Canoeing the Great Bear River

by Crystal Roche

This past August, my husband and I and 27 other family and friends went on an adventure to the Arctic Circle and the North West Territories. This was the first time that my husband and I have travelled without our children for such a long period of time. I’ll admit, we were a little nervous to leave them for so long. We flew up to Yellowknife, NT where we overnighted before flying out early the next morning to Arctic Watch, NU.

After a pleasant but chilly stay at Arctic Watch we headed to Norman Wells to meet up with our canoe guides at their lodge. We spent a lovely evening with them and got ready for the next phase of our adventure. Having never done this type of canoeing before, it was a really interesting process. For our canoe company, this was their largest guided group – so it was an experience for them too.

Our canoes had been flown to the start of our journey in Deline some days earlier, but we still needed  to be outfitted with paddles and life jackets and more rain gear as unfortunately the forecast was looking grim. Once we were suited up, the guides took our paddles and life jackets and all the gear barrels (these were waterproof barrels that held everything from camping pots and cutlery, to dry goods and tarps which we would need for camping) onto our airplane and flew them to Deline. Our guides overnighted there with our gear, and our plane came back for us. We all packed our personal items into our own waterproof barrel and got them ready for loading the next morning. All we would need we stuffed into a small bin…fleece, rainpants and jackets, hats, long underwear and warm socks. I’m glad we had just come from the Arctic, as we were well prepared for rainy weather in a canoe. Surprisingly, it all fit….and we were set to go.

Once the packing was done we could actually enjoy ourselves a little. This would turn out to be our last sunny and warm day for the remainder of the trip!

The next morning we got on our plane and flew to Deline. A small community at the Southwest corner of the Great Bear Lake (the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world). After a quick shuttle across the lake, we loaded all the gear into our canoes and then paddled off down the Great Bear River. The Boreal and Taiga forests that grace the shores of the Great Bear offered us amazing views of the Mackenzie lowlands. The current on this river often reaches speeds of 10 to 12 km per hour with absolutely clear water.

The rain was a serious impediment…but it did not dampen our spirits. Our group was amazing as this was not ideal conditions for this type of trip. The guides were amazing however, and the scenery was absolutely spectacular. I also shouldn’t be so harsh about the weather. We had a couple of re- ally torrential downpours and a lot of drizzling, but we did also have amazing periods where the sun would come out over the river and light up the area and it was truly the most beautiful sight.

We camped for three nights on the banks of the river, our hosts cooked up great meals and we drank wine (from bags not bottles) and told stories. We learned more about one and other and grew closer as a family and drew nearer to our new friends. When you are out in the wilderness like that, away from the hustle and bustle of society, it really gives you time to slow down and gain some perspective. It allows you to get back to what is most important (in my opinion) which is family and relationships, fresh air and the outdoors, helping out one another and teamwork.

It will be one of those experiences in my life that I will carry with me for my lifetime. We came off the river on the 4th day with a real sense of pride at having accomplished something amazing that very few people have or will have the opportunity to see and do, almost 100 miles of river navigation in the Canadian North with 27 wonderful people.

We finished off the paddling with a final night stay at the lodge of Canoe North Adventures, and then flew back to Yellowknife. We really finished off the trip the right way with an amazing wrap up din- ner in town. We invited everyone from our flight crew, and from the charter air company, Summit Air. It was the perfect finale to our perfect trip.

If you’d like to read in detail about the trip, please feel free to visit my blog at: And of course, if you feel up to an adventure like this of your own, please don’t hesitate to call us…we’d be happy to help you plan it out.