James Bay Canada: The Natural North

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James Bay offers Wilderness Experiences in a Pristine, cold Place

By Maria Myers

The stunning interior of the Aanischaakamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Quebec City Quebec, Canada.
The stunning interior of the Aanischaakamikw Cree Cultural Institute in Quebec City. decrochezcommejamais.com photos

Canada is known for its hockey, bacon and mild-mannered yet accommodating people. All stereotypes aside, the country’s wilderness is its best asset.

But if you aren’t a wilderness expert or an experienced mountaineer these vase expanses of unkempt Canadian territory have been out of reach of the general public.

Though this isn’t Alaska, I can just picture another Christopher McCandless attempting to “tame the wilderness” with little to no background knowledge, getting themselves into a predicament that at best requires expensive emergency evacuation procedures, at worst the loss of life.

The new activities and ecotourism opportunities now set up in the Eeyou Istchee/ Baie-James region allow tourists (and emergency responders) to bypass all the rescue inconveniences. website

Making the Unknown Accessible

Fortunately, the Canadian government is working on expanding its touristic horizons and has pumped $300,000 into promoting the Eeyou Istchee (the Land of the People) and Baie-James (or James Bay) region in the North of Quebec. This is meant to stimulate job creation, increase visitor numbers and tourism spending in the area.

Frédérique Brais-Chaput
Frédérique Brais-Chaput

Frédérique Brais-Chaput, the marketing agent for the joint Eeyou Itschee Baie-James tourism promoter, let me know they’re prepared for the influx of company as they’ve been working on developing the tourist industry for several years.

“It goes without saying that both Aboriginal (the Crees) and non-Aboriginal communities are ready: each city and community has at least one hotel, restaurant, and the necessary services to refuel, as well as a multitude of activities,” she said.

Authentic Experiences

Depending on the season there is a vast array of activities and exceptional lodging, especially for the traveler inclined for the outdoors. The many hiking and biking trails will lead to the heart of the boreal forests or the ideal lakeside views.

I hope you have panoramic picture settings on your phone, though any camera will produce a quality shot. It’s hard to mess up raw beauty.

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The Aurora Borealis always makes a classic picture

Boat tours along the Maquatua River and James Bay during the Fall and Spring months with Cree guides from the Wemindji community are breathtaking and informative.

In Ms. Brais-Chaput’s words, “While telling you the story of their land, [the tour guides] let you explore the islands of James Bay, where you can observe the fauna and flora, take a walk on these rocky massifs and contemplate the vastness of Eeyou Istchee Baie-James.”

Cree Culture

As briefly mentioned above the main Native American group of the North is the Cree, and their culture is at the heart of the James Bay experience.   If traveling during the summer months, it is highly recommended that one visits Mistissini, Wemindji, or Chisasibi to witness and even participate in the traditional Pow Wow, celebrating new and old connections among people.

Features of the event include traditional songs, drums, dances, and clothing. The Crees are spread out between nine communities with traditional values focusing on sustainable hunting, trapping, and fishing.

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Traditional dance and dress that can be found at a Cree Pow Wow.

If you’re one of those travelers that like to be as informed as possible definitely visit Aanischaaukamikw, the Cree Cultural Institute in Quebec City before making your way North to between the 49th and 55th parallels (James Bay territory).

The Cree inspired architecture alone with its light wood and earthy interior will insight you to visit their variable land and culture. The building was designed with the purposes of preservation, conservation, and knowledge transfer.

Accommodations

After action-packed days spend your nights at Nuuchimi Wiinuu, a Cree cultural camp based in Oujé-Bougoumou. You will be staying with host and accommodation owners David and Anna Bosum, individuals ready and able to share their culture, knowledge, and traditions as you make yourself comfortable in the expansive Cree tents during your stay.

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A Matagami yurt alongside one of the canines you can expect to power you along your dog-sled tour.

If tents aren’t so much your style of leisure, Les Écogites du lac Matagami might be more up your alley. Located in the heart of the boreal forest, these mix of luxury wooden cottages or yurts supply visitors with breathtaking sunrises and sunsets along the majestic Matagami lake.

If you need a break from the indoors, visitors are welcome to pitch a tent along its lengthy shoreline.

The Great Outdoors

This area of Canada is known for its expansive boreal forest coverage. Attractions Boreeales Baie-James can take you on a dogsled trip to discover this unique habitat.

This tour ends with a night in a yurt and a potential view of the Norths’ aurora borealis. These particles released by the sun are best visible between October and March. Depending on the season, expect to see wolves, lynx, foxes bears, moose, ducks, snow geese, snowy owls, and loons – just to name a few.

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Skiing and snowshoeing off the beaten path (but not too far off) are also popular activities in the winter months.

The winter months are the perfect time for snowmobiling as the region is known for its abundance of and quality of snow until April. Glide up and down hills while surrounded by an astonishing landscape. Additionally, enjoy caribou sighting and in the summer months, kayaking, rock climbing, fishing, and hunting.

Note that when fishing or hunting the Eeyou Istchee Baie-James region has three categories. The first two are exclusive for the use of the Cree people with category 3 being open to the public. Be very aware of these categories and their boundaries beforehand.

If you would like to fish on Category 1 and 2 lands, make sure to obtain a permit with the band council of the immediate area.

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These steps might be a bit too long for the average leg span.

James-bay is not just for recreational sports and fantastic views. Visit the Robert Bourassa hydroelectric facilities in Radisson and discover the world’s largest underground hydroelectric power station paired with the Robert-Bourassa development.

Its 53-story height should clue you in to just how much the grandiose landscape has to offer, spiritually and economically.

Blossoming Tourism

Another product of the large chunk of money invested in this area was the creation of Into the North a web-series that sent six people to the James Bay area for a two-week road trip to experience all the area has to offer. The video may be accessed on Vimeo but snippets are featured on www.escapelikeneverbefore.com, the Eeyou Istchee Baie-James website for all your travel ins and outs.

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An individual from the Into the North series enjoying a good paddle.

You could just watch the video but really, the only way to truly experience the North of Canada is to get out there and discover it for yourself.