The first year of the millennium was a big one for us. We did our first overnight canoe trip and on a very special river, the Thomsen River on Banks Island. The Thomsen River is the most northerly navigable river (by canoe) in the world. We paddled from 73.0 to 74.1 degrees north.
Banks Island is the most westerly of Canada’s arctic islands. It’s well over twice as big as Vancouver Island and slightly smaller than Ireland (the island). Sachs Harbour is the only community and has a population of about 100 people.
About 50,000 muskoxen live on Banks Island, close to half the world’s population. Most of those reside in the Thomsen River valley which is lush compared to the barren, windswept lands around it. On our trip it seemed that you could stand on any hill, at any hour, look in any direction, and you would see muskoxen, either close or far.
The canoeable part of the Thomsen River is entirely in Aulavik National Park and the lower half of the river has special designation as a bird sanctuary. Over 40 bird species nest there in summer. We saw many.
Close to the mouth of the Thomsen River is Mercy Bay. This is where in 1850 Robert McClure and his crew of the Investigator spent two years trapped in ice. They were searching for the lost Franklin expedition. They escaped Mercy Bay by abandoning ship and traveling eastward overland to Victoria Island where they met another ship. Robert McClure later became the first person to transit the Northwest Passage by combination of boat and sledge.
Thomsen River is shallow and slow moving. That was good for us because we were complete beginners as canoeists. Sometimes we thought it might have been better to have done the trip in reverse since we battled strong headwinds many days. The river is only navigable for about six weeks a year. It is frozen through June and then becomes too shallow starting mid August.
We paddled about 125 km in two weeks. Obviously a very slow pace which gave us lots of time to explore the surrounding countryside.
Many thanks to our friend Kirstie for organizing the trip. Our mutual friends Irene and Doug participated as did Kirstie’s friends Trish, Heather, and Glen.
Now the photos which are scanned transparencies. If you expand the photo viewer to full page the “Adventures” menu will stop working. This is because of technical issues with the website software. Pick any other menu item and go to that web page. The “Adventures” menu will then work properly.