Millarville man makes historic trek across Labrador
Outdoors: Jason McIvor part of trio who completes month-long journey
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 02:08 pm
A Millarville man probably did not know what he nonchalantly volunteered to be a last-minute fill-in on a team planning to trek across Labrador’s Canadian Shield.
However, after 25 days portaging across some of the country’s most treacherous terrain Jason McIvor now understands firsthand what early Canadian explorers had to endure and he would not change a thing.
“I have learned you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it,” said McIvor of his month-long adventure across Labrador. “It is not just being a weekend warrior, you have to have confidence and realize you can face these challenges.”
In August McIvor along with friends Ken Holloway and Rodney Cole faced a monumental challenge when they set out with two canoes and 70-pound packs from Wind Bound Lake on a 450 km journey across Labrador following the renowned route of ill-fated explorers Leonidas Hubbard and Dillon Wallace.
In July 1903 Hubbard and Wallace set out to explore the little-known interior highlands of the Labrador-Ungava peninsula. With a guide they set off from a Hudson's Bay Company post in North West River in a single 18-foot canvas canoe with the goal of crossing Labrador's vast interior and reaching George River Post on the southern tip of Ungava Bay, some 600 miles to the north to see the caribou migration.
The trio turned back barely halfway into their journey and Hubbard did not survive dying from exhaustion and starvation.
However, the Hubbard and Wallace expedition is renowned in Newfoundland and Labrador as students in the province learn about the explorers from the book “The Lure of the Labrador Wild” written by Wallace who outlined their fatal journey.
Holloway and Cole read the book when they were in high school in Newfoundland and pledged to one day try and accomplish the journey Hubbard and Wallace failed to complete.
The pair made plans for the journey this summer, but when the third member of the team backed out it appeared the expedition would be aborted.
Cole, who now lives in Chestermere, was complaining about the trip to his boss at Tesco in Calgary, when his supervisor, Jason McIvor, not even looking up from his computer, said he would join the team as the all important third member.
Cole admitted he thought McIvor was joking, but the Millarville electrician was dead serious.
“I just turned 40 and I thought if I waited any longer to do something like this I would never do it,” he said. “It was a personal challenge. I wanted to be able to say I did it.”
Of course, McIvor admitted now he did not fully understand the Herculean task he had agreed to undertake.
“I was keen for a canoe trip,” he said. “I didn’t expect to carry the canoe for more than half of it. It was a rough one.
“I lost 15 pounds and after just two days I was thinking about walking back to the road,” he said with a laugh. “I was thinking what have I signed up for?
Ironically, the modern day explorers made almost the same mistake as their predecessors who set out 110 years before them.
When Hubbard and Wallace started their journey they followed the wrong river which made their trek much more treacherous and they did not reach their goal before an early winter began to set in forcing them to turn back.
McIvor’s team made a similar mistake — albeit a more modern folly.
The trio used a GPS which led them to a river which turned out to be not much more than a trickle forcing them to carry their gear over land rather than canoe swiftly with the river.
Despite the benefit of modern technology McIvor and his crew were challenged almost daily.
For example, Holloway spent weeks in the winter travelling their route via snowmobile placing food and supplies in steel barrels along the way so they could access the stores later that summer.
However, when they reached the barrels some of the food had been saturated with diesel fuel which had also been stored in the barrels.
Their menu for several days was oatmeal and nuts with a dash of diesel.
They also battled the elements as the rain was relentless for many days leaving their feet constantly wet and McIvor’s heel was not much more than an overripe plum as dark skin peeled away at the touch.
If anything they team proved resilient. When Cole’s canoe had a gaping hole it could have been a disaster, but they melted a bucket on their stove and molded it to the canoe with a spoon and affixed the makeshift patch with what else but duct tape.
“There were times when we wanted to quit, but there was no way out,” said Cole. “You couldn’t just quit and walk out to the road.”
There were contingency plans and family and friends followed them via GPS so they knew they were still moving.
Interestingly enough their marker was Disappointment Lake, if they reached it and they were still alright they would plow ahead. The lake was named by Wallace and Hubbard who thought they had reached Hope Lake, but did not.
McIvor, Cole and Holloway marched on sometimes paddling for nine hours just to cross 12km of windy lake or wear masks to keep from breathing in the bugs.
Finally, on Aug. 29, five days late and with only a pack of soup and four cups of flour left, they reached their destination to a hero’s welcome from family and friends at the North West River.
“It was more of a relief to be done,” said McIvor. “I am proud of ourselves because we are the only ones to ever portage their (Hubbard and Wallace) route.
“It was beautiful, rugged terrain. We were pretty tight and we have a special connection to Hubbard and Wallace.”
Cole added, “It is a good feeling of accomplishment. It was no easy task to retrace the route, but the history it was amazing. I can appreciate how (Hubbard and Dillon) felt. They tried it and they were starving. I don’t know how they could have done it.”
Once they arrived at North West Lake, the trio savoured steaks, showers and a cold beer.
Of course, they also started planning their second trip.