Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
Back and forth: a story from Quetico

Today’s blog comes from Quetico Provincial Park canoe route technician, Gavin Morito-Karn.

In 2019, I spent the summer paddling through much of the vastness of one of Canada’s waterways.

Brigitte Champaigne-Klassen (also a former Quetico staff member) and I traveled from Cochrane, Alberta (just west of Calgary) to Nym Lake on the Quetico border, a trip of approximately 4,500 km.

Most of those days were spent in unknown waters passing through meadows and artificial lakes.

We follow the silty serpent of the Saskatchewan River across farmland, dunes, townships, cities and reserves – an artery of civilization.

The water held stories I had not heard before.

The shape was new.

It can be a difficult emotion to capture in words when we are part of a comeback.

staff sitting at the campsite

Smelling the familiar in your childhood home or seeing the smile lines of an old friend.

It causes “the feels,” so to speak. There is a magnetism when we find ourselves where and with whom we feel we belong.

I felt this after several years away from the lakes, rocks, mosses and swamps I knew as Quetico Provincial Park.

That summer of 2019, I gradually paddled toward the familiar and suddenly sat with the sound of the wind through White Pines, gazing up at Quetico’s clear, starry skies.

An artery of civilization: a journey to the heart.

sunset over the lake

Quetico: the great desert for many, He Quetico for many American Boy Scouts, and ancestral and current home of many Anishnaabeg friends, elders, and respected companions past and present.

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Suddenly, I was home. Attracted. Magnetized!

Since 2010, this park has been home to me.

When I started in Quetico as a student, with my boyish ponytail and bright-eyed enthusiasm, I learned the ways of the waters here.

I carried with me stories of those I met, some of whom are now my northern family.

staff paddling canoe

It was in this park that I first experienced the rhythm of the cabin’s strokes and the taste of pure lake water.

It was here that I learned that unless you enjoy suffering or have some other mysterious reason, you should never go to Allan Creek.

At Quetico they offered me teachings that have shaped my vision of the world.

It’s where I first quit tobacco with the late Edward Ottertail, and I will season there every time I return to that place; for him, for our relationships, for this land that I love and for myself.

I returned to Quetico Provincial Park this summer because sometimes when we return somewhere, we find that the new and the old can join hands and form a unique relationship with the places we call home.

Now, when I paddle in this park, I carry with me the stories of those who lived them, giving life to the spirit of the waters and rocks where I go.

canoe propped on rock

Here I am part of something bigger than want belong to. In Quetico I am a small part of the past, present and future.

And like anywhere, it is often the people we meet along the way who carve into stone the stories that float on the water.

I hope that everyone who calls this place home, even for a little while, can experience the same kind of love.

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Quetico Provincial Park is 2.5 hours from Thunder Bay.