by Hilary Crowley
by Hilary Crowley
The Crooked River runs north out of Summit Lake, which is situated on the Arctic Divide. Prior to the 50s, it was the main transportation route north to the Parsnip, Finlay and Peace Rivers as the road ended at Summit Lake. There is also a twelve km portage from the Fraser River connecting the Pacific and Arctic watersheds. These routes were important for carrying supplies up to northern communities and Hudson Bay posts and for shipping furs back south. Dick Corless made the river boats at Summit Lake and many brave and experienced boatmen plied these loaded boats down the river.
The long riffle was a notorious section as here the river narrows and speeds up as it wends its way through the willows and around the gravel beds. Previously the trappers kept the beavers in check but now there are numerous beaver dams to negotiate. The pine beetle epidemic has caused many log jams to develop which also hinders navigation. It was into this situation, in the long riffle, that my kayak and I happily paddled but soon came to grief.
Sheila Peters and her husband Lynn had phoned me a few days earlier to say that she’d heard the Crooked River was in flood and could be dangerous. My reply had been, “Oh no, you don’t need to worry about the Crooked River. It’s a piece of cake!” It was the end of May and rivers were in flood all over the region but the Crooked isn’t fed by any high mountain freshets. I know the upper section well, as we paddle it frequently. In fact, the day before, 30 of us paddled this upper section. I am much less familiar with the next section but have done it previously and didn’t remember any hazards. The sun was shining. A moose swam across in front of us and an osprey accompanied us for a while. It was so peaceful just having the two boats. Sheila and Lynn in their canoe, Buttercup, and me in my camouflage kayak. There were several faster sections but I had a big smile on my face revelling in it.
Suddenly, around the next bend, appeared a log jam which had developed on a small island in the middle of the river with a fast narrow channel on either side of it. I opted for the left channel but the kayak was swept into the log jam and all I could do was hold on to a small willow growing up through it. The next thing I knew the kayak skirt was around my waist but the kayak was no longer with me. Luckily Sheila and Lynn managed to grab a willow and pull to shore. I struggled for some time to try and pull myself out of the water onto the logs but every time I got a knee or a foot-hold, the supporting log would float away under the pressure. By the time I managed to pull myself on top of the logs, I was exhausted and light-headed. Without Sheila and Lynn, I would never have made it. I was on a tiny island in the middle of this fast river and the only way to reach shore was to get back into that swirling water and wade or swim across to where Sheila and Lynn coaxed and encouraged me and threw me a rope to pull me to safety.
They had already determined that further navigation was impossible as further downstream, a giant log was right across the river. They pulled their canoe up into the willows. We still had to wade waist deep through numerous willow channels but eventually reached solid ground. Luckily my dry bag had been in their canoe so I was able to change out of my soaked clothes but I still shivered for a long time. It took us a while to find a logging road. Each of us walked a whistle-sound length from each other and after three attempts, we were thrilled to find ourselves on the logging road. We decided to walk north. A bear greeted us early on but was only interested in grazing at the edge of the road. Sheila and Lynn only had their neoprene footwear so Sheila soon developed blisters. It was Spring break-up so we travelled 4kms before a truck came along and picked us up. We were relieved to reach Bear Lake and aborted our plan to paddle to McLeod Lake. Instead we headed back to the comfort and safety of Summit Lake. The early settlers must have been a tougher breed!
There is much history all along the river as Hudson Bay posts developed. Family sawmills sprouted up and settlements with schools and post-office flourished. The proposed Enbridge pipeline is due to travel east from Alberta through pristine wilderness to Tumbler Ridge and from there across rivers and through forest to Bear Lake and beyond. Bear Lake is renowned for its pure water. Summit Lake residents collect their drinking water from the Crystal Lake spring. Livingstone Springs, on the Crooked River, stays open all winter and together with other warm springs enables Trumpeter Swans to winter on the Crooked. This is the southern point of their migration. The pipeline is due to cross the Crooked River just south of Davie Lake, close to Bear Lake, where there would be a pumping station. Grayling, which used to be in the Crooked River and are still present in the Peace, are now red-listed. How can we consider a pipeline through our region? Do we want to pollute our drinking water, cause grayling to go extinct and cover our magnificent trumpeter swans in oil? Even a miniscule leak would threaten their habitat.
The river is named Crooked but isn’t it the corporations and government who push forward these developments that are crooked?
We are the stewards of this area of our province and it is our duty to stand up and protect our heritage for wildlife and future generations – both of which are threatened.
Crooked an apt name for the river
Home to trumpeter swans, loons and moose
We cannot let machines get loose
Enbridge wants to build a pipeline
It would carry Tarsands oil
From Earth’s most destructive mine
To Asia, beneficiary of our spoil
We need to stand up and stop this line
Protect our land and watershed
Such pollution is a crime
Too late when all the swans are dead