“It’s a grand adventure!”
That’s how B.C. natives Ian and Sally Wilson summed up the first part of their trek into re-living the historic trade route north taken by the Voyageurs of the Northwest Company some 200 years ago.
So far the couple has paddled their homemade birch bark canoe from Grand Portage near Thunder Bay and carried gear over 30 portages to reach their first “rendezvous” at Fort St. Pierre in Fort Frances on Monday afternoon.
Ahead of them lies another eight months of adventure as they continue on to Cumberland House in northern Manitoba, where they will complete their trek by dog sled.
The Wilsons spent most of yesterday chatting with people at the fort during a special Voyageur celebration put on by the Fort Frances Museum.
As historic re-enactors, the Wilsons are replicating the whole nine yards of the Voyageur including a mere two sets of clothing, moccasins, meager eats like pemmican, bannock, cornmeal, and rice, toting canvas sacks, and sleeping in a tent.
The couple has completed four other unique Canadian journeys, which are re-counted in their best-selling books “Wilderness Seasons,” “Wild and Free,” “Arctic Adventures,” and “Gold Rush.”
“All these trips are to learn new things, and to re-live history,” said Ian Wilson, sporting a suntan and a smile. “By next April we will have completed the cycle in the life of a Voyageur.”
The Wilson’s unique lifestyle began 15 years ago when, as working “city-dwellers,” they left their jobs to pursue their dream of living in the remote woods for a year.
“We took a year’s supply of food, a chainsaw, a ‘how to build a cabin’ book, and were flown 100 air miles from the nearest dirt road. It was total isolation,” he added. “It was a terrific year!”
“We thought doing that would get it out of our system, but just the opposite happened,” Sally Wilson chuckled. “I think it’s one of the Canadian dreams to escape from the city and live in a log cabin. At some point everybody wants to do that.”
It takes four years for the Wilsons to completely wrap up their journeys—one year for the adventure, one to write and illustrate a book about it (they carry three cameras and eight lenses, snapping between six to eight thousand slides per trip), and two years of travel to share tales of their trip to schools across the country.
“We love to go into the schools and bring [history] alive,” noted Ian Wilson.
“History is not always entertaining when it comes straight from a book,” agreed Sally Wilson. “History is people and it’s much more easy to write about and to share if you’ve [re-lived] it.”
“We feel very fortunate that we can do this and get away with it,” her husband laughed.
The Wilson’s expect to return to Fort Frances in the fall of 2000, only not by canoe. It will be part of their cross-country tour to tell students about their Voyageur adventure.