driftwood at sunset

There and back again: a Quetico tale

Today’s blog comes from Quetico Provincial Park Canoe Route Technician Gavin Morito-Karn.

In 2019, I spent my summer paddling across a large chunk of the vastness of one of Canada’s waterways.

Brigitte Champaigne-Klassen (also a past member of Quetico’s staff) and I travelled from Cochrane, Alberta (just west of Calgary) to Nym Lake on the border of Quetico, approximately a 4,500 km journey.

The majority of those days were spent on unfamiliar waters that cut through prairie fields and man-made lakes.

We followed the silty serpent of the Saskatchewan River along farmlands, dunes, townships, cities and reserves – an artery of civilization.

The water held stories I’d not heard before.

The shape of it was new

It can be a tricky emotion to capture with words when we are part of a returning.

staff sitting on campsite

Smelling the familiar in a childhood home or seeing the smile lines of an old friend.

It brings on “the feels,” as it were. There is a magnetism when we find ourselves where and with whom we feel we belong.

I felt this after several years away from the lakes, rocks, mosses, and bogs I knew as Quetico Provincial Park.

That summer of 2019, I paddled gradually to reach the familiar and suddenly I sat with the sound of the wind through White Pines, gazing up at the clear, starry skies of Quetico.

An artery of civilization – journeying to the heart.

sunset over lake

Quetico – the great wilderness to many, The Quetico to many an American Boy Scout, and an ancestral and current home of many Anishnaabeg friends, elders, and respected peers past and present.

Suddenly, I was home. Pulled in. Magnetized!

Since 2010, this park has held a home for me.

When I started at Quetico as a student, with my youthful ponytail and bright-eyed excitement, I learned the shape of the waters here.

I carried stories with me from those I met, some of whom are now my family of the north.

staff paddling in canoe

It was in this park that I first experienced the rhythm of the hut stroke and the taste of pure lake water.

It was here I learned that unless you enjoy suffering, or have some other mysterious reason, you should never go to Allan Creek.

In Quetico, I was offered teachings that have shaped pieces of my view of the world.

It is where I laid tobacco for the first time with the late Edward Ottertail, and I will lay asema there whenever I return to that spot; for him, for our relations, for this land I love, and for myself.

I returned to Quetico Provincial Park this summer because sometimes when we return somewhere, we find the new and the old can shake hands and form a unique relationship to the places we call home.

When I paddle in this park now, I carry the stories of those who lived them with me, bringing the spirit of the waters and rocks to life where I go.

canoe shored on rock

Here, I am part of something bigger that I want to belong to. In Quetico, I am a small part of the past, the present, and the future.

And like in any place, it is often the people we meet along the way that carve the stories floating on water into stone.

I hope everyone who calls this place home – even for a little while – can experience the same kind of love.

Quetico Provincial Park is 2.5 hours from Thunder Bay.