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Finding Farley 2007

by Leanne Allison and Karsten Heuer

Leanne Allison (ABOVE, at left), Karsten Heuer, their son Zev and dog, Willow, descend the Bow River in Alberta (TOP). (Photo: Karsten Heuer)

The Journey

Sunset on Reindeer Lake, northern Saskatchewan
When we set off with our 2 year old son, Zev, and border collie dog in May 2007, we weren’t exactly sure how we would get all the way from our home in Canmore to Farley Mowat’s house in Cape Breton. The rough plan was to take a route that would go through the settings of Mowat’s stories as we made our way across Canada. Five months and over 5000 km by canoe, train and sail boat later, we made it to Farley’s Mowat’s door. At 86 years old he still had the spunk and wit to greet us with laughter, warmth and strong drinks of vodka!

We are now back in Canmore with a new sense of home that stretches all the way from the Rockies to the muddy waters of the South Saskatchewan River, to the Arctic barrenlands, and the rugged coast of Newfoundland. It wasn’t just the landscapes we became a part of that made us feel at home; it was the people we met along the way. Prairie farmers offered rides, the Cree and Dene offered fresh meals of fish, the Inuit told stories of the old ways, and the Newfoundland fisherman offered boat rides to their favourite inlets, eagle nests and secluded bays.

A caribou swims across the Lowe
The fact that we took our two-year-old son on an epic five-month journey that eventually included weeks of upstream paddling, 28 portages, huge lake crossings, some whitewater, and encounters with black bears, grizzly and polar bears raised a few eye-brows beforehand. One in-law went so far as to suggest that Social Services were going to get involved! We’re happy to report that other than some black fly bites, our son Zev not only survived but thrived, and came through the journey unscathed. In fact he only needed two band aides the whole trip! We can honestly say he was never cold or uncomfortable despite the fact that we traveled 149 of the 150 days we were out, enduring every kind of weather along the way.

Karsten finds a few quiet moments
Our respect for Farley Mowat’s story telling and his ability to capture the essence of so many Canadian landscapes only grew over the course of the trip. During the long journey there were a few magical moments where we suddenly realized we were at an exact rapid, wolf den or estuary in one of his stories, despite the decades that had passed since those stories had been written. In those moments it felt like our experience was spanning time and even Farley’s imagination. And then there were those uncanny visits from some of Farley’s favourite animal characters: a great horned owl along the banks of the Saskatchewan River, a white wolf near treeline in Nunavut, and a giant fin whale off the coast of Newfoundland. Simply good luck? Who knows? But we took the fact that we saw them as a good sign. And so did Farley.

Remains of the trapper’s cabin where Mowat lived and worked as a caribou and wolf biologist in the summers of 1947 and 1948, Nueltin Lake, Nunavut
Sharing the Story
The expedition was written up in front-page articles in The Calgary Herald and a few Nova Scotian papers at the beginning and end of the trip, and we checked in via satellite phone with an Alberta-wide CBC radio program 4 times during the journey. Post trip stories have run in Up! (WestJet’s inflight magazine), Kanawa and Canoeroots magazines, and a feature article has been written for Canadian Geographic’s July/Aug 2008 issue.

Karsten has put together an hour-long slide presentation about the journey which includes some film footage. His first presentation was made last week at an environmental education conference here in Alberta and was very well received.

The full story of Finding Farley in the form of a National Film Board documentary co-directed by Leanne Allison and Karsten Heuer and a book written by Karsten Heuer (to be published by McClelland and Stewart) will be released in the fall of 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Application of RCGS Funds

Farley found! (left to right) Claire Mowat,
Karsten Heuer, Farley Mowat, Leanne Allison and Zev
RCGS’s $2,000 donation was applied towards a $5,000 payment we made to Mr. Tam Flemming, a Nova Scotian boat builder and skipper, for sailing us on his 30-foot wooden schooner, the Elsie N, from Quebec’s Magdelene Islands to Burgeo, Newfoundland and onward to Farley Mowat’s house on Cape Breton Island. The length of this sailing leg of the expedition was one month (September, 2007). The money was much appreciated by Mr. Flemming, who was going to buy a new set of sails with it to replace the old ones that we managed to rip in gale force winds and 4-metre seas.

Thank you again to the RCGS Expeditions Committee for your support. We will be sure to forward you the film and book once they are out.

Warm regards from Canmore,
Karsten Heuer, Leanne Allison, and Zev

View the full slideshow of photographs


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