Nunavik: alone in a canoe north of the 55th parallel

Nunavik: alone in a canoe north of the 55th parallel


While for a month at Lake Wiyâshâkîm, Étienne Denis came across bears and caribou, but above all he found himself.

“There are To those who do closed retreats, I did a retreat in an open-air monastery… and without monks”, laughs Étienne Denis after returning from a month-long trip, solo, in Nunavik .

The traveler is happy to confide after the exhausting journey of 1600 km which separates his point of arrival, in Saint-Lambert, from the unique body of water in the world where he stayed from July 6 to August 4, the lake Wiyâshâkimî.

Formerly called Lac à l'Eau Claire, it is nevertheless the second largest natural lake in Quebec, after Lac Mistassini, north of Lac-Saint-Jean.

< p>Covering an area of ​​1243 km2, this inland sea has the particularity of being formed by two impacts of meteorites that occurred 286 and 460 million years ago. 

Lake Wiyâshâkimî is one of the most beautiful lakes in Quebec and one of the most amazing geological formations in northern Quebec. It is located in Tursujuq National Park.

The lake is made up of these two rings that touch each other. It is one of the few places in the world where freshwater seals live.

In his 17-foot canoe, Étienne Denis carried all his luggage and his food, which he had dehydrated himself before leaving. Between the start and the finish, he lost 10 pounds.

A modern-day nomad, the paddler must carry everything in his canoe.

Face to face with a bear

“Intense moments, yes, there were those from the first evening when a huge black bear came directly at me then I was preparing my supper,” says the canoeist who had one of the greatest scares of his life.

Unarmed, he confronted the beast, waving his arms and shouting at the top of his voice as we learn in survival guides. But the bear did not flinch. After four bear crackers (bearbangs) and gesticulations, the animal ended up turning on its heels.

Five degrees in the morning< /p>

July was a very tough month in Hudson's Bay this year. In the morning, it was sometimes 5°C and the tenacious winds often nailed the nomad to the camp. Barely three days of “t-shirt”… 

“At one point the wind lifted my canoe five meters. Fortunately, he was well attached!”

Lake Wiyâshâkimi was formed following meteorite impacts that occurred long before the era of the dinosaurs.

The bad weather did not affect the northern vampires. 

“It was the intergalactic black fly festival. I am certain that planet Earth alone cannot produce all these flies; some come from another planet,” he says.

Solo travel also has its pitfalls: camping duties cannot be shared. 

“While you are setting up the tent, no one is cooking supper. And after supper, no one says: you've done your part, I'll take care of the dishes.”  


  • The seaplane: Mirage Aventure, The cost is around $7,000 for both trips (the “in” and the “out”). This is a fixed price for the plane, not per passenger.
  • The park: this is Tursujuq Park, For three weeks, access and camping fees are $190. Fishing fees are $290. This is a price per person.
  • The two meteor impact craters forming Lake Wiyâshâkî are among the largest in the world. 
  • The lake is located in Parc national Tursujuq, the largest protected area in Quebec with an area of ​​26,000 km2.
  • To get there, you have to drive 1620 km (about 22 hours) via Matagami, the James Bay road and the Transtaïga. From there, take the air route for 250 km.
  • Even if we are officially in a national park, Parc Tursujuq, “there is no service there” , sighs Étienne, who has duly registered and paid for his access rights. 

Total autonomy 

But what prompted this 57-year-old web content strategist, founder of an agency that once had 23 employees in his trendy office on rue Saint-Laurent, in Montreal (90 degrees), to leave behind him his girlfriend, Maude, his two children, Romane and Arthur, for such an extreme adventure?

“The call of the Far North”, he replies simply.

But also a almost metaphysical attraction for this mysterious place that he has already visited twice in the past, in 2013 and 2018…

It is on this lake that the action of his unpublished novel takes place, Helper Zero. In this spy thriller, the former science journalist sets the scene for a plot where science and philosophy converge.

What are we going to look so far? Caribou, birds by the hundreds… and trout galore. But above all, you come to find yourself.

It was a very trying trip.

“I discovered that I was capable of getting bored. It was the first time in my life that I missed people – my children, my girlfriend – so much.”

The reunion was festive.