Pete Coombs travelled with Ray Mears, deep into Wabakimi Provincial Park in Ontario’s far north in search of an inner silence.
We lean back against the shore side rocks of the Allen Water River, staring into the hypnotic flicker of our campfire. The smell of the bannock bread that slowly bakes in a small frying pan aside the fire reaches my nostrils, fuelling my already strong hunger – the type that only a day of hard exercise can form – further. A creeping dusk is falling across the slow moving water; the haunting call of a loon fills the air. A golden eagle swoops down to its evening perch on the opposite bank of the river, and is lost from sight in the boreal forest that stretches around the world, broken only by the earth’s northern seas and oceans.
“I love it here,” says Ray. “There’s an inner silence here, that’s hard to find in our modern world.”
It had been a long, yet easy, journey to get to such an isolated site. It started with a short flight from Toronto to the Lake Superior harbour town of Thunder Bay, a historic city with links back to the Hudson Bay Trading Company and the notoriously arduous fur trade. From Thunder Bay we drove for an hour and a half through a forest of pine, birch and aspen, to the tiny railway settlement of Armstrong, where the road ends at the Trans Canadian railway line. There we waited for a seemingly endless goods train to pass, before crossing the line to stock up at the frontier-style local store. It’s packed to the rafters with everything from hunting equipment to children’s toys, as well as all the supplies we need for our short trip into the wilds of Ontario’s far north.
We spent the night in the Wabakimi Wilderness lodge, owned by Bruce Hyer, a Canadian MP for the green party and driving force behind the creation of Wabakimi Provincial Park – possibly the world’s largest canoeable reserve, being over 5 million acres in size. The park can be accessed straight from the lodge, but as time was short we opted to utilize a local float plane operation to quickly access the depths of the park. After strapping our canoes to the planes stanchions, we were soon bumping high over a wilderness area that stretches way beyond the horizon of even our lofty view point.
Far too soon for my liking, the pilot kills the revs of his 1950’s Otter float plane and we glide down to a surprisingly smooth landing on the Allen Water River. Startled wildlife darts for cover along the shore as we busily get to work untying our canoes. Time is money for a float plane, and within moments of us pushing away from the plane’s floats, its engines roar back to life and it’s skimming at speed across the flat water, before lifting skyward and vanishing over the forest’s canopy.
Ray writes something in a note pad, before slipping it back into his kitbag. I’m not sure if it’s a thought, or something he’d seen on the flight, but you could see it was a personal moment, so I didn’t intrude.
We paddle our canoes away from our drop off point to where the river narrows. Bringing our paddles into the boat, we drift on the slow current while taking in our surroundings. At first it seems silent, but as we detune from the static of our normal lives, we begin to notice the sounds of nature, the gentle lapping of the water against our canoes, the rustling of the wind in the trees, the just audible scurrying and chatter of unseen wildlife.
Meditation over, Ray picks up his paddle and nods in the direction of our travel – and we continue wordlessly towards the spot where we now relax.