Recently we embarked on a fun little adventure up in the La Ronge area, a place I have somehow managed to neglect all these years despite it being less than 2 hours from our cabin in Waskesiu. Unless you count the late-night visit to the infamous La Ronge Zoo bar back when I was around 20, a visit of which I remember little, which is probably for the best. This latest trip was focused around Nistowiak Falls and basically amounted to a guided tour thanks to Laynni’s sister, Tahnni, who organized everything for the 6 of us (including Laynni’s parents, Lyle and Nadine, and Tahnni’s husband, Gordie, a Bruins fan who we just couldn’t seem to shake), right down to which dock to watch sunset from. Everything went off without a hitch, got some nice, sunny weather (if occasionally cool and windy) and got a great up close look at amazing Nistowiak Falls in a year when the river is apparently up as much as 2 metres in places, meaning some wild and eminently photogenic falls.
La Ronge Supplies
We met up in La Ronge and were quickly informed that a stop at iconic Robertson Trading Company was mandatory – and well worth it, as it turns out, if for no other reason than their slightly baffling but helpfully informative full taxidermy section. The perfect chance to compare a fisher and a marten side by side and, finally, determine once and for all that the elusive and vaguely creepy creatures I keep seeing lurking around the cabins this summer are definitely martens. Those fishers are big enough to steal our car, I’d definitely know if I saw that. After we got that all sorted out, I bought a couple Snickers bars, obviously. Turns out the La Ronge ones are pretty similar to those everywhere else in the world. Kudos.
Well, technically, we just hiked a small portion of the 15km one-way Nut Point hike outside La Ronge townsite in the aptly named Nut Point Provincial Park. A couple kilometres out to tiny but picturesque Downton Lake, by all accounts a completely separate entity from the more famous abbey of saucy British servants on TV. There was, however, a surprisingly entertaining caterpillar whose safety and freedom became a determined mission for Tahnni, plus there was a spirited battle over salad –who asked for some, who made enough, who actually got some, etc. Meanwhile, everyone seemed intensely enthralled with the trailside mushrooms. I don’t know why.
From there we drove about an hour to our rented cabin in the little town of Missinipe, a “Thompson’s Cabin”, to be exact. We weren’t there long, just long enough to enjoy a few beer on the dock while gazing out at impressive rainbows and a great sunset, wonder absently about why all the women were wearing their leopard print pajamas (our women, not local women), discover the wonders of “portrait” mode on my phone then head back to eat copious amounts of pasta. Morning brought calm, reflective lake views and some moments of quiet solitude before packing up and making our way to the next stop: Stanley Mission!
Nistowiak Falls Boat Tour
One of the oldest communities in the province, Stanley Mission was where we kicked off an all-day boat tour, starting with the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, obviously. Sure, it is fair to say we don’t usually visit a lot of holy buildings in Saskatchewan – Spain, yes, Mexico, of course, Thailand, bring on the Buddhas! – but rarely around home. This isn’t just any church, however, it happens to be the oldest standing building in Saskatchewan, built in 1854. And it is shockingly pink inside. Both excellent reasons to stop in, we found.
Stanley Mission was founded by Reverend Robert Hunt in 1851, naming it after Stanley Park, the manor home of his wife. And, it should be noted, he didn’t so much build the church as “direct the Cree Indians” to build it for him, albeit with materials he brought all the way from England. Although, apparently, the first set of elaborate stained-glass windows tipped over in the boat and had to be replaced… all the way from England. Hey, we’ve all been there. If I had a nickel for every carelessly tumbled beer… Inside, there is actually a bible translated into Cree symbols, which, from what I can tell, is pretty rare. Kind of like me making an appearance in a church. Anyway, now this weirdly art-deco church is a must-see on any northern Saskatchewan tour.
From there we journeyed by boat over several sets of rapids, somewhat less complicated to navigate thanks to water levels around 2 metres higher than normal, and briefly stopped off to see some really old rock paintings, which are at least 100 years old, quite a feat exposed to the elements on rock barely above the water line. I guess berries and tree sap are much more formidable together than on their own. One of the symbols was a warning to others – “rapids ahead!” There was an impressive drawing of a moose, and the letter “T”, and some guy doing the wave. It felt like a journey through time.
The big highlight was a visit to these famous falls, among the wildest anywhere in the province. We disembarked at Jim’s Camp, a fishing camp under normal circumstances, fairly quiet in “a COVID year”. From there it was a short walk up to the falls where we marvelled at the chaotic roaring falls – the spray misting high into the air creating atmospheric rainbows and a tropical forest effect in the well-watered foliage along the banks – and hung on every word of the story of a local dog who recently got too close while wetting his whistle and got sucked into the falls, given up for a goner until he miraculously popped out the bottom, somehow alive and well, if dishevelled and disoriented like me the morning after my long-ago visit to the Zoo.
A little more boat time, an outstanding lunch, then back through the maze of river channels to the Stanley Mission Cliffs. Famously the place hunters would go prior to a hunt to attempt to shoot an arrow over the cliffs – success meant they could also expect a successful hunt. Which sort of makes sense, since both tasks theoretically rely on their skill with the bow and arrow. So, it was maybe less superstition, and more practice, really. Anyway, from there it was back to Stanley Mission, and the end to our Northern Saskatchewan Adventure. If you have the time and a valid fishing license you can add some angling to your journey, complete with a traditional shore lunch (as long as the local forest fire risk level cooperates).
Having waited far too long to explore this gorgeous area, our short visit mainly just convinced us to plan a return trip sooner rather than later. But definitely not until next summer because, you know, winter…
We had a great day with Taryn from Jim’s Camp and definitely recommend them if you’re interested in checking this terrific area out for yourself:
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