Du Sable/Caniapiscau/Koksoak

CanadaQuebec10 Ungava Bay
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Lester (Laco) Kovac
Trip Date : 
August 4 - September 4, 2009
Location Map: 
Additional Route Information
540 km
31 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
6685 m
Longest Portage: 
2400 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Du Sable

The Du Sable (also known as Sand River) is an important tributary of the Caniapiscau River. The Du Sable has been at the heart of a geographical and toponymic confusion, both about its source and about its name. Contrary to the map of Mrs. Mina Adelaine Benson Hubbard (1908) describing her George River expedition, the ninth report of the Commission on Geography of Canada (James White, 1911) as well as maps of the province of Quebec published by the Ministry of Lands and Forests in 1914 and 1935, the Du Sable does not originate at Sand Lake, although both the Du Sable and Sand Lake outflows do belong to the Caniapiscau watershed.

The Commission de Géographie du Québec accepted the name 'Rivière du Sable' in 1944, replacing the name Sandy River, in the belief that the river originated from Sand Lake. The Du Sable or Sandy River is, according to White's report, the translation of the Naskapi name Katakawamastuk. According to the Naskapi of today, the real Du Sable River is/should be what is now a Du Sable tributary from the left, named officially Kayakawakamau, which means "river of the lake of sandy beaches" (this lake is currently named 'Lake Weeks').

As for the Du Sable River, the Naskapi call it Misinichikw Sipi, i.e. "The Big Otter's River", named for the giant otter. According to their myths, this monster lived in a cave near the Eaton Canyon, in a place they call Kwatasiu, located about a dozen kilometers downstream from the mouth of the river. The Innu name confirms the relationship between the river and a giant otter; they call it Meshen Tsuk Shipu (the big otter river). This name is, however, awarded also to the Kayakawakamau River, which adds to the confusion even more. There are also traces of the giant otter in the English-language names, since a small tributary of the Du Sable has the official name Big Otter Creek. White's and Mrs. Hubbard's maps have a Big Otter River marked as a tributary of the Sand River.

The Du Sable River is currently the most natural access route to the Caniapiscau since the damming and complete diversion of the Upper Caniapiscau. The portion of the Caniapiscau between the Duplanter Dam and the mouth of Du Sable River is basically dry. In other words, the Lower Caniapiscau is accessible only by its tributaries. The Du Sable is generally considered too difficult to be enjoyed by the average paddler. However, the big advantage of this access route, which starts on Lac Bazil near Schefferville, is to enable travelers to experience the incredibly amazing Eaton Canyon. Before our trip, we could find only two known descents of the Du Sable River recorded in paddling history, both before the Caniapiscau diversion, starting below Francheville Canyon and both led by Hubert Yockey, Manhattan Project scientist.

An excerpt from the book "Canoeing North into the Unknown" by B.W Hodgins and G. Hoyle reads:
1979 - Hubert Yockey, Tom Proctor, Tim Zecha and George Rines, Americans, with three decked Berrigan canoes, flew in to Lac Vincennes, the headwaters of du Sable River, and canoed down that river, the Kaniapiscau and the Koksoak to Fort Chimo.
1980 - Yockey, Ed Gertler, Terry Zecha and Mark Holthaus repeated the trip of the previous year, the last on the Kaniapiscau before it was dammed and the waters of Lac Kaniapiscau diverted to the La Grande and James Bay Hydroelectric Project.
We were lucky to obtain an excellent 1980 trip report from Ed Gertler before we embarked on our trip (Ed lists also Tim Zecha's brother Terry as a trip participant). Thus, it seems to us that ours was the first documented descent of the whole Du Sable from its source.

The Caniapiscau River is a tributary of the Koksoak River. Through history, the river was known under different spellings: Kaniapiskau (Albert Peter Low, 1898), Canniappuscaw (William Hendry, 1828) and Caniapuscaw (James Clouston, 1820). The name in Cree language means "rocky point". The Inuit call the river Adlait (or Allait) Kuunga (meaning: Indian River). It was also known as Wauguash River.

The River originates on Lac Sevestre, 53 km south-west from Fermont, Quebec and is 737 km long. Together with the Koksoak it used to be the longest & biggest Quebec River (with the obvious exception of the St. Lawrence). Well known for its beauty, it was the pride and natural treasure of Quebec until 1985 when Hydro Quebec diverted the upper Caniapiscau into the La Grande hydroelectric complex of James Bay, drowning around 9,600 caribou in the process.

There are many spectacular waterfalls and canyons on the Caniapiscau (though the Upper and Lower Gorge are now dry), the most spectacular and world-famous of which is Eaton Canyon (although its name seems to "mysteriously disappear" from provincial maps after the diversion, and also from the list of Quebec-parks-to-be. Government/Hydro conspiracy?) Eaton Canyon was first documented by geologist A. P. Low in 1893-1894. It was named in honour of Low's assistant David I.V. Eaton, who took the technical measurements of the canyon. Interestingly, Low's report shows the name of the canyon spelled "Eaton Cañon". Meanwhile, the Naskapi call this amazing place "Kwatasiu", which means "there is a hole (or a cave)".

About 10 km off the main Caniapiscau flow, on the tributary Swampy Bay River, there used to be Hudson Bay Company post called Fort Mackenzie which operated until the end of WWII. One of the fort's buildings is still standing and is (according to what we've heard) being maintained as a hunting cabin. The Swampy Bay River used to be a main connection between Fort Chimo (currently Kuujjuaq) and the Schefferville area, because, while it had many waterfalls and gorges bypassable by portages, its rapids are not as difficult as those on the Du Sable. This was also the route the Naskapi chose for their relocation journey in 1956.

The Koksoak River is the union of the Caniapiscau and Mélèzes (Larch) rivers. It flows to Ungava Bay, passing beside the Inuit village of Kuujjuaq, which is a natural terminus for canoe trips and the central hub of air routes into Nunavik. The original name of the river is Kuujjuaq, meaning "a great river" or "river". The Koksoak has an average width of 2 km.
This was the most beautiful, but also physically the most difficult trip we have done so far.

Words of Caution
These maps were created based on notes taken during our canoe trip in August/September 2009 (our trip report is available at http://sites.google.com/site/landltrips/Trips/caniapiscau2009). We marked maps according to what we saw, in order to provide information to any future visitors, however, by no means do I take any responsibility for how this information will be used. I do not guarantee that it does not contain numerous errors, whether made by me personally or by the bugs in the software I used. Rapid classification is subjective. Our subjective evaluation of the class level of these rapids does NOT take into account the remoteness of the region (i.e. distance and time from help etc.), the water temperature (cold kills) and the size and power of this river (any swim could be a very long swim). Moreover, the class of rapids depends on the water level and that can change immensely through the season. Use the information provided here with caution. YOU are the only one responsible for your own decisions and for your own safety. Rivers described here are wild and very remote. Weather can be also very tough. DO YOUR OWN scouting and reconnaissance. I am not taking any responsibility for the information provided here or for your safety.

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