastal wilderness. Fine with me; it would add a little pioneering spirit to the hike as I forged my own trail.

Of course, the car would have to stay behind in Quebec. After coming so close, it seemed only fair to carry a photo of the Pontiac into Nunavut, just to complete its journey.

(Ocean in View: Below, the Pontiac’s first look at northern seawater. We reached the shore of James Bay after driving all 434 miles (699 km) of Route de la Baie-James. This is as near to Nunavut as the Pontiac will ever be, parked just above the territorial boundary of the high tide line.)

Stepping off the road and into the wild, I worked my way northward. Though not a long hike in terms of distance, it was no easy stroll; the brush was often tall, tangled and quite dense, sometimes hiding deep holes. I made several detours, and occasionally had to crawl under some of these thick shrubs. Other areas consisted of soft, wet muskeg. By the time I had reached the open air again, I had a few cuts and scrapes, and two very soggy boots.

After walking across a low, marshy area, I was standing on broad slabs of granite surrounded by shorter brush, and I could see the waters of James Bay. It appeared that I had reached my destination…

The GPS locator on my phone told me that I had indeed crossed the “border.” Welcome to Nunavut…

(Phone screenshot, captured 1309 EDT, September 16, 2019.)

From there, I continued walking northward to the shore, where I spent some time playing on the large, colorful rocks awash in the calm sea. I also enjoyed a sip of Nunavut’s cool, clear water (yeah, yeah…it was fine; so many rivers empty into James Bay that its salinity is very low).

(Give a Hoot: This card was not left on the stone; it’s back in my wallet.)

Not exactly a proper visit to Nunavut, but it will do for now. I expect to return someday, as there’s enough wild beauty up there to get me on an airplane; Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island are on my list.

Wachiya/Welcome/Bienvenue

But what affects the traveler is the hospitality he meets, the warm and generous welcome everywhere. That is a frontier specialty. Its roots are in our need of it; we need it most where men live far apart. And near the wilderness it grows luxuriant.

~ Rockwell Kent, from the book Salamina

Before I began last month’s journey, I had expectations about the terrain and the scenery I would encounter. What came as a pleasant surprise was the human element of the adventure. Never before have I arrived in a distant community and been so warmly welcomed by those who live there. If you’re a fan of traveling to places where the people are friendly, eager to speak with you and willing to help you in any way that they can, I highly recommend a visit to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi.

(Roadside Poutine: When visiting Chisasibi, be sure to enjoy a generous serving of Chef Clayton’s delicious poutine. Just look for the big red chip wagon.)

My deep thanks go out to all of the residents of Chisasibi who made my stay so memorable.

And I’d like to give special thanks to Clayton and Reggie, who told me a great deal about life in Chisasibi. To Edward, the local Tourism Coordinator, who was very helpful both before and during my visit, providing information about the places I wanted to see and the services I would need. To Louie-Rene and the excellent staff of Auberge Maanitaaukimikw, for a welcoming and comfortable stay. All of my aurora photographs were captured in the Auberge’s back yard, right on the La Grande River. And to Jerry at Long Point Adventures; if you’re interested in a more rustic experience, stay in one of his cabins or pitch your tent right on the cold, hard stone of the Canadian Shield, surrounded by the softly-lapping waters of James Bay.

On my final night in the area, I was staying at the Auberge along with a nice group of visitors whose work centers on welcoming people to the region—business owners and representatives of organizations such as Voyages Eeyou Istchee Baie-James, COTA (Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association), and Tourisme Baie-James. As it happens, some of these folks work alongside the very people who were so helpful to me by telephone and email during the summer, when I began planning this adventure.

We had a great time watching the night sky together and talking about life in northern Quebec. My sincere thanks go out to this group for their hospitality and kindness, for giving me so much useful information about the region, and for being so accommodating with my inability to converse en français.

If you would like to experience the James Bay area someday, be sure to contact these fine people. They will be happy to provide you with all of the information you’ll need for wonderful adventure.

Northern Life

Greetings from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, on the southern bank of the La Grande River in northern Quebec. Was it worth the 1500-mile drive…?

Excerpt from our group conversation:

“Hurry! The orange moon is rising above the river.”
“Ooooh! The northern lights are starting!”
“Ack! Which should we shoot first?”
“Can I squeeze them both into one frame…maybe…?”

I’ve been lucky enough to see and shoot the northern lights in 2013, 2016 and 2019. Guess I know when to schedule my next northern adventure.

Below, Mireille watches the lights. I was especially happy to have enjoyed this event with a group of people who, despite living in northern Quebec, have not become jaded by these displays and were just as fascinated with the show as I was.

Looking up at the stars through the mikiwahp poles. The shot below was Isabelle’s idea. (Thank you!) The poles in the upper part of the frame are illuminated by moonlight, the others by house lights. A shooting star can be seen in the upper right.

All 25 photos from this night can be viewed in this gallery, where you can also purchase prints.