Wollaston Lake Dene Community
Distance 10 km [558 km]
How can one describe the frustration, confusion yet fascination that was today. Keen to get going we were up before 7am and had paddled the 5 km to the Dene Community at Wollaston by 9am. There were not many people about but we soon found the store only to find it shut despite the notice of opening hours indicating that it should be open. We waited for about half an hour then set off to walk around town. We had not gone far when we were picked up by a local Dene woman who warned us not to leave our canoe unattended and told us that the power had been off since last night and the shop wouldn’t open until it was fixed.
Wollaston locals are the friendliest people you could hope to find. We were driven back to our canoe, I stayed with it whilst John went back to the closed store which we kept calling a shop causing total confusion as no one was familiar with the expression. John decided to walk the several kilometres to the RCMP to see if they had any information, on route he was picked up by yet another chatty local. The RCMP knew nothing about the power but let him use the phone to call Kendra, Ken and Anne and Jim, this was great as we had not seen a public phone and were under some pressure to let people know we were okay and making progress. On the way back to town he was picked up again, the locals are not just friendly but don’t seem to believe in anyone walking. Meanwhile, I had stayed with the canoe and had been approached by a number of people to check if I was okay or needed any help. By now it was about 10am and we had learnt that the store generator was broken so all had to wait until the main system was repaired.
Our canoe was tied up at the town dock which also doubled as the local swimming spot, diving board and general gathering place. We became the main attraction with every kid wanting to demonstrate how they dived, swam etc. They were full of questions. What was the canoe? Where were we going? Where were we from? Why were we doing the trip? What was under the canoe covers? Where did we stay at night ? Why had we come to Wollaston? They all wanted to sit in the canoe, on the canoe and try out the paddles etc.
Each time a new child arrived we went through the whole thing again. John remained with the canoe entertaining the kids whilst I waited with a crowd of locals at the store. The crowd ebbed and flowed with each new arrival being surprised the store was not open. Everyone was remarkably patient we all just sat on the ground and I answered the same questions John was answering at the dock. Finally about mid day we decided to go back out on the lake find a camp and return tomorrow. We had just got out on the lake when we met a young woman we had talked with earlier [she had spent a year at University of Queensland in Brisbane] told us her sister-in-law worked at the store and it would definitely open at 1pm. We returned to the dock and I left John to the mercies of an ever growing band of curious youngsters, all of whom had arms like octopuses and wanted to touch everything in the canoe, whilst I returned to the store.
The store opened and a great crowd of us rushed in and started shopping. I was very disappointed as although the store was large it did not carry the usual stock we had come to expect in these community stores. I will not be able to get many of the things on my list but will have to find substitutes, could make for some strange meals during the second half of our trip. We had not been shopping for more than 15 minutes when we were told that the computers were down and we all must leave the store immediately. There was another long wait outside with an ever growing crowd as the word had gone out the store was open. The store was the only source of fuel in town so there were dozens of ATV’s, the vehicle of choice in Wollaston, lined up waiting. I got to tell my story many times but really they no longer have concept of canoeing long distances or for that matter travelling anywhere without a motor. Their geographic knowledge is limited to going to Prince Albert, even local places they have heard of are a mystery, sad considering the amazing history and historic survival skills of the traditional Dene Nation.
Eventually we were allowed back into the store but again the power went off and we had to leave, this was tricky as the store has no windows and the aisles are not regular so all were wandering around in pitch black. More waiting and a third opportunity to shop, by now people knew who I was so they wanted to help me leading to ridiculous situations such as when two old guys went off searching for sun-screen, neither have any understanding what on earth it was. This time I managed to get most of what was available, including fresh vegetables, when again we were told to leave our trolleys and go outside. Another wait then we were told that the power probably wouldn’t be back on until tomorrow. I returned to the dock where John was guarding the canoe from a gaggle of over enthusiastic kids. They helped push us off and swam alongside hanging onto the canoe till we finally convinced them we were leaving.
We paddled along the shore being amazed by the incredible large, regular, pebble beaches. After rejecting a number of sites we ended up back at the camp site from last night. It has been a trying day having gone from three weeks of only each other to talk to, to being the constant centre of attention. If we had dropped in from out of space we could not have been more of a novelty or more bemusing to the locals. At the same time it was wonderful to have the opportunity to interact with the locals. We have been surprised/ impressed by the contrast of the Dene people to the Cree who up till now we have mostly met up with. The Cree are very reserved and rarely approach you whereas the Dene are curious, out going and have a great sense of the ridiculous. Our food supply is drastically low so had to create a meal from scratch, with success. It has been hot all day so after sitting in the shade and enjoying the silence we both went for a swim before setting up camp for the day.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow because although it has been a really interesting day we need to press on. The sad thing is the wind would have been good for us today and we could have made great progress, still we can but see what tomorrow brings.