STORY & PHOTOS BY DUSTIN SILVEY
Wham! My canoe slams into a boulder the size of a house. My body is forced to one side of the boat and I lean in with as much force as I can muster to regain my balance.These class III rapids continue to push and pull my boat around, doing their best to dump me into the icy river. I regain control just in time for the two-foot step at the bottom of the rapids, where I eddy-out to a safe spot and wait for the rest of team to follow through.
The Manigotagan River, located in central Manitoba, is mostly a class I/II river (with one class III rapid); ideal for people wishing to improve their paddling skills. The river, which translates to “Bad Throat” in Ojibwe, is located about 150 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg and flows from the tip of Nopiming Provincial Park through Manigotagan River Provincial Park, draining into Lake Winnipeg at the community of Manigotagan.
Several class II rapids keep paddlers on their toes while they meander through variable landscapes. Long corridors created by opposing sheer rock faces topped with jack pines line the river. Further downriver, balsam poplar, green ash and elderberry hug the watercourse, witnessing each boat’s successes and failures as we pass.
For almost 70 kilometres, we paddle the Manigotagan River with little stress or fear of tipping. Small swifts are our biggest concern as we slowly dodge the odd rock, each of us laughing and singing songs by the Ontario band, The Arrogant Worms. Moose and beavers watch us from the shoreline. Every so often we encounter one of the five class II rapids that dot the Manigotagan. This means a little scouting and sometimes even a short portage down the trails that run beside each of the class II and class III sections.
Manitoba is a wilderness of excess. For the majority of our paddling trip, the sun roasts our bodies and minds. The Manigotagan River runs entirely within the Superior Province of the Canadian Shield. Massive metamorphic rock outcrops make for easy campsites but they also reflect heat and offer little shade. The sun beats down on us, and the temperatures at the campsites push 40 degrees Celsius most days, requiring frequent cool-offs in the many waterfalls.
One day, the scorching sun is interrupted as dark clouds roll in at a calm section of the river. Rain pours down. I sit back, open my mouth and enjoy the cool water on my skin, hair and face. However, my relief is disrupted by the bite of a deer fly. Then another bites me, and another and another. I remember what hot sun is good for—keeping the bugs away.
While running a rapid just after the rain had stopped, I pull my paddle out of the water to swat at a fly and lose control of my boat as it smacks into a small rock. Frustrated with my own stupidity, I yearn for the return of the sun. And I don’t have to wait long—the ball of fire comes blazing back and sends the bugs fleeing to their shady nooks in the Shield.
One evening, while telling stories around the camp stove as the sun sets, we hear a loud slap on the water. A nearby beaver is not impressed with our choice of campsite and is slapping its tail in agitation. One member of our team jumps in a boat to get a closer look and the beaver circles him inquisitively. Since the creation of the Manigotagan River Provincial Park in 2004, this area of Canada has been left relatively untouched by humans, and the animals are curious rather than fearful. After nosing around the boat for a while, the beaver swims back to one of the several lodges that dot the area. Late into the night, the beaver continues to slap his tail, reminding us this is his home, and we are only guests.
Getting There: The start of the Manigotagan River is at Quesnel Lake in Nopiming Provincial Park, which is about a four-hour drive northeast from Winnipeg. The last hour of the drive is on a rough dirt road. It is accessible by car, but drive slowly and be sure to have a spare tire in the trunk.
Where to Stay: The two best campsites on the Manigotagan River are Sand River Falls (KM 35) and Charles Falls (KM 25). Sand River Falls can fill up in the summer months so try to get an early start if you are planning to camp there. You’ll find an excellent class II rapid, so it’s worth arriving early if you’d like to score some practice runs. Charles Falls has a fantastic pool at the bottom of the falls which makes for a good place to cool down.
Plan Your Trip: There is only one guiding company currently running trips on the Manigotagan River: Twin River Travel. They offer a five-night trip and supply all meals, boats and gear. From $1,100 per person.