and Saturday of last week was my first time in Ontario. Springtime
is a magnificent time to make that trip. The area is on one of the
migratory paths of birds, and this wild and beautiful land is just
beginning to wake.
Peter and Sandra Hapka of Warren, Minn.,
were our guides. I met Pete on the Internet. He knew me from my
columns and thought I would be interested in meeting some of his
favorite people and seeing some interesting places.
At the Herald, there were raised eyebrows
that I would travel into this wilderness with someone I had met
on the Internet. So, I talked my nephew into going with us. It worked
out great because he just completed a teaching stint in Canada at
the Roseau River Reserve (as reservations are called in Canada)
- and of course, Pete and Sandy turned out not only to know almost
everyone in the area, but to know rivers, roads and forests, too.
Early Friday morning as we drove north
to Warroad, Minn., to meet the Ojibway people from the Buffalo Point
Reserve, we came upon a large flock of sandhill cranes. Pete slammed
on the brakes and turned around so we could have a better look.
The cranes all seemed to turn at the same time to look at us. Their
long necks and beaks faced in the same direction, like a row of
majorettes poised in perfect harmony.
Lake of the Woods is beginning to melt,
so there was water yet and, in places, it looked like a giant slushy
from Kmart. The lake stretches beyond the eye and almost seemed
to roll around the curve of the earth. Birds were walking on the
ice or swimming in the open water.
This is a time for birds. The eagles in
this wilderness are as common as red robins. We must have counted
more than 20. The pelicans dominated the beautiful Rainy River,
which we followed from Manitoba to Ontario. At the city of Rainy
River, Minn., where we crossed into Canada, there were hundreds
of them - proud, with their heads arched. When they took flight,
their wing span was 5 feet or more, and they have those black-tipped
wings that look as if they just pulled them from an ink bottle.
They have a relationship with the black cormorant, which was almost
There were ducks there, too, but these
two species ruled. The forest trees didn't have much foliage yet,
so birds are easy to see.
The deer at Buffalo Point Reserve in Manitoba
are used to being fed, and you can hold out your hand with food.
They are particular, though: We offered them bread and canned peaches,
but they only sniffed and walked away. That must come from having
so many choices.
As we traveled north to the Big Grassy
River reserve, there were lakes and lakes. There was more bog, probably,
than in the Big Bog area of Minnesota near the Red Lakes.
The bog, my guides told me, is an ideal
place for moose to hang out. I waited for my opportunity to see
one, but came home without a sighting. I did, however, have moose
stew. When we arrived in Big Grassy River Reserve, the Curtis Copenace
family invited us to visit. They live on the river, where it dumps
into Lake of the Woods. The people at Big Grassy make their living
fishing for walleye.
They had a big meal waiting for us: fried
bread, bannock, potatoes, corn, wild rice, moose meat and cherry
pie. I never tasted moose before and thought it might taste gamey
like venison, but it didn't. Curtis' mother, who spoke only Ojibway,
did the cooking, and she is good.
From there we traveled east to the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung
(which means the Place of the Long Rapids), historical
centre of the Rainy River First Nation Ojibway people. Human habitation
there dates back 8,000 years. In a golf cart driven by Dave Debungie,
a Rainy River elder, we toured the area. There are many burial mounds
in the trees. One of the mounds was disturbed and had to be reburied.
So, each visitor takes tobacco and a handful of dirt and covers
the mound. Debungie told us stories about the mounds and his role
in the ceremonies of the Rainy River Ojibway people. Sam Bombay,
the manager of the centre, said you can find wild strawberries,
cranberries, chokecherries, blueberries and flowers. Bombay said
there are a number of species of plants that grow nowhere else in
They are waiting for the walleye run next
week and then, they will begin preparing for their May 17 fish fry
that is open to the public. The walleye they served in the Hungry
Hall restaurant that overlooks Rainy River is some of the best I've
After attending a powwow farther north
at Onegaming Reserve, we began making our way back to the states.
This Canadian wilderness is a place like no other. And I will visit
Yellow Bird's column appears Tuesday and
Saturday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or she
can be reached at (701) 780-1228 or (800) 477-6572 ext. 228.
is the word in the Ojibway language for "Place of the
Long Rapids." More than just a physical location on
the Rainy River in Northwestern Ontario, KayNahChiWahNung
is a place of spirituality, history and beauty. Designated
as one of Canada's National Historical Sites in 1970, it's
importance has been acknowledged for generations by natives
and nonnatives alike.