There is no word for ‘thank you’ in the Cree language- a hard pill to swallow for a crew brought up to mind their Ps and Qs. “E’kosi” is the closest translation, meaning “it is done” or “that’s all folks”.
A quick Cree language lesson wasn’t the only thing on the menu for us in Grand Rapids. Our planned quick stop in the town was extended to a bottomless helping of pickerel cheeks, walleye and enough wine to…well, more than enough wine.
After the most unforgettable paddle of our journey so far- the 17-hour sunset to sunrise, starry northern light surprise paddle (detailed in the blog “A Night at the Museum’)- PACT was on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, Manitoba. Dazed and sleepy from our all night push, moments away from our next site for some rest, we met Gerald McKay.
A Manitoba Hydro employee on a tour of the lake, Gerald promised to meet us at the dam, and guide us around its enormity. We got more than a dam guide, we got a Grand Rapids guide and Lake Winnipeg guardian angel.
“I don’t know why,” Gerald explained that morning as he was unrolling a fishing net to gift us, “but every time there’s a canoe trip that stops at Grand Rapids, I get the call to help them out.” Over the course of our day, it was easy to see why
Gerald was born and raised in Grand Rapids, and passionate of his community. He was enthusiastic about showing us the insider’s tour of the town.
Our first stop was a Cree Culture camp on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. We arrived just before lunch, in time to see children learning how to braid sweetgrass. The Culture Camp is designed to help elders in the community pass down traditions, language and craft to younger generations. The camp is the perfect blend of heritage based hands on skill sets and community sharing and learning. A wonderful expression of Outdoor Education – taught with passion and purpose.
We then toured the rest of town, Gerald stopping to show us an old graveyard dating back to the early 19th century. His great grandmother is buried there in a separate plot signifying some elevated importance in the community.
“I’m not sure what she did, but she did receive a bear claw necklace from Sitting Bull himself,” he proudly notes. Then adds slyly, “Maybe she was his girlfriend…”
Gerald was a great host and kept us up later than we should have with stories of home and abroad. He was keen to hear of our adventure to date and had lots of advice for our future on Lake Winnipeg. Gerald has fished Lake Winnipeg all his life, and has seen his fair share of canoe trips successful and otherwise on the world’s tenth largest lake. He shared information on good locations for campsites, beautiful beaches, friends in remote fishing villages, spots for fresh water, and local legends of dancing ghosts and buried gold.
Gerald shared with us his the story of his ongoing efforts to help out Winnipeg Harvest, a food bank. Due to fishing quotas, fisherman throw out less valuable fish species in favour of those that will fetch a fairer price. Whitefish for example is a common species often caught in abundance. Since they aren’t worth much on the market, fishermen throw the fish back into the lake. They typically do not survive the process of “catch and release” in a gill net.
“It’s just a waste. The fishermen are willing to donate the fish for free to the Winnipeg Harvest, and I keep getting blocked by the provincial government.” Gerald explained he has arranged for the fishing co-ops on Lake Winnipeg to keep their whitefish catch for the food banks. The same food regulations would apply to the donated whitefish, meaning that millions of pounds of fresh clean fish would find its way into Winnipeg homes. He food bank is ready and willing to accept the fish. Gerald has been working on this project for years, and has been the subject of a documentary. Still, he is met with complications while tones of fish are wasted.
“There shouldn’t be children going to bed hungry when all this good food is being wasted. It’s been disappointing, but I’m going to keep fighting for it,” Gerald says.
Gerald is trying to organize the donation of millions of pounds of fish to Winnipeg’s hungry. He gave our crew a fish, we ate for a meal. Gerald taught us to fish, and we ate for the rest of the trip, and spread the word of his good works.
For more information, please view “Change the Normal” found here:
After everything, Gerald would not accept a thank you. “Helping people out is something that comes natural, there’s no need to be tripping over thank yous. “