In September 2016 the two of us went on a bit of a “trial” experience to test out our gear and skills when it came to living in the woods. We also wanted to test out a big old 1943 canvas tent and stove that a friend of ours got from the Girl Guides of Canada. It was Lisa’s first time living in a relatively remote setting for a while, and we hope it also serves as a testament to some of the beauty that is hiding up north in the province of Saskatchewan, a place which few foreign travelers bother to visit.
Destination: … Unknown
For this trip, we simply packed up our car, went north, stopped in Prince Albert to buy a used canoe, and went from paved road to unpaved road to smaller unpaved road to little trail. When driving in the north, the typical scenery is forest, lake, forest, lake… we chose a random, unnamed lake, found a way to access it, launched our canoe, and went from there. Even if you don’t have a canoe, there are endless kilometres of roads in Saskatchewan with beautiful lakes and forests where you can easily find a place just off the road to legally camp in complete isolation. We drive a tiny Toyota Corolla, which is probably the worst off-road vehicle you can imagine, and we still have no problem finding remote places off the beaten path.
After about five minutes of paddling, we encountered our first beaver lodge. About thirty minutes later we found ourselves a small little island on which we decided to strike camp. Seeing no signs of any human presence (not even an old beer can or plastic waste) but lots of trees chewed by beavers over the years, we realized we were guests of the local beavers, and dubbed our temporary home Beaver Island.
After setting up our big old tent, we soon realized that the canvas was no longer anywhere near waterproof, but so long as we kept a healthy fire going in our stove it seemed to keep most of the moisture out. In the end it was quite cozy, even with fall temperatures that were beginning to get a bit fresh at times.
Be sure to properly scout out your chosen campsite. On Beaver Island we were considering pitching our tent in an area with many tall trembling aspens, but decided not to once we noticed that busy beavers had chewed and already felled many of them. It was a good decision, as a wind storm a couple of days later resulted in big trees crashing to the ground where we had planned to put our tent.
Don’t let bears ruin your fun
Many people hesitate to go out and experience life in the backcountry because they are afraid of bears. In our opinion, this fear is pretty irrational and you’re probably more likely to be killed or injured in your car on the way there than by a bear. While the sound of that gigantic animal sneaking around outside your tent in the night can be terrifying, it’s probably just a squirrel and you’re going to be fine, especially if you’ve taken the proper precautions.
Parks Canada has a wealth of great information on how to prevent and deal with bear encounters. You can also try stopping by a Parks Canada visitor center (we went to Roger’s Pass, BC) and ask to watch an awesomely retro and very informative video on bear safety, complete with footage of Parks Canada staff intentionally getting themselves into bear encounters.
The best thing you can do to keep yourself safe from bears and other animals is to be preventative by taking measures such as:
- Keeping all food and scented products away from your tent
- Cooking, hanging your food, and going to the bathroom downwind from your tent
- Making lots of noise on the trail and in the woods to alert bears to your presence
- Having bear spray on hand at all times and knowing how to use it
We encourage you to read up on what to do to prevent an encounter and what you should do in the extremely rare event that an encounter actually takes place.
Some people feel the need to bring a gun with them to protect from bears. While we did have a shotgun with us on beaver island, it was mostly for hunting ducks (a tasty way to “live off the land,” just make sure you have the proper licenses) and we are usually perfectly comfortable with bear spray and a dedication to always acting in a bear-safe way.
We spent our days collecting wood, cooking over the fire, catching fish, exploring the lake, and keeping ourselves busy trying different ways to live comfortably on our little Beaver Island paradise.
One evening when heading to our food hanging area before bed we heard the noise of what sounded to be a big animal moving through the bush. Alarmed, we collected our shotgun, bear spray, headlamps, and courage to go hang our food while hopefully avoiding whatever animals was making the noise. It turned out it was just a little beaver dragging a big branch through the woods, which made that small animal sound much bigger than it actually was.
We were also treated to Saskatchewan’s unique offerings as the Land of Living Skies, and enjoyed beautiful sunsets and even some dim northern lights on a couple of our nights on Beaver Island.
Sadly, the time eventually came when we had to pack up and paddle back to our car on the other side of the lake.
There are literally thousands of Beaver Islands out there in Canada. Get some gear, find your adventurous spirit, and go discover a Beaver Island of your own. Especially in sparsely populated northern Saskatchewan, you will discover your own little paradise that may have never even felt the footprint of another human. Just make sure you leave it as wild as you found it and leave no trace that you were ever there.