Let's Reminisce: Appreciation for Canada's rivers
By Jerry Lincecum
Oct 26, 2020
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I'm fond of documentary films about nature, and the Amazon Prime network’s series entitled "Great Canadian Rivers" had delighted me while also offering insight into the ways that our neighbor to the north differs from this country. Having grown up in Texas, I naturally learned more about Mexico than Canada, and only in recent years did I find occasion to learn about of the history of Canada and how it compares with the good old USA.

“Great Canadian Rivers” consists of 28 videos (20-25 mins. each) which hopscotch around the country to take viewers on a journey through Canada’s diverse geology, natural history and cultural landscape. It features interesting imagery of nature and wildlife from hard-to-reach locations. The stories of these remarkable streams provide memorable insights to the past of a country that developed quite differently from our own.

For example, the programs make clear the great respect for aboriginal tribes (referred to as First Nations people) who had lived in Canada for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. The French River in Ontario, one of Canada's most historic waterways, was used as a travel corridor by the Huron and Algonquin Nations before becoming a trade route for the French Canadians who engaged in transporting furs by canoe during the fur trade years.  It also stresses the role that French settlers played in the early history of Canada.

These shows reveal the extremely variable topography of the Canadian countryside, especially when rivers originate in the far north that extend as far as the Arctic Ocean.  The Clearwater, for example, is a wild river known for fast water and spectacular cliffs of its upper section where it rises from glaciers in the Cariboo Mountains. The river is popular for fly-fishing, whitewater kayaking and rafting, as well as hiking. The river supports several varieties of salmon as well as Rainbow trout. Several thousand Chinook, Sockeye and Coho salmon spawn in the river each year. Many fishermen come to hook the Chinook as they try to leap the falls from mid-August through September. These are the largest of the Pacific salmon, weighing 16-40 pounds.

For an extreme contrast there is Vancouver Island’s modest sized Cowichan River, which begins its descent at a mountain-ringed lake, and then passes calmly through fields and forests before finally releasing into an Atlantic ocean estuary. The river is the center of a provincial park that is home to hundreds of animals including endangered species, and more than 200 different birds. For many thousands of years Cowichan Bay was home to First Nations people who harvested the wealth of salmon and shellfish.

The Snake River is located in the Yukon wilderness near the Arctic Circle. Wild sheep, caribou, moose, grizzly bears and wolverines roam the land while golden eagles and gyrfalcons soar in the skies. However, industrial development and global warming are both threatening this area to a greater extent than most Canadian rivers, where sensitivity to environmental impact appears to be the rule rather than the exception.

The Mackenzie River, which drains one-fifth of Canada, seems to have the best of everything: spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and deep cultural history. Its valley is believed to have been the path taken by prehistoric peoples during the initial migration from Asia to North America over 10,000 years ago. The river also provided the major route into Canada's northern interior for early European explorers. Millions of migratory birds use the Mackenzie River basin as resting and breeding areas, at the convergence of four major North American migratory routes.

By watching the entire series of “Great Canadian Rivers,” one or two short films at a time, I have enjoyed microcosm snapshots of Canada’s history, along with insights into the ecology and geology that characterize a country whose ten provinces and three territories make it second only to Russia in total area.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: