Moose Factory, six years on

I’m just back from a trip to Moose Factory over the weekend. It’s a return trip that has been in the works since I was up there in 2008 and promised (presumptuously!) to be back with the book I was researching one day. As I put the finishing touches on The Umbrella Mender in the spring, I started to make plans to go back. Of course I would, and this time I’d bring books and family.

The trip itself is an odyssey that lasts nearly 24 hours (including an overnight in either Timmins or Cochrane, since the Polar Bear Express leaves only once a day, at 9am). When I went the first time in September 2008, it was the farthest north I’d been.

To get to Moose Factory from Toronto, you fly to Timmins,

timmins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

take a bus to Cochrane,

cochrane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and board the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee.

PBE1

 

 

 

 

 

 

PBE2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The train journey north is five hours through the trees and water and muskeg of northern Ontario. You have front row seats as you cross the Abitibi River and pass the mighty Otter Falls.

otter falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you leave the train in Moosonee, the first thing you notice is the Cree syllabics that spell Moo-Seh-Nee (ᒧᓱᓂ) on the water tower.

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You walk the dirt road to the bank of the river and board a water taxi to take you to Moose Factory, an island in the Moose River.

moose river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from a window in the Cree Village Ecolodge. The channel between Sawpit and Charles Islands leads back to the mainland.

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While I was there I did a short talk and reading from my new novel in the beautiful Ecolodge. Dr Dennis Dahl, the chief of staff at Weenebayko General Hospital (formerly Moose Factory Indian Hospital, the setting for some of the scenes in my novel), heard about the event and announced it at the weekly staff meeting. I was thrilled to have doctors, residents, and other medical staff in attendance, since my great-uncle had been the hospital superintendent when it first opened, as well as two former nurses who worked there at the time of my novel.

after reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will I be able to top a view like this as a reading venue?

reading view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it was finished, the warm northern hospitality I’d experienced on my first visit showed its sunny face again. Across the road was a tipi with a traditional lunch of goose, moose, whitefish and bannock cooking over an open fire. I’d never tasted goose, so this was wish fulfillment. I was pinching myself.

tipi1

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr Dahl offered to take us up island, where he’d seen the Bombardier snow crawler I showed in my presentation…

Bombardier old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…decommissioned.

Bombardier

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone thought to protect the headlamps and windows. It’s at least 60 years old now. Besides dog sled, it was the way people crossed the frozen river in winter. There were no cars on the island then.

Because the Polar Bear Express leaves only once a day from Moosonee, at 5pm, the return trip also means an overnight in Cochrane or Timmins. You save a half day of travel if you fly from Moosonee to Timmins. I was traveling with my husband, mother-in-law, and daughter, and we needed to be back Sunday. That’s a King Air 100, according to the information card in the back of our tiny seats.

King Air 100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a privilege to be able to start my tour in the place my book began, and it brought a kind of closure to seven years of labour and dreaming. The place was changed in the intervening years, but not so much in physical topography as in the imagined space I’d made there for the novel. I’d lived there with my characters, walked those roads, scratched myself on wild bushes, shivered in the rain, ate meals, slept, and worked with them. It was a kind of homecoming.

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