In the Wake of the Voyageurs

Canoeing couple reflect on 2016 paddling odyssey across northern Canada

Photo courtesy Facebook.com/wildravenadventure
Photo courtesy Facebook.com/wildravenadventure

French Canadian adventurers Jennifer Gosselin and Pierre Pépin made news last fall when they completed a 15-month, 6,840-mile canoe journey around eastern North America. The couple sold all their possessions to make the journey and promised it was only the beginning. In the spring, Gosselin, Pépin and their dog, Jasmine, began phase two of the Wild Raven NorAm Odyssey. They hauled their canoe across frozen Lake Winnipeg and followed the historic fur trade canoe route across central Canada, en route to the west coast—season one of an 8,800-mile, 200-portage journey.

Early snowstorms and persistent cold convinced Gosselin and Pépin to hang up their paddles for the season in the town of Hudson's Hope on the Peace River, in northern British Columbia. We caught up with the couple to hear some of the highlights.

CanoeKayak.com: Did the summer go as planned?
Jennifer Gosselin and Pierre Pépin: The summer was amazing. We had nice and warm weather, not too many rainy days and not too many bugs. It was great! We enjoyed some very long paddling days. Going upstream was not always that easy, but the scenery was unbelievable. On top of it, we met kind, unique and generous people along the way. We made some great memories in northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

What were some highlights? Did you feel like you got a good sense of the voyageur lifestyle, 200 years after the fur trade?
There are many moments and places that truly amazed us. For scenery, Lake Winnipeg, the Churchill and the Peace River stand out. For wildlife, we saw many birds and wolves on Lake Winnipeg; bears and beavers on the Churchill and Sturgeon Weir rivers; and moose, wolves, bears, elk, deer, sandhill cranes, white swans and more on the Peace River. One night on the Peace a pack of wolves howled for two hours. To top it off, a bear, a family of beaver and a pack of coyotes added their voices to a concert echoed through the Peace River valley.

History comes alive when you paddle and portage on the voyageur route—even with our modern canoe, high-tech gear and freeze-dried food. We woke early and paddled long hours. We were by ourselves and had to figure out to how to overcome many obstacles. We followed the voyageur schedule, starting at the end of March and ending our season in mid-October. We also found many of the old French Canadian names: We were so excited when we got to the Rendezvous Lake on the Methye Portage.

Photo courtesy Facebook.com/wildravenadventure
Photo courtesy Facebook.com/wildravenadventure

What was it like to paddle out of summer and into the autumn?
It was truly fascinating. We especially noticed the change in colors. The sunlight made the yellow aspen leaves reflect on the water. Then the birds started migrating—so many geese, cranes and swans heading south. Every day was different. The most magical moment was when we surprised an elk in the morning fog on the Peace River.

Were you planning to stop for the season where you did? What are your plans for the winter?
We expected to reach Prince George, B.C. by the end of the season and hike to the Pacific coast before the snow. But we were about two weeks late and the cold weather arrived early. We got snow in late September and woke every morning to a frosty tent. During the day it was barely getting above freezing. When we decided to call the canoeing season off, the forecast called for 16 inches of snow in Hudson's Hope, B.C. We weren't quite ready to stop paddling but it was getting unsafe. At the same time, friends from Yukon were on their way back home and they offered us to experience the Yukon winter with them. So we are now in the Yukon and will stay here until the end of the year.

Winter in northern B.C. Photo courtesy Facebook.com/wildravenadventure
Winter in northern B.C. Photo courtesy Facebook.com/wildravenadventure

When do you anticipate getting back on the water in the spring?
We are already planning the resume our paddling next year. We are now looking for options. We might be back on the water as early as February to start paddling the Inside Passage from Prince Rupert to Vancouver. And from Vancouver we will be heading across Canada to Moncton, New Brunswick for the remainder of the 2017 season.

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