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Hike from Sloop Cove to Prince of Wales Fort – CNSC Wild Planet Learning Vacation

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Version française de ce texte.

The Churchill Northern Studies Center 2012 Learning Vacations Brochure is now available on their website.

I am very happy to report that one of my photos has been selected to illustrate their Wild Planet program. You’ll find it on page 2 of the brochure. Here is a full width version of the image. You can see the Prince of Wales Fort in the background.

Hiking towards Fort Prince of Wales, Churchill, Manitoba.

The photo was taken in August 2011 during a half-day hike which took us from Sloop Cove to the Fort. Because of tide constraints, that very first morning of the 2011 Wild Planet program, we had to be up and ready to go by 6:30AM. James Kushny, our instructor for the week, was our driver for the twenty or so kilometers separating the CNSC from downtown Churchill. Those of us sitting at the back of the van were in for a bumpy but most joyful ride!

From Churchill, we boarded a zodiac and headed across the Churchill River. As soon as we stepped off the zodiac, we were taken back more than 250 years when Sloop Cove was a wintering and mooring site for sloops, the Hudson Bay Company’s (HBC) small wooden sailboats used for exploration, whaling and trading expeditions. “Sloop” is thought to be a deformation of the French word “chaloupe”. Nowadays, Sloop Cove is a dry cove but back in the 1700s there were more than 3m of water at high tide. What makes the site so special is that several HBC men who used to work here left their signatures on the rocks : sailors, gunners, ship carpenters, captains, laborers and even a servant!

Parks Canada employees Duane Collins and Raymond Girardin, our guides on this hike, identified several of the signatures and explained the distinctive marks we sometimes noticed beside a name. They were carved to highlight the profession of the person. Here are two examples where we can clearly see an ax:

J. Hulme's signature at Sloop Cove

Robert Smith's signature at Sloop Cove. 1776.

Two British ships commanded by Captain Christopher Middleton, the Furnace and the Discovery, left a trace as well. Both ships departed the United Kingdom on June 8 1741 and wintered at Sloop Cove. The following year they headed north in an attempt to discover the Northwest Passage.

The Furnace & Discovery. 1741.

But, the most famous signature at Sloop Cove is the one left by Samuel Hearne on July 1, 1767, precisely 100 years before Canada’s Confederation! When he carved his name, Hearne was 22 years old and a shipmate employed by the HBC. Little did he know that eight years later he would become the governor of Prince of Wales Fort and that, in 1782, he would be the one making the decision to surrender the Fort to the French captain, Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse.

Samuel Hearne's carved signature at Sloop Cove.

We could have stayed much longer to examine the various signatures but, we had to get going. We still had to walk the 3.2 km separating us from Prince of Wales Fort and to ensure we made it back to Churchill before low tide. Shortly after leaving Sloop Cove, we passed an abandoned cabin and one last signature, the one left by Johnnie Powderhorn on May 1, 1973. Powderhorn was the last inhabitant of Sloop Cove.

Carved signature of Johnnie Powerhorn, the last inhabitant of Sloop Cove

Walking along the beach we spotted Canada geese, polar bear and wolf tracks. None of them being fresh, we weren’t too worried but still happy to have our two armed guards close by.

A large flock of sandpipers flew by and landed just a few meters from us then, a few minutes later they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared! Arctic terns were busy diving in the river for their meal. To prevent them from zooming above our heads and grabbing some hair on the way, Duane made sure to walk while holding a stick way up high. If terns were to attack, they would head for his cap covering the tip of the stick.

Duane holding his cap way up high to prevent tern attacks on us.

Along the way, Raymond identified the various plants, berries and edible lichens we encountered. He gave us his recipe for salad made with Sea sandwort leaves. Please! If you wish to make this salad, make sure to pick them before flowering. Afterwards, you will be left with an aftertaste of fish and… a fish that is not as fresh as you would have liked it to be!

Raymond Girardin providing some explanations.

We made a stop at the grave of Walter S. Flood, an RCMP officer and assistant surgeon who died November 29, 1906 of exposure to cold. He had gone on a dog sled patrol and got lost during a snow storm. He was 30, came from Quebec City and had been an RCMP member for less than a year.

Grave of Walter S. Flood near Prince of Wales Fort.

As we approached the fort, we were informed that a polar bear was sighted at Eskimo Point, a peninsula located on the other side of Prince of Wales Fort. We stopped for a moment to locate the animal but it was so far that there was no need to worry. We therefore continued our walk and allowed ourselves to stop to take a few shots of the arnicas that were blooming along the path.

Arnica

View of Prince of Wales Fort. Churchill can be seen in the background. Photo taken during the 2010 Lord of the Arctic Learning Vacation at the CNSC.

Once at the fort we were fascinated by the stories told by Duane about life at the fort during Samuel Hearne’s time. If you ever go to Churchill, please make sure that you stop by Parks Canada’s office and talk to Duane. He is an encyclopedia on two legs when it comes to Samuel Hearne, the HBC, Churchill, York Factory, etc. His knowledge is simply unbelievable and he tells the stories with such passion. During my stays in Churchill, I had the great pleasure of attending two other presentations given by Duane. Each time, the audience was captivated. How can one remember so many nitty gritty details and facts is simply amazing!

Duane telling us some of the fascinating stories of Prince of Wales Fort.

Recently, while doing research on a totally different subject I discovered in the Archives de la France d’outre mer a map of La Pérouse’s successful plan of attack on Prince of Wales Fort. He captured it on August 9, 1782 without a single gun shot being fired. Fascinating what one can find in Archives!

Thank you Duane and Raymond for most enjoyable and instructive hike. I’m looking forward to finding time to read some of Samuel Hearne’s writings.

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