Expedition 2008

July 11th to August 26th 2008

Fran Bristow and Steve Leckman, representing Alliance Romaine, took part in a 48-day expedition from Labrador to the St.Lawrence with the intention of paddling the Romaine River in its entirety.

We began our expedition with Nicolas Boisclair and Alexis de Gheldere from Chercher le Courant. After a rough departure from Montreal on July 11th (we lost a trailer tire on the Champlain Bridge) and three long days packed into a Volkswagen Golf, we were happy to arrive in Labrador at our put in. We decided to start our expedition on the Ossokmanuan Reservoir. Our intention was to paddle the Romaine River, the main artery of one of Quebec’s last undammed watersheds, from her source. Starting on the reservoir would enable us to get to the remote headwaters. It also felt appropriate to start on the Churchill River watershed, which has been so thoroughly harnessed for hydroelectricity it is difficult to recognize it on early maps. We left the reservoir via Atikonak River, heading south. Traveling upstream in a canoe is an art form, one we quickly realized we did not possess. Three days into our journey, on a cold wet day, we were delighted to be welcomed by the kind folks at the Riverkeep Lodge who filled our bellies with warm food and our hearts with warm wishes. Leaving, we felt re-energized and ready for anything. At Atikonak Lake, we veered northeast and began our accent of the No-Name River. The river soon became a stream that soon became a creek… We walked the remaining few kilometers before we reached the beautiful esker that separated us from Quebec and the headwaters of the Romaine River. We portaged along an ancient Caribou trail and found ourselves looking out over the watershed that would be our home for the next month.

Paddling the stream that was the beginning of the Romaine proved challenging, the slope was steep and the water was shallow. We felt relieved to arrive at Lac Long where multiple tributaries join the river and she begins to take on her full force. We enjoyed some relaxing days as we made our way to Lac Anderson where we intended to meet three canoeists flying in from Havre-St-Pierre. It was a joy to meet Briana Mackay, Emmy Hendricks and Christian Hudon, who brought with them fresh food, more coffee, and chocolate fondue. It is unbelievable how good chocolate fondue tastes after 21 days in the woods.

Leaving Lac Anderson, it quickly became clear why the Romaine River is considered one of Quebec’s most challenging canoe roots. On August 6th we reached the potential site of Romaine-4 and the beginning of the first canyon. From then on our pace slowed as the rapids became more challenging and we saw more and more signs of Hydro Quebec’s activity. We reached the potential site of Romaine-3 four days later and were again blown away by the beauty of the falls. The second canyon proved to be as challenging and as spectacular as the first. On August 16th the crew from Fondation Rivières joined us. They intended to test for mercury levels in the soils as well as raft the third canyon that would be completely destroyed by Hydro Quebec’s Romaine-2. Four more canoeists also joined us and all of a sudden there were 25 people on the Romaine River (not to mention another group that paddled by, Mike and Trevor who we had just left behind and a group with yellow and blue canoes that were ahead of us by a few days… and Hydro Quebec says that no one paddles the Romaine?). Happily, we helped Daniel Green of La Societé pour Vaincre la Pollution sample soils in the area of the proposed Romaine-2 reservoir. We enjoyed our time with the circus and despite a minor upset with a coffee pot, the canoeists and rafters managed to get along.

We spent two nights camped beside the impressive Grande Chute. Thirty meters high, the waterfall is truly one of the most impressive sights on the Romaine River. It is a place of incredible beauty. While it was devastating to think that the Grande Chute could become just another concrete wall, we took strength in its power and felt lucky to be there.

On August 28th we paddled under the bridge and into the Mingan Archipelago National Park. Our summer taught us a lot and re-inspired us to work towards ensuring a dam-free Romaine River.

Thank you to everyone who supported our expedition this summer. We could not have done it without you. We are especially grateful to our families, our friends and to the small businesses that went out of their way to help us.

Esquif – Thanks to Jacques Chassé, Don and Lisa Ottey.
Hooligan Gear – Thank you John, your work is truly some of the finest.
Camp de Base – To the staff that is kind, generous and knowledgeable.
A Votre Santé – For the food that sustained us.
Ferme Morgan – For the organic roast that became delicious jerky.

A special thank you to Stacey Barden, who will continue to inspire everyone who knew her.

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