Part of the overall lure of the Romaine River is the fact that not only is it a river that very few kayak expeditions have completed, but with the major project that the province of Quebec and Quebec Hydro have undertaken on the river, you get the sense that the window is very small to paddle the river a the free flowing state.
The Romaine originates near the Quebec/Labrador border and travels all the way to the gulf of St Lawrence. In the past, the Innu population would use the frozen river as a ice highway to spend the winters in the dense boreal forest hunting and trapping. Today, there is no Innu that travel the river any longer due to the displacement by the province.
Our goal on the trip was to document the river on film in order to capture the beauty with hopes of sharing the river with those who will likely never experience a trip such as this.
We spent five and half days on the river and traveled over 200km through three canyons that contained a great deal of big water rapids that made for some incredible paddling. Our team of 9 consisted of a range of paddlers from Ontario, New York State, Colorado, and Vermont.
[caption id="attachment_3366" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Back row: Morgan Boyles, Mike Kobzik, Bill Frazier, Matt Harrison, Christian Woodard Front Row: Phil LaMarche, Tom Vickery, Mike McKay, Matt Young"][/caption]
On trips like these, you really understand the team dynamics of expedition paddling.
As we reached the end of the third canyon we finally encountered the dam construction of Romaine 2. This is when we got the real evidence of the plans that are being put into action. The destruction that we were seeing was surreal. The push to get deeper into the wilderness in order to deforest, mine, and put up hydro electric complex consisted of blasting, channelizing sections of river, and the construction of roads and hydro lines.
One thing I noticed was the overall noise that went on all through the day and night. I thought to myself the effect it must have on the wildlife and how it disrupts the everyday life.
Another reality that struck me was that absolute destruction that it takes to construct dams of this magnitude. It is one thing for paddlers to see the final product. For instance, Summersville dam on the Gauley comes to mind. However, when you see the destruction of the land that goes into the construction, you think again. There is much more to all of this than just the dam itself.
On a positive note, in the last week, the Innu won a major battle in the steps being taken to prevent this from happening. Armand Mackenzie, acting on behalf of the Innu people, received notice that the Federal Government has issued a stop to all construction on the Romaine River. This is done in the context that the government is going to be putting up more assessments in order to see the necessity of the project.
This strikes a major blow to the itinerary of the Plan du Nord by the province and Quebec Hydro. It is good timing too as many more rivers like the Romaine are now on the plate to be exploited for resources.
One of the most important aspects of all of this is that the exploitation is not even benefiting the province. Most of the contracting is international and the power is being sold to the US in areas like New York City.
This is all going to be explored in the next episode of Currents where I will be showcasing this story as well as incredible footage of the beautiful river. Keep your eyes on the Five2Nine page for that.
For now, here are some great pics of Mike Kobzik and I in our Level Six drysuits. Thanks Level Six for all the support with Currents.
All photos courtesy of Matt Young.
There will also be a segment on the Romaine in our upcoming feature: Better Than You Imagined.
Keep your eye on the Facebook page for all the details on premieres.