The town of Missinipe, SK is a made up of the fishing lodge, a trading post about the size of any corner store in Edmonton, a float-plane hangar, and a community hall. Parked outside the community hall is an old fire engine which looks like it could date back to around the ‘50s; the paint job is impeccable, but I am dubious of its functionality. The rest of the town is all little cabins and bungalows where a total of thirty-nine people reside year-round. What they do in the winter is a mystery to me. There are only so many times you can rip around a frozen lake on your skidoo before you either get bored or fall through the ice. I’m told the current takes someone every year.
I stay in a complex of twelve one-bedroom apartments right on the lakeshore. The rooms have all the wooden charm of a cabin in the woods but with more electrical outlets than my entire apartment back home in half the square-footage; this, to me, seems indicative of either good and thoughtful craftsmanship or perhaps serious overkill. There is a small kitchen to the left as you walk in, and to the right there is a wall-mounted flatscreen TV with satellite reception, which makes viewing a Blue Jays game at the end of a long day’s work a welcome possibility. At night there is complete silence. Not a single cricket or train horn. Occasionally a loon will call out over the water; in that moment where the silence is broken and you hear that instinctually familiar sound, you can’t help but feel particularly Canadian.
The other day I realized that Missinipe is as close to the frontier of a classic Hollywood Western as I’ve ever experienced. There is no real authority here – the closest law enforcement officer is an hour’s drive away. Everything is determined and decided by the community. When Gary Thompson, the founder of the fishing camp, came here fifty odd years ago, there were no signs of modernity. I’m told he had two canoes when he came. Now there are dozens of boats, at least eight float planes, and the fishing lodge, which he eventually sold, is a multi-million dollar business. It’s a different story, but it holds the same structure as the nineteenth century pioneers who would come west and buy land cheap, determined to shape and mould the earth into, at first, enough to eat, and later, a fortune.
But of course there have also been people living here for thousands of years. Five minutes down the road, in a place called Grandmother’s Bay, the local Cree band hold on to some of the country that was theirs long before anyone ever thought of land belonging to people. Some of the First Nations from the reserve are hired out as guides to the patrons of the fishing resort. Needless to say, these patrons can leave their electronic fish finders at home. After ten thousand years, the First Nations have some decent notions about where the fish are.
Until next time.
Dylan – Missinipe, SK – Day 21