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James Bay: a paddler’s paradise like no other

James Bay 9. A day spent paddling on James Bay is not complete without a seaside campfire. An Inuit elder once showed me one of the best ways of cooking over a fire. He finds a large flat rock and builds three low walls in the sand upon which he places the rock. The fire below heats the rock up to a perfect grilling temperature.

A photographic essay by Troy Glover

James Bay is one of the worlds largest estuaries of the Arctic Ocean and the fourth largest bay in the world – a smaller bay on the larger Hudson Bay which serves as the second largest bay in the world next to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. If size is to serve as any indicator, the diversity of James Bay is extreme – both historically and in the modern.

Historically, it served as the gateway to inland Canada where fur trade with the Cree originated. Canada’s infamous Hudson Bay Company chose James Bay for its headquarters in Rupert House (presently the Cree Nation of Waskaganish), for its value as a centre in the fur trade. Thousands of years earlier, the Inuit migrated into the region during the most recent glaciation event. A small population of Inuit still live in the Cree Nation of Chisasibi.

Today, the marine ecosystem acts as a critical lifeline for over sixty species of fish including arctic char, whitefish, sea-run speckled trout, and arctic cod; ringed seals, bearded seals, beluga whales, and the southernmost population of polar bears in the world inhabiting the Solomon Temple Islands, as well as both the South and North Twin Islands. The coastal marshes which dominate the James Bay coastline act as a major migration pathway for many species of geese and ducks, many of which are either threatened or endangered.

Not only is James Bay of both historical and ecological significance, it is a paddlers paradise. In the spring months, as the sea ice begins to soften and break apart, new routes through the myriad of islands emerge. In June, seas are mainly calm, skies sunny, and the sun warm against a frigid Arctic Ocean beneath your hull. Rocky shorelines make for interesting coves, channels, and backdrops. There is a moderate tide in James Bay resulting in some interesting current as one paddles through these channels.

Some of the most memorable experiences paddling these waters have been the long summer days, beginning with a steaming cup of coffee watching seals swim in the channels between islands; heading out in the morning on a perfectly calm stretch of blue water disappearing into the horizon; and finishing the day next to a warm fire on the shoreline listening to loons call in the distance and watching as the northern lights begin to fill the sky.

James Bay

1. Mornings on James Bay are often foggy, adding a mystical element to the scene. The tree line comes in and out of view. Islands appear and then disappear. It is easy to become disoriented and believe your in one place when suddenly a land mass emerges from the fog reminding you that in the days of GPS technology, it is still frighteningly easy to get lost.

James Bay

2. When the fog clears, a vast Arctic landscape emerges and the reality of the wilderness which surrounds becomes clear. Fields of green moss and grasses fill the foreground while blue water and sky dominate. This is James Bay.

James Bay

Lunch stops are always on random islands, many without names on a map. Of course, the Cree who have been inhabiting these islands for thousands of years know them much better. Cree and Inuit place names are often indicative of land usage, marking hunting blinds, food caches, and burial grounds.

James Bay

4. Don’t be turned off by the image of rocky inhospitable shorelines. James Bay is also marked by empty white sand beaches and quiet coves. These make for perfect landing sites. Seals are frequently spotted hunting in the current and occasionally the odd beluga surfaces.

James Bay

5. One of the more intriguing aspects of James Bay’s many natural features, are the rock formations. Sheets of exposed granite tells a tale of rich geologic history. Patterns of swirling colour are what has given the area the name “The Painted Hills” or ‘Paint Hills” as it is sometimes still referred on maps.

James Bay

6. These are not small islands. One can hike for many hours reaching large cliffs, caves, and salt water marshes. There are numerous rocky outcrops making for terrific viewpoints where distance becomes distorted.

James Bay

7. Thousands of years of changing seas have brought in layer upon layer of driftwood. In a nearly treeless landscape, seeing cedar and pine logs wider in diameter than one can reach is a fascinating tale of the power of the ocean and how interconnected it all is.

James Bay

8. These lines of driftwood are dotted by nests of migratory birds. The Cree often harvest the eggs in the spring which are plentiful. Sitting on a hillside with binoculars offers some truly world-class birding opportunities.

James Bay

9. A day spent paddling on James Bay is not complete without a seaside campfire. An Inuit elder once showed me one of the best ways of cooking over a fire. He finds a large flat rock and builds three low walls in the sand upon which he places the rock. The fire below heats the rock up to a perfect grilling temperature.

James Bay

10. The days are long in James Bay. The sun might dip below the horizon at around 10:30 p.m. but the light remains for a few more hours before the landscape is dark. Loons and owls echo in the distance filling the cold night air with a hair-raising orchestra.

About Troy Glover:
Paddler and photographer Troy Glover has spent the better part of the past five years living and working in the most remote areas of our planet. From the high Arctic to the outer steppe in Mongolia, his camera has captured an extraordinary wealth of stories. Concerned primarily with environmental conservation, he is a firm believer in the power of the image to inspire real change on a large scale. In the spring, he is often found paddling remote northern waterways by sea kayak surrounded by wilderness while recording his time spent there using his camera.

Learn more about Troy and his work online at www.troyglover.ca.

About thepaddlerezine (544 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler ezine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and WindsurfingUK magazines

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