BY CONOR MIHELL
A journey by snowshoe and toboggan in the wilds of northern Ontario in 2013 marked the changing of the guard. That winter, upstart Sudbury, Ontario-based outfitters David and Kielyn Marrone, the owners of Lure of the North, invited veteran Maine guide Garrett Conover to join them on a two-week expedition down the Missinaibi River.
In the 1990s, Conover literally wrote the book on traditional winter camping with snowshoes, toboggans, canvas tents and woodstoves—long before the pursuit experienced a revival (thanks in part to the Marrones) in recent years. Conover learned his trade from a previous generation of wilderness travellers and is known for winter-long expeditions in Labrador and northern Quebec.
For filmmaker David Hartman, a backcountry skier indoctrinated in a world of Gore-Tex, the Missinaibi trip was an eye-opening experience. “Outside observers may understandably think that traditional winter travel is about nostalgia, about pining for a time past,” says Hartman. “I thought that myself. But in making this film I realized that it is quit the opposite. It’s about moving traditions into the future and recognizing their utility and value before they’re lost and forgotten.”
On February 14, 2017, Hartman released his 33-minute, pay-per-view documentary “Keepers of the Trail” on Vimeo. The film features compelling winter footage from the Missinaibi—a popular summertime canoe route—and insightful commentary from Conover about the value of traditional skills and equipment in a modern world. With growing popular interest in using canvas tents and woodstoves for winter travel, as well as “bushcraft” in general, the film will no doubt resonate with audiences across Canada and the U.S. The film is available to rent for $1.99 US or $5.99 US to buy.
“The form of travel is not about the old-style materials and skills, it’s about what they represent,” notes Hartman. “It’s attention to detail, a realization that in our constant pursuit of progress we often overlook the value of what we already have.
“In filmmaking I’m always looking for that one thing that makes the viewing experience about more than what we see on the screen,” he adds. “‘Keepers of the Trail’ is about a challenging winter expedition but I did not want to get bogged down by that fact. My goal was that everyone will be able to relate to this film in some way, not just the small number of people who enjoy travelling like this. I guess it’s up to the viewer to decide I have accomplished this.”