Moosonee: A Traveller’s Guide to the End of the Line
by Matthew Heerschap
As the gateway to Ontario’s Far North, the remote communities of Moosonee and Moose Factory have developed a unique culture. One foot is anchored strongly in the past, as traditional ways of life are still common place. The other foot strides forward into the future with the development of a new ecotourism industry that is just beginning.
*We recommend allowing 3 to 4 days for this off the beaten track adventure.
Tilt your seat back and listen to the low roll and rhythmic click-clacking of the wold famous Polar Bear Express as it transports you through a vast, impenetrable wall of black spruce and tamarack. Serving as both a passenger and cargo train the Polar Bear Express has represented the lifeline of the lower James Bay region since its introduction in 1964. While you sit back and relax, be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife and expansive views of the Abitibi and Moose Rivers. Leather seats, electrical/USB outlets, and well-appointed dining cars are sure to keep both the wide-eyed traveler and local commuter alike comfortable during the 4.5 hour ride between the Town’s of Cochrane and Moosonee, the end of the rail line.
Located approximately 19 km southwest of James Bay, the communities of Moosonee and Moose Factory are home to more than 3,500 people. Separated by the northern fork of the Moose River, a continuous stream of boats ferry people between the mainland community of Moosonee and the island community of Moose Factory. Vessels range in size from small canoe style boats to a large ferry capable of providing passage to 50+ voyagers and their vehicles.
Where to Stay
Both Moosonee and Moose Factory offer a selection of lodges, guesthouses, privately owned suits and campgrounds. Booking your accommodation in advance is advised as space can be limited. The Cree Village Ecolodge is an excellent “basecamp” for your adventures. The lodge offers top notch facilities so that guests may experience all the creature comforts even if the weather isn’t cooperating. Environmentally minded guests can rest easy as the lodge boasts the impressive “Eco” designation from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) meaning that every effort is made to reduce the environmental impact of this facility.
If a back-to-basics experience is what you are looking for then look no further than Tidewater Provincial Park. Tidewater offers 10 large campsites directly along the shore of the Moose River offering spectacular sunset views of the river and town of Moosonee.
What to Do
The Moose River drains water from a 100 000 km² chunk of Ontario, funnelling it into a braided 5 km wide stretch of river littered with islands, deep pools, rapids and oxbows. This results in a very unique fishing opportunity with the possibility of hooking into a monster Northern pike, walleye or even Brook trout at each bend in the river. While on the water, the influence of James Bay is noticeable. Strong tides and unpredictable weather can be a challenge, so hiring a local guide will ensure you are safe, comfortable and, most importantly, on top of the fish. Guides can be hired at the town docks in Moosonee and Moose Factory, or for guests staying at the Ecolodge.
Guided trips on the river whether in pursuit of a trophy fish or a ‘wall hanger’ photo are an excellent way to take in some of the magnificent scenery the Moose River has to offer. On a calm day take a short boat ride to the coast of James Bay. As you cruise downriver, you will begin to notice the horizon disappear and the sky stretch out in front of you. Be sure to keep a keen eye out for the unmistakable silhouette of bearded seals lazily resting along the shore or the bald white head of a beluga whale breaking the surface. The best times to see belugas and seals are during the spring and fall seasons.
A birders’ paradise, the natural funnel shape of James Bay concentrates massive numbers of migratory birds as well as a plethora of shorebirds into what has been designated the Moose River Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This 460 hectare sanctuary is home to hundreds of thousands of migrating geese in the spring and fall and is a perfect spot to take in the view overlooking the Bay.
The migratory flights of these birds continue to play a vital role in the lives of many of the people who call this place home. A relationship with the land that is on full display at the Cree Cultural Interpretative Centre is also reflected in much of their artwork. Crafted from tamarack branches formed around a ball of twigs, the tamarack bird was originally used as a decoy to lure in passing flocks of geese. Traditionally crafted items such as the tamarack bird are still made today. Local artists are happy to share their work with those looking for a one of a kind keepsake or just more information on their craft.