Stories from the Churchill

22 December 2021

Stories from the Churchill
Written by Ric Driediger, with Illustrations by Paul Mason
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 9-781988-783727

Ric Driediger’s positively reverent when he writes about the beauty and challenges inherent in canoeing Saskatchewan’s vast northern waterways. The owner/operator of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe, SK may already be known to readers—and fellow canoeists—through his first book, Paddling Northern Saskatchewan: A Guide to 80 Canoe Routes. Now this knowledgeable paddler has penned Stories from the Churchill, and he describes it as “the book [he] wanted to write” whereas the earlier book was the one he “needed” to write. There’s a difference. What comes through the page is that Driediger’s doing exactly what he was meant to, both professionally and personally, and he knows just how fortunate he is.

Even if you never intend to canoe across a morning-calm lake, brave big-lake wind and river rapids, portage through “swampy muskeg,” lose yourself in the boreal wilderness, “go solo” (“a spiritual experience”), or winter camp, this book will inform and entertain you. It’s well-written in a conversational tone, and includes anecdotes from Driediger’s own adventures and stories from his clients’ and staff’s experiences, too.

Driediger’s a natural storyteller, and in this softcover with 20 stand-alone chapters—and occasional cartoon illustrations by another canoeing aficionado, the author’s longtime friend, Paul Mason—readers are privy to a canoe-seat view through what the author describes as the best canoe routes in the world, but this is more than a book about canoeing: Driediger also shares his “philosophy of life” and his “understanding of the importance of experiencing wilderness.”

His introduction to canoeing began in 1972, just after high school graduation. He and his cousin joined a group of young adults who got a “crash course in canoeing and canoe tripping” from farmer/canoe instructor LaVerne Jantz, and in one day they went “from never having paddled to running rapids.” During that initial trip on the Churchill, Driediger “absolutely fell in love with the rock shoreline, with the complexity of the lakes, with the moss in the forest, with the knowledge that just over the hill another lake waited.”

One intriguing chapter concerns the writer’s preparations for and experiences with winter camping on the Churchill River. He awoke one morning—it was -54 degrees Celsius—unable to put his pants on: they were “flat, frozen solid.” He and his companions used their axe “to chop pieces of peanut butter, jam, honey, and chocolate,” and they “ate as [they] walked” because it was too cold to stop.

In another chapter, Driediger’s created a fictional story to explain the discovery of a sewing machine in the depths of a lake. He demonstrates how canoeing teaches humility and canoe groups form lifelong bonds. There also harrowing anecdotes about being stuck in a rapidly-filling culvert; 140 km hour winds and 1.5 metre waves; fatal lightning strikes; and drownings. Still: “Driving on the highway is far more dangerous.”

Canoeing romances, cross-continent adventurers, respect for First Nations’ neighbours and the land, and the history of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters … Driediger’s book is a compendium of captivating stories.


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