Posts Tagged ‘bonnet plume canoe trip’

Early Days in Campaign to Protect Peel Watershed

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

When I walked into a small Vancouver courtroom in 1992, the odds did not look good for the Bonnet Plume River. Facing the judge, a battery of stern-faced lawyers was ready to make the case for the federal government and the company that wanted to develop a mine beside the river.

Our legal team consisted of one lawyer, Stewart Elgie, with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. He told me that our group, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, had a 50-50 chance of winning this particular fight. The case revolved around a 60-kilometre long winter road that had been bulldozed in to a large block of mining claims on the Bonnet Plume River. We had challenged the federal government’s environmental review of the project.

The Bonnet Plume was soon to be honoured as a Canadian Heritage River, thanks in large measure to the efforts of the Nacho Nyak Dun in their land claims negotiations, so at least some people out there thought this river was special. Yet the future of its clear waters and free-ranging caribou would be decided in a courtroom 2,500 kilometres away from this remote northern valley. Surely, I thought, we can’t delegate judgment on thousands of years of biological evolution and the destiny of a wild mountain river to a legal game of chance.

I had journeyed down many remote rivers before canoeing the Bonnet Plume in the summer of 1988, but I had never before experienced a watershed like this one. The aquamarine Bonnet Plume, with its sister rivers the Wind and Snake, carried in their crystal waters all the fascination of the Yukon wilderness. The space, infinite light, the escape from time itself, the never-ending gnarled and saw-toothed mountains, opened a new window on the meaning of wild.

Looking back now, I can see how that two-week journey changed my life. Growing up in a quiet town on the edge of the woods, I had always felt a kinship with nature, but here –on the Bonnet Plume — I realized that without help, extraordinary places like these would soon disappear, even in the Yukon.

In the early 1990s, when prospectors for Westmin Mining Corporation, exploring for copper, staked the flanks of the Bonnet Plume valley, they did so with the historic privileges afforded by the Yukon’s free-entry mining law, which grants powerful rights to those who first lay claim to the land. They knew they could knock down trees, bulldoze roads, dynamite, and utterly transform the land on their claims away from public scrutiny.

We wanted to take a closer look at Westmin’s operation and a generous local pilot donated the use of his two-seater Piper Cub. Soon I was up in the air, photographing the flattened spruce trees along the winter road leading to the airstrip and new mining camp. One corporation was on the verge of setting the direction for the Bonnet Plume valley. After seeing this giant scar on the landscape, I knew we could not accept surrendering this wild river to a money play in the southern penny market.  If this northern wilderness was to be diminished, where would we draw the next boundary for nature? It was time to confront the belief that mining exploration was exempt from environmental safeguards, and the only place we could do that was in the courts.

We lost that case on the weight of legal minutia, but we won an important point. The judge conceded the federal government was obliged to consider how mining could affect a Canadian Heritage River. Twelve years later, the airstrip, drill pads, and mining camp were long since abandoned — another legacy of the Yukon’s archaic frontier mining laws. The company found less copper than anticipated and metal prices dropped, so they packed up and left.  The company’s promised jobs and bright future for the Village of Mayo evaporated as quickly as the claims had been posted. For its part, the federal government realized its antiquated mining regulations, allowing for extensive exploration work without any environmental review, were no longer tenable. It dusted off long-awaited rules to improve the way mining companies carry out exploration work in the Yukon.

by Juri Peepre, excerpt from “Wild waters, sacred places” in Three Rivers: The Yukon’s Great Boreal Wilderness. Harbour Publishing, 2005.

 

Yukon First Nations Guarding Peel Watershed

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Indian Country Today– With mineral prices climbing, numerous companies with mining rights and interests in the Peel Watershed are eyeing the 16.8-million-acre northern Yukon wilderness for possible development despite the remoteness that used to make it off-limits cost-wise. Thanks to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada adopted in November 2010, four First Nations are able to stand their ground opposing such development a little more firmly.

For the complete story, visit:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/04/yukon-first-nations-closely-guarding-peel-watershed/

 Sunset by rapids on the Bonnet Plume River.  © Juri Peepre

 

Wild Rivers of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed: A Traveller’s Guide

… is your complete source for planning a 2011 trip to the Yukon’s vast north-eastern wilderness – and learning more about the natural and cultural history of this inspiring landscape. Published in 2008 by Juri Peepre and Sarah Locke, the book is available from Yukon outdoor and bookstores (Mac’s Fireweed, Up North Adventures), Mountain Equipment Co-op (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto), and on-line from www.yukonbooks.com.

Wild Rivers is an essential companion to help you navigate the Three Rivers country (the Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume), as well as the Peel, Hart, Ogilvie, Blackstone and Rat rivers. This well illustrated field reference will be a welcome gift for your friends or family who are thinking about a future northern canoeing or hiking trip.

The book features detailed river descriptions, maps, landscape and historic photos, tips on river travel in the Peel region, and engaging descriptions of the flora, fauna, geology, human history and conservation story. For more information, see About Our Book posted in the right margin.

Contact Us

To order the book directly from the authors, send a cheque or money order payable to Juri Peepre, 1575 Windermere Loop Road, Windermere, BC, V0B 2L2. Price: $24.95 + $1.19 GST + Shipping = $32.00 CDN. For more information, phone 250-688-1005, or post your comment or question in this blog.

The Wind, the Snake and the Bonnet Plume…

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

How did these rivers get their names? This excerpt from Wild Rivers of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed, reveals some of the intriguing people behind the history (© Juri Peepre & Sarah Locke, 2008).

The Enigmatic Bonnetplume

“Somewhere in the Ogilvie Mountains, in an unmarked grave, lie the remains of Andrew Flett Bonnetplume, the Gwich’in man after whom the Bonnet Plume River is named. While never a chief, he is the only aboriginal person in Canada whose name graces a Canadian Heritage River. But trying to pin down how that came to be, and how a Gwich’in man gained the French-sounding name of Bonnetplume— can be a bit like grabbing at a leaf floating on fast water—it remains just out of reach.

Bonnetplume shows up regularly in the historical record, but the man remains an enigma. He had many different names— Scottish, French and Gwich’in. And even among his own people, noted for their epic journeys through challenging country, he was known as a wanderer. But there is one theme that crops up again and again with this man—if people are talking about gold in the Peel river country, Bonnetplume seems to be somewhere in the picture.

But first the names: In Gwich’in genealogy documents, Bonnet Plume’s mother is known as Ch’ihwhiingah or Chigweenjaa, meaning “throwing things out of the house” or “sweeping or throwing dust away.” She worked as a cleaning woman at several different Hudson Bay posts in the Mackenzie District, and her children possibly had different fathers. In that era, when aboriginal children were baptized they were often given the names of local HBC employees, so the first part of Bonnetplume’s name can be traced to Andrew Flett, an Orkney man who served at Fort McPherson from 1863 to 1875. In HBC account books from Flett’s time at the post, the Gwich’in man is referred to as Bonnet de Plume, and the source of that name remains elusive.”

Canyon on the Bonnet Plume. © Juri Peepre

“Jane Charlie, one of Bonnetplume’s granddaughters, says she has often wondered about her French name. She was told that Bonnetplume had been adopted by a French couple working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, but if a Frenchman named Bonnetplume worked for the HBC, the reference is buried deep in their well-kept records.

In 1893, the French count Edouard de Sainville, with the help of two Gwich’in guides, tracked a canoe up the Peel River to the mouth of the Bonnet Plume. Leaving their boat there, they walked about 40 kilometres up the tributary, crossed the mountains to the west and walked down the Wind River and back to their canoe.

De Sainville was following up on native reports of gold in the mountains. He found no precious metals, but he explored further up the Peel than any previous European and produced a map that was invaluable for the goldrushers who travelled that way five years later. On his map he did not name the Wind River, but the Snake is labelled the “Good Hope River,” and the Bonnet Plume River bears its current name.

De Sainville returned to France the following year, and published only a short account of his time in the North before dying a few years later. In it he describes his trip along the upper Peel as “one of the most perilous which I have ever undertaken.” One can only speculate whether the French count encountered a Gwich’in man prospecting for gold in the upper Peel River country, and decided to name the Bonnet Plume River after him.”

– Sarah Locke

For more information on the campaign to protect the Peel watershed, visit:  www.protectpeel.ca

Setting up camp on the Bonnet Plume. © Juri Peepre

Wild Rivers of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed: A Traveller’s Guide

… is your complete source for planning a trip to the Yukon’s vast north-eastern wilderness – and learning more about the natural and cultural history of this inspiring landscape. Published in 2008 by Juri Peepre and Sarah Locke, the book is available from Yukon outdoor and bookstores (Mac’s Fireweed, Up North Adventures), Mountain Equipment Co-op (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto), and on-line from www.yukonbooks.com.

Wild Rivers is an essential companion to help you navigate the Three Rivers country (the Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume), as well as the Peel, Hart, Ogilvie, Blackstone and Rat rivers. This well illustrated field reference will be a welcome gift for your friends or family who are thinking about a future northern canoeing or hiking trip.

The book features detailed river descriptions, maps, landscape and historic photos, tips on river travel in the Peel region, and engaging descriptions of the flora, fauna, geology, human history and conservation story. For more information, see About Our Book posted in the right margin.

Contact Us

To order the book directly from the authors, send a cheque or money order payable to Juri Peepre, 1575 Windermere Loop Road, Windermere, BC, V0B 2L2. Price: $24.95 + $1.19 GST + Shipping = $32.00 CDN. For more information, phone 250-688-1005, or post your comment or question in this blog.